Train Sations

Train stations in Europe range from grand and bustling to tiny and friendly.  The larger stations have an array of amenities including cafes, newsstands, tourist information, hotel booking, information desks, ATM machines, and shops.  Most train stations are located in the center of the city so there is easy access to taxi’s, subways, and buses.

Train station Cafes are convenient if you want to grab a quick bite before departing or if you want to buy something to take along with you for longer trips.  Bringing along your own food will be cheaper than purchasing something from the meal car.

At some train stations you have to pay to use the restroom, so it’s a good idea to have spare chane handy.  I don’t mind paying to use the restrooms because that means there is an attendant who keeps it clean and stocks toilet paper, trust me bathrooms with attendants are vastly cleaner than an average public restroom so don’t balk at the few extra centimes it will cost.  I also prefer them to the restrooms on the train.  While some of them are nice, I find it easier to go to the bathroom while not being jostled about as can happen on the train bathroom.  Not to get too gross but it doesn’t take too long for train car bathrooms to get a little ookey.

Another useful amenity at train stations is the Left Luggage.  Left Luggage is where you can either rent a locker for the day to stow away your bags or you check them in and are given a claim number to retrieve them.  This is a great option when you are just stopping into a town for the day.

Train Schedule Board

Train stations in Europe can be chaotic, loud, and exciting places.  They can seem overwhelming at first with rushing people everywhere and announcements that you can’t understand on the loudspeaker.  The schedule at the train station is the most important thing you’ll be looking for at the train station.

The schedule will be centrally located and will usually have many people around it checking for their train information.  It will either be a computerized board or the black old fashioned flip style board (my favorite, I love the sound the letters and numbers make as their flipping).  The trains in Europe are very efficient and pretty much always on time, so don’t count on any delays and give yourself some time to get to the train station so that you are not running around trying to find which track your train departs from.

The train station schedule board will show the time and destination city.  The schedule will display an R for the trains that require a reservation.  The board shows the track listing of where the train will depart from.  Sometimes these won’t be posted until a few minutes before boarding (this is why you pack light!) so you might have to sprint, but generally they are posted to give you enough time to get to the track.

In some stations there are posters showing the train schedule with the track numbers.  It is still best to double check with the schedule board.  Before you board the train also check with the conductor to make sure you are getting on the right train, this has saved my bacon more than once.

Train Track Information

Once you get to the correct track there is usually information regarding the train in a glass enclosed case.  If there is information available it will be a train schedule and perhaps a diagram of the layout of the train cars.  The diagram will show the number of the cars and where the first and second class cars are.  If you have a reservation look for the car number on your ticket and match it up approximately to where the car will be when the train pulls up.  For instance if on the diagram your car is in the middle wait around the middle of the platform.  The car numbers are labeled on the train.  Newer high speed trains display the numbers electronically; older trains will usually just have a piece of paper in the window.  If you don’t have a reservation just make sure to wait at the end that corresponds with first or second class.  It’s a bummer to realize you sat down in a second class seat when your pass is good for a first class seat and vice versa.

Unless you are at the beginning of the route the station stops are not that long so you will need to board quickly.  If you did not get on the right car that just means you have to walk through the train until you find your correct car and seat assignment.  Walking through the train is not a big deal it just involves figuring out how to open the door for each car (I know this sounds stupid but on more than one occasion I have not been able to figure out how to open the door and after I’ve amused the locals enough one is kind enough to help me) and trying not to wallop people in the head with your backpack, no wonder backpackers get a bad rap.  Needless to say if you are traveling light this is a much less cumbersome endeavor.