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The Eurotrib Express

by Sam Tue Jul 25th, 2006 at 06:32:16 PM EST

Last Saturday Colman and I arrived back from our holiday on a barge on the Grand Canal.  We were a bit confused being back on dry land...felt a bit  stunned really.  So proceeded to make a short list of places we might like to go on holiday in 2007.  After eliminating various destinations due to distance and realistic estimates of the time needed to visit those places properly we settled on Europe...yes, mainland Europe.

We've decided to find our way from Dublin to Istanbul and back by train (and ferry for that little hop between Dublin and Holyhead!) stopping in various towns and cities along the way.  We would probably be aiming to do this next May.


The question we have is...where should we stop off?  Our initial list is as follows:


  • Dublin to London

  • London to Paris

  • Paris to Toulouse

  • Toulouse to Geneva (via Lyon?)

  • Geneva to Venice

  • Venice to Vienna (maybe Florence in there somewhere?)

  • Vienna to Budapest

  • Budapest to Sofia

  • Sofia to Istanbul (via the place we need to be to get a train to Istanbul!)


...Anything we should add or change?  Any hints/tips on trains in those areas?

Display:
* Geneva to Venice

* Venice to Vienna (maybe Florence in there somewhere?)

I'd make that Geneva to Florence (changing trains in Milan), Florence to Venice, Venice to Vienna. Florence to Venice is only three-four hours, but so much to see in both, and a day trip from Venice would be wasting time.

* Budapest to Sofia

That's too much for a single day journey. After the Kosovo war, connections were very bad -- there was one direct train going around Serbia, but between Romania and Bulgaria connections were bad before, still a 25-hour ride --, and still not improved much. I suggest you make that Budapest-Belgrad (one night train takes you there in 7 hours) and Belgrad-Sofia (another night train in 10 hours).

Sofia to Istanbul (via the place we need to be to get a train to Istanbul!)

There are direct coaches, in a night train too.

Any hints/tips on trains in those areas?

  • Timeplans: I recommend the internet site of the German Railways, which is reasonably up-to-date even about foreign schedule, and has an English version.

  • Quality of trains: in terms of comfort, fitting-out and cleanliness, I'm ashamed to have to warn you to expect a steady decline from West to East... After Vienna, you'd best travel on ICs and ECs, tho' it's not always available.

  • Delays: travelling towards the East, this could get bad beyond the Hungarian-Romanian border (if you choose to go that way) resp. beyond Novi Sad or Belgrade (if you choose to go through Serbia). Don't plan changing trains with rest times under one or two hours.

  • Trains, trains? If any of you two is interested in trains, Budapest has Central Europe's largest nostalgic locomotive base, and a regular nostalgic train trip along one of two scenic lines out of the city every Saturday.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 05:22:54 AM EST
If 11 days is deemed too much, you could skip Florence or -- well -- Budapest... (I mean Geneva-Venice and Vienna-Belgrade could be made in one day [or better one night] and with one train, but combining other sections would take a lot of time.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 05:26:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks a million!  We're probably looking at 2 to 3 weeks for this.

The standard of the trains doesn't bother us.  Actually about 13 years ago I was in Russia with on a school trip.  We were to travel overnight from Moscow to St Petersburg on the Red Arrow...out of 90 of us about 12 of us ended up in carriage where the compartments had 2 beds/seats in each...a little table...quite comfortable really.  The next morning after a lovely comfortable sleep we got off and discovered that the rest of the group who were spread over a number of carriages were sleeping in cramped 4 bunk compartments...oops!

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde

by Sam on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 06:30:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
13 years ago, that is in 1993? I hate to expound on this, but due to minimal maintenance, cleaning and new purchases (which are all budget-related), and due to vandals (which has reasons in the change of society), quality decreased quite a bit in Southeast Europe. (While as far as I know -- never travelled in one, just saw them at stations -- Soviet/Russian long-distance trains were always a class of their own, old technology and all but at least spacious, and soft seats.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 07:08:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Russian train journey story was just a 'walk down memory lane'...I wouldn't expect anything over there to be even vaguely what it was like back then.

