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Seven Reasons European Trains Are Not Good For Cruise Guests
Saturday, August 20, 2016  
Ahh, the romance of train travel. We recently had an experience that made us swear off train travel in Europe, at least when trying to get from one cruise to another. Here's the story: We disembarked a river cruise in Nuremberg and needed to get to Basel, Switzerland, for the next cruise (two days later). Rather than deal with the expense and lousy schedules of the airlines, our travel agent recommended that we take the train from Nuremberg to Basel. We received our Rail Europe E-Ticket via email with a confirmation number. The instructions said that we could go to any self-serve kiosk at the train terminal, enter the confirmation code and receive our actual tickets.

Problem One: The E-Ticket

We arrived at the Nuremberg train terminal about an hour before our train was scheduled to depart. With confirmation number in hand, I confidently approached the kiosk and punched every button on the screen I could find, but never saw anything referring to an e-ticket. The kiosk was basically trying to sell me a ticket, but I could not find anywhere to enter a confirmation code from an e-ticket.

The self-serve kiosks in Nuremberg HBF

I decided to stand in line at the Information Desk to ask one of the people there what to do. Unfortunately, the info guy did not speak English. When I showed him my e-ticket, he looked confused, then just pointed to a kiosk. So, I went to a different kiosk. Again, I punched every button I could find and no luck. There was even another American standing in line who tried to help and he and I together could not figure it out.

I finally decided to wait in line at the actual ticket counter where "real live" people could help. I found a ticket agent who did speak a little English and I handed her my e-ticket confirmation and asked if she could print out the ticket. She entered the confirmation number into her computer screen, and, you guessed it, nothing came up. She said they did not show a reservation in the system with that confirmation number. She tried three times, and even tried using the booking code from the email, to no avail. So, what to do? I had no choice, I had to whip out my Amex card and purchase two tickets (311€, or about $387 US). Thankfully, they had space on the trains for us to buy two tickets at the last minute.

The train schedule board in Nuremberg

Problem Two: Getting the luggage to the train

When traveling on a cruise, Americans tend to have at least two large pieces of luggage, especially when you are traveling for two weeks. Unlike airline travel, there is no "checked" luggage on a train. You are on your own. Here's a little tip for you: trains are not designed for people with luggage. The first task was to get the luggage up the stairs to the train platform. NOT an easy task. I had to take one large duffel bag up the stairs and leave it, then go back downstairs to get the second large duffel. Rickee somehow struggled to get both of our roll-aboard bags up the stairs. And, this problem would re-appear later.

Problem Three: Finding the right train car

Once we had our luggage on the proper platform and we are standing next to the train, we had no idea how to identify our train car. I knew we were in car 12, seats 34 & 36. The only number I saw immediately was a large "1" on the side of every car. Nice.

The large "1" on the side of each train car MEANS NOTHING!

After walking the length of the train, I finally found the small, digital sign that shows the train car and the train destination. Of course, if you are familiar with train travel, you would know this, but we did not.

Digital sign displays on the train car

Problem Four: You are on your own

Finding the right train car would not have been an issue if there had been someone who worked for the train company on the platform  to ask. But there is nobody in sight. No information counter beyond the terminal, nothing. So, you need to be knowledgeable about how the trains work.

Problem Five: Where to put the luggage on the train

There are no luggage bins on the train. You basically have to just find a place to set your bags and hope it is okay. On our "first" train, we had a small compartment with six seats, and fortunately, we were the only occupants in that compartment. So, we were able to just stand up our two large duffel bags in the compartment with us. If other people had come into the cabin on any of our many stops, I have no idea where we would have put the bags.

Luggage on the train to Karlsruhe

Problem Five: The "connection"

Now this will really make you smile. As if the whole train travel experience were not challenging enough, we have to get off one train in Karlsruhe, Germany, and board a second train to Basel, Switzerland. And just to make life a bit more interesting, we have exactly seven minutes to complete this task. Now, that is seven minutes assuming that the train we are on arrives "on time", which of course, is does not. It was five minutes late arriving in Karlsruhe. Five glorious minutes that could have changed my life. We now have TWO minutes to jackass these two duffel bags, each of which weigh about 40 pounds, plus two carry-on roll-aboard bags, off the first train, down two flights of stairs (about 35 steps), run to the #2 platform (we are on #8), jackass all the bags UP the two flights of stairs (because the beautiful German people have decided that escalators are perhaps not energy efficient enough). We somehow got it done, although I may have suffered permanent heart and lung damage. If I had it to do over, I would have opted to ask the German officials for asylum, taken up residence in Karslruhe and learned to speak German. It would have been much easier and much more satisfying. We boarded the train to Basel with about 30 seconds to spare before the doors closed and the train sped off.

Problem Six: Language

Nobody in Germany speaks English, let's just get that out of the way right up front. At least nobody working for the train systems. So, if you have a question, you are screwed unless you speak German. None of the signs are in English either. We only found one conductor out of four that spoke any broken English.

Problem Seven: Your seat may not be your seat

When you are issued a ticket, you have an assigned seat number. But apparently, on the trains (unlike an airline), that is only a 'suggestion'. When we boarded the first train in Nuremberg, a lady was sitting in one of our seats. Not being familiar with the system, we made her move. As it turns out, you can apparently sit wherever you damn well please, as long as there are seats available. This was very upsetting to Rickee, a retired sky-Nazi (flight attendant) who is used to strict rules and regulations and following everything to the letter.

The bottom line is this: if you are traveling with only a backpack, speak seven languages fluently and can run a marathon, this is a great way to travel and see the countryside. For the rest of you/us, rent a car, take an airplane, hitchhike, or just walk. Better yet, stay home and have a nice backyard BBQ. But whatever you do, do not take a train if you are on a cruise vacation with large luggage.

Have you had any similar experiences with train travel in Europe? If so, I want to hear about them below.

Originally posted on: 11/30/2014
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@Anonymous - Good point. Their English teachers must be about as good as the ones in the US.
Sunday, March 1, 2015 7:32 AM  
@Anonymous - Good point. Their English teachers must be about as good as the ones in the US.
Sunday, March 1, 2015 7:32 AM  
I thought that German schools taught English to students in their schools begining in the second grade.
Saturday, February 28, 2015 8:03 PM  
The train was part of the planned trip
Saturday, February 28, 2015 5:55 PM  
@CruiseEnthusiast - A private transfer from Nuremberg to Basel?
Saturday, December 20, 2014 5:54 PM  
@CruiseEnthusiast - A private transfer from Nuremberg to Basel?
Saturday, December 20, 2014 5:54 PM  
I am surprised at both of you savvy travelers, who have traveled all over the world . I t is a no brainer to get a private transfer . From your blogs, you usually do. I do all the time, even if it means traveling from one country to another. With no disrespect, You should splurge on the most logical and efficient means between your cruises. It is not as though you are paying anything for any of these cruises. The general public who read your blogs , most of them consumers like ,your travel advice. This time, NOT SO MUCH!
Tuesday, December 9, 2014 7:53 PM  
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