You never know who you’ll meet on a train, says Kaye, and this is just one of the attractions of this highly civilised way to travel.
There are as many Europes as there are Africas and Americas. Sophisticated Europe, ancient Europe, high-tech Europe, multi-cultural Europe – it’s impossible for a traveller to experience them all, even during a sojourn which stretches for a year or more. This difficulty is compounded for Australian travellers who live so far away and are usually on the strictest of timetables and the tightest of budgets.
There is, however, one solution capable of delivering the best of the many Europes easily and enjoyably, as well as being time and cost effective. This solution is also one of the most romantic ways to travel – by rail.
Train travellers in Europe are virtually guaranteed a heavy dose of history before they even depart, so plan on arriving at your chosen station, be it London’s St Pancras, Rome’s Termini, or the Gare du Nord in Paris with plenty of time to spare. Even the more modern stations, of which St Pancras is a terrific example, offer an experience to be savoured. Promise yourself that you’ll enjoy the full European rail adventure and arrive an hour or two early, allowing sufficient time to browse the bookshops, enjoy a light repast, buy a foreign language newspaper and inhale the heady cosmopolitan atmosphere. And if you’re lucky enough to be travelling first class, an affordable option in Europe, perhaps you’ll even meet some of your fellow travellers in architecturally unique lounges, which would give some of the best hotel bars a run for their money.
Of course, the other advantage of travelling by train is that your departure and arrival points are usually slap bang in the centre of the city. So as long as you’ve packed sparingly and have a suitcase on wheels, you can languidly arise from your seat, alight and saunter leisurely through the terminus. Whether you stop to browse in the upmarket boutiques, intriguing restaurants and artisan market stalls on your way through is up to you.
Traditionally, European train stations were situated in red light districts, so booking an inexpensive nearby hotel could be challenging. Nowadays, finding a four-star boutique hotel is more likely.
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Hefty investment in rolling stock and infrastructure also means that the speed and comfort of modern European trains allow the traveller to experience many different cities and cultures in a very, very short period of time.
If you’re time pressed, then consider the following timetable, which will see you depart France; dine in Lausanne; enjoy cheese, chocolate and Swiss efficiency; bask in the sun of Southern France; and the ancient culture of the trading city of Montpellier; and experience the nightlife and tapas of Barcelona and Madrid, the architecture of Gaudi and the paintings of El Greco, before heading north into the night, to awaken in Paris, City of Light, ready for your next adventure.
Day 1 Paris – Lausanne, Switzerland (TGV)
Day 2 Lausanne – Panoramic train in Swiss Alps, then via Montreaux to Bern, World Heritage City, returning to Lausanne
Day 3 Lausanne – Geneva – Montpellier, South of France (TGV)
Day 4 Montpellier – Barcelona, Spain (Talgo)
Day 5 Barcelona – Madrid (Alvia)
Day 6 Madrid – Toledo – Madrid (AVE)
Day 6 evening Madrid – Paris (Elipsos overnight train with dinner and breakfast
There are several rail passes on offer which can make your trip affordable. A 1st class 15-day Eurail Global Continuous Pass is priced at $873, but this reduces to $745 per person when two people travel together. It’s also worthwhile asking about seniors’ deals and discounts if you’re over 60 years of age.
And one last advantage of train travel? If travel is indeed about the journey and not the destination, and the journey is always about the people you meet along the way, then where better to meet a local than in the relaxed environment of your carriage, on the next stool at the train bar, or in the adjacent seat in the restaurant car? Stranger danger indeed!
Plan your journey – www.eurail.com