When travelling I prefer not to drive if I can avoid doing so. I find nothing relaxing about driving, especially in countries where I’m not able to understand the road signs. Whenever possible, I take the train.
Train travel throughout Europe and the UK is fast, convenient and affordable. I’ve lived in Europe for over 10 years, but have been a tourist visiting European destinations for decades. I first started taking the train because of the novelty. However, I quickly discovered that, unlike Canada and the USA, trains in Europe service virtually every city, town and village, are inexpensive, and operate on time tables no form of North American transportation can manage. My conversion to a fanatical train passenger came about because travelling by rail allowed me to relax, see the sights, meet other passengers, and disembark whenever, and wherever I wanted. Many times I was told by fellow passengers of interesting architecture, landmarks, attractions or events that I decided right then and there to take in. I left the train, spent time at whatever destination I was recommended, and when I was done I boarded another train to resume my travels. Some of my most memorable travel experiences resulted from such spontaneous stops. Of course, when I travel I make sure I do not have someone else dictating where I’ll visit, when I’ll do so, nor where I’ll stay while there. In all my years travelling I took one packaged tour. It was to Rome, and I had to leave long before I wanted to.
Why I Take The Train To Tour Europe?
Rail travel is convenient throughout Europe, with subways and buses picking up or dropping off rail passengers. Also, most international airports are serviced by trains so you can start your train travel immediately upon arrival.
Train travel in Europe is ideal for both personal or business travel. Many times I have been en route to a conference, convention, trade show, or meeting and used my time aboard the train to review documents, go over a presentation, or review agendas. When travelling as a member of a team rail transportation provides the perfect environment for holding round table or brain storming sessions as well. Also, when it comes to getting potential customers in a controlled environment nothing beats a compartment on a train. I was once representing a company at a trade show in Essen, Germany, and had the opportunity to travel with some of the local dealers that would be manning the booth at the trade show. By the time we arrived in Essen I had assisted one dealer with a US$42,000 sale we closed while en route, and I managed to facilitate a trade of inventories between two others so each ended up with product more suited to their markets. Nowhere, other than maybe a golf course, can someone have a captured audience of business colleagues than aboard an intercity train.
Booking rail travel couldn’t be easier now, thanks to the Internet. Pretty much every European railway has an online presence that offers scheduling, trip coordination, and ticket purchasing. No matter all you need is to book yourself a point A to B ticket, or organize ticketing and seating reservations for a group sightseeing tour, it can be done quickly and easily online.
Many ticket purchasing websites allow you to book airline tickets, car rentals, rail travel, and hotel accommodations all at once. A well planned trip can be especially important for group travel, or for corporate travel arrangements. Discount on rail fares are even available for groups of more than ten.
Eurostar, officially named Eurostar International Limited, or EIL, is a high-speed railway service connecting London with Paris and Brussels, traversing the Channel Tunnel connecting the UK and France. The service is operated by eighteen-coach trains which travel at 300 kilometers per hour on a network of high speed rail lines. Eurostar’s rail service offers fast check in for the short trips between London and Paris or Brussels and allows you to travel in high speed comfort between the UK and the European continent.
Eurail, officially Eurail Group G.I.E., but often called Eurorail, is a Netherlands based company registered in Luxembourg, and is owned by a group of European rail lines and shipping companies. The company sells passes and tickets for European railroads. The company offers two principal products, the Eurail Pass, formerly the “Europass”, but informally called the “Eurorail Pass”, and the InterRail Pass. However, InterRail passes are only available to European residents.
Eurail passes available to non-European residents permit travel through two, to as many as five, bordering countries. Discounted passes for groups of up to five people travelling together, or for those under 26 are available. Also available are passes that provide unlimited travel for a fixed period, and passes which provide a fixed number of days of travel in a longer period.
Train travellers, even those using Eurostar and Eurail, are able to disembark then board trains to continue their journey. It’s advisable to plan major stops so that seat reservations can be coordinated, especially if each leg of a journey is long. However, if you don’t mind taking your chances by booking seats just prior to boarding and maybe having to wait a bit for a vacancy, visiting dozens of cities while en route is entirely possible.
The only catch to constantly getting off and again boarding trains is that departing passengers must take their luggage with them. I prefer to travel light, taking only one or two pieces of luggage, This way, if I choose to stop, I can do so easily because I am likely to find an available luggage locker.
Most trains stations in the major urban centres have ample self store luggage lockers, or secure luggage storage facilities. However, smaller stations tend to have few storage lockers and never have manned luggage storage facilities. To be able to conveniently store luggage and then collecting it just prior to departure makes stopping somewhere for a few hours of sightseeing simple, so the fewer bags needing to be stored the better.
This traveller learned quickly to take advantage of rail freight when travelling long distances with anything more than a small backpack or shoulder bag. I carry the necessities with me in something not much larger than a school book backpack and ship larger pieces of luggage as freight to be collected at my destination. Freight items are stored securely, and the per diem cost of storage is far less than it would be to plug coins into self storage lockers or pay to have it stored in manned facilities.
I once travelled from Amsterdam to Rome, which I stretched into three weeks of travel. I didn’t count the number of times I was on and off trains before I reached my destination, but it was always at least twice each day, and often three times. In fact, all I did was take night trains to continue my journey as I slept, and to use the on-board facilities wash up each morning. I’d then jump off for breakfast at the first stop that looked interesting.
European train travel is ideal for short trips, as well as longer trips lasting a number of days. Sleeper cars are available on many train routes, allowing for a comfortable night’s sleep. Long distance train services in Europe generally offer first class services that include more comfortable seating, tables, in car meal service and other amenities.
Rail travel is actually more convenient than air travel when travelling throughout Europe. Check in times to board trains that then travel at high speeds between European city centres will often translate into a shorter commute than flying. Travelling by air requires driving to airports where travellers must then queue up to purchase tickets, collect boarding passes, and clear security checks. Then, once at your destination, more time is needed to collect luggage, clear customs and immigrations, then usually travel by car, bus, taxi or train to the city centre. Also, trains in Europe are rarely ever delayed, let alone cancelled. Air travel in Europe is much more dependable than elsewhere, but is nowhere near as reliable as trains.
Train passengers are generally allowed three pieces of luggage, two larger items and a smaller piece of hand luggage. Excess luggage may be carried for an extra cost, as can some larger items. Check in for rail travellers is generally quick and usually takes less than 30 minutes. Online booking of tickets and seat reservations, when available, can reduce check in times even further.