The Great Circular European Railway Challenge

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Mark_Lester

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we are organising this
http;//gcerc.wordpress.com

Which is 15 nights (just down from 16)
St Pancras
Brussels
Amsterdam
Copenhagen
Oslo
Narvik
Stockholm
Berlin
Warsaw
Prague
Vienna
Bratislava
Budapest
Bucharest
Istanbul
Sofia
Budapest
Zagreb (well, just 20 mins, but they have beer in the platform)
Ljubljana
Trieste (awesome tram)
Venice
Rome
Bernina (route, we'd prefer NOT those silly observation cars)
geneva
Barcelona
Madrid
Lisbon
Paris
and back


The current route, which right now includes sicily but we're probably going to have to finally ditch that, is on the blog at /route.
we need a forum where we can discuss the macroscopic timetabling, and stuff in general.

I am not a company, I just like organising this kind of thing. I did the equivalent in India earlier this year (gcirc.wordpress.com), in which I raised money for charity in order that my wife would let me do it. There's no charity this time, and I wont be inviting any kids on a fiver a day either,
 
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Mark_Lester

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OK, lets start asking questions.

Now that we are most probably going to accept defeat and turn back at Rome, the most dodgy part of the plan is the 53 minutes we've got in Bucharest for the change from the train from budapest train to the Istanbul train.

Train 20 – EN 473 – Ister Express – aprox 861 km – duration 15:10
19:10 Budapest-Keleti pu
Day 8 – Tuesday June 25th
11:20 Bucuresti Nord Gara A

Train 21 – 461 – Bosfor Ekspresi - aprox 667 km – duration 19:37
12:13 Bucuresti Nord Gara A
Day 9 – Wednesday June 26th
07:50 Istanbu

We spaced out the run back up via Belgrade when I was kindly told by the controller at Belgrade that the Balkan Expresi from Istanbul turns up when it feels like it, usually after the connecting Ljubljana train has left.
The word I have about the Ister Express from Budapest to Bucharest is, barring the gypos nicking the trackside booty. that it's generally on time.
I have some excellent contacts in that part of the world, so I may well be able to put together an arse breaking plan B of a clapped out bus to take us down to Istanbul (prob get there mid afternoon).
My question to you is, have you been on this train in the last few years, or better still do you know anyone in either Hungarian or Romanian railways who can give us some real data on it.
 

87015

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Which sleeper is that? I don't think that we spotted that one.
It (Venice - Budapest) was withdrawn as of last weeks timetable change so there are no passenger trains between Italy and Slovenia which is a sad state of affairs.

I've viewed the Istanbul - Belgrade and v/v a few times in Bulgaria and it has more often than not been up to two hours late, but the Bulgarians have now reopened the line between Dimitovgrad and Plovdiv which saves a lengthy diversion via Mihilovo. Never seen it not wait at Sofia for the through portion though.

HAFAS shows the 461/465 Bucharest - Sofia (nee Thessaloniki)/Istanbul is retimed to 1300 vice 1213 so that makes the connection a bit more secure (but at the expense of having to suffer more time in Bucharest)
 

Glenmutchkin

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87015

Thanks for the info. We were already reconciled to a non train trip from Slovenia to Trieste so we are no worse off. Two hours delay (and more) is built into the plan for istanbul - Belgrade so that's ok. The extra minutes at Bucharest seem welcome on the face of it. That place seems to have an image problem. Is there anything that we need to know?
 

Mark_Lester

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oh 13:00 out of Bucharest, great. Does it go via Sofia then ?. We can arrange for supply drop there if so, we have special contacts there.

seat61 raves about Bucharest, I havent been for 20 years but my information is it's still a dump. still, we've time for a beer now in theory, and may be some of these
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mititei
which if they are good are very very good.
 

87015

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oh 13:00 out of Bucharest, great. Does it go via Sofia then ?. We can arrange for supply drop there if so, we have special contacts there.
Sorry, it splits at Gorna Orj into portions for Sofia and Istanbul. I wasn't a fan of what we saw of Romania around Bucharest, they don't disinfect the train anymore as it crosses back into Bulgaria though which is a shame if just for the riot value :(

I do think that the Istanbul - Belgrade has now lost its sleeper car so only a TCDD counchette car goes through looking at recent photos, although that could be temporary given the current mess that BDZ is in.
 

