Beware, many cities have more than one train station. Paris and London must have five or six each. We're leaving from Amsterdam Centraal as opposed to Amsterdam Sloterdijk. Remember, stations and tickets are clearly marked, so if you know to check, it's no big deal.
Using Europe's train system may feel daunting, but if you take things step by step, you'll do fine. Ticket windows handle your ticket reservation and sleeping car needs. If you're traveling with a rail pass, stop here to validate it before your first trip.
I need to validate my rail pass. Yap!
Can you do that for me, please? Yeah. You have your passport with you? Yah!
Many faster trains require reservations. It's smart to ask.
These boards list all the trains departing today from Amsterdam, grouped by destination. Here we have trains to Brussels, Paris, London and Germany. Our train's leaving at 8:55 to Koln.
The big, constantly changing "trains departing imminently board" is the centerpiece of most stations. Whatever the language, departure boards always have the same columns: departure time, destination, which track, and if it's late.
This board is more accurate than the printed schedules, because it tells you exactly what's happening in the next hour or so. If a train was supposed to be gone, and then it's still there, you can hop right on. If your train is late, it tells you how much time you have to kill.
There's our train: 8:55, Koln, track 4B, and on time.
Charts on the platform show which cars are going where for the longer trains. Find your train (we're leaving at 8:55) and you'll see the order of the cars, starting with the engines. On the same train, you can see which cars are first-class, and which cars are second-class. You can see where you can get a bite to eat or drink, and most importantly, you can see which cars are going where. This car is going to Hannover, not Koln.
Most trains pick up and drop cars throughout their journey. Destination plates are posted both outside and inside.
And now we find our seat. Reservation panels tell us which seats are reserved. At a glance I can see here we have six seats and six reservations. I don't wanna sit there. They'll be full in a matter of minutes.
In this compartment there are two people and two reservations, and if you look carefully you can see, actually, for which segments of the journey those seats are reserved. Now, this is first-class, so we've got plenty of room to stretch out, in general. And I'm gonna look around till I find a compartment all to myself. Here's a compartment that's completely empty, and I can double check by seeing there's nothing reserved. This compartment is all mine.
Cars are marked: first- or second-class, smoking or no smoking. Many trains have open seating like this. Some still have the traditional compartments. If you're on a budget, remember, nearly every train has both first- and second-class cars, each going precisely the same speed. My Eurail Pass comes in first-class only...forced luxury.
Every train has a thief...at least that's what I assume. Rather than worrying about locking my bag, I simply clip it like that. Then if a thief comes in and grabs my bag, and it doesn't go, he's not gonna say, "Pardon, how is your bag attached today?"
You'll spend a lot of time en route. Do what you can on the train to save up time off the train: read, study, write your postcards, eat, and sleep.
No more windmills, I think we're in Germany now, but in today's Europe, it's hard to know when you've crossed a border. We're heading for a village on the Rhine, but first, we have to change trains in Koln. Koln station is busy, but clearly posted departure times and platform numbers make transferring trains easy.
Europe's express trains (like the one we caught this morning) make the big city leap quickly. The little local trains (like this one) take it from there. It's only lunchtime, and we're already in Germany's castle country.