Europe by Rail

train station in Buchs, Switzerland

When traveling Europe by rail you can get a rail pass good for several days to a week, but they are quite expensive. Unless you are going very far or riding the train quite a lot it’s not worth the money. For us it was just a fraction of the cost of what a week’s pass would have been to pay for each leg of our journey separately. To get the best rate we chose our train times carefully because travel time and price varies from one train to the next and prices increase as the train fills. The very same route might be $10 at one time of day, $100 at another, and anywhere in between for the rest of the options. The time it takes the train to get from the starting point to the ending point varies as well. The most expensive tickets do not always have the fastest travel times. Where available we stuck with the super saver times, which were significantly cheaper than the rest, but good only for that one particular train and not at any other time whereas some of the more expensive tickets have more flexibility. Since we had our route planned in advance we booked all of our trains online ahead of time so we could get the best price for each leg of the journey choosing the lowest priced departure time closest to when we actually wanted to leave each place. We also insured that the trains we wanted would not be full before we got our tickets as could happen when waiting to get to the station to buy them.

platforms at the Zurich train station are indoors

We flew into Zurich and spent one night there so our train trip started with a journey from Zurich to Lucerne. The train that pulled into our platform in Zurich was just a tiny little short one. Since this was the first of the trains we took on our pre-cruise adventure through Europe we didn’t really know what to expect, but people having to walk up to the train and open the doors themselves to get in wasn’t it. That’s what everyone else did though, so we followed suit. No train officials were anywhere in the vicinity to take tickets or answer questions or check to see if people got on the right train they paid for or anything, passengers were totally on their own. Being on your own was typical for the rest of the journey, but having to open a closed door to get on the train was not.

large train stations like the one in Zurich have storage lockers

Our tickets said we could sit anywhere that wasn’t reserved or first class. Nothing appeared to be either so we just found some seats and sat there. The train chugged along at a pretty good pace, stopping briefly at a couple stations before slowing down not near anything except a longer train ahead of it on the tracks. Our little train caught up to the bigger one, bumped into the end of it and latched itself on so suddenly we were in the tail end of a very long train.

scenery on the train ride from Zurich to Lucerne

The ride to Lucerne from Zurich took 50 minutes with a number of brief stops at stations along the way, but no need for us to get out or change trains since it was a direct route. Lucerne was the terminal station, the end of the line where everybody got out. At least for our little section of the train anyway. Walking past the longer section after we got out we could see all kinds of people in there on both levels as that one had upstairs and downstairs rather than just being one level like our part was. Either they got on really quick or more likely they were already there and that part of the train continued on after ditching our little section in Lucerne.

train station in Lucerne

After the uneventful train ride from Zurich, we arrived in Lucerne with a 2-night booking at Roesli Guest House, which the booking info said was near the train station. We had no directions on how to get there and Google maps in its sometimes frustrating fashion changed the direction of the walk this way arrow depending on which way we went, always pointing us to go somewhere else – but as soon as we headed that way it changed again. Not knowing the area at all we gave up and took a taxi. We tried uber first, but there were no cars active in the area at the time and taxis at the train station were plentiful.

platform at Lucerne train station

The taxi went a round-about way, perhaps due to one way streets, or to their GPS, or maybe just to have a longer drive so they could charge more. Whatever the reason it seemed much too far to walk. The lady we checked in with said it was a 10-minute walk downstream along the river to the train station. The next day we found that 10 minutes was a long estimate as the walk was fairly short. It was mainly along a walking path by the river – no road, which may explain the taxi’s longer journey.

Thalwil on the readerboard in Zurich

Getting From Lucerne, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liechtenstein was not a whole lot of fun for us. We had train tickets from Lucerne that involved changing trains at Thalwil and Sargans. Where we live people don’t travel by train because there aren’t any. If we travel far enough we can find Amtrak, which is mainly for long hauls, not daily transport, and a few commuter trains which are fairly new. So our main train travel experience is in the Sydney area of Australia. There the displays for which platform trains are on and the one on the platform for what train comes next scrolls through every town the train will stop in. When we got to the station in Lucerne we expected our first stop of Thalwil to show up on the readerboard. It was listed for an earlier train which we had actually arrived at the station in time for, but we had the super saver tickets that were good for one specific train only. We got there early enough that trains for our departure time of 8:35 weren’t displayed yet, but when one came up for that time and then the next several were later and none mentioned Thalwil we got worried and went to find the train help people who said which platform to go to.

