Traversing Europe by train is an incredibly exciting adventure. The European rail network is extensive, safe and affordable. You can’t beat the comfort and convenience of rail travel! For starters, you don’t have to leave the ground (I am not a fan of flying). There is a lot more room anyway than in a plane seat, or even in a car, and the ability to get up and walk around – to use the loo (if you dare on some trains), look out of the window (I love looking out of the back window), or grab a bite to eat or a hot coffee from the dining cart.
Admittedly, train classes vary quite severely, and I have honestly experienced amazing service and comfort on the one hand, and unpleasant (to say the least!) overnight journeys that never seem to end! But don’t let that deter you. Each trip is an adventure in itself. So enjoy the journey. It’s part of the fun.
Train travel is far more convenient than air travel in so many ways
- Rail travel is almost always more affordable than air travel
- There is seldom a weight restriction on your baggage (or they don’t bother to weigh it)
- You don’t have to arrive early for your train. As long as you are on board at the moment the train departs then you are all good (I have made it a few times by the skin of my teeth!)
- You can carry as much liquid as you like – no see-through plastic baggy necessary
- There is no need to turn off your phone and other electronics, and there is usually an power point to charge any fading batteries – and on some trains you might even find a workstation
- You don’t have to fasten your seat belt
- More leg room!
My most memorable train journey was totally spontaneous
I have been lucky enough to have crossed France, Spain and Italy by train, and have also taken short trips into Monaco and Luxembourg. But my favourite Europe by train experience was not even planned! Read on for my story.
I had spent a few days recovering in Santiago, Spain, after a failed attempt at walking the last 111 km of the Camino de Santiago had left me with Achilles tendinitis. So there I was with a (First Class) Rail Europe train pass, my slip slops (I could not get my foot into my hiking boot), and a backpack, ready to go…but where to?
Did you know that when you book a Rail Europe pass you can choose between First Class and Second Class tickets?
Why not Barcelona?
I remember approaching the clerk at the reservation counter at the train station and asking for an overnight train, first class to…anywhere. I wondered if he had ever been asked that before because he seemed to have gotten excited (or was that me?) when he had exclaimed: Barcelona!
Barcelona sounded exciting. I had never been there…and as we quickly made up our minds, would you believe that this guy sweetened the deal! For an extra €50 we could upgrade from First Class to Gran Clase. Okay, sure…whatever that means! As long as it is more comfortable than the very uncomfortable overnight journey that we had experienced between Madrid and Sarria (overnight in an upright seat!).
A little bit of Luxury
So off we go to board our train, looking forward to a little bit of Grand Class…and we were not disappointed! We were truly spoiled! We had a private compartment for two, complete with an en suite bathroom (including shower and toilet), TV screen and a comfort pack containing slippers, toiletries and an eye mask. The cabin had two large seats next to each other and a foldout table by the window.
The dining car was elegant and the staff were friendly and professional. We ordered off the a la carte menu and indulged in some lovely Spanish wine before going back to our little nest.
At 10 pm exactly, a uniformed steward knocked softly and asked us to step outside so that he could prepare the cabin for the evening – turn down service! The beds were bunk beds – we were on a train after all – with luxury linen, and quite comfortable, and while I rather enjoyed the gentle rocking as the train sped through the Spanish countryside, my partner, on the other hand, did not.
I suppose sleeping on a train is not for everyone
We enjoyed coffee and croissants in the morning before disembarking after a very enjoyable (for me at least) night aboard a Spanish train, into the beautiful city of Barcelona.
After a few days relaxing at the beach and taking in the breathtaking La Sagrada Familia, enchanting streets like La Rambla boulevard, and of course the unique Gaudi architecture, including the wonderful Park Güell (pictured above), our next Europe by train journeys took us back into France (from where we’d come) into Perpignan, then Bordeaux, and finally to Le Dorat – a small town in the Haute-Vienne department of the French countryside, definitely worth a visit!
Nightmare Europe by Train Experience: Train Hotel
Paris to San Sebastian, Spain (via Irun), June 2017.
We arrived at the train station, Gare D’Austerlitz, in Paris, only to find that our overnight train had been cancelled! The patient lady at the information counter gave us each a new ticket for a train that would depart the following morning… from a different train station! “But don’t worry,” she said…you can spend the night on a stationary train in the station. What?!
Yes. We slept overnight on a non-moving train in a practically deserted Paris train station.
The only soul around besides the handful of those who couldn’t afford, or rather, couldn’t be bothered, to find a hotel at 10 pm in Summer in Paris, was a security officer and his dog.
We were handed a bottle of water and a snack box which contained a biscuit, a juice box, a fruit salad and an instant espresso (yuck!).
As I mentioned before, I quite enjoy sleeping on trains…but this was different. There was no peace of mind about getting safely to my destination overnight, nor that gentle rocking as the train moved along the tracks. This was just plain weird. And I did not sleep a wink.
The next morning we had to take a taxi at 6.30 to get our train from the next station. The only comfort was that this was the famous French TGV speed train, so we arrived in Irun, where the French trains terminate their journeys on Spanish soil, in only 5 hours. From Irun, we got our short connection to San Sebastian, and then we had to figure out how to get to Mundaka…but that’s a story for another post.
The reality is that train travel – actually all travel – doesn’t always work out the way that you planned it. So plan to take it moment by moment and enjoy the journeys as well as the destinations! Europe by train is an adventure not to be missed!