Good rest on the night train?

We are touring with son and daughter-in-law in April and will be traveling from Florence to Germany mid-tour. My son is thinking to drive a rental car would take less time, be more scenic and cheaper than 4 train tickets. My wife and I think the night train would be fun, more relaxing (and maybe cheaper by saving one hotel night.)
Can one really get good rest on the night train? (either sleeper compartment or 4 bunk couchette?)
Is it worth the extra cash to get the bathroom in compartment?
Thanks for any insights.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

"Can one really get good rest on the night train? (either sleeper compartment or 4 bunk couchetter" Here's a test that will answer the question for you. While sleeping one night at home, have someone randomly shake the bed every few minutes. Also at irregular intervals, have somone shine a bright light through the window. Ask your son to walk through the hall every 10 minutes or so and talk in a loud voice, occassionally slamming into the door. If you can sleep through that, you can sleep on a night train.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11268 posts

I hardly sleep at all on the flight over. Sitting almost upright in an aluminum tube with hundreds of people, with the roar of jet engines, keeps me awake. However, I have spent 10 nights on trains, always in a private compartment, and sleeping has never been a problem.

In a four bunk couchette, you get a blanket and pillow but no bed linens; you sleep in your clothes. There are no bathrooms in a couchette. You can get sleeping compartment with or without toilet and shower. All have sinks, but the water is not potable.

Use the German Rail query page for schedules and prices. There is one night train, CityNightLine 484, leaving Florence at 10:11 PM, getting to Munich at 6:30 AM. That train has 1, 2, and 3 berth compartments (no 4s); you'd probably want two 2 berth compartments. It also has 6 and 4 bunk couchettes. Depite Tom's reservations, someone believes in night trains. I checked several dates in April, and most lying-down accommodations are already sold out. Note: Easter is April 20th.

There are five direct Eurocity trains from Verona to Munich (you'd still need to take an Italian train from Florence to Verona), every two hours from about 9 AM. These trains take a little over 5 hours and take a scenic route up through the Alto Adige, past the Dolomites, and over Brenner Pass down to Innsbruck. With advance purchase, you can get fares as low as 49€/person. I still see a lot of those fares available.

ViaMichelin estimates the time of driving to be exactly the same as the train, but with the train you don't have to stop for food, gas, or bathrooms, so the train would be faster and everyone would get to see the scenery. They also estimate gas with a family car (needed for 4 people with luggage) plus tolls at 92€, almost half the cost of train tickets, so with the rental cost, I doubt that you'd save money with a car.

Posted by Christopher
Munich, Germany
77 posts

Renting a car in Italy and leaving the car in Germany will come with a surcharge. Make sure you check that out and take it into account.

You never sleep well on night trains but you can get a few hours of sleep with the convenience of saving travel time.

Yes, the compartments with the bathrooms are nicer. Some even come with a shower, but these usually cost significantly more.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2630 posts

Sure it's possible to "get good rest on the night train." You'd be foolish to count on it though.

I think they can be romantic and fun, but no more than one or two per trip, because a certain amount of recover time is often needed.

By the way my worst NT experience was in a first-class compartment versus couchette. If there are four of you you can rent a 4-bunk couchette compartment and have it to yourselves.

These days the comparison is not so much NT vs auto but NT versus flying, so check that out.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
773 posts

The old joke was that the only way of ensuring a good night's sleep on a train was to have slept on a train the previous night. Can you sleep easily in the presence of noise at home? Or are you used basically to silence?

Posted by George
Canada
818 posts

I've taken 3 CNLs, all Deluxe Sleeper Compartments, all equipped with complete bedding, including duvets, all equipped with their own toilet and shower (towels included) - slept great - and they serve an ample continental breakfast to you in your compartment WITH unlimited coffee refills - they work for me.

Posted by kdomershank
5 posts

Thank you, all. This is extremely helpful (and so prompt.) Hope we can contribute to this forum when we return.
Thanks again!

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11268 posts

The trouble with flying, as an alternative to a night train, is that it's not just a one hour flight. By the time you get from downtown to the airport, check in, go through security, wait, board, spend 1 hr flying, deplane, find ground transportation, and get into the next downtown you will have 5 to 6 hours spent (and a lot of hassle). And most flights are right in the middle of the day, prime sightseeing time. It's hard to get in much sightseeing before and after your flight.

On the other hand, night trains make use of otherwise "dead" time, when you would be getting ready for bed, sleeping, and getting up and preparing for the day.

