Travel Tales and Tips – the tribulations of train travel

In January this year my husband and I traveled through Italy-Switzerland-Austria-Prague by train, something neither of us has ever done before. It was both enjoyable and an exhausting experience, so here are some tips (which we learned through trial and error) to help any novice train travelers:

  1. Do not pack large suitcases because most of the trains we used had at least 2 steep steps to climb up into the carriage. The trains do not stop long enough for you to calmly load and unload your suitcases into the train carriage so you may find yourself frantically trying to throw your luggage up the steps and then down the stops when you arrive at your destination
  2. Always be ready at the platform at least 15 minutes early to check the information board for the correct platform and departure time. In some stations, like Milano Centrale and Prague, they like to wait until 10 minutes before departure before putting up the information. In that case, get ready to grab your over packed suitcases and run like mad towards the right platform which seems to grow longer as you run. In Switzerland, they thoughtfully provide the departure information well in advance so you not only have time to get to your platform but they also mark the platforms with signs indicating where each train carriage will stop! That means you don’t have to wait for the train to pull in and check the carriage number as it whizzes past you then run to the correct one…if you can make it. In Italy and Austria we had throw our luggage on, jump on board and try and make our way to the correct carriage and seats through the teeny weeny corridors…much to the annoyance of other passengers.
  3. Do not miss your train! We missed one train going from Madrid to Toledo and had to buy new tickets for 25 euros. Train tickets can be as expensive as 70 euros for second class for two adults going from Venice to Milan. So, better to get to the train station early and wait.
  4. Before you arrive at your destination stop, have your luggage ready and be standing near the exit because the trains in Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Prague don’t give you more than a minute to get your luggage and yourself off before taking off again! I saw one poor grandma help her daughter raise the pram with the baby up the three steep steps, put the carriage down and make her way to the door…but the door wouldn’t open…so she ran to tell the conductor she needed to get off…but the train had started moving….and she had to get off at the next town. After that, we made sure we always had our luggage ready to go before we reached our final stop.
  5. Some train stations (like Salzburg, Prague and Zurich) have a supermarket or a mini market and on certain days they even have a fresh food and cooked food market like Madrid and Zurich. If you are on a budget it is a great way to eat fresh and save money instead of going to a fast food place or over priced cafe`.
  6. Keep some coins in your pocket to use the bathrooms at train stations. In Europe, you pay to use bathrooms. And don’t think you can sneak in because they have glass doors that won’t open until you put a coin in. You could try and hold your bladder until you are on the train but not all train carriage bathrooms are clean…especially the ones of the Italian regional trains where the entire carriage smells like a urinal…
  7. Trains going from city to city and across countries have a restaurant cart where you can go and have a sit down meal as well as someone who comes past with a little trolley of hot and cold drinks and sandwiches and snacks. The Swiss run trains have a wonderful menu that shows you with symbols what is vegan friendly and gluten free for those with special dietary needs. Talk about Swiss organization and efficiency!
  8. Pack some dry crackers and anti-nausea tablets if you get motion sickness. Oh and do not eat greasy take away food before hopping onto a train, as I stupidly did, because then you will definitely get motion sickness.
  9. Finally, book the hotel as close as possible to the train station because if you are travelling in winter like we did, you may find yourself walking to your hotel on ice and snow (as we did in Salzburg) in order to try and save money on taxi fares.
Example of Swiss organization and efficiency - train menu indicating vegan friendly and gluten free food

Example of Swiss organization and efficiency – train menu indicating vegan friendly and gluten free food

Happy travels!

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