Railways often follow river courses, so expect to see great scenery and small villages up close and personal!

Ride the European Rails for Flexibility, Comfort and Adventure…

but do pack light!


Text © Pat Middleton, Photos © Rich Middleton and may not be used with permission of the publisher.


When a Mosel/Rhine River riverboat cruise opened up the possibility of a long-envisioned hike in Southern France after debarking in Nuremberg,  the potential of a European rail journey beckoned!


            We were not new to the rails, having begun our travel life with a 6-week Eurail pass some 37 years ago. Since then, we had also sampled rail travel in North America on Amtrak, Via Rail in Canada, the Panama Coastal Railroad, and Alaska Rail. For us, train travel meant independence, flexibility, safety, and the companionship of the local culture we were traveling to experience!Train platforms were often a great oportunity to visit with locals, get advice, and practice your 2nd language!



    A quick internet search produced several agencies which might provide tickets, CLICK PHOTO to link to www.eurail.comitineraries, and a varying degree of information on exactly how to plan our European trip. We settled on www.Eurail.com for advice about how to accomplish the trip with the right combination of pass options. They supplied our tickets, emailed us itineraries, and recommended reservations they thought might be necessary for our route.


    Our first reason for choosing www.Eurail.com was nostalgic ... we had traveled on a 6-week  Eurail Pass on our first excursion overseas... long before internet and email were even imagined. More importantly, we found our Eurail agent to be spot-on when it came to staying in touch by email and following through on our short-notice travel needs. Although the agency is located in Europe they had our passes delivered by Express Mail within two business days.

 We found the trains in Europe to be a mixed bag of sparkling, modern vessels to some that we probably rode in back in the 1980s!!

      Our choice for travel was the 1st class, 2-month/10 day Global Pass. It would allow almost unlimited flexibility as we could travel in 21 countries. We found 1st class a reasonably-priced option. Our other option might have been a 15 day/4-trip pass good for two countries for about 1/2 the price of the Global Pass. In the end, the Global Pass allowed us to travel through Switzerland as well as Germany and France.  Plus we only used 4 of the possible 10 uses. So if we can get back in the next two months, hey! We can still use our passes!

 The Bahnhoff in Frankfurt was located right near the arrivals area at the Frankfurt airport.           










    Our travel plans indicated that we would arrive Frankfurt, Germany, by plane and depart two weeks later from Toulouse, in Southern France.  We estimated we would need the rails to make four transfers during that time frame… From the Frankfurt airport to our boat in Trier, Germany. From Nuremberg, Germany, where we debarked our boat, to Toulouse, from Toulouse to tiny Castillon de Couserans, and then back from Castillon de Couserans to Toulouse.



   In fact, there were numerous glitches to our state-side air travel plans and the prospect of using Europe’s finely honed and immensely flexible rail transportation system was a great source of comfort as all flights out of the Midwest were cancelled for more than 24 hours because of spring storms!


            Because of the rail pass, however, we felt confident that no matter where they put us down in Europe… just get us to Brussels, Paris, or Holland we pleaded, we can  take the train from most anywhere  to get to our boat.


           By the time we arrived at the Frankfurt airport, our boat was 1.5 days (or 5 hours by train!) ahead of us in the tiny community of Zell. The Frankfurt Bahnhof or train station is located right at the arrivals area of the airport. There, as at every other train station we passed through, English speaking staff members  helped us by develop and interpret revised itineraries, and, get on the right train platforms, etc.  

 Views from the train along the Rhine and Moselle rivers were unforgettable.

            For our journey to Zell, as well as our post-cruise rail journey to tiny Castillon de Couserans in the French Midi-Pyrenees, the itinerary would  include a steady series of transfers with about a 10 minute interval between transfers, and then a transfer by autobus to our final village destination. All bus transfers were included in our rail pass. 


            So the trains proved flexible indeed, but we needed to do our part and be able to handle our own luggage efficiently. By chance, we had packed perfectly… l small roller suitcase and a day-pack. This is exactly how the Europeans traveled, and the necessity of moving one’s own luggage into and out of the trains is probably exactly WHY they pack that way. Escalators and moving luggage tracks along stair ways reduced the burden of handling luggage at the stations, but there is no alternative to hoisting your luggage onto the train car (short of bringing your own porter!).



           Eurail means you travel with those you’ve come to experience…



The proliferation of escorted tours as the expected way to travel has one major disadvantage …  there is always a level of separation between the traveler and the places and people of the local culture. Why look AT the locals from a bus window when you can travel WITH them on the train?


    We find that train travel puts in the best position to experience the culture we’ve come to experience. We must find our way by approaching locals who are moreWe found the trains to be very computer friendly... with electrical plug-ins in many of the passenger areas and wireless internet service was generally available for purchase. familiar with the trains; we sit with them in the compartment, we share our stories of why we happen to be on the same train at the same time. Europeans today are increasingly adept at speaking English… even in France! But speaking the language at least to some small degree truly makes rail travel a meaningful experience.


