Venice Simplon Orient Express and Europe

Staff member: Kirsty // Trip date: Jul 2009

Manchester Airport - Leeds

I arrived at Manchester Airport, Terminal Three around 6.30am, it was then an easy 10 minute walk to the train station located within the airport. The way was very clearly sign posted and I had no problem making the transit. I hadn't checked what time the trains were running as wasn't sure how long customs etc would take and knew the train ran at least hourly to Leeds. I lined up at the Ticket Office in order to have my Britrail Pass validated which the officer did for me with no question, I was not required to show my passport, however when validating a EURAIL pass they will ask for passport details. The officer entered the first and last date of validity on the pass and also the days date. I asked which train I should take to Leeds and lucky for me it was leaving in ten minutes. From the ticket office it was a quick walk down the ramp to the platform.

I had a first class Britrail Pass, the train operating from Manchester - Leeds looked to be fairly new, first class seating was configured as two seats and then the aisle and then one seat. The seats were arranged in either groups of four or two. During the service the ticket inspector came through and complimentary tea, coffee and water was also available. The service took just over an hour and was running on time into Leeds. Seat reservations were not compulsory I sat in one of the available seats.

Leeds - London - Leeds

Taking the train from Leeds - London was fantastic, I used to live in Leeds and have done this journey many times by bus which takes almost five hours, the train was a much faster option at just over two hours and much more comfortable with the ability to get up and walk around, access to washrooms (WC), larger seats and more leg room.

Ticket inspectors checked my ticket at the barrier at Leeds Station and once again on board the train. Complimentary tea, coffee, water and biscuits were available throughout the journey. A menu was also available with additional food and beverages available for purchase.

The train was very clean and first class was relatively empty with only six other passengers in my carriage. The seating configuration was once again two seats, aisle and then a single seat with most seats made up into groups of four or two. Power points for laptops and phone charging were also available at each seat.

I had not made a reservation on this service prior to departing Australia as I wanted to keep my options open. Seat reservations within the UK are not compulsory on any service, however recommended when travelling in peak periods. If you would like to make a reservation you can do so prior to departing Australia with Rail Plus or at the train station within the UK.

**The second class carriages were carrying a lot more passengers than first class I would recommend confirming seat reservations on second class services when possible.

The London - Leeds service was the same as Leeds-London, once again 1st class was fairly empty which made for a nice relaxing journey, both journeys departed and arrived on time, in both instances I was able to board the train approximately 15 minutes prior to the trains departure.

This service arrives and departs from Kings Cross Station which was extremely convenient with direct access to six tube stations and St Pancras Station which is the Eurostar station is only across the road.

Day Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle (three hours from Munich)

The small village of Fussen is a three hour train journey from Munich, the beautiful fairytale castle Neuschwanstein Castle is the main attraction and approximately 5km from the train station.

Trains depart from 5am from Munich Hbf, the train does not take seat reservations so you can simply sit in any available seat, we took the 8.04am service. My sister did not have a Eurail pass so we purchased her a 2nd class ticket at the train station at the cost of 80Euros, I was using my first class Eurail Pass, as we wanted to sit together I was happy to sit in 2nd class for this part of my journey. The seating configuration was 2 seats then the aisle and another two seats with all seats set up in groups of four. Luggage storage was only available overhead.

The journey was very pretty as we made our way to the mountains, unfortunately it wasn't an express journey so the train stopped fairly often. Fussen train station was very small with a small tourist information centre attached, we asked how to get to the castle and were advised to take the bus, the cost was 4euros for a return trip, or you could take a taxi for 10euros.

The bus stops at the front of the entrance and it is easy to buy your tickets for the castle entry from there, the bus services run every half hour in both directions.

The train journey on the way back to Munich was similar to the way in, nice to have a snooze on the train before getting ready for the evenings activities!

Half way through the journey home our train stopped and everyone hopped off, they must have known something I didn't, my sister and I, being the last ones on the train also hopped off, we waited on the platform for about 20 minutes and the lovely IC train took us the rest of the way home, this was an express train so we made up the lost time at the station.

Even though it was three hour train journey the time went very quickly and I feel three hours is no problem if you are taking a day trip, part of the trip is seeing some of the scenery around as you get to and from your destination!

Munich - Ljubljana

My boyfriend Ben and I took the overnight train from Munich - Ljubljana, we had pre-reserved a double cabin with Rail Plus, double cabins will generally always sell out in advance, particularly in peak period so it is important to pre-book.

