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The Travel Column 2002-9-19

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"


Europe. What do you think of when you hear or see that word. History, culture, architecture, art, food, wine, classical music, cathedrals, castles, breathtaking scenery. Europe is of course all of that and more. Europe as a travel destination appeals to many a traveler. However, did you think of railways …. I’d bet you didn’t. Did you know that Europe has over 100,000 miles of railway? The European Rail Network is as extensive in size and scope as the U.S. highway system. A visit to any country in Europe should include at least one train ride: subway, intercity, inter-country. Trains are synonymous with travel in Europe. No other form of transportation brings you closer to the heart of Europe.

Convenience & Comfort

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, rail the way most people travel in Europe. … and for good reason … it’s easy and convenient. Most train stations are in the heart of the city with major cities such as London and Paris having numerous train stations with links to the subway or metro system as well as the airports; you can go right from the airport to downtown or from city center to city center. Today’s trains in Europe offer a first class rail experience: spacious reclining seats, lots of legroom (a lot more than on a plane), leisurely dining and a number of amenities you wouldn’t expect. In between destinations you can snooze, take in the scenery, work and prepare for your meeting, read or stroll to the bar car. Even in second class, seats are roomy and luggage space abundant.

Train travel offers you absolute freedom and flexibility. You can cover a lot of ground and arrive refreshed. The train is also great for day trips: wake up, have a quick breakfast then take a train to another city for lunch or shopping and be back in time for dinner. This works fine in Paris where you can leave Paris around 9.00 am take an hour’s train ride to Versailles to visit the Palais de Versailles – a must see on anyone’s visit to Paris – and be back in time for a view of Paris at sunset and dinner at the Eiffel Tower!

Flight delays, traffic-snarled airports and long check-in times and lines fall by the wayside when you travel by train. You can set your watch by the train. If the departure time is 9.34 am, the train leaves at 9.34am – not earlier, not later. Punctuality is a trademark of the European rail system. Plan on arriving at the station about 20 minutes before your scheduled departure. This will give you enough time to find your platform, your car and your pre-reserved seat.


Depending on your planned itinerary, travel by rail is definitely cheaper than travel by air. Say you wanted to visit the following cities over a two week period: London, Paris, Barcelona, Geneva, Brussels and back to London. To do this trip by air would cost approximately US$1,500.00 for economy travel. A 10-day Eurail Selectpass would be US$ 476.00 – First Class.


Throughout Europe trains are simply a fun and exciting way to travel. Whether you take a high-speed TGV across the heartland of France at 186mph or a scenic train through the Swiss Alps or an overnight sleeper from La Coruna to Madrid, you cannot help but feel a connection to Europe. Trains are as unique as each of the countries. There are high speed Premier Trains such as the TGV (France), Talgo (Spain) and the Eurostar (between London and Paris/Brussels) or specialty scenic trains such as the Glacier Express or the Bernina Express in Switzerland which offer views and vistas that you just won’t believe. You have the flexibility of getting on and off where you like and enjoying breathtaking scenery right outside the window. Compare this to the view from an aeroplane especially if you’re seated in the aisle or middle section!

Train Reservations

Rail passes will permit you to board a train but this does not guarantee that you will have a seat. Making a reservation will assure that you have a seat on a specific train at a specific time and date. In fact while reservations are not necessary for local travel – say between Paris and Versailles – they are required on the InterCity, Premier Trains, the Overnight (Sleeper) Trains. While you can make seat reservations as late as the day of departure at the train stations it is advisable and recommended that seat reservations are made when you book your railpass in advance … this will ensure that if you want a non-smoking seat on the train from Biarritz to Paris that you get it. If you’re a non-smoker there’s nothing worse that sitting in smoke-filled car for the three hour trip from Bordeaux to Paris!

Rail Passes

Eurail passes from RailEurope are honored in seventeen European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (Republic of), Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Passes for travel in Britain are also available. Rail passes afford you unlimited rail travel for the number of travel days on the pass. You can get a variety of types of passes: from Single Country passes – travel within a particular country such as France, Germany, Switzerland, or Select Passes for unlimited travel within three countries that border each other or Europasses for unlimited travel in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland and of course Eurailpass which offers unlimited travel in the 17 named European countries above. Passes begin at US$280 for a Selectpass for any 5 days within a two (2) month period.


Eurostar, also called the Channel Tunnel (or the ‘Chunnel’) Train, provides smooth and efficient transport between three of Europe’s most exciting cities: London, Paris and Brussels. Travel by train through the ‘Chunnel’, one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th Century, is easy and hassle-free. Not only is it the most efficient way of getting from the center of London to the center of Paris, it is the easiest. With a check-in time of 20 minutes before departure – compulsory reservation guarantees easy access to your seat – and a 2 hour 40 minute train ride -you will be in Paris sooner than if you fly. No traffic. No airport hassles. With departures every hour between London and Paris or Brussels it is the best way to travel between these major cities.

So if you planning a trip to England or to Europe think rail as your mode of transport once you get there. There’s only one thing to remember though … if you’re traveling with luggage make sure it’s on wheels. While there may be porters available in major train stations chances are you won’t find one if you need one and you’ll need to walk to the station to get a luggage cart. Don’t travel with more luggage than you can handle on your own.

Cathy de Gannes-Martin, Managing Director
September 19, 2002


Previous Travel Columns

bulletThe Travel Column 2002-9-5
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-22
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-8
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-25
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-11
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-6-27

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