While my mom was here, we decided to hop over to Paris for a few days.
We took the train, because the 7 of us wouldn’t fit comfortably in our minivan for that long (about 6 hours driving) and the train was slightly faster (about 5.5 hours). It was our first experience taking the train in Germany, because usually we just drive. It’s much cheaper than taking the train, even when counting gas and parking fees.
Many people had recommended that when buying our tickets we go down to the train station to get them. Then we can explain what we want without trying to navigate a German website. Most of the employees speak excellent English, so the language barrier wasn’t an issue. Also, if we buy our tickets in person we can use a VAT form and get 19% off. We went in with flexible dates, saying we wanted to go for 2 or 3 nights during this 9 day period. Doing this, we were able to save a bundle on our tickets. If we had left the day before or day after then our tickets would have cost two and a half times what we paid!
One of the major issues I had with our trip was the fact that we specifically asked for a compartment. We’ve done train travel before (in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy), and I know what our kids can handle. Being quiet for 5 hours on a train is not one of those things. The person who issued us our tickets assured us that we had a compartment (a little booth with a door –think Harry Potter) both directions. Upon boarding the train, I was seething to find that it wasn’t true. We were in a large passenger car. It was an incredibly stressful train ride shushing the kids and making them stay in their seats. If we had a compartment, then the kids would be able to bounce around in there a little bit without disturbing other passengers.
Another reason I found driving to be better is the fact that we can use various electronic devices to entertain the kids. When we drive, they can watch movies on our portable DVD players or play games on the ipod touch. We had our ipods fully charged before we boarded the train, but they still went dead within the first 2 hours. That left 3 long hours of bored kids. In the van, we could use our chargers to make sure the battery didn’t run out, but the train didn’t have any place to plug in chargers. (Actually, I saw 1 outlet on each train car, but there was someone sitting there with their laptop already plugged in. I think it would be nearly impossible to ensure that your ticket would be for that one seat with an outlet nearby.)
And lastly, food. The train did have a dining car, but they had a terrible selection. It was awful food — even worse than most airline food I’ve eaten. We did bring some snacks for the kids, but our train ride was from 3:30-9pm, so they needed a real dinner.
Overall, I don’t think we’ll be traveling by train again any time soon. It wasn’t worth the price or the hassle.
Now, a few photos from the ride: