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.

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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East Coast Trains: Don’t Be So Hard on Passengers With Lost Tickets

On a recent rail journey with East Coast from Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed, I witnessed a passenger who had lost his train ticket having to leave the train at Berwick upon Tweed. It was going to cost £152 to buy a ticket onboard the train for the Edinburgh to London journey. The hope was that the passenger would be able to buy a cheaper ticket, either at the Berwick ticket office or online, when he’d get his ticket from the online purchase printed at the station’s machine.

lost train tickets east coast

Photo by Timitrius

As I was sitting diagonally opposite I could hear everything that was going on. The passenger had only lost the ticket for the homeward leg of their return journey. He had the receipt for the return journey and therefore asked the inspector if he couldn’t trace the ticket through the reference numbers on the receipt. The answer was no. Surely this should have been possible? I know when I book my train tickets online, I receive a confirmation email with all the booking details.

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Is a First Class Rail Ticket Worth the Money?

I took my first ever first class rail journey in UK in November 2011 on the East Coast service from London King’s Cross to Berwick upon Tweed.  It cost about £15 more than a standard class single ticket. The last few return trips I’d made from London to Berwick had been pretty bad, as standard class was really packed. I reckoned I’d have more space in first class so I could type without banging my elbow into the person sitting next to me. Wifi is free of charge in first class, it normally costs £5 for one hour or £10 for 24 hours, with 15 minutes free for all passengers. You also get complimentary food and drink in first class.

East Coast first class

Crayfish & Noodle Salad lunch in East Coast 1st class

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The European Night Train from Sweden to Italy

A few years back I decided it would be a good idea to take a train from southern Sweden to Italy.  A couple of my friends were studying abroad, so I had a place to be and people to see.  I decided a train would be a good idea because I could see the country side and maybe save a little bit of money.  Of course, cross continental travel takes some time and so I opted for the night train.

This was long before I had learned that you get what you pay for, love, and so instead of paying a bit extra for a nice cushy compartment that might actually allow for some sleep, I paid for a normal seat.

Picture courtesy of sh1mmer. More pictures by sh1mmer here.

I am not a small person and so my long legs tend to not enjoy sitting in tight spaces for extended periods of time. Trying to sleep in a sitting position is tight spaces is even worse.  Yet there I was, in an overnight train heading towards Italy, with several other people all in various stages of discomfort.  But I was young and poor and thought the experience would count for something. For what I still don’t know.

After several hours of pretending to sleep, I decided maybe a bathroom run with toothbrush in hand would help.  So I carefully and quietly attempted to extract myself from the crowded row of seats.  Not an easy task on a moving train in the middle of the night.  After the several muttered excuse me’s, I was free. To the bathroom I went. I took my time getting there, it was nice being able to wander through the silence and I was in no hurry.

Finally though, my teeth brushed, I headed back to my seat. Only to end up very confused. It was filled.  By a man. A very asleep man. What happened next makes me a pushover. I’d like to think it makes me a thoughtful and caring individual, but really it just makes me a pushover.  Because I did nothing. I wandered the train the rest of the evening, even sitting on a bench with a book in hand for a while.

How a man was able to slide into my seat and fall asleep so quickly, I’ve never been able to figure out. But there he was, and there I was.  And I haven’t taken a night train since.

Andy loves taking the trains in Europe, while I’m sceptical to say the least.  What do you think? When you’re planning your European travels, does train travel figure into the equation?

How to be a considerate passenger

I actually enjoy the travelling part of travelling. I get a couple of hours to sit on my own and have a bit of a think about my travel plans, or read a book or do… nothing. But there’s always someone around to ruin it. That’s right: The annoying passenger. No one likes the annoying passenger (except the loud snoring guy, everyone thinks he’s hilarious). Here are my tips for being a considerate passenger:

1. Turn your phone onto vibrate. I am an avid train texter and tweeter. I get bored, I’m looking out of the window, I take a photo of the snow, I send silly messages. I pester people to entertain me. But I always turn the little bleepy noises off. No one cares that you’re popular, no one wants to hear your bleeping. And don’t even think about answering your phone in the quiet carriage.

2. Ask before you push your seat back. I hate this. Hate hate hate. People don’t ask to push their seat back, suddenly my water goes flying and the rest of my journey is not comfy. Just because the seat goes back very very far, that doesn’t mean you have to be rude. Ask, at least wait until I’ve finished my wine.

3. Don’t eat stinky food. Unless you’re on the last drunky train of the evening, you really have no excuse. Buy some crisps like everyone else.

4. Don’t sit next to me! OK, for whatever reason, I maybe feel a little bit like sitting on my own. There’s lots of other seats, I’m not being rude. I just want a little space today. Please sit somewhere else if you can – read the signs and the look on my face. Asking someone to move their bag if you don’t have to isn’t rude, of course it’s not, but by not making them shift their stuff, you’re making someone’s journey a little better. If you can sit somewhere else, do. You’ll get good travel karma, honest.

5. Don’t push in front of me, shove me out of the way or think your journey is more important than anyone else’s. The flight is delayed. Not you. The flight. Your journey isn’t more vital than anyone else on that flight. Pushing won’t get you there any quicker if you’re not in the pilot’s seat (he’s probably allowed to push if he likes). If you have to push me out of the way to get to where you’re going, you’re the one in the wrong. Simple.

Got a bugbear about other passengers? Tell us what you think makes a considerate passenger in the comments!

Flickr image from iamjon*‘s photostream.

Rail travel in Europe: On the right tracks

There is no better way to travel in Europe than by train. Unless you’re in the UK, and then you might need to sell a kidney to afford some of the fares. But if you’re anywhere else, hopping on a train and grabbing a window seat is the best way to get from A to B.

I done a fair bit of rail travel in Europe, mainly through Spain and Italy. Either because I had to get somewhere, or just because somewhere on a map sounded interesting and I wanted to go and see what was there. And it’s just so easy. And, cheap. You can hop on the train at Florence and for €15 be in Rome in a few hours. And you get to see everything. It’s the best way of getting to see some European countryside if you don’t actually drive.

I think a lot of people who do rail travel in Europe when they’re young are tempted by the train travel packages. But they’re so expensive. I can see the convenience of them is tempting, and on my first trip to Italy, I considered buying one, but if you follow these tips, you can get around easily, and cheaply, without having too much hassle.

1. Check out the station the day before, and buy your tickets then. Most stations abroad have someone who speaks English. I’m loathe to tell you not to try and speak the language of the country you’re in, but stuff like this is difficult if you’re not confident. It might be better to admit defeat on this one.

2. Watch what other people are doing. In Sicily you have to make sure you stamp your ticket before you get on the train. You can just walk on to the train though, there’s no barriers. It’s easy to forget, so keep your eyes open and watch what other passengers do, so you don’t get told off.

3. Sit at the front of the train. Main reason for this? For some reason, some train stations abroad have few signs on the platform. If you’re at the front, there’s more chance of you seeing the signs. It’s worthwhile finding out the three stops before yours. That way you know where you need to keep a look out. And hour of looking panicked at each train station does not make for a relaxing journey.

4. Check the luggage holds. This is something that European stations are fantastic at. Their manned luggage holds are brilliant. If you want to stop off somewhere, but don’t fancy lugging your wheelie cases about, pop them in here and go and have a bit of an explore. Get back on the train when you’re ready. It’s often not very expensive (about €6 for half a day) and you’ll have much more fun instead of trying to lug a case about cobbled streets.

5. Make sure you check Sunday services. A lot of countries have reduced services on a Sunday (when everyone is meant to be in Church, not gallivanting). Some of the smaller stations might not even have trains running that day. Check before you arrive and make sure you grab a sandwich before boarding. I’ve never seen a train in Europe with a food cart.

A little bit of preparation and thought, and you can have a fantastic trip in Europe using the train. Be spontaneous. Look at a place on map, hop on a train and go there for the day.

Andy of the Europe a la Carte blogging team agrees with me in his “5 Reasons Why I’d Rather Travel Europe by Train“.

Flickr image from tanvach‘s photostream.

Eating at a Russian railway platform

Something to celebrate this week – this is my 100th post at the Europe a la Carte Blog. In honour of making a century, I decided to post on one of my all-time favourite travel experiences in Europe (and beyond) – travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway across Russia.

A ride on the Trans-Siberian railway is the best way to reach the European part of Russia from the eastern side and is probably my favourite European journey.  It’s an iconic journey and there’s lots to know about it but today I was thinking with my stomach about the food options available from the track side vendors as you journey across Russia on the Trans-Siberian.

As you can see from the photo, a typical Trans-Siberian food stop is a pretty fascinating affair. During a typical  rail journey day, there are several timed stops which are about twenty minutes in length, meaning you have plenty of time to get off the train, stretch your legs, and stock up on the local food. And I mean local – the platforms fill up with locals who have cooked up a pot or two of Russian meals and snacks at home, brought down their little table and are ready to serve it up to you.

