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Even the most seasoned European traveller can be caught unawares by rail schedules changes. Most European rail companies introduce major timetable changes over the second weekend in December, and this year there are some big alterations in the offing.
There is no more civilised way of making a big hop across Europe than on a night train, and the new schedules see a whole raft of new night train services. Take Amsterdam for example. The Dutch city has always featured on Europe’s night train schedules, but for 2008 Amsterdam secures new daily services to Copenhagen, Dresden, Milan, Minsk, Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw.
For the first time for many years Switzerland and Bavaria will benefit from direct overnight trains to Poland and points east, with new direct night sleeper services from Basel SBB and Munich to Warsaw and Moscow. Fixed fares apply for travel on most European night train routes, often with little advantage for railpass holders. A one-way journey in a shared sleeper costs from €69. For those on a budget, couchettes are priced from €49 and a one-way overnight in a reclining seat begins at €29.
The changes are of course not limited to night train services. New for 2008 are a daily direct train from both Vienna and Prague to Stralsund on Germany’s Baltic coast, a very handy new daytime train from Kraków to Budapest (less than nine hours on a beautiful route through the mountains that straddle the Polish-Slovakian border), a new fast direct daytime service from Paris to Munich (just over six hours) to supplement the long-standing Paris-Munich night train, a new direct Berlin to Copenhagen link (where the entire train gets shipped on a ferry between Denmark and Germany), and a new direct once daily train from Geneva Airport to Venice.
Rail travel in Europe can challenge even the most competent travel planner. Web sites like those of the Deutsche Bahn can help. But there is really no substitute for the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, a gem of a book updated each month. For many savvy European travellers, it is required bedtime reading.