It is a pity though that trains in general have been 'forgotten' about.  You see so much more of a country that way...

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde

by Sam on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 08:11:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, if it will be three weeks, you could plan some stops in the Alps on both crossings, say in Brig (Swiss end of the Simplon tunnel, you could go by narrow-gauge train to mount Matterhorn, many other spectacles nearby) and Villach (Austria). Also, what about Lyon and Milan. (Though for me, such a trip would start looking like an American "do Europe", I'd rather stay two-three days everywhere...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 07:15:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some of the stays will be a bit short, but that's ok: we can go back later.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 07:46:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
MIlan is the perfect place for a "american do europe" attitude.
You need 1/2h for the Galleria (espresso or gelato included), 1/2 h for the Duomo, and you are back to the station by foot in what? 1/4h?, getting the next train.

Trust me: You don't need to stop a single second more. the other attractions are models (you are traveling with your mate) and expensive shops (the stuff can be brought everywhere else in Europe main cities).

I always bitch why foreign tourists need to stop in Milan, when small cities (VErona for naming one) are already more interesting, and a big one like Turin should be head and shoulder above Milan for any tourist in his right mind.

Airport Logistics, I presume. So if you are not bund to it, don't make the mistake: stop over night in Turin, and look at Milan en passant on the way to Venice or  Florence.
From Geneva, it is a little bit difficult maybe, but from Lyon, Turin makes perfect sense.

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

by lacordaire on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:19:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My mother recently spent a long weekend in Milan and loved it, and she's not the kind to spend time in the galleria, the duomo, or shopping. I have to ask her what she did, she was quite happy about the trip.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:22:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe your mother would have loved Turin more?
You know, the italian way of-life is always a pleasure for everyone on holiday, but the Italian way-of-life + a beautiful place + some historic places is a better deal...

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.
by lacordaire on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:32:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, to be fair, the Duomo is really mind-blowing.
in the top three of the to-see list of european cathedrals maybe.
BUt it fits perfectly in a short-city-sighting-after-a-work-related-meeting. So wait for a fair in Milan for seeing it, it'll be just fair.

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.
by lacordaire on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:29:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really?

I was never in Milan, so like Migeru, I went by the general good impression of acquitances who recently spent almost a week there.

In Northern Italy, places I have been to and liked: Verona, Valeggio (just a small town with a Germanic castle nearby, somehow lovely), Udine (visited in winter when the air was clear and all the Alps visible, while there it was moderately warm and one could stroll along canals), of course Trieste, Venice and Florence, Pisa, and top favourites Siena, San Marino (well technically not Italy) and nearby sleepy mountain town with castle, San Leo. But Sicily has some much more beautiful towns than those I have seen here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:51:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Florence, Pisa, Siena and you forget Arezzo?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 07:03:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was in Arezzo, but all I remember is strolling on dark and steep streets full of dog shit with some crumbling houses alongside -- it was a short midday stop to move and eat, so quite possibly not the centre of town...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 07:16:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And Lucca, and Pistoia...

I don't quite like museums all that much, so when I was in Florence I enjoyed taking trains all over Tuscany more than visiting Gli Uffizi.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 07:25:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, for instance.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 07:27:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The overnight from Moscow to St. Petersburg in the sleeping cabins is nice, fun, even.  

I did the return trip in a non-sleeping-cabin car (dozens of crammed seats, blaring polka music -which made me spend hours musing about the linguistic similarity between "polka" and "plokho"- and dozens of unwashed people hawking dried fish and cigarettes.  And the person sitting next to me had stomache flu.)  Nightmare.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 08:32:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think we'll skip Budapest.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 07:48:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This itinerary is an interesting commentary on the proposition that Turkey is part of Europe. If it is, then why are you just stopping at the border? One gets the feeling that the plan is to dab a foot into the exotic East...
by asdf on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 09:45:56 AM EST
Good grief.

