Trains

My husband and I are travelling to Europe for two fast weeks at the end of March. I have Rick's Europe Through the Back Door book, and I have read it and the sections here about train travel, but I am still in the air whether to purchase in advance a global pass, a select pass or just buy train tickets when we get there. We will be in France, England, Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany and the Czech Republic. Here's what we plan:
3/17 Paris to Versaille (roundtrip)
3/18 Paris to Caen
3/19 Portsmouth to Salisbury to London
3/21 London to Dover; Dover to Ashford; Ashford to Brussels (Eurostar); Brussels to Amsterdam
3/23 Amsterdam (overnight) to Prague
3/26 Prague to Berlin
By my best calculation, total travel using Rick's cost-estimate maps, the approximate fares not including the overnight train or the Eurostar are about 625 each.

We don't care to travel first class, second with reservations would be fine for us. He is 60, I am 59.
I would appreciate any help!

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4559 posts

Don't use the book for price estimates. As you know your schedule, get real prices direct from the rail carriers. Prague-Berlin and Amsterdam-Prague at www.bahn.com, London-Amsterdam at http://www.eurostar.com/us-en, British rail at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/, French at http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/?DISTRIBUTED_COUNTRY=GB, Brussels-Amsterdam at https://www.thalys.com/be/en/.
Caen-Portsmouth at http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/ferry-routes.
You may find there are a few impracticalities on this itinerary. For one, Eurostar lists only 2 trains to Brussels from Ashford on your travel date, one at 7:28 am and one at 10:28 am. The 10:28 only drops you at Lille where you need to get separate Thalys ticket to Brussels and it costs 3 times as much as the 7:28, which goes all the way to Brussels.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11962 posts

I haven't done the math but would be floored if the pass of any flavour made sense in your situation. I could be wrong so some pro-pass folk feel free to knock me back, but here's my first glance.

BTW - I usually don't get involved with itineraries so others may have better ideas than I.

You can rule out the Select pass because France doesn't play on Select, only on Global.

Your day trip on the 17th could be done with a pass but it would be a seriously overpriced pass day. It is only a cheap RER ticket for the short run out to Hall of Mirrors and the rest of the Chateau. It is just around €4.20 each way. So if you are paying something around €50 or €60 a day that's expensive.

Paris St Lazare short run of 1:45 to Caen is another reasonably inexpensive small train almost certainly less than a Pass Day. If you are going to the D-Day area any reason you're not going on to Bayeux? Maybe you're getting a car in Caen?

England doesn't play on the Eurail passes. There are Britrail passes but for two fairly short England days they won't pay. Get the Advance tickets if you can commit to exact non changeable trains.

There are only a few trains which stop at Ashford now. On a Friday - the 21st is a Friday when you want to have the epic train day of London to Dover; Dover to Ashford; Ashford to Brussels (Eurostar); Brussels to Amsterdam? On the Fridays the ONLY train to Brussels which stops at Ashford is the 07:28 with an arrival in Brussels just after 10:00. I don't see how you can make that work. The only day with an evening departure from Ashford is a Sunday, at 18:28 arriving in Brussels far too late to continue to Amsterdam.

Are you intending on taking the slow train to Amsterdam from Brussels? The fast train, the Thalys has an extortionate price for pass holders because the pass is not directly usable on that train. It is actually cheaper to get a normal ticket some time in advance than pay the pass holder price.

I can't help with travel to Prague.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but as you tighten up the agenda I may be able to help further.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1402 posts

This is a very confusing itinerary. Are you flying into Paris and out of Berlin? With a quick trip to England in the middle? That cost-estimate is WAY too high, especially without the overnight train (not recommended by me) or the Eurostar. Are you going by ferry from Caen to Portsmouth? Please take a look at the Man in Seat 61 (http://www.seat61.com/) before you buy any passes. You can probably find all your answers there, but here are some more suggestions.

Also check the DB Bahn search site (http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en) for the continental part of your journey. You may or may not be able to see prices or buy tickets there, but you will be able to see the schedules and routes. I checked the overnight train from Amsterdam to Prague for the day you are planning, looked at the map of the route and saw that it takes 14+ hours and you go from Amsterdam to Brussels to Berlin to Prague with lots of stops along the way. You can put in the two of you with your ages and get prices for the different types of accommodations.

I could definitely be wrong about this, but you may be too late to find any discounted fares no matter what you do, so you might consider flying that long distance from Amsterdam to Prague. It would be faster than 14 hours and might be cheaper. You can check Skyscanner (http://www.skyscanner.com/) about that.

