When our train glided into Dublin’s Connolly Station my seven-year-old children were speechless. It was sleek white with a red stripe, so long that it seemed to never end and just made a gentle zooming sound. A far cry from our trusty commuter trains in Wellington.
Our reserved seats came with a table, plugs to charge our devices and a woman with hot coffee and snacks stopped by every hour or so. Our love affair with trains was off to a good start.
After seven years of not leaving New Zealand, we were heading on a trip to visit relatives and friends in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Germany.
We baulked at the massive carbon footprint the flights once around the world would produce. But grannies had to be visited, friends reconnected with and our kids introduced to where their parents come from. While there wasn’t much we could do about the impact of our long-haul flights, we vowed to make more conscious decisions once we were in Europe.
So instead of flying and renting cars while we were in the UK and on the continent, we would take public transport wherever we could. And why wouldn’t you? Europe has such an excellent rail network at competitive prices
Which ticket to pick can be a bit overwhelming at first. Most national rail networks offer tickets much cheaper when you book a specific train well ahead.
The easier alternative is to go for a Eurail ticket. These allow you to travel on most trains across 33 countries in Europe. You just choose the number of days you want the ticket to be active for and you can go whenever, wherever you want.
We chose seven days within a month for €352 (about NZ$640). Children under 12 years are free and if you’re between 12 and 27 years you pay €264 (NZ$480). We went for an online ticket and just had to decide in the morning if we wanted it to be a travel day, and we could use the entire European network.
Made for family travel
While the ticket allows this spontaneity, we’re not backpacking twenty-somethings anymore who don’t mind curling up in front of the toilets for a snooze if we can’t find a seat.
To make our experience smooth and fun for the kids, we picked our travel dates ahead and reserved seats with tables. The kids could spread out their drawings, we had space for card games and when we all needed a break they could watch a movie on our laptop.
Some rail networks (like Germany’s Deutsche Bahn) have dedicated family areas. We loved that we didn’t have to worry if our kids crawled over seats or had big emotions.
Long tunnels and craft
After travelling through the UK, we took the Eurostar to Brussels, spent three hours running around and eating some delicious Belgian waffles before making our way to Frankfurt.
Taking trains means no hour-long commutes to and back from airports. You almost always arrive in the middle of the city so it’s easy to break up a travel day, leave your bags in lockers, explore the city (or find the next playground) and hop back onto the train.
While we mostly brought our lunch boxes along, the on-board restaurants had affordable meals for adults and kids. We loved being able to see how the landscape and buildings changed outside our windows as we travelled hundreds of kilometres.
If we hadn’t been already convinced by travelling by train, our leg between Frankfurt and Munich sealed the deal. We couldn’t believe our ears when they offered through the intercom a free craft and games kids club on the train where we could drop off the kids and the adults got 1.5 hours of uninterrupted reading time in exchange.
We’re home again and are missing Europe’s comfortable trains. We’re sure that the next time we make it to Europe we’ll aim to explore more countries by train.
Source : Stuff