The train in… well, a total of 5 countries

by , under expeditions, life

That is: what I did on my holidays, part 1.

Four countries each way. The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy on the way out: 19:10 hours on paper but actually turned out shorter because the night train left late. Italy, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands on the way back: almost exactly 24 hours because of a long interval between arriving at Munich and the night train’s departure.

I wrote two thousand words and deleted most of them because it was rambling: written too soon, I suppose. I’m just leaving some observations.

Night trains It’s an adventure. On the Arnhem-Zurich one we got a bottle of Sekt before going to bed, and on the München-Arnhem one not until breakfast (which we took with us because, well, Sekt at 7am on very little sleep… I’d rather have tea and bottled orange juice). A moving hotel room, the smallest EVER, counting the one in Ravenna. The cutest thing was a cup of toothbrushing water, like an individual yoghurt container but filled with clear water. Strangely, we only got 3 cups of water between the 2 of us. And on the way back the toilet broke in the middle of the night: one of the refrains of this holiday, it seems. Nice fast-forwarding through boring parts of Germany.

Switzerland I took an instant dislike to it the moment we got off the train, because the very first thing I saw at the station of Zurich was an advertisement (not a pasted poster, but an actual station advertisement) against immigrants. The station was FULL of those. It did have a first-class lounge without any, only with admittedly breathtaking mountain photos, but the internet didn’t like us and the chairs were so large that I had to dangle my legs or sit on the very edge. The woman welcoming us to the lounge was called M. Vermeulen, a very Dutch name, but she asked us “Do you speak English?” (after she’d heard us speak Dutch) and we replied “Ja, und auch Deutsch”.

Switzerland wouldn’t end, either. Yes, spectacular views, I’m so not used to mountains, but every time I thought “we’ll go through this mountain and then we’ll be in Italy” it was still Switzerland after all. Even Lugano is still in Switzerland, though they speak Italian there. Chiasso is in Italy, though only just: we were entering the EU again, which we’d left without noticing while asleep. Passport control was announced. Two uniformed men came, didn’t even spare one look for the passport and Euro-ID card we had ready for them, but pounced on the Asian-looking man in front of us to ask if he had anything to declare. This didn’t endear me to Switzerland and the Swiss any more than the station advertisements had.

Milan  The easiest way to go from Milano Centrale to Milano Porta Garibaldi is to go one stop on the airport train. We couldn’t find a single ticket machine that would give us a ticket for that so we talked to some railway people. “Oh, just take the train,” one whose English was marginally better than our Italian [1] said, “and if a guard comes show your international ticket.” There was in fact a machine for the airport train at the airport-train platform, but it was hard to figure out and the train was already there so we hopped on, and no guard came, and we arrived at Porta Garibaldi with seven minutes to spare. Whew.

[1] Another refrain of the whole trip.

Italian train wifi is weird: they say it’s free, and after a lengthy, unclear and complicated login process in which they want your full name and address and date of birth and mobile phone number, they ask for your credit card number. I gave up at that point. Why do they want your credit card number for something that’s free? And aren’t people without credit cards worthy of using train wifi?

Bologna Never again if I can help it. “Helpful” young men try to seize one’s luggage and assist with things we can absolutely do ourselves, like figure out what platform to go to. I still don’t know whether they were thieves or trying to get tips. They’re allowed to be at the baggage store, but we didn’t need to go there, only to change trains. Also, it’s full of beggars, and there isn’t a single place to get something to eat except crisps and sweets.

And if you happen to have a non-reserved undated valid-for-six weeks ticket, stamp it in the green machine, because otherwise train guards will try to fine you ten times the regular five-euro fine and probably pocket the extra if you look like a dumb tourist. What saved us from that was that we didn’t have cash in any useful denomination on us. (Strangely, we got tiny stamp-in-the-green-machine tickets in Ravenna, and huge tickets in Rimini, the size of our Deutsche Bahn-issued ones from Bologna to Ravenna.)

Austria  Better than Switzerland. Lots of interesting castles, and the mountains are prettier though near dusk they LOOM so. We had a 4-person compartment to ourselves, but the seats were falling apart and the nearest toilet was broken. A quartet of policemen walked through the train at regular intervals, possibly to look for illegal immigrants or something. We didn’t get passport control at all, though my other half had seen them. Figures: if you’re a middle-aged white couple travelling first class you’re unlikely to be illegal immigrants, and unlike Switzerland, Austria is in the EU.

Munich  Rain. And the restaurant we both remembered from different occasions didn’t seem to exist any more. We ate in the restaurant of the InterCity Hotel, which had decent food and tasty drinks and was a nice quiet place to spend the evening until it was time to saunter to our 22:50 night train.


  1. Elvis

    > I still don’t know whether they were thieves or trying to get tips.

    Both. They try to get tips but also to steal whatever they can if the victim is distracted enough.

    So sad when I read these things about my country…


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