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The great majority of our many rail journeys across Europe work perfectly. Most trains really do arrive punctually. But from time to time Europe’s railways do have bad days, particularly when bad weather rolls in and plays havoc with schedules.
When winter strikes
In three of the last five winters, we have had at least one trip where we were seriously delayed on journeys back to our Berlin base, in each case not reaching home until a day later than anticipated. And that is just what happened last weekend: what should have been a routine journey from London to Berlin turned out to be a 25-hour epic.
The key to getting the best out of Europe’s railways is having a through ticket from origin to destination, which was just what we had on Saturday when we set out from London with through tickets to Berlin (a snip at just €49 per person).
Stuck in Brussels
Eurostar was as magnificent as ever, speeding us through the Channel Tunnel and on through wintry Flanders to Brussels Midi where we arrived just after 2 p.m. But the onward connecting train to Germany was cancelled due to bad weather, and many other services were heavily delayed.
Western Europe’s principal rail operators cooperate in an alliance called Railteam. And if things go wrong, you can ask to be rerouted on other Railteam member trains to reach your final destination.
Railteam: Hop on the next train
Many cheaper European rail tickets (the ones we love) restrict you to specific trains and routes. But when trains are canceled or connections missed due to a late-running train, you can ask any railway official to stamp the reverse side of your ticket. This confirms that you have encountered problems along the way, and that you are now entitled to use alternative trains or even a very different route to reach your final destination.
The Railteam stamp (nicely embellished with the slogan “Hop on the Next Train”) is your passport to flexibility in times of trouble.
Onward via Paris
We were rerouted from Brussels on a stylish Thalys train (all lush vibrant pink and purple velour) to Paris, where there was just time for a quick supper before hopping on an overnight City Night Line (CNL) train to Germany.
The Paris to Berlin sleeper would have been our first choice, but that was booked out, so we opted for the CNL train to Hamburg where luck was very much on our side as we grabbed the last remaining two-berth sleeper (for which we paid a supplementary sleeper charge – crisp linen sheets come at a cost, but we do like our creature comforts).
Snoozing to Hamburg
This was a perfect overnight journey. We both slept like logs, awakening on Sunday to see a glorious winter sunrise over northern Germany. We continued with a sleek Deutsche Bahn ICE train to Berlin, enjoying breakfast on the way and arriving home early afternoon.
What could have been a nightmare turned out to be a happily memorable journey. All thanks to the Railteam alliance.
The moral: Next time you run into trouble on the rails, make sure you get your ticket stamped to confirm the disruption. Train crews and station staff will provide the necessary stamp, and once it’s there you can exploit the flexibility of the network to reach your destination.
Don’t get flustered or annoyed. Delays are all part of traveling and with a little patience you’ll still reach your destination in the end. And perhaps with some unanticipated adventures along the way.