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Sylvie's blitz trip through Europe

Staff member: Sylvie // Trip date: Jan 2015


I tacked on my rail familiarization experience at the end of my first trip back home in 4 years so I only had a minimal amount of time to enjoy Europe and had to set a rapid pace to see as much as I could. I pre-planned everything with Rail Plus so as not to waste my precious time at the stations. All my seats were reserved and my pass was validated before I left. All I had to do was write in the dates on my Eurail Global Flexi Pass, sit back and enjoy. By having the pass validated before I left it became non-refundable. It is recommended that in most cases passes are validated locally in Europe.


Montpellier-Nantes via Paris: From my hometown of Montpellier I first went to Nantes to visit my partner's family. There is a direct service between those two cities unfortunately it departed and arrived late and as I wanted to spend the afternoon and evening with them I decided on the non direct route via Paris. Arriving by train from the south of France and going west meant a change of station in Paris. I had given myself an hour and was on my second train with 10' to spare. In hindsight I would say one hour is plenty of time if you go between Gare de Lyon and Gare du Nord as these 2 stations are only a few stops apart on RER D. Unfortunately to go to Montparnasse I had to change in Chatelet, which is one of those stations where you have to walk miles for your connection and once in Montparnasse I had to go through another batch of endless corridors. Just as well the first train was on time and I did not suffer from the language barrier when working out which metro ticket to buy.


Once on the platform you can check the train maps located at either end so as to be directly in front of your compartment when the train arrives at the station. Plenty of leg room in first class and the 'duo configuration' with a table in between yourself and the person opposite are great for both leg room and laptops.


Nantes Bruges via Paris and Brussels: Once again the train departed right on time and the change to the Gare du Nord was painless enough as direct. Still one and a half hour would be my preferred choice next time.


The Thalys train between Paris and Brussels is very comfortable and I enjoyed a complimentary lunch and Wi-Fi. The conductor checks your tickets prior to boarding the train so make sure your pass and seat reservations are handy. Once in Brussels I had to ask about the next train as Bruges itself is not indicated on the departure boards. I went to the Thalys lounge and was told to look for the train to Knokke-Blanken Berge and stop at the 3rd station. Another alternative is to hop on the train to Ostende.


I thoroughly recommend a stopover in Bruges, just walking around and enjoying the beautiful architecture is a treat. Not to mention the chocolates and beer. Of course if like my daughter you get sick you also have to visit a doctor, but even on a Sunday all I had to do was call the reception desk of the very nice Martin's hotel (located right opposite the belfry tower) and they found me a doctor and a taxi and the trip there and back was done in an hour! Needless to say I would have rather walked the steps of the tower than going to the doctor's. Next time!


Bruges Amsterdam via Antwerp: Once the doctor and check out were dealt with we returned to the station and hopped onto a local train to Antwerp. We arrived into the beautiful Antwerp station with plenty of time to purchase a ticket on the next Thalys train. I had originally planned on using the local intercity train but with my daughter less than a hundred percent I opted for the pricy but comfy and fast Thalys option, 2nd class this time. Still extremely comfortable but no free Wi-Fi and no meal included. As one of the stops on route is Amsterdam Schiphol (pronounced Skipol) Airport the luggage area was overflowing but the overhead space definitely big enough for a medium size suitcase. This time no one checked our seat reservations. We both loved Amsterdam and had enough time there to visit Anne Frank's house (I had pre booked etickets and we therefore avoided queuing up to get in which is a huge advantage when you see the length of the queue... I would say at least one hour wait outside in the freezing cold) as well as Rembrandt's house.


Amsterdam to Prague via Oberhausen: The first sector was an ICE train from Amsterdam to Oberhausen which did not require a seat reservation. We just hopped on with the pass and had to wait an hour in Oberhausen for the night train. By sheer luck the station Asian Café was still opened for half an hour. So we waited in there. Oberhausen station is not much by evening time. Once on the platform we waited in one of the bleak but warm waiting rooms out of the cold. There was a train map but once the train showed up we were nowhere near our designated compartment so we hopped on the train and lugged our suitcase all the way to our double sleeper which was very compact but comfortable enough. The conductor gave us our included breakfast one hour prior to arrival. Once in Prague I decided to try the taxi but was given a very prohibitive 'tourist' price to do the short ride to the hotel so changed tack and headed to the metro which is extremely cheap and very well sign posted. We arrived at our hotel 20 minutes later having paid 10 times less than the taxi had requested. We had a great time in Prague, definitely a beautiful town. Visited the Castle, the Jewish Museum and Synagogue, and just walked around checking out the beautiful architecture and lovely squares where Xmas markets and decorations were still up. Drank our fill of Czech beer and ate very nice 'soup in bread'... nope this item on the menu was not lost in translation... the soup 'dish' is indeed a big bread roll ...


