Interrail Trip Report – Brading to Bulgaria

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Birdbrain

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Hello,
I have been deliberating for quite a while as to whether to write this trip report and have decided to write it now having some time off in the Easter break. Hopefully some of you will enjoy reading it and hopefully it will help you with some of your own trip planning to Europe. My girlfriend and I took this trip between 29th July and 30th August 2015 using Interrail passes. We thought of the idea of travelling around Europe after Christmas and started planning, booking Hostels and seat reservations immediately. We planned our itinerary to include countries we had not previously visited, avoiding Germany , France and Denmark and using the whole months validity of the ticket to travel as far away as possible with a flight back. We got out small amounts of each currency we needed from our local post office but mainly used a Caxton FX card to pay on the go. I would defiantly recommend this if planning a long trip away as there are no transaction fees. If you have any other questions about the planning and logistics of the trip then I’d be happy to answer them on this thread. I will write this report mainly from a rail enthusiasts point of view but also mention some touristic parts that might be of interest. We took the trip not only for the rail but also to visit these new places so we didn’t work the tickets as hard as if you were doing a month of pure rail bashing! I think that’s all the background we need so let’s get straight to day 1!

Day 1 – Brading-Harwich
We had booked to sail on the overnight Harwich-Hoek Van Holland ferry as part of the rail sail deal and started our interrail passes from Amsterdam a few days later for maximum use. We awoke in the morning very excited for our adventure and spent the morning packing our bags and making sure we had all of the money, cards, and travel essentials for a trip like this. We took a 60L backpack each and a small backpack to use in the daytimes. We had padlocks for each as we were staying in some Hostels enroute. We made our way down to our local station, Brading on the Isle of Wight for our first rail move of the holiday, the short ten minute ride to the Isle of Wight ferry aboard the 1938 Ex London Transport stock. At Ryde Pier Head we made the quick transfer onto the Wight Ryder Catamaran and were soon making our way across the Solent to Portsmouth Harbour. At this point it had still not fully set in that we were embarking on such a huge trip not to return to our Island home for over a month. On arrival at Portsmouth we made the 4 minute connection to the Southern service to London Victoria. We often choose this route to London because of the bargain fares when compared with SWT to Waterloo. I had in fact brought outbound day travel cards as this was the cheapest way to include the tube. A rather uneventful two hours passed although I do like the scenery through the Arun Valley, and soon we had passes Clapham and were on the approaches to London Victoria. Limited luggage space on the 377 units meant I had stuffed our rucksacks inbetween seats so we waited for the crowds to die down before disembarking. We had only taken a little bit of English cash with us as we would soon leave the country so we headed across to Liverpool street via the Circle line and spent some time sat outside McDonalds with a Big Tasty- Lovely. In our quest for Loco Haulage, I decided to take a Norwich bound service from Liverpool Street as far as Maningtree for a change onto the unit for the Harwich Branch. 90007 was in charge for this leg and we found some unreserved seats near the front. Changing at Maningtree we headed along the Harwich branch, the first bit of new track on the holiday for me. I had been to Harwich before when using the now departed DFDS route to Esjburg but this was by coach. Soon the Stenna Holandica came into view as we alighted at the old Parkestone Quay terminus. The whole passenger terminal looked to be a shadow of its former self with the café closed and only one desk open for passengers. The route onto the ferry was fairly speedy although the works with the linkspan meant that we used the bus to transfer onto the ship. We checked into our outside 2 berth cabin (we had previously travelled on DFDS in a 6 berth inside so made a wiser choice this time!) and explored the ship. I must say how impressive it was. Large public open spaces, café, shops, cinema, bar. I think it is the largest passenger ferry afloat? After a cup of tea we headed back to our cabin for a good night’s sleep as we weren’t sure about the sleep quality we would get in the hostels for the next few nights. After a while I was woken up by the vibrating of the ladder in the cabin meaning we had left port, a few hours late because of the crisis being played out in Calais. Day 2 to follow in the next post shortly.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 2 Hoek-Amsterdam
We were rudely awoken at 6.50am Dutch time with Stenna’s get up and buy something message on the tannoy with more advertising at 15 minute intervals before we were told to leave our Cabin at around 8am. Despite leaving Harwich late we had arrived on time at Hoek. We didn’t shell out for Stenna’s breakfast and instead had brought cereal bars from home. After a short wait we were able to walk out down the very very lengthy linkspan at Hoek and after a quick passport check were on the platforms at Hoek Van Holland Haven. A few observations here, again it looked like in the past there would have been a huge operation here but now only a unit every half an hour and it is soon to be part of the Rotterdam Metro I believe. Also I was surprised how little of the ferry passengers used the rail connection. We vailidated our OV chipkarts at the machine and boarded the unit. Also at this point I will say I am no expert at foreign traction so appologies for any wrong info here. All I can say it was an older style unit, picture attached.

