Europe solo by train

Dec 25th, 2006, 05:33 PM
  #1  
gwm
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Europe solo by train

New to this forum, grateful for any help.

I'm looking into touring Europe for a month or two. I leased a car in 2004 with another person and we spent twelve weeks. This time it will probably be solo so leasing a car is probably not economical, and besides, doing it by train will enable me to spend time in some of the bigger cities that I wasn't brave enough to drive into last time. I'd like to see some of the bits I didn't see last time, namely eastern Europe and down to Greece, although there are a plenty of bits of France and Germany that we missed that I'd be keen to go to too.

I'm looking at getting the full unrestricted Eurailpass for two months, which would work out at around $29 Australian or about 17 euros a day. As I'd expect to travel about one day in three this would work out at around AU$86 or 52 euros per day (although I understand the pass allows free travel on many city Metro/suburban services?). I'd imagine that most of the inter-city journeys I'd take would be small to medium length. I guess I would come out ahead.

What I'm interested to hear other people's opinions about is how much I should plan ahead. Should I just arrive at Paris or Frankfurt or Rome or Vienna clutching my Eurail pass and take life as it comes? Or the other extreme, should I spend a month on the internet before I go and have accommodation booked in every city and reserved seats on every train? Or something in between? If I book only some of my accommodation can I assume that I can hop on a train without a reservation? (I'd be there in the shoulder season, either April-May or September-October.) Do most cities' major train stations have some sort of accommodation booking kiosk, and is this the best way to do it? It would be silly to waste half of every day looking for accommodation.

Thanks in advance.
gwm is offline  
Dec 25th, 2006, 06:00 PM
  #2  
 
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Sounds like fun and a logical plan. But I'm not the one to answer about "winging" it. I'd be very busy for a few months prior, carefully deciding which places I most wanted to see, what I wanted to see there and coming up with a pretty definite plan of how to fit those all together, to make the best use of my limited time. Then I'd probably end up booking most of my accomodations to avoid wasting time and energy when I got to each place. Meanwhile I'd hope that most of those accomodations could be cancelled so that I could change my mind and leave a day or so early, or move on to another place if I wanted to (although in all my travels, that's only happened to me twice).

Meanwhile, one nice benefit of a rail pass is that while you're staying in a large city, you can also hop on a train for a day or half day trip somewhere not too far away. I think when one doesn't have such a pass, it takes more effort to decide that it will be worth it to buy a ticket to go check out someplace, which with a pass you have nothing to lose and know you are returning to your base city later than day anyway -- probably at whatever time you want.
NeoPatrick is online now  
Dec 25th, 2006, 07:04 PM
  #3  
ron
 
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My answer is not a lot different that Patrickís. The more I visit Europe, the more I know where I want to go and what I want to see and have a pretty good idea of how long things will take. So I tend to book accommodations in advance, and tend to buy advance transportation arrangements. But certainly in times past, when I didnít have this confidence, I had no problem winging it, booking accommodations on arrival in cities, and buying passes to give me flexibility in when and where I go.

Part of the answer has to do with how fussy one is about accommodations. If you read some of the back postings here on Fodors, you will see people agonizing over accommodation choices, with, to me trivial distinctions. But if you are easy-going about lodgings, winging it is viable.

You shouldn't have problems taking trains with reservations, except, of course, on the high speed intercity trains that require mandatory resrvations.

ron is offline  
Dec 25th, 2006, 07:20 PM
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As long as you are not fussy to the point that you require five star accommodation at all times you should be fine without reservations just about everywhere. I've done something similar on a lesser time scale (how I wish I could get away for two months to tool around Europe!) and did fine. You might think about establishing some fixed points along the way and reserve in advance, but that's not even absolutely necessary. One caveat - even though it is the shoulder season there may still be some events that make some places crowded for a short time, such as market/ trade shows or salon weeks, especialy in major cities. Check out the places you want to visit so you can schedule around those.
This is one instance where a rail pass actually makes sense, too.
Seamus is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:19 AM
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During the months you are thinking about you can be as unplanned as you wish. I usually book a hotel in advance for our arrival night and the night before our return. I would not want to have to find lodging after a long international flight, and I want to be sure of location/logistics before returning. Other than that,I would book in advance for Paris - because hotels can be so $$$. If you have any special events you want to get to (Octoberfest for example) reserve hotels for those. Try to book hotels that do not require a deposit, so that you can cancel if something better or more interesting turns up. In the past we have had pretty good luck using the booking services in/near train stations.

The temptation with a Eurorail pass is to keep moving. Try to resist jumping on a train at the first hint of a lull. Check the web sites of the various national railways to get an idea of when and where you need to reserve a seat, and when there may be additional costs. Also, there used to be reliable books on eurorailpass travel, but I would look for something very recently published.


gwarring is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:41 AM
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On booking in advance, that's largely a matter of personal preference. And generally speaking, the people on this forum tend more to book in advance.

