Train travel to the Continent


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Just booked our tickets to go to the Black Forest at the end of May. Didn't want to fly, and I'm not keen on driving on the wrong side of the road (i.e. the right side of the road!) Preliminary research showed that German Railways do through tickets from London via Brussels to any station in Germany as cheap as €59 each second class or €109 first class - limited availability. I watched the site like a hawk for days, and all was well. Waited until midnight (German time) on Monday - first day tickets came on-stream for the day we are travelling - entered our requirements and the "cheapest" price came up - €149 each second class, €159 first class - arrrgggh !

So back to the drawing board ! Eventually settled on a Eurostar London to "any station in Belgium" for £38; cross border ticket to the German frontier station at Aachen for €5.50, and a German Railways cheap ticket onwards from Aachen for €34.50. Coming back, a French Railways cheapo from Basel to Paris for £20.50, and a Eurostar ticket from Paris to London for £33. I reckon after add-ons for currency exchange, that will come to about £125 return each. All ordered online, tickets received as pdf for printing here at home.

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Catfan - as far as cheap fares are concerned it is exactly the same system as low cost airlines. They have a "standard" - very expensive - fare, which everyone tries to avoid like the plague, and small allocations of tickets at a variety of price levels, with the lowest ridiculously cheap. Once the cheapest are sold out, the price moves up to the next level, and so on. For days (or specific services) where demand is high, the lowest fare ranges may be cancelled altogether.

It makes sense (of a sort!) from the point of view of encouraging people to use very early morning, late evening, and "between the peaks" services, and making sure that those who use peak hour trains pay through the nose for doing so. Of course season ticket holders get to travel on these trains at a very cheap rate for each journey - but this is balanced to a degree by the fact that their season tickets represent big income for the operators, and it's all paid up-front which helps the cashflow. (Also there is no question of them deciding to risk travelling without a ticket from time to time.)

Having said all that, it is a huge turn off for people who just want to travel from A to B, without studying form for weeks before booking their tickets. I "sort of" understand the system, and even then it took me hours to plan how to do it, and another couple of hours to actually place the orders online.

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During my time working on the railway, along with my family, we were able to do free travel on the continental railways. There were two good travel firms who were affiliated to railwaymen's free travel but also did the same package holidays for the ordinary travelling public. They were called 'Eros' and 'Piccadilly', For us railwaymen, we just paid for accommodation and any coack links. The best one we did was to Loret de Mar in Spain. We started at London Victoria and travelled by rail to Folkestone and then used the BR ferry to Boulougne. Then it was rail again to Paris Gare du Nord and then a coach across Paris to Gare de l'osterlitz and rail again to Port Beau, then a change of trains to Barcelona. Then another coach to Loret. We had to sleep on couchette coaches from Paris. Not as luxurious as Wagon Lit sleepers, but still quite comfortable. My kids were very young but were impressed when they saw the Orient Express in the next platform to us at Gare de l'osterlitz. I can still get free continental travel in retirement, hopefully, I will soon have more time to use it.

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# 8. Do I sense a touch of sarcasm Robbie?!!! I just like to get to my destination as quickly as possible.

We did go on a train journey in South Africa, back in 2000, which involved sleeping on it. We'd flown around a bit and ended up at Victoria Falls for a few nights in the fabulous Victoria Falls Hotel. We then boarded a Rovos Rail train to take us to Johannesburg and a flight home. The train was really very nice, wood panelling throughout, lovely 'cabins', fantastic food and drink. We were really looking forward to the trip which involved 2 nights travelling through unspoilt countryside and the chance to see lots of wild animals roaming freely. There had been a lot of rain in the area and in the middle of the first night the train de-railed just outside Bulawayo! We sat there til dawn and were then asked to pack our belongings and get off the train, which we did but the safe in our room wouldn't open. In this safe were our travel documents and money. My husband had to sit on the train for another couple of hours waiting for a locksmith to open up our safe. Myself and the friends we were travelling with struggled along the railway line with our cases and were taken to the Bulawayo Holiday Inn. The rail company informed us that the train couldn't be fixed and we were being flown from Bulawayo to Johannesburg (what a great result ....... I'd never had such a terrible nights sleep, swaying in all directions .......) but Zimbabwe Airways only had one plane and if the lovely Mr Mugabe wanted to use it then it was tough on everybody else. We finally got out of that place and into J'burg, then a great BA flight back to London. So, I doubt if we would relish too many more overnight rail travel experiences.

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I don't do Sarcasm, never have. Not even sure what it means.

It's just flying, I am terrified of it,

I do it, as an airline pilot I don't have a lot of choice

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you have awarded me a few of those Michael, just how many are in a set and can I trade them in for anything?

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Bilbraborn - I too had continental free and reduced rate travel when I was at work - and used it. My kids used to love it, although even then I always arranged it myself. I regarded that as part of the fun! However I was with the workshops (British Rail Engineering) and after privatisation it was only maintained because the owning company - ABB, later Daimler-Chrysler, and eventually Bombardier - actually bought full fare tickets for those already entitled. (There weren't many who used it). This was all part of the privatisation agreement with the unions. Anyway, it ceased when I retired, so now I have to pay (Boo-hoo!) Although it's complicated working out the most economical routes and tickets, I have to admit that it is far, far cheaper now than it would have been under the old distance-based tariffs. There were no bargains to be found with those.

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I am not fond of train travel but I would like to follow in a mates shoes one day. He went across Canada by train, all inclusive holiday with stops on the way. His pictures made slightly green with envy, didn't let on mind you.

I went one better and did Notts to Vladivostok by train, then flew to Vancouver to do Vancouver - Halifax (Canada) by train. Boy was I tired when I got home five and a half weeks later, even with lots of breaks en route!

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Indeed it doesn't. Is that Hook of Holland Haven? We travelled out to Brussels via the Hook night boat about 4 years ago. Very nice journey, but the quayside station is now a sad sight. In the old days there would be three international expresses drawn up waiting for the night boat - I think it was (1) a 3-coach portion of the supplementary fare TEE "Rheingold" which headed down to Chur in Switzerland; (2) the much longer "Lorelei" which also went to Basel and other Swiss destinations, and possibly a portion for Munich, all with first and second class for ordinary folks! and (3) the Harz express for Bad Harzburg, Berlin and a single through coach to Warsaw. In Summer I think it also had a couple of coaches for Hamburg and Copenhagen. Now (obviously since the channel tunnel) there are no through trains or coaches to meet the boats - just the local EMU to Rotterdam. "Every modern inconvenience" as my grandfather would have said!

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Looked at going to Fort William in Scotland by train from Nottingham it will take about between 10 and 15 hours depending what time you catch the train, wow a long time in this day and age, if i go by car it will take six hours thirty mins to do 393.8 miles from my home, what was the old saying -it's quicker by train ?

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Braddy I would allow at least a couple more hours to that timing, the last time I went up the last 20 miles took an hour and a half, purely down to traffic.

Mind when I think back it was the year Princess Diana died so they could well have improved the roads.

The steam train from Fort William to Malaig is a cracking journey with a great chippe at the end of it.

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