DIY Train and Other Travel Tips

Old May 12th, 2016, 08:52 AM
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DIY Train and Other Travel Tips

Based upon 20-some trips to mostly Italy and France, here are a few tips. Our trips regressed from two 50ish full of beans travelers who thought nothing of walking all day, to 1 asthmatic widow. Any additions or clarifications much appreciated.

Bring along something else to read if you have forgotten to charge your device. In 2016, I saw plugs on first and second-class trains but cannot say if plugs are everywhere. You don't need to be told about adaptors do you?

I wish I had bought a cheap phone in addition to my Kindle Fire. Twice I needed a taxi and trying to connect with friends got complicated. Wifi wasn't always available when I needed it to confirm or change itinerary.

Don't schlep a bunch of luggage. It makes one yearn for more arms and inconveniences everyone else trying to climb over you. You might have to put big pieces on out-of-your-sight shelves.

Make sure you are on the right train. Match departing time and train number that appear on your ticket with those on the screen. Also, the track number might change--it only happened two times to us but would have been inconvenient. The only time DH and I actually understood the entire public speaker announcement, they repeated it in English.

Can anyone say why 1st class is a better option on French or Italian trains? I thought Eurostar 2nd was nice also.

Allow always enough time to pack, check out of the hotel, get to the station, buy your ticket, watch the departure sign, find your gate, and walk to it. The train won't wait for you.

Be prepared for stairs! I always say you will know you are too old to travel if you cannot carry your bags up stairs or pee standing up whilst holding your purse and your skirt.

See if you can find the name of the stop just preceding yours. I actually wished for an alarm clock on a train ride with several stops.

If you must buy train food, get it sooner than later. They ran out of sandwiches on my recent TGV to Paris. Fortunately, I had smuggled a croissant from breakfast.

Just remember that we all need the same things. In larger towns and cities, you can find anything necessary for your trip. No need to pack most toiletries.

Confused? Concerned? Just ask!

Watch for landmarks so you don't get lost finding your hotel or bus stops.

Always have cab fare.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 09:59 AM
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Great tips!
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:02 AM
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Some good advice here. Your use of "smuggled" implies you had to sneak food on the train. You probably didn't mean that because as you know, you can bring food on board and almost anything from Paul or similar is better than train food.

Additional advice, if you need help with luggage or can't walk long distances you can arrange for help ahead of time in France but don't count on it being available if you just show up. At the larger Paris stations there are a few luggage porters. Not sure about Italy.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:06 AM
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Thanks, RonZ!

Cathinjoetown, wished I'd used a happy face to assure readers that smuggled was tongue in cheek. There seemed to be more help in Italy but one should be careful about generalizations based upon limited info as I have here. Thanks!
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:17 AM
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Can anyone say why 1st class is a better option on French or Italian trains? I thought Eurostar 2nd was nice also.>

Ask the many Europeans who pay extra for first class - I go first class because I have a Global Eurailpass and I'm over 25 or on my budget I would go 2nd class - but I travel so much a pass pays off - it does not for the typical traveler on a short trip however.

But the differences between classes include - 25% fewer seats about in 1st class in the same-size train car and IME usually quite a few empty seats - I often have an adjoining empty seat to put my bags on - stowing luggage is easier in first class - fewer folks fending for room in same-size luggage racks.

and only in first class do you find rows with just one seat in them- an aisle and window seat both! Some of these face each other - ideal for couples - no having to ask someone to get up to get out or vice versa- lots of leg room, etc. - to me these seats are priceless and a significant benefit over 2nd class. Plus in some countries you get complimentary food in 1st class and first class cars are often at the head of the platform - easier getting in and out.

These differences in classes are pretty much the same throughout Europe except in the U.K. the difference is much greater IME - 2nd class like a packed Greyhound bus vs a very plush first class with on many long-distance trains complete meals and drinks free the whole way.

2nd class is fine - first class a lot finer and IME on the trip of a lifetime when folks are paying $200-300 a night for a hotel don't skimp on train travel - the mantra that is oft heard that 2nd class is not worth one euro more is IME at least simply not true or nearly true.

I guess you have to ride in first class to really see the differences.

first-class tickets are also discounted and at times about the same as 2nd class - if not much more it's a no-brainer IME to go for that.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:19 AM
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BTW Thanks for TD for giving such great tips - especially the number one tip IME - PACK LIGHT- Pack first then take your bags and empty half of them and leave them home - as TD says you can buy anything you need in Europe - leave the kitchen sink at home.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:24 AM
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Good to read your perspective, Pal. Especially for the UK clarification about 1st and 2nd class. Many thanks.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 10:34 AM
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Especially for the UK clarification about 1st and 2nd class. Many thanks.>

Let me clarify that - on long-distance (former Cross Country trains) the difference IME is huge - but not on local or commuter trains - nearly no difference except you may get a seat when others are standing- that is but comfort, etc exactly the same - so I'm on about long-distance trains in the U.K.

And in France and Italy where you were the newest high-speed trains have very comfy 2nd class - just that there are some differences -and the length of the train ride can be crucial as well.

Cheers!
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Old May 12th, 2016, 12:30 PM
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Well I suppose Palenq knows I'm going to have my say on this one. I live in Italy and often ride in both first (business) and second (standard) class on Italian trains. I would never pay extra for first class because it's just not worth it. The only reason I ever ride first class is because they often have deep discounts on those seats, when all the discounts for second class have already been snapped up. Would this be the case if Italians were so keen to ride in first class?

