Shaun's Europe Experience

Staff member: Shaun // Trip date: Sep 2012

BARCELONA

We arrived in Barcelona at 11 am after a long flight from Australia. After going through customs and collecting our bags my girlfriend and I caught the airport train into Barcelona Sans. From here we changed trains and boarded the metro to Estacio De Franca. Our European adventure begins.
We were catching the Elipsos Sleeper train (Barcelona-Paris) from Estacio De Franca that night. The metro system was smooth and easy to work out. A little bit jetlagged we took things pretty easy and looked around the area. We ate some delicious local cuisine and wandered through the interesting cobblestone alleyways. We found Barcelona to be a very cool and chilled out place. The people were relaxed and friendly.

Estacio de Franca station was really modern and had great architecture. At 1930 we headed back to the station to prepare for our overnight train journey. We had a quick drink at the bar at the train station near where we had to board.

ELIPSOS TRAIN HOTEL

At around 2011 we went through the security checkpoint where they usually scan your suitcases. With not a person in sight to scan our bags we walked straight through and found our platform. The train manager met us on the platform and took our passports in preparation for the border crossing. She showed us to our room and gave us vouchers for both tea and breakfast. Both of these meals are included when you book Gran Class on this train.

We put our bags in our room which was fairly small but was really nice to have a toilet and a shower in the room. We then headed to the restaurant for our meal.

The restaurant was elegant and charming in the classy way that the tables were all set out. It certainly did make this train feel quite romantic and cosy. The ride felt really smooth- at times we almost forgot we were on a train. While we were at dinner they make our bed for us so we had dinner while the Elipsos smoothly cruised along. The meal was 3 courses and included a drink of your choice. After dinner we made our way to bed with the comfort of knowing the next morning we would be waking up in Paris. We woke up in the morning and headed back to the restaurant carriage to have breakfast. While we were at breakfast they made our bed into a couch and before we knew it we arrived into Paris Austerlitz.

From Paris Austerlitz our hostel was near the Gare du Nord metro station so we caught the metro there which took around 15 minutes. The Paris metro system was really cheap and easy to use. In my opinion it would be one of the best in the world. Stepping off the train in Paris was like walking into a movie scene with French Patisseries lining the streets.
We spent two amazing days in Paris sightseeing.

THE EUROSTAR

After a few days sightseeing in Paris we were off to do a day trip to London. We did the first leg (Paris-London) in second class and the evening trip (London back to Paris) in first class.

STANDARD CLASS

We arrived at Gare Du Nord station about 50 minutes before the departure of our train. The process for boarding the Eurostar is similar to checking in for a flight at the airport. We went through the check in and security gates and then went through to the lounge which had cafes and shops to amuse you while you wait for your train to depart.
When I boarded I went straight to my seat as I had already checked in. I found the second class carriage to be very basic but still comfortable enough. There was a lot more leg room than an economy seat on a plane. They have a bar carriage for you to go to if you get hungry during the trip. There is a range of basic food and drink options available.

STANDARD PREMIER

There is a real significant difference in the standard of first class on the Eurostar compared with standard class. I found there to be much more leg room, also more room for your luggage. Your meal is included and the overall comfort level is higher than in second class. In my opinion it is definitely worth travelling first class for the experience. However as the trip is only a short journey (2hr 13mins) second class is fine for the budget traveller.

TGV LYRIA


Sadly our time in Paris was up and it was time to start our next wacky adventure. The TGV train leaves from Gare Du L'est. So we boarded the Paris metro one last time and soon arrived at Paris' East Station.

We were off to Zurich on the high speed TGV. We needed to get our Eurail passes validated so we arrived 30 minutes before the train's departure and went into the SNCF office. We got our passes validated. This was really easy- she also marked the first day of travel on our Rail Passes.
We found the platform which was so easy as everything was up on the departure board in English. We simply boarded the train. It was so smooth and an easy way of travelling. The seats where large and comfortable and the staff were very helpful. The meals which are provided in first class are also really good. I liked how the TGV displayed the speed up on a screen at the end of the carriage. It was interesting to know how fast we were actually going. The speed really sank in as we sped past the cars that were travelling on the freeway at top speed.
We arrived into Zurich at 1426 on the dot.

