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Author Topic: Our first Interrail tour  (Read 1665 times)
froome
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« on: April 07, 2024, 10:51:51 »

We got back from our first ever Interrail tour late on Easter Monday, 15 days of travelling around France, northern Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium. Obviously only briefly touching most countries, just a day or two to get a feel for one or two towns in each and the country.

It showed us how well connected Europe is and generally how easy travel is there, and taught us a lot about the places we went to, especially their history.

For others who might be thinking of doing a first Interrail tour, I'll describe what we did and what I would recommend from that, as I know that the whole idea of travelling by train in countries we had never visited before can be quite daunting. We also learnt a lot about how railways are run abroad, and got many ideas of improvements which could be made here, and also some improvements we could give them as well. I might piggy back onto some of Graham's threads for these.

However, the brief summary was that we had a fabulous holiday, that everywhere we visited was wonderful, and that for a technophobe like myself, the Interrail pass was simple to use and mostly worked very well, for both planning the trip and during it. As I have alluded to elsewhere, we did have a few problems with it, which i will discuss later on this thread, as it would help me to know from others who have used the pass whether the problems came about due to us or to the pass, or both. We will certainly make more use of Interrail passes and hopefully travel further into Europe.

But firstly one question about the pass which it would help me to have an answer to, as my partner and I disagreed on it while we were travelling. When you go into the pass on your mobile phone to show your ticket to the train staff and bring up the bar code which they scan, do they see:

a) The same bar code each time, which says to them that we have a pass that is currently valid (which is what I think), or
b) A different bar code comes up each time, which says to them that we have a pass that is currently valid and is validated for this particular journey (which was what she thought).

Accidently, I think I proved I was correct, as on two journeys we made, I forgot to validate my ticket, and my bar code was accepted as valid for the journey. I had installed the journeys on the pass, but on those occasions had forgotten to 'toggle' them to show that was the actual journey I was making. Afterwards I realised I hadn't, and validated them after they had been checked.
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2024, 21:05:20 »

c) A different bar code for each day
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« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2024, 03:57:05 »

A fantastic summary, thank you.  You are spot on by saying it widens the view of what could be done - and what should not be done - in the UK (United Kingdom) too, not only in railway terms but more generally.  There are times it makes you realise how lucky we are (the last few days have made we realise that) and at times how behind the times we are.  And there are time, yes, when the local systems known well to people who live in these countries are daunting / worrisome to the outsider.  I look forward to reading your further feedback.
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froome
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« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2024, 15:25:59 »

Planning our first Interrail trip

As neither of us drive and, for environmental reasons haven't flown anywhere since the 1990s, we rely on trains to travel long distances, so a rail trip shouldn't really be daunting for us. But while we have travelled by rail extensively in this country and in France, we have hardly taken any rail journeys further than that in Europe - just two in Spain, one of which included visiting a friend in Portugal. We have visited a few other European countries, mostly by ferry, to cycle in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. But most of the rest of Europe is unknown to us.

Since we both became fully retired, taking an Interrail trip has been in the back of our minds, and we have known quite a few people who have Interrailed. When the discounted fares were announced last autumn we made a quick decision to buy a pass. This led us into having to make two quick decisions.

The first was what sort of pass to buy. We hadn't realised that there were so many - a bit like rail rover choices really - but we had already really decided we wanted to have a pass that gave us the chance to travel on every day, and we opted for the 15 day pass as that was the maximum time we could really allow ourselves to be away from home.

The second was whether to go for a mobile pass or a paper ticket. This was actually quite a challenging decision for us, as neither of us have ever had a rail ticket on our phones before. I'm definitely not confident in using mobiles for anything like rail tickets or with most techie stuff, and while my partner uses her phone much more than I do, even she has baulked at the idea of not buying a paper ticket. But we opted for a mobile pass for one simple reason - it gave us the flexibility of when to make the actual trip, as with a paper ticket you have to specify your travelling days when you buy it, and cannot then change them. As it turned out, it was definitely the right decision - the app does make both planning the trip and making changes while on the trip very easy and quick.

I read through all the information on the Interrail website, and then all the information on the Man in Seat 61 website. Both of these became invaluable for planning the trip, the latter becoming so much of a 'go to bible' for information that I could almost relate what it said word for word by the time we had finished our planning. Without it, I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to undertake the trip.

