Category Archives: Rail Travel

Getting the most from rail travel in Europe from finding cheap tickets to why some travellers prefer train travel in Europe to flying.

West Highland Line to Oban

Taking the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban is a train journey which I’d been intending to do for ages. I seized the opportunity when Scotrail announced their £17 return fare between any two stations in Scotland, available to members to Scotrail Club 50 members.

Below is a pictorial record of the railway journey on the West Highland Line to Oban.

Clyde Estuary approaching Dumbarton

Dumbarton Central Station

West Highland Line near Dumbarton

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Tarbert

Beinn Dorain topped by cloud

West Highland Line near Tyndrum

West Highland Line near Dalmally

West Highland Line near Dalmally

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Loch Awe

Loch Awe

West Highland Line near Falls of Cruachan

The descent into Oban

My outward journey from Glasgow to Oban on the West Highland Line was fantastic. I had the four seats at a table to myself and the sun was shining for most of the trip.

I was a different story on the return journey. I had booked a seat on the 14.40 train from Oban for the following day. But it was such a wet day, and my Club 50 £17 return was a flexible ticket, so I decided to go for the earlier 12.11 train. I arrived at Oban station in plenty of time to increase my chances of finding an unreserved seat on the two carriage train.

A good thing that I was there early, as I managed to grab one of the four unreserved seats on the train. The train was packed, with quite a few people standing until we reached Crianlarich, where our two coaches were hooked up with a four carriage train which had come from the Mallaig.

The initial part of the journey from Oban to Crianlarich was awful. It was a struggle to get through the train to reach the one toilet. You could hardly see the scenery due to the rain and condensation on the windows, and it felt cold on the train.

So definitely a journey of two halves, with the first being infinitely more enjoyable.

Travelling from Marseille to Nice on the TGV

After struggling to buy train tickets for our journey from Budapest to Prague on the Hungarian rail website, I was pleasantly surprised by the user friendliness of the English version of  SCNF (French national rail) website when buying tickets for the trip from Marseille to Nice.

I thought that the price of £22 per adult for a standard class rail ticket was very reasonable. I was also happy to be able to print the SCNF tickets at home. With the Hugarian rail tickets, I had to pick them up from a ticket machine at the station.

As we approached Marseille St Charles railway station on the day of travel, I was impressed by the grandeur of the exterior of the building. I stopped to admire some large paintings on display outside the station.

marseille st charles railway station exterior

art at the front of marseille st charles railway station

Once in the station, we discovered that our TGV Duplex train to Nice was running 15 minutes late. The journey from Marseille to Nice was scheduled to take around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

tgv train at Marseille St Charles railway station

Our reserved seats were in a standard class compartment on the lower level of the two tier train. The seats were quite comfortable. The train wasn’t that busy, so were able to have a double seat each for the journey. The toilet was absolutely awful. To make matters worse, someone had dumped two large suitcases in front of the toilet door, so you had to virtually climb over the suitcases to get in and out. We had taken our own food and drink, so we didn’t visit the buffet car.

I expected the rail journey to be along the coastline, but a lot of it was through countryside, some with vineyards.

vineyards from train between marseille to nice

There were some glimpses of the Mediterranean enroute.

sea from train between marseille to nice in france

sea view from train between marseille to nice france

Close to Cannes, I spotted a marina.

approaching cannes on the train from marseille to nice

Our destination, Nice’s main station Nice Ville, was another beautiful old building.

nice ville railway station

It’s a pity that the otherwise very pleasant train journey from Marseille to Nice was marred by the dreadful state of the toilet. The French rail company, SNCF, really need to ensure that the onboard toilet facilities are clean.

Well Done East Coast Trains

On the 4th of November I was booked on the 16.22 Cross Country train from Berwick upon Tweed to Edinburgh, aiming to get the bus to Edinburgh airport and catch my flight to London Gatwick with a connection to Thessaloniki, Greece.

east coast train

I’d left plenty of time (or so I thought) for any possible mishaps/delays, including getting to the airport 1.5-2 hours before the flight.

My original CrossCountry service, originating in Conwall, was delayed by 80min. I was either going to cut it pretty fine or not make it to the airport on time.