SWITZERLAND ADVENTURE BEGINS

During our 4 days of train travel in Switzerland we used a Swiss Pass. This is great value if you plan to do a lot of scenic trains. We arrived into Zurich train station at 1426 and we needed to get a regional train to Chur at 1437.

At first we were quite worried that the connection time would just not be long enough but the efficiency of the Swiss rail system is absolutely amazing. We really didn't need more than 10 minute's connection time in Switzerland.

We took the regional train to Chur where we changed trains again. The train from Chur to St Moritz was amazing. It does parts of the Glacier Express and the Bernina express railway system. The sheer beauty of the mountains and scenery really does have to be seen to be believed even photos cannot capture how amazing this is. What we saw that day was only the beginning though. We continued to be blown away by what we saw each day.

There are a range of accommodation options in St Moritz. Many hotels and B & B's are situated on the cliff face and overlook the lake in the middle of this town. There are not many budget options here however there are a few hostels on the opposite side of the lake. You can use your Swiss Pass on the local buses, you just need to show the driver as you get on.

GLACIER EXPRESS

After our first night in Switzerland and plenty of indulging in Swiss cheese, wine and chocolate it was time to go on possibly what I would rate as my favourite train. We caught the bus from our hostel to the train station. At the train station we were able to check our luggage through to Lucerne for 12CHF per item. We would collect our luggage in 2 days time when we arrived in Lucerne. They also have an express option which costs more but you can collect your bags from your destination the next day. This saved us from having to lug our suitcases around and we simply packed a day pack each to get us through the next two days of travel.

We were sitting facing each other in an aisle seat on a table of four.

This trip is quite breathtaking as you reach the highest points. The view is so surreal. The amazing waterfalls trickle down the steep cliff faces. Steep mountain views are truly a once in a life time experience. Even some of the houses up the top in the Swiss Alps are quite interesting and there are so many cute little Swiss cottages that you pass along the way. The train has panoramic carriages which really allow you to get the most of the scenery. The waiters come at the beginning of the trip and take your meal order for lunch. There is a variety of options on the menu or you can pack your own lunch to eat. We spent 8 hours on the Glacier Express that day but it felt nothing like that long. Before we knew it we were arriving into the gorgeous town of Zermatt. Zermatt is a town which is proud of the fact that it is 'car free.' There is a train station 10 minutes from town where people can park their cars and catch the shuttle train into town. They have tiny electric taxis which can take you around if need be. They even have a pizza delivery electric taxi. Again there is a huge amount of accommodation available but it is not a cheap place to stay.

CHOCOLATE TRAIN

After spending the night in Zermatt we are off to do the chocolate train which departs from Montreux. We got up super early and caught the 0539 train from Zermatt to Brig then caught the train from Brig to Montreux. It was great being able to change trains without lugging our big cases around.
We arrived at Montreux train station about 20 minutes prior to the train's departure. We boarded the chocolate train and we actually were sitting aboard the Golden Pass Panoramic coach. It was very similar to the carriage we sat in on the Glacier Express. There is also an old fashioned vintage carriage on the chocolate train.

Upon boarding the train the friendly staff brought us a croissant and also a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

We caught the train to Gruyeres station where we visited the cheese factory. There was a lot of information about the history of cheese in Switzerland. A bus then arrived and took us to the village of Gruyeres. We had a few hours of free time to look around the village and castle which is located there and have some lunch. The area is very picturesque and there are a lot of restaurants serving traditional Swiss food. It was here that we had our first Swiss Fondue.

The bus then arrived and took us to Caillers chocolate factory. The efficiency of the Swiss is really obvious to see when doing the chocolate factory tour. The show is first class and you check in before entering the tour. They run tours in a number of languages and depart every 10 minutes or so.
At the end of the tour you can eat as much chocolate and they offer about 30 different types of chocolate to try. Also the prices to buy chocolate are fairly cheap. We then walked a short distance to the train station and caught the train back to Montreux.

Montreux was a much larger town than St Moritz and Zermatt. There were a lot of restaurant and bar options here.

GOLDEN PASS

It was now time for us to do the Golden Pass and we are off to the beautiful Lucerne.
We boarded the train at Montreux, changed at Zweissmen and finished the Golden Pass at Interlaken. From Interlaken we then caught a regional train to Lucerne.

