My buddy Mike was not too interested in getting from city to city on a rail pass. Me, on the other hand, really enjoy the easy pace of rail travel, meeting people, taking photos, and just taking in the vibe of the landscape. But the idea behind rail passes in Europe is to make travel EASY! Not only do they offer flexibility and reduced fares, they also provide discounts on cruises, hotels, museums, and ferries.
For this trip, I am buying a Central Europe Triangle Pass, three one way rail trips between any popular cities in Europe. I will start in Budapest, head over to Vienna for a few days, then on to Munich for a few days. I will end the journey in Frankfurt, where I will fly home on the 18th. Or I may extend the trip, with a side trip to a secret location. The pass can start in any city, in any direction, and within a 30 day period. Bottom line, the more you travel, the better the bargain it becomes.
The only downside: Rail passes are printed as a paper document and must be shipped to you prior to your departure to Europe. Paper tickets are subject to a shipping and handling fee. In other words, they cannot be purchased, as such, in Europe.
Back when I used my first Eurail student pass back in 1971, I often slept on overnight trains to save on hotels or hostels. And these were not sleeper cars. Rather the three seats folded down from each direction, creating a makeshift bed. The key to true happiness, was to pretend to be asleep when new passengers boarded, keeping the occupants to only two, rather than three. That is, unless it was a cute European girl with beer, wine or food.
However, to complicate things a little, there are three types of “reservations” required even with a rail pass. The first is “Reservations Required”, which applies mostly to high speed and overnight trains. So, even with my rail pass, a seat reservation must be purchased separately, usually around $12 USD. A second type, “Reservations Recommended”, offers the possibility of a reserved seat, but a reservation is not mandatory. Confused yet? This type of reservation does not carry an additional fee, but is “included” in the price of the ticket. The third type are for “non reservable trains, where is reservation is not needed or even possible. Simply board the train and find a seat in whichever class of service you purchased.
So, though we are flying from our base in Frankfurt, it would have been possible to take the train from Frankfurt to our first stop in Prague in the Czech Republic. Then, hop on for a ride up to Warsaw, Poland. From there, on to Budapest, Hungary. Mike leaves from there, flying back to Frankfurt, and I plan to start my rail trip. I much prefer the time on the rails compared to sitting in a sterile airport waiting for my flight, then taking a shuttle, bus or cab to my hotel. As you know, most trains drop you right in the middle of most cities.
Now you tell me, which would you rather do? When train travel is slow, or service is second class or worse, I would definitely choose the plane. Otherwise, in Japan, Canada, and Europe, I choose the train every time!