Category Archives for "Cheaper Tickets"

Czech Railcar Domazlice
Jun 30

Europe by Rail in 2020

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

So what are your plans for travelling Europe by Rail in the rest of 2020? We've almost reached the middle without going anywhere.

It's been hard.

It's been three months of Sundays in which my only consolation (train-wise) has been a book. Did I say consolation? I meant replacement drug. Methadone. The book is

Europe by Rail.

Europe by Rail is a guide book for exploring Europe by train. It is written by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, runs to 544 pages and costs around £17/€20/$22.

It contains a section for before you leave, covering how to make an itinerary and how to get the best tickets. Then come the 52 routes that criss-cross Europe. The third part is an extensive reference section for rapid topical information.

This is the 16th edition. And for the first time, appositely, it includes the United Kingdom.

Before you leave

Verona Porta Nuova

Verona Porta Nuova station. I'm just cramming in a few of my own scenic pix, OK?

The first 50 pages lay the groundwork for your trip. They equip you with everything you need to be a self-sufficient railway traveller. I realise I'm making this sound like some arcane eastern practise, but advanced ticket whizzing is just that. 

The question of tickets and itineraries is a never-ending story and especially tickets could fill 1000 pages. Europe by Rail gives you the 20% knowledge you need to get 80% of the good deals, in just a few pages. Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries also have a surprising take on Interrail which completely changed my own opinion of the famous rail pass.

Fun fact: I've never had an Interrail pass.


A massive feat of curation

Europy by Rail routes

The 52 routes, seen from above. © David McCutcheon / DVD Maps" http://www.dvdmaps.co.uk

The 52 routes. Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries are also editors of hidden europe magazine, which they have been editing since 2005. There are few people alive who have seen as much of Europe as Nicky and Susanne.

These 52 routes thus represent a massive feat of curation by two of the most experienced, professional European travellers active today.. This isn't to be sniffed at. 

The routes are loosely grouped into regions - Exploring Britain and Ireland, Alpine adventures...Balkan journeys. 

Each route has a number and a name, e.g. Route 16: The Atlantic Coast of Iberia. Then stars are awarded for cities, culture, history and scenery. Countries covered, journey time and distance. A schematic map gives you an idea of the directions.

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One stellar feature in the latest edition is that each route now comes with a more detailed map online. Every route entry includes a short URL. Enter this into your browser and you are taken to a detailed, scaleable map of your impending journey. Here: click this.

What follows is sublime, evocative travel writing that draws you into the landscape and the cities along the way. Take Europe by Rail to the loo and they may have to send a search party after you.

Europe by Rail 2020 Route

Typical Europe by Rail route description

Highly distilled rail travel intel

After 400-odd pages covering the routes across Europe, there follow another 90 pages of references. "Reference" sounds like an afterthought, but this section comprises the Gazetteer - an A-Z of European countries with only the most relevant information - money, what sockets are used, national holidays. Then, what to expect in accommodation and train travel, country by country. I got sucked into this too. 

After that follows a reference section actually called reference section. An interesting addition is a compilation of city links - an A-Z of principal European cities and the approximate duration of direct train journeys to other cities.

Getting sidetracked

What I particularly love about Europe by Rail  is how it manages to reconcile concise, crystalline information with entertaining trivia. The book is interspersed with bite-size Sidetracks with at times only a vague connection to their position in the book.

But such delicious trivia. Did you know that the corridor along the side of compartment carriages was the end result of a Frechman being murdered in 1861? Or that Poland has a centuries-old Islamic tradition? Now you do. 

Europe by Rail 2020 Sidetrack

A typical Europe by Rail sidetrack

Summary

I may be starting to gush now. I don't see what other guidebook one could possibly need when travelling Europe by Rail. It wipes the floor with Rick Steves's Best of Europe.

If you were a complete novice you'd be off to the races with Europe by Rail. And even if you are an experienced traveller there is something for you in this book.

I always thought little of Interrail and Eurail. I never had a pass because my interests always lay further east. And for Western travel I was always fine getting my promo fixes.

Domodossola

Italian Pendolino at Domodossola, waiting to depart for Milan.

