Brianna's European Adventure

Staff member: Brianna // Trip date: Nov 2014

 

Our European adventure began mid-October. Very fortunate my partner Stuart and I had already spent 2 weeks prior travelling across Canada on VIA Rail - The Canadian and a week in New York seeing the sights. Our Europe adventure began in London. We arrived on a Sunday, a little tired from an overnight flight from New York but ready to go and take in what London has to offer.


LONDON


We collected our bags and made our way through customs in minimal time. Our accommodation was located in East London. The process to make our way to the London Underground was easy and straight forward. We had our pre purchased Visitor Oyster Card (purchased and loaded with money from Rail Plus) ready to go. We located the rail station closest to our accommodation and tapped on through the gates to London Underground - better known as The Tube. The journey took around 1 hour. The fare was deducted from the card after tapping off at the gates at our arrival station.
The next 3 days was spent in London, taking in all the attractions the city has to offer. We used our Oyster card to travel around the city during our stay in London. Some of the sights we saw were the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Brick Lane Market and Convent Garden.


LONDON - PARIS


We were booked on the 7.01am Eurostar train out of London to Paris. Although a very early morning, we were still able to use The Tube, again using our Oyster Card, to make our way to London St Pancras station. We arrived at St Pancras station around 30 minutes prior to departure. The station is quite large however easy to navigate. We made our way to departures and went through customs. We had bags scanned, passports and tickets checked. Locating the platform for our departure was a simple process as departure screens updated regularly. We were located in 2nd class. It was easy to find carriage number as they are listed on the platform. Luggage was stored at the end of the carriage. Smaller bags could be kept overhead or underneath seat. The seat configuration in second class was double aisle double. After a smooth journey and a catch up of sleep we arrived in Paris Nord station mid-morning. From Paris Nord station we were able to transfer over to the metro system to make our way to our Paris hotel. We had organised Paris Metro Visite cards through Rail Plus prior to our departure. This saved us having to line up in the queues to buy metro cards.
Our 3 days in Paris was spent enjoying the beautiful sights and attractions. It was not a trip to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Louvre. We ate and drank our way through some amazing restaurants and cafes and ate an unimaginable number of baguettes, croissants and macarons during our Paris stay.


PARIS - BORDEAUX


The train to Bordeaux departed Paris Montparnasse. This was our day to start using our Global Rail Pass. We had the passes validated at the train ticket office. We were required to show our passports in order to have the pass stamped and validated. The TGV train departed on time. Platform, carriage and seats all very easy to find as displayed at the station. The seating in first class was very comfortable with generous room. All seating in first class was seated opposite each other with a table in the middle. Large luggage storage at the end of carriages. There was a bar and food counter on board to purchase food.


We spent the day roaming Bordeaux and enjoying the local food and wine. The following day we caught TER regional service out to Saint Emilion for a day trip. We were not required to have a seat reservation. We marked a day off our rail pass which entitled us to travel on the train. The TER regional train only had 2nd class available however seats were very comfy and there was ample room. Later in the day we boarded another regional service back to Bordeaux. We only had to show our rail pass to the conductor on board. No seat reservation was required. For those with a love of amazing food and wine, St Emilion is a must to explore.


BORDEAUX - BARCELONA


Unfortunately upon arrival into Bordeaux station we discovered our train to Narbonne was delayed by 25 minutes. This delay quickly increased to over an hour. As we only had a 30 minute connection in Narbonne this meant we would miss our train to Barcelona. Once finally on our way, the TGV service was a smooth and quick ride. On board we had allocated seats. The seats ran in sets of 2. Luggage was stored above our head. A food cart went through the carriage several times for the chance to purchase food on board. The conductor on board was very helpful and was trying to arrange alternative travel as we would miss our connecting train. On arrival in Narbonne I had the France Spain TGV ticket endorsed at the station as unused due to train delays caused by electricity issues.
We decided to board the next regional service to Port Bou where we would meet up with another regional train to take us to Barcelona. The regional trains were quite basic however there was plenty of room. As the trains were quite empty we occupied a 4 seater and kept our luggage with us. Rail passes were checked on board. The delays set us back around 5 hours. While it was a little frustrating it was something out of our control and there were alternative solutions at no extra cost due to the rail pass covering regional services.


Barcelona was an awesome city. Lots of tapas, paella and sangria consumed. We visited many Gaudi sights and strolled along the famous La Rambla Street and Placa de Catulunya.


BARCELONA - BERLIN


We took a 2 hour flight to Berlin.
Our time in Berlin was full of history and art. The city is quite spread out so we took a bike tour so we could see as much as possible. We enjoyed local cuisine and had our first taste of German Beer. Our departure out of Berlin would see us take a City Night Lin train out of Berlin Hauptbahnhof station down to Munich.


