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Travel training – your personal chauffeur through Europe

View of the Intercontinental Express that travels up to 120 mph.

Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner

Among my age group, river trips in Europe are the rage. It is the safety and convenience of it all. Passengers are pampered – never having to move luggage with touring options available at each port. Personally, I have long preferred an alternative mode that warrants consideration: travel by train. Doing so is much less tame. One relaxes differently. There is far more destination freedom, variety, reasonable pricing, and a type of mature adventure that most hearts still pine for even after age 65.

Let’s start with the why of it. European trains are efficient, timely, and reach everywhere you might want to go. Major city connections sport 120 mile per hour bullet trains, an experience in itself. Routes typically follow valleys and rivers, the prime scenery of any nation.

Often railroad stations are architectural gems, sited in or close to city centers. Beehives of activity and transfer points, they are often connecting spots for smaller gauge local trains. Leipzig Central is smack in the middle of an underground mall. Berlin and Munich are foodies’ delight. Copenhagen is a stone’s throw from Tivoli Gardens and offers gourmet food fare at retail.

Art displayed in main railroad station, Berlin.

Most travelers bring snacks or sandwich fare on board longer trips. How often does one have live entertainment at mealtime? Trains take you up close and personal into the heart of every stop. Your window on the world might have a farmer working, a city garden plot being maintained, bikers on a country road, a boy and girl hand in hand or a smokehouse enhancing the flavor of local meats and sausage. Your ticket to ride provides a high post on the lives of others, as well as live theater and opportunities for reflection like no other mode of travel.

The way to set up a trip is with a Eurail Pass. Go to the Eurail website and get a sense of what is on the menu. One picks the time period of travel, countries involved, class of service, and the number of stops one wishes to make. Once you have paid for the package you designed, you will receive a map of the whole system and your ticket to ride. It will be validated in-country before your first leg.

Unlike Amtrak, trains run punctually in Europe – literally to the minute. Every station of any size offers personal service and routing options at the ticket window. Scheduled departures and arrivals are uniformly presented on boards at each station throughout Europe. One quickly gets the gist of the system. Once that happens, a whole new world of travel adventures will click open for you.

Let’s not overlook the safety factor. Having driven in Europe since 1962, I have experienced roads often of far better quality than in the U.S. Problem is, drivers (especially Germans) operate at breakneck speeds. If you cannot contemplate driving at excessive speeds or tolerating those that do, train travel is made for you. Next time in Europe, plan a rail sojourn, an adventure within the trip itself. It’s a whole new world!



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