Stacey travels through Europe
Staff member: Stacey // Trip date: Nov 2011
Due to the financial troubles Greece is currently facing there are no international trains running. This also includes some of the domestic trains, such as the train line from Athens to Tripoli and Patras. Getting from the Airport to the city centre is quite easy if you are lucky. There is a metro line that runs into the city approximately every 20 minutes. As discovered the day after arrival, Athens tends to go on strike a lot, so beware that you may find yourself stuck at the airport with no way into the city. The train costs 8 Euro for a one way ticket and turns into the Metro Line 3, which runs through Syntagma Square.
The OSE is the company that operates Greece's train lines. The OSE station in Athens is located just north of the city and is connected by the Metro Line 2. One of the domestic train lines that still run's is the one from Athens to Kalambaka, where the monasteries are situated on the cliff tops. Seat reservations are not required, but the conductor may have a chuckle at seeing a Eurail pass. The trains have 1st and 2nd class carriages, as well as a bistro and even a play room for children. The monasteries are definitely recommended, as they are a picturesque sight, many dating back to the 15th century and some even older.
When buying tickets for the trains in Greece at Larissa station, you are unable to pre purchase tickets. They will only sell tickets on the day of travel. If the ticket windows are all shut when they are supposed to be open, the ticket sellers can be found sitting outside on the platform.
Naples train station was a bit of a hike at first, with the high speed and regional trains departing from the main part of the station, with the metro downstairs. However, to get the Circumvesuviana to Sorrento was a long walk, as it was towards the end of the station. The train to Sorrento is a suburban train, with many stops and no luggage storage. For those heading from Naples to Pompeii, it is the same line that runs to Sorrento. Note that there are two Pompeii stations, one being Sanctuario and the other being Scavi. The closest station to the ruins is Pompeii Scavi, which is about 50 meters away. If you are looking at seeing the ruins of Pompeii and many of the other attractions around the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is a highly recommended place to base yourself. The town is very beautiful and safe, with plenty of places to eat and shop, as well as street artists lining the streets on a Saturday night.
Heading to Rome from Naples you can jump on almost any train and sit in any seat, minus the Eurostar trains, even if the conductor tells you that you can. There are connections almost every 20-30 minutes.
Rome Termini is connected by both Metro lines A and B. A third metro line is currently being built, however it is unknown when this will be finished as they have to build around the buried ruins. While building the new metro line the operating times may be disrupted, where the last train may be at 9pm instead of at 1am.
My parents came to see me while I was in Rome, and while waiting for me discovered a tourist package of the Roma Pass and Omnia cards. For €85 this allows visitors 3 days of unlimited use of the public transport system in Rome, as well as Fast Track entry into some sights. After seeing how busy the Vatican was, we were glad we had the card as it allowed us to follow a 'guide' who took us straight past these lines. It also included the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, as well as one of the Open Bus tours.
After Rome I headed to Venice with a stop in Pisa. For those wanting to stop off for a day in Pisa please note that you can leave your luggage at the station. It costs €6 per bag for 24 hours. It was getting too hot so I decided I had seen enough and it was time to head to Venice. For those who have not been to Venice before it is highly recommended, as it is a surreal city, where after a few days you forget about the existence of cars. Santa Lucia station is located right opposite the first island that makes up Venice, so to get to your hotel you will need to hop on a ferry or catch a water taxi.