When I enquired at the ticket office at Berwick upon Tweed, I was informed that although there was not another Cross Country train due in good time for me, an East Coast train, about 25minutes after the original Cross Country service had been due, had been contacted and the driver had agreed to take the Cross Country passengers on board, as there were enough seats available.

The East Coast train arrived on time, my Cross Country ticket was inspected, scanned and accepted and I made a time-wise comfortable onwards bus journey to the airport.

Well done East Coast, I hope in future this attitude is reciprocated by Cross Country so that  passengers do not miss flights, appointments etc.

Travelling from Budapest to Prague by Train

We travelled from Budapest in Hungary to Prague in the Czech Republic by train, on our twin centre holiday with our sons. The ‘Spa Day’ tickets for the journey, bought in advance on the Hungarian Railways website, cost 19 Euro per person.

The intercity service to Prague departs from Budapest Keleti Station, picutred below.

keleti station

The departure platform for our train, appeared on the information board around 20 minutes before leaving time. Initially, we couldn’t find the coach number given in our seat reservations.

However, after a few minutes staff in the train changed the pieces of paper on the train doors and we found the correct carriage. It was quite confusing, as the carriage numbers didn’t run consecutively but they appeared to be random.

keleti station slovan express carriage number

I was surprised that our second class carriage was almost empty. We’d been allocated four seats at a table. We spread out over the adjacent table, so the seven hour journey was very comfortable, with plenty of legroom. The train toilets were better than I expected, pretty clean at the start of the journey and still reasonable by the end.

There were some double electrical sockets but the size of our UK adaptor meant that we could only use one of the sockets. I was able to get a good mobile broadband signal using Vodafone Euro Traveller and setting up a WiFi hotspot, so that we could all go online.

slovan express second class carriage

The Hungarian countryside was very pretty, especially with the yellow rapeseed flowers.

slovan express view

We also passed a few lakes.

lake view from train

We took food with us for the journey. There’s a Spar oppposite the railway station in Budapest.

our sons on train from budapest to prague

Brno in the Czech Republic looked impressive.


We arrived in Prague just a few minutes late.

arrivingi in prague

Overall, it was a relaxing and interesting journey at a bargain basement price.

Evaluating UK Travel Options with GoEuro

We’ve been thinking of re-visiting Plymouth in Devon, in south west England, for some time. What’s put us off is the journey there.

plymouth hoe

Plymouth Hoe by Visentico/Sento

We prefer to take our car for trips within the UK. It costs a lot to own a car, so it makes sense to use it as much as possible, especially as we have an economincal diesel super-mini. However, it’s a pretty long drive down from Berwick upon Tweed to Plymouth and the roads in Devon get pretty congested.

Previously, I’d had a quick look at the option of travelling to Plymouth by train. There is a direct Cross Country train, but the return fare is often near enough £200, which seems excessive.

I decided to check out other options for the journey from Berwick upon Tweed to Plymouth in September on the GoEuro site, which searches through all available rail, bus and air routes.


It’s cheaper to take the train via London, first travelling there by East Coast and then by First Great Western to Plymouth. But that increases the journey time from 8 hours to around 14 hours. I did think that with a flexible return ticket you could have at least one stopover in London. We could further reduce the train fare if we bought a Two Together railcard, which gives one third off most off-peak fares for two named passengers travelling together. Although this discount card costs £30,  we could save more than the cost on that one long trip.

I hadn’t considered flying, but GoEuro came up with flights from Newcastle upon Tyne to Bristol with easyJet. Surprisingly, even factoring in rail travel from Berwick upon Tweed to Newcastle and from Bristol to Plymouth, the cost was lower than undertaking the whole journey by train. The estimated journey length was around 14 hours, the same as travelling the whole way by train via London.

easyjet plane

I wasn’t very keen on that option. I thought that there was a higher chance of things going wrong with the increased number of connections, e.g. if the train to Newcastle was late and we missed the flight to Bristol, or if our arrival into Bristol was delayed and we missed the train to Plymouth.

The cheapest option was taking the coach via London, which again took around 14 hours. I thought that it was quite possible that there could be delays on the motorway, plus I didn’t really fancy spending so many hours on a coach. At least on a train you can walk around more.