Prague to Lucerne via Zurich: Another CNL night train experience. Having learned from the above experience we went straight to the Metro and were at the station in record time. Make sure you keep enough Czech Korunas to pay for the station bathrooms as there are no free ones in sight. My train number or destination never appeared on the departure board so I went to enquire. Our train had 2 numbers and only the part of the train that ended back in Oberhausen was posted on the departure board and the mention of Zurich was nowhere in sight. Once I got this information we headed to the platform. The train was already there as it departed from Prague so we had plenty of time to find the correct coach which was the very last one. This time the conductor kept our passes and seat reservations until the final destination. Snacks on the train can be purchased in Czech Korunas, Swiss Francs or Euros which is quite convenient when you are in between countries. Arrived at Zurich Hb spot on time and proceeded straight to Lucerne. Hopped on to the local SBB train and were at our Lucerne Hotel by 10.30am. As we were told our room would not be ready before 2pm we left our luggage with the reception people and went walk about. Lucerne is a lovely lake by and mountain surrounded town with some beautifully painted buildings. Then back to the hotel for check in and a much needed shower and back out for a much expected 'Fondue' experience.


Lucerne to Geneva via Interlaken, Zweisimmen and Montreux: D day for the long awaited Golden pass ride started off really early and extremely on time yet again. A lovely ride from Lucerne to Interlaken OST with day breaking shortly after departure. Once in Interlaken we put our suitcase in the locker at the station (7 Swiss Francs) and went walkabout in Interlaken. This was quickly done and we got back to the station to get our luggage back and hopped on the second train of the day from Interlaken to Spiez. Only a short ride this time and as the next train was on the platform opposite in Spiez the change was really easy. Spiez to Zweisimmen was short and sweet too. Once in Zweisimmen we got onto our panoramic carriage. We had the very front seats and were the only ones in this part of the carriage, our pole position made us feel like we were on a roller coaster and what a view! Well worth the extra seat reservation cost. It being January plenty of snow around and all you can dream about picture perfect Switzerland. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience! We rounded off the trip with a 1 hour train ride around Lake Geneva from Montreux to said city. And to finish this perfect day gorged on Swiss food at the very nice Petit Chalet restaurant ... Rosti, Crouton a la Royale, Raspberries with Meringue and cream. No need to say had an early bedtime but what a day. Loved Switzerland and can't wait to go back to see more scenic trains.


Geneva back to Montpellier via Lyon: Hopped on a regional express from Geneva to Lyon, for some reason the conductor checked everybody's tickets except ours. Then we had to wait a couple of hours for our TGV from Lyon to Montpellier. All pretty uneventful and straightforward. Of course as this was our last few hours in my hometown much eating was done with my family, first at the restaurant and then at my Mother's where the evening meal was a Paella, quite fitting since we were taking off from Barcelona.


Montpellier to Barcelona: Took the regional train to Perpignan as the direct TGV was not arriving in good time for our check in at the Airport. Then a smooth change to an AVE train in Perpignan. Once at the Barcelona station there was dedicated staff with big signs advising connection help. We were guided to the airport train. All very easy and on time. The airport was also clearly signposted and we took the shuttle from the airport station to the Terminal.


Conclusion: Travelling by train and in first class was so comfortable and enjoyable. There was not one hitch during the 10 days. All the trains were on time, clean and comfortable, the staff always helpful and courteous. Most stations had clear boards with all relevant information or at least an information desk centrally located. The convenience of arriving right in the heart of every city we visited made our hectic pace easier to handle. Great trains together with wonderful cities and beautiful sceneries. What more could we wish for. All in all a fantastic experience. I wish I could travel all the way back to Australia this way but I might be a bit late back for work! I will have to make do with 25 hours of hell in one tight and uncomfortable seat with no leg room.



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