Our carriage number and bed numbers were on the ticket, the bed numbers were 42 and 44, Ben was a little concerned the booking was wrong and we would be sharing with someone else however this is just how the cabin numbers are indicated on the tickets, we did have a private double.

Ben is 6'3" and was also worried he wouldn't fit in the bed, or that he would have a cramped sleep, while the beds are fairly narrow he had just enough room to lay flat on the bed and we both had a very good night sleep.

The double cabin was equipped with a sink, air-conditioning, two complimentary bottles of water and the beds had been made with fresh sheets, WC facilities were at the end of the cabin, showers were not available on this train. The train departed on time and once again you could board the train around 15 minutes prior to departure, each carriage had an attendant who showed us to our cabin and took our tickets, as we were crossing two boarders (German/Austria and Austria/Slovenia) the steward also took our passports. Passports and tickets were handed back to us in the morning, the steward knocked on our door around half an hour prior to arriving in Ljubljana we were then offered tea/coffee and given a croissant for breakfast. The train departed and arrived on time.

Bled - Zagreb

The train station for Bled is called Lesce Bled, a small town five minutes drive from the actual Lake where most tourists will be heading to. We took a taxi to the train station however bus services are also available.

Our train was running 20 minutes late, an announcement was made in Slovenian and our friendly taxi driver who was waiting for the train's arrival came up and told us what was said as no English announcement was made.

Once the train arrived we boarded and found seats in 1st class, the carriage was divided into compartments with six seats in each compartment, we were lucky to find an empty compartment and had this to ourselves for the whole journey. The seats were nice big leather seats that reclined slightly, air conditioning, individual lights and power points were also available. The scenery on this trip was beautiful. Seat reservations on this service were not compulsory so we didn't make one, luckily the train was not full.

Zagreb - Split

We took another overnight train on this service, the train departed Zagreb on time, however we arrived into Split 30 minutes late. Once again we had pre-booked a double compartment with Rail Plus prior to our departure from Australia and our carriage steward showed us to our cabin taking our tickets for inspection which were once again returned in the morning. Our passports were not required this time as we were not crossing boarders.

The cabin was equipped with a sink and bunk beds, a small bench and two bottles of water, luggage storage was available over head or on the floor.

In the morning the steward knocked on our door 30 minutes prior to arrival in Split and we were offered a croissant for breakfast, no tea or coffee this time.

The train station in Split is located directly next to the bus terminal and across the road from the ferry terminal, everything is sign posted in Croatian and English.

Our final stop for this sector was Dubrovnik, unfortunately the train line finishes in Split so we had to take a bus to Dubrovnik, the bus station was very easy to find and buses depart every hour from Split. We had been advised the journey would take 4 hours however it ended up taking 5 ½ there was quite a lot of traffic on the road due to it being a Saturday and the bus also operates as a local service making quite a few stops in between towns. The journey is extremely scenic as the road follows the coast, if possible sit on the right hand side of the bus on your way down. The cost for the bus was around $30 and tickets can only be purchased locally. (For some reason the bus on the way back was around $40!!)

Ancona - Venice

We had taken the overnight ferry from Ancona - Split, the ferry was due to arrive in Ancona at 7am, and although running on time we were not allowed off the ferry until 7.30am. The train station is 3km from the ferry terminal.

On the map we had the train station looked a lot closer than 3km so we decided to walk, however with luggage this was not an easy task so I would recommend taking a taxi!!

Our train was departing Ancona for Venice at 8.15am. We arrived at the train station just after 8am so a note to all passengers taking the ferry to Ancona do not reserve any trains prior to 8am as you may not make the connection!

Seat reservations were compulsory on this service and we had not pre-reserved our seats. The service was travelling to Venice via Bologna so I purchased these at the ticket desk, the cost was 10 Euros per peson, per sector. Unfortunately 1st class seats were sold out from Ancona - Bologna so we had to sit in 2nd class. The 2nd class carriage was very nice, the seating configuration was two seats and then an aisle and another two seats, most seats were set up in groups of four. Luggage storage was available overhead and for larger pieces space was available in the middle of the carriage. The train departed and arrived on time.