But reading Nicky Gardner's and Susanne Kries's take on Interrail changed my opinion. I've got a much more balanced, informed view now. I might even get an Interrail one of these days.

So what are your plans for the rest of 2020? We've almost reached the middle without going anywhere.

If you are preparing to hit the rails, then consider getting this book. If you are not going anywhere at all, then consider getting this book, too.

Look, I've put a button here. Click it to see where you can get your copy.

Buy the book

See where Europe by Rail is on sale

If you are interested in travel writing from unusual corners of Europe, you might also like hidden europe magazine, which is edited by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. It is comes out in print three times a year. The next edition is due shortly. I have been a subscriber for three years now and devour it as soon as it hits my letterbox.

And if you want to click another interesting button, below you will find one for subscribing to my blog. 

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Train to Prague
Sep 30

Můj vlak: Use this Sublime App for Cheapest Tickets

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

Můj vlak: Czech Rail’s Amazing Train App


Czechia may be a small country. But it has a great railway. Perhaps even greater than the Swiss railway. Apart from superb and cheap day trains, České Drahy have night trains and proper dining cars. Little ČD rail buses ply the forests and hills and reach even the tiniest hamlets of this romantic Central European country. If you are headed for Prague by train, have a look at Můj vlak.


Můj vlak is the mobile app made by České Drahy. It runs on iPhones and Android phones. 


Můj vlak can be used in Czechia for buying České Drahy tickets and seat reservations. It can also sell you tickets beyond the Czech border - deep into Slovakia, Hungary and Germany.

Czech train in the Snow

Czechia is one of the few countries where you get to travel like this. © Martin Pavlík


How to set it up

  • Download Můj vlak from Google Play or the Apple App store. Out of the box, you can use it for timetable, train and station enquiries.
  • If you want to use it to buy tickets and seat reservations, you are going to need an account (click here to set one up now). This is possible both in the app or in an internet browser.
  • That's it. Můj vlak comes in Czech, English and German. You may have to adjust the language.


Main features

The main menu has four categories. Each category has a search mask of its own. ​​

Home screen in Můj vlak

Connections (Timetables)

The Connections section looks up connections across Europe. With an internet connection it is powerful. Můj vlak finds connections even in Russia (I hit it with Blagoveshchensk-Birobidzhan). It only gives up when you ask it something insane - “Tashkent Pass-Brest (*F)”

Muj Vlak Connections Mask

Connections search mask in Můj vlak


There is an extra menu in which you can specify your particular whims and fancies, such as “No ICE trains” or “via Orsha” or “Special and historic trains”. This is very detailed and immensely helpful if you want to zero in on a particular route.

Train

This is a beautiful function I haven’t seen anywhere else. You can enter the number or name of a particular train ("442", say, or "Poľana" - my favourite eastern escape train), upon which it shows that service, including its timetable, amenities and operator.

The closer to Czechia, the more detail, but it gets good results even in the near abroad.

Edit your caption text here

Station

This function is Czechia only. Enter a Czech station name and it shows you a map, a list of what there is at the station and how long it is open. Also which public transport lines stop at the station.

Czech Railcar Domazlice

Czech diesel railcar at Domazlice station. © Martin Pavlík


If travelling Czechia by rail this is a must have.

Tickets

For domestic Czech services this is home turf for Můj vlak. However, Můj vlak can furnish you with lots of tickets into or out of the country. You can get all the way from Prague to Brussels or vice versa with Můj vlak. 

In fact, Můj vlak makes it possible to reach some German destinations at a super promotional price. I have written a report about using Můj vlak and Czech Rail for genius ticket-splitting. Subscribe to my blog and check it out in the Insider Rail Guide library. 