The Scenery on the Golden Pass was absolutely amazing. We went up the mountains and the beautiful views of the mountains meeting the lakes on this train was amazing. In my opinion the scenery, although different to the Glacier Express was nearly as spectacular. The water on the lake is so blue and when the two lakes meet it is quite superb.

Once again the little Swiss towns add to the beauty of this trip.

Switzerland is a truly amazing country I really would advise people to do the Golden Pass as well as the Glacier Express as the scenery is very different but possibly equally as good. When we arrived at the train station in Lucerne we went straight to the baggage window and our luggage was waiting for us.

We spent a glorious afternoon is the lovely town of Lucerne. The old town is a must see with lots of great places to eat.

ZURICH-MUNICH (INTERCITY TRAIN)


After a relaxing night in Lucerne we were off to Munich for a packed weekend during their beer drinking festival Oktoberfest.

We got up at around 730 and got to Lucerne train station to catch the regional train to Zurich.
The train from Zurich to Munich was absolutely packed with Oktoberfest goers throughout the train there was a great atmosphere. The train was a fairly standard Intercity train. The seats were comfortable enough and it was cool how the waiters on board would bring you a litre of beer, pretzels and sausages to get in the 'Oktoberfest' atmosphere. I would definitely pre book this time of year as this service was packed. There was not a spare seat on the train to be seen. Although seat reservations on the trains in Germany are not compulsory if you can it's probably safe to reserve a seat just to be sure.

We spent a crazy weekend enjoying the festivities Munich had to offer.
A few days later we decided that a visit to Lego Land was a must. We got up at 0830 and caught the S Bahn to Gunzburg which was covered on our Eurail pass. From the Gunzburg train station Lego Land ran a shuttle bus which took us to the holiday village where we stayed the night. We felt like kids again as we enjoyed all the fun that Lego Land had on offer. We even managed to find a train to catch at Legoland. We boarded the Legoland express for amazing views of this huge lego city!

We were then ready to head off to Copenhagen. We caught the S Bahn to Ulm- again just using our Eurail pass.

We made the mistake of getting off at Neu Ulm which is the station before Ulm so we ended up stuck in Neu Ulm for about an hour, let's just say there is not a great deal to see there!
Then we just caught the next train to Ulm. From Ulm we went to Mannheim on the ICE train.

GERMAN ICE

I found the German ICE train to be very comfortable and smooth. It reaches speeds of up to 270km/hr and they display it on a screen similar to the TGV train.

For busy times I would advise to reserve a seat as from Stuttgart we didn't have a seat reservation and ended up sitting on our suitcases.

CITY NIGHTLINE

We got to Mannheim about 90 minutes before the departure of our next train.
Mannheim train station was really easy to navigate although there was not a lot to do. With 90 minutes to spare we sat at a cafe and had a coffee.

Soon it was time to go on the City Night Line sleeper train. The train from Mannheim to Copenhagen actually started in Basel (Switzerland) and half of the train was splitting up at Hannover and going to Moscow.

Before boarding this train there is a train map on the platform which you really need to look at. The map explains where you need to stand to get onto the correct carriage. This was a pretty relaxing train. We boarded the train and looked for our room. The Double sleeper we booked was down stairs and was really small. We left our bags and headed to the restaurant carriage. The meal in the restaurant was really nice and there were some great characters on the train who we chatted to. This really added to the experience. We headed back to our room when we were ready to sleep. In the morning a basic breakfast was delivered to our room and they turned our bed into a couch so we could sit up and look out the window until the train arrived in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen was a really cool city. We found the people to be very helpful and relaxed. It was a great city to visit.

X2000 COPENHAGEN TO STOCKHOLM

My girlfriend needed to fly back to Australia from here and I continued on to Stockholm on the high speed service. This train was really smooth and like most of the trains throughout Europe was very comfortable. It offered Wi Fi and also had a dining carriage. The seats were very comfortable with plenty of leg room. It was cool going over the bridge to get between Denmark and Sweden.
After spending half a day on Stockholm I returned to their main train station to head to Oslo for a few days.

STOCKHOLM TO OSLO (SWEDISH INTERCITY TRAIN RETURN)

I actually enjoyed this train more than the x2000 for some reason. It seemed to have even more leg room, the train was very modern and the staff on the train where really friendly.

