Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries of hidden europe magazine report for EuroCheapo on the pleasures and value of European night trains:
Do you know Tczew? Perhaps not. It’s an unexciting sort of spot. Poland, top right, more or less. We had never imagined that we might enjoy a leisurely breakfast of caviar, crackers, and coffee at Tczew. Sitting in a Russian railway carriage, which lingered for an hour or two in Tczew. Waiting for a connection perhaps? Who knows. Night trains are like that.
The pleasures of the night train
Night trains are extraordinary. They rattle past factories and canals, disturb the deer that graze at the forest edge in the evening. In the wee small hours of the night, they screech round sharp curves in some foreign town. A listless child stirs in her sleep in a house next to the railway tracks, while last night’s unwashed crockery trembles on the scullery table. And then the train is gone, an emissary from another world, and silence returns to the unnamed town. Night trains get to places that other trains never reach.
Night trains are the stuff of poetry, but they can also be extraordinarily good value. There is something undeniably civilized about being able to sip a good malt whisky in the evening, as the night train from London to the Scottish Highlands weaves its way out through the northern suburbs of the metropolis. Supper on the train and then to bed in crisp clean linen to awake in the morning as the train climbs up onto Rannoch Moor. Book well in advance, choose the right day, and you can even travel from London to the Scottish Highlands for £l9 (yes, that’s less than $40).
Germany’s new night trains
The Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail network, capitalizes on its location bang in the middle of Europe to run the continent’s most extensive network of night train services. Revamped for the 2008 season, the trains are quiet, comfortable and often a great value. Trains head from Copenhagen or Prague to Basel in Switzerland, from Amsterdam to Milan or Vienna, and dozens of other connections across Europe.
The comfort of the night train is a quiet retort to the frenzy of modern air travel. They’re also an antidote to the breakneck speed of the fastest daytime express trains. Why not try one next time you visit Europe?
Booking a night train
“Special fares apply” says the admonition in the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, a monthly publication that is the bible for all savvy rail travelers in Europe. That might imply hefty surcharges. But no, night trains are often cheaper than daytime services. From Switzerland to Denmark overnight in a couchette from just €49 cannot be matched by any discount airline or day train. Choose carefully, and you can travel overnight between European cities in a comfortable sleeping berth for €69.
Most European night trains use a global price system with one all-in charge covering both the train fare and the fee for on-board accommodation. Holders of Eurail and other passes don’t often secure great advantage. The best value all-in fares that Europeans buy locally may cost little more than the supplements that pass holders must pay to secure a couchette or bed. It’s a market which rewards travelers who book well in advance, committing them to traveling on a specific day. Find out more about German night trains, now marketed under the “City Night Line” banner, at www.nachtzugreise.de.