The next Italian stop on my agenda was the Italian lakes, first Lake Como and then Lake Maggiore. From Venice I had to head to Milan for a connection, but not before dropping my bag off so I did not have to lug it around for a few days. At Milan station you can leave your bag with an attendant, which I did for two days and it cost about €15. As it turns out, the main station in Milan is not the best one to catch a connection to Como, as the train runs every 2 hours and requires a reservation, so I had to catch a train to Monza and then another train from there. The following day I had to head to Stresa to try and make my planned scenic train journey into Switzerland. I had to change trains at Milan Porta Garibaldi, which happened to be a much bigger station than I was expecting and almost missed my connection. As it turns out the train I had ended up on was the start of the "Lake Maggiore Express", as the journey required a Trenitalia train from Stresa to Domodossola and I happened to be on that train. I did not want to miss out on taking the Centovalli train to Locarno, so I decided to just take my mini suitcase with me for the rest of the day. At Domodossola, there are signs that tell you where to go for the scenic train, and once downstairs at the station you can buy a ticket. If you have a valid Eurail pass, all you need is a supplement to get on the train, and if lucky like myself you can pick yourself a seat right at the back of the train where nothing is blocking your view.
The Centovalli train winds its way through mountains and along rivers before taking you into Locarno in southern Switzerland. In Locarno there are many things to do, including the Cardada-Cimetta Mountain, where visitors can take a funicular, a cable car and then a chair lift up to the peak of the mountain, giving one of the most spectacular views over the lake and the mountains. Visitors can then opt to catch the train back to Stresa, or the ferry which travels down Lake Maggiore. I opted for the later, but be warned that it is quite pricey.
The following day was faced with a long journey down to Nice in France. I had to catch the train into Milan to get my bag and then get on the train to Ventimiglia. I may have had an unlucky day, however, my train was extremely packed, with my cabin being full and people standing in the walkway outside with all of their bags. The train travels through some spectacular scenery, especially along the cost from Genova to Ventimiglia. Once at Ventimiglia, you need to change platforms to catch the train into France. I found that even though there was only a few minutes between arrival and departure there was plenty of time to change.
During the Self Famil I travelled through France twice, firstly through the south and then later on to Paris. After leaving Italy I headed for Nice after changing trains in Ventimiglia. The trains that service this line are not the best for luggage, as the seats are quite small and there is minimal room in the luggage storage at the front of the carriage. From Nice I headed to Cannes, where I was lucky to catch a train not long after I arrived at the station, as it turned out SNCF were on strike for a couple of days. This was not discovered until after I had arrived at Cannes and wanted to go elsewhere that day, as there were only signs up at Cannes station, which were not in English. Instead of catching a train to Biot which I had planned to do, I had to catch a bus which took almost an hour instead of the 10 or so minutes on the train. The following day I needed to head to Marseille to catch a bus to Barcelona, as my previous plan of catching a train had been scratched. Fearing delays caused by the strike I looked at an earlier option to getting to Marseille. Unfortunately every train heading there in a 3 hour gap had been cancelled and only my planned train was running.
I got to Barcelona Sants around 6am after a very long night on the bus. Wrecked as anything I tried to get a taxi, who refused to take me as where I was going was not worth his time driving me, and instead told me to catch the metro. This would soon be a huge learning experience. For those who are unfamiliar with Barcelona and its dangers, beware of theft, especially if you are young, solo and female. If you happen to tick all three of those like myself, you are their favourite target. Barcelona is known as being the pick pocket capital of Europe and many have become quite clever at what they do. After finally getting to a police station I was able to make a police report which is required if making an insurance claim.
Due to having no money I decided to go on a very long walk so I could see the city and not waste my time in Barcelona. Walking aimlessly around the city is worthwhile, as you get to see a lot more, such as the Arc de Triomf and the Park of the Ciutadella. Later in the day I was lucky enough to have some money sent to me, which allowed me to start properly sightseeing. I jumped on one of the red City Sightseeing tour buses and watched the sights go by. In Barcelona there are two lines - the Blue line and the Red line, both taking over 2 hours to complete. The sights I highly recommend are the architectural works of Antoni Gaudi, who is most famous for his unfinished masterpiece the Sagrada Família.
With the Barcelona metro note that even if a subway entrance says it is for a certain station, you may be walking through tunnels for another 10 minutes until you finally get to the platform you need. The ticket system is fairly basic to use, where you just select the single use ticket. In the evening I had to head to the airport to catch a flight with EasyJet to Switzerland. The Renfe runs services to the Airport from three different stops in the city - Clot, Passeig de Gracia and Barcelona Sants.