platform guide in Lucerne tells which train comes in where

That train was already on the display, with several cities mentioned, none of which were ours. Apparently besides the last stop they just randomly post a few others so if you don’t know the route and don’t see your city you are pretty much hosed. They gave us a little printout showing the platform numbers for each of our trains that day. Our train came 9 minutes late to Lucerne and arrived 13 minutes late in Thalwil. We’d had just 9 minutes between trains so the connecting train left before we got there. Thalwil is a fairly small station, but not unmanned so we went to the office and they changed our train time to the next train and said platform 4. Good to know that super saver tickets can be changed to a later time if it’s not your fault you missed your train. A train for our route only came by once per hour so we had to wait nearly an hour for the next one.

Thalwil platforms

Both platform 3 and 4 displayed similar looking cities and even some of the same ones, but neither mentioned Sargans, the stop we were looking for. The train time on platform 4 said 10:21, which was the correct time for our train up until a train pulled into the station when it suddenly changed to 10:24. Thinking that just meant the train was late we got on, but I had noticed the display about which cars were first or second class had also changed so we were a bit worried. Another guy got on, said something in German to another passenger and then left. We decided we’d better ask and the convenient girl standing there pointed over to platform 3 and said that was our train. We got out and as we stepped on the platform it pulled away.

to make the elevator (lift) go at the German speaking Thalwil station you have to push the fahrt button

Back to the office we went. Getting there involved taking a lift from the platforms to a walkway over the tracks, and another down to ground level to go to the office. They confirmed that the two trains had switched platforms at the last minute and allowed us to change our tickets to the next train. They said besides the arrival time to also watch for a little code that was on the printout they had given us that identified the train. That information was not on our original ticket. Meanwhile during the next hour sitting there we saw another pair of trains switch platforms at the last minute. When ours came this time the display never changed and the train had the right code on it so we got on with confidence and made it to Sargans. Chock that one up to a learning experience.

walkway over the tracks at Thalwil

Platform 6 at Sargans which our printout said was where we needed to go at first seemed non-existant, but we finally found it on the opposite side of a building from the rest of the platforms other than 7. It had all the right info for the train into Buchs. When I researched how to get to Liechtenstein online prior to our trip everyone said to go to Buchs to catch the bus there as no trains actually stop in Liechtenstein. We had 15 minutes between those trains and both were right on time.

Buchs train station

When we got to Buchs there were many busses at the station, none of which said they went to Vaduz, but one did go to Schaan, which was a place some of the people said you needed to go to catch one to Liechtenstein when I did my pre-trip online research so we asked the driver of that bus where to find the one to Vaduz and he said his was it. Which involved changing busses in Schaan. The last stop listed where that bus went was the train station in Sargans so even though everything I read had said to go to Buchs, we could have gotten off in Sargans and caught a bus to Vaduz directly from there without the transfer. Nobody ever mentioned there was more than one stop in Vaduz either. The only one on the scrolling menu on the bus that actually said Vaduz was Vaduz Post, but as the driver announced different stops several before that suddenly were prefaced with Vaduz before whatever the list said. Being totally clueless we got off at Vaduz Post and google mapped it. We should have gotten off a couple stops earlier at one called Stadtle, which was closer to our hotel, but at least the walk wasn’t too far since it stopped every couple blocks or so. There was no uber there, but we decided to save ourselves some hassle and just take a taxi directly to the station the next morning and not risk missing our next train from being late to the station through a bus mishap.

it’s not helpful when there’s no information on the readerboard

We had just one train to get from Buchs, Switzerland to Innsbruck, Austria, quite a relief after having to change trains twice to get there. Taking a cab to the station eliminated the 2 busses it took to get from Buchs to Vaduz. The hotel set up the cab. We said we wanted to get to the train station by 9:30 for a 10am train so we’d have plenty of time to find the right platform and find out how to know where on the train your seats are as this was our first time with reserved seats. They set the taxi up for 9am, and it came 5 minutes early so we were there shortly after 9 giving us way more spare time than we needed, but better early than late.

