Europe is a big continent to travel. While travel in this region can cost you a big dip in savings, it is worth it! Far away visitors would have gotten here by air travel. Once you land here in a city of your choice, take the train to travel around, visit the next country or tour several countries at one go.
Train travel in Europe is comfortable, fast, accurate though not necessarily cheap if you buy tickets point to point. For cost saving measures, it is most advisable to buy rail passes for rail travel within a country, country to country or region. These rail passes give you unlimited train rides on most routes and discounted tickets to tourist attractions like museums and cable cars.
Buy Rail Passes Before Arrival
Buy first before you fly – it is not available in the country you arrive, or if the rail passes are available, they are very expensive.
Most importantly you need to have the rail passes stamped first thing if you want unlimited travel on the first day of travel. In most, if not all, airports, there is a railway counter you can go to. Remember, you need to purchase this rail pass in your country before arriving at any European city.
The are many different types of rail passes available : within one country, between neighboring countries or among several region. Price varies depending on the number of days of travel (either consecutive or flexible travel days) and between Class 1 or 2 seats.
At the end of this post, there are several links giving more indepth information on the various types of rail passes. I will focus more on what you see at the train stations and inside the trains.
For most modern trains, there is first class and second class seating. The difference is in the comfort level of the seats and the price you pay for the tickets. I suggest you stick with 2nd class tickets if the journey is short. In any case, the seats in 2nd class are very comfortable. Travelling with a group gives you more discounts for rail passes. For point to point tickets to the next country, remember to book train tickets earlier. In Zurich, the three of us gladly booked first class tickets to Paris departing 10 days later when a discount was offered.
In some trains you may book seat reservations at a fee. Even with the rail pass, you may still need to pay a supplementary mountain pass. Check your rail pass information.
For night travel, there are various accommodation types on night trains – from shared bunks to a private room of your own. Of course, if you prefer to save cost, you can always sleep on the seats – not very comfortable though.
Train Station and Train Schedule
At each train station, there are many rail tracks. Look for the Information (I) signboard at each train station. There is a time schedule for Arrival and Departure – color coded in yellow and white paper in Switzerland. Check the location of the rail platform number, departure and arrival time of the place you are going or returning. Platforms are labeled numerically from 1, 2, 3, etc while the alphabet next to the platform number denotes class number. For example : 1A or 2B may refer to platform number for first class carriages. Do remember the duration of your journey and the return trip time table if you are out on a day trip and returning to the same place. Otherwise you may miss the last train home and give yourself some time allowance if there is a connecting train. I find the Swiss train schedule simply fantastic with its precise timing. Their website also gives wonderful time schedule for your choice travel plan. Check their website : http://www.sbb.ch/en.
How to enter the train
Not all train doors open automatically when you reach the train station. On each door, inside and outside, there is a big round button midway of the door, either on the left or right. Press on it to open the door. Doesn’t matter if you enter via first class, move forward or backward to the next carriage if there is no seats in second class. I find the upper-deck trains really cool as the height gives better viewing.
Inside the train
Once you enter the train, look for the large baggage railings usually located on the left or right side of the doors. Please note the luggages are left unattended. People may accidentally take the wrong luggage if they are in a hurry or there are too many similar bags. Remember to make yours distinctive for example by attaching bright multi-color ribbons to your luggage. Not all trains have an overhead railing or compartment to put your backpacks. Try not to bring such a big backpack. Find one that you can easily put on your lap. Your fellow travellers will appreciate it very much. Trains can get crowded especially during peak hours and you may have to stand up for a while.
At each train stop, the train conductor will ask for newcomers on board for the train ticket, travel card or rail pass. If you are a visitor from another country and using a rail pass, the train conductor will also ask to see your passport. So keep your passports safe within handy reach, not somewhere under three layers of clothes in a hidden wallet. Some routes require additional supplements to your rail pass. If you do not make the necessary payments, be prepared to pay a fine.
A little note if taking trains in Paris
You may see a gal or a guy passing multi color cards to train passengers. They are not passing you information booklets. It is a note telling you they need money to feed their family and a little donation for their train tickets would be helpful. It is up to you how you wish to react – decline the cards or give them a bit of money. It happens at several train stops so don’t be surprised.
More information on rail passes for each country and region is provided at the following links.
Links on Rail Tickets and Passes
Some of the Trains in Europe
Generally, I find train travel to be fast and convenient and a great way to travel.
So, chuck…chuck….here comes my train! See you soon!