Suddenly the guard came through the train shouting something. We had no idea as we both can only speak English! Thankfully a commuter sat opposite us told that someone had stolen cables and there would be a bus! Looks like I’ll have to come back to tick off the whole branch line. We alighted at Vlaardingen Centrum where buses were waiting to take us the short distance to Schiedam Centrum. From here we took a Double Deck unit and sat on the top to Amsterdam Centrum, the route took us through some lovely typical dutch scenery and went via Den Hagg so took slightly longer than other routes. We arrived in Amsterdam just after 10am and quickly found our Hostel called Shelter City Amsterdam. It is a Christian hostel located in the heart of the red light district! As it was a Christian hostel there was no mixed boarding so we checked into our 18 bed rooms, padlocked our rucksacks and went off to explore. Link to the hostel: http://www.shelterhostelamsterdam.com/
We spent the rest of this day doing some touristic things like you would expect. By foot we visited, Dam Square, the flower market, museums square, Vondel Park, Anne Frank House and of course the Amsterdam Cheese museum- highly recommended as you are given a toothpick on entry and are encouraged to try different cheeses. At lunchtime we found a hidden gem is at the top of the library, located near the station is a great café with fresh produce with views over the whole city. After a nice dinner we were back in the Hostel café. Sleep was fairly good in the circumstances, everyone seemed to leave the room by 11pm and I was fast asleep by the time they had all returned. No English speaking people in my room which was difficult but everyone was friendly enough.


Day 3- Amsterdam
No travelling today, it was just another day to explore the city. Breakfast was provided by the hostel which was pancakes today but changes on a daily basis. We visited a huge market in the south of the city with some good food stalls where we tried some nice breads and cheeses. We walked back into the city center along the river amster to the jewish quarter which contains plaques to remember those who were taken from their homes in the war. After visiting another flea market we saw a courtyard for nuns and a church tucked away in the center of such a busy city. Time for another top tip, If you are in Amsterdam you can get onto the water for free! We walked behind central station and found the free ferry which takes you across to Amsterdam North. Once here we had a look at the ‘eye’ building and enjoyed a walk along the river. After returning via the ferry we decided to have a quick tram bash. Tram tickets here are expensive although the network did look good so we decided to buy an hour pass and fit in as much as we could. We got a few moves in and luckily managed to get back to where we started within an hour. We headed out towards the zoo and back around the periemeter to central station. Returning to the hostel we had enjoyed our time in Amsterdam and were eagley awaiting the next day being the first day of validity of our Interrail passes.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 4- Amsetrdam to Brussels.
Hostel breakfast had changed today to fried egg with cheese and ham-bonus! We packed our bags, checked out and walked across to the station for our first move. We had planned to take the NS service direct to Brussels Centeral however there was engineering works which worked out quite well because it meant we were able to take the Intercity Direct to Breda without having to pay a supplement or reservation fee! The train arrived and was loco hauled by some kind of electric loco and again was very very lightly loaded. We left Amseterdam Central on time with no other passengers in our carriage. The seats were very comfortable and we sat across a table to fill on our interrail pass. At the airport stop the train did fill up and we sped out of the city across vast flat fields towards Rotterdam. After Rotterdam we arrived at Breda which doesn’t look like a huge place but it does seem to get a good rail service, where we did a quick cross platform change to the loco halued Brussels service. The scenery stayed much the same on this train until Antwerp where things became more industrialised. We arrived at the underground central station and took the metro 3 stops to Compe De Flandre where we walked to our hostel. Meininger Brussels Central was the name and it wasn’t that central at all really being located by the canal at the south of the city. The hostel itself looked like it was fairly new or recently refurbished as it was in an old warehouse.

We dropped our bags off and spent the rest of the day exploring the city in the summer heat. We spent some time walking the city centre streets stopping off for chocolate and visiting the Grand Place square which is pretty impressive. We followed a marching band to the Manekin Pis which is a small statue of a boy having a WC and which is a symbol throughout much of the city. We visited the huge cathedral but were soon ushered out when the service was about to start. We ran the gauntlet in the famous Rue des Bouchers where restaurant owners try and tempt you in to buy their overpriced mediocre food. We headed back to the manikin Pis where opposite is a waffle shop which is highly recommended , lovely food at a reasonable price. We went back to the hostel to find that although we had booked at 10 bed dorm we were given a 4 bed dornmwhich was a bonus and spent some time talking to our roommates, one boy from the USA who was visiting friends in the city and a boy from Australia who was visiting as part of an Art project he was doing. They weren’t the party going crowd we had shared with in Amsterdam so it was lights out by 10!


Day 5 – Brugge and Brussels
Despite being so close to the UK, neither of us had visited Belgium before so having seen the main sights of the capital the day before, we decided to make use of our interrail passes and head out to Bruuge for the day where the old streets are a UNESCO world heritage site. We had our trusty UK cereal bars for breakfast and walked back to Brusells central station in the morning heat, it was 28 degrees already. We headed down to the platforms and boarded some double deck stock loco halued of course headed to Zebrugge. We passed the depots around midi station and it took around an hour or so to reach Brugge. Whilst here we visited the Grote Market, the pretty canals and waterways before sampling some of that Belgian chocolate once more. It was market day here too and headed back to the station walking through looking at the vast array of stock, no wonder the antique dealers from UK have a field day here. Our chariot back was an EMU 5 cars with a very strange looking front end, experts will know more here. Very nice to travel on with seats lining up with the windows! Upon arrival at Brussels, we had a walk around Sablon, the Royal Palace and Park where there was some kind of live music going on. Being a Sunday, everything was closed and our budget said no eating out today so we headed to Mcdonalds for a GreekMac! Upon arrival at the Hostel we met our new roomates named Travis and Callie who were a couple from Austin, Texas. We chatted with them for a while as they had just come from London on a Eurolines coach and were heading to some similar destinations as us.