We had an hour transit time in Bologna, the train station was like most others in Europe with lots of snack and coffee shops available. The train was running 20 minutes late and the announcement was made in Italian, not English, luckily they also put the announcement on the departures board which is easy to read. In the minute prior to the trains arrival another announcement was made and a mass exit of the platform was made by all the Italians, we had a quick look around and realised our train was arriving into another platform so we quickly changed platforms and boarded the train, this was a little frustrating however if you keep your eyes open you can usually figure things out!!

The 1st class train from Bologna - Venice was lovely, we thought 2nd class was nice on our first sector however once you travel in 1st class you never want to change, much more leg room, nice big leather seats and complimentary coffee was served, lovely! We arrived into Venice Santa Lucia which is the train station on Venice Island, if you are staying on the mainland Venice Mestre is the better station to get off at, most trains will stop at both stations. The boat station is located just outside the Venice Santa Lucia train station which makes for easy connections to your hotel.

Venice Simplon Orient Express (VSOE)

We were so excited to take the VSOE and I was so glad we had left the journey until our final days in Europe, a little bit of luxury never goes astray!! Our tickets advised that we needed to call the local office to confirm the departure time, I made the call from the hotel and the train was leaving at the same time as scheduled, we were told to check in at the VSOE counter 60 minutes prior to the trains departure.

The VSOE check-in desk was located on the main platform of Venice Santa Lucia Station and was very clearly sign posted, it even had a little red carpet! The staff were very friendly and took our main bags so they could be taken to the luggage cart and also our overnight bags which would be taken to our cabin. We were advised the train would be departing at 11am and we could board the train from 10.45am. Unfortunately there is no lounge area for VSOE passengers however complimentary tea and coffee was available from one of the snack bars in the main terminal.

At 10.45am we walked the length of the train to find our carriage, the train was beautiful and clean and the stewards were standing in their crisp uniforms ready to help you on board and show you to your cabin, there was plenty of time to take photos of the train prior to boarding.

We were shown to our lovely cabin and began to settle in, soon after departure the steward came to the room and showed us how everything worked, a sink can be found in the corner cupboard and we were welcome to wear the robes and slippers provided (also available for purchase), the beds would be made up while we were at dinner and we were to just sit back and enjoy the journey! Soon after the restaurant manager came to ask what lunch time sitting we would like, during the afternoon he came and asked what dinner time sitting we would like, the lunch times were either 11.45am or 2.00pm and dinner was either 7.00pm or 9.30pm, we chose the late sitting for both options, however as the meals were so big I would suggest taking the first lunch sitting and the second dinner sitting.

We soon settled in, the carriage is not overly spacious however it was very comfortable, lovely big pillows on the three seater couch and a spectacular view out the window, all the windows opened so it was lovely to have the fresh breeze come through the cabin, there was also a small fan in the room. The VSOE has no air-conditioning or electricity besides the lights, the carriages have all been refurbished from the original carriages that were operating from the 1920's through to the 1950's, the new carriages have been operating since 1982.

Our announcement for lunch was made at 1.45pm so we went down to the dining car, the train has three dining cars and we were seated in the first, our menu's were delivered promptly and the amazing service did not stop throughout the meal, water glasses constantly full and beautiful fresh bread continually offered. Lunch is three courses, sea bass for entree, with veal and vegetables for main and refreshing fruit salad for dessert, the meals were wonderful and we ate everything on our plates. The menu is a set menu however the waiters are happy to change anything to suit, drinks are not included in the price and there is an extensive wine list to choose from.

While at lunch the steward had tidied our cabin ready for us to sit back and enjoy the afternoon, by this stage we were heading towards the Austrian Alps, even though I would have gladly had an afternoon nap I did my best to stay awake to take in our surroundings! The train stops fairly often to let other trains pass particularly when going through tunnels. We arrived in Innsbruck in the late afternoon and everyone is given the opportunity to hop off the train and take more photos, the stewards put on their full uniform, including hat and gloves and are more than happy to have photos taken with you.

After the train started moving again our afternoon tea was served to us in the cabin, a yummy selection of cakes and tarts, and even though still full from lunch you just can't say no!

The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur of snow capped mountains, gorgeous villages and the gently rocking of the train, by the time we knew it our dinner service was called, we dressed in our formal clothes and headed to the dining car, the guests that were already seated looked beautiful, tuxedos for the men and lovely gowns for the women, we sat down just as the sun was setting over Lake Zurich. Our four course dinner menu included fish for entrée, duck for main, an array of cheeses and a raspberry sorbet for dessert, once again even though we were incredibly full there was no chance of us not eating every piece on our plates!