I'm not familiar with all the cities you mentioned, but I would say that probably cities like Paris and Rome, you'd want to book ahead, particularly if you're traveling in Sept/Oct. Just to avoid the lodging search upon arrival. Once you're there, if you want to stay longer or shorter, you can do that (and if that hotel doesn't have availability if you want to stay longer, they'll probably help you find another place).

For anywhere else you're likely to go, before you leave for Europe, provide yourself with a short list of possible hotels in each city, along with contact information. That way, you have something to work from before you arrive in the city. You could even call from your prior city, or ask your hotel to do it for you.
Lexma90 is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:51 AM
  #7  
ira
 
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Hi gw,

It is so easy to book accomodations over the internet, that I can't see why anyone would want to "wing it".

Do alittle research on hotels in each place that you want to visit, so that you will know what to expect.

April-May is likely to offer more otions than Sept-Oct.

Re railpass:

You don't know whether it is cheaper than PtP tickets until you have a proposed itinerary.

Enter that at www.railsaver.com and click "only if it saves money".

If it says PtP, you can be sure that a pass is too expensive.

If it offers you the pass, compare the price to the special discount fares available at the national railroad sites.

For example, railsaver estimates $70E from Paris to Bordeaux. www.voyages-sncf.com has a 25E PREMS fare.

You might not be able to get a railpass for some Eastern Europe countries.

ira is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:56 AM
  #8  
ira
 
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PS:

More on "winging it".

Many folks feel that they might decide that x nights in AAA turns out to be too long, or y nights in BBB is too short, so they would want to change their plans and either move on or stay longer.

If you have told a hotel that you will be staying 3 nights and decide to leave after 2, you are likely to be charged for one more night because you didn't give sufficient notice.

Or, if you decide to stay one more night, you might find that they don't have room for you.

With a little effort on the computer, you can decide how much time you want to spend at each point on your journey.

Put together a draft itinerary and let us help you tweak it.

ira is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 04:29 AM
  #9  
 
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I am a great fan of winging it overall, especially as you are travelling in the shoulder season. I love the freedom of being able to stay on in a particular area that I love, or skip onto the next destination if I am not enjoying it. I assume that you are not going to be ultra fussy about accommodation or you wouldn't be considering it anyway.

I would however certainly pre-book accommodation at my first destination and, possibly some of the major cities where it can be harder to find accommodation because of their popularity or you know that they are expensive and, therefore, affordable accommodation is harder to obtain.

Accommodation services are often located near the main railway station in order to help you find a place, or at least they used to be - it's been a while

If you wish to keep your travel plans fairly flexible but still do some pre-booking you can also just log on to the internet at a cafe and look for where you want to stay just a few days in advance rather than booking weeks or months ahead. You might also find an affordable bargain at one of the last minute sites e.g. wotif.com.au which would normally be out of your reach, so check them out as well as normal accommodation listings.

Can't comment on whether the train travel needs to be booked (we always have a car) but, off hand, wouldn't have thought it would be a problem when you are travelling. I will let the train experts address that one.

If you are strongly advised to pre-book your train travel and intend to do so, then you might well give more consideration to pre-booking accommodation as well seeing you will already be locked into a set schedule.

Have a great time.
shandy is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 05:06 AM
  #10  
 
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One thing that is clear about the "winging it" mode is that you can't follow a definite list of places you want to see or visit. If you have 6 cities to see in 18 days and you wing it, deciding to stay in the first city for 5 days, not three then your next job is to determine which of the other cities you had previously decided you really wanted to visit, that now you will NOT get a chance to see. The same is true if you suddenly decide to go somewhere that wasn't on your list. Which place or places that in your planning you thought you wanted to see must you now eliminate?

On the other hand "winging it" is a great way to travel when you really don't care where you go or what you'll miss. And that can be fine too.
NeoPatrick is online now  
Dec 26th, 2006, 08:49 AM
  #11  
 
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I usually book ahead for Europe and "wing" it in Asia. That's because I want a single room, and they tend to be in short supply. In Asia the prices are cheap enough I don't mind paying for a double. BTW, train travel in Eastern Europe is cheap enough you are probably better off not bothering with a Railpass there. Also, no need to book trains in Europe except for popular night routes.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 09:44 AM
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With a trip like you mention, I think mainly winging it would be a better alternative. My best friend and I did that for five weeks. We had a list of places we wanted to go, multiple ideas of accommodations in each one, and an order that we would go. We did book our first and last stays ahead of time. We flew into Rome and out of London. We ended up enjoying Rome so much that we added two nights there to our loose plan. Had we booked everything else ahead of time, we would have either had to leave or call every hotel for the rest of the five weeks and change our reservations.

If you have a list of hotels ahead of time that you would like to stay at in each location, you can call the day before you leave your current city and find one with availability. Or you can hop online to do that as well. Then you don't have to spend too much time searching for your next hotel.

Finally, I don't know how it might work out for you, but we found the flexipass saved us money over the regular eurorail pass.

