With the Climate Emergency declared in many places, how can people still choose air?
Well actually, often the train costs more. Possibly due to the lack of competition. But more operators are coming into the European market. More night trains are being announced regularly, and not just by the state operators. OBB and Nightjet are doing really well at expanding their night train network – partnering with SBB etc. RegioJet are increasing their services to Croatia. Snalltaget are now operating from Stockholm to Berlin. EuroNightTrain and Moonlight Express are coming soon.
The potential is high. It is starting to feel that there can be less flying, and people can still be connected all over Europe. Train travel is low-carbon travel. With claims ranging from 6x less carbon, to 20x less carbon compared with flying.
But there’s still challenges. On price. On service. On quality. And on just providing what the travel consumer wants. Making changing connections easy. Helping people travel long distances by train.
The budget airlines, such as Vueling, Ryanair, and EasyJet have had 20 years to perfect their booking systems. However, there’s still no unified cross EU booking system for trains! Crazy.
Yes. We need to compete with airlines!
Whilst there is portals that give the airplane as an option across the EU, we don’t believe that is the right approach.
Trains, Coaches, And overland is the way to go in the medium to long-term.
Especially after people have had their first post-covid travels.
Are you ready to ‘get on board’ ?
Which hats sound like they may fit you? More than one is fine.
We’d like to overlap with our first people in Berlin or Málaga. But remote will become more possible in time – especially for mob programming developers.
We are very early stage, and the below roles are unpaid. Think ongoing hackday for now. And at this stage, we are looking for the people that can help figure out how to make this work and be monetisable, whilst encouraging people to travel by train through us. You need a problem solving, startup mindset! Contact us to get involved.
Head Of Country Community Managers -Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Croatia. What makes people travel in your area? Let us know how you engage people.
Product Managers – a sense of experimentation, data junkies, travel business knowledge, and love of overland travel. What travel experiments did you want to try?
Social Media Managers for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. You want to grow a community of travellers. What platform do you love? How have you engaged people already?
User Experience Experts. An awareness of what works (in travel) already. And a desire to find ways to overcome challenges to get the consumer what they want.
API Integration Experts. The data is out there Mulder. Maybe you work with Node, Go, Python.
Developers in Ruby On Rails. Any level!
(Come on. What other platform did you expect 😉 ) You need to be collaborative in nature. Pair programming or mob programming will be the normal. TDD with rspec is how you think. Part-time is just fine.
General Enquiry We would love to hear from you if you just want to get involved.
LETS GO. LETS MAKE TRAIN TRAVEL AS EASIER AS ALTERNATIVES.
Contact us and let us know what you would like to do 🙂
We are up at the crack of dawn for our family adventure, taking the 07:00 EuroCity through Dresden, and along the Elbe Valley through the rocky outcrops of the national park shared by Saxony and Bohemia. We sit on the left for the river view, and tuck into bacon and eggs in the excellent Czech restaurant car. At Prague Central station, there are left luggage lockers (cheap and easy to find on the lower level, though you need Czech currency handy) and we set off to make the most of our afternoon in the City of a Hundred Spires.
This RegioJet is a seasonal special with couchette cars (and a few seating compartments) heading through the heart of central Europe, with portions for the two Croatian Adriatic resorts of Rijeka and Split. Passengers are mainly students, backpackers and young families, and the lived-in compartments with open windows give it an old-fashioned Inter-rail feel, mixed with the more modern buzz of low-cost beach holidays, the thrill of passing through 4 countries’ capitals, and breathtaking scenery.
Our carriage on this trip has certainly seen better days, but the staff are extremely friendly and helpful with workarounds when a socket is faulty. The Czech language dominates, but English and German are widely spoken. I didn’t test the staff’s Hungarian, but passengers certainly boarded in Budapest too! In the morning, the train splits for Rijeka at Ogulin (or if you’re travelling to Rijeka, splits for Split). The final stretch through the mountains is the highlight of the journey, until the whole train squeals with excitement at our first glimpses of the sea.
The maze of Diocletian’s Palace fools even my GPS. When only 20 metres remain to our apartment in the heart of the Old Town, there are streets in 4 directions, and it whirls giddily like a top, clueless as to the direction we’re walking in. “I think you are looking for me!” exclaims a friendly gentleman in a baseball cap, who turns out to be the owner. He takes us down a side-alley off a side-alley off an alley, and through two iron gates. He shows us around, and then takes me aside. “I have a funny drink for you!”, he winks. The fridge is stocked with Croatian orangeade- brand name Pipi.
