The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of European Transportation

On December 12, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

Travelers, listen up! Whether you’re traveling in first class, second class, or 42nd Class, you can’t go anywhere without figuring out how to get there first. We spent almost three months backpacking around Europe. Trains, planes, cars, buses, and more. And believe me, we definitely experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Let’s face it, as budget travelers, we were willing to add a couple of hours if it saved us a couple of bucks. Sometimes we walked away feeling good about the decision, other times, we agreed we should’ve coughed up the money to save our sanity. Here’s a list that includes our transportation experiences in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Austria.

THE “GOOD” OF EUROPEAN TRANSPORTATION

european-transportation-cassie-eurail

Cassie relaxing on the way to Cinque Terre.

European Railways: We took trains through Italy, France, and Spain. They were excellent. The railway system in general in Europe is much better than in the United States. It may take some time to understand the system in terms of fast trains vs. regional vs. local trains, needing a reservation or not, or when to stamp and when not to stamp tickets, but it’s simply a learning curve. You don’t have to book all your tickets online. There are plenty of tickets available at the train station’s ticket window. And don’t forget to TIME STAMP YOUR TICKET.

Metros in Paris and Barcelona: We took the metro in many of the cities we visited. But, the metros in Paris and Barcelona were our favorite. They were extremely clean, efficient and timely. Barcelona even has a little chart on the metro that lights up to show you the next stop. Both cities are pretty spread out, with sights all over. So, hop on these metros and they’ll help connect you to the entire city.

Student Agency Bus from Prague to Vienna: We decided to take a bus between these two cities and opted to try Student Agency. This company offers many different bus routes throughout Europe. The ride was about five hours and cost 35 euro/person for a round-trip ticket. We were very impressed with how organized the company was and with the quality of the bus. We had a bus attendant who offered us free coffee while we were busy watching movies and TV shows in English on our personal TV screen. It was an extremely pleasant bus ride and we highly recommend it.

european-transporation-bla-bla-car

Our Bla-Bla Car ride to Sevilla.

Bla-bla Car: Athough we still think this is a silly name for a company, Bla-Bla Car was one of our best discoveries. We were skeptical of this ride-sharing website at first, but it turned out to be a great way to travel. If you want to go from one city to another, you look up who is driving between those two cities and what price they’re asking. Normally, a 2-3 hour ride isn’t more than a few bucks – much cheaper than trains, buses, or flights. Passengers leave references for the driver so that it’s easier to find a reliable and safe ride. Then you simply contact that driver and ask to ride with them. We used Bla-Bla Car all over Spain, but you can now use it in most of Europe.

RyanAir: We heard horror stories from other Americans, but we liked this discount airline the best! The only advice I can give is follow Ryan Air’s rules EXACTLY. Print out your boarding tickets before hand and don’t try and cheat the dimensions for cabin and checked luggage. Otherwise, you’ll pay a fortune. Check-in is faster, boarding is faster, and getting off the plane is faster. All of our flights were on time.

THE “BAD” OF EUROPEAN TRANSPORTATION

Renting a car in Ireland: In our opinion, renting a car is the only way to see Ireland. Dublin is a cool city, but to see the country-side and what makes Ireland beautiful, you need a car. While car rental websites offer you deals for 35 euro, you then go to pick up the car and are kindly notified that insurance is not included in the price. The pleasant lady behind the rental car counter will quote you the price including insurance, and the following sequence of events will undoubtedly play out:

You will gasp at the price. You will think she’s joking. She’s not joking. You will gasp again. You will realize the price of insurance is ridiculous. You will be about to storm off and find a different way to travel. You will realize this is slightly more ridiculous than the price of insurance. You will hand the pleasant lady your credit card and cough up hundreds of euros for car insurance. You will drown your sorrows in Guinness and/or Jameson.

european-transportation-wizzair

As uncomfortable as it looks.

Some American credit cards offer car insurance if you book with that card. Make sure you have one of these cards. That’s the only way we know of to avoid the above scenario.

Wizz Air: Discount airlines are always looking at ways to cut costs and charge you money. Unfortunately, Wizz Air cut costs by cutting leg room. Anyone over 6 feet, good luck fitting your legs into the seat. And I’m not talking about a snug fit. I mean knee caps ground into the seat in front of you. They need the Foghorn Leghorn sign from Six Flags Great Adventure that says “You must be this tall to ride this ride,” except it needs to be the opposite of that sign. “No one above this height can ride this ride,” and set it at 5’2″.

Luckily, our flight was only 1 1/2 hours. Of course, you can always PAY for a seat with more leg room. But seriously? Aren’t you kind of discriminating against tall people?

TTT Lines Ferry to Catania: Because we had taken so many trains and buses, we decided to try an overnight ferry. It sounded fun and maybe a bit romantic. This 12-hour ferry ride began with the skipper sailing headlong into a thunderstorm, which we can’t really hold against them. Italian men yelled “OOOooopa!” every time the boat came crashing down into the water. What we can hold against them is the lack of wifi and the overpriced, cold food they served in the prison mess… I mean galley. We got our revenge when I got sick in the bathroom sink. If you take TTT Lines, bring plenty of water, some Dramamine, and something edible.

european-transportation-ttt-lines

Not as romantic as it seems.

