Eurail travel - a way to extend a holiday to EuropeWritten by Gareth Powell
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You can effectively extend a touring holiday of Europe by several days and perhaps save money. To do it you need a Eurail pass and a little forward planning. This is how it works. With a Eurail Pass you can go from city center to city center in Europe in great comfort at a reasonable price. The key to this is phrase 'city center to city center'. Consider Paris. The airport, Charles de Gaulle, is 23 km north-east of Paris. If you go by taxi in either direction it costs national debt and takes 45 minutes. There are regular buses and trains but your journey is never going to be less than 45 minutes. Leaving, you have security to go through and airlines would like you there well before take-off. At least an hour, sometimes two hours. Thus on any flight you find that as much as six hours, never less than four, are spent getting to airport, checking in, flying, getting there and collecting your luggage. Then getting to center of your destination. By train, in every capital in Europe (I have searched and found no exception) you arrive in center of city. Yes, you need to be at train station ten minutes before train leaves -- make it fifteen minutes to be on safe side -- and when you get to your destination it is instant arrival. Your baggage is with you and you are there, bang in center of city. To test this stay with Paris for moment. At Easter -- one of busiest times of year for Paris -- I arrived at Gare de L'Est, one of main stations of Paris. In station was tourist help desk -- every station in Europe has a help desk. There I explained what I wanted -- an inexpensive (as in under 50 Euros a night) room in a hotel near Place Republique with a view over rooftops of Paris. And I got it confirmed in ten minutes and went happily on my way. (In passing, it was most romantic room I have ever had in a hotel anywhere and this was Paris in spring and chestnuts were in bloom and, alas, I was alone.) On this trip I traveled from Salerno in Sicily right through Italy and then France, on to Spain to Barcelona to wonder at work of Gaudi, back to Greece and then up again to Germany to Mainz. I had a lot of ground to cover and this was best and least expensive and most pleasurable way. I saved a lot of time and a lot of money. (And, if you are interested in old motorcycles you should know that I spent my birthday touring Sicily on a 350cc Royal Enfield which was an exact replica of sixties model but made in Madras. I could have hired 500 cc model but thought that going a bit over top.) You will typically only be dealing with relatively short travel times -- Paris to Lyon is two hours, Amsterdam to Cologne three hours, Geneva to Paris three-and-a-half hours and so on -- and these will be pleasurable experiences because trains are fast, comfortable (especially in first class) and wonderfully quiet. The best example of modern trains of Europe are TGV trains of France, which are part of EuroCity network. I am writing this while I travel on TGV express -- TGV stands for Train a Grande Vitesse which translates, roughly, as high speed train -- from Paris to Avignon. The quietness -- we are running on rubber tyres -- is eerie. This is first class, and there is a three seat configuration in carriage -- two and one. I am in single seat, which is adjustable and comfortable. There is a tip-down table, on which rests my computer. We are now nipping through suburbs of Paris at more than 200 kilometres an hour. We will eventually reach our maximum cruise speed, which is more than 270 kilometres an hour. There is no sway, no rattle, no lurch, no jerk. A gentleperson's conveyance for grand tour of Europe. For trains between big cities, best bets are super fast name trains like (ah ! romance in names) Catalan Tago, Maria Theresa, Voltaire, Leonardo da Vinci, Etoile du Nord. These are very fast and are almost never late. Sometimes you will use train only as high-speed, economical and comfortable transport, but at other times train ride can be a sightseeing trip as well. Bernina Express in Switzerland, Bergen Express in Norway, Loisirail in France are examples where journey is part of scenic holiday. Important points to remember: • Bear in mind that Europeans very sensibly use a 24-hour clock in matters of this sort. That is: five o'clock in afternoon becomes 1700 hours and half-past nine in evening is 2130. Easy once you get hang of it. • As you start your train journeys you need to have your Eurailpass validated, for which you will have to show your passport. Do it before you get on any train at information window of any largish railway station. You will be given back your ticket and a validation slip.
Packing: pack light, pack tight, pack carefullyWritten by Gareth Powell
There are three areas of expertise when it comes to packing to travel: frequent travelers, airline cabin staff, butlers and valets. Strangely, all seem to come up with same advice: fold it carefully, pad it well, pack it tight. The definitive authority on packing is Stanley Ager, who was butler to second and third Lords St Levan. He would pack a suitcase for their lordships for a sea voyage to East Africa. If, on arrival, clothes were not instantly ready to wear, he felt he had failed. These are heights to which few of us can aspire, but it is something to aim for. Rules for packing a suitcase for overseas travel • Place on a bed everything you simply have to take, pared down to bare essentials. Then deduct 50 per cent. • Brush clothes with a clothes brush before you pack them. • Shirts that have been to laundry should not be unpacked from their laundry wrappings. • Fold clothes on a bed or on a flat table. • Have a pile of tissue paper for padding. It is agreed generally by experts that you simply cannot do a half-way decent job without using tissue paper. Use tissue paper to line any folds that you make and to separate garments. • Load a suitcase in following order: Heavy dresses should be laid towards bottom of case with front facing upwards. Same with men's suits. Trousers at bottom, with crease towards handle. Heavy or tweed skirts also go at bottom. Jackets are packed next. It depends on length of jacket and size of case. In a very large suitcase you can place them with collar facing handle and then jacket folded in with one centre crease. If this is not possible, lay it lengthwise across case. Make sure collar side faces towards centre of case, rather than being pressed to one side. Wrap socks around shoes, so that heels do not damage other goods, before wrapping them in plastic. Fold ties into their own folder of tissue paper. Use socks, gloves, handkerchiefs to fill spaces.