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Car vs. train in European countryside---opinions?

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Dec 15th, 2000, 05:53 PM
  #1
DYANA
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Car vs. train in European countryside---opinions?

I'm always reading how wonderful the trains and other public transport are in Europe. But outside of being in the big cities, where a car in downright inconvenient, are the trains really the way to go? Suppose I'm driving across Italy and into France, etc. If I have a family of five, is it really more economical to buy train tickets?? I know gas is expensive, as well as rental car rates, but is it really that much different enough to go to the hassle of dealing with schedules, etc.(Besides being able to stop off at an offbeat spot) As I said, I know the cities are a different story--I would not dream of not taking the metro in Paris or walking and taxining and buses in Rome, but for the countryside with a family, is it a different story??? Opinions, please.

Thanks
 
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Dec 15th, 2000, 06:25 PM
  #2
Rex
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There are virtually no circumstances for which the train is a better deal for a family of five when compared to the use of a rental car. Period.

About the only exception would be a ONE day rental crossing a national border. For example, to rent in San Remo, Italy and return the same day in Nice, France. The train will be cheaper than this ONE day rental. And depending on the route of your trip, and the number of days in country "x" and country "y", it may make sense to do something exactly this - - with separate rentals in the two countries. The best itineraries loop from point A to point B (both in the SAME country) whether you stay in that couhtry or not. and don't forget certain "dual-country" locations where you can rent a car "from" (ore return "to") either of two adjacent countries (Lille - - France or Belgium; Geneva or Basel - - France or Switzerland; Strasbourg - - France or Germany).

Best wishes,

Rex
 
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Dec 15th, 2000, 10:03 PM
  #3
Russ
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I think Rex is mostly right on this -- it might only be cheaper or roughly equivalent to take the train with a family of five if you're taking advantage of railpass offers. A good-sized car will probably not be had for, say, a 2-week trip from Frankfurt - Amsterdam - Berlin - Frankfurt, for less than $300. For this trip of about 2100 km, a conservative estimate of gas alone is $300. Let's say it will cost a minimum of $600 without insurance. The same route would cost in the neighborhood of $1000 for regular train tickets (2 adults, 3 children.) For 2 adults and 3 kids travelling together, however, on German railpasses, and buying regular tickets through Holland, you're looking at approximately $675.
So I'd say it really depends on the individual itinerary and what offers are out there for your specific travel plans.

Aside from the money issue, trains and cars each have their merits for families. With a car, you know where your stuff is, and you don't have to worry about leaving something on a train. There's more freedom to come and go exactly when you wish. Depending on your kids, the car may be a mini-home away from home where they feel comfortable, or it may be a place where they feel cooped up and get on each other's nerves.

A train will almost always be faster. I don't drive 150 mph, anyway. It gives kids a chance to move around and interact, however feebly, with members of another society. My daughter enjoyed exchanging smiles and general people-watching that would have been impossible in the back seat of a car. Kids can go to the bathroom whenever they like without pulling off the track. Most have reasonably-priced snack bars, and many have tables and pull-out trays if you want to picnic from a sack (unlike your rental car.) Trains also take you right to the center of things, in most cases, with no traffic jams and no navigating in strange territory. And since no one has to drive, everyone can enjoy the ride and the scenery.

I've driven with my small family of three twice for a week each time, and all of us agree that the train is the absolute way to go. If the price is comparable and you can get where you want to go by train, I wouldn't hesitate, especially if you're travelling in northern Europe, where trains are super-frequent, dependable, and timely.
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 06:52 AM
  #4
BOB THE NAVIGATOR
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Dyana, All good points above. But, IMHO
you can only see the best places in Europe by getting off the train tracks and driving to the small villages. If
driving is an option for you then I suggest you use the trains to get from
one big city to another and then drive
to see the villages of Provence or Tuscany or the Salzkammergaut. The exception is Switzerland where train travel is an art form and much easier.
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 07:17 AM
  #5
wes fowler
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Dyana,
From the way you've worded your query I really think you're trying to convince yourself that train travel is a better option than auto. By all means, auto is the way to go with five people. True, rental costs for a car large enough to accommodate five and their luggage and fuel costs will be expensive, though you can reduce costs somewhat by securing a diesel powered auto rather than gas powered. Savings can be realized by your flexibility in where you stay; a Gasthaus or self catering apartment in the outskirts of Munich will be considerably less expensive than a hotel or apartment in Munich, for example and may well provide higher quality amenities. An auto will get you there; a train may not. The logistics of trying to gather five folk and their luggage to meet train schedules is intimidating at best. Auto travel eliminates that pressure. Above all, auto travel really gives you the opportunity to "explore", get off the beaten track and find the little known, surprising wonders of Europe. Go for it!
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 07:30 AM
  #6
Maira
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I would not trade the freedom and flexibility I have when driving in Europe for nothing. The drawbacks of parking and traffic in the big cities are easily handled by good planning. The most amazing pictures, unexpected sights, much more personalized vacation, are only some of the advantages. Gas is expensive, but it seems to go a long way. Whenever we spend time in a city, we plan ahead of time and park the car for the duration, but it is available for day trips whenever we want to go. I think back to out trips thru the Western Highlands in Scotland, the Dolomites in Northern Italy, the Romantic Road in Germany, Hadrian's Wall in Northern England, the Czech countryside around Prague, Way of St. James in Northern Spain, the White Towns in Southern Spain,..... I just can't think of a better way to enjoy these.
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 07:33 AM
  #7
Paulo
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The last 6 times we went to Europe for a month long visit (3 or 4 of us), we rented/leased a car for the whole period, driving from 4,000 to 4,500 miles each time out.

