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Train Tips for European Traveling - Part II

Bill Malchisky  August 20 2014 04:00:00 AM
As I covered last year in Train Tips for European Traveling, train travel is a fun adventure. For my second installment, this year I chose the Dutch Intercity high speed and Eurostar lines and wanted to provide some information that may save you some time or alleviate logistical concerns. Enjoy!


Train Service in The Netherlands

1. When arriving in Holland, you can take the local trains (making all major and minor stops), or the InterCity branch which runs express from city to city (major stops). Some of the InterCity trains run as high-speed (with the HS designation on the train board)
2. If you have large bags --
a. When taking the IC (InterCity) high speed line (HS designation), first class is a nominal increase on weekends, so consider it for the convenience of luggage storage
b. Second class lacks any at seat luggage storage for anything more than a small laptop bag, necessitating your sitting in the sterile mid-car vestibule, with much less comfortable seats, but your bags will have plenty of room
3. The fares within The Netherlands and from The Netherlands to Belgium are reasonable
4. Thalys trains are wonderful but are primarily for Holland to France, Belgium, and German city pairs; this service is much faster, has luggage storage and are more expensive, but intended for longer distance trips
5. Payment considerations:
a. Dutch trains, like the Belgium counterparts, will not accept any credit card except a domestic bank card. The Dutch trains are adamant about not accepting American Express (plus discover, etc.), and your card must have a security chip on it, even if it's a Visa. Best bet is to have plenty of cash for these tickets and upgrade your credit card to get a chip before leaving to avoid headaches in these European locales
b. The same payment restrictions apply to purchasing an e-ticket on-line via their train's site
c. You can not purchase tickets on-board the train
6. When arriving into Brussels and transferring to the TGV, you connect within the same terminal. Whereas connecting to Thalys, ICE, and Eurostar trains will require that you allow an additional five minutes in your travel time to get from the Brussels-Zuid/Brussels-Midi station platform to Eurostar -- located in a different terminal, all indoor though


The Brussels Station Train Transfer

7. After passport control and customs at the Eurostar Channel Terminal entrance, there exists a cafe/food mart where you can enjoy a sandwich and beverage in a comfortable seating area or take away items for your train enjoyment; so if you are delayed or see a long customs queue, you can still get hydrated and fed before boarding


Eurostar

8. The Eurostar experience is a definite step-up from the TGV (point 3) with tickets that can be quite reasonable, at just EU68 (US$75; GBP54) OW from BRU->LON. But know those tickets go quickly and thus, you need to book them at least two weeks out or the price can triple to EU187 (US$206; GBP149) OW
9. If your train is busy and you have excess bags, you may need to check luggage. This service is called Registered Baggage and costs GBP18/bag/segment (US$31, EU23). The cut-off for on-premises bag checking is 30 minutes; so if you have a tight connection between trains, get to the Eurostar Channel terminal first, else you could arrive and your bag meets you later on, necessitating a return trip by you to your destination station
10. If you are taking Eurostar from Brussels to a destination before the Channel Tunnel, then your terminal window is upstairs, from the Channel Terminal. When you arrive into the terminal, the Eurostar placards split into two indicating this designation, but not necessarily in English.
11. No WiFi service on the Eurostar exists
12. Power receptacles exist only in cars 5 and 14 in Standard class, whereas Business Premier and Standard Premier seats all have UK/US power receptacles; plan accordingly
13. Miscellaneous Points
 a. There exists lots of storage space for luggage either in the two racks above your seat (coat rail, hand luggage);
 b. Prefer a window seat? Know that there exists a train body mounted mini trash can between your seat's edge and the seat back in front of you, which for some people can make seating awkward;
 c. All major credit cards are accepted;
 d. As peak times can introduce a full station, and the automated ticketing machines there are unreliable (both kiosks were defective upon my visit), it is fastest to have your e-ticket printed beforehand, and avoid the will call option;
 e. Will call has you literally take a number, then wait to be called like at the deli counter -- quite time wasteful;
 f. The London Underground's King's Cross Station now connects to the St. Pancras railway station; thus you no longer have to go outside and across the way to go between the two structures, making transfers quite trivial now.

Overall, a nice experience and one that I would definitely undergo again. Very smooth and easy overall. Booking in advance makes for a cost-effective experience too.


Rail Sites of Interest (Beyond Part One's List)

The Netherlands Domestic Rail Information
The Netherlands International Rail Information
London's St. Pancras Railway Station


Two Bonus Air Travel Tips -- To Save You Money (or Stress)

Here are two quick international airline points to help you save time and money, if you are new to European air travel:
A. Any international airline itinerary change can become quite costly; thus when you book your schedule it is pretty much set in stone; plan ahead to avoid issues and change fees and verify plans abroad before booking
- Example LX (SWISS) charges $300 for any change after purchase  

B. Carry-on luggage requirements differ from US -> EU flights than EU -> EU routes; therefore, you just might find yourself in a situation of what you brought legally sans fees on your first segment may incur significant fees (e.g. GBP 68/US$115/EU85) on your intermediate flight segment(s) -- particularly if boarding a plane at London Heathrow; plan ahead and research the carry-on luggage requirements at intermediate airports, then pack accordingly to avoid potentially getting hassled or better yet, take the train for your intermediate city pairs and avoid the situation whilst exploring.

Note:
all currency conversion rates were calculated at time of travel and may no longer be precise due to fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates. A reasonable currency conversation tool is located here.
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