Day 6 and onwards will follow possibly today or if not there will be updates throughout these easter holidays whilst I am away from work, there is so much to write up! Next we have Luxembourg then Switzerland, Milan, Venice, Vienna, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungry, Serbia and Bulgaria!
 

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Techniquest

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I've very much enjoyed the read so far! Looks like a good time has been had, and there's still tons to go. I've found the trip report most helpful so far, knowing what the cabins look like on the ferry from Harwich has put my mind to rest, and has persauded me to try that route out when I next find the time and money to get to the mainland!

I know it's a bit late now, but I would strongly recommend (to anyone else reading as well) investing in Platform 5's Benelux book. It was £20.95 when I last got one a few years ago, so probably gone up somewhat since, but it has proved very good for me. Not just the lists of numbers, you get information on where they run, as well as photos. It all comes in handy for your first to these countries!

Quite, I'm using it now to fill you in on some of your foreign moves so far:

NS' 2911 you were getting out of Hoek van Holland is a Plan Y3 3-car Sprinter, dating from the mid 1980s so correct on it being old! At least it wasn't a Mat 64 EMU, those things look nasty! I think they're more or less gone now though.

There's a Class 186 loco you have a photo there somewhere, they sound hellfire from what I remember of them in 2013

SNCB obviously didn't think much of you two, putting one of *those* things! 988 is an AM74 2-car EMU. 971-999 were refurbished for CityRail work, the older ones are less nice. Still, they make a decent noise on a good run!
 

fishquinn

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What an excellent read! I would love to get over to the mainland, that's for sure! I'm really looking forward to the rest!
 

Birdbrain

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Thank you guys, glad you are enjoying the read. Tech-It would have been a good idea to invest in one of those books before we went. There really was some interesting traction as we got further east. The 186 was on the Breda-Brussels move

Onwards with Day 6 - Brussels to Luxembourg

So Day 6 and it’s my Birthday! Time to move on from Belgium and head into Luxembourg. Travis and Callie had been out last night so we got ready and packed our bags silently as not to wake them. We checked out and walked across Brussels and though the Grand Place to get to central station via Lidl of course to get essential snacks for the journey. We boarded the 10:33 to Luxembourg via Namur. I know some Loco halued services still operate on this route with Double Deck stock and two Euro City trains at the time we travelled but our train was a five car EMU and leaving central it was wedged! As I boarded I noticed a a4 sheet stuck on the window at a free bay of four seats. I guessed it might be some kind of reservation so we sat on the bay of four opposite, perfect I thought to bag a seat on such a busy train. We arrived at Brussels North to see plat form staff waving their hands at us and others in the carriage and the guard shouting something in French. What it seemed had happened was that the scouts had reserved the whole coach. We were all made to move down the train but the problem was there is some kind of bike section which means we could only get one coach further down. It was a complete wedge out stood in the vestibule. After a couple of stops we decided enough was enough and alighted the train and made a run for it to the rear coach along the platform where we reboarded and easily got a seat.

Once the train had passed Namur, which looks like an interesting place to visit had we had been able to stop and have a look, the scenery was really pretty passing through forests and small wayside stations. We left arlon and crossed the border into Luxembourg. I didn’t really know what to expect but what a lovely place it is. We arrived at it was 32 degrees of pure sunshine. We found the bus that would take us to the YHA hostel and after the driver took on board the fact we were trying to say hostel and not hospital we were on our way. We arrived and checked into our room which had a perfect view of the Viaduct of the line towards Leige- perfect! Again we had booked a six bed room and were given a 4! We spent the afternoon being tourists and walked along the historic casemates, corniche which they call the balcony of Europe and stopped for an Ice tea in the city center which was very clean and quiet. As it was my birthday we treated ourselves to a three course dinner steak dinner before spending some times enjoying the viaduct views. Our room mates tonight were an older French couple. Will do a separate post for the next day in order to upload more pictures.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 7- Around Luxembourg
So a week away from home and we were loving our first experiences of travelling around Europe. We woke up and ate the provided YHA breakfast of breads, cold meats and cheeses. Today was the first time it had rained in the trip so far and it really was pouring down so we headed to the supermarket (very hidden and tucked away-at first we didn’t think Luxembourg had one!) to buy some food for the day ahead. Time for another top tip now- In Luxembourg, you can buy a rover ticket which is valid on any bus or train in the whole country for just 4 euros! You can buy it on the bus or at the station. As the weather was so bad we decided to get one each and go and explore some more of the country outside the main Luxembourg city, We had our passes but the bus aspect was interesting too so brought the pass. We took a bus to the station and decided our first move would be a Double Deck hauled CFL service to a town called Ettelbruck on the line towards Leige. The local services are very efficiant and with a good frequency which made this day out so easy. The view from the train as we crossed the viaduct leaving Luxembourg city was quite something and we arrived in about 20 minutes at Ettelbruck. It was a quiet small town with not much going on apart from a lovely bakery which was sampled before heading back to the station. From here we took a double deck EMU the short distance to the end of the branchline at Diekerch, a town famous for its alcohol production! On the way back we travelled on an older style EMU seen pictured with this post back to Luxembourg city . We changed here onto another Double Deck hauled push pull service as far as Battembourg where we made a leap onto another service to Esch-Sur-Alzette, a town right on the French border home to Luxembourg university. We took some time to have a look at the town centre before returning to Luxembourg city.

