I recently took the overnight Trenhotel train from Paris to Barcelona, a fun, if technologically inferior, alternative to a budget airline. Booking can be a pain, but the useful Seat 61 site helps, and I found it easier to call Rail Europe than to use their clunky web site.
Obviously the journey takes longer by train: we left Waterloo at midday and arrived in Barcelona at 8am the next day—but it was easier than the return plane trip (which also involved a taxi, two coach rides each an hour long to and from the far out of town airports, and the tube). A lot of that time was spent sleeping, so isn’t really lost time at all, and a couple of hours were spent outside a cafe in Paris drinking beer.
Another advantage over flying is the lack of luggage restrictions. It turns out to be impossible to make two weeks’ worth of stuff weigh less than 15kg. I don’t mind paying Ryanair 8 Euros per extra kilo, but I do wish they wouldn’t treat me like a naughty boy and make me go and stand in Yet Another Queue to pay for it.
There’s a certain romance to train travel, especially in Europe with its departure boards showing exotic destinations. At dinner this more than made up for the food not being all that great and having to share our table. In fact, I’m being unfair. Our British companions were charming and interesting, and after a few glasses of wine I kept expecting Miss Marple to appear and interview me about the murder. Dinner on the train was a wonderful experience.
Accomodation was comfortable—we had a private cabin with bunk beds and a sink. Cabins with showers are available, but I found those tickets impossible to get. The website has a virtual tour showing what it’s like on board. Unlike the night train I once took from Trondheim to Bodø, I found the particular rocking motion of Trenhotel quite unsettling, but felt better after taking some pills.
Crossing the border was achieved by handing over our passports to the staff at the beginning of the journey and being handed them back the next morning. Exactly what happened to them in the meantime I’ll never know.
Sleep came easily, but morning still came too soon. Arriving in Barcelona at 8am meant wandering around the city in a daze, pretending to sight-see and drinking cortados just to stay awake until our hotel room was ready.
Have a look at The Man in Seat 61 for train travel ideas.
The remaining mystery is that even though we were travelling by train one way only, we had to buy return Eurostar tickets from London to Paris. Single tickets are more than double the price. I can only speculate as to the economic forces that contrive this situation.