As the Elipsos was not running due to track work, I had to fly from Barcelona to Geneva. From Geneva Airport I caught a train to Bern, where I was hoping to catch a connection to Interlaken, however, it was too late by the time I arrived and had to wait around at Bern for several hours. According to whoever built the station, people who catch trains do not require seats while waiting around, so I ended up on the floor until 4am, along with several other travellers. The station has a 3 level shopping complex to entertain you while you wait for your trains. As the first train was departing at 4am, I decided to jump on so I had a warm place to sleep for an hour or so. After several train connections I finally arrived in Interlaken. Even though it was very overcast on arrival in Interlaken, it cleared up soon after which made for a great day to head up the Jungfrau.
There are two different routes you can choose to go up the Jungfrau - via Lauterbrunnen or via Grindelwald. I decided to go up through Grindelwald and come back through Lauterbrunnen. Using the Jungfrau VIP pass made things very simple, as you just rock up on the day it is valid from and you can go on whatever trains you feel like in the Jungfrau region. When you get up to Kleine Scheidegg, this is where you change to the Jungfraubahn. When you get on the Jungfraubahn you sit wherever there is a seat available, however, if you miss out I would not recommend sitting on one of the fold down seats while facing backwards, as you will be sliding off the seat the entire trip up. There are three stops on the way up the mountain - Eigergletscher, Eigernordwand and Eismeer. The train stops at Eigernordwand and Eismeer to allow visitors to hop off and have a look through a window at the scenery outside, giving a spectacular view of the mountain range. The final stop, Jungfraujoch, is the highest station in Europe, and allows visitors to access a wide range of activities, including Snow Fun(seasonal), annual outdoor concerts, hikes, scenic helicopter rides and even an ice palace.
From Interlaken I headed up to Lucerne by taking the Golden Pass Line. The train had one panoramic carriage at the front of the train, which also has luggage storage at the end of the carriage. As I caught the train in the late afternoon, it wasn't long until it was too dark to see outside which was a bit unfortunate. The following day I did the Golden Round Trip, which involved a ferry to Alpnachstad and then the steepest cogwheel up to Mount Pilatus. Up the mountain there are several look out peaks and hiking trails visitors can use. Going down the mountain you catch a cableway partway down and then switch to a gondola. Holders of a valid Eurail pass get a discount; however, it does take a day off the pass.
My last full day in Switzerland was spent travelling on the Wilhelm Tell Express. As there was a full day of travelling planned I had my bag transferred from Lucerne station to Zurich station so I could pick it up the following day. It cost 20 CHF and can be picked up after 6pm on the same day. The pier is situated directly opposite the train station, with the Wilhelm Tell departing from pier 1. For those who have a gift included with their ticket they can pick this up from the desk at the pier. The gift box includes a meal voucher of 19 CHF, a guide about the route of the Wilhelm Tell as well as a small Swiss army knife. The boat takes you from Lucerne to Flüelen, where you change to the train, which takes you down to Bellinzona. The train has a panoramic carriage and is very similar to the Golden Pass Line carriage, with luggage storage at the end of the carriage. The train terminates in Bellinzona, where you can continue on to Locarno or Lugano via a connecting train. As I was heading to Salzburg the following day, I headed up to Schaffhausen, just north of Zurich and right near the Rhine Falls.
From Switzerland I headed to Salzburg using the Rail Jet which travels at speeds of up to 200km/h. It is the premium train of the OBB and highly recommended to catch that train over others on the same route. It does not require reservation, the seats are very comfortable with plenty of leg room, meals can be ordered and brought out to your seat, and once on board you are welcomed with a box juice and a small snack if in First Class. There is also a Premium First Class, which does require reservation; however, reservation can be made on board the train for €25 but only if already travelling on a First Class ticket. If travelling in Economy class with children there is even a mini cinema to keep them entertained.