By now the constant rain had stopped so we took a walk into the lower town called the Grund through the Neimuster Abbey to an area called Clausen. We brought a picnic and took the bus across the bridge to Kirchburg, the modern part of Luxembourg and sat on the old Fort Thungen overlooking the city (the railway!) and the sunset. We enjoyed some live music before heading off to bed before our journey to Switzerland the next day!
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 8 Luxembourg to Zurich
Sadly time to leave Luxembourg this morning which was a shame because we were so impressed with the country. We took a leisurely breakfast as our train was not until 11, packed our bags and headed up to the bus stop for the bus that would take us back to the station. We arrived and brought some snacked and soon our EuroCity train ‘Vabuen’ arrived. What a shame it is that this service has since been discontinued. You did not have to reserve a seat, but the coaches were old and very comftable for a long journey. The train was the Brussels to Basel Euro City train and some coaches were detached here meaning we took about a load six forward to Basel via Strasbourg and Mullhouse Ville. The journey did seem fairly long but was helped by the changing scenery as we passed through france. The air conditioning didn’t seem to be 100% working however so it was a good job we had brought plenty of water!

Just before we arrived at Basel some officers walked through the train asking about cases and checking passports. I’m not sure if they were completely legit as they were not in uniform and didn’t seem to have any ID. They were quite heavy handed with the couple sat opposite to us but seemed to ignore us completely. Having said that there were no border checks as we arrived in Basel which I was expecting. We left the train and walked across the impressive concourse to find our train for Zurich. It was some kind of regional express train, Loco hauled of course with single deck coaches. As soon as you head into Switzerland there is a totally different feel to that when you were travelling across france. We headed through Aarau before arriving at the huge Zurich HB just after 4. What an amazing station this is, plenty of plaforms with locos in action, shunt release, its really interesting! We headed across the limquatt and checked into the City Backpacker hostel which was located on the 5th floor right in the centre of town! The rooms were tiny but considering it was Switzerland it was cheap and we couldn’t complain. We knew we wouldn’t be able to eat out really here so headed to the supermarket to buy breakfast supplies and dinners. Even in the co-op it was very expensive but we did our best to stay in budget! We had an evening walk around the center of the city, excited to explore it properly tomorrow. The Banhofstrasse was impressive which leads you down to Lake Zurich, clear blue in colour. Lots of trams and trolleybuses were noted to sample tomorrow as we headed back.
 

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fishquinn

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Some of the trains over there do look weird! I'm looking forward to some more!
 

Techniquest

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Wow you did do well in Luxembourg! The EuroCity train sounds brilliant, I wish I had got to sample it before it was axed.

Those coaches look similar to those used on the Liege to Luxembourg line, which in itself is a stunning journey and beyond recommended to do. I'm glad I had it recommended to me at the time, it sure has a TSoA (Tech's Seal of Approval) all over it!

Your push-pull double deck trains in Luxembourg will have been CFL Class 4000 locos (they're in a red and silver livery, as of my trip in 2013) with the odd CFL Class 3000 also on them (you have a photo of one in your trip report, number 3003). The 3000s especially are rather hellfire, I think I liked the 4000s as well but have less memories of them.

The 'older EMU' is a Class 2000 EMU, the one you have a photo of, number 2021. I'm posting this from downstairs without my book, so I can't gen you up on dates of service entry etc at the moment. They're decent enough units, comfortable for sure but when I did one on that branch that ends just inside France, I had a very quiet one (2001 I think), but on a fast run up the mainlines it probably would have been better. One sure made it all the way to the top of Luxembourg Country when I did the run from Liege, which felt unusual at the time.

Did you try the double deck EMUs there? Class 2200s, very nice I found them. I got caught out by badly set up PIS on one though on my InterRail, which taught me to plan moves better next time! That was a long fester, but at least I got to try Leffe Brun...<D SNCF have the same sort of EMUs on local runs from Luxembourg into France (I forget where to).

That Class 126 loco you have a photo of, I'm assuming that's in Zurich or Basel? I also assume that it was the one which took you from Luxembourg, as I doubt the SNCB Class 13 (hellfire locos, before you ask, although not as good as SNCB Class 21s...) which would have worked from Brussels would have gone any further. If so it was that's most likely a SNCF loco, which I can't help you on as I have no knowledge of their lot.

