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Train from Salzburg to Florence in February 2011

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My husband and I are looking to travel from Salzburg to Florence by train in early February (most likely the evening of Tues, Feb. 8). I would love some advice on the timing, type of ticket to choose, and how to purchase.

I've been looking around on based on suggestions on other threads and I found 2 options that are the most direct so we can make the most of our time: Leave at 8:12 PM with 1 transfer and arrive in Florence at 6:18 AM, or leave at 1:34 AM with 1 transfer and arrive at 10:30 AM. Both options mean we'd either arrive in Florence really early in the morning, or leave Salzburg in the middle of the night. Is this normal? I rarely travel by train, but this just sounds kind of odd to me. How do you stay up until 1:34 in the morning without a place to stay? Are places even open that late where you can hang out with your luggage? Or if we decide to arrive at 6:18 AM, we could probably have the hotel hold our luggage upon arrival, but what would there be available to do in the meantime until our hotel room is ready? I'm just kind of at a loss with this leg of our trip. Any advice?

My next question is what is the difference between the different kind of seats on the train? What's a "Couchette"? Is it worth the money to get a sleeper compartment and a WC for a 6 hour train ride? And if I book a sleeper compartment for 3 people (I'm travelling with only my husband) will there be a 3rd stranger joining us? Can you tell I'm a little overwhelmed by all of these choices??? :) I'd love some advice on what all the options mean and what's the best choice for me -- we're on a bit of a budget, but we are willing to spend a little extra for some small comforts.

Last question. I'm planning all this from the US. Should I wait until we get to Salzburg to buy the tickets or should I buy online before we leave the US? And if I should buy before we leave, is there an advantage to buying tickets online or over the phone? (assuming there's a way to purchase over the phone as an English speaker).

Thank you so much for your help with my questions, and any other tips you'd like to provide on this leg of our trip, I would be really appreciative! FYI -- we are starting out in Munich and we plan to take the 90 minute train from Munich to Salzburg. Then Salzburg to Florence, then Florence to Rome. The shorter train rides from Munich to Salzburg and Florence to Rome are a lot less intimidating to me, but should I also book these tickets before I get there, or will I be OK buying them at the station on the day of?


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