Overnight Travel Through Europe
We took the night train to Rome during out latest adventure and it was something that we had never thought of doing before. I was afraid the kids would be restless, or too loud for the other passengers, or if we all hated it and were stuck on a 12 hour train with no way to turn back or get out. It turned out so much better than we expected and it wasn’t that difficult to book, either.
Also see; Kids on the train
Why take the night train to Rome?
When making the long journey from Germany to Italy, we took several modes of transportation into consideration.
Did we want to fly; which dates, which airports, open jaw or return, and so on. Between hotel reservation costs and availability, guided tour schedules and vacation day allotments, nothing was working out for us. Too expensive or just the wrong days. It was Easter after all, but still. I was left disappointed.
Did we want to drive? 1437 km away, almost 14 hours of straight driving, according to Google Maps. I’ve driven 500 km to Berlin, see Tropical Islands for that adventure, and it definitely took 8 hours. I believe the 2/3 nights hotel, gas, snacks and potty breaks, feeding ourselves for that long – I don’t know about you but I tend to eat more when sitting bored in the car for days on end- the costs would have been much more than expected. After all of this driving, can I really expect the little ones to be well behaved in the car or in Italy for 9 days? If it was just the two of us, or the kids were a little older, they would be fine with long distance driving. I remember driving 17 hours from Greenwood Nova Scotia to Montreal, Quebec in one day, growing up – so it is possible. But for my little guys, not just yet. Maybe when Baby Girl is a little older.
Do we take the train? We had never taken the train this long. We would need to start from here and reach an over night hub that services Rome. According to bahn.de, Munich is the only station that ends in Rome. Take the local train to the HBF, ICE train from home to Munich, then the EN (EuroNight) from Munich to Rome. Luckily, they had my dates available, even though we were booking only 1.5 months in advance.
Returning home. Coming home needed to be a whole other conversation – do we fly home on a one way ticket, or take the train again? The EN train is refundable until the night before the trip (at a small loss) so if it was really horrible, we could cancel and purchase last-minute plane tickets to just get home quickly. When traveling, and especially traveling with children, having an emergency fund (aptly dubbed the “oh shit fund”) is essential. However, we wanted to book the Saturday night train home so we arrived Sunday afternoon, and work on Monday. Apparently everyone had that in mind and it was booked solid. We decided to spend an extra day in Florence and take the train Sunday night instead. The cost was the same, so we only had to add extra accommodations and food for the extra night in town.
An excellent resource for planning all of Italy can we found with the Lonely Planet Italy Guide.
Booking the train
I was able to check the routes and timetable on the bahn website but the fares are not available for purchase on their site – not sure why. I ended up called the DB Travel Centre +49 180 6 99 66 33 . The English call center is 0044 (0) 8718 80 80 66 in case there are any problems reaching an English-speaking agent. The agent was able to sell me tickets from home to Munich, Munich to Rome, Florence to Munich, Munich to home. The total was roughly 100 euro cheaper than flying but it was a fun experience so I don’t regret it.
Also see; Travel books – Rome for kids
In terms of date selection, I didn’t want Hubby to take more time off of work than he has to, so we decided to leave on Good Friday – the first train started at 1:30 pm. Munich left at 7 pm, just in time for bed – perfect. Dinner at the Munich station, load into the train, set up the beds, go to sleep. Wake up near Rome and get ready to off load.
Inside an overnight train cabin with kids
To say the hallways are narrow is an understatement. Hubby – with his pack – jumped in first, taking the Munchkin and stroller contents with him to our cabin. The ticket agent helped put Baby Girl onto the train, while I folded the stroller with a fully loaded pack on my back. It was *fun*.
Once inside, we discovered two sets of triple beds. The Bahn agent had sold us Couchettes, and they don’t look anything like the pictures on the website. The 6-berth couchettes are the most economical sleepers in the whole train. There are 4-berth couchettes available – ideal for families, as well as 2 berth and 1st class. I imagine those rooms were filled when I called to make my reservation (again, only 1.5 months in advance. They open 3 months in advance) because they were not given to me as an option.
I needed to co-sleep with Baby Girl, and I have a … larger bum… than the lady in the photos. It was ok, no one rolled off or got squished, it just wasn’t what I had expected. The first two beds are made into two rows of seating when you first walk in. And there are no instructions on how to turn those into beds. Clever hubby figured it out quick enough. We threw the stroller over the door where there was a large space for it. Over the Window, we placed the stroller tires and the packs were on the top two bunks. We left the one suitcase, my beautiful wine luggage, beside Munchkins head, next to the window, just in case he rolled off. The beds are slanted towards the inside so there wasn’t much chance of this happening, but you never know – he is a persistent little boy.
Also see; 5 day guide to Rome
There was a little traffic jam in the hallway leaving Florence. A group of 6 apparently underestimated the amount of storage available in the cabins and had packed too much stuff. They were struggling to find a place to store it all. There is a space under the bottom bunk but I do not recommend that; not sure what happened but it rained hard on the way to Rome and the floors had flooded. My pillow was wet as well; maybe from my window that I hadn’t closed properly.
The bedding was waiting for us on the top bunk. Just open the beds, fix the bedding and close the lights. There are two outlets under the garbage – all under the window. The kids seemed to enjoy the journey. They had a few questions about the train, how long it would take to get there, what about the other passengers… but sleep finally took them and they were out by 8 pm.
There are two sets of toilets, and two sets of washing stations. The cabin reservation comes with 6 bottles of water, a wake up call and a small breakfast. The breakfast wasn’t anything special so I would definitely recommend bringing some healthy snacks or having something planned for after you arrive. In Rome, we were served two large rolls with jelly, and tea or coffee. The kids were offered chocolate milk – white milk was not available. In Munich, the rolls were replaced with a slice of whole-grain bread.
The night train passed through Austria on both the way down and the way back up. The only difference was that while we were away, there had been another terrorist attack in Europe so local authorities were on high alert. While passengers were disembarking, we stayed in our room, having breakfast, and patiently waiting for the train to leave. It didn’t. We suddenly got a knock on the door; it was passport control. They wanted to see our tickets and our passports. They studied them fairly hard too. The kids’ pictures are a little on the older side ( kids change a lot in one year) but they are still valid documents so he couldn’t really say much about that. The whole train was searched and we left 45 minutes late. Well, the selling agent had asked if I wanted my connecting train out of Munich to be 15 minutes later or 45 minutes – I said 45 in case there was any problems – we’ve been down this road before.
Shortly after leaving the Austrian city, we checked our train app and we were scheduled to arrive 50 minutes late. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! We had secured a family compartment for the final leg of our journey – see the importance of family cabins during train travel with kids here – if we missed our train, we would be forced to reschedule our train and take whatever seats were left available at the last-minute. Not a good way to spend 5 hours. I spoke to our cabins ticket agent and she found her supervisor to express my concern – the train was apparently going faster than my app believed it was, and we would only be 15 minutes late. Don’t question it, just take it! We arrived at the station before our connecting train arrived so we took a few minutes to find snacks and waited on our platform.
From what they have told me – since I can’t seem to pry any useful information from them – the kids had a great time. I asked Munchkin what his favorite part of the train was; “The bed!” Sure, I guess that means it was comfortable. Considering they slept most of the time, I don’t blame them for not having an opinion, but this also means that they weren’t bothered by it. They didn’t mind the rest rooms. They didn’t mind the rocking of the train all through the night. They didn’t mind the bed or the bedding. This, to me, is a success. I would definitely recommend the Night Train to anyone, even with small children.
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