TAKE A NIGHT RIDEWith a Eurail Pass, rail travel is convenient and economical. What’s more, travelling on night trains makes a great alternative to costly hotels. JOY DODDS reports.
Train travel throughout Europe is a breeze with comprehensive rail networks, covering legendary
scenic routes and high-speed/express trains that are efficient and affordable.
While travel during the day is very popular, increasing numbers of travellers are opting to take a night
train to a destination, sleeping in a couchette with bunks or a reclining seat.
Whilst surcharges are levied on overnight beds on certain international high-speed trains, the costs are worth it. Not only do you save the usually higher cost of hotel bills but, if you travel after 7pm on a train that arrives the next morning after 4am, only one day’s travel is used, rather than two.
From wide experience, I can heartily recommend crisscrossing Europe on overnight trains. There’s
nothing quite like leaving one country and waking up in another, refreshed and ready to start exploring.
From experience, sleep hours may be often reduced by spirited conversations with fellow travellers in the aisle outside compartments – kindred spirits, swapping tips and yarns.
A range of sleeping accommodation is on offer, from a second class seat that reclines to a well-appointed sleeping compartment, complete with wash basin and closet. There are also couchettes with
four bunks in first class, or four to six bunks in second class. These may be shared with other
passengers of both sexes. Sleepers are more comfortable, accommodating one or two passengers in
first class, or up to four in second class, exclusively for one sex.
All long-distance trains have a full-service restaurant car offering food and drink, as well as vendors passing through with refreshments.
I've experienced the highs and lows of night train travel, coming away with a positive overview.
Travelling mainly in Eastern Europe, with time limited, it made great sense to hop on a train in, say,Prague, and travel during the night towards Poland and the medieval treasure Krakow. We departed Hlavni Station in Prague at 2230, arriving in Glowny Station Krakow just after 0630 without the need to change trains at Katowice or Ostrava Hlavni, as is required on day trains, making the journey faster.
Even in the European autumn, the sun rose early, making it possible to see the countryside and landmarks rolling by from the comfort of my bunk. If there is a downside, it is having to wait at stations late at night, with all the attendant nightlife. In Central Europe, behaviours and safety were no worse than in Australia and our experience was without incident. And fellow-passengers tend to be very chatty at such times so that often conversations are enjoyed on the platform.
Arriving so early in Krakow was a blessing and a curse – to experience this beautiful city in the early
morning with few people around was incredible, yet few hotels were open and we had to cool our heels
for some hours, until around 10am, before being able to book into our hotel, the renowned Pod Rosa, just off the historic Town Square.
When we left Krakow, it was again by night train, travelling to Budapest in Hungary, via Vienna. This
required another late-night departure just after 2200, arriving in Vienna after 0600, then jumping on the
Budapest train at the same Westbahnhof station to arrive in Budapest just before 1000. I awoke early and enjoyed the scenery along the Danube, the rail tracks running along the scenic river.
After an enjoyable sojourn lapping up Budapest’s history and amazing architecture – you guessed it – we took a night train. The plan was to head for Venice, via Vienna, departing Budapest just after 1900 and arriving in Vienna around 2200. The platforms at Westbahnhof were adjacent, making the transfer effortless, after which we hopped into our bunks and travelled through the night, arriving fresh in Venice just after 0800.
Among the many advantages of night training is the camaraderie that exists between fellow-travellers of all ages.
The Eurail system takes in Turkey, where we enjoyed a night train from Izmir to Istanbul, comparable to other night train journeys in France, Spain and Germany.
There are substantial Eurail discounts on many overnight ferry rides, such as that between Naples and Palermo in Sicily, from Bari and Brindisi in Italy to Corfu and Patras in Greece, and night ferry rides from Piraeus to Rhodes and other Greek Islands. There’s nothing quite like standing up on deck after a great night’s sleep, watching a magnificent Aegean island come into view as the ferry docks early
morning, with the whole day ahead to explore.
It is also possible to experience the Scandinavian/Baltic world by catching overnight ferries from Germany to Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States and thence to Russia. (At present, Russia is not part of the Eurail system.)
So whether you opt for a smart sleeper, a more basic couchette or rough it with a reclining seat, known figuratively as “sleeperettes”, night train travel is definitely a positive experience. The facilities are
adequate, with usually clean lavatories at each end of the aisle, fresh sheets and towels, refreshments
– and that all-important power point for the laptop! Perhaps packing a spare set of ear plugs isn’t a bad idea either.
The message certainly is: Rather than book a hotel, night train it – and arrive fresh with more cash to spend the next day!
HOW TO PURCHASE A EURAIL PASS:
The selection of passes offers substantial rail economies of scale, covering both first and second class travel as well as group concessions. The Eurail Pass system is quite diverse, offering either a Continuous Pass or a “Flexi” Pass, say 5-day to 15-days’ travel in a two-month period. The pass covers transportation on rail and certain shipping lines with discounts on others, but excludes the reservation fee often required.
Remember that a Eurail Pass must be purchased in Australia before you leave. Once you arrive in Europe, you are subject to higher ticket prices.
For more details, call International Rail Australasia on
1300 EURAIL (387 245).
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Telephone: 02 9478 1200
Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media