The first time I backpacked through Europe as a US Citizen, I was entirely overwhelmed and confused. I wasn’t the only foreign visitor who was confused, there were so many people who had questions about how this complex interconnecting system worked. So for those first timers out there, here are my Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe.
Just because you have a Eurail pass, doesn’t mean you have a reserved seat. So be sure to buy that extra ticket in order to reserve a seat. Also, make sure you are there at least 30 minutes early so you don’t miss your train. Especially if you are traveling across country lines. Only buy tickets from reputable places, there are a lot of scams in Europe around travel. Educate yourself on how to avoid scams in Europe.
2- Check Your Platform And Car Number
Get on the right train from the right platform. Look at the train names above the numbered platforms. Then make sure that the car you enter is the exact car you need to take. The cars separate at different stops and you don’t want to be left behind unknowingly.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK!!!! Ask someone after you get on the train if you must. They will close the doors when the conductor blows the whistle. The trains in Europe wait for no one.
3- Anticipate The Need To Run
Once seated, look at your ticket……look at the next platform you need to go to. Look at when your train arrives and when the next departs. You may need to run across the station to platform 12b from platform 1a in 15 minutes. There is always going to be someone slow in front of you, so take the stairs.
4- Scan Your Ticket To Get In And Out
Keep your ticket in hand! You need it to scan in and scan out of each of the train stations. The ticket must be current, or you can get a fine. If you have a Eurail Pass, you can just scan the code on the outside of the ticket to get through the gates. The Eurail tickets sometimes have their own gates. Try to go with the gate not everyone is going through (if you can’t understand the Language).
5- Check The Type Of Train You Get On
Make sure you are getting on the right type of train. If you get on the wrong train you can still get fined. It may be going to the right place, but if you get on the faster train or get on an inter-city train instead, you can get fined. B
6- Bring Your Own Supplies
Bring your own water, your phone charger, and a Travel Pillow— especially if you have a sleeper train — small backpacks are the best…..just minimize by packing like the news told you the city was going to be bombed and you had 15 minutes before you had to be evacuated. That will get you everything you need in one bag. Yes, you will probably smell……bring Febreeze…..trust me…..there are people who smell worse on the trains.7 – Take Your Trash With You
7- Take Your Trash With You
Take your trash with you when you exit the train. There are small little garbage cans underneath the tables or right under the window on most trains. These fill up very quickly, as well as the ones in the bathrooms, so take your rubbish with you when you get off.
8- Sit In Seats With No Reservations
Don’t sit in a seat with a paper at the top or an electronic name above the seat…..You will lose your seat. I had this experience once, and that is all it took for me to learn to not do this. Was very unpleasant to be laughed out of your seat by a group of teenage boys. Then I stood in the café car for two hours till the next stop, the train was so full you couldn’t find a seat even between the cars.
9- Treat The Train Like You Would Your Living Room
Don’t put your feet up on the seats, or let your luggage take a seat near you. Put your bags on top and your coat on the hooks. MOVE if there are people looking for a place to sit. You wouldn’t want to sit on a spot where someone’s muddy shoes have just been, ruining your outfit. Take your shoes off first at least before you do this. They don’t exactly clean these seats regularly.
10 – Be The First In Line, In the Right Spot On The Platform
Be the first in line to get on the train…..the seats run out very quickly. Don’t be rude and shove people aside, but if you have the chance, stay close to the train. I also would gauge where the train door would stop ultimately by the train next to us. You stand right where the train opposite would stop, and you get to be the first one onto the train! Worked like a charm every time. Most people just stand at the platform thinking if they are near the front they will get a seat, this is not true. If you are at the front of the platform, right where the doors are going to stop, THEN you will get a seat.
11- Pack Light
Please don’t bring 500 pieces of luggage that require you to ask for help onto and off the train. If you cannot easily get up and down 4 very tall 18-inch steps with both luggage pieces in hand…..people will get mad. The longer you take to board the train the less likely the people behind you will be able to find a seat.
12- Sitting In Between Cars Is Uncomfortable
If you are just going one stop, you can sit in-between the cars. If you try and do this for the entire trip….you will have to get up and move every time someone opens the car doors……very annoying.
13- Sit In The Cafe If All Else Fails
There are seats in the back at the café car that you can order food and sit or stand there. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it gets crowded very very quick. No one can eat for 6 hours straight…..you would go broke.
14 – Limit Your Bathroom Use When Possible
Don’t try to use the bathrooms unless it is an emergency. If you do try and use them— bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper in your purse. The few I did have to use were so gross I was gagging. One had a floor so sticky and stinky that I had to breathe through my mouth. A coin-operated train station in Amsterdam was another bad experience. This particular bathroom had no toilet paper (luckily I had Kleenex in my bag), the sink had a powerful water flow and you could literally see the poop near the walls of the sink.