In fact, the newest Italian trains have drastically reduced the number of first-class cars.

Executive Class, which costs about four times as much as standard class, would really be worth it if you wanted to splurge. It has swivel seats so you can always face forward and much more leg room than the other classes, which all have identical leg room, although business class has seats that are a few cm wider.

I've also taken first class on the train from York to Glasgow, and that was an entirely different experience from Italian first class, and if you can afford the price difference, I'd say it's worth it.

I don't know about France, as I've always taken second class there.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 01:26 PM
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First class on TGVs in France is well "worth it" if you can snag the PREMS discounts, which isn't too difficult. The seats are larger, more leg room and cars are usually quieter. These prices are only available online.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 01:57 PM
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Thanks to the OP for all the great advice. And happy travels to you. We have taken the train in Portugal, the Netherlands and the U.K. A bit fraught always to plan, but always ends up a positive experience.

This time it's Italy. The fast trains apparently need to be pre-booked. From Rome, we'll go Civitavecchia and back for a cruise, then take the fast train to Florence. Should we book our Florence train ride before we travel, i.e., when the prices open up, or could we wait and book in Rome, which would be about 10 days before the actual trip to Florence?

I see that on the Frecciarossa there seems to be a grid of prices, down one side it varies by whether you can change your booking or cancel:
Base (allows changes and cancellation)
Economy (one ticket change but no refunds)
Super Economy (no changes)

and across the top it's class of travel:
Standard
Premium
Business Salottino
Business Area Silenzio
Business
Executive

Looking at the prices, and weighing this against comfort (on what is a pretty short trip), I doubt we would do the Super Economy because I'd like the flexibility of catching an earlier train when we arrive back from Civitavecchia. Economy, which allows the one change, appears to be about 30 euros more for Standard seat, another 20 euros for a Premium seat. On this train, is there any reason not to choose just the Standard seat with the Economy offer (i.e., one change allowed)?

And of course the Civitavecchia trip is just a regional train that needs no prior reservations I believe. But then I have to look at the schedules--presumably we'll have some flexibility.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 03:12 PM
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You can always IME get on trains on short notice - I have always been able to do so with a railpass but of course you pay full fare - Rome to Florence it is not that much difference and booking on www.trenitalia.com can be a real b- see www.seat61.com for lots of info on discounted tickets should you go that route.

On this train, is there any reason not to choose just the Standard seat with the Economy offer (i.e., one change allowed)?>

Most folks on such a short ride seem to be completely satisfied with 2nd class (economy) - first class is always a bit nicer but for such a short trip - for lots on Italian trains check www.seat61.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.ricksteves.com.

Yes trains to Civitavecchia are regional trains - just buy that ticket at the station - buy a return ticket to Rome and back. BTW it can be a long long walk to get out of the cruise ship dock area at Civitavecchia to the station which is not far from the docks entry point.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 03:18 PM
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You don't have to pre-book the fast trains, but you won't get any discounts unless you buy the tickets at least two days in advance. It's unusual for a train to be completely sold out, though, so if you really want flexibility, you could almost always buy full-price tickets on the day of travel.

It's true that you can change the departure time once if you buy an Economy ticket, but you have to pay the difference between the Economy price and the full Base price. Even the Base price tickets can only be changed up to an hour after the departure time. So if you are very late and miss the train by an hour or more, you'd have to buy a new ticket.

The Premium seats are identical in every way to the Standard seats, except that they have better upholstery. The Business seats, as I said above, are a few centimeters wider than the standard seats, but leg room and seat pitch are identical. On Frecciarossa trains, the seats face each other, so even if you get one of the seats that are single instead of double, you're very likely to have someone sitting across from you.

In Business, you can get a snack, like peanuts, and a soft drink. They also give you a choice of Italian newspapers. Some of the Business seats are actually in the bar car, which I wouldn't care for.

The new Frecciarossa 1000 trains don't have Business Salottino, which is a private compartment for six (I think) people. They also have fewer Business cars than the regular Frecciarossa trains.

Executive, as I said above, looks very nice, but I've never tried it. I find the Standard class perfectly comfortable, but I buy Business if the discounts are sold out in Standard class but still available in Business. I might pay a little extra for Business on a long trip, but I would never pay full price. On such a short trip as Rome to Florence, I wouldn't pay anyy extra for Business.
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Old May 13th, 2016, 08:34 AM
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Yes the length of the train trip is important - but again with 25% fewer people in each same-size train car there is more room for luggage and room in general and often empty seats more than 2nd class. But on such a short trip yes the difference is not needed - the newest ETR type trains have nicer 2nd class than the older ETR traction trains did - the Eurostar trains (Eurostar the name was trademarked by Fiat or some Italian company that made the trains and was subsequently licensed to the Channel Tunnel trains I read!)
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Old May 14th, 2016, 02:47 PM
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Locals are more likely to think 2nd class is about as fine as 1st class I think because they are probably not carrying too much luggage around as tourists tend to and stowing luggage in 1st class is easier IME because of empty seats and fewer folks fending for room in overhead luggage racks.

Here are some photos of the new F 1000 trains in first class - see what I mean by solo seats and how much more relaxed they are than two by two seats and private. Not all appear to face each other but it is hard to tell from the pictures - some appear to have no seat opposite them or lots of room between them if they do.

https://www.google.com/search?q=frec...HWaXBbQQsAQIIg
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