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Můj vlak also gets you seat reservations - even for some trains outside Czechia. For instance, you can get seat reservations for any German train in Můj vlak… for €3 (79 CZK) instead of €4.50

What I was up to last January



Other nice functions


  • The Share function. A brilliant feature I have seen only in Můj vlak. You take a train’s timetable - or an itinerary consisting of several trains - and share it. Be it by text message, DM, email... whatever. I use it often for giving air support to friends in need. Here is what that looks like: 
  • EC 213 Mimara
    27.09.2019
    Villach Hbf [*A] > Zagreb Glavni Kolod. [*HR]
    Villach Hbf [*A]: 16:53
    Faak am See [*A]: 17:06, 17:07
    Jesenice(SL) [*SLO]: 17:33, 17:39
    Lesce Bled [*SLO]: 17:50, 17:51
    Kranj [*SLO]: 18:11, 18:12
    Ljubljana [*SLO]: 18:33, 18:36
    Zidani Most [*SLO]: 19:27, 19:29
    Sevnica [*SLO]: 19:44, 19:45
    Dobova [*SLO]: 20:07, 20:21
    Zagreb Glavni Kolod. [*HR]: 20:51
    Generated by the Můj vlak mobile application, http://www.cd.cz

  • The offline timetables. Offline Timetables! Můj vlak allows you to download timetables for particular European countries and regions. This means Můj vlak can do connection searches even when you have no internet connection. It insists you download the package for Czechia, but after that, it is up to you what you save for offline use. This is a brilliant function. The only other app with this is the InterRail/Eurail Rail Planner. Only Můj vlak updates its timetables every few days, not every six months.
  • Real time information. Works best in Czechia, but is quite good even beyond CZ. If you have a ticket in Můj vlak and need to change somewhere, a few minutes before your station it notifies you with...
  • The puffing of a steam engine! The notification noise is the puffing of a steam engine! Isn’t that amazing?

..

Czech local train

Typical Czech fast train. © Martin Pavlík

Its use for the Eurail/Interrail Tourist

In Czechia:

If you are in Czechia this app is a godsend for accurate, up-to-date timetable information and making seat reservations. The station function is also extremely useful.

Beyond Czechia

The use of Můj vlak for the European Rail tourist is threefold:

  1. In Central Europe it provides great access to cheap tickets and reservations in an easy to use app
  2. It has a powerful search function and can find you connections almost all over Europe. 
  3. It allows you to download timetables and have them offline. If you were on an Interrail tour, I’d sooner recommend you downloaded Můj vlak than InterRail’s own Rail Planner. InterRail’s Rail planner is a stock HAFAS app branded with InterRail. Old versions of DB Navigator and PKP’s Bilkom app are suspiciously similar.
Romantic Czech Rail Bus

One of those rail buses plying forests and hills. © Martin Pavlík

Můj vlak in a Nutshell 

Here are the main things Můj vlak has going for it. See below also for Můj vlak's peccadilloes.

Pros

  • Clean, uncluttered interface in which you find everything quickly
  • Decent connection search
  • Immensely useful train search function by name or number
  • Library of timetables you can choose to have offline.
  • Access to certain insanely cheap deals beyond Czechia.

Cons

  • Connections function not quite as strong as DB Navigator 
  • Some small bits are in Czech even when the app is set to English
  • On lines where there are other operators (Bohumín-Praha hl.n., for instance), Můj vlak neglects to mention the services run by RegioJet and LeoExpress. Understandable, but still disappointing.

Conclusion

Můj vlak is a supremely powerful and useful app. In Czechia it will be your special friend, in Germany it will be your dirty secret. Both are great to have.


If you are on an extended European tour by train, Můj vlak is the app I particularly recommend, due to its up-to-date offline timetables and powerful connection search function.


Subscribe to my blog for my report about Můj Vlak's added uses in Germany. Speaking of Germany, check out my post with two hacks that can slash your German rail fare.

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Italian train tickets
Jul 20

Avoid Long Queues and Pickpockets: Get Italian Local Train Tickets at the Bar

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

Where to get Italian local train tickets?

So there you are at Roma Termini (Rome's main station). You need an Italian local train ticket to Orte. The queue at the ticket office is huge. Hey - why not use one of these ticket machines that are all over the place?

You find yourself a nice machine (one without sputum all over the touchscreen) and press the flag for English. It springs to life and blares:

"BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS! IN CASE OF NEED, ASK ONLY TRENITALIA STAFF FOR MORE INFORMATION".

That was earsplitting. Your ears are still ringing as you look behind you.