In conclusion, I thought that trying to find the lowest fare for the direct Cross Country train would be my preferred option for travelling between Berwick upon Tweed and Plymouth.

Buying Hungrian Train Tickets Online

On our twin centre city break to Budapest and Prague with our sons, we decided to travel by train between two cities. I did an online search for tickets. Some third party sites which appeared in the result where charging more than 80 Euro for a ticket.

However on the Hungarian Rail website I was able to purchase ‘Spa Day’ tickets for only 19 Euro per person (approx £16 UK Pounds). The ‘Spa Day’ tickets have to be purchased at least three days in advance of your journey. They are available from twelve weeks before your date of departure.

There’s a guide on how to buy tickets on the Hungarian rail website, the process is rather clunky. Prices are given in Euro, but you pay in Hungarian Forint. I used my Halifax Clarity Card, which has no overseas transaction charges for purchases.

I was slightly nervous as you couldn’t print the tickets at home. The purchase confirmation email instructed me  to go to a blue e-ticket machine at a Hungarian railway station and enter my reference number to get the tickets printed.

budapest keleti railway station entrance

Main entrance to Budapest Keleti Rail Station

I decided to go and pick up the tickets at Budapest Keleti Station, our depature point, on our first day in the city. This also enabled us to find the best route for walking to the station for our departure a couple of days later.

We entered the station by a side entrance, so it took a while to find the blue e-ticket machine. However, if you use the main entrance to the station the machine is located to your right, just after entering the station, close to the information office.

budapest keleti station eticket machine

E-ticket machine at Budapest Keleti Station

The machine printed out one ticket for the four of us, plus a receipt.

rail ticket

‘Spa Day’ tickets from Budapest to Prague

Fortunately, everything went smoothly with the ticket pick up, but I’d have been a lot happer if I could’ve printed the ‘Spa Day’ rail tickets for our journey from Budapest to Prague at home.

Greek Train Travel: A Cheap and Nasty Experience

I recently had the opportunity to test the Greek national train operating company Trainose. My sons and I were traveling from the capital Athens to Thessaloniki overnight, then changing trains for getting to Serres in the north-east where my parents live.

I booked my tickets online through the Trainose website’s route finder which is in Greek but can be translated into English by clicking an icon (top left). The tickets were pretty cheap, around £25 each. We were able to pay online and then print out tickets at home. We had booked well in advance as I had a pretty nasty experience in the past, when I saw several people standing during the overnight journey, possibly due to double-booked seats.

trainose site

Trainose website

When we got to the main train station Larissa in Central Athens, which was accessible via the excellent Athens Metro, we received our first nasty surprise: our tickets did not match the list at the platform’s entry point, where a regular member of staff was checking them while being overseen by a private security guard (which seemed pretty incongruous). However, our tickets were checked at the office and pronounced valid – although both the train number (500) and seat numbers did not officially exist.

We got on the train with some trepidation and 30 min post-departure I had to tell the same story to the ticket inspector – just as well I spoke Greek – who took the veracity of my words for granted saying ‘well, if they said so at the station I guess it’s OK, but I cannot guarantee your overnight seats’.

So, I was concerned that history would repat itself, we’d find ouselves standing and did not sleep a wink. I did see people standing as well as sleeping on the floor between carriages, but we were left unmolested. The train stopped at many stations and the lights were on/off all the time during the night.

When we got to Thessaloniki (on time) the train was split in half and we were told that the rear half would depart for Serres in an hour. It was unclear which new carriage was which, there were no rail workers in uniform to ask and someone apparently acting officially informed me that the train supervisor would turn up 5 min before the train departed to re-verify our tickets. The lights then went out and people were boarding in the dark.

Five minutes before departure said person did arrive, was in uniform and sent us to a carriage at the front of the train saying we could take any seat we wanted. However, once the train got going, a group of about 20 scouts came over and demanded that we quit our seats, showing us their tickets which they’d purchased just prior to departure.

At that stage I was not prepared to move, my sons were asleep after the awful overnight journey, and I nearly had a punch-up with the scout master. Fortunately the train supervisor appeared at the nick of time and somehow persuaded the scouts to leave us in peace. We arrived at our destination on time, feeling rather knackered. The two trains had taken a combined time of 10 hours to travel about 360 miles.