That local ticket for 4 Euro is a bargain, I must remember it for doing that one branch I still need in Luxembourg. I went to do it (not got the name to hand) and found it was only in operation at peak times! I think it's fair to say I want to go back, I loved my time there.

Really enjoying the read so far, although you're now in territory I'm unfamiliar with. Never been to Switzerland, so I await the next instalment keenly!
 

Birdbrain

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The next installment will follow tomorrow with a day around Zurich and a day in Bern. The 126 photo was in Basel and that loco came on in Luxembourg as there is a reversal there.The class 2000 was quite hellfire along the mainline stretch. We did sample a 2220 which as you say are very nice units.The euro city coaches are the same as the Leige to Luxembourg as we viewed a few those trains.
 

Birdbrain

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Day 9 Zurich
By the time we woke up, our room mates who were a dutch couple also doing interrail had left so we could enjoy our makeshift cereal breakfast and juice in the room. Even though this was the most expensive hostel yet, breakfast was not included. So today was the day to explore the city of Zurich including its very interesting transport network. We walked to the nearest TVM, switched it to English and brought ourselves a Zone 110, one day travelcard. This zone covers the whole of Zurich city and includes the Tram, Bus, Trolleybuses, Suburban rail and ferries. You can see a map of the huge area this covers by following this link https://www.zuerich.com/sites/default/files/zvv_zone_110.pdf

So to start the day we took a trip on the Polybahn, the bottom station is located close to the HB. It was the first funicular of the day which travels between the lower station at central square to the ETH campus. It was opened in 1886 and retains the old station buildings. At the top we took a short walk to admire the views over the city. We returned to the bottom station and took tram line 3 about one mile out of the city to Romerhof which is the lower station on the Dolderbahn. This used to be a funicular railway until 1973 when it was rebuilt as a rack railway. We took the trip to the top calling at two intermediate stations that seemed quite well used. At the top we left the Dolderbahn and were stunned by the views over the city and Lake Zurich. The top station is called Dolder which serves the Grand Dolder Hotel, a very expensive place to stay the night! We returned back to the lower station and then went in search of the last funicular railway. From Romerhof we took tram 9 which was on diverson due to major works around Burkiplatz, to the bottom station of the Seilbahn Rigiblick. We took the step line up to the top station at Rigiblick which is located in a quiet are on the Zurichburg hill. As it was past lunch time we returned to the lower station where there was a supermarket, brought a picnic and then took it back to the top the hill to enjoy in the sunshine with the stunning view.

After lunch we returned to the bottom and decided to do a Trolleybus move. I had not been on one of these since being at the East Anglia Transport Museum when I was 5! We took route 33 a few stops to Toblerplatz where we connected to Tram line 5 back into the city centre again on diverson. We took some time to walk the part of the old city including the Lindhof, a site that had been occupied since roman times. We then decided to take tram 7 south of the city along the banks of the river to a stop called Billoweg where the we were told by the Hostel a traditional fayre type thing was happening. We couldn’t find it so returned by tram 7 to the city where we stopped for a iced drink. We had a look in the swiss gift shops and decided that it was all too expensive so we took a tram replacement bus back into the city centre for dinner. We took another supermarket picnic and ate it by the lake. Our final move of the day was a ferry move. The ticket is really good value and you can get so much done in a day if you wanted to do a full days bashing. The ships that operate on the lake seem to do a circular tour at an inflated price however you can use your 110 zone ticket on them if you get off at the first stop after leaving Zurich in either direction. We left the Burkiplatz terminal and travelled to Wollishofen Schiffstation for a plus 20 leap for the last ship of the day going back. At Wollishofen there was a beach and park with lots of people enjoying a BBQ or a swim in the crystal clear water. After this we headed back and met our new roommates who were two boys from Japan who had just arrived from Italy. We were so tired we slept early ready to move onto exploring Bern tomorrow.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 10 Bern
After our makeshift breakfast was quickly devoured, we walked through town to Zurich HB to find a train to Bern. As I mentioned earlier, Zurich HB is huge with upper and lower platforms. I also read that due to Sunday trading laws the station is one of the only shops open on a Sunday meaning it is full of all kinds of different shops A nice surprise was that we were given two free coffee drinks by a company looking to promote their brand. We found the platform and soon the stock arrived. It was double deck stock that was heading across Switzerland, I couldn’t take a picture but it was this type https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/IC2000_Zürich_-_Luzern.jpg We travelled non stop to Bern and arrived in the hottest sun that we had had on the holiday so far1

We opted not to buy a transport pass here as we had read that everything is within walking distance as it is quite a small place. So we got a free map from the tourist centre in the station and started walking. We had a look at Einstein’s house and continued down to the bridge over the river aare in which the water was so clear. Apparently it is possible to go in the river at one side of town and then the current will take you round to the other side, you could even buy waterproof backpacks to put your belongings in. Unfortunately the famous bear park was closed for upgrading so we had an ice cream by the side of the river. After popping into the Catherderal we headed to the Migros restaurant for lunch. An interesting concept is that it is a self-service style buffet and then your food is charged by weight. Next we went to watch the Bern clock display and had a look at some more tourist sites including the marzilibahn funicular, only 105m long but not the shortest we would ride on this holiday. We then went back to Bern station and decided to not go back on the direct intercity train but take a regional train (pictured) back to Zurich via Olten and Baden.