Although an Interrail trip can be planned just using the app, I really wanted a rail map of Europe to do my planning, so went to Stanford's in Bristol to buy one. While I was there I found that a book of all the timetables for European railways can also be bought - something I didn't realise still existed, and which I bought straight away. They come out quarterly and in early March I bought the Spring copy for the actual trip. I found having both a paper map and the timetable book invaluable - I carried both with us on the trip as well - and would certainly make use of both again for any other trip.

Our next decisions were where to go to and when. These took a while to decide, but we knew we wouldn't want to travel in the depths of winter, though I was keen for an earlier journey than my partner was, and we came to an amicable compromise of late March, which in many ways turned out to be the perfect time to travel. I was nervous about including the Easter weekend in the travelling period, due to the many problems we have had trying to travel then at home, but as it turned out, Easter wasn't any problem at all for travelling in Europe - plenty of services running, and many of them not that busy.

Where to go was always going to be a compromise, but having discussed that extensively over the winter, drawing up a draft route we would follow was quite simple. My partner wanted to visit various central European cities like Prague, Berlin and Vienna, but top of her list was Venice. I was keen to visit these as well, but my preference was for more scenic routes to follow, especially across wintry landscapes in the Alps. We also hoped to visit some friends who live in Europe and who we hadn't ever visited - mainly because they didn't live near to any stations - and contacted two to discuss this with them. One was in northern Spain, and turned out to be as far from a station as it is possible to be there, and we ruled that visit out - it wouldn't have been practical anyway with our other destinations, so we'll do that as a separate trip one day. The others live in S.W. France, and we worked out getting to them was just about doable in a very long day from home, if they picked us up from the local station, which they were very happy to do. So we included that as our first day of our trip, which as it turned out meant leaving home at 5am and meeting them at their nearest station, if all trains and connections worked - at almost 10pm. A very long day, and with much potential to go wrong!

Our next decision was whether to book everything in advance. The Interrail ticket does have a great advantage of complete flexibility, which we would normally prefer for any trip, but we decided it might be wise to actually book all our trips and accommodation well in advance. So we spent February doing this - paying supplements on top of our pass for some long distance journeys, as well as deciding to make seat reservations on every long distance train we were using, just to ensure that a) we had a seat, and b) preferably one next to a window. So I delved into the world of booking and paying supplements using a variety of websites - in the end mainly the Rail Europe site, the OBB (Austrian railways) site and the Czech railways site, which was particularly brilliant - pictures of each carriage and the ability to book the exact seat you wanted. We even ended up, accidentally (I only noticed it when we got onto the carriage) having booked seat 61 on one train!

Booking fare supplements in particular with the pass often wasn't straightforward, and sometimes proved impossible. The Man in Seat 61 reassuringly said that you could always buy these on the train, and so it turned out, that where we hadn't managed to pay our supplement in advance, the ticket collector was quite happy to do the payment on the train.

Accommodation was as ever a long process of deciding what was most important and what we were willing to pay. I was very pleased that we did decide to mainly book places close to the station we were arriving at, as travelling as much as we did left us (me in particular) feeling utterly exhausted at times. The closest place we stayed to a station was literally connected to it, the Ibis at Innsbruck, which actually has a direct connection from the station subway into the hotel, and has stunning views of the snow-capped mountains all around the city. But the best hotel we stayed in was probably the furthest from the station - a wonderful family-run traditional hotel in Prague, very comfortable and serving exceedingly impressive and delicious breakfasts. While standards obviously varied, everywhere we stayed was at least reasonable, and some were wonderful. It certainly pays to spend some time poring over all the websites and double checking what they actually say, but in the end you can never be sure until you finally arrive at your destination.

In January I was worrying about whether my phone, which is 4 years old, might let me down at some crucial moment, and got it upgraded. In February my partner decided she needed a completely new phone that could be relied on, and having bought one, spent two weeks going back to the store getting it sorted out. Fortunately it was, and proved to be reliable, more so than mine.

So, with a couple of weeks to go before setting off, we were almost ready to go. I'm very pleased we did decide to take time doing all that planning, it certainly paid off.
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stuving
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2024, 11:42:37 »

Although an Interrail trip can be planned just using the app, I really wanted a rail map of Europe to do my planning, so went to Stanford's in Bristol to buy one. While I was there I found that a book of all the timetables for European railways can also be bought - something I didn't realise still existed, and which I bought straight away. They come out quarterly and in early March I bought the Spring copy for the actual trip. I found having both a paper map and the timetable book invaluable - I carried both with us on the trip as well - and would certainly make use of both again for any other trip.