After dinner guests are invited to take tea and coffee or after dinner drinks in the bar car where there is a baby grand piano, the perfect way to end a perfect day! When we returned to our cabin the steward had arranged the night time setting, an upper and lower berth, extremely comfortable beds and lovely soft pillows, we had a wonderful sleep and I think our very full tummies may have helped with this!
We woke early in the morning and were on the outskirts of Paris, we had arranged for our breakfast to be brought to the cabin at 7.30am, the train was due to arrive at Paris Gare de L'est at 8.30am, breakfast was a selection of fresh rolls and croissants which we enjoyed while watching the Parisians head to work on the passenger trains. The train arrived right on time into Paris Gare de L'est station and our steward was wonderful assisting us and our luggage off the train. The luggage we had put in the main luggage car was delivered to us within ten minutes.

EUROSTAR

We then headed off to Paris Gare du Nord to take the Eurostar to Paris, the stations are only 800m apart so it was just a short walk for us. We had a three hour transit time in Paris and were lucky to have lounge passes that gave us access to the Eurostar lounge, (available with Business Premier tickets) which includes complimentary food and beverages, newspapers, magazines and WiFi, as well as very relaxing area to wait for your train. The check in for the Eurostar is very easy, you simply show your tickets to the inspector then your passport to the French authorities and then again to the UK authorities, this way once you disembark the train in London you are free to head off without having to go through customs. We boarded the train 10 minutes prior to the trains departure, the steward showed us to our seats, luggage storage was available at the end of the carriage and above the seats. We held Leisure Select tickets which is 1st class and includes a three course meals as well as drinks, champagne, wine, beer, a very enjoyable trip! The journey between Paris and London is only 2 hours 15 minutes and the time travelling through the chunnel is only 20 minutes, you hardly notice you have gone underground. We quickly arrived into London at the newly refurbished London St Pancras Station, disembarkation was nice and easy and we followed the signs to the tube station at Kings Cross.

As I mentioned earlier Kings Cross is linked to six tube lines which makes getting anywhere in London very easy, we were heading to Paddington and it was just a quick 30 minutes. Unfortunately the tube does not have much room to store luggage so it was a fairly uncomfortable ride however it was nice and quick and very affordable!

Heathrow Express

I can't imagine a more convenient way to travel to Heathrow Airport than by taking the Heathrow Express! In peak periods the train departs London Paddington Station every 15 minutes and it is super fast, 15 minutes to get to the airport and the service travels directly to terminal 3. Ben was able to use the last day of his Britrail Pass on the service, however I had used all my days so I purchased my ticket at Paddington Station, unfortunately there was a huge line, perhaps eight people in front of me and we almost missed the train because of it, it would have been much easier to have pre-purchased the ticket in Australia, of course due to the wait we ended up running for the train which is never much fun with suitcases!

Ben sat in 1st class which was much more spacious than 2nd, however as the journey is only 15 minutes I didn't have a problem sitting in the 2nd class carriage, once again the configuration was 2-1 in 1st class and 2-2 in 2nd class. Heathrow Express TV comes on shortly after the train departs and gives you helpful information about what to do when you leave the train, how to get to departures area etc. The alternatives to taking the Heathrow Express are taking the tube which can take up to 90 minutes, taking a taxi which would cost a fortune, particularly if travelling solo, or another very handy option is DOT2DOT, a mini bus service that takes you from your hotel to the airport, very helpful if you have lots of luggage or staying far from Paddington Station.

I was in the UK and Europe for 4 weeks and had a wonderful time, taking the train was so easy, I had actually forgotten what a wonderful system the European train network is, very smooth and almost always running on time. The train stations can be fabulous, Paris Nord and Munich Hbf are huge, with a wonderful array of cafes and shops making the wait for trains quite enjoyable!

For me the best part about taking the train apart from the ease of use was the scenery, you simply don't see this kind of scenery when driving and travelling on the freeway. The big picture windows provide a perfect viewing space and it was incredibly relaxing to simply sit back and enjoy the journey with plenty of room to stretch out. The seats were very comfortable, perfect to have a snooze in if required and of course the simple fact that the train departs and arrives from the city centre so I wasn't spending all my time travelling to or from the airport, absolutely perfect!

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