Finally, go to Voyages-scnf.com (http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/) for the French part of your plan. It is more likely that you will use the RER for your trip to Versailles and back. Here's a link to the Versailles page that shows all the ways to get there: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/prepare-my-visit-/single/access. If you scroll down the page, you will find the "By Train" section. And the train to Caen is probably a local one costing around 15 euro each depending on what time of day you go, taking about 2 hours to get there and running about every other hour.

Finally, to my mind, this is a lot of moving around even for 2 fast weeks. I'd drop the England part and concentrate on the continent. Assuming that the 2 weeks includes the flight from the US to Europe or the one back, you seem to have listed almost half of your time spent on travel between destinations and not much for actually doing anything when you get to them.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4043 posts

Hi,

I would not suggest getting a Pass, since you're not over there long enough. As pointed out since France is no longer a party to the Select Pass set up, you lost the main advantage to using a Pass with the present itinerary. It's doable but needs precise planning. It's an itinerary I would do for 10 days but minus Salisbury. Are you taking the ferry Caen to Portsmouth?

For the night train Amsterdam-Prague direct you could tailor which route you want to take: DB offers the "northern" via Köln and Berlin. Another route by CNL is take the Amsterdam-Munich direct, then transfer in Munich to Prague. I myself would take the northern route since you leave earlier.

Where are flying to from Berlin? To LAX, then to New Mexico? From Berlin with Air Berlin, you can fly direct to California, ie, LAX.

Posted by Ouida
New Mexico
3 posts

Thanks, everyone. I apologize for any confusion, and I really do appreciate your suggestions!

We are flying roundtrip from El Paso to CDG using air miles. Ideally, we would have flown in and out from different airports, but this was the most efficient way to use our miles (we originally intended to fly into Heathrow, but British Airways is part of the American Airlines One World Alliance, and charges a hefty fuel surcharge for award travel!) We will fly from Berlin to Paris, then back to the states on the morning of March 29. We are travelling and sightseeing for a week in France (Paris, Versailles and Normandy) and England (Stonehenge, London, and Dover) before meeting with our kids in Amsterdam, where we will continue to Prague and Berlin. I know it's a lot to do in a short time; my son and I did a similar whirlwind trip in 2010, but we really want to do as much as we can in the two weeks.

Sam, thanks for pointing out the discrepancy in prices for the Ashford/Brussels train. That will be the day we travel to Dover, then on to Amsterdam. We might have to forgo Dover or backtrack to Ebbsfleet or even to back to London.

326610Hikegodeep86, Thanks, we will certainly take the RER to Versailles, and the slow train from Brussels to Amsterdam. We will definitely take the slow train from Brussels to Amsterdam; we don't care if we arrive late in the evening, as our kids will not arrive until Saturday, 3/22. We don't plan to rent a car in Caen, so it looks like Bayeux will be the better jump off point for the D-Day area.
Fred, we are thinking we might do the night ferry (get a cabin) between Caen and Portsmouth to avoid trekking back to Paris. The reason for the Portsmouth destination was to take a train on to Salisbury, then a bus to Stonehenge.

Again, thanks all! You might see me on here with more questions, but I promise to look at all resources you recommended. I really do appreciate everyone's input-it really did seem to me that the Global and Select passes were too high, but I couldn't quite get my head around it!
Ouida

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
3279 posts

Have you already bought your flight from Berlin to Paris?

1) London to Dover, Dover to Ashford, Ashford to Brussels, Brussels to Amsterdam in the same day?

I'd highly recommend skipping Dover. It is going to take extra time and money and really I don't think it is worth it. Take the Eurostar to Brussels and then continue on to Amsterdam. Alternatively, just get a cheap flight to Amsterdam.

2) Have you already bought your flight from Berlin to Paris? If not, I'd suggest changing the order of your trip. Fly London to Prague. Train Prague to Berlin. Train Berlin to Amsterdam. Train Amsterdam to Paris.

Posted by Ouida
New Mexico
3 posts

Laura, Thanks for your advice. We may not visit Dover. I went there 3 years ago, and enjoyed the castle and the cliffs (and the history), but it does make for a long travel day.

We can't change the order of our trip, as we are meeting our 2 sons and their wives in Amsterdam on the 22nd, and their travel plans are set.

Thanks again!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
4158 posts

LOL! FWIW, 'Hikegodeep' was the screen name for Nigel for approximately 15 minutes; long story...;-)

[I assumed 'Hike, go deep', but perhaps you intended 'Hike, God Eep?!? I'm not acquainted with the god 'Eep' ;-) ]