For a long time I have had the dream of travelling across the country by train. To sit in my own little compartment and watch the forests and lakes roll by. To sit in a quiet spot and read while the sun shines through the window and falls across my book. However this romantic ideal was brutally crushed during my train travels here in Germany. Let me explain…
I have done two “long haul” train trips in my time in Germany, and I have had two drastically different experiences. Both of which I will outline below, and then you can draw your own conclusion about whether or not the train is still the most romantic way to travel.
Starting point: Ulm, Germany
Destination: Leeuwarden, Netherlands
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Actual Travel Time: 11 hours
This was my first time travelling by train – and travelling alone – and it was a complete gong show. My first train was delayed departure by an hour, so I literally sat inside the train for an hour without going anywhere.
Before I go any farther one thing you should know is that German trains can be extremely full…especially if you are travelling the day after Christmas. As such most people will reserve their seats for their trip; which means that there is a 90% chance that someone will come up to you and loudly exclaim in German that you are sitting in their spot and that you have to move. Which is precisely what happened to me once we finally made it to Stuttgart (an hour into my journey). With every other seat also being reserved or full, this meant that I got the pleasure of standing in the all ready crowded space in front of the bathrooms for the next 2 hours.
It was at this point that I gave up on getting an actual seat, and fully committed to sitting on the floor in space in front of the doors, surrounded by my luggage. And that was my spot (which actually wasn’t too bad) for the next couple hours until we pulled into Köln, where I had my first transfer.
Now you have to realise that since my first train was delayed I didn’t really know if I would be able to catch my connection. But in classic Deutsche Bahn style, my connecting train was also an hour late. That’s right, I got to spend an hour standing at the Köln train station waiting for my next train (which also meant that I would 100% miss my next connection in Utrecht). However once the train did arrive, it was much emptier so I was actually able to get a seat in a nearly empty car; which automatically made this the best part of my whole trip.
Remember how I said that with all of the delays I would end up missing my final connection? Well that turned out to be exactly right. When I finally made it to the Utrecht station my intended train was long gone. So I got to talk to the lovely train lady who told me that there was a train leaving in 5 min that I could catch…but I would have to transfer one more time…but I could just walk across to the other platform and get on the train there to make it to my destination. I did not do this. I waited for an hour until the next direct train to Leeuwarden came and I took that one. This resulted in me sitting in front of a man smoking (which is not allowed on trains) and behind a woman who coughed every 3 minutes, for the last hour of my trip.
But I finally made it to my destination after 11 hours of travelling, exhausted and extremely hungry, but also extremely happy to be in the Netherlands at last.
Starting point: Leeuwarden, Netherlands
Destination: Bonn, Germany
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Actual Travel Time: 5 hours
My second trip my train went miraculously well (as in it was a miracle how painless it was). To make short work of an already short story: all of my trains were on time, I made all of my connections, and I had a seat the whole time. This trip slightly renewed my faith in the German train system, but it’s still not quite as efficient as I was imagining.
Train Tips & Tricks
• Get to the station an hour before your train is supposed to arrive/leave so that you can find out if it’ll be on time or not
• If you can, reserve a seat (especially if you’re travelling at a notoriously busy time of year)
• Don’t be afraid of asking the train station workers for help
• Pack lots of snacks…chocolate makes everything better
• There is nothing wrong with sitting/standing in the space between cars…sometimes it’s just not worth the mad dash and fight for the last seat
• When little old German ladies talk to you on the train just smile and nod, even though you have no idea what they’re saying
• There are some cars in the train that are meant to be silent, these are the best ones to go to if you have work to do or want to read
• Sometimes if you sit in the sections with 4 seats facing each other, people are less likely to sit with you
• Always double and triple check the platform signs for where your train is arriving, sometimes the trains will change tracks without notice
• Did I mention packing snacks yet? Because those are very important
• People pack in those trains like sardines, be prepared to be bumped and squeezed together
• Don’t count on the Wi-Fi working, it’s spotty at best
As of this moment I’m done with both of my long haul train trips, and all that awaits me is two very long bus rides. So here’s hoping that those go as well as my last train trip…
Thank you for travelling with Deutsche Bahn, take care and good bye.