You're blown sky-high. Assorted station pondlife is now looking at you. Wise to the fact that you are a sitting duck. A helpless victim. Already three men are offering to "help" you with the ticket machine.

Run. 

Didn't see that coming? Neither did I when tried to get Italian local train tickets from a ticket machine.

It doesn't have to be like this.

Italian ticket machines

Trenitalia ticket machines at Milano Centrale

A hidden way to get Italian local train tickets

For spontaneous tickets for local trains, three options spring to mind:

  • go to the ticket office, 
  • go to a ticket machine,
  • or buy online

Ticket office means queueing. Ticket machines: getting to grips with unknown software. Online: yet another account or app, yet another password, credit card numbers, CVCs, TANs, pick-up codes (so you still have to use a machine)... waaaaah!!!

However.

In Italy, there is a fourth option. Much easier, much more convenient. One that we tourists don't know about.

Buy Italian local train tickets with Sisal Pay 

I first noticed Sisal Pay while on holiday at Otranto. Passing a bookmaker's with a little girl over my shoulder (my little girl, obviously. As featured in my Nightjet post), this is what I saw:

Sisal Pay Trenitalia

What it says on this advertisement: "Enter a SisalPay point and you are already at the station. If your train is regional, your ticket office is all over Italy with SisalPay". I really admire this Italian pragmatism.

Sisal is a bookmaker. It was founded in 1946. People have been putting money on the horses and the football with Sisal for 70-odd years.

In 1995 Sisal started selling local train tickets and in 2002 they took up processing all sorts of payments with Sisal Pay. Now Italians pay for their gas and electricity with it, and use it to pay cash for things bought on Amazon. It is a useful service.

€10 on Napoli to score first, and a single to Domodossola please

Sisal Pay terminals are all over the place. In addition to the bookmakers, any bar, tobacconist or newsagent can attach itself to the Sisal Pay network by getting a Sisal terminal.

Any place that has a @SisalPay terminal can furnish you with local train tickets. There are 40,000 of them throughout Italy. And definitely one near you.

Click to Tweet

Great! So how do I get my tickets?

Sisal Pay

Look out for this logo

Keep your eyes peeled for the above logo. Any bookmaker and countless bars and tobacconists should have a sticker or a sign somewhere, indicating that they do Sisal Pay. 

At a newsagent's or tobacconist's, just queue up (it won't be a long queue). At a bar, make for the cashier and queue up there - in Italian bars you usually pay for what you want at the till, then take your receipt to the actual bar and order your drink. 

Sisal Pay Italian train tickets

This is what you might see at the entrance to a bar or newsagents

A packet of Marlboro Touch, a Grazia and a ticket to Civitavecchia

This only works for local trains. I've read the terms and conditions for you. Here is what you can get using Sisal Pay:

  • Tickets for regional trains (treni regionali) operated by Trenitalia, Trenord and Ferrovie del Sud Est for distances up to 600 km and across more than one region. 
  • season tickets up to 250 km of distance
Sisal Pay cannot get you tickets for mainline trains - Freccias, Intercity or night trains. Only the local trains in your region. This keeps things simple. But often, this is all you need. 

In practice you will only be using Sisal Pay for short trips on which you don't want to blow a Eurail/Interrail pass travel day.

There are some tiny local operators (Ferrovie Udine Cividale, say, and Circumvesuviana) that don't sell through Sisal Pay. But these companies still distribute tickets through newsagents and tobacconists.
local train Italy

More idyllic local train porn

Do I have to speak Italian?

Well, a little bit of ticket-Italian would help you a lot. Even Grazie (GRAH-tsee-ay - thank you) alone is a small courtesy that won't go unnoticed.

Proper ticket sellers are used to dealing with even the most incomprehensible foreigners. In bars and newsagents, they might be a little less experienced.

At the same time, English and Italian are similar enough that if you speak English and wave your arms for a while, you'll get what you need in the end.

Italian local trains

Tiny station on the line from Otranto to Maglie

Introducing the Italian Ticket Template

However, to save you the effort, I've designed an Italian ticket template in which you simply fill in the blanks.

