I know some of you are fact fans, and some of you have asked me how my trip from one end of Europe to the other, has compared cost- time- and distance wise with alternatives like flying, or UK transport. Well, like all good “making-of” reveals, let me tell you!
Here is the map of all the main stations we travelled to and from (the most easterly one is actually Sabiha Gokcen Airport – obviously not a train station, but I’ve included it for completeness as I had to fly home to get back to work). I’ve not had time to link them up via railway lines, but you get the idea. If anyone geekier than me wants to do this for me then please let me know!
Transport costs have also been interesting, and have become much cheaper the further east we’ve come. I’ve put the cost of all our intercity tickets here, in local currency and converted into sterling, so you can have a look for yourself. The cost per mile really does drop compared to the UK even in Western Europe, and even though it works out more expensive than flying from London – Istanbul (my flight back with easyjet came to around £55), it’s still cheaper and quicker than flying city to city, and yes it’s true, more convenient and more fun. Our total intercity transport costs between London and the Airport in Sabiha Gokcen were 213.30 GBP.
You feel like you’re still in control of your journey, you don’t have to check in hours in advance, remove your belt and shoes for the x-ray machines and say goodbye to your luggage, there are no clinical departure lounges to get bored in, and you get to see a lot more of the world and the people that are just as inquisitive about it as you are. Oh and if you get a 1st class sleeper car on the Bosfor express you can pretend you’re in an Agatha Christie novel!
All our train planning was done with the help of the man in seat 61 – an incredibly extensive and precise train travel information site maintained by a former rail service QA worker. While you can look up train times direct at Western European train companies’ websites (DeutscheBahn is pretty comprehensive), firstly it helps to know which train companies to go to, and also to have the information in English. (I came unstuck in Austria when I hadn’t understood the German small print on my print-at-home ticket – which turned out to be just the ticket reservation form which I should have exchanged for my ticket before leaving the station, so got stung for an extra €20 on the train).
You can also book through rail ticket agents like raileurope, which we found very useful for timetable information, but as agents you would end up paying their booking fee too, and a lot more overall. Seat 61.com has in particular been utterly invaluable for information about the last leg of our journey and we would never have known how to get from Romania to Turkey, or have an idea of how important it was we got our Bosfor Express bookings right, until we’d arrived in Bucharest, if it wasn’t for the detail on there.
Interestingly, our local transport costs (city trams, buses, tubes and taxis) were cheap compared to the UK too – and here’s what we spent in both local currency and converted to Sterling again.
To keep costs down we stayed in hostels at a cost of approx €10 a night each – as it was February though even though these were in 10-bed dorms, we often got the room to ourselves. A different story I’m sure in summer though! Couchsurfing is another great way to visit people in different places and stay low-cost, and if we’d had more time to plan in advance, we would have tried to have a couple of nights at least on someone’s sofa using this scheme.
Guide book-wise I used two Berlitz city guides to Vienna and Brussels, and Lonely Planet’s guide to Eastern Europe (although I found the Rough Guide to Eastern Europe a lot more readable, and it included Turkey unlike Lonely Planet). Because it covers so many countries, the information is brief and itinerary based, so again with more advanced planning I would have taken individual country guides (maybe on a kindle like Dave did, as long as it was charged!), but I find all guide book information hard to take in anyway so I just grabbed something I knew would give me basics to find my way and then find out where to go from tourist information and importantly, chatting to hostel staff and the people we met on our journey.
I’d definitely do a big train journey like this again, my only regret being that I didn’t really have much time to do it in – 2 days or less at each stop is nowhere near enough, not to mention exhausting. But I look on this as just an excuse to go away in small spurts more often!