The following day I headed to Werfen to visit the world's largest ice cave. The Regional Express takes about 45 minutes to reach Werfen and does not require a reservation, and if you're lucky, you will have the whole carriage to yourself. After my visit I headed back into Salzburg before heading off on the Rail Jet to Munich
As I had no internet where I was staying in Munich (whereas my booking said otherwise) I was unable to plan my day trip to Mad Ludwig's castles. As I had previously been to Neuschwanstein, I wanted to go to Schloss Linderhof. I headed to the tourist information centre at Munich's main station, however, I was in for a surprise as this was more of a place for the workers to sell tours to you rather than advise how to get to certain places. After a few grunts and explaining that I did not want a tour and I wanted to do this myself, she finally told me what stations to go to for the castles, but that was as far as she would go to helping me. Buying a ticket I discovered that the next train to Oberammergau (for Schloss Linderhof) was not for another 3 hours, whereas the train to Füssen was in 10 minutes. I opted for the latter, but was gobsmacked at the price of the ticket at almost €25 one way. As I had run out of days on my pass I had no other choice and ran for the train, of course stopping for a pretzel on the way. The train took 2 hours with a change at Buchloe. Once in Füssen there is a bus that takes you to the 2 castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, the childhood home of King Ludwig. Returning home I was lucky with my ticket. Almost putting my money in the machine a Scottish woman came up to me and asked if I was going to Munich. I said yes and she told me to jump on with her and her partner and child as they had a group ticket and to just give them €5. If only this had happened earlier. The ticket they were travelling on was a Bayern ticket, which allowed unlimited travel between 9am and 3am the following day throughout the whole of Bavaria. The ticket is valid for 5 people and costs €29, or the Bayern Single Ticket costs €21. It can be used on all non Intercity trains, as well as the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses.
After finally arriving back into Munich at 8pm, it was time to wait around for my night train to Amsterdam. I tried to use the waiting lounge, as it had a sign saying 'No Eurail Passes' and that you could use the lounge if you had a ticket for a non-regional train. I showed the woman my City Night Line ticket to which she told me it was a regional train. I had nowhere to go for 2 hours, so I waited around at the station while watching the temperature drop on my phone, eventually hitting 0 degrees. Finally it was almost time for my train, so I braved the freezing temperature, went and got my bags from my hotel and waited at the platform. I had purchased a Deluxe Single Sleeper so that I could get myself some sleep for the night. Just my luck I was stuck with the dodgy cabin for the night, where I could not get water to come out of the tap.
I woke up just outside of Amsterdam by my wake up call. Soon after I was greeted with breakfast, which consisted of yogurt, a croissant and roll, as well as one of the blackest coffees I have ever tried to drink. As I had a huge bag I tried to leave it at the station so I could pick it up before leaving the following day. Unfortunately the lockers could only be paid for with a credit card.
I took the Thalys the following day to Paris. In First Class passengers have complimentary WiFi. There are also power adaptors at the seats which allow you to charge your phone or laptop. The attendants came around and brought us all a snack to choose from, which I chose the mini wrap. Not long later, they came around with left-over's, as the train did not appear too full, so we all got a second round. Not long after that they came around with lunches offering a vegetarian option and a meat option. Once again they came around for round two offering more bread rolls to everyone. I don't think I have ever eaten so much on a train before.
Not having a whole lot planned for Paris I decided to have a quiet one and just go for a walk. Little did I know how bad I was at reading maps, where I ended up walking in the complete wrong direction to where I wanted to go. Finally I made it to the Eiffel Tower, where by the time I got there, it was all lit up. At night every hour the tower also starts sparkling. If you are looking to go up the Eiffel Tower in Paris, note that there is a queue there at all times of the day. I walked through around 9pm and there were people lining up everywhere. The following day you could not spot any ground there were that many people there.