So, if you fly, after a day of sightseeing in you first location, you spend a night in a hotel, a day traveling, and another night in a hotel at your second location, then the next day of sightseeing. If you use a night train, you finish the day's sightseeing, get on the train, and awake the next day for another day of sightseeing. You trade two nights in hotels and a day traveling for a night on the train and get a free day of vacation.

But, in my opinion, the best thing is to find more interesting things to do in a smaller area. That way you spend less time traveling and more time doing what you came to do - seeing sights.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

Hi,

If the night train is a ride from nine to eleven hours, all I need is 6 hrs to be fit the next day. I never used the sleeper or couchette option, don't want to pay the extra expense. For me the best way to fall asleep on a night train is the CNL which is equped with the Ruhesessel, this reclining seat in a general seating area made up of two rows of such reclining seats, the further back the better. No problem with the Ruhesessel. Sleeping sitting up in a compartment seat is all right provided you get along with your fellow compartment mates. If you are a light sleeper and can't be deprived of it, then I don't recommend it. Yes, it does save a night in a hotel.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
646 posts

We have driven in the Alps in June and there still was snow in some places. I wouldn't recommend it in April, but if you want to check out renting a car, go to Gemut.com (http://www.gemut.com/), explore the website and then call Andy for advice. He can tell you exactly how much it would cost with the insurance required to rent a car in Italy, the drop off in another country surcharge, the special sticker (Vignette) needed to drive in Austria and what size of car you will need for 4 adults with luggage, as well as what the driving conditions are likely to be that time of year. And don't forget that drivers will need an International Driving Permit with a picture available from AAA. I agree with others that it will cost way more than you expect and might not be the scenery delight everyone hopes for due to the nail-biting route over the passes and on the twisty roads (unless you are all used to that kind of driving).

I also wouldn't recommend the night train. For openers, you will miss all the scenery. I did it for the last time in 2009 in Italy. The beds were already made up when we got on the train, and there was no place to sit without banging our heads on the upper bunk. Neither of us got much sleep and we pretty much lost the next day due to fatigue. The couchette was much smaller and more expensive than expected, so it really wasn't any savings for us.

We have taken the train between Verona and Munich in the daytime and loved every minute of it and what we saw. It was well worth the time to see the amazing mountains and the villages and towns along the way.

We have also flown over the Alps from Florence to Stuttgart. It was on Air Berlin, in a small, turbo prop plane, not very high above the tops of the mountains. I loved seeing the Alps up close and personal from above, but that might not be very comfortable if you are iffy about small planes.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
711 posts

When my husband and I did the night train from Salzburg to Venice (and it didn't load until like 12:30am) we opted for a private berth. My only thing, had I know how scrimpy the pillows were, I would have spent a few euro on a cheap one and left it on the train. Like tiny airline pillows - really no comfort. We slept ok...we didn't realize the train was in the stn (for how long I don't know) but I imagine we could've went on the train a lot sooner then we did and settled in. The train stn in Salzburg was being reno'd at the time, so we sat at a McD's instead.

Posted by John
Van Nuys, CA, USA
154 posts

So I have to say I'm a bit iffy about night trains these days. We've taken them 3 times. We got the private compartment, once with the included shower/toilet and I thought that was a good idea since we could walk around all day and then clean up. But here are our experiences on 3 trips. One was just fine, no issues. On a 2nd the A/C did not work and the compartment was well into the 90's because the train had been baking in the sun all day. It stayed that way for hours, and opening the window made the compartment very noisy and the wind blast was annoying. Not a good night. On a 3rd trip the assigned car was not actually present on the train. We jumped aboard as the train was leaving and spoke with the conductor, who was brusque and not very helpful. "wait here" and 45 minutes later we had to track him down, he finally put us into a room without the shower/bath we had paid for. Back home I found an email from DB saying our car had moved. Since we showed the conductor our reservation I don't know why he didn't look at his roster and find out where we were supposed to by. DB refused to refund the difference between what we paid for and what we got; our credit card company was no help.

So based on these experiences, there is a 1-in-3 chance of having a good trip. Hopefully these odds are wrong; you pays your money and takes your chances.

As for the noise, there is that; Ambien helps, so do earplugs. Also as the train goes thru intersections the light will flash in the compartment even with all the shades drawn. I found it helpful to wear night shades to block it out.

Posted by Terri Lynn
Nashville, TN, USA
23 posts

My husband and I love the private sleeper compartments and yes, it is well worth it to get the toilet/shower. He and I are insomniacs but we can put in our inexpensive earplugs, put on our inexpensive eye shades, and feel like we are being rocked to sleep. There is something soothing about the motion of the train. Most people are sleeping at the same time you are on the train. We get great rest. You can lie down and everything is included from bed linens to bathroom towels. The experience is also wonderful as are the sights you'll see before it gets dark. When morning comes, there comes your continental breakfast. I don't see how driving all night in a car would be so relaxing plus on the train, the transportation is being taken care of while you sleep giving you more time to enjoy when you arrive.

