Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Night Train

It took me almost four years to finally take a night train in Europe but I decided I couldn’t properly call myself European without at least doing one overnight train trip.

Anyhow, the problem with trains in Europe is that depending on where you are going, they can cost as much or more than a flight. Our round-trip from Zurich to Bled on the night train, "The Balkan Express", cost CHF 728 total for 2 people. In second class. With GAs. Yeah. Not so cheap. Even when paying with REKA checks. I might not have bought the tickets at all, except that I had gone through the whole transaction while speaking German and was not about to have done it for nothing. Even when told the price.

The advantage of the night train is that you potentially “save” money on a hotel night and have more time at your destination.

So what’s the verdict?

The time part was good. We could leave late on Thursday night from Zurich and arrive Friday morning at 7.30am in Bled, Slovenia, only a 10 minute bus ride from our actual destination. Only problem? We arrived jet lagged and wasted our extra “saved” time by taking a nap.

Then we could leave Monday night and still get back to Zurich by Tuesday morning in time for work.


Sleeping on a night train is kind of hard. Even if you have a private room with beds and a sink like we did. The train stops and starts constantly all night. It squeaks. It squawks. And people are boarding and blabbing pretty much all night long.

My advice? Nyquil. Benadryl. Or a big bottle of wine (yes, Americans, you can).

Or just take a flight.

How about you? What do you think about night trains in Europe?


Anonymous said...

I agree...with low cost airlines connecting almost all the major European cities, I can't justify the hassle and bad night's sleep. I took one when I was a student from Dijon to Rome and shared a tiny compartment with 7 other people, so in addition to passengers getting on and off and sweaking brakes, we had a few snorers. "Waking up" was rough.

I've heard that there are fewer and fewer night train routes since the demand has had to compete with flights. The night train option would have to be much cheaper than a flight to tempt me...

Then again, it's a good experience to do once!

M'dame Jo said...

Night trains are slowly disappearing and I haven't taken one for over a decade. It's a cute remaining from the time where flying was a luxury. But who knows? They may come back in style once we run out of oil :)

Chantal said...

Hi Sarah,

I agree. Next time, if there is a next time, it will have to be much cheaper to get me to do it again. And I don't see that happening...

Hi M'dame Jo,

I'm glad I took one then, as you say, they may slowly disappear.

M'dame Jo said...

As teenagers, it was the cheapest way to travel. Youth fare, regular seats, you could travel overnight from Geneva to Amsterdam (and back) for 80CHF. Now, that's what I'd pay with EasyJet, as a grown up...

Anonymous said...

I agree that the night train would need to be cheaper than flying for me to justify doing it again. I've been on two night trains - once in a private car and once with four strangers. I actually slept better on the ride with the strangers, but it's still never been awesome.

Chantal said...

It seems EasyJet and Ryanair have replaced the cheap night trains.

Oh well.

Kristin said...

I agree, the idea sounds so fun and romantic in theory. But I can just imagine all the noise, like you said. I took a day from Brussels to Basel in December and also thought it was going to be super cheap. It wasn't crazy expensive (like yours) but it was still a lot higher than I would have thought.

Chantal said...

Hi Kristin

I know what you mean. But I liked the idea of it rather than the actual experience.

And yes, even train trips that aren't overnight can be super expensive. Zurich-Paris is always over CHF 200 and the trip is only 4.5 hours.

Gigetta said...

Oh, I'm sad that everyone has had such bad (or under-whelming) night train experiences! I love the night train. I find it a convenient and perfectly adequate mode of transport.

You leave after work, without having to take extra time off, and arrive in the middle of the city - instead of at an airport on the outskirts of town. Then you get back to Zurich (in my case) in time for work on the morning of your choice. Yeah, I'm usually tired on that Monday morning, but I live with it, cause it means I got an extra day in Rome or Vienna.

Also, I find that EasyJet frequently costs just as much as the night train. Most flights and night trains that I look into (and book) usually run between SFr 200-250 ... but the trains have the added advantage of being more environmentally friendly.

(Though in the name of full disclosure, I should mention that I don't really like to fly, so I'll usually opt for a train over a plane, unless it is really inconvenient.)

-Kati (20+ round trips and counting)

Chantal said...

Hi Kati,

I too love the schedule of the night train--extra time at destination--plus no stupid security taking away my water bottle. But I just wish the costs would be more reasonable. Glad you've had good experiences with it though.

And I agree that Easy Jet can be as pricey as trains or as Swiss and other airlines when you add in all the hidden fees (and the stupid fee to pay with a credit card!) Imagine that, paying with a credit card!

Unknown said...

I did the worst travel of my life when travelling to Zurich from Barcelona with my two cats by train.

I wanted to kill them.


Chantal said...

Hi Julia,

Thanks for sharing. I think a night train with animals would be tough!

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