John Potter, who brought the old Cook's timetable back to life as the European Rail Timetable, has now put the business that produces it up for sale. So its future may be in question, though if it does cover its costs and make any kind of surplus you'd think it will keep going. After all, long-distance rail travel does seem to be coming back into fashion. I can only see the summary in this from Railway Gazette International, which is enough:
Quote
European Rail Timetable business for sale
By Railway Gazette International  9 April 2024

INTERNATIONAL: Director and Editor-in-Chief John Potter has decided to sell European Rail Timetable Ltd, publisher of the famous red book which contains almost 600 pages of detailed schedule information for 50 000 trains, as well as maps and useful travel information for Europe and beyond.
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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2024, 04:43:00 »

John Potter, who brought the old Cook's timetable back to life as the European Rail Timetable, has now put the business that produces it up for sale. So its future may be in question, though if it does cover its costs and make any kind of surplus you'd think it will keep going. After all, long-distance rail travel does seem to be coming back into fashion.

Things and times move on.   Did I understand that WHSmiths in some stations have stopped selling newspapers, and indeed when I sit in a train I look around and see everyone on their phones - messaging (or in some irritating cases hearing them talk) and few reading. But yet having said that, on my current travels my packing - light to contain the utter bare minimum - still includes the European Rail Timetable which has been heavily used throughout my trip in addition to the journey planning App.

A plea to whoever buys the business - you are taking on a valued product. Please nurture it, promote it, and may it have a long and effective life ahead of it, as it already had behind it.
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« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2024, 08:09:56 »

I usually get the Summer book and it provides my bedside reading for a whole year (sadly, some may say!). I once bought the on line edition and it really was a huge disappointment to the browser. However, If I was setting off on one of these lovely Interrail trips which I follow, I guess the on line edition makes more sense, although I expect I personally would make room to pack the book as well.

And the second book by the bed is the Centenary edition which was published 30 years ago . . .
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froome
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« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2024, 21:47:28 »

The journey's highs and lows

(I meant to post this earlier but have had a busy week, and am bout to go away for the weekend)

Our first Interrail trip was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Every day we had to pinch ourselves on how lovely the countryside was; how fascinating the cities were, and some truly stunning; how beautiful the mountain scenery was; and how enjoyable the train journeys were; along with some lovely places to stay, and almost always very helpful and courteous rail staff. Not to mention that we mostly had glorious weather while Britain was still suffering from the downpours. We also had to pinch ourselves as to how easy the interrail app worked, at least most of the time.

But while it was overwhelmingly positive, there were some problems it is worth highlighting. Also, while there is obviously much the railways here in Britain could learn from those on the Continent, there are also some things they could learn from our railways.

So a brief look at our journey and where these problems arose.

Before we set off there were several things that worried me about what could go wrong. The main ones were:

a) If we hit the rail strikes and found all our plans awry. As we neared the date of departure, it became obvious we wouldn't be troubled by strikes here, but I had heard about strikes on the German railways. Fortunately they didn't affect us either, but unexpectedly we did find ourselves in Italy on a day they were having a 24 hour strike. Fortunately, it was a day we were only travelling locally, from Padua to Venice and back, and though many of the trains were cancelled, there are so many trains that make this journey* that it wasn't a problem.

*I worked out there are about 10 trains an hour from Padua to Venice, and even right through the night there is an hourly service, which is very impressive.

b) If the train from Paddington, which had been subject to delays and cancellations almost every day until we travelled, let us down, and we missed our Eurostar. We had given ourselves plenty of leeway if it was delayed, but as it happened, the Bath to Paddington train there and then back 15 days later both ran completely to time. Ironically, unlike almost all our trains abroad.

c) If the app played up and didn't work. We had tried out the app as much as we could before we left, and I felt reasonably confident that it shouldn't cause us any problems.

So on 5am our taxi arrived and took us to Bath Spa station, getting there 25 minutes before our train was due to leave. We had had a very busy weekend, and this along with the anticipation about our trip meant neither of us managed to get much sleep that night - I had only 1 hours sleep, so was not in the best state to start a journey that if everything went well, would take 17 hours to the final station.