There’s probably nothing more authentic, and on my trip I soon learnt to ignore the official railway shops and head straight to the interesting conglomeration of locals ready to fill my stomach. Whether or not it’s true, I followed a Europe travel tip from a fellow traveller to seek out the “babushkas”, the old ladies, who were reputed to be offering the best food at the lowest price. I probably should have bargained but the prices were so cheap I usually paid whatever they asked for. From fresh berries from their gardens to heavy Russian meals full of potatoes, I never had a bad deal from a track side vendor on the Trans-Siberian, and I’d encourage you to try them too.

Tips for Things to do in Russia

We’ve lots more travel tips for what to do in Russia.

Riding the Orient Express

I was doing some Europe travel planning for the autumn (yes, I do realise that’s over six months away, but do you know my calendar is already full until then), and one of the options was to travel via the Orient Express.

It seemed like a nice option but it wasn’t the Orient Express I was thinking of. Well – did you know the Orient Express is actually a collection of several train routes? I didn’t and was surprised to find this delicious travel luxury available in a number of options throughout the world:

  • The Royal Scotsman: A Scottish icon and the only way to see the Scottish Highlands
  • The Northern Belle: Another British train route, covering the heartlands of mid and northern England.
  • The British Pullman: Leaving London and exploring the countryside in original 1920s carriages
  • The (Original) Orient Express: Probably the route you were thinking of when I mentioned this, which takes you from London to Rome via Paris and Venice

This is an excuse to take the slow route, stop and smell the roses, and enjoy yourself in some of the best places to visit in Europe. Why not splurge? We all know about the merits of travelling by rail, so go in style.

You can find out more about all the Orient Express trains, including those in Peru and Southeast Asia, on the official website.

Photo by Generalnoir

5 Reasons Why I’d Rather Travel Europe By Train

I don’t think there is any doubt that flying is more inconvenient than ever – from terrorists to the rude & annoying airline staff that are just as bad as terrorists, it is a real wonder anybody bothers to fly these days. But yes – sometimes you have to. But in Europe, a lot of the time you can actually get around on train. Whether it’s a classic steam train or a scenic mountain railway, this IS the way to travel. Here are five reasons I prefer to go by train:

1. I can use the toilet without paying. Since Ryanair seems to think there isn’t any sacred ground when it comes to in-flight fees, I’ll stick to the mode of transportation where using the toilets is free. I’m not saying that train toilets are always clean and roomy, but you can’t say that for airplane toilets either. Plus you can go to the loo when you need to on a train.

2. Admire the view. There’s nothing like watching the rolling hills go by or seeing the waves crash up onto the shore below the tracks. Train lines often go through some lovely European countryside – any train in Switzerland or Austria, for sure, but even the National Express East Coast here in Britain runs along a beautiful stretch of coastline.

3. Room to breathe. In pretty much all cases, trains have more room than planes. You can’t avoid the problem passengers who take up more than their fair share of the room, but you know? If you aren’t happy with your seat at least you can get up and walk around and stand in the galley for a while.

4. No unwieldy trips to the airport. Most train routes depart from stations that are far more convenient to hotels and local attractions than the airport. Plus the airport experience leaves a LOT to be desired. Many train routes now have security measures in place, such as all the high speed routes in Spain, but it is a quick, efficient, and simple process.

5. Arrive more refreshed. Maybe it’s the air or maybe it’s just the overall experience, but I find I always arrive at my destination far more refreshed than after a disastrous in flight experience.

I hope that you follow my travel tips and enjoy your next trip by train.

Photo by matthew black

Take the scenic Norwegian mountain train to Flam

 

Flam

If you’re planning a trip to Norway, be sure to save some time for the Flamsbana. 

The Flamsbana is a green carriage train that runs from the mountain station of Myrdal, down a stunning Valley, to the village of Flam. This 20km route carved along the valley is one of the steepest lines on normal gauge and a testament to Norwegian engineering. The line rolls along the valley through twenty manually crafted tunnels and at impossible angles. It also throws up some of the best Norwegian scenery on display. 

The route is marked with rushing rivers, falling ravines, flowering meadows and peaceful mountain farms. All along the valley you’ll spot enthusiastic trekkers and campers waving hello. 

The train makes only one stop on the way to Flam, at the Kjoss waterfall. As you get off the train, in the midst of an icy spray, a beautiful, haunting voice rises up across the valley. As you peer through the mist, you’ll see a peasant woman standing high on the rocks, singing; surreal, like everything else around the valley.

As the train heads to the floor of the valley, signs of village life pop up –a church, a market, sheep. 865 meters below Myrdal, the train slows down and pulls in at Flam, a beautiful little spot on the Aurlandfjord.