Jumping Ahead

Hello folks! I apologize for the delay in blogging. Since Alex and I set off into the Highlands of Scotland and then across into Northern Ireland and then I continued into Northern England and down to London to return home I’ve not been able to blog. I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. As part of that process I’m now posting some of my writings regarding travel and some fun stuff that I’ve been working on during my trip. You’ll find the first of these below with more to come.

I’ve posted a great video:

And built up a nice follow-up blog of that video in Text:

Train travel and general travel tips in Italy:

Train travel in Italy is a friendly experience and one that can be faced without fear. Traveling by train in Western and Central European countries is the preferred route of travel by most visitors. Buses are an option, and although often cheaper may leave you at the outskirts of a city or have very limited departure and travel times.

I’d like to outline my experiences and draw on my time in Milan and traveling through central and eastern Europe to give you some insight into Train travel. I arrived in Milan, Italy January 20th 2009 and stayed until May 1st before participating in a Travel Study program across Eastern, Central and North Western Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosna I Herzegovena, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Czech, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, British isles). During my Travels I used a mixture of Trains and Buses. I’d like to focus the first half of this post on Train travel in Western Europe.

Specifically I’d like to start with the Italian train system as an example. The system is open, straightforward and efficient. There are three major rules,

1. When you enter a train station, look for automated tellers (usually coded for 3-5 major languages). This has two benefits, the first is that the machines avoid speaking with a teller who may or may not speak more than one language. Second this will help you get written information and possibly provide information in English/German/Native language/ Chinese. Do be sure to check if there are student/youth/senior rates that are only available from a teller.

Automated Teller:
Automated Teller Closeup

2. Find the departures board and the regular/regional train board. These provide information on the types of trains (as well as a description of what their symbols mean) and a regular daily time table so you can plan day trips on short notice.

Departures Board

Closeup Departures board

3. VALIDATE YOUR TICKET! I can’t stress this enough. In every country I visited it was required that you validate your ticket. In Italy the fine for failing to do so can be 50-150 euro. It varies country by country but often the cost of forgetting or failing to Validate is 2-5 times that of the ticket. If you notice you’ve forgotten or the machines are out of order, Train conductors (in Italy at least) are required to validate your ticket if you come and find them. If they find you and it’s not validated some will validate it for a in pocket fee of 5 euro.

If you keep these three rules in mind, travel in any country via train is simple, stress free and can be significantly easier.

In Rule 2 I mentioned that there are different types of trains. In Italy there are fast trains, normal trains, and then there are the big commuters – called regional trains. Treno Regionale are the cheapest form of train transport in Italy. They are generally half the cost of normal trains and 1/3 that of the fast trains. They take a little while longer since they stop at almost every station but the difference in cost can make up for the delay. If your traveling across Italy, it may be worth the time to check different major cities along the path and check the Regionale connections. Instead of an express train you can catch a few Regionale commuters for a fraction of the cost. (Note this is not always the case, at times the number of changes can make the cost savings minimal).

The photo’s included here are representations of Italian (Trenitalia) equipment. However, the principles held true in Germany, Poland, Czech, Belgium, Holland, and the UK. Validation, and Train departure/automated systems are nearly universal in developed countries.

The second half of this Blog refers to Bus travel in Eastern Europe.

When I left the European Union and the fringe Shengen countries, I encountered an interesting phenomenon. Major train lines passed through capital cities and avoided smaller principalities. Leaving me with only one option – Buses. Eastern Europe, Greece, and Turkey especially were prone to major inconveniences when using the Train system. The trains were slower, less comfortable (minus sleeper cars) and had less flexibility and variety in travel destination, however to my surprise Bus travel in Eastern Europe is exceptional.

Eurolines is one company that does cross European transit – I’ll use their coaches as an example of the type of buses made available to travelers:

These large, 40+ seat buses generally have media – TV/VCR/DVD and in eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia) they also have in drive refreshments (soda/water/snack food for free) and Orangeways and now some of the other major companies like Eurolines even have WIFI built into the buses. It’s a sense of luxury travel for a fraction of train ticket prices. As an illustrative example, I traveled from Istanbul, Turkey to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for 1/3 the price of the train ticket and arrived in just under ¾ of the time. As I continued my travels through Eastern Europe I ran into a lot of travelers who had purchased Inter/Euro Rail passes and found them to be a bad investment for eastern European countries for two reasons.

The first is that Train transportation in Western Europe is Much more expensive than eastern Europe making a Inter/Euro Rail pass a great investment because it sets a standard cost for each journey. However, Given the lack of functionality on most train lines and the lower cost in E. European countries the pass was more expensive than buying tickets individually and didn’t allow use of bus travel.



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