Train Uncertainy

It's day eighteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is U for the Uncertainty we felt on the train as we headed back to Paris. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet! :)



By day fifteen of our vacation, it was time to start the long journey home. Luckily, we did that journey in spurts rather than going straight back which made it a lot more fun and less daunting. Instead of returning sad that the trip was over and exhausted from all that we had done, I returned home feeling invigorated and ready to go again! (Because when am I not?!)

Just prior to leaving Germany, I decided to take advantage of our friend's internet connection and order tickets to the Moulin Rouge. And then, inevitably, we needed to borrow their printer and steal a sheet of paper from them as well. *le sigh* If you give a mouse a cookie… ;)

Finally, after breakfast, they were able to be rid of us. One stayed at home cleaning up from the disaster we had left them (Sorry!) while the other drove us to the train station and performed one last nicety (by not making me carry my, at that point, 40 pound luggage).

We boarded the train and said goodbyes at which point, I'm sure, the friend that had dropped us off went to 1) wash his car and 2) celebrate! (I know this, because it's what I would have done. :-P)

And just as sadness began to wash over us (saying good bye is always hard), the train started up and we were on our way.

Now, at this point, let's back up a bit.

Before Justin and I had left the states we had not bought train tickets to return from our friend's home to Paris. I had been emailing said friend back and forth planning the trip and while we had gotten most of the details worked out, this was one I never received a response to. Because we were relying on these particular friends to get us to the train station, I didn't feel comfortable just booking a random ticket. And then which station would they be taking us to? They were meeting us in Stuttgart when we arrived, would they be taking us there at the end of our travels? Without answers to these questions, I knew we would be arriving to their home without return tickets. We would have to ask in person what the plan was.

If you have travelled in Europe (or live there), you know train tickets go up in price the closer you get to your date of travel. I should have known this, I remember reading about this prior to making travel plans, and yet I still didn't fully comprehend it … until we were there actually making plans to return from Germany to Paris…

And so before we went to Prague, our friends sat us down (thankfully) and said "when are you going back to Paris?" At that point I think the correct answer would have been "never". ;) So they helped us look up train tickets mentioning how some tickets were for pauses (like a minute or less to board) and some were for actual stops (providing a few minutes to board and get settled). Our friends made sure we had the correct tickets and set us up for our return to Paris using a German site and printing our tickets in German.

This wouldn't have been a problem, and it still really wasn't, but I can't read train tickets. I've ridden a train once in the US and there were no assigned seats. And all of the train tickets I purchased for Europe were in English … and, as with the US, I had only had to deal with train tickets, myself, once in Europe. So when we were handed our "German" tickets I had to get some confirmation on what everything meant. Easy enough, I suppose, when you have a German translator standing right there next to you.

We didn't actually run into any problems with the translation, but we did run into other problems…

For one, our friend had said, as we were boarding, that our stop would be the very last one.

What did my husband hear?

I'm not entirely sure…

One stop before Stuttgart and Justin has us disboarding. I'm following his lead, because he's my husband. Surely he knows what he's doing!

I get off the train, look around, and say "This doesn't look like Stuttgart?"

And my husband responded…


(or something like that)

and we quickly attempted reboarding. Except for my husband grabbing the 40 pound bag and leaving me with the 70 pound bag?

Do I look like I work out in the gym?

Knowing that there was no way in heck I'd be able to drag that thing onboard (OK, I might could have but it would have been a slow and painful process), I just got on the train expecting him to jump back off and grab the heavier bag. Shock and surprise though when an Italian man, who had made the same mistake as us, reached down, grabbed the bag and, after heaving the bag aboard exclaimed, half out of breath "Das ist schwer!" (That is difficult! or, in this particular case, heavy!)

And his girlfriend snuggled up to her big, strong man. (Because duh. Who wouldn't? lol.)

And my husband exclaimed "Vielen dank!" (Many thanks!)

Because that's what you do when you are short on time, your wife leaves the suitcase on the platform, and the train is about to pull away. :)

We weren't having much luck with the whole train thing!

In Stuttgart we spent an hour in the train station. I went into gift shops and looked at books and gift cards while my husband guarded the luggage. Then we grabbed a disgusting croissant from a local French café to munch on while we waited.

