Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explore an area which was in the (not too distant) past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.
Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. That is a busy schedule for three weeks. And we were more or less sedentary in Czechia, when Danny‘s boyfriend Sam joined us with his adored Volvo.
In these three weeks we took at least 26 trains and two train replacement buses – I used the journey planner on the Rail Planner app to count the train rides – and nine operators – I used my memory here – to complete our journey. I did not count metro systems or funiculars.
We did it because we love it. We love train travel. We also love flying but we love train travel. It’s romantic, it’s slow. You can look outside. I can fall asleep. Leg room is usually okay. You can get up and move about a bit. You get to see the country.
Was it easy to plan? It’s far from impossible, but Danny did sweat a little to fit every train in a planning. Booking tickets required visiting several train operators’ websites. And sometimes they were not in a language we understand (enough).
In March 2018, Danny wrote a piece on ‘The failure of railways to sell themselves‘. The situation hasn’t improved in the three to four years that followed. 2021 was the European Year of Rail and there are quite few policy makers who want to promote train travel for vacationing and for business travel in Europe. But there’s a lot of work.
A rail trip in the sense of ‘road trip on rails’ requires a mindset. You need to enjoy the journey as such and not see train travel in a vacation setting as a quick way to get somewhere.
Fernverkehr (long-distance traffic), as the Germans put it so eloquently, requires time. To get to the other side of Europe, the plane will be quicker. So if your time off is a scarce commodity as it is nowadays, you’d better not lose a day or a night on the train. But if you do have time, just do it.
It’s something else
Avgeek and journalist Nico pointed to some other challenges. When you book a complex journey by plane, requiring one or two transfers, and something goes wrong, the airlines will help you to rebook or reroute. At least when your journey is on one booking.
But as the current European train ticketing options don’t allow that, you could be left to troubleshoot yourself. Not really appealing.
In the autumn of 2021, Nico traveled a few times a week from Brussels to Amsterdam as his partner Bram worked there for a while. Thalys ticketing wasn’t flexible at all. He couldn’t choose his seat and the Thalys lounges left him unimpressed.
Trains aren’t planes and train travel isn’t air travel. The product, the offer and the service are different. RegioJet tries to offer ‘plane on rails’ experience but only marginally succeeds at that. Trains and planes are just different products.
For train-based leisure travel to seduce more people, both trains (as a medium) and the public will need shift towards each other. Railway companies must do more to convince more people. But people must accept Fernverkehr is not air travel on rails.
2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe
- POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.
- 1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace.
- Potsdam 2021.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Berlin.
- BERLIN 2021 | Pergamon, ‘Das Panorama’.
- BERLIN 2021 | Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.
- BERLIN 2021 | The Bundestag in the Reichstag.
- Berlin 2021.
- By train from Berlin to Gdansk via Szczecin.
- Stopover in Szczecin.
- REVIEW | Restauracja Ritz in Gdańsk.
- REVIEW | Holiday Inn Gdansk.
- GDAŃSK | Museum of the Second World War.
- GDAŃSK | European Solidarity Centre or Europejskie Centrum Solidarności.
- A walk through Gdańsk.
- Gdańsk 2021.
- POLAND | PKP Intercity Gdansk to Wroclaw via Warsaw.
- Wrocław Museum of Architecture.
- The Dwarfs of Wrocław.
- Poland 2021.
- By train from Wroclaw to Karlovy Vary.
- Karlovy Vary.
- REVIEW | Hotel Imperial Karlovy Vary.
- Czechia’s Great Spa Town of Europe Františkovy Lázně.
- CZECHIA | Pilsen Historical Underground Tunnels.
- CZECHIA | Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour.
- CZECHIA | Pilsen.
- CZECHIA 2021 | Cheb and its castle.
- Hotel room for one.
- By train from Karlovy Vary to Prague via Pilsen.
- Czechia 2021.
- RegioJet from Prague to Bratislava.
- Bratislava Castle.
- REVIEW | Crowne Plaza Bratislava.
- Bratislava on a rainy Monday.
- ZSSK Fast Train Tatran from Bratislava to Strba.
- The Tatra rack and electric Railway from Strba via Strbske Pleso to Poprad tatry.
- SLOVAKIA | AquaCity Poprad.
- REVIEW | Hotel Seasons AquaCity Poprad.
- Slovakia 2021.
- Poprad – Bratislava – Vienna with ZSSK’s intercity train.
- VIENNA | Restaurant Steirereck.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Wien.
- VIENNA | Luxury Sisi’s in Schönbrunn Palace.
- The Hofburg in Vienna.
- Vienna’s Furniture Museum.
- Vienna 2021.
- Pöstlingberg & Grottenbahn in Linz.
- REVIEW | Motel One Linz.
- AUSTRIA | ÖBB RailJet from Linz to Salzburg.
- BAVARIA | Lokwelt – Locomotive World in Freilassing.
- REVIEW | Hotel Sacher Salzburg.
- SALZBURG | Mirabell Palace and the Mozart Residence.
- SALZBURG | Hohensalzburg Fortress.
- Salzburg Cathedral + Salzburg Residenz = DomQuartier museums.
- SALZBURG | Formula 1 cars and the Flying Bulls at Red Bull’s Hangar-7.
- AUSTRIA | Salzburg 2021.
- Austria 2021.
- Salzburg – Frankfurt by DB Intercity.