I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to expecting things to always be perfect (if you do expect it, your trip will be horrible); but this particular restroom was the most disgusting one I have used in the ENTIRE world. Who would have thought that a train station in the Netherlands would be that gross…..they are usually a very clean people.
I will say this though, there are some trains (typically the newer ones) that have decent bathrooms with air-fresheners and everything. They give hefty fines to people who are caught using first class bathrooms without a ticket.
15 – Getting A First Class Ticket Can Be Worth It
If you get a sleeper car for an overnight train trip, get one in first class with one other person if you must. I’m telling you….. it is amazing, and I actually slept…..everything is so clean and really just like a hotel room. You even get breakfast. Second class sleeper trains are adequate but don’t expect to have it be perfect.
My experience with the Second class sleeper was with 4 people in it, and nowhere to put your things because the ladies on the bottom bunks took up all the space. On top of that, you are usually at the end of the train which is a lot more bouncy and less restful. The Air conditioner broke and it was so incredibly hot woke up drenched in sweat. The gentleman in charge of our car and cabin just apologized, said they tried to fix it, and there were no other rooms for us to go
Make Train Travel in Europe Easier
Now all these things may make you not want to take the train at all. These 15 tips, were constructed from the worst parts of my experience. These tips and tricks will help your experience better. There are many many more wonderful parts of train travel, that can end up being a really great experience. My luck on trains is not the greatest. Apart from the one time I got a first class cabin all to myself. Being in first class was sooooo worth the money! To be in a cool, quiet, restful place with an attendant who really cared.
So don’t let this article deter you from train travel, it really is a great way to get around. I hope these things have helped and will allow at least those in the Culture Trekking Community to travel with ease, by learning from my mistakes.
As always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See You on the Flip Side.
Walking the streets of Vienna at night will make anyone want to participate in some romantic gesture. The romantic ambiance of the city is likely what influenced many of these classical masters of music. Imagine attending their symphonies with the elite and royalty of Vienna dressed in their finery. Most listening to Mozart and his otherworldly music that would move their souls and transport them to a higher level of consciousness.
Music has always held a special place in my heart, not that I am very good at playing any instrument. I played the piano when I was younger, and now might be able to plunk out the treble clef notes in a song…but beyond that I’m terrible. I use to sit with my Dad on the piano bench hating the 30 minutes of required practice time. There was one song that I would sit in the basement and fall asleep on the bench while playing it, just to say I practiced piano for the day.
My Dad has a masters in music and wanted so badly for me to love playing the piano. Alas, I just didn’t like playing the piano. His motivation would consist of trying to paint a magical story to the music so that when I would play a song I would be playing a song for the story. He would tell me a hilarious story of how he would play a short song on the piano when he got home late. He would play all but the last note of the song and go to bed. His father would get out of bed and play the very last note of the song angrily acknowledging that he was home.
His passion for music was infused into me with all the stories he had of being a band teacher, the above references, and many many more. It is with this history that I chose to explore the Music of Vienna and paint a picture for you of why music is so important for this city.
My Dad introduced me to Amadeus one year to show me the passion with which dedicated musicians play & commit to their craft. Amadeus is the story of Mozart and how he came to be the man that is so revered in the musical history books.
As a twelve-year-old girl, I would listen to his music and paint those pictures of fairies, ogres, and shipwrecks in my head. It was as if my father was inside each classical music song that I listened to. Music is a powerful thing, a sound that drifts from the instrument or radio into the ear and settles itself into your heart like dandelion seeds gently into your soul and taking root.
The Rise of Mozart in Vienna
For those who do not have a musical background, let me give you a little more information on why Mozart and why the music of Vienna are so intertwined.
Mozart lived in Vienna from 1784 to 1787, directly behind St Stephen’s Cathedral in a large apartment in Vienna. Here is where Mozart and Beethoven met for the first time. This apartment has now turned into a museum that is quite noteworthy.
Mozart was married in Vienna to Constanze in 1791 in St Stephen’s Cathedral, so be sure to stop by and see this impressive building of worship. Mozart not only lived but also died in December of 1791 in his apartment Rauhensteingasse. He was buried in Vienna in an anonymous grave. His grave is now marked with a monumental headstone with a crying angel, which is appropriate as he died at a young age of 35.
Single Girl….Romantic Dinner…Sigh
Now that we have a little history to give this night more meaning. Your musical night starts out with a dinner inside a fancy restaurant, that is bathed in a pink light.
Fresh pink Daisies and crisp white table clothes and artfully folded napkins adorned the tables.