Is that the way to go? For us, considering everything, it turns out to be. But if costs weren't an issue, I would do as Bob suggests. I would use public transportation for "interbase" travel and rent a car about 3 times for relatively short periods. It costs more though.

Russ put it well. We tend to compare modes of transportation based on direct costs (train bus/fares, taxi to/from stations, rental, gas, tolls, etc.). But the "cost" associated with the aspects laid down by Russ may be more important!

I can assure you that in long hauls (we try to limit the daily driving to 3-4 hours - but 3-4 times in a trip we break the rule), behind a driving wheel, I always wonder what I'm doing there ... and have visions of people relaxing in a train: "you, fool ..."

I am very experient driving in/out major cities in Europe. But what about drivers that don't know their way in cities like Rome and Florence ... how much "precious" time will they be burning just to get to their hotels?

If you come up with a plan of your trip, we would be in position to recommend where to rent a car and where to use a train.

Paulo
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 08:04 AM
  #8
Mike Murphy
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Dyana,
If you're like us (suffer from wanderlust) get a car. If you don't, train it.
--
Mike Murphy
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 02:54 PM
  #9
Jeff
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Dyana: The foregoing input is very good. However, one question: Who is the lucky driver? Driving a family of five in familiar territory can be stressful. Move into unfamiliar territory and.... Cars offer freedom and, with 5 people, probably some savings. But trains offer freedom from the responsibility of navigating and driving. If your itinerary is pretty well set and corresponds with train lines, then absent a large cost differential I would suggest that a premium of traveling by train may be worth it (depending on the premium or savings). Just another opinion.
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 03:07 PM
  #10
Rex
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At the risk of wearing out my welcome on this thread, let me say that Jeff's point is very well taken. The "pleasure" or "burden/stress" of driving is totally subjective - - and because of that, my opinion of driving (I truly love driving in Europe) may not be relevant (and certainly not superior) to any one else's who doesn't share it.

I have generally had positive experiences with trains; I also like planes, but for both of them, I find that getting from terminal to actual destination is a pain, and I like the freedom to wander where I want when I want.

In particular, Dyana, you asked specifically about which is more economical. I grouse, sometimes, on this board at those who insist that there are all these OBjective reasons for preferring trains over other modes of transportation. There are indeed, SUBjective reasons to choose train travel. But with a family of five, cost - - FINANCIAL cost - - is almost surely not one of them.

One last thing, I have relatively less experience being a RIDER when traveling by car (as opposed to being the driver). In the interest of family harmony, it might be worthwhile to get the rider's input(s) as well as the prospective driver(s). For what it's worth, if any of your children are over 21, they may be able to sign on as an added driver in Europe (not 25, like with most rentals in the US).
 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 04:47 PM
  #11
Russ
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The car/train debate is always a fun and lively one!! I agree, Rex, that what you say about price is mostly true, but it certainly isn't always. Aside from the example I already gave, here's another.
Your 5-member family is staying in Munich and wants to take a daytrip to Wuerzburg to see the incredible palace there. Hop a morning train and return that evening for a mere $18 total using a day pass for regional trains. More quantitative data needed to justify train travel? How about this -- Munich to Hamburg, 500 miles in 6 hours.

Germans and many other Europeans are acutely aware of the benefits of train travel and would keep these incredible systems afloat even if every American that went to Europe opted for a car. I say we give them credit for knowing how to get around in their own countries.

 
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Dec 16th, 2000, 06:00 PM
  #12
Paulo
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I've been driven by my cousin, from Hamburg to München (Messe to center) in 7 hours, including a 20min stop for gas and a snack, Ross! Pretty tedious I must admit. You don't say how much this would cost for a family of 5, though

On the other hand, the family in München spent 6+ hours travelling to spend less than 2 visiting the palace in Würzburg. Arriving in Frankfurt at noon, I pick up the car and drive to Rothenburg with stops in Würzburg and Bad Mergentheim. After 2 nights and a full day in Rothenburg, a leisurely drive south with short visits to Dinkelsbühl, Nördingen and Augsburg takes me to the hotel door in München ...

One can't therefore compare car and train travel just like that. Not even the "financial" cost. What about, for instance, travel on a sleeper compared to hotel for 5 + a very long drive next day? The point is that the optimal planning for car and train travel are different.

Paulo

PS. Conclusion: BOB's right! Everything considered, an intelligent mix of car and train travel should be in order ... and Rex and I will continue using a car throughout our trips almost always
 
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Dec 17th, 2000, 04:26 AM
  #13
Jason Alan Graves
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I think that a rental car is definately the way to go, however comma, if you plan on visiting any major cities, your best bet is to find the main train station in that city, and utilize it to go to the various sites as trying to drive will make you spend more time in the car than seeing things.
 
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Dec 18th, 2000, 09:50 AM
  #14
dyana
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Thanks, all for the responses. I will no doubt rent a car.

The next question--what are the best road maps to use. The Michelin number series--ie 428 and 429 for north Italy?

Are there better maps or are those my best bet??
 
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Dec 18th, 2000, 11:35 AM
  #15
wes fowler
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Dyana,
For planning, the Michelin maps to which you refer are excellent. Upon arrival in Italy, look for the Hallwag map published by Esso/Exxon and available at Esso service stations. It's to a scale of 1:500,000, covers Northern Italy from approximately Orvieto north to Switzerland and is detailed enough that I swear every donkey path and shepherd's shortcut is shown.
 
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