Americans still have a lot to learn from the Europeans. As much as we have made tremendous strides in virtually every area, they are still well ahead of us in many things…rail travel amongst them.
For much of the last century until the last quarter, rail travel in the United States was efficient, comfortable, even luxurious. Then we discovered airplanes.
As late as the 1950s, transcontinental travel by rail was the main mode of transportation. Once jets were introduced and you could get from Point A to Point B more quickly, travel by rail declined in the United States.
Today, most airlines have three classes of travel — first class and business class for those with money or on an expense account, and cattle class for the rest of us. Climb aboard a plane and you are jammed, crammed and squeezed into a seat not designed for the posterior of any human larger than an anorexic runway model.
Cross-country train travel in the United States has become almost non-existent because of the need for speed. Not so in Europe.
In Europe, rail travel is still a common form of transportation and getting from Point A to Point B in comfort and style is the norm.
Eurail, started in 1959 with destinations in 13 countries, has expanded to 28 countries today with France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland amongst the popular routes.
There are first class coaches for those who don’t mind spending a bit more but the equivalent of coach class is still comfortable, with more than ample room for your legs and that infamous posterior.
A note of interest — sound like a local and call the train cars “carriages.”
On most of the Eurail trains, food is available as are some libations. We’ve found that it is well worth the small extra expense to upgrade to a first class coach. There’s nothing wrong with regular coach, but the added comfort on a long journey adds to the pleasure of watching the beautiful European countryside roll by.
The tab for traveling by Eurail is so much easier on the wallet than flying, and, frankly, in many cases, the travel time is comparable.
Getting to the airport, checking in, paying extra for luggage, going through security and heading to the gate all eat up time. In contrast, most European train terminals are conveniently located and boarding is express. The trains will take you to a similar terminal at your destination.
If you purchase tickets in advance, there are deals that will save even more including an extra day on passes bought through April 30.
The passes may be used any time within six months of purchase. Try that with an airline ticket.
The Global Pass is popular with travelers, offering connections to 28 countries across the continent. It also includes free or discounted travel on major shopping lines and brings the cultural, geographical and historical riches of Europe within reach of the average pocketbook.
Passes are available from a worldwide network of agents. For information, go to www.eurailgroup.org/eurail-vendors.
In 2015, Eurail is introducing a variety of new options to its Eurail Pass Portfolio. There is a new First-Class Youth Pass for youngsters from 12-25 and a free pass for those up to 11 years old while traveling with an adult pass holder. The First Class Youth Pass is available at a 20 percent discount from the adult tab.
New countries added this year that brought the total to 28 are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Poland and Serbia. Travelers can now ride the rail on the eastern Adriatic coast from Croatia to Montenegro or take a side stop at Poland while heading to Prague or Berlin.
With 28 countries, cultures and customs to choose from, travelers can traverse the European continent going from rural to urban and everything in between. For information check out http://www.eurail.com/.
Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.