21 July 2012

Better than AMTRACK

America is a car - plane based society. We rarely travel by bus or train, both of which are commonly used throughout Europe and other parts of the world. This summer I have had quite the road-rail adventure. I loved it! I've done this before, but it's been a long time that I have done so on this scale.

Let's start with bus -
(I shall note that since all of my busses were within the UK - and we are not talking about city busses - I should refer to them in the local vernacular, hence I will call them coaches.
My first and last coach was/will be between Heathrow and Gatwick airports. My flights are through Heathrow, but my friend Ruth lives nearish to Gatwick. This route is run by National Express and is outrageously expensive for the 45 min ride! It's a fairly non-descript coach, although it does offer free wifi on board!
I used MegaBus and City Link coaches for my trip to / within Scotland. These are advertised as inexpensive and offering wifi on board. Reality: yes, they are inexpensive, my 9 hour journey between London and Edinburgh cost about half of the 45 min journey above. However the wifi on board only worked sporadically - if at all.
My coach journeys included:
Heathrow - Gatwick (1 hr)
London - Edinburgh (9 hrs)
Edinburgh - Glasgow (1 hr)
Glasgow - Ft. Williams (3hrs)
Ft. Williams - Glasgow (3 hrs)
Glasgow - Edinburgh (1 hr)
Edinburgh - Glasgow (1 hr)
Glasgow - London (9 hrs)
Gatwick - Heathrow (1 hr)
Times have been rounded, but basically my total time in a coach this holiday is about 30 hours. Thankfully that was not all at once!
Coaches are not my favorite travel method, but the price was certainly right!

Now on to my favorite ... Trains!
I love train travel! This year I invested in a Eurail Select Pass which allowed me 8 days of travel in a two month period in 5 countries. The countries I choose were: France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania. I also traveled by train in England. My rail pass was for 1st class travel, although as I bought separate tickets in England and for the Eurostar, those were second class. Let's just start with a lists of journeys by country:

Wokingham to Winnersh
Wokingham to London
London to Banbury
Banbury to London
London to Cambridge
Cambridge to London
London to Twyford
Wokingham to Haywards Heath
A few tube journeys as well.....

Fort Williams to Mallaig
Mallaig to Ft.Williams

Paris to Toulouse (overnight - sleeper)
Toulouse to Narbonne
Narbonne to Paris. (overnight - sleeper)

Frankfurt to Regensburg
Würzburg to Göttingen
Göttingen to Berlin
Berlin to Nürnberg
Nürnberg to Regensburg
Regensburg to Frankfurt

Brasov to Sinaia
Sinaia to Bucharest

Multi- Country:
London to Paris (Eurostar - Chunnel)
Paris to Frankfurt
Regensburg to Vienna
Vienna to Bucharest (overnight sleeper- through Hungary)
Bucharest to Vienna (overnight sleeper - through Hungary)
Vienna to Würzburg
Frankfurt to Paris

Yes, I covered a lot of miles on the rails. The trains varied, but with the exception of the Eurostar and the trains within Romania, all of my train travel was first class. I've never traveled first class throughout Europe before, and it was a nice experience. So just what does it mean to travel first class? (other than a higher price)

Food - three of my trains provided me with meals (TGV between Paris and Frankfurt and the sleeper between Vienna and Bucharest. Plus the ICE (Inter City Express) trains in Germany often came by with snacks such as chocolates and chocolate covered cookie snacks.

Reading Material - The ICE trains offered a great selection of newspapers and magazines for its first class customers.

Comfortable seats - the seats in first class were roomier, reclined and had a footrest. Plus they were spread further apart.

Outlets - The first class train seats always had an electrical outlet so that I could charge my phone and iPad during the journey. Trust me, when traveling, one begins to really cherish outlets! Although I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the ones on the TGV train only worked intermittently. Odd.

Space - I never had less than two seats to myself in the first class section. In the economy class, one must make a reservation in order to be sure they will have a seat at all. It was nice to spread out, lie down if I wanted and just relax.

Noise - Quite simply put, it was more peaceful - with a few exceptions, it was quieter.

Views - on the ICE trains, the first class cabin is attached to the control room. If one was at the back of the train, you could look out the rear view window. Normally people in trains can only see from the sides. Sitting in this section was as. Lose to panoramic as it gets. This was one of the coolest things in my opinion - it would only have been better had I been allowed to sit at the control station! (okay new goal -drive a train simulator....or heck just learn to drive a train!)

Now the trains themselves are as varied as the day is long. The number of cars depends on the popularity of the route. The colors of the trains and seats depend not only on the company but also the style of train. The musical Starlight Express gave the trains lives, as if they are human. I personally see them and think of animals. The old boxy (often German - even in Eastern Europe) engines have a square face that reminds me of a bull dog.
The sleek ICE trains remind me of cats.

The TGV with its long, pointy nose makes me think of a rat.
The short (two cars often) trains of the newer companies that have sprung into existence in Germany make me think of Hamsters.

Okay so it's true, I am a train junkie and I love riding the rails. Maybe I was a hobo in my past life.... Who knows?!? I suppose now there are only two things left to do:

a. Calculate how many miles I traveled. (Anyone feeling bored and want to do so for me?)
b. Take a train trip across America.

Oh I lied, make that three:
c. Go see Starlight Express (again).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Europe from London to Bucharest and back

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