Have fun! Right now, I'm stuck to one week trips in one place because of work, but I just can't wait until I can do another one like the one that you are doing!
christieCA is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 10:06 AM
  #13  
 
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If you opt to wing it in the larger cities, be sure to check their events calendars. April-May or September-October may very well be "shoulder season" in tourist terms, but those months are very much HIGH season for conventions. With a particularly large convention, the attendee spillover has an impact on even inexpensive little hotels (a lot of people try to do these meetings on the cheap, not everyone stays at the Marriott type hotels).
Also, pay attention to local news. If a strike or some other problem is merely threatened, splurge for seat reservations. I've ridden trains in Europe in the 24 hour period BEFORE a proposed strike and every single seat was reserved for every leg of the trip and there were dozens of people stuck standing in the aisles for hours.
BTilke is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:32 PM
  #14  
gwm
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Thanks for all the responses. They've given me plenty to think about! This looks like a good forum to be part of.

I've put together a very rough itinerary which I expect will change greatly as I read more books and forums.

Fly into Athens
Athens 3 (nights)
Greek islands 3
Athens 2
Sofiya 3
Bucharest 3
Budapest 3
Zagreb 2
Ljubljana 2
Milan 2
Zurich 2
Strasbourg 3
Paris 1
Cherbourg 1
Dublin 2
Killarney 2
Dublin 2
Paris 2
Luxembourg 2
Brussels 2
Amsterdam 3
Hanover 2
Hamburg 3
Berlin 3
Nuremberg 2
Prague 3
Vienna 3
Fly out of Vienna

This comes nicely to two months, which will be ideal for the Eurail pass if that's the way I decide to go.

Last trip I saw Rome, Paris, Tuscany, Venice, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Freiburg, Munich and various parts of rural France, Italy and Spain and this year spent a month in England, Scotland and Wales, so no need to see these again (which is not to say that they weren't highly enjoyable!).

There's sure to be one or two fatal flaws in the above itinerary that I haven't thought of, so please comment! As I said, it will no doubt change dramatically before I go (which will probably be either Sept-Oct 2007 or April-May 2008 as I have a few other trips planned for the first eight months of 2007 ... I'm a recent early retirement, just on the young side of 50).

BTilke mentions strikes. How common are they?
gwm is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 03:39 PM
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I'm curious if you've gotten out a map and drawn this on it. Or if you've added up all the times. And you do know that the eurail pass won't do you much good for Greece and some of that Eastern Europe stuff, right?
NeoPatrick is online now  
Dec 26th, 2006, 04:31 PM
  #16  
gwm
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I've had a look at the map I downloaded from the Eurail website. I take it some of the distances are too great for a day, Patrick? These plans are still in the embryo stage! I was surprised how quiakly trains get from A to B in Europe, but perhaps I was only looking at the faster trains in western Europe and the east is a different story...

Perhaps I'd be better off leaving Ireland for another time and allowing myself more time to get around the east? Why won't the Eurail pass me much use in Greece and eastern Europe?

Forgive my naivete; my other trips have been driving and so this is a whole new ball game for me.
gwm is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 04:48 PM
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First of all there are no trains that go from Athens to the islands (there goes the first 8 nights).
I'm not sure what the current train situation is from Athens to Sofia, but I'm pretty sure it's not covered by Eurail Pass. And then there is the 16 hour trip from Sofia to Buchurest.
Croatia, Bulgaria, and Slovakia are not covered by Eurail pass.
NeoPatrick is online now  
Dec 26th, 2006, 05:19 PM
  #18  
gwm
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Nor Slovenia or the Czech Republic, I discover on closer examination. I previously downloaded the 2 megabyte pdf map from somewhere else on their site which has a lot more countries coloured.

Looks like I have a lot more homework to do.

Nevertheless, thanks for all the replies.

gwm is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 08:18 PM
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I was surprised how quiakly trains get from A to B in Europe, but perhaps I was only looking at the faster trains in western Europe and the east is a different story...

gwm - it's not Oz over there - places are much closer together!? You'll get some good advice on this board.

But visit the Oz board for some fun!
margo_oz is offline  
Dec 26th, 2006, 09:47 PM
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On looking at your itinerary, which I know is just a rough first go, I am concerned about how much (little) time you are allocating to each place.

I think you are underestimating how much more time will be spent travelling by train as compared to car. It won't simply be walk out the door of our hotel, get into your car and be on your way. You will need to allow time to get from the hotel to the station, waiting time for trains (because you can't afford to get there late and miss it) and then getting from the station at your next destination to the hotel. A two train trip could easily take four hours.
There is also, of course, what times the train depart. If the only train you can catch that day leaves at 2pm then you are mmediately reduced to only half a day in that city, not a full day. Whilst two days sounds fine for many of these cities, you really need to work out will you actually have two full days or what turns out to be considerably less by the time you factor in all the extras.

As I have said before, I nearly always travel by car so am willing to be overruled by the experts.
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