A mixture of the genuinely Roman, rebuilt Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, modern and lived-in, with some Game of Thrones memorabilia thrown in, Split has enormous charm, its alleys full of sun-seeking Northern Europeans, and cats. The Riva, the seafront promenade packed with eateries, has an affluent Mediterranean charm, and it is hard to believe that less than 30 years ago this was a scene of desolation at the heart of a civil war, the hotels full of Bosnian refugees from the hills just inland. (I was shouted out of an otherwise friendly Bureau de Change for daring to try and exchange Serbian dinars- “Dollars, yes! Euro, yes! No Africa! No Makedonia!”)
Bačvice, the town beach, is pleasingly situated next to the end of the railway line. The restaurants are cheap and cheerful, staffed by English-speaking students doing summer jobs. Nataša, a pale waitress with numerous piercings, is genuinely ecstatic that we are reading “actual books”. After taking our order, she stops to comment “Can I just say- that’s amazing!” I wonder if maybe she is a literature student, an aspiring writer. When she comes back with a tray to collect our empties, I clearly choose the wrong moment to ask her if she herself reads. “Do I read?” she stutters, miscalculating her balancing act and sending a Bitter Lemon bottle on a downward trajectory that ends in a smash, a spray of shards, and a massive round of applause from the other staff, which soon ripples out to the tables of diners. “Yes,” she says wistfully, returning with a dustpan and brush. “Yes, I do read.”
We make several day trips from Split: Marjan hillside park is a beautiful walk up steps from the Old Town, passing cave dwellings once inhabited by Christian hermits, to reach leafy Kašjuni beach. We take the local train north in a thunderstorm to Kaštela, with its mansions and towers built to protect the nobility from the Ottomans in the 15th and 16th centuries, including Kaštel Gomilica, another filming location for Game of Thrones (Braavos). It’s a short ferry trip to the beautiful island of Šolta, the site of many battles including in the recent civil war, and now thriving as an independent municipality with helpful tourist office (though when we get to the traditional restaurant up the hill in Grohote which they describe as “mwah mwah mwah!”, a lady says “All my family has gone to Split today. There is no food” so we have to walk back down again).
We have an even more leisurely last day than planned, due to delays up the line. We check out and leave our luggage, for a last visit to the beach and plate of seafood pasta. The incoming train from Prague is nearly 4 hours late, so our departure will be delayed by at least 2 hours, until the early evening. This is a common occurrence with low-cost airlines of course, but the difference here is that the station platform is 5 minutes walk from the beach, and well-equipped with cheap refreshments. Also, when we finally board, we will have the kind of full-length beds and privacy you can only get in First Class on a long-haul flight!
When the train finally arrives, huge black bin-bags are planted in front of the doors, and Czech children help the elderly local cleaners plonk the filled ones into the supermarket trolleys they use to scoot along the platform- not being Croat speakers, their helpers use a combination of English and beaming grins to communicate. Not for the first time, I am thrilled to be admitted into a hybrid Bohemian-Balkan travel experience.
They don’t just clean the compartments, they hoist shut the windows and pull the curtains, as if the travelling bedrooms will be left to cool for hours. We shuffle on board, and all the compartments are unlocked except ours, which is nearest the door, meaning we completely block the corridor until the guard comes to unlock. She reclaims her own suitcase, which for some reason is under our bed. She slithers around the overweight passengers and over-sized luggage, somehow extricating herself and her luggage like a pink-shirted Regiojet Spiderwoman.
The scenery at sunset is breathtaking, as we creep away from the sea, and the shadows lengthen over the fortifications of Kaštela and the grimy scrapyards of the harbour. We recline, and munch. Above Knin, near the Bosnian (and therefore EU external) border, the moon lights up a ragged wasteland as a skinny grey wolf-cub scuttles along a rusty branch line. According to the map, it leads to Bihać, notorious in the 1990s as the site of a 3-year siege. Hopefully free movement will return to this region one day, and those trains will run again.
The teenagers watch US comedies on the laptop on the upper bunks. I half-register the shunting at Ogulin and Zagreb, and sleep until Gyékényes, where the Croatian and Hungarian Border Forces carry out their pre-dawn inspections. All lavatories (and even the washrooms with sinks) are locked out of service to avoid stowaways. “Német, Német,” mutters the Hungarian guard conspiratorially to his comrades as he takes down our every detail (we are possibly the only passengers on the train with German paperwork). He is assiduous in his duties, but uses his visor-mounted torch to cast only a cursory glance at the snorers above.