Finally, our train arrived. We went to find the correct train car only to discover the door was locked!

The way the trains are set up in Europe, you can enter a car from another car, but it's a long and complicated process. So we went to the car right before ours and immediately climbed the steps straight up walked our luggage through the car, and then we were suppose to take our luggage down the steps and then back up a few so that they would be positioned near us on the bottom level of the train car.

If you've been following my blog closely, you've discovered that:

me + heavy luggage + lots of steps = :(

So I had the bright idea of leaving the luggage on the top floor of the train despite our seats being on the bottom. Carrying luggage up one flight of steps was more than enough for me! … Justin agreed.

So right before we arrived in Paris, we climbed the steps, grabbed our luggage, and went to stand at the bottom of the steps for our arrival into Paris so that we could get ourselves and our luggage out of the way and onto the train platform as quickly as possible

And it worked!

But I still think it seems like a good idea to blame our friends for picking a car with a train door that didn't work, especially since they knew how much I hated carrying my luggage. ;)

A few Notes to Make Your Rail Experience Better:
• Top floor provides more scenic views than the bottom floor. Tourists are typically on the bottom floor because they don't know any better. :) (Or they booked late.)
• You can only book train reservations 3 months in advance. The earlier you book the cheaper your trip will most likely be.
• If you aren't familiar with rail travel, I recommend checking out Rome2Rio. Not only does it suggest where to get your rail tickets, but it also gives you alternative transportation information (like how much and how long it would take to drive, if that's what you wanted to do). Supposedly Google Flights now also offers information on rail travel and shows you which websites provide the cheapest tickets.
• If you go through enough train cars, you will most likely find a dining car. Of course this depends on where you are traveling and how long the train ride actually is.
• There is a difference between train stops and train pauses. Know where you are getting on and how fast you will need to board.
• Like in the states, the board in the train station doesn't update until a few minutes before arrival, so arrive early and watch the board to know where your train will depart from.
• Some trains (like the ones going between major cities) have seating assignments, some don't. Know how to read your ticket and find the correct seat/rail car.
• If you are traveling between countries, make sure to have your passport, tickets, and card payment source ready for inspection. Of course, even if you aren't going between countries, they may check your tickets, ID, and payment source.
• Officers often speak a bit of English, and even if they don't, you'll see what's going on as they walk through the rail cars. Just be ready to give them what they need.
• There are places for large suitcases in the front and back of the train cars and, for smaller bags and coats, you can put them over your seat.
• Bathrooms are available for use on the train cars. If you need to go, go! While train stations also have restrooms, they typically cost one euro or less. Take advantage of the free bathrooms while you can! :)
• First class rail tickets provide a free drink for your ride as well as, if you sit on the bottom floor, a ramp to carry your luggage on instead of steps.

Have you ever traveled by rail anywhere? Is this an experience you like and enjoy or do you prefer to travel another way? If you haven't traveled by rail, would you consider it in the future? Or am I making it sound intimidating? ;) Feel free to ask me any questions! Even if I don't know the answer, I'm sure I could find a way of getting you one!

* Images are mostly random shots from the train ride between Germany and France.
•• My tips are based entirely on my experience riding DB. I do not live in Europe, and I've found there is always something more to learn. If I got anything wrong in this post, feel free to let me know so that I can correct. Ideally I would like this post to help those who are planning or anticipating future rail travel in Europe, and it won't help if I've gotten anything wrong. :-/ <3



  1. While staying in Italy for five weeks, a friend and I took a train to a small village to attend church. Later, as we waited in the station for the return train (which ran less frequently on Sundays) an old man sat next to me, then reached over and groped my crotch. I screamed, grabbed my friend, and we hurried out to the platform to continue our wait, neglecting to validate our return tickets, which resulted in a hefty fine. Thanks a lot, old geezer!

    1. This makes me sad. :( But I guess there are all types of people riding the trains in Europe. I'm sorry you had to go through that experience and then pay a large fine on top of that, but hopefully it hasn't kept you from returning to Italy in the time since? :)

    2. I can laugh about it now. That experience didn't stop me from enjoying many other train rides while in the country. The good experiences far outweighed the bad. I hope to return to Italy sometime.


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