They also had power sockets which was handy for watching DVDs on my portable DVD player.
After two days sightseeing the friendly but expensive city of Oslo I was ready to return to Stockholm to look around a bit more. I returned to Stockholm on the Swedish Intercity train. I had 2 days to sightsee around Stockholm.

In order to get to Helsinki I needed to catch a ferry. I booked the overnight ferry using my Eurail pass and I got a 30% discount. The discounted price was 109 Euros. The price included a Viking Buffet and a 3 course dinner for tea, and also a buffet breakfast- amazing value for money really. I stayed in a 2 berth cabin on my own inside. It was a very spacious cabin with plenty of room for my luggage. There were also a lot of power sockets which was handy for charging up all my things.
The pass holder discount is really good. You can book the ferry on the Viking Line website which is the ferry company. You just enter that you have a rail pass and you get a discount on your ticket. The ferry was a really relaxing way to travel. I especially enjoyed the dinner and breakfast Viking buffet!

HELSINKI TRAIN STATION

This may seem a bit weird but I wanted to leave a bit of information about Helsinki train station.
The architecture of the Helsinki train station is breathtaking and if you only have a few hours there it is very much worth seeing- It is like a castle.

The Eurail part if my journey was over. Russia is not part of the Eurail pass so I needed to purchase individual point to point train tickets for the Russian part of my trip.

HELSINKI TO MOSCOW SLEEPER TRAIN

Ok this train and the experience you get going to Russia is very much worth it.
It is for sure more of a 'rush' than the rest of the trains I took throughout Europe. When I boarded the train the lady I was speaking to could only speak Russian. The train has got a restaurant carriage which I hear is very nice. However I did not go to the restaurant carriage as I brought a few snacks before I left and was a bit tired.

I boarded the train and went to my double sleeper room which was actually very big compared to most of the carriages on sleeper trains in Europe. When I booked it I booked a single sleeper but when I got onto the train I was actually assigned to a double sleeper- It was good to have the whole thing to myself. there is a large television in your room but obviously the programs are all in Russian.
I found it to be comfortable and a much more interesting experience especially as you get into Russia. I really recommend this experience as it is so different to the rest of the European trains. Mainly locals travel on this train which adds to the experience.

MOSCOW METRO

Arriving into Moscow train station was such an experience in itself. There were chandeliers hanging from the roof and the amazing architecture and the sheer size is jaw dropping.
Although the Russian metro system was amazingly efficient, for foreigners it was quite complicated as the Russian language barrier is very extreme. As long as you know what train line you need to go on it is a good idea to learn a bit of their alphabet or just ask the younger people for directions as they are more likely to speak English.

I found once I learnt a little bit of the Russian alphabet it became easier to navigate and even if you get lost the Russian train stations are worth doing a tour of anyway!
I then spent 2 days in Moscow. It was like stepping into a museum. Everywhere I went there was a history to be told.

MOSCOW TO ST PETERSBURG- NEVSKY EXPRESS DAY TRAIN

I found this train to be one of the best. It was very laid back and they bring you a 3 course meal. They offer you an abundance of drinks and the seats are very comfortable. Some of the old fashioned buildings that you pass by as you go through Russia are great to see. This is a very modern train with very friendly staff.

My journey ended in St Petersburg. After four days exploring this interesting city it was time for my journey to come to an end and return to Australia to help other people with their European Rail Travel.

THE RAIL PASSES I USED

I used a 10 day Global Flexi Eurail Pass and also A 4 day Swiss flexi Pass. I found both the Eurail Global Pass and also the Swiss Flexi Pass really easy to use. It was a really good way to travel and a very cost effective way of doing things.

SUMMARY

I found my journey on the trains throughout Europe to be a fantastic experience. It was so much easier than flying and the rail passes were really easy to use. It was so good not having to worry about checking in and going out of town to find the airport. You can just go and sit in your seat which is a lot more comfortable than the economy seats on an aeroplane. Apart from Eurostar you don't have to check in, the scenery is great and it is so relaxing. When travelling in first class most of the carriages have 4 seats facing each other with a table in the middle and on the other side single seats facing each other with a table in the middle also. Many of the second class carriages had two seats on one side and two on the other with the aisle in the middle.
I had a great experience by rail- I would recommend it to anyone!

More staff stories

Go to staff stories page

 

Back To Top