We read and sleep, and enjoy the hotel-on-wheels pyjama-party that criss-crosses Central Europe, up Lake Balaton to Budapest, sneaking in past Győr to take the suburbs of Bratislava by surprise on the back road, a clanking old freight route. We lean out of the window and take in the scents of dawn, and the sights of a retreating Hungary and gently encroaching Slovakia. We trundle through villages, almost nosing into back gardens, tilting over rivers and through waving cornfields- and then suddenly there is a crumbling concrete monstrosity: a border inspection post. But the train doesn’t need to stop at this now peaceful weed-strewn border, or the next, or the next; and we can cuddle up in our bunks and reminisce.
“I can’t believe this holiday’s nearly over,” says a voice.
And “I still want that 40-cent apple crumble from the buffet.”
Seats booked through České dráhy (Czech Railways), and exact composition of the train checked on Vagon Web. We got a compartment in 2nd class (which we shared for half the journey with another couple). There is 1 socket per compartment and basic wifi. Czech restaurant car serves full meals.
2nd class single €24 adult, €12 child, including seat reservations.
Journey time: 4 hours. Services every 2 hours daily.
Free water and coffee, two sockets per compartment and basic wifi. There is no dining car, but a bistro in the Split portion serves hot drinks (including the excellent free espresso) plus slices of cake for 40 cents apiece. There’s also an at-seat menu of cold food and drinks, plus the option of pre-booking sushi and wraps online.
Private couchette compartment one-way €125 (sleeps up to 4 people, with plenty of luggage room).
Journey time: officially 21 hours, but frequently delayed. Less stressful to book a (maybe en-suite?) stop-over on arrival rather than a connecting train. RegioJet operate numerous connecting buses to other resorts using through ticketing. In 2021, the first year of operation, services are nightly in July and August, thrice-weekly in June and September. There are plans to extend the season for 2022.
The night train from Stockholm to Berlin has arrived.
A lady on the platform started to wave and get excited as the Snälltåget red train engine pulled onto Gleis 3, on-time at 08:52 this morning. She was there to greet her friends.
Simultaneously a FlixTrain appeared on the opposite platform.
Today was a different visit to Berlin’s hbf. A building with fantastic architecture, but often considered confusing number and orientation of platforms. Today, I didn’t get lost. Today was different as a much anticipated service had it’s inaugural service between Sweden and Germany. Excitement was in the air.
Gathered in the middle of the train on the platform, was an assortment of journalists, campaigners, and others passionate about the increase in the number of train services in the EU. And me.
This was the first night train from Stockholm to Berlin. And it had arrived. On time.
Berlin’s central station is not far from the Government district, and I dare say you could make a 9am meeting there with this train service with international governing bodies. Or you could spend the day seeing the many sights of Berlin, before heading onwards to Prague or Amsterdam?
I’m not a morning person, so had hoped to chat gently with a few people, but I was not as organised as many others. Chatted with Jon, Pro Bahn, and the guy from Back On Track EU who’d been on the train, as well as Thomas from Snälltåget, whilst many journalists interviewed various people.
I was encouraged by the excitement from the press. This surely meant that the Stockholm to Berlin night train service has a future?
For me, this has to be just the start. And with covid issues, it’s the persistence of the Transdev & Snälltåget team that has brought this together. It’s now running. Lots of announcements recently about potential new services, but this one is here!
There’s still covid times challenges – you cannot book an individual bed, but have to book the whole couchette. These are not insurmountable. And actually the price for a family of four works out well when competing with Lufthansa.
For now, it is too soon to predict when individual beds can be sold. There’s not really the appetite for sharing with strangers right now. We (196) had a brief experiment to see if there was people who would share, with the tallget community, but sadly there was not.
It’s an exciting point in the #EUYearOfRail – in many ways, with coivd starting to calm down, it feels like it is only just starting. Perhaps there’s scope for increasing the EUYearOfRail into 2022?
In the meantime, it’s great that companies are starting to roll-out services, and maybe this service will act as a catalyst to announcements for last September’s announced TEE 2.0 network?
A combination of fast trains, and night train services, feels like the future of 2 week tourist travel to those at 196Destinations. It feels like it has to be. But at the same time the industry needs to compete with RyanAir and EasyJet to do it.
And this isn’t just a question of price. It’s about providing destinations people want, and at the right departure and arrival timings in the day, as well style of accommodation and other facilities on board. Perhaps the industry will need to build new rolling stock to cater for new demand, and to encourage the modal shift from air to train to help with the climate emergency.
Time will tell. Lots of work to do. In the meantime, lets enjoy what travel we can do (safely), when it’s possible.
M – “I hear this is quite expensive though?” Well, due to the covid situation at the moment, you have to book a whole couchette, but in theory you can get on the train for as little as 49 Euros one way.