BERLIN - MUNICH


Berlin HBF station is very big and spacious however very easy to locate the platform. We arrived around 20 minutes prior to train departure. Our luck with trains running on time did not improve as we were informed on board the train that we would be arriving into Munich 3 hours late. We had reserved two beds in a six bed cabin. We scored the room to ourselves. Bed linen and pillow were provided. Luggage was stored under our beds. Bathroom and wash facilities were found at the end of the carriage. A minibar service was available on board.


We indulged right into the Munich cuisine and the local drink visiting the beer halls and gardens. We took an afternoon trip out to Dachau on the train. We were able to jump on regional services with our rail passes with no additional ticket. We caught an S Bahn back into town. We marked another date on the pass. There was no hassle finding a seat as there were plenty available.


MUNICH - CHUR


Having no seats reserved for our day of train travel we had the option to travel at any time of the day. To make the most of our limited time in Switzerland we boarded a Eurocity (EC) service around 7.00 am. We were required to transfer trains in St Margrethen to a regional service for our journey onto Chur. The EC train had reserved and non-reserved first class seating. The seat arrangement was two seats aisle seat so was very spacious. A dining car separated first and second class.
The regional train was two levels with first class on the upper level. We choose seats by the window so we could view the amazing scenery coming into Switzerland. Our luggage was stored about our seats.


We had the afternoon to explore Chur. Chur is a quiet town that is split by Old and New town. It's a good overnight base for your journey on the Bernina Express.


CHUR - VENICE


Our biggest day of train travel on the trip, we had about 12 hours of travel time. The day started off with the Bernina Express leaving Chur for Tirano. We were greeted at the platform by a Bernina staff member to assist us in finding our carriage and seat. Leaving our luggage at the end of carriage, we relaxed in our seat and read over the information booklets provided. The panoramic windows offered amazing views of Swiss land. Commentary on board the train was provided as we travelled through towns and landmarks. The first class observation-cars have spacious and comfortable single or double seats. There is a minibar service offering snacks and drinks. This train does not have a restaurant car. From Tirano we had a two hour wait for our regional train to Milan. We grabbed some lunch during our wait enjoying our first taste of Italian Cuisine.

We were able to board the Italy Trenord service using our rail pass. The train only had 2nd class available. The train was quite basic with no extras offered. Travel time was 2hours 30 minutes.
On arrival in Milan we had a quick transfer to meet our Italy Domestic - Frecciabianca service to Venice Santa Lucia. We located our assigned seats and stored our luggage behind the seats as there was lots of room. Seats ran in single and doubles with a table in middle. Seats were reclining and very comfortable. Around 30 minutes after departure a food cart came through and offered a light snack and drink complimentary.


Although flooded at several times during our stay, Venice was beautiful city. We strolled around and got lost through the canals, discovering hole in the wall eatery's and cafes.

 

VENICE FLORENCE


We had a midday train departing out of Venice Santa Lucia station (located on island). We were travelling on the NTV Italo service. We had full fares first class tickets as the rail pass is not accepted on this train. Prior to our train departure we waited in the designated Italo lounge. All that was required for our train journey was a PNR code. On board the conductor entered this into the ticket machine. The seats were very generous size with a tray table and power socket. Wifi was available on board the train. Our luggage was stored at the end of the carriage. During the train journey we were offered a drink and light snack.


Florence was a beautiful city. We weaved the cobble stones street taking in the sights. Continuing on from Venice we enjoyed the delicious Italian food of pasta, pizza and gelati. We also enjoyed a scenic day out in Tuscany visiting towns of San Gimignano, Monteriggiono and Siena. Here we tasted the finest Chianti wines the region had to offer.


FLORENCE CINQUE TERRE


Our travel to Vernazza consisted of two regional trains with a transfer in La Spezia. Travelling on regional services does not require seat reservations and we are free to sit in any available seat. Both services only had 2nd class available. There was no food/drink provided on board. Our rail passes were check by train conductor on board.


CINQUE TERRE- ROME


The final stretch of our trip, we left Vernazza bound for Rome with a photo stop in Pisa. Our rail included two regional services and Italy intercity service. The journey went via La Spezia where we connected with a regional to Pisa Centrale. As we had the some spare time we jumped off the train and put our luggage in storage at the station and jumped on a 10 minute bus out to Leaning Tower. We snapped some photos and were back at Pisa station within the hour. Our next train required a reservation so we bought this at the station. The Intercity train had compartment style seating (6 seats per compartment). The seats reclined, tray table and power sockets available.


ROME - ROME AIRPORT


Our final train journey was on board the Leonardo Express out to Rome airport. As we had a first class pass which included Italy we could board the train with no additional ticket or reservation. The train departed every half hour and took around 30 minutes. The train was quite busy however there were plenty of seats and room for luggage.


CONCLUSION


Travelling Europe by rail was a breeze. Not only was it a stress free (even with the delays) it was enjoyable and fun. The ease of jumping on a train and travelling from one city centre to the next was great. The rail pass was excellent with being flexible and being able to take day's trip out on regional trains at no additional cost.

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