Mark_Lester

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seat61 picked up on the loss of sleeper cars in the Balkan Ekspresi. the word is "until at least the new year", which sounds more like "canceled". I dont know if that's the same story down from Bucharest but I'm expecting it to be so.

I got this from our new mate in Switzerland
The new high speed railway between Perpignan and Barcelona should start operating properly next summer, so by summer 2013 the train service between Spain and the rest of Europe will be completely different from what it is now. There are definitely going to be daytime trains Madrid - Barcelona - Paris, and they're even talking about a daytime TGV Zürich - Barcelona - Madrid pair. A lot will depend on how quick SNCF can get its new TGV Duplex DAsyE sets in operation. In Sweden the new Bothnia railway will speed up night trains to the north. - Slovenia might decide to run trains to Villa Opicina or even Trieste again now that RFI can't forbid them not to anymore.And what trains CNL will run in summer 2013 is not set in stone either.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Also, Krist, our swiss rep, says there's an 11:57 in summer out of Tirano which we can now catch, with open observation cars, and goes to St Moritz, which is just a little spur off the main line. but the through trains dont do it, it's worth it just for the platform shot.

Oh look
http://www.flickr.com/photos/andynash/2441055508/

Sicily is history.
 
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87015

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seat61 picked up on the loss of sleeper cars in the Balkan Ekspresi. the word is "until at least the new year", which sounds more like "canceled". I dont know if that's the same story down from Bucharest but I'm expecting it to be so.
Viewed both portions in October, and the Belgrade was down to just load two (1 couchette and 1 seated coach Sofia-Svilengrad) but the Bucharest portion was still running as load three with its CFR sleeper car in the consist, can just about be seen here behind the TCDD couchette car so hopefully that has is surviving.
 

stut

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Koper is the station you want to transfer to Trieste (Capodistria in Italian, which is widely spoken in this town anyway). Easy transfer to the bus. The train journey from Ljubljana to Koper is stunning at the Koper end, and the town worth a look around and a burek/cevapcici. The bus journey to Trieste is mostly through heavy dockland, however.

Oh, and Vienna-Bratislava, I have a preference for the less well advertised and slower service to Bratislava hl st (a tram ride or longish walk), not the fast train to Petrzalka (a fair bus ride from the old town). It's usually in a small railcar, and much more interesting a journey. Gone are the days where you'd have to clamber down from the Austrian railcar on the border (no proper station) and up into the rattling old Slovakian one, though!
 

W-on-Sea

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Koper is certainly the logical place to get a bus to Trieste from. But if you go that way you miss the great delights of the "tranvia" that descends rapidly from near the Slovene border (at Vila Opicina/Opcine) into Trieste.

There was a discussion about this a while back.
http://railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?t=49785&highlight=Sezana Which I hope is still valid. Local bus timetables are available online, too, I think. But I'm still inclined to think that a taxi from Sezana to the top end of the tram is probably the easiest way.

It's ridiculous that the cross-border trains (some of which ran through the cold war, for all that Yugoslavia had its own particular stance for most of that period) have stopped, now when both Italy and Slovenia even share a currency!
 

Glenmutchkin

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I think that now we have stumbled across the tranvia we would like to keep it in. The link you've included about taxis from Sezana looks pretty positive so thanks for that.

Another of our contacts has suggested that there is a chance of trains from Slovenia to Trieste being restored. We have time on our side so who knows.
 

Mark_Lester

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Koper is the station you want to transfer to Trieste (Capodistria in Italian, which is widely spoken in this town anyway). Easy transfer to the bus. The train journey from Ljubljana to Koper is stunning at the Koper end, and the town worth a look around and a burek/cevapcici. The bus journey to Trieste is mostly through heavy dockland, however.
I was hoping the ride up to Sezana would be Julian Alp heaven, what's that run like ?. Anyway, that tram down is awesome and a must do.