where to find your seat on the train

There were numbers on our tickets that I thought might relate to carriage and seat numbers, even though the ticket was all in German so I didn’t know what it actually said. I had no idea where to go from there. We stopped by the ticket office on the way out to the platforms to ask. The guy there said the readerboard out at the platform would display information telling you where to find that train car. He also said the train would come on platform 3. The readerboard on the way to the platforms that says which train comes where confirmed that the 10am train was on platform 3, and it even mentioned Innsbruck in the list of stops it displayed.

readerboards are a lot more useful when they display information

Out on the platform however the readerboard was blank. We thought maybe they just hadn’t turned it on yet because it was so early, but when it was still blank a half hour later I went back to the office to ask about that. He said it should be on and fiddled with some keys on his computer, then said our car would be in sector C. When I got back to the platform the readerboard was on, so apparently it wasn’t broken, they just hadn’t bothered to turn it on. It then alternated between flashing the usual train info and flashing a diagram that showed the order of all the cars on the train and which sector they would be in when it stopped on the platform. Ours would be the 4th car in line, behind 2 first class cars and a dining car. When the train pulled in that made it quite easy to find the right carriage.

train compartment with 6 seats

Inside instead of rows of seats like all our prior trains this one had a bunch of compartments separating them into groups of 6, and a hallway along one side of all the compartments with doors to get into them. We found the one with our seat numbers and went in. There was a lady sleeping in one of the seats next to the aisle and the rest were empty. We got our luggage up in the racks and sat down in the window seats, which corresponded to our numbers. This was the only train on our entire journey that had a rack over the seats big enough for a full-sized suitcase, though all but one of the others had racks that fit a carry-on sized bag.

luggage rack big enough for a full-sized bag

At another stop farther down the way an older lady came into the compartment. She hung her coat up over one middle seat, sat in the other, and refused to let anyone help her put her luggage in the rack. A young couple came along who needed the last 2 seats. They couldn’t both get into the door with her luggage there, but it took quite some time for them to convince her just to move the coat and the train was well underway before she finally let anyone put her luggage up in the rack so they could come in and sit down. They were speaking in German, but even though we didn’t know any of the words it was pretty obvious what the conversation was about.

As the train filled up, someone got on without a reserved seat and must not have been able to find one as she stood in the hallway outside our compartment looking very unhappy through the next couple stops until she finally saw someone in another compartment leave so she could find a place to sit. Somebody did eventually come around to check tickets on this train. Only the second one of our trip where anyone checked, the first being the 9-minute ride between Sargans and Buchs.

The train passed through some lovely scenery and a lot of tunnels going through the Alps. Also through a series of towns covered in snow, though the ground was clear before we got to Innsbruck. All of the little towns in the alps seemed to have a church with a tall pointed red steeple. Churches in other places had tall steeples, but not red ones.

train station in Innsbruck, Austria

5 out of 6 people in our carriage got out at Innsbruck. The older lady was missing at that time having vacated the carriage either to go to the restroom or dining car. Her stuff was still there though so the young guy got her luggage down and left it in the carriage before we all left. Perhaps she had told them she couldn’t get it down and that was why she didn’t want it up there in the first place.

By this time we were getting the hang of these European trains. We had just 2 more to go getting from Innsbruck to Venice, but while all our other tickets looked alike those two looked quite different from all the ones we’d had so far as well as from each other.

carriage display in Innsbruck

Our last train trip in Europe went from Innsbruck, Austria to Venice, Italy via a change of train in Verona Porta Nuova. At Innsbruck the readerboard at the platform didn’t display the order of train cars and where they would come into the platform the way the Swiss station had. They were however displayed separately on a different readerboard. When we first got there just a few people sat in a little cubicle that was just a bit warmer than the outside. It was awhile yet for the train so we waited in there too. Soon a very confused Italian girl came in with lots of questions about her ticket and the train, but she spoke no English so a couple other people talked to her until she calmed down and sat quietly to wait for the train. As time got closer the platform filled with people. Luckily it was a long train. We were quite glad to have reserved seats. There were people still hunting for somewhere to sit after it left the station, but eventually they all left our carriage so they might have found seats somewhere else.