Once back in Zurich, we walked back down to the lake for a paddle and a relax before heading back to the supermarket to get supplies for tomorrows long journey. We would be leaving on the 0707 the Chur to connect to the Bernina line for travel onwards to Milan. With this in mind we packed our bags that night and went to bed early.
 

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fishquinn

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Another great read! I see that buses replacing decent stuff is no different over there! But a tram replacement bus... Oh, and that cake looks great!
 
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Techniquest

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Switzerland looks a stunning place, it has to be said. Enjoying the read still, and I look forward to the next parts!

Not looking forward to the ching when I visit there mind!
 

iainbhx

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Switzerland looks a stunning place, it has to be said. Enjoying the read still, and I look forward to the next parts!

Not looking forward to the ching when I visit there mind!

No, the ching is loopy in Switzerland, especially in Zürich and Geneva. The only way not to exceed my per diem dinner allowance when on business was to eat fast food or graze from supermarkets.
 

Birdbrain

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I agree, we didn't eat out at all in Switzerland and got everything from the value section of the supermarkets. Next updates will be tomorrow afternoon now as I have ran out of time today! Glad you are all enjoying the read, not even half way through yet.
 

Techniquest

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Yeah I was thinking that regarding hostels, I can't stomach doing them these days. I like my own room, my own door, power sockets, WiFi and my own bathroom too much!
 

Birdbrain

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I think the hostelling wasn’t too bad. I had not stayed in one before so didn’t really know what to expect. You do meet some interesting people but it was purely price driven, late on in the trip we start using cheaper hotels.

Day 11 – Zurich-Milan via Bernina
So this was one of my favourite rail parts of the trip so apologies if I start rambling on in this part of the report. We woke up at 6AM and managed to wake up earlier than the alarm to stop waking up our new Japanese roomates. We dragged all of our things across the hallway to the kictchen so we could pack without having to wake them up. We ate our cereal bar and had a cup of English breakfast tea! We made our way to the station and boarded the 0707 departure to Chur. Although this route is classed as an InterCity service, today it was formed of the same regional type stock we had taken the day before back from Bern. Even though it was so early the train was reasonably busy with walkers and day trippers. This route is really special and we hadn’t even got to the Bernina Line yet. You leave the sububurbs of Zurich and head along the banks of the Zürichse and then the Walensee. The views are really stunning and if you are doing this you’re doing this trip yourself, make sure you sit on the left hand side when facing forwards. Soon we had arrived at Chur and made the short cross plaform interchange onto the Bernina express.

The Bernina express is a scheduled daytime regional train that travels between Chur and Tirano without having to change trains. You do not need a reservation to travel in the front unit which acts as the regional service. The unit hauls the panoramic coaches in which you have to pay a supplementary fare. We had done this so had reserved seats in the panoramic carriages. It features commentary in English and you are given a map and guide to the route which is really useful and does make more of the trip. The train is part of the 1,000mm gauge Rhateian Railway and travels first along the Albula Line and then the Bernina Line.

We took our reserved seats and put our bags in the baggage area. If you do decide to travel in the panoramic coach, you can access the opening windows in the baggage area. The train leaves Chur and starts climbing. There are many spiral tunnels in this section meaning the train can gain height fairly quickly. By the time you reach Tiefencastel you really feel as if you are high up in the mountains. Shortly before we arrived at Filisur, you cross the famous Landwasser Viaduct which leads directly into a tunnel in the side of a cliff. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/GlacierLandwasser.jpg

After Filisur there are more spiral tunnels as the route climbs 417 meters in a distance of just 4 miles as the crow flies. The whole time here we were stunned by the views, our eyes glued to the windows. At Sameden, the train takes the link line to Pontresina. Here we change from AC to DC on platform 3, the only platform that can make the change. From here we are on the Bernina railway properly as we continue to climb to the highest point on the line at Ospizio Bernina, 2,253 m above sea level. making it (mountainside railways excluded) the highest railway line in the Alps, operating as a public railway with year round traffic. We continue a short distance to Alp Grum where a 30 minute break is taken. We left the carriage and headed out to take photos of the stunning views, and the train of course. You can see the line we are about to take, snaking down the moutains. After leaving Alp Grum we twist and turn down the mountain into the Italian part of Switzerland. After calling at Poschiavo, we travel down the famous Brusio Sprial Viaduct. It was hard to get a good picture so this gives you an idea. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/RhB_ABe_4-4_III_Kreisviadukt_Brusio.jpg

After this the train runs along the road in parts before crossing the Italian border at Tirano. After this long journey we felt amazing. I would go as far as saying this is one of the rail routes to do before you die, its that good. Man in Seat 61 has made a great video travelling the route of this report but in reverse if you want to get more of a feel for it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5AyEe5xWkQ