Either download it and print it, or save it onto your tablet or phone and write on it with a photo editor.

The first half is for simple tickets, but I've also put in options for more advanced operations involving reservations and night trains.  In most cases, this will see you through - but if not, it will definitely get you started.

You can find the Italian ticket template in the e-guide library. It is free. Subscribe to my blog (that is, join the free Rail Guide Europe club) for the password. I've put a button below so you can do that now ❤️

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Subscribe to my blog and get the password to my library. Be the first to know when I've managed to write a new thing. Unsubscribe anytime.

The easiest way to get local train tickets

While in Italy I tried this out several times. Once at a bookie, twice at my local bar.

Both times it was easy. I didn't have to wait at all and I had my tickets immediately. No commission was charged

Italian tickets from the bar

Though these stickers don't explicitly mention tickets, I did manage to get mine from this bar. All that matters is the Sisal Pay logo.

Is there a catch? Well, one tiny one: the ticket is only valid for the day you specify. If your plans change, you can exchange your ticket at a Sisal Pay point up until 23:59 before the day of travel. You just have to pay a €0.50 surcharge. 

The ticket is issued on Sisal's thermal paper - the same used for bets and lotteries. Keep it away from heat and try not to scrunch it up.

Sisal Pay Train Ticket

Local train ticket issued through Sisal Pay at a bar. Notice the arrows indicating where to validate your ticket

Now I'm sure some of you would prefer a real railway ticket from a proper Biglietteria etc. etc. But for the whatever-works gals out there, this is absolutely brilliant and saves much time and misery.

Buon viaggio and alla salute

So next time you are in Italy and need tickets for a local train, just look out for a bar with the Sisal logo.

  • Order yourself a lovely Cynar Spritz and your ticket.
  • Take a sip.
  • Say a little prayer for the poor people queueing at the station and doing battle at the ticket machine.

And for God's sake REMEMBER TO STAMP YOUR TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ONTO THE TRAIN!

Trenitalia Ticket Stamper

Remember to stamp your ticket or you will pay horribly

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Apr 06

Two Tweaks that can Slash your German Rail Fare by 50%

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

Forget the BahnCard.

These two subtle, often overlooked tweaks are an effortless way to find cheaper German rail tickets when searching for connections on Deutsche Bahn's website www.bahn.de. 

The two blunt instruments for getting cheap fares are to book as far as possible in advance and to pick a day when fewer people are travelling. I like Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

But once you've done that, or if your date is non-negotiable, try these two tweaks which can halve your train fare.

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How most people search

I've got a search here from Munich to St. Goar on the Rhine - a longish trip involving changes. St. Goar is where Loreley is. 

And this is what it comes up with:

Search result in standard search

So far, so underwhelming, no?

The first tweak for lower fares

The first thing to do is uncheck the box Prefer fast connections. Few people understand that this makes a difference. The search engine will now show you slightly slower, less direct connections which most people haven't found because they haven't noticed the box.

As Deutsche Bahn's long-distance pricing varies depending on how full a given ICE or IC train is, you will automatically be shown emptier and thus cheaper trains. 

While the improvement in this case is not huge, it does give you more choice. But this is only the first step on our way to 

The second tweak for lower fares

The second tweak is to chuck out ICE trains. On many lines in Germany the ICEs go no faster than other trains. The Munich-Paris TGV service, capable of 200 mph in France, hobbles from Ulm to Stuttgart at 70 mph because the tracks allow no faster.

The only connections where this severely lengthens your journey are where you cover great distances on high-speed tracks.

Once you have taken out the ICE trains you get quite different results, as ICEs are the backbone of German long-distance rail travel. This brings up the Intercitys, which many people are not aware of as a cheaper alternative - one that often is hardly slower.

Much cheaper tickets, and only a slightly longer journey

I always try these simple tweaks when searching for tickets. There are many variables, and depending on where you are going these tricks can yield both better and worse results than the ones we have achieved here.

By unticking two little boxes on bahn.de you can cut your rail fare by 50%.

Click to Tweet

I hope this helps you on your next trip to Germany. Let me know in the comments how much you saved!

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