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Advice for a month of travel in europe

  • 4 October 2023
  • 20 replies
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Hi! This is my first post in the community. Please forgive me for not introducing myself, I am in need of desperate advice! Thank you in advance to whoever is kind enough to help out :)

Basically, my girlfriend and I are travelling around Europe for a month and 10 days. Starting 9 October, we will be in Slovenia for roughly 10-12 days and then from there will begin using our pass (let's say 20/21st of October). The pass that we are looking at is the 10 days in 2-month pass (Eurail).

The countries that we would like to visit (and in order) are Italy, Spain, France*, Netherlands, Germany,  Czechia, Poland*, Hungary*, and Slovenia/Croatia. We return to Slovenia as our flights are from Zagreb, Croatia. Countries with a “*” are ones that we may/or may not visit depending on whether we have enough travel days.

A breakdown of possible dates:

21 October - Trieste to Parma 

22-24 October - We may want to use a travel day to see Pisa and Florence

25 October - Parma/Pisa to Barcelona (this looks like a long trip)

27 October - Barcelona to Tafalla (we meet friends here who will take us to Bilbao and we can either return with them to Tafalla or go from Bilbao)(considering paying a reservation fee as it is not too bad)

30/31 October - Bilbao/Tafalla to Amsterdam (this trip is long and that's why we considered maybe going through France, but I understand that France is very busy now for the World Cup Rugby and in general)

5/6 November - Amsterdam to Wolfsburg 

12/13 November - Berlin to Prague

These are our main travel destinations. I was wondering how possible these destinations will be on our chosen rail pass. We are trying to do this on a budget, and seat reservations are looking like they might be a real pain. Would it be possible to do our travels without making seat reservations? We are fine with taking slower and longer routes, but then again longer routes will take more time and might negatively affect us and our pass usage as it will result in more travel days… And if these trips are possible without reservations, how likely are we to be able to even get a seat on them in the first place?

I know it is very last minute to be worrying about such things. Planning in advance would have been a lot more helpful - but I only recently found out about the importance of seat reservations, especially in countries like Italy, France, and Spain. I assumed that the pass gave me access to any train I wanted, but you know what they say about assumptions… It’s also last minute to consider flying as I’ve seen some of the prices and they are quite high. We have also considered buses, but if I’m being honest, it sounds way more comfortable on a train.

One last question: I have not bought a pass yet but I was wondering, when I use the RailPlanner app, are the seat reservation prices that I’m seeing the same as the ones that a person with a pass would see? Or am I seeing inflated prices etc.

 

Thank you to anyone who might have some advice.

Tim

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Best answer by thibcabe 4 October 2023, 13:10

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Userlevel 7
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Greetings from Pisa!

Yes, Pisa to Barcelona is a long trip. I don't think it can be done in one day. You would have quite a few reservation costs too.

You could consider the ferry from Civitavecchia near Rome to Barcelona. It takes a bit less than 24h. Prices from €40, plus cabin cost.

In general, the Eurail pass is not great value in Italy, France and Spain because of reservation costs. (Italy is the ‘least worst’.)

Seat61 has some really good advice on seat reservations - how much they cost and how easy/ difficult they are to get.

https://www.seat61.com/interrail-and-eurail-reservations.htm

I would definitely consider buying regular tickets for at least some of your journeys.

Userlevel 7
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Prices on Rail Planner are correct (including their 2€ fee) but it doesn't show availability. For that you must have bought a pass (which is a shame).

Here is some guide about seat reservations : https://www.seat61.com/interrail-and-eurail-reservations.htm

And a general guide : https://www.seat61.com/how-to-use-a-eurail-pass.htm

France is always popular and it will be the school holidays so expect trains to be busy or already sold out, especially on weekends.

You are always allowed to board trains that don't require reservations. Either reservations are optional (Germany for example) or not possible (regional trains except in Spain). In that case it works in a first come first served basis and you may have to stand for part of the journey.

I'll have a look at your itinerary and make a second post. Spain will be your biggest issue.

 

Userlevel 7
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So SNCF (French railways) and RENFE (Spanish railways) websites don't work at the moment because they've just opened booking for the Christmas period... Everyone wants to go see their family !

I'll have a look later at availability then.

Pisa - Barcelona is doable in a day but it will be quite long !

- IC Pisa - Genova P. Principe 05:42 - 08:16 3€

- IC Genova P. Principe - Ventimiglia 08:58 - 10:54 3€

- TER Ventimiglia - Nice-Ville 11:16 - 12:11 or 11:46 - 12:41 (break in Nice)

- TER Nice-Ville - Marseille St-Charles 13:25 - 16:03

- TER Marseille St-Charles - Nîmes Pont du Gard 16:23 - 17:38

- TGV Nîmes Pont du Gard - Barcelona-Sants 17:50 - 21:25 25€

I don't think you can get reservations online for Barcelona - Tafalla so it may make more sense to save a pass day and buy a ticket for 20€ Básico or 21€ Elige (09:05 - 12:37 train). Buy ASAP, there's currently a sale !

