Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Answer on Any tips for traveling from France, to Spain, to Italy and back, on train of course.?
It might be worthwhile for you to look into getting a rail pass. If you're an American citizen, you can choose three bordering countries you want to travel in with the Eurail Select Pass (www.eurail.com). You'll find more information and other options on the website. If you live somewhere else, there are other passes such as the Interrail pass that are similar. I've used both before and they're good to have if you're doing a lot of train travel. The other option is buying individual tickets, which is better if you only have a couple journeys.
I always go through the Eurail site to plan my journeys. It's the best server I've found that covers the train timetables of Europe; just go to links/useful links on the Eurail site and click on "Plan your trip with the international train planner". That will take you to a page that lets you find out train times and how long it takes to get from point A to point B.
If you don't get a rail pass, you can buy tickets online once you know what train will get you where you want to go when you want to go there. Or you can arrive early and buy them in the train station.
If you're using a rail pass, you can sometimes just hop on the train, but you often need reservations (especially on high speed trains from one big city to the next). So just arrive early and check with the ticket counter; tell them you have a pass and ask if you need a reservation. If you do, it may cost a few euros but won't usually be more than that. At that point, they'll print you out a ticket that has your seat number and everything. (There is nowhere online to buy reservations ahead of time, it must be done at the station, or on the train itself, but the online timetables will indicate whether or not you need a reservation.)
Planning and getting the tickets was the most stressful part for me. Once you've got the journey planned, you're set. In the countries you're visiting, it will be pretty easy to do the actual traveling. When you’re at station with your ticket/pass/reservation in hand, check the departures screens to see what platform your train will leave from. Even if it isn’t in English (which it probably will be) you can figure it out pretty easily. If not, don’t hesitate to check at the info counter, the ticket window, or with someone friendly looking. Then you’re ready to hop on the train and find your seat, and make sure to board the right car as well to avoid walking the length of the train to find your seat! If you don’t have an assigned seat, just make sure you’re in the correct class (the outside of the train will either have a 1 or a 2 on the side) and find a spot.
If it is a long journey, bring food. There might be some on the train, but it will be outrageously priced. Bring something to keep you occupied as well…a book, magazine, music player of some sort, playing cards, etc. Store your luggage overhead or on a rack, but keep your valuables on you. Money belt isn’t necessary…just make sure you’ve got your eye on your stuff at ALL times. If you nap, sleep on it.
Some trains will announce the stations you’re arriving at when you get there, but some don’t. And the announcements may or may not be in English. So make sure you know the arrival time and are ready to hop off when it gets close. You’ll see signs that tell you what station you’re in when you pull up to the platform. If in doubt, ask a neighbour.
I think that’s about it. Train travel is fun. I prefer it to flying. It’s kind of a way to experience a bit of the culture, sometimes a way to meet people, and in general an experience in itself that’s much more interesting and less stressful than flying. I guess my best advice is be open-minded, be considerate, be alert, and have fun!