French teacher, travel lover and train enthusiast, Ben Ratliff writes about his “life changing” journey across Europe. Armed with a France Rail Pass and an Eastern European Pass (courtesy of Rail Europe), Ben visited Bucharest, Prague, Vienna, Paris, Avignon, Nice and Bordeaux with his partner and (soon-to-be) in-laws. We hope that you find his journey as inspiring as we did.
The trickiest yet most exciting part about an international arrival is the train station. Leaving your train compartment or seat begins the slow drip of adrenaline. The temptation to make life easy and take a cab hits you from the get go. Don’t panic and spend $80.00 for a 15 minute cab ride. You can do it; it just takes patience and a few minutes to plan.
Question 1: Where is the tram, bus, or subway?
Although the train station in Prague is difficult upon arrival, using the wifi capability on my phone, I was able to connect to a wireless hotspot (no charge) and use the map guide. Once I located my destination, I wrote it on a piece of paper and handed it to the woman at the tram kiosque. Although, I didn’t understand a word she said, I had her write down the name and number of the tram. Once I had the information I needed, a quick study of the map and a shot of espresso was all I needed to get to my location.
Question 2: How do I get money in small bills or coins to buy the ticket?
Question 3: Once I find my way to public transportation, where do I go from there?
Don’t be afraid to smile and ask bar/restaurant owners for help. They can clearly see you are a tourist and (most of the time) will guide you to the right place. For no charge, I used my “Map” service on the iphone in order to find most places. While connected to the internet at a free wifi area, it is best to load the map ahead of time in order to avoid using international data.
Eating dinner alone is never fun..I don’t care what other independent aka lonely travelers say. Do you ever go to a restaurant with your spouse or friend and watch the one person sitting at a table and wonder “Does he/she have any friends? Why do they keep checking their phone? Are they really going to finish that entire bottle of wine?” I believe that is what most people said as I attempted my first sit down meal in Prague. Although the food in the bistro car of the train was good, I craved an authentic meal.
Free Wifi and a Smartphone at most bars/restaurants helped me navigate the city and plan future destinations. By downloading the RailEurope App, I was able to view the immediate and future departures for the next day to Budapest. By saving these trips to my account, it was an easy way to keep my schedule. And yes, while finishing my last bite of apple streudel, I finished a bottle of delicious red wine.