10. Orient Express: Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg - Paris (overnight)
On a cold Salzburg evening, bound for Paris, our sleeping compartment seemed an especially cozy haven, made up for day use with its three-seater couch of green plush upholstery. Although not as elegant as the refurbished and privately run Venice-Simplon-Orient Express (Eurailpasses not valid), this Orient Express provides good overnight comfort for much less money.
Our room contained the usual convertible desk-sink. Toilets and a small food-service area were down the hall. We were cautioned to keep both inside bolts locked during the night.
It was a long journey through many cars to reach the dining car, then...suddenly!...a Hungarian restaurant; brightly lit and lively, with red-coated waiters, glowing red shaded lamps, red lace tablecloths, white lace curtains, striped seats, and an international clientèle. The imaginatively written menu had some intriguing Hungarian and continental selections: "Transylvanian Goulasch;" "Paprika Chicken with Gnocchi." We had a salad of pickled cabbage with hot green peppers, lettuce and cucumber; then roast beef with mushrooms and green parsley sauce with rice and fried potatoes and, for dessert, a sort of Hungarian "Twinkie" chocolate-covered cake with chocolate cream filling ($37 including wine and tip). Eurailpasses accepted, sleeping compartments approximately $100/person additional.
- EN 466/7 Orient Express Schedule: Lv Paris Est 7:43 p.m. (diner added in morning), Arr Salzburg 5:53 a.m. next morning, Vienna 9:25 a.m., Budapest 1:28 p.m.. Lv Budapest Keleti 3:30 p.m. (with diner to Salzburg), Arr Vienna 7:40 p.m., Salzburg 11:07 p.m., Paris Est 9:31 a.m. next morning.
- Rating: Accommodations 6/10; Food and drink 8/10; View 5/10; Total Score 19.
Using European Trains
First-class, of course, is preferable, mainly because it is less crowded and more spacious. For individual trips reserve 30-60 days ahead. During summer and holiday times, popular trains such as the German Panda (Zürich-Hamburg) will be nearly full, even in first-class. In the more crowded second-class it is even more important to reserve. If boarding without a reservation, check the sign outside each compartment to see if there are vacant seats, or look for the "non-reserved" sign on a seat back in corridor cars. Within Switzerland no seats are reserved except on trains with international destinations (i.e. Transalpin: Zürich - Vienna) and special trains such as the Glacier Express.
Although checking is possible, it is usually more convenient to carry bags. Try to limit baggage to one suitcase with wheels which can be carried up and down stairs. Although some cities have free luggage carts and some have escalators, stairs in others will challenge your stamina if your load is too great. When the trip ends, be ready with bags by the exit door because many stops are only for one or two minutes.
One of the greatest pleasures of train travel is "dinner in the diner." Food on European trains is better and more expensive than on Amtrak. Expect to pay about the same as in a moderately expensive restaurant in your destination city: $35-$60 for a three-course meal without beverages. Within Switzerland if you order a meal you can stay in the dining car for the entire journey. Elsewhere there may be two sittings (reserved ahead of time), and if you choose the first you will have to vacate for the next group of diners. Between meals the diner is usually open for light snacks, beverages and socializing.
Prices and schedules current for 1996
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