The reddish pink light was not terrible, it made for a nice ambiance until the food started to arrive. It made is appear discolored and truly unappetizing, but as I had already paid for the meal with my package, I force fed the meal down.
There was a cold soup, a small salad, and a few other dishes that are really not memorable enough to even mention. On top of the less than palatable food, there were couples holding hands…..I felt like I was in a terrible Valentines Day movie…..sitting there…..alone….in Vienna. Needless to say, with the red lights, an ever-increasing temperature in the room, the smell of body odor, and terrible food I needed to get out. I finished quickly, paid the waiter and left the building.
I stood outside in the cool evening air to try and cool down from the incredible temperatures inside. My irritation dissipated slowly after exiting the reddish lit room from hell. I prayed that my stomach would keep the expensive contents down until after the show. Angst took over me, I had paid so much for this blasted ticket, and the night was not starting out very well. Why did I wear this confounded skirt and boots, I should have just attended the concert and had a meal elsewhere. If this was how the night started out, how terrible would the music be when I had built it up in my mind so much?
Again, money as my motivating factor, I waited until 5 minutes before the performance was to begin and reentered.
I showed the attendant my ticket and was deftly shown to my velvet-lined chair in the front of the audience, ready to experience the music of Vienna. The chairs are quite hard, so those with hip and back issues be warned. The temperature here was much cooler than in the restaurant counterpart….for which I was incredibly grateful.
After some time, the room filled to its maximum capacity and the excited audience members quieted down. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra entered the room and announced the program for the evening. The musicians were professionally dressed in black and bowties adorned the men’s ensemble. The first number took my breath away, it was a piece from Mozart’s Symphony no 5 in B flat Major and reminded me of the time with my father. After the start of my evening, this was a redeeming song for the money I had paid for my classic evening in Vienna.
I stared at those performing and thought to myself, ‘These people are not just musicians, they are artists’. Indeed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is considered to be one of the finest in the world. You could see it in the way that when those bows touched the strings, the artists were painting a picture for the audience, they were transported into another realm of transcendence.
Passion for Playing
The music ebbed and flowed beautifully and took each member of the audience down the path of musical delight. The musical magicians played in perfect synchrony as if despite there being 6 violinists, they sounded like one chorus of strings. Playing off each other’s emotions, moved to the music, and this close you could see the love they had for their art.
I paid particular attention to the first chair, who was also, in a way, the director of the group as there was no conductor present. He had blonde hair that on the more intensified moments of the songs would fall onto his forehead. On interludes, he would turn to his fellow artist and play a little jib for them to throw them off at just the right timing causing a cacophony of laughter in the crowd.
Artists of this caliber, an enormous amount of respect bursts from my heart and makes me want to hug them. The music of Vienna is not just played, but played with the same passion it was written in. I do not recall ever being transported by music like this through a song with the artist that was playing it. To me, this was the redeeming factor of the night.
The Music of Vienna
The night was not just filled with other-earthly artistry, but also with opera and ballerinas. We were graced by the song ‘Oh mi bambino Caro’. Puccini is another of the composers I am quite fond of. This song has always had a special place in my heart, as I remember when my Grandmother and I attended a Puccini Opera together and held each other’s hands while listening to this song. My Mother would also play this song for us throughout the house speaker system on Sundays before attending church and so has a slight sacredness to.
The opera singer stepped onto the stage, and the nightingale like voice filled the auditorium with the perfectly pitched song. She sang with all the reverence this particular song deserves and did not disgrace it with too much vibrato. The sweetness and softness that ebbed and flowed throughout the song brought tears to my eyes. Along with the artists creating the music, I could not have asked for a better way to end my evening in Vienna.
Rating the Experience:
If you would like to experience the Music of Vienna, book your ticket here. This post is in no way a collaboration nor do I get paid to say any of this. My personal recommendation if you are traveling alone or with your sweetheart, eat dinner elsewhere. Then make your way to the Kursalon Concert Hall and allow your soul to be enthralled in the Music of Vienna.
The show certainly brought back many memories that are near and dear to my heart. The concert in the Kursalon Concert Hall allowed me to experience music as it should be played. With passion, commitment, and heart. So if you find yourself in Austria, make sure to stop by and experience the Music of Vienna.
Location and Booking:
I personally booked my experience through a Trip Advisor Search, which Trip Advisor now uses Viator to book many of its tours. There is also an option of getting the tickets directly from the venue that is hosting it. I found a more affordable option for this particular ticket through Vienna Concerts. To read more about the concert and what to expect visit Viator. If you would like the same concert that I attended, see the Kursalon Vienna, a famed concert hall steeped in history. This was the venue in which the first concert held was by Johann Strauss.