lots of empty seats on the train from Verona to Venice

The other two seats in our group of 4 were occupied by very nice young men, one an American in the army stationed in Italy and the other an Austrian college student studying in Italy. Both had been on a train that got stopped the previous day due to the tracks being blocked in an avalanche. They waited hours at a little station on the boarder of Austria and Italy and then returned to Innsbruck for the night. Which explains the huge crowd on our train. When our train reached that station it sat for quite a lot longer than usual for such a small station, but being on the boarder the Austrian said they were probably checking some people’s passports. Eventually the train moved and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief that we were going onward and not back. Both the young guys were a day late, one missing classes and the other had to fill out a pile of paperwork and take a day of leave so as not to be in trouble for his late return to the army. After awhile the snow thinned and got more sparse until it disappeared entirely. Mountains gave way to rolling hills with grapevines and green fields, the quintessential picture of rural Italy. Nearly everyone on the train got off at our stop in Verona Porta Nuova. Our seat companions continued on in different trains to ours.

Verona Porta Nuova station

At that station there were just small readerboards in the hallway that ran underground between the platforms that said which trains were to come into which platform. Ours was on platform 4. The platform had readerboards, but the ones that normally display the information on the next incoming train never lit up until it actually arrived, and the others just had ads. None of them had the seat car arrangement. The platform also did not give the section letters as the Swiss and Austrian ones had so there was nothing to relate where particular cars would actually stop. They made an announcement that just said which cars would either be in the front, middle, or back of the train. Not that helpful when you have no idea where exactly on that very long platform the train would stop. We stayed near the middle of the platform since our car was to be in the middle, but it turned out to be a short train and went to the far end of the platform before stopping so we were well behind the entire train and nowhere near our car. It didn’t stay at the station long and we barely got to our car and in the door before the door closed and it left. That train had a lot of open seats so the reservation there would not have been necessary. It’s the only one of all the ones we had reserved seats on where we could have pretty much sat anywhere without being in someone else’s seat though.

vaporetto boat stops by the train station in Venice

This one had a small electronic display at the front of the car that said the name of whatever the next station would be so there was fair warning before it was announced. Ours at Venezia Santa Lucia turned out to be the end of the line. There was another Venice station prior called Venezia Mestre, but no water to be seen there. The train crossed a bridge to get to our station on the edge of the Grand Canal. It was not only the end of the line for that train, but also the end of the tracks. From that station you find docks with boats or watertaxis instead of busses and land taxis. There are some busses nearby as the train station is in the one spot in Venice proper where vehicles can go. The busses there will only take people out of Venice though. They have to take boats or use their own two feet to go any farther into it. The public boats called vaporetto have ticket booths by the train station and stops along the canal. That was how we got to the Airbnb where we stayed. Vaporetti function as the busses of Venice.

Italian train

When taking a trip around Europe by trains it’s best to pack light. All of the ones we rode had luggage racks that would fit a backpack. Most had luggage racks that would fit a carry-on size bag as well. Just a couple of them had a rack that would fit a big suitcase, one of which was by the door and not above the seats. Also take into consideration that there are some places where lugging the bag up or down stairs may be required. Most have lifts, but at the very least you will have to carry it up into the train, and then maneuver it through narrow, often crowded aisleways to your seat. Only one out of all the trains we took had luggage racks by the door where people could leave their bags before walking down the aisle to their seat, and that one did not have overhead racks big enough even for a carry-on. It’s a bit scary to leave baggage by the door where you can’t see it from your seat and anyone could grab it on their way out, but nobody bothered it. We never put important things like passports and electronics in our luggage, but would have missed our clothes if anybody took them.

Blogs From All Our Stops in Europe

Flying to Zurich                                                    Innsbruck Nordkette
Zurich                                                                     Innsbruck Alpenzoo
Lucerene                                                                Venice
Lucerene/Mt Pilatus boat & train                    Venice Gondola Ride
Lucerne/Mt Pilatus Gondola                             Venice 3 island tour
Liechtenstein                                                        Venice Cruise Port
Innsbruck

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
This entry was posted in Europe, Port City Side Trips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Europe by Rail

  1. davidatqcm says:

    I enjoyed parts of this description

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