 We traveled through some beautiful river valleys with our Eurail Global Pass. The Rhine River, the Mosel River, and from Basil to Geneva, Switzlerland.






Eurail means actually SEEING the Scenery, rather than flying 24,000 feet above it!  Windows on the train were ideal for sight-seeing as the countryside passed by





Vineyards, castles, Medieval churches and villages abound along the railroad routes.



   That afternoon nap? The train was just the ticket!  .... and my hubby was relieved that the 12 hour journey to Toulouse was not something he needed to stay at the wheel for!  















A spic and span first class compartment. It was common for each of the compartments to offer air conditioning, electrical outlets, etc. Newspapers were delivered, and it was possible to order out snacks and beverages for delivery by the steward.





First class compartments came in all shapes and degrees of wear, but were seldom crowded.

   One of the huge lakes on our Switzerland rail route.








Rapeseed is called Canola in the US. Vast fields of rapeseed are grown for the Ethanol industry.





You're gonna ask, so we'll tell you right now.  Those vast fields of yellow flowers seen throughout Germany and France are rapeseed also known as Canola.

The plant oils are used to produce a type of Ethanol, just as corn is used in the United States.





Nothing beat the train for the long haul.  Restaurants, newspapers,snackbar ... even the sleeping car ... all tagged along with us on theBike travelers can benefit from a Eurail Pass too! Many trains had special space reserved for bikes. train. Traveling First Class offered a degree of privacy as desired. Even internet access and electrical plugins (bring an adapter for Europe!) were often available. Bicycles, too, can be brought on board especially marked cars!







FINDING OUR WAY in the train stations was never all that difficult. For longer journeys we learned to ask for a print-out of our entire itinerary. It had all the transfers and all our arrival, departure times, and gate information. Once on the platform, we learned to check the charts to see exactly where our first class car would be located for boarding. Clocks are prominent on the platforms because the schedules are accurate to the minute!!


 Checking the board to see where our train car would be located on the platform     Train platforms were often open-air in the smaller stations. Clocks were always prominently displayed. The trains arrived and departed "like clockwork."


Below, the Toulouse train station at 5:30 a.m. We began our trip to southern France by boarding the train in Nuremberg to Basil Switzerland, at 2:45 p.m. Our daylight excursion took us through Switzerland to Geneve by 8 p.m. There we boarded a Sleeping Car (Couchettes) for Toulouse where we would arrive at 5:30 a.m. Had we slept in a 2nd class cabin (just an extra $35), there would have been six passengers in a very small area. Our first class ticket allowed us to take a 1st class cabin for an extra $60 or $70, which could have slept 4 people, but we were the only passengers to use it.Our sleeper train arrived in Toulouse at 5:30 a.m.  By 8 a.m. we were sitting in St. Giron admiring the foothills of the Pyrenee Mountains!


    For shorter skips... for example when we second-guessed our itinerary and missed our stop, it was an easy matter to jump off at the next stop and check the yellow departure chart shown below. These are found at every platform.

 Arrival/Departure boards on each platform made easy work of figuring out when the next train to our destination would arrive.









CERTAINLY, traveling by train lived up to our expectations of comfort, safety, flexibility, usefulness! Absolutely!


BUT, when Rich threw out his back and it became MY responsibility to hoist our two small roller carts and two day-packs from transfer to transfer on the trains, we opted for a taxi transfer of 1.5 hours back to the Toulouse airport hotel. The $200 taxi bill made us appreciate, doubly, the value of using the train to criss-cross Germany and France on this excursion!  



Click photo to visit www.eurail.com   Paperwork provided by Eurail made planning our train routes an easy task.The bottom line? TRAVEL LIGHT and HOP THE RAILS for a memorable holiday adventure!



If YOU GO…   www.EURAIL.com is the European gateway to traveling Europe by train. This is an online agency specializing in rail tickets, passes, reservations, and itinerary. We found the agents to be very prompt and helpful in getting back to us by email and advising us on which itineraries and reservations we needed to have in advance of our travels. The travel packet was express mailed to our door and included not only a complete booklet of train connections (which we never could truly figure out) but an excellent map of all the train routes in Europe. We found this map to be very helpful as we made our travel plans. Because ALL the online agencies are internet-based, it really is important to find an agent who you feel is communicating well with you. With one of the major American agencies, a full week would go by before anyone responded to our emails!!



 A barge on the Rhine River. While it took us 6 days to travel the Rhine River and the Mosel by riverboat, the train took us along almost the same route in about 5 hours!Our train trip up the Rhine River provided an intimate look into the backyards of Germany!














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