None the wiser by my experience, a couple of days later I booked a return train ticket from Serres to Alexandroupolis to visit my cousin near the North-East border with Turkey.


Train ticket and the Greek countryside en route to Alexandroupolis

The return journey cost about £13 and were both during the day. There is a lovely scenic stretch of about 50 miles between Drama and Komotini, sometimes running parallel to the river Nestos (which rises in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains and flows into the Greek Aegean Sea), which can only be appeciated via train travel. These journeys were uneventful and the trains half-empty, however there were smokers onboard that clearly defied the smoking ban and the guard did nothing to deter them. As an aside, the smoking ban cannot be very effective in Greece, as at a restaurant we visited in Alexandroupolis there were quite a few customers, as well as one of the owners, smoking indoors.


Smoker on train to Alexandroupolis

The Greek railway system’s pretty run down, probably due to the country’s economic situation, and currently in the process of being privatised. In the future we can probably expect slightly higher standards for much higher prices.

Shame on You Rail Workers & Managers for the Christmas Rail Strikes

Update 19 December 2012 17.00 – Thank goodness that the ScotRail and Cross Country Christmas strikes have now been called off.  However it’s been an unnerving time for passengers wondering how their festive travel plans would be affected.

Shame on you rail workers and managers for the forthcoming strikes in the UK during the busy pre-Christmas period. Strikes will affect ScotRail on 22 and 24 December and Cross Country on 21 December 2012. It’s such a time honoured strategy for transport workers to strike during peak periods in order to cause the maximum disruption to travellers. I don’t know all the ins and outs of why the current disputes between workers and management can’t be resolved by some kind of compromise and why strike action is deemed necessary.

train travel

Our sons, one who lives in Edinburgh and other in Glasgow, were due to travel by train to Berwick upon Tweed on Christmas Eve. I asked East Coast on Twitter if their trains between Edinburgh and Berwick upon Tweed would be running normally on 24/12. Their response was “they should as it this will only affect ScotRail services“. I’d have felt much more confident if that should had been a will.

I tweeted ScotRail, as there was no information on their site, asking which services, if any, would be running on Christmas Eve. They replied “the majority of services will run, timetable and service information as a result of RMT Union action will be available from early next week“. Now, given that the majority could be as little of 51% of trains, that’s not very reassuring.

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East Coast Rewards

I use East Coast trains a few times a year. I usually buy my train tickets on the East Coast website, as they don’t charge a booking fee and I haven’t found cheaper fares on other rail ticket sites. Another advantage is that I can collect East Coast Rewards points which can be exchanged for a selection of rewards. I think it’s one of the best UK loyalty clubs of which I’m a member.

East Coast Rewards

East Coast train

You earn 1 point for every £1 spent on standard class tickets and 1.5 points for every £1 spent on first class tickets with any UK train operator. However, you can only get reward points on non East Coast tickets if you spend more than £22 in total. There’s a fair choice of rewards including free or discounted train tickets, discounts on holiday cottage bookings, free bottles of wine and cinema tickets.

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Travelling by Train in Portugal

I travelled from Lisbon to Faro on the InterCity train in March 2012. It was my first experience of trains in Portugal. I booked my ticket in advance online, at the same time I did my online check-in for my flights.  The CP Portuguese train site is available in English. There weren’t that many trains between Lisbon and Faro, so I decided to take the 14.38, allowing me to have a leisurely morning in Lisbon.  The first class ticket cost 27.5 Euro, around 6 Euro more than standard class. I wanted to have a single seat and a bit of space to work during the journey. I was hoping there’d be WiFi on the train, as most InterCity trains in the UK have WiFi, which is included in the price of a first class ticket. However, the InterCity train from Lisbon to Faro had no WiFi at all, so I ended up going over the 25mb data limit on my Vodafone Data Traveller package.

trains Portugal

Engine of Lisbon to Faro InterCity train

I got on the train at Entrecampos, a rather grotty station in the city centre.

trains Portugal

1st class carriage on Lisbon to Faro InterCity train

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