The day had come and it was time for me to bid adieu to the Euro and head to England. I got to Paris Nord about 40-50 minutes before my departure hoping to buy a drink before I boarded the train. As my ticket had a black strip I put it through a machine and went up to the first counter which was passport control. After that there is a second counter, which then again checks your passport. Your bags are then scanned and off you go to the waiting area where there are a few little shops selling food.
However, be aware of inflated prices.
It was time to board and you walk outside onto the platform. There is an attendant at each door ready to help, and before you board they ask if you are about to board the correct carriage. There is luggage storage for larger suitcases at the end of the carriage while they ask you to place smaller luggage in the overhead storage. The attendants soon came around and brought food out for everyone, where there only seemed to be one choice offered, which had red meat in it. The meal had 3 small dishes, one with the meat and the other two with other foods. There was also some bread and dessert which comprised of 3 miniature versions of desserts, including a macaroon.
As my parents live in England they met up with me when the Eurostar arrived into St Pancras. From there we headed to Paddington Station to where they were staying. The journey was quite easy, as my Dad carried my suitcase along and all I had to worry about was walking up and down stairs. We all used Oyster cards for our journey home, something made quite easy unlike the similar Myki back in Melbourne. My parents could not get over how easy it was using the Oyster card in London, as they had had no problems using it, with no overcharging and the barrier would open immediately after touching the card on the pad. The Oyster card is capped at different prices, depending when you travel and which zones you travel to. If you are only travelling in Zone 1 or Zone 1 and 2, the most you would pay for a day would be £8.00.
The control booth also communicates all line updates in stations and even in some cases on the trains. While travelling home one day, there had been an incident on the tube on the Circle and District lines, so when at stations where you could change to those train lines there were announcements on the train telling you what the incident was, where and which part of the line was affected.
We decided to head to the London Eye on the first day that I was there, as it was still sunny. Unfortunately it was school holidays, so every family in the London area was in the city that day. After staring at the long winding queue for a few minutes, we sighed and paid the extra for the Fast Track ticket, giving us a much shorter queue to stand in with priority boarding over others. 10 or so minutes later and we were boarding our capsule with about 15 others. For those in wheelchairs the rotation stops briefly so that they can be boarded safely using a ramp. Once you start to move up, you can see all over London, from the Gherkin building, to Buckingham palace and even the Battersea Power Station, something quite exciting for a Pink Floyd fan.
On my last full day in London we decided to go to Bath for the day. As we had gotten a bit lazy and had not bought a ticket, the price had gone up compared to what it was earlier in the week. The ticket gave my Mum a reserved seat, even though someone else was sitting in it, so we decided to go find preferred seats of our own. An attendant comes around and brings everyone a newspaper, as well as offering snacks and beverages. It wasn't until our return journey home though that we discovered the drinks were complimentary. The trains have quiet carriages but the passengers do not take notice of this and talk on their phones and bring yelling children into the carriage.
Heading to Heathrow airport, we opted to catch the underground rather than the Heathrow Express or the Heathrow Connect, as my Dad was meeting us part way. The trip from Paddington involved a change at Earls Court, with connections to the airport every 6 minutes. However, take note of which terminal you are departing from, as there are two trains - one that goes to terminal 4, 1, 2 and 3, and one that goes to terminal 5, 1, 2 and 3. If you do get off at the wrong terminal, there is a shuttle train that goes between the other terminals. Once at the airport, the underground station is below the departures area, so it is not a very long walk, with a lift or escalators to take you up the several floors.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS...
As this was the first time I was travelling overseas by myself, I was a little nervous about how I would cope. I found it to be quite easy, as everywhere, with the exception of Greece, had signs in English and staff who could speak English. Using a Global Eurail Pass, I found it very easy to travel around, as I did not have to worry about what countries were covered, and in many of the countries I travelled through I could just jump on any train without the need to worry about reservations. I would highly recommend using a Eurail Pass while in Europe, as point to point tickets can be quite pricey, as well as buying reservations during peak season, as these trains can become quite packed when the weather gets better.
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