My partner opened her app and it worked perfectly. I opened mine and had an error message, saying I should send a query to Interrail to sort it out. I closed it down, opened it again and got the error message again. So I tried to send Interrail the query, to find that I couldn't access the query form as I wasn't getting any wifi. Normally my phone logs on automatically to Bath Spa's wifi, but I tried to log on and was told I needed to set up an account, and then tried to start doing this. By this time the train was due soon, and we decided we would just get on and if necessary explain it to the train manager. So we did, and when on the train I turned my phone back on and the app worked perfectly, no error message. I have no idea why all this happened, but can only assume it was a wifi issue.

This did leave me worrying that if this happened when abroad, it would be much more difficult for us to explain and deal with. Fortunately, the app continued to work well, and by about the third day I had stopped worrying about it (but more on that later).

We got to St Pancras with more than the 90 minutes we needed to be there, and the Eurostar took us to Paris, though a few minutes late. But we had 2 hours to cross Paris and mastered the metro, which we had not used before, and got on the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) to Bordeaux, which we have used before, with seats on the top deck so that we could get a good view. All going well so far. The TGV becomes an ordinary inter city after Bordeaux and literally crawled along for the first 20 or 30 km on its way to Toulouse, so we arrived there late, but still with plenty of time before our final train was due to depart at 8.20pm. only to find that it was cancelled, but that there was a rail replacement bus.

We had been warned by our friends that this might be the case, and indeed we have had this problem before at Toulouse station, also late in the evening, though then we were going on a different line. On that occasion, when the rail replacement bus turned up, late, there were too many people for it to carry, so about 10 people, including ourselves, were left behind. We had to literally plea with the one rail staff person we could find at the station, who then arranged for us to be taken in a taxi. Fortunately, this time the bus was on time and could carry everyone, but it took far longer than the train would have done. So we got to our final destination, Auch, which is at the end of a branch line, after 10.30pm, with our friends waiting for us. We were incredibly pleased to see them, and had a wonderful and restful time at their place, taking no trains at all the next day, but enjoying the brilliant weather and the views of the distant Pyrenees. And getting some sleep!

We were very pleased to find on the third day that our fairly early morning train from Auch was a train, and it turned out to be a beautiful journey back to Toulouse, and then another lovely, though slightly delayed, journey down to Marseille, where we just made our connecting train to Nice, where we were staying the night. This set off to its first stop at Toulon perfectly on time, and then announcements started to be made, which we had to get another passenger to translate for us. It appeared that the train was having 'difficulties' and a little later, that it wouldn't be going anywhere, and we were advised to wait 2 hours for the next train to Nice (or strangely to return to Marseille, though no other trains would be going towards Nice, so this didn't make much sense to us or to the other passenger). The train arrived 2 hours later, and then crawled along, losing time as it did so, so that our hopes of seeing the magnificent views along this coast disappeared into the darkness. But at least we got there and had a great time in Nice, which included a trip up into the Alpine foothills, which was superb.

From there to Ventimiglia on the Italian border, with some fantastic views, and disappointingly a tunnel right through Monaco, and a train along the Italian coast to Genoa, which went so slowly in places that we were an hour late arriving. This train continues to Milan, where we were due to get a connecting train to Padua, and fortunately decided to become a much faster train, so we got our connecting train at Milan, and had a wonderful two days there and at Venice.

From there we were heading to Innsbruck for a night there, and looking forward to seeing the Italian Alps up to the Brenner Pass, which indeed were stunning. Unfortunately this train was also an hour late by the time it was climbing up the pass, and darkness was again descending, so we had to peer out to spot the snow by the lines, and saw nothing of the views. Next time hopefully, though I understand a long tunnel is due to be built here. The next day we had the most fantastic ride to Zurich, climbing up the snow as the Tyrolean Alps rose all around us - it really is a stunning landscape. And only 30 minutes late to Zurich, so things were improving! (OBB were very apologetic that it was this late, so presumably it is unusual).

