16 February 2011

Riding the Rails In Europe - or 8 reasons Trains beat Planes any day.

I'm back!  I've returned to the land of snow and ice and slush, from an incredible 24 days in Europe.  My Darling Hubby, knowing how much I hate our winters, sent me off to do some "research" abroad for what is typically the worst part of said winter (I know! In my opinion, he has a free pass for Valentine's Day, anniversaries, and birthdays and any other special events for the next year or so).  The only downside to this amazing trip was that he had to stay home and work, so I was all on my own.  We love traveling together and this trip I really missed being able to share all of the sights, smells and experiences with him - but not for too long - now I'll get to show him my favourite places when we return there, together, to start our new life.
24 days
12 cities
8 languages
7 countries
5 currencies
2702 photos
The Itinerary... which looks like sheer insanity thanks to Google Maps

Just where did I go?  Well, as my sister pointed out, it was a VERY ambitious itinerary.  Not that I didn't agree, but I wasn't really prepared for how exhausting it can be to pack up and change cities every 36 hours - though I sense I'm not getting a lot of sympathy here, am I?  In truth, trying to decide where to go was the hardest part of the whole trip. Once there, I adapted well and quickly became extremely adept at getting ready each morning while disturbing as little as possible in my suitcase, so as to avoid completely re-packing each time I moved on.  Eurail Pass in hand, was my itinerary:

Copenhagen, Denmark
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Delft, Netherlands
Brussels, Belgium
Paris, France (had to change trains enroute to Nantes.... darn)
Nantes, France
Paris, France again (same reason, enroute to Zurich, darn)
Zurich, Switzerland
Dijon, France 
Florence, Italy
Bologna, Italy
Dublin, Ireland
Copenhagen, Denmark again, in order to fly home
Malmo, Sweden (unplanned day trip-
because with one day left in my trip, why not squeeze in just one more country and city?)

The entire trip, aside from the jaunt to Ireland and back to Denmark, was taken on the train.  Train travel, in my opinion, is a million times better than flying, and I have at least eight points, backing my argument:
    Time: With the train, you can buy your ticket 10 minutes before your train departs, and still get on said train.  You don't lose the 2+ before your trip, just checking in and whatnot before you even board. 

    Cost: Even with dirt-cheap airfares available with carriers like RyanAir, train travel is quite inexpensive - and the price doesn't magically increase 1000% if you choose to buy your ticket 10 minutes before your departure.

    Comfort: Train seats are comfy, clean and almost always have
    Big & comfy, complete with footrest
     more legroom than you can get on any plane (flying economy at least).  Also, you can keep your tray table down for as long as you want, keep your cell phone turned on, and even keep your electronic devices (laptop, iPod, iPad, whatever) going for the entire journey.  No one cares what kind of headphones you are wearing, or how long you keep them in.  That's your business, no one else's.

    Freedom: While food & beverages are not available on all trains, they are available on most - whether in the form of a café car, or actual food service at your seat if you're sitting in first class.  However, on every train, you have the freedom to bring along snacks and drinks of your own choosing, be it pastries from a decadent pâtisserie, regional cheeses from your last locale or a picnic lunch with a full 1 litre bottle of water, a bottle of wine, or a split of champagne - try doing that on a plane!  Not to mention the fact that you can crack open that picnic lunch or split of champagne any time you want, no need to wait for a flight attendant to bring your dried out "chicken or beef" meal when the flight schedule says you should be fed, whether you're hungry or not.  Quite simply, you can eat and drink what you want when you want on a train.

    Luggage: This is a big one with me.  Unlike flying, when you travel by train, your luggage is your problem and no one else's.  No one gives a crap how heavy your bags are (except you, since you're the only one carrying them), nor do they care exactly where your nail file or toothpaste are or if they're in a clear plastic bag.  Oh, and if you feel like taking along a full size, 250ml bottle of shampoo, go nuts - it can go in the very same bag that sits within {gasp} arms-reach of you during your journey.  Added bonus - when you get to your destination, you don't waste another 20-30 minutes waiting for your luggage to (hopefully) arrive, bruised and battered, possibly having been opened and "inspected" by god-knows-who.  The train traveler is long-gone, suitcase in hand, and already checking out the sights, while the flier elbows their way through the crowd, craning their neck to see if their bag has finally come down the chute, praying to the luggage gods that their suitcase is even on the right flight.  When your suitcase is carried onto the train by you, it's your job to take it with you when you arrive.

    Pack light or heavy - you decide.  It's no one's backache but yours!
    Nickles and Dimes: Yes, there are different prices for a second class rail ticket versus first class, but that's about it.  There's no surcharge for selecting where the seat you have already paid for will be, pre-purchasing mediocre meals, fee for a blanket or pillow, cost for in-flight movies, and most importantly, there is NO fee for your luggage, no matter how much it weighs or how many pieces you choose to take with you.  You will not be nickled and dimed to death riding the rails.

    Riding the rails in Switzerland
    Time (even more): Sure, most flights are shorter than the same journey would be on the rails, however, on top of being able to spend those last 2 hours watching the sunset in Florence instead of being x-rayed and felt up by airport security, when your train arrives at your destination, you really are AT your destination.  Not a single person I know of, actually wants to explore the area around Charles De Gaulle Airport... they flew to Paris to see the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.  Too bad, they have to still catch that 20+ minute (and €50) taxi into central Paris before they can start enjoying their trip.  Train travellers go from city centre to city centre.  Step off the train in Paris and you are actually in Paris.

    The View: Take a train during daylight hours, and while going from A to B, you can sit back and stare out the enormous picture window and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  Who knows, maybe something catches your eye enough that makes you get off at the next town and explore a bit before continuing on to your destination.  A stunning view of a bridge and a peek of Bern, Switzerland has me wanting to go back there now and explore.  I would never have seen that from a plane.

    Are there some drawbacks to train travel?  Yes, there are.  It is said that there is a thief on every train, so you should never leave your belongings unattended.  So, what about all that luggage I brought along on my trip?  Well, if it doesn't fit near my seat, I can leave it in a luggage rack near the doors, and I can secure it to that same rack with my $16 retractable cable lock.  Now, I can relax and know that my stuff is safe, or at the very least, that there is an easier target for said thief.  Also, there is no entertainment system, so even if you wanted to pay $5 to watch a movie during your trip, you can't unless you have one with you on an iPad, iPod, laptop, portable dvd player, etc. That's it.  Those are the drawbacks that I can think of.

    For the food highlights of my trip, stay tuned for Part II.....

    Zürich Station


    Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

    I can't wait to hear more! Welcome back! I can't believe you took that many photos! That's incredible. Though, understandable...Europe is so stunning. Riding trains definitely is a great and fast way to travel - though I understand the drawbacks. I recently took a train trip to visit family..I wish I could say to visit Europe :)

    Renata said...

    Loved your post! Very timely, since I'm planning a trip to Europe in May. Thanks a lot for the tips, I will remember that for sure!

    Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

    I absolutely LOVE travelling by train and lament often that it just isn't the same here in North America. I cannot wait to hear more about your trip and where you guys eventually decided upon. There are some pretty tempting places there!

    Inés Castellano said...

    Im planning my trip to Europe in April and this was an excellent review! I cant wait for the most important part: the fooood! :)

    Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

    i can not wait to read the exciting insanity of your travels here. i just noticed this post and could not help but comment already on that fabulous gray jacket someone is wearing above. and those blue converse ? love them. [tee hee]

    Jeanne said...

    Oh, I absolutely love this post and agree 100% with all your points! It I could feasibly take a train from London to Cape Town, I would...!