Since the first commercial airline flight in 1919, passengers have been extremely lucky to enjoy air travel as a quick and easy means to discovering the many wonders of our planet. However, 100 years on, we are now increasingly aware of the impact this has had on the environment.
We think that a great way to enjoy travel whilst also helping to protect the planet we love is to travel by train. So last month, the Exodus Team caught up with regular train-traveller and long-term Exodus client, Barbara Wilcox, to gain some of her wisdom on train travel to our European destinations.
So, firstly, why do you choose to travel by train?
Barbara explains, “Well I’ve never really enjoyed flying and over the years I’ve become increasingly concerned about climate change. For me, the train journey is an essential part of the holiday experience and it makes a trip more of an adventure. Being on the train is far more comfortable than being cooped up in an aeroplane and there’s no waiting for ages at the airport.”
She continued, “On my last trip, I found myself sitting at a spacious table having a meal with proper crockery and cutlery – no plastic, while watching the wonderful scenery as we travelled through the Brenner Pass. Now that’s luxury!”
What has been your best journey recently?
She was quick to comment, “I’d definitely say it had to be the Winter Walking in the Austrian Tyrol trip. I left home near Cambridge at midday and took the train to St Pancras, for the Eurostar to Brussels.”
Barbara recounts, “There it was an easy change to another platform for an InterCity Express to Cologne. Cologne station has lots of services including a large and interesting food court, where I had supper, before getting the Austrian Rail Nightjet sleeper. You can book a berth in a single sex compartment, where the toilets and washrooms are just down the corridor.” She explains, “I slept really well and waking up to the Alps and breakfast (included in the price of my ticket) delivered to my berth, was the highlight of this experience.”
“The train arrived at Innsbruck at 9.15 the next morning. As the group flight for the trip didn’t arrive until the evening, I decided to do some sightseeing, so left my luggage in a locker, and headed off for a few hours. Then it was only a 15-minute train ride to Jenbach, and an easy bus ride to Achenkirch.”
Do you have a favourite journey you’d recommend to other travellers?
Barbara recalls, “In Europe, I really like travelling on the TGV, a Duplex double decker high-speed train from Paris to Barcelona. You get a real sense of travelling to the warm South, and if you’re lucky, you can see pink flamingos on the lakes in the Camargue.”
How do you usually plan your route?
“I always start with Seat 61”.
She continues, “This wonderful website gives you all the Information you need, including the best and cheapest places to buy tickets for individual journeys. It even includes videos showing how to cross Paris, if you need to change trains there.”
The next step Barbara mentions is “thinking whether or not to make a stop en route. I’ve discovered several interesting places for stopovers, for example San Sebastian and Lerma when I went on the Secret Trails of Medieval Spain trip.”
Barbara explains, “I usually buy my tickets online through raileurope.co.uk, though most European train company websites are easy to use and have an English language version. From time to time, I have met up with groups at the airport (which are easily accessible by public transport) but I think it’s more interesting to catch local buses to the hotel.”
She jokingly adds, “In my opinion, public transport in Europe is a revelation after the UK – buses run like clockwork, and I’ve always found it easy to buy tickets!”
So, what tips would you give to first time train travellers?
“Plan ahead and don’t panic! I usually buy metro tickets on the Eurostar to save a bit of time if I’m changing trains in Paris.”
Barbara also adds, “I take my own picnic and a nice bottle wine – if you’ve forgotten, there’s a very handy M&S next to the Eurostar terminal in London.”
Have you ever had any mishaps while travelling by train?
“Once I found myself on the way to Ulm, 150km west of Munich, and my train was delayed so I just missed my connection in Frankfurt.” However, this didn’t have a huge impact on her journey, as Barbara explains, “Rearranging was a doddle; I just went to the booking office, where they sorted me out on the next train an hour later. There are always railway staff who speak English at stations, and many trains have announcements in English.”
So, once the world reopens again, where will your adventures take you next?
She cracks a smile and says, “As soon as the dust settles, I’m planning to go to northern Spain to walk some more of the spectacular Camino de Santiago. It’s a great train ride from Paris down through Bordeaux and on Spain. The last bit runs along the coast and you can’t miss the enticing glimpses of beautiful coves near Biarritz.”
For more information on train travel, find out more on our Take the Train page.