My Multi-Country Eurail Experience
By Mike Keenan
Frankfurt Central Station, Am Hauptbahnhof, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, photo by Mike Keenan
If you want an uncomplicated way to travel through Europe like us, choose Eurail passes. Our trains were punctual, comfortable - in our first class compartments, and always easy to access.
A bonus feature was that we arrived in the center of each city, which allowed us to select nearby accommodations, eliminating the hassle of long taxi or public transit rides. Three times, (Munich, Frankfurt and Rome) we walked from the station direct to our hotel.
The Eurail Pass is for non-European citizens or residents. Europeans use an Interrail Pass. "Select Pass" tickets are available for two, three and four-country travel. We chose a three-country pass to travel through Germany, Switzerland and Italy. For a fourth country, Luxemburg, we were advised that it would be cheaper to simply purchase tickets at the station in Germany to the Esplanade de la Moselle in Wasserbillig, Luxemburg's dock area where we took a AmaWaterways riverboat cruise to Nurnberg.
If you plan to visit only one country, there's a "one country pass." Another option, if you want to see as much of Europe as possible, is the Global Pass (ranging from five days to three months) between all 28 countries. Our tickets were available for five, six, eight and ten days of travel, the price starting at $406 US and rising to $587 US for travel within a two-month time period. Everything set well before your trip. You merely write the name of your stops on the pass as you travel. Then, a conductor validates it with a stamp.
Rail Europe is the North American entity that helped prepare our itinerary over the phone, and they made sure that we selected the right trains at the best time of day, particularly if connections were involved. Located in Des Plaines, Illinois, they managed all of our paperwork including the actual tickets which were promptly mailed. The one time we had to check in was to initiate the validation process on our first day, starting in Berlin. After that, no hassles. We proceeded directly to the trains.
Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Berlin Central Station is one of the most spectacular architectural projects of the capital. After undergoing eleven years of construction, the station was reopened on May 28, 2006 as the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe. Architect Meinhard von Gerkan has made it delicate, spacious and full of light.
Big city European railroad stations are huge, layered with multi tracks and people busy looking for the correct track. We learned to find the large arrival/departure notice board, where we tracked down our train by time (printed on our passes). Once we found the correct train (numbered on our passes), the track was clearly labeled. When we ferried our luggage there, the train's compartments were marked, and we parked ourselves at the first class designation.
First class provided individually adjustable seats, more room between the seats sideways, more legroom, extra wide tables, USB-ports, an electric outlet per seat, cabin service for meals: menus are served at your seat and Wifi. There was ample room for luggage and the cabins were quite clean.
Via the speedy Deutsche Bahn ICE train from Berlin in the northwest, we arrived on time at Frankfurt's Hauptbahnhof main train station, covering 424km in just three hours, 46 minutes, a direct route that was quite comfortable. With its central location in the middle of Germany and its use as a hub for long and short distance travelling, Deutsche Bahn names this station the most important in Germany.
ICE (InterCity Express) is a high-speed train that connects all major cities in Germany. With speeds up to 300km/h, it's one of the fastest ways to travel between cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. The ICE has international connections to Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Austria.
After a day in Frankfurt, we headed to Koblenz and from there, another train dropped us off in Wasserbillig, Luxemburg's dock area where we took a riverboat cruise to Nurnberg.
From Nurnberg, we arrived in Munich in an hour. München Hauptbahnhof or Munich's main railway station boasts 32 platforms and is one of three long distance stations in Munich. After three days, we traveled through the Swiss Alps to arrive at Verona, and from Verona it took an hour and a half to arrive at Florence. After Florence, we arrived at Rome.
Roma Termini is the main railway station of Rome, named after the district of the same name, which in turn took its name from ancient Baths of Diocletian (in Latin, thermae), which lie across the street from the main entrance. With 33 platforms and over 150 million passengers each year, Roma Termini is the second largest railway station in Europe after Paris Gare du Nord. It's also the main hub for public transport inside Rome. All of the German trains were great, but I was equally impressed with the Italian variety.
Most high-speed and night trains require a reservation at an additional cost, and train times for the Eurostar high-speed train include a 45-minute boarding time. While traveling, Eurail offers a handy free app for both iPhone and Android that provides an offline timetable for all European trains.
The folks at Rail Europe were true professionals. And Eurail was a relaxing and scenic way to discover an attractive slice of Europe. I would not hesitate to use this service again.
Riding the Rails: Train Travel Overview
How To Use A Eurail Pass Right
Mike Keenan is a travel columnist for
Troy Media. He produces a travel podcast -
http://whattravelwriterssay.libsyn.com/ and has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of five thousand viewers.