Oh, and Vienna-Bratislava, I have a preference for the less well advertised and slower service to Bratislava hl st (a tram ride or longish walk), not the fast train to Petrzalka (a fair bus ride from the old town). It's usually in a small railcar, and much more interesting a journey. Gone are the days where you'd have to clamber down from the Austrian railcar on the border (no proper station) and up into the rattling old Slovakian one, though!
thanks, we'll check it out, but if it costs much time then it will need to be proper good.
 

stut

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I was hoping the ride up to Sezana would be Julian Alp heaven, what's that run like ?. Anyway, that tram down is awesome and a must do.
Ah, I couldn't tell you, I've only ever done that run on the sleeper!

The tram (which I wasn't aware of) does sound fantastic, though - sounds like it would be worth the trip.

thanks, we'll check it out, but if it costs much time then it will need to be proper good.
Don't know about "proper good", I just like the atmosphere of a little railcar bouncing through old Czechoslovakian stations!

There's actually very little time penalty at present, due to the Suedbahnhof remodelling at Vienna - both services take around an hour. Generally, the time penalty's only about 15 minutes, but the railcar is less frequent, so it depends how it fits into your plans.
 

Glenmutchkin

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Viewed both portions in October, and the Belgrade was down to just load two (1 couchette and 1 seated coach Sofia-Svilengrad) but the Bucharest portion was still running as load three with its CFR sleeper car in the consist, can just about be seen here behind the TCDD couchette car so hopefully that has is surviving.
Is the train in the shot the spiritual heir of the Orient Express? How the mighty have fallen.
 

Mark_Lester

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dig the SCEPTRE agent bit. (edit, it's SMERSH of course that I was thinking of)
We've elected to space out the run from Istanbul->Ljubljana as the Belgrade link was too risky, so we've ended up spending the night in here
http://www.hostelcelica.com/
which a converted prison, so may be we should arrange to get strafed by a helicopter as we cross the border.

I checked the route of the sezana train, it's nice enough but I dont think there are any mountain views.
FYI, the term karst limestone comes from this very area. it comes from the slavic krasne, which means beautiful (well red, but kraseva is ruski for beautiful, whch comes from red).
Anyway, karst limestone means beautiful limestone, and the term comes from the julian alps, which are well nice if you fancy a walk.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Finally just got a reply from STC (swiss travel), admitting that the bernina is covered by the pass. I've asked them about this 11:57 cattle truck as it's not on bahn.de.

Her quote for the eurostar was £70, so I checked online and it's £39 when booked 4 months in advance
BUT
that 10:57 is sold out at that price, even for April, though there are £57 options. As Caledonians will presumably be arriving on the sleeper you'll have to go for that later one, but we'll wait for you in Brussels. Actually it wil cost me half the difference to get from reading at that time probably, but anyway.
But he (seat61) also says "avoid Friday and Sunday", so we should. We dont need weekend to weekend, I just want to keep it under 2 weeks and a day, ish.

Ah!, I just rang up eurostar, £35 for group bookings, might even get on that 10:57.
prob £40 back from paris though, but they will handle the group aspect,
 
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Glenmutchkin

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Don't worry about me for the Eurostar timings. I'll probably travel down the day before and stay in a bijou roomette somewhere. That way I can at least start clean. Might have to leave Paris earlier though if I am to get the sleeper home. Plenty of time to sort that out. The group booking thing looks worth going for if we can herd up the cats early enough.

Been wrestling with a taxi from Chandigarh to Ambala Cantt this morning. Now sorted.

Don't forget the alternate days for Geneva - Barcelona when fixing D day
 
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Mark_Lester

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If you are coming the day before then you are welcome at châteaux Lester, we'll work that out, but anyway, if we are double figures, which I am quite certain we will be, we can get the sub 40 sods on the eurostar, and get a similar deal on the Thalys, via eurostar group booking.

