Resources

I’m going to note here some of the resources we’ve found use­ful in plan­ning the trip.

Firstly I have to men­tion the remark­able Man in Seat Sixty-One web­site. This is run by Mark Smith, an indi­vidual rail travel enthu­si­ast, who has col­lec­ted together an enorm­ous amount of help­ful inform­a­tion about trav­el­ling by rail in Europe (and bey­ond). As he says about the site:

First, it sets out to HELP people who already know they want to travel by train or ship, but who can’t find out about it through nor­mal com­mer­cial web­sites or travel agen­cies.  Many people prefer the exper­i­ence of train travel, are afraid of fly­ing, or simply want to avoid unne­ces­sary flights for envir­on­mental reas­ons, but inform­a­tion can often be dif­fi­cult if not impossible to find.  Second, it aims to INSPIRE people to do some­thing more reward­ing with their lives and their travel oppor­tun­it­ies than going to an air­port, get­ting on a glob­al­ised air­liner and miss­ing all the world has to offer.  There’s more to travel than the des­tin­a­tion.  It used to be called a  j o u r n e y

There are sec­tions devoted to each of the main European coun­tries, with sug­ges­tions of the best routes and times for get­ting there by train from the UK. Also a com­pre­hens­ive sec­tion on rail passes, info about Eurostar, and lots more. This site should def­in­itely be your first stop if you’re research­ing a train trip round Europe. (There’s also quite a lot of info about train travel out­side Europe.)

Rail passes: as the Man in Seat 61 (MS61) makes clear, rail passes aren’t neces­sar­ily the best deal (par­tic­u­larly for us  over-26 age­ing hip­pies). The pass looks like it could be a bar­gain, but you must remem­ber that for almost all long-distance/international express trains, there will be a sup­ple­ment to pay. (You could, with the help of your trusty Thomas Cook — see below — plan you jour­ney to avoid trains with sup­ple­ments, but it would be very slow. Great if you want to see lots of coun­tryside, but not if you want to get to Greece in a reas­on­able time.) If you’re trav­el­ling on overnight trains, the pass doesn’t include the cost of the couchette (cour­gette as Callum calls it) or sleeper, which can be quite pricey. Taking all this into account, my spread­sheet cal­cu­la­tions did seem to agree with MS61: it was actu­ally slightly cheaper to buy a series of point-to-point tick­ets. The advant­age of the rail pass of course is that it gives you flex­ib­il­ity — you can change your plans at a moment’s notice, stay longer some­where you like, or move hur­riedly on. So in the end we decided to go for the rail passes.

There are vari­ous type of pass, and again MS61 explains the options very clearly. We went for the Interrail Global pass, which cov­ers all coun­tries in Europe (except the coun­try you’re start­ing from). We got the pass which allows 10 days travel within a 22 day period, which seemed to fit our hol­i­day very well. What MS61 doesn’t tell you is that you can buy the passes from vari­ous com­pan­ies, and the prices seem to vary quite con­sid­er­ably! We paid €359 (about £329 back in May) for the adult passes at InterRailnet.Com, but I saw other web­sites ask­ing as much as £455 for the same pass. So shop around before you buy!

The next dif­fi­culty was actu­ally mak­ing the reser­va­tions to go with the Interrail passes. We thought that we should at least start by reserving our overnight couchette from Paris to Venice, since it seems likely that will be very busy in the middle of July. There are plenty of web­sites where you can buy train tick­ets online (again see MS61 for detailled recom­mend­a­tions), but very few of them allow you to make only the reser­va­tions. International Rail claims to be able to do this, but the online book­ing part of the site has been down every since I first tried in in mid-May. So we went into the book­ing office at Waverley Station (main rail­way sta­tion in Edinburgh for those who aren’t from around here) to see if we could make reser­va­tions there. “Oh no, we haven’t done that for quite a few years now…” the woman at the counter said, help­fully giv­ing us the details of a travel agent who spe­cial­ised in such arcane mat­ters (the travel agent’s leaf­let had of course been brought in by a cus­tomer, and the book­ings staff had resource­fully kept a copy to pho­to­copy on such occa­sions). Presumably the inter­na­tional book­ings ser­vice  wasn’t prof­it­able enough so became another vic­tim of British rail­way privat­isa­tion… Apparently you can make these reser­va­tions at any main sta­tion else­where in Europe — we shall see soon enough. Eventually I admit­ted defeat and phoned up Rail Europe who hap­pily and effi­ciently make my reser­va­tion and charged me an £8 book­ing fee for the privilege.

Jane engrossed in the Thomas Cook TimetableThe Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable is the interrailer’s vade mecum, the train geek’s holy scrip­ture, the arm­chair traveller’s book of dreams, apo­theosis of the golden Victorian age of steam. The Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian, the West Highland Line — all have rolled through these pages. The neo­phyte will tent­at­ively taste the glossy-covered Independent Traveller’s Edition (with fea­ture on rail­passes, check­lists for pack­ing, and country-by-country advice on such handy mat­ters as cli­mate and tip­ping); the hard-core devotee will get their fix from the monthly edi­tion, with the latest news (by tele­graph we assume) that:

In Lithuania, the ser­vice from Vilnius to Kaunas (Table 1811) has been retimed; these serve Kaunas I (‘one’), the tem­por­ary sta­tion in use due to the clos­ure of the Kaunas tunnel.

Don’t leave home without it! Keep it by your bed at all times in case of sleep­less nights. Published monthly since 1883.

Eurostar: this is of course not included in the Interrail. Prices vary greatly, but if you book well enough in advance, and are flex­ible about when you can travel, it is fairly easy to get the advert­ised £59 London to Paris return fares. (Child fares are, strangely, more than this, so just get the same ticket for the kids.)

Greek fer­ries: The inter-island ferry sched­ules are highly com­plex (reas­on­ably enough, since there are so many islands) and they seem to keep chan­ging. But there are sev­eral web­sites which seem to give good inform­a­tion (we’ll see next week how well the vir­tual fer­ries cor­res­pond to the real world: does that overnight boat from Kimilos to Piraeus on Friday night really exist?). The most use­ful seem to be danae.gr and Greek Travel Pages. You can book tick­ets online as well as look­ing up timetables, but we’re just going to buy tick­ets at the port since the prices seem to be the same.

Travel insur­ance: I don’t have any­thing par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing to recom­mend here. We bought ours from Direct Travel in the end — they seemed to offer reas­on­able cover for a reas­on­able price. In the event that we need them, I’ll report on how good they were. We did think of going with ETA, the Environmental Transport Association, par­tic­u­larly when we saw on the web­site that they were offer­ing a 25% dis­count for people who were not fly­ing. It turned out that the dis­count only applied to annual policies, and the woman on the phone kept assum­ing we were going by car, which was a wee bit disappointing.


Table 2810: Pescara — Split
NO SERVICE SUMMER 2009

… ah, how poignant!

One thought on “Resources

  1. Have a fant­astic jour­ney! Hopefully see you before we set off for our stint in France. I have included a link to our blog (not much in there yet.…)
    Thanks for the broad beans, they were delicious!

    Leo

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