We left the Rheatian Railway station and walked across the square to the TreNord station who now operate regional services in Northern Italy rather than Trenitalia. We were surprised to see our train was formed of a Loco and some older stock rather than the newer trains that were delivered this year. https://blog.rail.cc/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/trenord-train-to-milano-centrale.jpg Usually this is good news for a rail enthusiast but it was so so hot that we were looking forward to the air conditioning. This meant putting the head out of the window was a necessity as we passed along the banks of Lake Como, again stunning views. We were soon travelling through the Milan suburbs and Monza and arrived at Milano Central. We got off and picked up our reservations for the next leg, as all intercity trains require reservations in Italy. Milan is rife with pickpockets, we were approached by someone trying to ‘help’ with the machine but we were wise to it. We took the tube and then a tram across the city to find our Hostel called Ostello Burigozzo. This was a rather strange one which I will elaborate on in the next post as this is already a long one. It was now the evening so we headed into the city centre and this being our first time in Italy we had a Pizza each for dinner inside the galleria vittorio emanuele ii which is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. We returned to the hostel by tram and tried to sleep, just as a huge storm was starting.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 12 – Milan Tourist.

So it was a Sunday and we had one day to see all the sights of Milan. No rail moves today so sorry to disappoint you all! So as I mentioned in the last post, the night before there was a huge storm, the day before had been so hot and it Thundered and rained and lightening like we had never experienced before. We had to sleep in separate rooms again at this hostel and it had a very strange feeling. My room was mostly full of middle aged men who spent all day in the hostel, whenever we popped in for water they were in the room smoking! It felt as though they almost lived there!
Anyway, there were great kitchen facitlies so we ate our makeshift breakfast, applied loads of suncream and headed off to the city centre by tram. The tram route our hostel was located on was served by trams like this http://www.subways.net/italy/milantram02.jpg however in other parts of the city there were some very very old trams which I will attach as a picture. If you’re in Milan I would recommend sampling these! Once in the centre we began the tourist trail, visiting La Scalle opera house before taking a walk around the expensive shopping areas. I was expecting Milan to be full of places like this but actually the high end area was relatively small. We next visited the Castello area and adjoining park where we enjoyed a panini each. Already tired from the walking and the heat we returned by trams to the hostel looking for a sumermarket for tonights dinner. We arrived to find it closed-it was a Sunday. So after chatting with the hostel receptionist we headed of on the tube to find one that was open. We arrived at san bablia and found a huge supermarket meaning we could stock up on dinner and botteled water. Once we got this back to the hostel it was the evening so we took the tram back to Duomo and decided to visit inside. We were not disapoitned. We are not religious but this is a really amazing building to visit and is is equally as impressive on the inside than outside. Interesting fact is that the first building on that site was started in 335AD and the building is still not complete now. And we returned to the hostel ready to move on again tomorrow. Across northern Italy to Venice.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 13 – Milan to Venice
Last night was just as bad as the one before with a huge storm which made it difficult to sleep as the window was left open due to the heat but this meant it was still so noisy! For breakfast we ate the pastries we had purchased from the supermarket the day before, this made a nice change from cereal bars or cereal itself! The storm had eased and everything felt a lot fresher as we left our strange room mates behind and took the tram to Missori where we transferred to the understand to take us to Milano Centrale.

We found the platform and beat the scrum to find that we had reserved seats in the leading carriage. We had been lucky because we were facing each other, across a table with a window. The stock was this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stell...D2k-7nQzvP-6kqQAm-6kqQxC-76Ww8q-6kqJh5-6kmydZ. The coaches felt a bit like MK3 inside and were very comftable to travel on. The journey featured some nice countryside and pretty views especially as we passed through Verona. The journey took two and a half hours and as we apporoached Venice Mestre, a lady came through the train giving out cards which said about her poor child ect. The angry guard came through soon after and ripped them all up! We crossed onto Venice Island and arrived at Santa Lucia station. We avoided all the ‘porters’ who seem to pray on the tourists here and walked the 2 minutes to our Hotel.

This was the first time on the trip we had booked a Hotel rather than a hostel, this being because I couldn’t find any on the actual venice islands. However, the hotel called ‘Hotel Belle Epoque’ is so close to the station that it comes highly recommended. There was wifi, included breakfast and most importantly, air conditioning! As we didn’t have to worry about security like we did in hostel rooms, we took the chance to fully unpack our rucksacks for the first time and hang out all our smelly clothes!

