What you should know about travelling through Eastern Europe by train
There's a certain romantic allure about a train ride through Eastern Europe - beautiful strangers with unknown pasts, long dreamy stares into the moving landscape and perhaps a mystery to solve before you arrive at your destination.
Well, perhaps only in an Agatha Christie novel.
But taking to the tracks for a jaunt through the slightly forgotten parts of the continent is a bucket-list experience that you don't get from flying everywhere - and it's better for the environment!
Eastern Europe also has historic landscapes where trains wind through ex-Soviet towns, dark forests and past medieval sites that will also be a bit easier on the South African wallet.
But how do you go full steam ahead with making this train journey a reality?
Firstly, you need to know where you want to go. The best is to have a look at Google maps and see which countries are next to each other, and plan your itinerary accordingly.
The best idea is to travel between major cities where you can spend two or three days, and account for roughly a day of travel between countries, depending on how long you want to travel.
Here are a few popular stops on the Eastern European route:
- Krakow, Poland
- Prague, Czechia
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- Budapest, Hungary
- Brasov, Romania
- Bratislava, Slovakia
- Split, Croatia
- Bled, Slovenia
Tips for booking your train ticket
The best advice is to book all your train travel in advance online, but there are a few options to choose from.
You can also opt for a Balkan Flexi Pass that only travels between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. This pass you can't buy beforehand and have to buy at a train station in one of the participating countries.
For overnight trips, make sure a bed is included in the price as this can sometimes be left out and needs to be paid extra.
While there's sometimes three classes of sleeping accommodations for overnight trains, there's generally only two available - First and Second Class.
First is obviously pricier and ensures that you have private quarters, as well as certain amenities depending on the country.
Second normally has four beds, and if you're two people you'll share with two others, but if you're three you could have the whole compartment to yourselves.
Sometimes there's a cheap third class, which mostly consists of an open-plan compartment filled with beds.
While you may think a European train trip is safer than in South Africa, there are still chancers that might nick your stuff while you're sleeping, especially if you're sharing with strangers.
Keep your valuables like money and passport on your person, even when sleeping, and always ensure your compartment is locked when you're snoozing.
When you're roaming about the train or taking a quick step outside on a platform for air, take a bag with your valuables everywhere you go. Also only go to the bathroom and grab food while the train is in motion - a criminal element might sneak onboard from a station on a stop.
You can also grab a carabiner (mountaineering hook) to attach your bags to your overnight rack.
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When you're on the train
Don't stress that you might miss your stop - each carriage has a steward that checks everyone's ticket and makes sure they all get off when they have to.
Buy snacks and drinks beforehand as the price of food on the train might be more expensive.
Make friends - if you're sharing strike up a conversation with your bunk buddies - you never know what great connections you might make and it also means they're more likely to keep an eye on your stuff while you're in the bathroom.
And don't forget to look outside - this is the time to quietly soak up the country you're visiting and perhaps spot a place you want to visit on your way back.
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