Metro...Commuter...Long-Distance...Night... All types of trains...All trains I rode at least once. For 3 weeks the European rail system was something I admired, depended on and hated all at the same time. Admiration because America doesn't hold a candle to Europe in regards to train transportation. Dependency because the trains were my only means of transpo besides my own two feet. And hatred because of unexpected fees and multiple problems with reservations.
Upon purchasing a Global EurailPass (certainly worth the money!) that allowed me 15 days of unlimited travel anywhere in 21 different countries, I received a free map and timetable along with booklet on how to use to the train system. When I arrived in Paris I had a plan: all I had to do was make a few train reservations for certain long-distance trains and the 2 night trains I would be taking. I knew there would be a "small fee" attached to them all, especially the night trains, however, when I hear "small fee" I think of 3-5Euro, not 5-15. I was not very happy when train reservations for 3 trains plus 1 night train amounted to $66. And since I could only do some of the Italian train reservations while in Paris, knowing there would be even more fees made me very frustrated. I had expected/budgeted in my mind $20-30 so having to pay that much was NOT fun.
My other ordeal while making train reservations that morning was dealing with the trains I wanted being booked already. Orignally my plan was to take an afternoon train from Paris to Milan, then a night train from Milan to Rome. I had read that the fees for night trains in Italy were less than in France and from the Eurail timetable I believed you could get a reclining seat which costs less than a couchette. However, the train to Milan was booked, as was the direct night train to Rome (my second option) so I was slightly panicked as I don't like disruption to my plans I've thought very carefully about. Especially when I was meeting Anne based off the time I originally planned. After mentally calming myself down I asked about a night train to Milan, and then a early morning train down to Rome. YES, they had one available!! I was at least going to make it to Rome, even if it was going to be 3 hours later.
So some words of advice for future train travelers...Reserve your seats online in advance if you can. And if you can't, have back-up plans. There may be seats available on the trains, but they aren't for 2nd Class Global Pass people. So unless you want to pay like a 70-100Euro fee to get on that first train option by upgrading yourself, have back-up plans. Also, I was traveleing between Paris and Rome on a Sunday night so traveling between major cities on a Sunday night might not have been the best choice. I also advise all of you double check the tickets you receive from the window person before leaving because the date might be wrong. Although the person I was dealing with spoke English well enough for me to make the reservations, he booked me on the train for the wrong date. I luckily found out though, not because I looked, but because I was trying to change my tickets and they pointed it out to me. Which leads me to another piece of advice...in France at least, they have the languages that are spoken at each window listed on monitors above so look for those if you don't speak French.
Traveling in multiple foreign countries when you don't speak any of the languages makes yourself very vulnerable to mistakes and miscommunication like I experienced with the train reservations. I was definitely expecting to have some problems, but it didn't make them any less frustrating. The good thing was that I learned from my mistakes and when I had to make my other reservations I was prepared and had no problems. I think that's it for the rambling and advice about reservations. Since this post is already long enough, I'll add my thoughts about riding the trains later.