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December 10, 2019

Europe on a Eurail Pass

What it’s all about

An 8 week visiting friends and family in Europe trip designed to both introduce my husband to my family as well as show him what I consider the highlight cities of Europe (taking into account what can be seen in that time frame) travelling by various trains on a 1st Class 2 month Global Pass and staying in 3* Hotels. Our route was as follows: flying Emirates from Auckland with intentional stopovers in Melbourne, Singapore (timed for Singapore Sevens), Dubai into Rome on the way there and out of Munich via Dubai, Hong Kong and Sydney (again intentional stopovers) on the way back. We covered 11 countries in 8 weeks and we are still married :-).

Unforgettable highlights

  • for me – flying the A380 with Emirates, my husband meeting 95% of my whanau who are scattered across the Czech Republic and Germany and seeing Europe through his eyes for the first time
  • for him – everything 🙂 / Singapore Sevens

Europe:

  • Rome/ Italy – Vatican City / you cannot beat the history on display here (plus we accidentally happened to be there at Easter so saw the Mass and festivities)
  • Florence/ Italy – el Duomo / architecture / gelato 🙂 and the coffee
  • Vienna/ Austria – Castle Schoennbrunn / the food
  • Brno/ Czech Republic  (my birth town) / Opera at the theatre newly re-opened where my parents met / the value of the NZD thus shopped here
  • Ostrava/ Czech Republic (my mum’s birth town) / visited the coal mines now closed but major earner back in time
  • Prague/ Czech Republic – the architecture / Prague castle
  • Berlin/ Germany – the wall / the museums / the food
  • Amsterdam/ The Netherlands – the canals / red light district (we went during the day)
  • Paris/ France – the Eiffel Tower  and surrounds / l’Arc de Triomph / palace of Versailles / the cafes / the food and wine
  • Munich/ Germany – BMW World (BMW factory and show room as well as Museum of Cars / Bavarian food is like no other

The Stopovers:

  • Melbourne/Sydney – just built in to break up the flight into manageable chunks as my husband had never flown that far before / Vivid in Sydney
  • Dubai – Burj Khalifa – could go up there over and over (even though I am scared of heights) / a masterpiece / how much effort has gone into building Dubai
  • Singapore – stunning airport / wedding anniversary dinner at Marina Bay Sands Hotel in one of the top of the roof restaurants (the most I ever paid for Italian food but so worth to do at least once) / gondola ride above a cruise ship to Sentosa Island
  • Hong Kong – was not quite what I expected / the weather wasn’t on our side / streets very narrow / not a walking city

Insider tips:

  • Plan this kind of trip at least 1 year ahead which allows you to book an Earlybird fare into Europe (all airlines have these) and so does Eurail
  • If you can travel in either shoulder season – April/May or September/October – less queues and other travellers
  • Consider not flying through and stopping over – it is easier on the body and you get to see another city for free
  • Make sure you check – depending on your passport – whether/where you need Visas and allow time to apply for these
  • Give yourself time to plan which cities you actually want to cover and look up the train distances online to see what you can fit in / do research online
  • Choose 2-3 sightseeing options per city/destination and don’t try to see it all
  • When booking accommodation keep in mind the distances from/to various train stations/airports and keep in mind that some cities have more than one (Paris has 4 and you are very likely to arrive into one and depart from another)
  • Less is more – you cannot possible pack for 8 weeks anyway so stick to that 23kgs luggage allowance as you have to carry your suitcase(s) up and down train stations which have no lifts/metro stations which are deep underground and old with stairs (Paris is one of those) and wash enroute
  • Pack clothing that is light and versatile, very good walking shoes (never mind you don’t look classy), multi plug, chargers for all your devices
  • Split your funds across a credit card and perhaps cash via an Eftpos card – all the places we went to had ATMs which allow you to take cash out should you need it (some taxis don’t take cards) and always pay in the currency of the country you’re in (the Euro makes it easy now); that also applies to the duty free stores at the airport – always pay in the local currency (given the option)
  • Save in those countries where you feel it’s more expensive and splash out in those that are cheaper with the exchange rate i.e. we could afford a 5* Hotel in my home town because the NZD was 15 x the Czech Crown hence we also bought souvenirs and clothes here as it was colder than anticipated

Suits a traveller who

  • is fit and adventurous as this kind of itinerary is not for the faint-hearted – we were in a different city/country every few days – but it was designed to introduce someone to the top cities of Europe (kind of like an Adult-Contiki) in a certain amount of time, using trains as a highlight itself and stopovers as destinations themselves
  • likes to make their own itinerary and keep moving / doesn’t intend to see everything in one trip
  • is organised and has travelled independently before as you have to put together your train itineraries with timings, chose the right amount of where to spend how long plus fit in availability of family and friends you are visiting
  • wants to get value for money

Travel essentials

  • variety of clothing styles – depending on what you are planning to do / but you can also buy where ever you go
  • good but light camera (most cellphones these days have them) plus also don’t just take pictures, stand still and absorb with your eyes and mind
  • sense of adventure and a sense of humour
  • be prepared to be flexible and improvise (timetables can change/queues can be long/Europe has its own distinct public holidays where things may be shut you weren’t expecting/some places are not a tourist friendly as others)
  • be tolerant of and respect other cultures; embrace the differences including the accents (I speak 4 languages and in my birth country I still get better service when I speak English rather than Czech) as well as the customs and rules (Dubai may be very westernised but Ladies still cover up – when in Rome …)
  • travel with open eyes – observe and learn
  • even if travelling as a couple or in a group make an effort to engage with the locals and other travellers – you’d be amazed what you get out of it
  • travel insurance – as the Euro is nearly double the NZD you cannot risk having to pay for any medical treatment or emergency should one befall you or your loved ones (travel insurance was compulsory for my husband as part of his Visa also)

Be aware

  • Although some countries (such as Italy) have a reputation for theft of tourists simply be street smart and do not display any obvious signs of wealth and go anywhere risque at night
  • Most of the capitals of Europe have many street vendors – some more direct than others – choose how you handle these – souvenirs are not necessarily cheaper that way but can save you time going through stores (don’t buy things you don’t need/can’t carry but small souvenirs for family back home are nice)
  • You can travel on trains overnight on many routes – personally I now prefer not to – sharing a sleeper with unknown persons means I don’t sleep anyway and one of the best parts of train travel in Europe is seeing the scenery
  • You get what you pay for – most of the time – levels of accommodation vary so a 3* Hotel in Paris will cost more than one in Brno but they are still a good guideline; know what a 3* will offer versus a 5* – educate yourself on the differences and you won’t be disappointed (of all the many Hotels we stayed at only 2 I wouldn’t book again)
  • Although the Eurail Passes cover your main train travel, for bullet trains and some other special trains you need to also buy a seat reservation (I do this on the day I arrive for the day I depart in the main trains station) however note the Thalys between Amsterdam via Belgium to Paris has extremely limited seats for Eurail pass holders and thus it pays to pre-book that one further out
  • Europe is not a one trip destination so plan to do Europe a few times and don’t be disappointed if you miss out or the weather doesn’t play along
  • Last but not least – if you have never been to Europe or going into a new destination let your travel agent help you – Glennis from YOU Manukau did an amazing job getting us the right product at the right price at the right time – thank you Glennis 🙂