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Train from Rome to Budapest?

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We depart on July 27 for a few days in Rome, then a train journey to Budapest with stops along the way. We leave Rome on Monday and want to arrive in Budapest on Thursday. Any suggestions on how best to arrange the train travel?

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    As Mr Bleyer says, you should take in Venice if you've not been.

    On the way to Venice lie Florence and Padua, both of them fine old cities with good buildings and art collections. Florence and Venice will be stuffed with tourists.

    Beyond Venice you've an Austrian route via Klagenfurt, Graz, Vienna, and Sopron, or a Hungarian route via Slovenia and Croatia (you may beed visas) and Lake Balaton. Klagenfurt and Graz are prosperous, tidy, county capitals, full of flowers. Vienna is a world class city, with splendid buildings, museums and galleries. There are, indeed, many tourists, but the city is large enough to take them in its stride. Sopron is a small Baroque walled city with gothic churches and even a gothic synagogue, and easy bus excursions to the Eszterhazy summer palace where Haydn was court director of music, and to a great country house at Nagycenk, where the count was a leader in the agricultural revolution, using many English ideas.

    Every place I've named is good for small back-street squares with cafe tables and decent cool white wine.

    If you travel from Venice to Goriza, walk over or take the bus to Nova Gorica, and carry on by the beautiful single track railway among the Julian Alps to reach Lake Bled, favourite resort of emperors and President Tito, deservedly so. Zagreb is worth time, but not when you have so few days. So hurry on to Balaton St George, and take the local train ten minutes to Kestheley, a restful, cheap, large town with two hgood museums and a fine lakeside. By night street bands play to people at open air cafe tables. Magic. The southern shore is a bit rowdy, with much street partying.

    With time as short as it is, you'll want to take sleeper berths for any journey long enough to allow that. Rome to Venice isn't long enough, but Italian fares are low, and if you double back you can make a full night. Rome Tiburtina 2225, Marco Polo Express, at Sacile pick up a sandwich and coffee from 0714 to 0732, Venice Santa Lucia 0834. Venice to Vienna is short, too (2046 to 0627), but on three days a week you can travel Venice Mestre 2219, Padua 2243 to 2309, Vienna 0841. The Venezia Express does give you a full night: Venice Santa Lucia 2120, Balaton St George (Balatonszentgyorgy) 0842 to 0845, Keszthely 0857.

    Late July is a busy time, but either at a rail desk in your arrival airport in Rome or on your first day in Rome at a ticket agency that your hotel suggests you can go along and book your seats and berths. In Rome you can book the whole journey, as all west European rail software is interlinked. If you book on yourfirst day in Rome you're certain to get the seats you ask for, though the sleepers may be not what yiu choose. No matter: Rome to Venice by Eurostar Italia day express takes 4 1/2 hours, there are two or three night trains from Venice to Vienna, and the Venezia Express to Hungary seldom becomes full.

    Please write again if I can help further.

    Ben Haines, London

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    Hi Peter. Ben is the forum's best expert on European train travel, and he has given you some good suggestions.

    I think how you do your trip depends on what you want to see enroute.

    Vienna (Wien) and Venice (Venezia) are possible stopover points on a trip from Rome to Budapest. Any way you go about it, the trip will take about 20 hours of train travel.

    Whether or not you want to travel by train at night is up to you.

    The best travel time between Rome and Venice is 4 hours, 20 minutes.
    You can leave Rome at 6:55 and get to Vienna Mestre at 11:15. Or you can leave at 8:55 and arrive at 13:15

    You can leave Venice Mestre at 13:25 and arrive in Vienna at 21:01. Or you can take a night train that leaves at 20:58 and arrives in Vienna at 6:27.

    The big question with a 6:30 arrival is what do you do next? You cannot check into a hotel yet, so you are essentially homeless on the streets until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The hotel might let you store you luggage, but I doubt if you can occupy a room until the afternoon.

    From Vienna to Budapest there are several trains daily. Some leave from Vienna South and some leave from Vienna West. The travel time is about 3 hours.

    Conceivably, you could leave Rome on Monday. Tour Venice on Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday. Leave on the night train for Vienna, arriving Wed. That would leave you Wed for a tour of Vienna. Then continue to Budapest on Thursday. Such a schedule does not leave much time for either city. Or you could spend little or no time in one city in favor of the other.

    The train from Venice to Vienna is slow. It makes 18 stops, some as long as 15 minutes. The TGV it is not.

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    Mr Himitsu replied by e-mail, and I wrote:
    Dear Mr Himitsu,

    I can afford Hungary much better that Austria, so am seldom in Austria. Looking at the Blue Guide printed in 1987 I see that even then the Worthersee and other lakes were on the verge of over-development, like the south shore of Lake Balaton. So on the direct route I pick Klagenfurt. There's publicity for tourists on http://www.anto.com/klagenfurt.html/, and a good hotel list on http://www.info.klagenfurt.at/e_index.htm/. To se this you need a map. Some street names are on the lower map on http://www.biofeld.at/en/contact/en_kontakt_stadtplan.htm/, and are on http://wwwold.ifi.uni-klu.ac.at/Conferences/retis97/map.htm/.

    I went into the State Department visa page http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html/. Americans need no visa for Sovenia or Croatia (Sorry: I should have checked before I frightened you). Italians, like Britons, need no visas for either. So I am still sure you should use the southern route, and stay at Lake Bled, Keszthely, or both. You'd need to book your hotel in advance. Looking at the Lonly Planet guide book, in Bled the hotel that best suits you is the Vila Viktorija, at Cesta Svobode 27/a, with singles at 25 US dollars and doubles at 35 dollars. Their phone and fax is ++ 386 64 742 485. Or on arrival go to Kompas travel agency and book private rooms, at about 25 dollars a double.

    In Kestheley the hotel for you is the Hotel Georgikon at 17 dollars single and 25 double, phone ++ 36 83 315 730, but ask for rooms away from the main road.

    Booking is easy. You fax the hotel in English, or you phone them in European office hours, ask who speaks English, wait while they find that person, and book. You offer a credit card, but in Bled and Kesthely they're likely to say pay on arrival. Klagenfurt hotels are likely to be able to debit your card over the phone, and the grand ones to accept on-line booking on the net.

    When your ideas have developed, please write and I'll think of train times. You already have my note for overnight Rome to Venice, with a kink.

    Ben Haines


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