Europe train journeys

Europe Travel Blog

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Trackside at the Wien Westbahnhof
Traveling by train in Europe is the best way to visit several different destinations in a small geographical area. Longer trips will most likely involve taking several different trains by different operators and take a significant amount of time, so travel by air is better in those circumstances. If you do take a train, you'll have two ticket options depending on your itinerary: a Eurail pass and point to point tickets. A Eurail pass enables the bearer to travel in a single country or between two or three adjacent countries for one price. They are good for a certain number of travel days within a specific time period, such as one or two weeks. Examples of multiple country passes include Austria-Germany, France-Switzerland, Italy-Spain, and France-Benelux (the Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg region).
Track sign at Wien Westbahnhof indicating the departure for Salzburg
Our itinerary took us from the Czech Republic, to Austria, and then on to Germany. There is no single kind of Eurail pass that covers just those three countries, so we traveled point to point on individual tickets.

A large display board inside the train station gave us a list of destinations available from that station, departure times, and from which track the train will depart. Once outside, we found that each track is numbered and has its own display board showing the train's destination, departure time, train operator, and perhaps a short list of the major stops in between.

We started our short European tour in Prague, Czech Republic, and our first train took us from Prague's Holesovice Station to Vienna, Austria. Since many European cities have more than one train station, it's important to know which one to use for your next destination.
Typical passenger train car interior
Don't assume that you'll depart from the city's main station or leave from the same station at which you arrived. Since the Prague to Vienna route is heavily traveled, these trains require reservations, which carry an extra 200 Czech Crown cost (about $12 or 7 Euros). This was the only segment of our trip that I purchased in advance. There are a few websites where you can purchase train tickets ahead of time and have them delivered by mail. Otherwise, it's very easy to purchase tickets in Europe right at the train station as you go. Many of the popular routes have trains that leave every hour, and it was no challenge to find an available train that left when we were ready to go. That may not be the case during special events, but we found plenty of empty seats on each train we boarded. You may also find that buying tickets at the station is less expensive since you'll be avoiding any service charges that a website might impose.

Just like an airliner, you can purchase either a 1st or 2nd class fare. The train cars are plainly marked with either a "1" or a "2" that indicates where you may sit according to your fare class. We were traveling on 2nd class tickets, but I strolled through the 1st class cars during the journey to see what they were like. I had already noticed that the fare difference wasn't that large between the two classes, and the difference in accommodations was likewise not that dramatic. The main difference was perhaps more room between rows and slightly larger seats.

In Vienna, we arrived at Wien Sudbahnhof (south station), and departed for Salzburg the next day from Wien Westbahnhof (west station). Either station can be reached via Vienna's subway system (U-bahn).

From there, it was on to Munich and then Frankfurt, where we caught our flight back home. All along our route we noticed the strict punctuality of the European train system. I made a special point to notice the clocks at each station where we stopped along the way, and if the itinerary that came with our tickets said we'd arrive at 16:05 and leave at 16:12, then that's exactly what we did (well, perhaps give or take one or two minutes). This meant that the change of trains that we had to accomplish between Munich and Frankfurt was easy, even though we had only ten minutes to leave one train, find our new track number, then become settled on the other train before it left.

Each train we were on had food service, and I assume every train has similar offerings. This includes a wide range of drinks (beer, soft drinks, and juices), and snacks such as sandwiches, chips, and candies. A food and beverage cart would often be brought through the passenger cars which had a sampling of items that are available in the dining car. Feel free to eat at your seat. Several areas had seats facing each other with a folding table in between.

Train travel in Europe is leisurely, comfortable, and allows the traveler to see Europe's postcard countryside along the way.
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Trackside at the Wien Westbahnhof
Trackside at the Wien Westbahnhof
Track sign at Wien Westbahnhof ind…
Track sign at Wien Westbahnhof in…
Typical passenger train car interi…
Typical passenger train car inter…
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