Diana, my new efficient mate at STC, gave me this
http://www.rhb.ch/Open-scenic-carriages.213.0.html?&L=4
you cant reserve them, they just get tagged on as long as it's not raining. July and August only btw, though she implied these can be sorted out. If there's a heap of us I think they will get one out for us with enough notice and a few francs.
The dep is 11:27, but we've still enough time to get the salami in at Tirano. These trains dont have the nasty curved windows anyway, which are totally counter productive, you cant open the blinkin' things and you cant video or take any decent photos out of them either.

St Moritz is a nice extra.
 
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Glenmutchkin

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Great stuff. I've been wasting my time on the Inverness to Wick/Thurso and back in a day thread.

I wondered if this might be the place to ask if anybody knew of a source for track mileages for trips in Europe?
 

Mark_Lester

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actually, 10:50, and a passport check, for 11:27, isnt enough time to do the groceries is it. we leave milan at 08:50, so we need a bread and sausages and a bag or oranges option for 8am in Milan.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
I wondered if this might be the place to ask if anybody knew of a source for track mileages for trips in Europe?
I have had to do this by just whacking it all into a road route finder. Once we've finally finally decided on what the hell we are doing, I will lovingly follow the whole route on the OSM and get some numbers out of it. But if, at least for some countries, there are mileages available, or if anyone has worked some of our route out themselves already (I see w-on-sea keeps a running tally) then please give us your numbers.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
and we've now an hour in st moritz. possibly the most expensive place in Europe to buy a picnic in, but we should be able to get enough to keep us going till Geneva.
 

Glenmutchkin

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Can't spot an earlier option out of Milan. Milan is supposed to be very sophisticated. Perhaps they'll have a 7-11 or a Spar. Thanks for invite by the way.

I've spotted a way to generate responses by the bucket on here. Just diss J D Wetherspoons.
 

burns20

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The Bratislava Hlavni to Vienna train is an urbanferret pushpull train now through quite tidy stations and a new massive viaduct outside vienna being built.
 

W-on-Sea

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dig the SCEPTRE agent bit. (edit, it's SMERSH of course that I was thinking of)
We've elected to space out the run from Istanbul->Ljubljana as the Belgrade link was too risky, so we've ended up spending the night in here
http://www.hostelcelica.com/
which a converted prison, so may be we should arrange to get strafed by a helicopter as we cross the border.

I checked the route of the sezana train, it's nice enough but I dont think there are any mountain views.


Oh, I've stayed in the celica - admittedly soon after it opened in that form, eight years ago. (It had been an underground art centre and a gay disco, in the ultra-bohemian quarter of Ljubljana, before being smartened up, comprehensively refurbished, and turned into a hostel/art gallery). A strange, but not unpleasant place. Some of the rooms are kind of small (some of the rooms still had bars on the windows...), but it is certainly interesting - it was a Yugoslav military prison, and at least one post-independence Slovene prime minister had been locked up there!

No mountains to see round Sezana, nice enough journey though. Seem to recall at least two old Yugoslav steam engines rusting away in stations on the line from Ljubljana to Vila Opicina (Sezana and Divica I think), as well. Some great caves around that way too. While the coastal (old venetian) town of Piran (Pirano) - at the tip of the penisular south of Koper - is out of this world...but also probably not on your route.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Actgually if you want scenic train journeys in the Julian Alps, I heartily recommend the slightly unfortunately acronymed (and privately owned) FUC train on the Italian side of the border (Udine to Cividale del Fruili). I hear the line along the Sava valley in Slovenia (which I think joins the main line at Sezana, and runs from there north-east up to Bled-jezero and beyond) is also really beautiful, but at least when I was there last trains were infrequent and not at convenient times.

But again...these are not really on your route
 

Glenmutchkin

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Oh, I've stayed in the celica - admittedly soon after it opened in that form, eight years ago. (It had been an underground art centre and a gay disco, in the ultra-bohemian quarter of Ljubljana, before being smartened up, comprehensively refurbished, and turned into a hostel/art gallery). A strange, but not unpleasant place. Some of the rooms are kind of small (some of the rooms still had bars on the windows...), but it is certainly interesting - it was a Yugoslav military prison, and at least one post-independence Slovene prime minister had been locked up there!
Sounds absolutely brilliant. We will get our choreographer working on YMCA. :D
 
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