Should you buy a Eurail pass? It’s not always as easy as flashing the pass…
When we first started planning this trip two years ago, we thought long and hard as to how to travel within Europe. We knew of companies such as Easyjet and Ryanair who have $1 flights between multiple destinations, but you usually have to know where your going and have a route and time frames planned out. And paying for rail each time seemed pretty expensive, but so did the eurail pass. The thought ran through my head many times “Should I buy a Eurail pass?”
After lots of research we thought the Eurail pass would work the best for us. We didn’t have a set itinary, wanted as much flexibility as possible and were sold on being able to see anywhere in Europe at the drop of a hat. There was only a “small” reservation fee on “the most popular” routes so we paid the €2000 ($3000 CDN) total for the two of us and were ready to start using our money’s worth!
I’ve never paid so much money for something to cause such a pain in the ass. The plan was easy: to go from Venice to Budapest on an overnight sleeper train leaving Friday night and arriving on Saturday morning. On Wednesday we went in to the train station to reserve our seat on the train, but once we showed our Eurail tickets were told that the connection was down and to come back tomorrow. The next day we were told the same thing.
More than a bit frustrated, we went down to an internet cafe to see if we could book online. We found a Eurail fare for €65 pp, but didn’t think that was correct as the full fare was only €130 pp. We didn’t book the tickets because we wanted to talk to the train office the next morning to verify these prices, as it shouldn’t be so much.
We got to the train station at 9am the next morning to make sure we would get the tickets. After queuing in line, I finally got up to the front window only be told the connection was down again. It was quite frustrating walking over to another ticket window, waiting in line, being told the same thing, walking to customer service, being told to just try and get on the train and finally walking back to another ticket window. It seems that there were no more Eurail passes available to be let on the train is what the real problem was.
Sometimes it pays to be nice to the people that are causing you the most frustration. Even though this entire system was BS, we managed to keep our cool and joke around with the lady at the counter a bit. It ended up paying off as after 5 minutes of searching she found us a ticket out of there that night. There was an overnight train leaving at 7.10pm to Vienna, and in the morning we could transfer to Budapest and be there by lunch. We had two options with our First Class Eurail pass: pay €30 pp to sleep in an open car with 4 other people or €60 pp for a private sleeper. At this point I just wanted some peace and air conditioning and agreed to the outrageous price.
Dee and I hopped on our train only to find our sleeper cabin door locked. It’s a good thing we didn’t block the passage with our bags, and I finally managed to grab the attendant and burst into our little private space. It was about the size of a small bathroom, with two bunks that could pull down, sink, small closet, table and an excellent view of the train yard. Never-less it would be our home for the next 12 hours, and jacking up the knob for the AC we cracked open a bottle of red wine to enjoy the trip as we slowly started moving.
30 minutes later we were both drenched in sweat, having opened up the window, door and hall windows for some sort of circulation. Looking around the passageway I saw a mixture of travelers in varying states of undress and hoped I looked better than they did. The thermostat on the wall was somewhere around 40 degrees and the sounds of the train riding on the rails was thundering through all the open windows. I swayed with the moving train and heat waves down the hall until finally finding the attendant. After spending what seemed an eternity trying to speak englitalian, I finally figured he was saying the AC was broken. By that time a crowd formed behind me and nobody was very happy at having to ride another 9 hours with this heat. I pushed my way back to the compartment to break the bad news to Dee and left the mob to yell at the attendant.
So we did what we could and watched some movies as loud as possible to drown out the open window, and went to bed in stifling heat with earplugs that couldn’t block all the noise. Good thing we paid €2000 total for the Eurail tickets and €135 total for the seat reservations!
So far I’m not very impressed with the savings with our Eurail tickets.
I will be posting more thoughts about the Eurail tickets as we go along as they were one of our largest expenditures before we left! Just look under the Eurail category on the right hand side!