THE “UGLY” OF EUROPEAN TRANSPORTATION

Terravision bus from Rome City Center to the Airport: If there was a model for organizational failure and institutional incompetence, Terravision would be it. This bus company promotes itself as the cheapest ride from the airports (Fiumicino and Ciampino) to Rome’s city center. We had already tried the (expensive) direct train, so we figured we’d try this instead. The ride from the airport wasn’t bad, just late. The ride back to the airport was a DISASTER.

The office is located next to Roma Termini, the train station. We went in and purchased our tickets. We were given a card that “guarantees” us a spot on the next bus, in our case, the 5 PM to Fiumicino. But, everyone was handed one of these cards regardless of how many spots were actually available.

There wasn’t any type of organization, no queue and no signs for the Fiumicino bus and Ciampino bus. The buses for both airports arrived at the same time, almost an hour late, and the attendants did nothing to organize the angry mob pushing to get on the bus. Once the boarding process began, it was mass chaos. People shoving each other, yelling, and screaming. These were not children. They were grown adults. It was atrocious. And what made us so upset is that with a little organization by the company, this would not have been such a nightmare. Never again.

Blue Express: We flew this budget airline from Catania to Rome. It was an easy check-in process. The problem began with boarding. When it was time to board, we gave our tickets at the gate and walked down the steps to the shuttle bus to take us to our plane. The plane wasn’t ready. But, no one provided us any explanation, in Italian or in English. We STOOD in the shuttle buses at the gate for ONE HOUR all cramped together. If the plane isn’t ready, don’t pretend you’re boarding when you’re actually not. It makes for a lot of angry Italians and two Americans. After standing in the buses for 60 minutes, we were finally taken to the plane to board. This easy, one-hour flight turned into a travel headache.

Almabus from Krakow to Prague: We googled it. It takes 5 hours to get from Krakow to Prague. This bus ride with Almabus took 10 HOURS. Why? First, the bus stopped multiple times and waited for 30 minutes each time for passengers who were running late. Then, the bus stopped an additional four times for a “break.” These breaks lasted at least 30 minutes, during which the bus driver smoked between 1 and 12 cigarettes. Then, there was confusion as to whether or not we should change buses at some point. We were lucky that passengers helped us out by explaining what was going on. The driver and attendant didn’t speak English at all. We would’ve rather spent a little extra money to get 5 hours of our lives back.

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES

Now remember, this list is our opinions, made up of our experiences on European transportation. We know that other travelers may have had completely different experiences. Have you had similar experiences with these companies? Let us know! Feel free to contact us or comment below. Happy travel planning!

-C.K.

6 Responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of European Transportation”

  • Definitely concur on the European Trains – though I have one comment – you may want to get a reservation on Friday and Sunday evenings. We took a trains from Florence through Milan to Switzerland (heading toward Bern) on a Sunday evening. The train from Milan to Bern was packed – we had purchased seat reservations and were glad we did – it was SRO – literally people standing in the aisles heading back to Switzerland after the weekend in Italy. People were eyeing our seats when we got off in Thun (for the last 30 minutes to Bern) – we had to leave one of our group in the seats, lest we come back to have to kick someone out of our seats.

    Also, both Munich’s and Berlin’s systems combining the U-Bahn (Subway) and S-Bahn (Regional fast trains) can get you nearly anywhere in the respective area, are fast and easy to use.

    Hopefully y’all did or will get to take a night train – a great way to get to a distant town without adding a night for hotels.

    I haven’t flown Ryannair, but have EasyJet – if you plan everything out (including pre-pay for luggage), it’s reasonable – at checkin or the gate, the fees rise exponentially. (plus bring your own snacks vs. the “for sale on board” prices…)

    My only “bad” experience was a pre-planned excursion for our group from Rome to Pompeii – the bus was uncomfortable, and we stopped at “rest areas” that were off the freeway, and had prices twice that of the ones on the freeway (which are often double the local grocery store!), plus when it was evident that we weren’t going buy things at one of the stops, we didn’t get to see the demonstration of how cameos are made… I convinced everyone “Next time we’ll do it ourselves, see what we want to see and have a great time” (most of the group was afraid of taking a train in a foreign country).

    Hope y’all have a blast on your upcoming legs!

    Jim

  • Great post! We too hired a car in Ireland and were shocked and disgusted at all the expensive add ons. We also had a similar experience in Amalfi with Italian public bus system and found running to the back of the bus where the back door was open was the best cheat ever! And for me Ryanair was way better then Easyjet. Can’t stand Easyjet their service was shocking. Ryanair never checked our luggage, we got great seats and they open the back door for easy getting out.
    I never heard of Bla Bla, that’s awesome!
    Oh and be careful with American cc insurance in Ireland, some of them will do it for anywhere but there!

  • P.s. Please get share buttons, I really want to tweet this post 😀

  • SUCH a great post! Tons of great information and as we are heading to Europe next week, well be using all of it. CHeers!

  • I have to agree with you: blabla car is a stupid name. Sounds bad even to French speaking people 😀 I still haven’t tried it but I’ve been registered on the site for some time now.

    I avoid to fly Ryanair whenever it’s possible because the working conditions of their staff are awful but on a practical point of view, they are very efficient.

    Thanks for the advice on renting a car in Ireland, it might be useful!

Leave a Reply