Once this task was complete we headed back to the station to pick up our sleeper reservations for the next move. I knew we could do this at the machine but it wouldn’t work when I tried about three times. So a long queue was in order to pick this up manually from the ticket office. It was fairly late in the day so after a quick google to locate one of the hidden supermarkets on venice to pick up more water we found a great little restaurant for dinner. Again, coming in highly recommended it was called ‘Al Tre Archi’. I decided to try cuttlefish for the first time while my partner wanted to try a lasagne whilst still in Italy. It was a lovely evening and you could see the sunset by our waterside table. Finally we enjoyed a Gelato by the Grand Canal before heading back to air conditioned, no stranger heaven!
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 14- Venice Tourist
Today was another touristic day so apologies that there were no rail moves this day and I will just take you through some of the tourist things we did. Saying this however, the public transport on Venice is very minimal as you would expect. All you can do is travel on the water bus network which we found to be very expensive and we thought that we could walk it all without getting lost! The traditional gondola rides were even more extortionate at around 100 euros so we gave those a miss too.
So breakfast here was luxury compared with what we were used too, there were breads, cereals, yoghurt, fruit, pastries and hot drinks. We made the most of this and attempted some washing in the sink before heading out for the day. We followed the cattle/crowds through the main streets to find the Rialto Bridge which was disappointing because it was covered in scaffolding! The place was heaving and I will attach a picture to demonstrate this! We continued on to the San Marco square, trying to walk in the shade wherever possible.We had a look at the famous basilica and the bell tower of St Mark but decided that the queues in the full sunshine meant we wouldn’t be having a look inside.
We walked along the edge of the Island to a quieter area called Dorsoduro and found a nice reasonably price Deli and tried a Arancia, which was kind of like a scotch egg. Generally we found that the main routes between the tourist sites were so busy that you couldn’t move but when you went on the side streets it was much more pleasant.

After this we headed back to the hotel to cool down and have a drink and relax before dinner. We dined at the same place as yesterday because we were so impressed with the view and the quality of the food. Pizza today however, I had a four cheese one which was suitably cheesy! That’s it for today, tomorrow more of Venice before heading for our first EuroNight experience on the service to Vienna.
 

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Birdbrain

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Day 15- Venice and boarding the Vienna Euronight
We enjoyed a lengthy sleep and lay in because we knew that we might not be getting the best nights sleep on the train. We again made the most of our Hotel breakfasts as we would be back to Hostels for a while after this. We packed our bags and left them with the Hotel’s baggage storage to save paying to have them at the station.

We spent the morning having a look at a bit more of the off the beaten track parts of Venice to just see what we could find. We had a look in a Modern Art Gallery which was actually not as boring as they usually are and then found a strange art installation called ‘Venice and Scotland’ which was empty and just plain weird. We sat for a while by San Marco’s church and enjoyed a Berry juice drink which was refreshing. We walked along the main island towards the lido island along the promenade. I can honestly say this is the hottest I had ever felt in my life, no wind or breeze just pure heat. I know I have complained about that a lot so far on this trip but from here on it did get a lot better! We found a fort called Arsenal and had a lunch in a nice café in the Castello area. Once the midday sun had passed we started to walked back through the parks and side streets again.

Having to kill time to wait for the sleeper, we had a McDonalds and spent some time on the free wifi before heading to get our bags and get to the station. We arrived at 2010 for a 2055 depature to find it not on the departure board. We didn’t panic and just waited on the steps of Santa Lucia station watching the waterbuses going about their business. It was not until 2050 that a platform number was shown for the train although my powers of deduction had me ready by the door! Myself with my eye on the budget, had decided that all we could afford was two berths in a six berth couchette. We have done sleeper trains before in the UK including the impressive Fort William one but never one in Europe. This train was formed of many coaches, and had 2,3 and 4 berth sleepers as well as couchette cars and seated carriages. We boarded the train and the steward showed us to the cabin. I don’t think you can appreciate how small a 6 berth couchette is until you have been in one! Soon our roomates arrived. The first was a mother and her teenage daughter who lived in Vienna and had just taken a short break in Venice, we started chatting to them and they say they love taking the train and were singing its praises. Next arrived a lady who didn’t really talk at all and then our final roommate was an Argentinian man who was doing Interrail for two months. After the guard had taken away the tickets to check and return in the morning, he delivered the bedding and we started to chat. The lady and her daughter started telling us about all the things we had to see in Vienna, they were obviously proud of their city. I started telling the Argentinian man about England as he was visting their soon on his trip. He also had a pack of biscuits which made him popular.
After this around 2200 we turned the lights off and tried to sleep. For security I had tied my backpack around my feet and wore a money belt with the passport inside. I had read too many horror stories to risk anything. So I will end this post here and pick it up after midnight in the next post. Here is a picture of the sleeper, EN236 https://www.flickr.com/photos/wesle...Rh4-7vQFny-7vLPMp-7vQGKf-7vQGhQ-7vLSip-AKka1J

So would I reccommend a visit to Venice? Not as a rail enthusiast no, but as a tourist you have to do it once, its crazy. Try and stay off the tourist trail and its much more enjoyable. I am away now until Tuesday so that’s when the next update will be. We’ll be waking up on the sleeper and taking in Vienna and its transport network before heading south to Slovenia.
 

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Techniquest

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The narrow guage line sounds and looks like an epic trip, the desire to go is most real!

Venice doesn't sound appealling to me, but Milan and the trams does. If only for filling in more of my Western Europe tram book!

The sleeper train sounds like an...adventure. I have to say a European sleeper train just doesn't appeal to me, but then a sleeper train here doesn't appeal either!

I'm looking forward to the next update when you're back, I'm burying this lot into memory ready for the day I eventually get back to European rails!
 

fishquinn

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Some of those views look excellent! It must have been cosy in a berth with 6 of you in there!
 
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