How one Ukrainian crossed EU border by train to have a sense of visa-free travel around Schengen countries (2/3)

by Andy Kozlov

Do you know which are the closest capital cities in Europe? Some argue that Bratislava and Vienna are the closest capital cities in the world. Did they consider Rome and the Vatican?

Across Europe (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
Across Europe (Collage by Andy Kozlov)

In any event, a 90-minute boat ride down the serene Danube river, Vienna is some 60 km from Bratislava.

I opted for the train again, instead. And, boy, it was a difference from the RZD wagons. Smoothiness and comfort for just €13.

United Nations Square with the eponymous subway station above, Vienna (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
United Nations Square with the eponymous subway station above, Vienna (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

A young Ukrainian couple that were very kind to host me for a couple days in Vienna suggested that I use an online car-sharing service Mitfahrgelegenheit.at to get from there to Munich. The capital of Bavaria is where I planned to meet with my long-time pen pal and a Nigeria-based Steppes in Sync insider Ms Aderinsola Ajao of Goethe-Institut Lagos.

Car-sharing is a real way to save money. That is if you don’t end up seated for hours in the same vehicle with some nasty frugal travellers — which wasn’t my case — or a Southern European driver pestering you with his unsettling thesaurus of Russian swearings — my case.

Trying not to compromise on the quality of my FIRST TIME IN VIENNA visit, I agreed to share a car ride with the strangers. Go online, do it quick.

Curiousity overwhelmed me on one issue, however. I wanted to physically check the Eurolines bus station in Austia’s capital for evidence of the United Europe. At the terminal, I found out that Eurolines cannot sell me a ticket from Munich to Geneva from the company’s ticket booth in Vienna.

That had to be dealt with via the net as well. Danke to my Ukrainian hosts for helping me out with this online booking as well.

As I reached Munich — with a good hour of delay and dropped by at a different stop than previously promised by my Cypriot driver — I encountered another moment of revelation. Some municipalities in the EU, like the hero-city of Munich, are not that generous when it comes to the duration of your daily city pass.

I was shocked to discover that Munich is not generous with the duration of the daily city pass
I was shocked to discover that Munich is not generous with the duration of the daily city pass

“Daily” means till 6 a.m of the following day in Munich. Not with a duration of 24 hours. The ticket was nevertheless pricier than the €2.20 daily pass that I travelled on back in Vienna.

Maybe this was just a German way to get me accustomed to the cost of life in Geneva, my upcoming destination? But then how do you reconcile the German love for order and neatness with the scarcity — read virtual inexistence — of free soap bars in my hostel by the Munich Hauptbanhof? The ECB should certainly hurry up with their equivalent of quantative easing if things had gotten soo out of hand, Signor Draghi!

To be fair, there is a greater convergence and multi-decade adjustment in the EU these days, which can explain some temporary drop in number of travel options, level of service, hike in its price.

Tom Robbins updates us on the FT pages:

Deutsche Bahn is to cancel a range of sleeper services as part of a plan to restructure its lossmaking European night train network. Services from Hamburg, Berlin and Munich to Paris, and from Amsterdam, Basel and Prague to Copenhagen will be cancelled at the end of this year. Trains from Warsaw and Prague to Amsterdam will terminate at Cologne. Last year the routes resulted in a loss of €12m; a spokesperson said the carriages would be redeployed on more popular routes in order to make night train services viable in the long term. Other European operators have also cut back night trains as budget airlines and high-speed daytime trains make sleepers less attractive.

I assume you are well aware of the loyalty program system reigning supreme in the EU. It is well evident in all things terrestrial transportation. Local people are discerning customers, a mindset my Ukrainian folk are still to master if they are to take the most out of the visa-free travel experience.

See the extremely informative and boundlessly inspiring Seat61.com by Mark Smith for more on why explore Europe (and indeed the whole Earth) by train?

But there are still significant differences in the logic of rebates and saving programs depending on the country.

At the main railway station back in Bratislava, the quotation they gave me for a Vienna-Munich train trip almost left me breathless: €97,3. Quite a contrast to the €25 car-sharing deal, don’t you think?

On my way to Helsinki. May 2014 (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
On my way to Helsinki. May 2014 (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

Several months back, my eyes rolled out under the similar circumstances when to get on a Helsinki-Tallinn ferry I had no choice but to dish out €70, double of the amount that got me from Estonia to Finland by the same means of transportation.

Back on the continent, last month, I secured a seat on a Eurolines bus from Munich to Geneva. With a little help with online booking from my friends with whom I stayed in Vienna, as I mentioned to you above. But how do I get myself from Paris to Karlsruhe? There in western Germany, another Ukrainian couple promised to take care of my train ticket to Memmingen, suggesting to take me on a day tour to Baden-Baden before I take to the skies and back to motherland.

I assume because Karlsruhe is a German destination, Eurolines staffer at their travel bureau in Munich had no problem with selling me a ticket stemming from French capital. “€52 please! You will reach Karlsruhe some eight hours after departure.” 

Waiting at the Munich bus terminal for my 3 a.m. Eurolines bus to Geneva was a drag. Beware folks: there are no rudiments of EU-quality service there after midnight. Well-dressed passengers to everywhere from Zurich to Milano were decently stressed out while kept on their toes scared by the prospect of missing the bus, as the scheduling system went balank several minutes before 24:00.
Waiting at the Munich bus terminal for my 3 a.m. Eurolines bus to Geneva was a drag. Beware folks: there are no rudiments of EU-quality service there after midnight. Well-dressed passengers to everywhere from Zurich to Milano were decently stressed out, while kept on their toes scared by the prospect of missing the bus, as the scheduling system went blank several minutes before 24:00.

All frugal travellers out there, be sure to check Eurolines-pass.eu for 15 and 30-day bus travel discount programs that start from €215 per adult. This will get you all around Europe. 51 cities withing the EU. However, Morocco and Ukraine are under the radar in this package. Note that Eurolines does sell individual tickets to these destinations. In this case, perhaps Easyjet could inspire you to decide on a more straightforward solution.

At the Eurolines bus station Gallieni, Paris. Joseph Simon Gallieni (1849 – 1916) was a  governor of French Sudan, French military leader who exiled Queen Ranavalona III and abolished the 350-year-old monarchy on Madagascar (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
At the Eurolines bus station Gallieni, Paris. Joseph Simon Gallieni (1849 – 1916) was a governor of French Sudan, French military leader who exiled Queen Ranavalona III and abolished the 350-year-old monarchy on Madagascar (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

I hoped for a free Wi-Fi point to be available on my Eurolines buses. To no avail. Although some of the coaches I spotted along the Munich-Geneva route did advertise that on their bodies.

You can reach the author on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

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