Now the big journey to Amsterdam :

- Euskotren San Sebastian - Hendaye every 30 min (3-4€, not included)

- TGV Hendaye - Paris-Montparnasse 13:04 - 18:01 20€

- station transfer : RER B (not included)

- Eurostar Red Paris-Nord - Amsterdam Centraal 19

There's not many other alternatives. TER trains are slow and do not run often (once or twice a day is common).

If I were you I'd go to Bordeaux or Paris on day 1 and the following day continue your journey. You can avoid Paris and expensive reservations using this train :

- TGV Bordeaux - Lille-Flandres 05:58 - 10:44 or 12:58 - 17:57 10-20€

Then reservation-free regional trains via Kortrijk and Antwerp. :)

Feel free to ask further questions.

@ralderton thank you for your comment! Greetings from South Africa, by the way! I have been looking at seat61.com and will continue to do so.

@thibcabe  thank you for your comment as well :) I look forward to your later comment, this is really helpful information that I would not have been able to figure out myself! Would you say that 10 travel days are not enough to cover the distance that we would like to cover whilst avoiding reservations at all costs?

Userlevel 7
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10 days should be enough in my opinion, even if you split the longer journeys into 2 days. You won't use a pass day for Barcelona - Tafalla.

Pisa - Barcelona can be done reservation-free in 2 days. Consider spending a night in Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes or Montpellier. The following morning take the coastal route via Portbou.

Bilbao - Amsterdam can be done with a single reservation (TGV Bordeaux - Lille) in 2 days.

Spanish trains won't bother you too much because Portbou - Barcelona is a commuter train without reservations, you'll have a regular ticket for Barcelona - Tafalla and Euskotren from Bilbao to the border is cheap (not included).

In the end you may only need to book 2 things in advance (apart from accommodation) : ticket Barcelona - Tafalla and reservation TGV Bordeaux - Lille (or Bordeaux - Paris - Lille).

Last thing : accommodation in Amsterdam is very very expensive. It may be better to stay in a neighbouring with good train links (Utrecht comes to mind). To travel on Dutch trains either you use a pass day or tap on/tap off with a contactless card (the amount gets deducted at the end of the day). Easy !

@thibcabe I cannot thank you enough! You have given valuable insight which I will process and should I have any more questions I will refer back to this post. THANK YOU!!

Hi @thibcabe. Currently in Parma! I was wondering if you have any advice on where to book this train route? Avignon to Zaragoza-Delicias?  Plans have changed slightly…. 🙈

Userlevel 7
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That train is full I'm afraid, it is a popular route with limited services and it's the French school holidays.

Anyway that train is impossible to get for passholders. The only option right now is to visit a Spanish ticket counter, it doesn't work online nor at Swiss or German counters.

I'm looking for an alternative itinerary for you. It could be :

- TER Avignon Centre - Perpignan 07:35 - 10:49

- TER Perpignan - Portbou 10:55 - 11:47

- R Portbou - Barcelona-Sants 12:35 - 15:10

From Barcelona either :

- ARC Barcelona-Sants - Tafalla 15:30 - 18:56

- Intercity Barcelona-Sants - Tafalla 18:45 - 22:05 18:45 - 22:05

I believe you'll have to get reservations at Portbou ticket counter as I don't think they're available on interrail.eu (do let us know though).

If you choose straight away the Intercity option you could leave Avignon at 09:32 instead.

Suboptimal situation honestly. :(

Userlevel 7
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I had a thorough look and you could board the AVE from Narbonne/Perpignan to Gerona but the ticket costs 69€... (not worth it).

- TER Avignon Centre - Perpignan 07:35 - 10:49

- AVE Perpignan - Gerona 11:19 - 11:57 69€

- IR Gerona - Barcelona-Sants 12:19 - 13:40

- AVE Barcelona-Sants - Zaragoza-Delicias 14:00 - 15:41 10€

- REG Zaragoza-Delicias - Tafalla 16:40 - 18:30

@thibcabe ahhhh that’s unfortunate… I am in Parma for another night, hoping to leave tomorrow morning for Avignon. I believe I can get there reservation free in one day (Parma 06:12 - Avignon Centre 21:31) so was planning to spend Thursday in Avignon to just relax and see what there is and then leave for Tafalla Friday morning.

