An Update On My Ongoing Love/Hate Affair With European Trains


As longtime gentle readers know all too well, I travel frequently between Rome and Montpellier, France. It is a journey of just over 600 miles, a distance that according to Google Maps would take a hair over 10 hours by car.

Back in the halcyon days of 2006, I used to take this trip via night train. I’d splurge the tiniest bit on the two-bed cabin; I’d hardly ever have a bunk mate, and so I’d travel between Nice and Rome in solo luxury, receiving my morning wake-up call accompanied by a hot chocolate, pastry and the newspaper.

I found this to be a highly civilized way to travel. I’d leave my house at 3pm, arrive in Rome at 7am after a great night’s sleep, and it was lovely. And with the break I had in Nice before or after my night train, I was often able to go to the beach for a quick, sun-drenched nap on a rented chaise longue before continuing on my way.

Then, the French added an extra step; I had to switch trains in Marseille when traveling between Montpellier and Nice.

Then I discovered a low-cost flight from Marseille to Rome; this was a false economy, as the departure time was so early I had to stay overnight in a hotel at the airport to be able to arrive in time for check-in.

Then the Italians changed the night train’s starting/finishing point to Genoa, which meant I’d be left standing on a deserted platform in the wee hours of the morning in either direction. Not the best idea for a solo traveler, especially a female one who is half-awake.

At this point I decided to switch the game entirely and travel through the day instead of overnight. Because of both railways’ websites’ limitations, this required my piecing together the trip, leg by leg, using both websites. Time and again, I came up with two options, the only difference between them being that I could travel through Milan on a super-fast but expensive train, or through Genoa on a much slower but much cheaper train.

Then there came a separate ticket to be purchased just for the trip across the border, between Nice and Ventimiglia. And the total train tally reached a grand total of five.

Now, if you’ve spent any time dealing with Europe’s love of transit strikes, you know that the chance of five separate trains, ranging from an intra-regional putt-putt to a world-class bullet, running on time is slim to none. Let’s just say that I’ve been lucky, but have boarded a train panting and sweating more than once.

Then came a low-cost flight route from Nice to Rome. Oh, happy day! Except I’d still have to worry about delays making me stuck somewhere I wouldn’t want to be. And I still had to take a bus and three trains to get to and from the airport. And my luggage could be lost.

There is apparently a new route from Nimes to Rome, which is just about as ideal as I could hope for (just two short train trips and a mini bus ride) – except the website for the airline doesn’t work yet. I’m holding out for this to be a possible winner for future trips, at least during peak summer months.

My most recent combination, which I attempted to purchase last week to return home, is as follows:

  1. Rome to Genoa
  2. Genoa to Ventimiglia
  3. Ventimiglia to Nice
  4. Nice to Avignon TGV
  5. Avignon TGV to Avignon Centre (local bus)
  6. Avignon Centre to Montpellier

The first two legs I was able to buy at a deep discount online at Le Frecce. I just have to print out the ticket, and I’m good to go. I saved about a hundred euro doing it this way, so, yay for me!

However, that site is just for Le Frecce trains. So I had to go to Termini train station in Rome to buy the rest.

They’ve started a new thing for buying tickets at Termini, by the way. Instead of lines, they now have a ticketing system – push a button, get a ticket, wait in an enormous crowd and trip over strewn luggage while waiting for your number to come up, then run to the window you need to go to. It works about as well as you can imagine.

So I get to the window, and the girl can only sell me the ticket from Ventimiglia to Nice. Apparently France is no longer letting the national Italian railway sell in-country tickets? That seems to be what’s going on, but the girl could not have cared less about revealing information.

I checked the French system online, and I can buy the ticket there – but my three options for getting the ticket include by mail (not bloody likely), by retrieval from a ticket machine in France (where non-French cards don’t work), or by going up to a ticket window, showing your confirmation and your credit card, and having them print you the ticket (and whether your card will work at a French station window is a toss-up).

So then I tried a travel agency. I was able to get the ticket from Nice to Avignon (the agency in Rome used – wait for it – the German rail site to sell tickets), but apparently the idea of the mini bus in Avignon fried the system’s tiny brain, so no go.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a six-leg trip, four of which I purchased from four different vendors, and two of which I have to buy when I arrive. And speaking of arriving, I leave Rome at 7.15AM and arrive in Montpellier at 10.46PM.

Despite this saga (for which I’m fairly certain you have no sympathy, because let’s face it, I’m complaining about a self-inflicted drama about living in Europe and no one wants to hear it), and even though by the time I see Cal’s sweet face at the train station in Montpel I’m not exactly sunshine and light, I really do love traveling by train.

Why? Because with views like these, who wants to sit in an airport?


Trip 3/29/09

Montpel to Rome, 2/27/10

Rome to Montpel, 3/31/10

Paris to Berlin

Nice Train Station

Paris to Montpel

I really, really love taking pictures from the train window. I hold my camera at an angle, look ahead (or behind) for what’s coming, and shoot as many photos as I can. And when I get home, like a kid at Christmas, I upload my photos and see what exciting things are waiting for me.

My entire collection of train photos can be seen here on a dedicated Flickr set, or follow my new Tumblr, where I am posting one per day, here at From Train Windows. Just mouse over the pile of photos, and they spread out into a grid. Enjoy!


8 thoughts on “An Update On My Ongoing Love/Hate Affair With European Trains

  1. Wow I can really see your love hate relationship with trains from these pictures. I had no idea it was so complicated to get a train ticket. The EuroPass rail website makes it sound like a breeze.

  2. Is renting a car both ways at all an economic possibility? I have no idea, so don’t laugh! Making all these train and bus changes and hauling your bags around isn’t very relaxing, either.

    • It might be? But I don’t drive and also, coastal roads with sharp drops (which that entire route is) make me insane. LOL

  3. Good lord. Those two locations aren’t terribly far apart (as the crow flies), and yet you may as well walk, or swim, the distance for all the fuss they make you deal with.

    Still…Europe. Amiright? Those photos are enough to induce heartache.

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