Posted by Michael
Vancouver, WA, usa
20 posts

One of my fondest memories are the two different times my wife and I took a night train from Madrid to Lisbon, and then again from Lisbon back to Madrid. It was all the way back in 1988, but it was plush, romantic, cozy and everything I could have wanted. It was the first class "couchette", I believe. I just know it was the most expensive night birth available; and my friends all took the 2nd class sleeper in a compartment with four or eight bunks, and they were ALL miserable!

I want to do it again from Lisbon to Madrid this spring. I'm hoping I can book the reservation from here in the USA, and that it's not too outrageously expensive. I'm sure it will be costly.
It was entertaining reading all the posts on this thread. Some sound like heaven, and some sound like hell.

Posted by Joan
Gettysburg, PA, USA
163 posts

There is so much negative reporting on night trains here that I'd like to add a positive note.
I took the night train from Venice to Munich. I paid extra to ensure that I would have the compartment to myself (72-year-old woman, traveling alone). Sink, toilet and shower in the cabin. The bed was very comfortable with a bottle of water provided.
To me it was worth paying for the bathroom to be in the compartment. I didn't like the thought of getting up in the middle of the night, going down the corridor and waiting for the toilet at the end of the car.
The same goes for getting ready in the morning.
I slept well, but purposely left the curtains partially open so that I could look out, if I wanted to, when the train stopped.
It was a pleasant and restful experience with a light breakfast included, served in the compartment.
I would love to do it again some time.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

@ Joan...The CNL night train from Venice-Munich is top notch. My compliments on your positive remarks.

Posted by Allen
Lafayette, LA
194 posts

I've taken a dozen or more night trains since the early 1990's. Last year from Vienna to Rome was the first time I ever got a decent night's sleep. I don't know why as there was nothing different compared to the previous adventures in which I felt really hungover the first day in the arrival city. Back then, I did it to save time and money as airfares were outrageous within Europe. Now with cheap air fares, I'd rather fly and I rarely use the trains for long distance travel.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3580 posts

Never again, all hideous experiences. See the other current posts on night trains on the Travel Forum for the gory details (shudder).

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
399 posts

I love sleeping on the train! I'm like a little kid though - too excited to sleep! I find the beds comfy - we always get a sleeper with a bath when available. Last year we took the Joan Miró train from Barcelona to Paris - sit down dinner, wine & breakfast all included. It was a wonderful experience, we arrived refreshed and ready to take on Paris!

You will never know if it works for you until you try it!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3580 posts

Oh, they should be really nice experiences...except for routinely (meaning, on different trains over the years) awakening while flying through the air and grabbing the netting that is meant to keep the upper-bunk passenger in their bunk. Always a good time. I actually got thrown out of bed once, but awakened in the middle of the episode and managed to land on my feet...I prefer to dream that I can fly, thankyouverymuch. And this occurs on the 'nice CNL-type' trains, too - not the Marrakesh Express. (The last two night trains I will ever take were the ones that Joan describes)

"There is something soothing about the motion of the train." I'm very happy that Terri Lynn slept so well, but it's the screeching to a halt at a random train station (see Tom's first post; he feels my pain LOL!), listening to canned announcements outside at 2:30am in the otherwise deathly silence with a bright, interrogation-type light shining through the window or the side of the curtain that keeps you awake. The soothing 'clip-clop' of the tracks, the rocking motion - all lull me to sleep. It's great...for about an hour...until the next random station...lather, rinse, repeat.

If you can get on an airplane, pass out while people are boarding, and not awaken until being jostled by people stepping over you to exit the plane upon arrival...then give it a shot. I could sleep just fine on a train - except for getting tossed out of bed :-)

When the train car attendant finally comes around to collect your passports, you finally fall asleep, they awaken you at 5:00am for 'breakfast' (hmmmm...) for your 6:30am arrival - that's not a lot of rest. The next day is probably shot. The 'cheaper than a hotel' is a huge myth. Price it out. Depending on how many of these beds/bunks YOU are paying for, it's probably not a savings.

Do you snore? Will your D-I-L want to stick a pokey stick in your head to shut you up? Will you want to stick one in HER head for HER snoring? Or for her scented lotion she always puts on before bedtime? Think long and hard...