 

From what I can see, Avignon to Barcelona-Sants is reservation free? In Port-Bou am I enquiring about a reservation for the Barcelona-Sants to Tafalla train ride? And because I can only find out in person that means I just have to hope for the best haha

Userlevel 7
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Yes it is entirely doable reservation-free. Actually I'd recommend leaving at 07:45 with the train to Genova Brignole. It takes a beautiful railway through the mountains and then across the Cinque Terre, instead of the boring Po plain. :)

---

About Spain things look to be even more complicated since a few of the trains are sold out/have a limited number of seats left (start of a long holiday weekend in Spain too). The journey is still possible but expect a long travel day.

I'll add a new option or two down below.

So Avignon - Barcelona can be done reservation-free.

- ARC Barcelona-Sants - Tafalla 15:30 - 18:56 : sold out.

- Intercity Barcelona-Sants - Tafalla 18:45 - 22:05 4 seats left (so a bit risky)

Good alternatives :

My favourite option :

- TER Avignon - Portbou 09:32 - 13:47

- R Portbou - Barcelona-Plaça de Catalunya 14:35 - 17:05

- have a coffee or an ice cream in the Barri Gottic, subway or regional train to Sants station

- AVE Barcelona-Sants - Zaragoza-Delicias 18:40 - 20:23 10€ available on eurail.com

- Intercity Zaragoza-Delicias - Tafalla 20:48 - 22:02 6.50€ reservation or 15.80€ ticket (25 seats available right now so that's good enough)

You could also decide to skip Barcelona entirely and make the longer break in Gerona instead.

Latest option :

- TER Avignon - Portbou 11:32 - 15:47

- R Portbou - Gerona 16:05 - 17:08

- AVE Gerona - Zaragoza-Delicias 17:51 - 20:23 10€ available on eurail.com

- Intercity Zaragoza-Delicias - Tafalla 20:48 - 22:02 as explained above

Spain is a pain for rail travel...

@thibcabe so I may have to sacrifice a day of relaxation and exploration in Avignon (Thursday) for travel (to Barcelona for example) to allow me enough time to get to Tafalla on Friday using reservation free trains.

Wednesday - Parma to Avignon

Thursday - Avignon to Barcelona

Friday - Barcelona to Tafalla 

 

This would put me at 5 travel days used… I do recall you mentioned purchasing Barcelona to Tafalla outright instead of using a travel day (silly me) but I didn’t know for certain at the time. Each day is a learning experience… -_-
 

- Intercity Barcelona-Sants - Tafalla 18:45 - 22:05 4 seats left (so a bit risky)

Spain is a pain for rail travel...

This option is only available through in person reservation at Spanish ticket office? 

Userlevel 7
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I would still spend Thursday in Avignon to relax between those long 2 journeys honestly. Then on Friday leave with the 09:32 train and make your way to Barcelona before taking the high-speed train to Zaragoza.

This is what I'd do. You get some flexibility until Barcelona and then you can book the AVE online : 10€ on eurail.com.

For the Intercity I'd pay the extra 10€ for a ticket for peace of mind. Of course you could take the gamble and watch carefully if the train fills up.

Userlevel 7
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This option is only available through in person reservation at Spanish ticket office? 

Yes that's the thing but as I explained above take the AVE leaving just 5 min earlier and arriving 25 min before in Zaragoza. You also experience another type of train haha

@thibcabe thanks again. I hadn’t refreshed the page when you replied lol. I’ll go through all of this - thank you again for your awesome help 😎

Userlevel 7
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You're welcome haha

Don't hesitate to ask further questions :)

@thibcabe hi it’s me again.. sightseeing and trying to plan at the same time again.. 

 

My favourite option :

- TER Avignon - Portbou 09:32 - 13:47

- R Portbou - Barcelona-Plaça de Catalunya 14:35 - 17:05

- have a coffee or an ice cream in the Barri Gottic, subway or regional train to Sants station

- AVE Barcelona-Sants - Zaragoza-Delicias 18:40 - 20:23 10€ available on eurail.com

- Intercity Zaragoza-Delicias - Tafalla 20:48 - 22:02 6.50€ reservation or 15.80€ ticket (25 seats available right now so that's good enough)

 

I’m leaning towards this great option too. With regards to the intercity Zaragoza ticket, can it be booked online through Spanish railways? And in your opinion would it be safe to reserve it just to save some extra cash heheh 

Userlevel 7
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The ticket is available on renfe.com yes. If the website doesn't accept your credit card (frequent) use Trainline, for once it's the best option.

I'd check availability regularly : you need to go through the booking process, select seat selection and then count the seats left. If there are only a few seats remaining better spend the few € extra for tickets.

Enjoy your day in Parma ! :)

@thibcabe I believe this may be my final question regarding Spain… what if I were to get my friend to reserve the tickets for us at the station? Would that work? 

Userlevel 7
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Mmmhhh I don't have personal experience so someone probably knows better.

I think RENFE is quite old school and issues paper tickets. A picture of it isn't a valid proof. So unless you meet your friend before the trip I don't think it could work.

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