I started this post 2 years ago and am just catching up with my old drafts now. Sorry for the delay!
I had the opportunity to present at the METEC conference in Düsseldorf in 2015 and took the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Germany and a few days in Paris. I’m familiar with most of Germany and very familiar with Paris from my time in the US Air Force stationed at Spangdahlem AB Germany.
I still worked for SGL at the time and most of my German colleagues advised me to rent cars and fly on cheap airlines. I opted to use the DB (trains) because I didn’t want to deal with parking and airports.
I bought the 15 day German Rail Pass which provides for unlimited rail use within Germany and to several neighboring countries. The only issue with the GRP is that it can’t get you to Paris, but can get you to the Brussels-Midi station where you can connect into Thalys. So buy a ticket on Thalys from Brussels-Midi (AKA Brussels-ZUID) to the Paris North station which is cheaper than buying a ticket from somewhere in Germany.
Traveling by train in Europe is great compared with driving or flying. There are no security checks to go through at the stations. There are no lines. You walk in, go to your track and wait. If you are 15 minutes early that is plenty. The trains are usually on time but can be delayed by a few minutes.
The most common complaint I hear about the train is that you have to manage your own luggage. This can be a PITA depending on how crowded the train is and what order you board. But if you can travel light (1 bag) then it is not much of an issue.
You don’t have to make a seat reservation for the trains but you may want to do so to ensure you have a seat. If you make a reservation don’t be surprised if you have to ask someone to get out of your seat. I read that DB was going to start requiring seat reservations, but don’t know what the current status is.
The wifi on the trains is generally impressive but depends on location and how many people are using it. If you need wifi on the train then stick to the ICE trains. The smaller IC trains are really nice, but won’t have wifi (at least not when I was on them). When you book your trains the DB website will indicate which trains have wifi.
The larger German train stations have lounges which are nice to hang out in if you have time between trains. Some of the rail passes include lounge access to some of the lounges. Check the current status on the DB website when you book to be sure and read the fine print.
Cities visited: Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, Lingen, Paris, Nuremberg.
It was the first time I’d visited Paris in 20 years. Nothing seemed different except it was a lot more crowded. Choosing a hotel in Paris can be a challenge because there are so many to pick from. When I was younger we just went to the city and figured it out when we got there. But it wasn’t so crowded back then. The smart thing to do is to find something online and book ahead of time.
- It seemed like there were a lot of homeless. Maybe they’re gypsies traveling around the EU and homeless by choice?
- There is always a line at every McDonalds in Europe. I don’t eat McDonalds, but can’t understand the popularity of it in Europe.
- Smoking is still allowed at many places and it seems like people smoke at some places whether legal or not. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around smoke and forgot how nasty it can be.
- Service in Europe is not bad, it’s different. I’d forgotten about it. Their mindset is that you are renting a table when you eat at a restaurant and it is your space until you decide to leave. They won’t bother you and so you need to ask for service many times. Not bad service, just a different paradigm.
- You have to pay to use public toilets at most places so be sure to carry change. This seemed like a hassle but it pays for someone to maintain and clean the facilities and so isn’t so bad.
- Parking is really a challenge in most of the larger cities in Europe. Towing and impounding cars is a thriving business so pay attention to where you park.
- Traffic seems to be much worse than it was the last time I was there. Not sure why people would want to drive when they could take public transportation. I got the impression that driving was somewhat of a status symbol.
- Hotel internet in Germany is something on the order of 2 dial up lines plugged into access points. Seriously, it’s that bad. And they charge for it.
- Open wifi in Europe seems to be non-existent. I did use Starbucks wifi in Paris and it was reasonable. But you can’t access it until you make a purchase and then get an access code. Same thing with the toilets. T-Mobile does have access points throughout the cities in Germany for their customers but I have no idea what the quality is.
- Many businesses in Germany do not accept major American credit cards. Be aware of this and carry some cash.
- Traveling in Europe can be really expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Take some time to plan and you can save a bundle.
- There is no shortage of Turkish restaurants in Germany and the food is awesome. Not sure how many kebabs I ate, but it was a lot. Try the Durum Doner.
- Jet lag can be tough to deal with. The strategy that I have found that works best for me is to sleep on the plane. Stay up all day the first day (it’s tough to do). Get up at your normal time the next day and work out. Stay up all day. Repeat. Within 3 days I felt good.