So far on this trip, I’ve really enjoyed using trains to get around Germany and the Netherlands — they make travel fast, smooth, and efficient. Here are a few photos to illustrate strategies for smart rail travel anywhere in Europe.
The new generation of bullet trains in Europe are sleek. In fact, they’re so sleek that when a city has an old-fashioned, dead-end train station, the new trains often don’t even bother to stop in the city itself, but at a pass-through suburban station instead. New stations are designed — at the insistence of the train companies — to be pass-through stations. Everything’s going very fast these days, and there’s just no time to pull in, then back out.
No smoking, no talking, no cellphones. You have your choice of train cars — all clearly marked (although none allows smoking anymore). Among Europeans, American tourists are notorious for talking like they’re the only people on the planet, making everyone else on the car listen to their conversation. And you know how annoying it is to listen to someone else’s drawn-out cellphone conversation. Enjoy making a point to take advantage of signs as you travel: If you want peace and quiet, you’ll get it in this car.
Trains are long, it’s hot over here, and luggage can be exhausting to schlepp around needlessly — especially if the train platform is mobbed with travelers. Notice and understand signs to save time and stress. Few Americans realize that on big-city train platforms, there’s a chart listing major trains, with a diagram of how each train is arranged: first class (yellow), second class (green), and dining car (red). It even shows specific car numbers — handy if you have a seat reservation. Overheard on the platform are big A, B, C, and other lettered signs to help you find just which zone to stand in to have your train car stop right in front of you. Very often, a long train has ten second-class cars, but just one first-class car. If you have a first-class Eurail pass (as nearly any railpass holder over 26 does) and you don’t notice signs like these, you could wander all the way to the far end of the platform, then realize that you could have just waited at the opposite end. The conductor just blew the whistle, and you need to jump on the train or be left behind. So you spend the next 15 minutes struggling through the crowds to get to your first-class compartment…not very first-class.