Because we only have a fortnight plus a few days. Same reason we're not going to Berlin or starting in Sligo. If Istanbul was in the middle of Turkey we'd go there. It's on the edge.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:10:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the same logic it's an interesting comment on the proposal that Italy is European since we're only going through the top bit.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:14:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what about Scandinavia? Are we no part of Europe at all?

Though in Sweden we actually refer to 'Europe' as something starting in Danemark and stretching south...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 09:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scandinavia is a whole holiday in itself!  That's another years work I think.


We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde
by Sam on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 02:15:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a wonderful trip, and it involves a combination of rail, ferry and bus. I'd time it to be in Rovaniemi on Midsummer.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 04:29:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Scandinavia is a whole holiday in itself!

Definitely.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 06:41:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Edge? Istambul is actually a good 300 km from the border...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:25:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't resist giving a taste of what you'll be travelling in --

First a British Pendolino and another Virgin train in London:

...an Eurostar:

...two TGV Atlantique trains on the outskirts of Paris:

...the outside and inside of a French Corail Téoz express train:


...a Swiss IC races along Lake Geneva, with castle Chillon in the background:

...a Swiss narrow-gauge train descends from the foot of the Matterhorn mountain:

...an Italian Eurostar (high-speed train, there was a name dispute with the Franco-British-Belgian company but in the end both kept using it):

...an italian IC train:

...my photo of an Austrian IC train descending from Semmering Pass:

...a Hungarian IC:

...a Serbian express train to Sofia:

...a Bulgarian fast train (with used German coaches):

...finally, a Turkish express train:



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:15:54 AM EST
Heh. Thanks. The dash back  should be interesting!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:24:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A friend of mine has a house in bulgaria.  I dream of the day when I can whoosh across europe in a train to visit him.

I dream of all those railway sleepers being covered in photovoltaic cells/tiles.  Miles and miles of track sucking up the sun and passing it to the trains or the grid.  An engineer told me this was technically impossible; and yet I dream...

(I also dream of windmills in the central reservations of motorways.)

(I also dream of naked erotic...er...cough...)

(Just wanted to show I don't only dream of renewable energy/transport)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 11:01:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(I also dream of naked erotic...er...cough...)

Sounds like renewable energy/transport to me...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 12:15:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The picture of the Swiss train has become my background for now, taking the place of my picture of St. Emilion that has served to enchant me for these last months.  Thanks for the pictures.  Makes my traveling bone ache for the open road.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 02:15:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean the one with the Matterhorn? What is your screen size? Maybe this or this would fit you better.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 07:14:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was the one with the matterhorn, but I used the second of these new ones.  Thank you very much.  I fantasize that I am there rather than here.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Fri Jul 28th, 2006 at 03:04:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After a quick look at SNCF timetables:

TGV Paris-Toulouse takes approx 5h 20m. (True very fast train to somewhere north of Bordeaux, then normal express from there on). Comfortable unless chock-a-block.

TGV Toulouse-Lyon takes approx 4h 45m. (very fast between Avignon and Lyon).

Lyon-Geneva by Corail Lunéar (comfortable express) takes 1h 42m.

Other suggestion (but disclaimer: I'm not trying to persuade you not to go to Lyon or Geneva, just pointing out an alternative) : you could go Toulouse-Nice then take an Italian train Ventimiglia-Florence. It may take time (haven't got details), because of changes, but it'll fit in a day. And you would follow the Med coastline from Marseille all the way round, often on corniche lines squeezed between mountains and sea. I've never done it, but I think it would be a nice trip. Then Florence-Venice is not a huge jump.

Of course, you wouldn't be going via Finland, and what would that reveal about European attitudes to strange far northern countries where the Triloqvists dwell?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 01:00:41 PM EST
Starting this summer there is a once-weekly Eurostar return service from London to Avignon, on Saturdays. If you time things right you might be able to take advantage of it, at least on the way back. You could also take advantage of the Paris-Avignon leg on the way out if you do London-Paris on a suitable weekday.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 02:59:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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