We caught our overnight train in Zurich to reach Prague, and on our way towards Prague the next morning I had my second problem with the app. After we had woken and had the breakfast they supplied, and with the train running 100 minutes late, my partner went to the seating carriage to get a better view, and had her pass checked by the train guard. She returned, and later I did the same. However, I had turned my phone off overnight, and turning it back on, when the guard turned up to check my pass, the app said I had no journey booked for that day, and wouldn't recognise that i was still on the journey that I had started the previous evening. The guard wasn't impressed, and at one stage I thought she was going to charge me the full fare from Zurich, as she didn't seem to believe I had a valid ticket, although she could see I had the Interrail pass. But she did relent, though she wasn't happy! So a lesson learned, don't turn the phone off if you are travelling overnight.

Two wonderful days in Prague, and then we went to catch the train to Berlin. I turned on my app, and a message came up saying that it appeared I had finished my entire journey, i.e. that the app seemed to think I had done all my 15 days travelling, though this was just day 12. Why this happened I have no idea, but for a minute I could see myself having to buy tickets all the way back to Britain. Fortunately, after turning the phone off, and then back on, the app worked perfectly, and we had a lovely, though again delayed journey. to Berlin, and two great days, which included a trip to Potsdam.

Leaving Berlin, it was my partner's turn to turn on her app and have an error message, while mine worked perfectly. Again we have no idea why. She turned it off and then back on and it worked perfectly, and our slightly delayed train got to Cologne just in time for our connection to Brussels, where we went to Ghent, and spent a day there before coming back to Brussels and home.

So a wonderful trip marred only by a few hiccups with the app. I would feel very unconfident travelling on my own with the app, but two people travelling together at least gives some reassurance if it should misbehave again.

I'll post separately after the weekend what we saw which we thought the railways could learn from, both here and abroad.
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« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2024, 07:33:48 »

Great to read your update - it's a truly wonderful way to travel isn't it?  I'm alone on the app which, yes, can be a bit quirky.  Will be following up on that elsewhere.   As an old man, travelling alone, I am allowed to struggle with the technology and a smile goes a long way when the *** thing forgets a journey and needs recycling.  Just had that with the pleasant Danish Lady ... who offered me breakfast but I don't have time on this train; settled for a coffee.
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« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2024, 09:50:42 »

Great to read your update - it's a truly wonderful way to travel isn't it?  I'm alone on the app which, yes, can be a bit quirky.  Will be following up on that elsewhere.   As an old man, travelling alone, I am allowed to struggle with the technology and a smile goes a long way when the *** thing forgets a journey and needs recycling.  Just had that with the pleasant Danish Lady ... who offered me breakfast but I don't have time on this train; settled for a coffee.

Yes a truly wonderful way to travel, and as a (probably) older man, yes it does usually feel that struggling with technology is accepted.

A few very brief asides from our journey:

a) In Prague we only found out at the end of our two days there that all public transport in the city is free for the over 65s. We had been trying to find out how to buy tram tickets, and everything we found said to buy them at the tram stops, but none of the stops we found had any way to buy them. On our way back to the station to leave Prague we found a video on the web which described how to buy tickets (a machine in the tram) but right at the end added "but you can disregard everything I've said if you are 65 or older as all public transport is free". We had this confirmed by a Prague resident when on the train later, who said the conductors normally look for those with grey hair and don't ask them for their ticket!

b) When we ordered our taxi in Bath to take us to the station, the taxi firm said they always turn up one hour before the time of train you are aiming to catch, even if you live (as we do) less than 10 minutes drive from the station. Possibly wise on busy days here, but at 5am far less so, so we said we were catching the 6am train to ensure they came at 5. (to be fair, we could have caught the 6am train, but it gave us far less leeway should anything go wrong along the way).

c) On the rail replacement bus we had to use at the end of the first day, I put my large case into the large luggage space below all the seating, which the driver's mate had to open at each station. As I was sat almost over it, I tried to keep an eye on what came out at every stop along the way, and halfway along, saw an elderly woman looking slightly confused as she looked into the space, and then pointing to a case, which she then took. In the darkness, it looked exactly like my case, and for the rest of the journey, I was convinced that she had taken my case rather than hers. Cases do tend to look very similar, and it was a great relief when I found that she hadn't taken mine. Starting my 2 weeks Interrrail trip without my luggage wouldn't have been fun.
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This forum is provided by customers of Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western), and the views expressed are those of the individual posters concerned. Visit www.gwr.com for the official Great Western Railway website. Please contact the administrators of this site if you feel that the content provided by one of our posters contravenes our posting rules (email link to report). Forum hosted by Well House Consultants

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