Mo – “Does it go through the Oresund link via Copenhagen?” Hey, yes it does cross ‘The Bridge‘ 🙂
Book Berlin to Stockholm by train
18:54 – Depart – Berlin Gesundbrunen or Berlin Hbf (check!) 14:20 – Arrive – Stockholm (the day after)
Daily from June 28 until September 5 and Wednesdays and Saturdays 8 until October 2. Further variations on Sundays.
Book Stockholm to Berlin by train
16:20 – Depart – Stockholm 08:52 – Arrive – Berlin (the day after).
Daily from June 27 until September 5 and Wednesdays and Saturdays until September 29. Further variations on Sunday.
196Destinations.com wants to sell tickets and make it easier for people to book tickets on the top 30 flight routes, and long-distance night services. Join us on this adventure by following us on facebook, instagram, or twitter. Do message with queries, or if you would like to contribute. Lets help people fly a little less.
A new 2.5 hour train service has started between Madrid and Barcelona, run by OUIGO.
Finally, there is a choice on the route with both RENFE and OUIGO operating it.
We think the extra cheap train service from Barcelona to Madrid will help save the planet a little bit more, given the route between the two cities is the most popular FLIGHT in the whole EU!! Crazy hey!!
The 1st train from Madrid To Barcelona by OUIGO leaves Madrid-Puerta de Atocha at 07:05. The last train departs Madrid-Puerta de Atocha at 21:00.
Hit play on this video from Matt at NonStopEuroTrip and see how comfortable the OUIGO trains are.
Competition is heating up with Avlo (Renfe) launching on 23rd June, and also ILSA next year.
Perhaps you want to travel next weekend?
Looking at prices generally it looks reasonable and competitive, but at just a week ahead, they are not the very cheapest of prices between 29 and 45 Euros. You could also could upgrade to OUIGO Plus for another 9 Euros, as Matt did in his video.
Looking further ahead then, can we get the 9 Euro price? Yes, but in September.
Looking a more realistic 5 or 6 weeks ahead here are the prices. Some bargains at 15 Euros! Muy bien! More typically 19, 25, and 29 Euros.
READY TO BOOK?
Head on over to OUIGO’s website, and see what great value train tickets you can find from Madrid to Barcelona.
Why not let us know which Madrid hotel and other accommodation options you like? Either on twitter, or you can leave a comment below.
There is a new service operated by established Swedish train company, Snälltåget. A night train from Berlin to Stockholm.
The basic ticket has reasonable price (from 49 Euros). However, with the current environment, you have to book a whole compartment to sleep in – this would normally be suited to up to 6 people. It can make it a little too expensive.
The train leaves Berlin at 19:02, getting to Stockholm, early the afternoon on the day after. On board there is a restaurant we can get brunch before we arrive. Snälltåget uses green energy from water, wind and sun.
We would have a (long) weekend in Stockholm, then return to Berlin.
Perhaps 196destinations can make it cheaper though, and connect a few people with flexible travel ideas.
Would you be willing to share with someone else to cut costs? Perhaps they have had a PCR test. Perhaps they have even had the vaccination?
Contact us if you are interested, or leave a comment below with roughly when you are wanting to travel.
196destinations founder Ian, is travelling the route in August or September, after getting his second vaccination in July. I welcome others with a negative corona test or vaccine on my trip. I would probably depart on a Thursday or Friday.
I would like to connect other people so that they can enjoy the night train experience.
Please comment below on when you would like to travel 🙂
I was pretty happy to discover a direct train service from Amsterdam to Berlin, and at a reasonable price. Obviously it also operates in the other direction from Berlin to Amsterdam, four times a day.
It is fairly easy to arrive at Amsterdam Centraal station by tram, but if you’re coming from the Noord side then there’s a free ferry – it even takes bikes.
The 15th June saw the borders between Holland and Germany open. So, it was about time I completed my return to Berlin. Finally, I was on my way – this journey was originally to be completed pre-Corona, and from Málaga!
Leaving Amsterdam’s Central Station, you are quickly into countryside, with the expected number of canals, i.e. LOTS! There were a few towns we stopped at that looked like they’d be great places to live if you were commuting into Amsterdam. The train stopped at quite a few of them – confusingly, as there was a platform announcement saying it would not be stopping in Holland.
Onboard, the train attendant was very friendly and you could move from your reserved seat to an unreserved table. Upgrade! Though I wasn’t to realise there was free (working!) wifi until the last hour.
I recommend the NL International app. I used the Android version, and it helped me identify the platforms I needed at Amsterdam Centraal. If you are being met at Berlin Hbf (the central station), it shows the arrival platform for that as well. If you remember to set notifications for the train to ‘on’, it will also update you 10 minutes before the train’s departure time to show any delays. Ours was just slightly delayed leaving, but arrived on time.
I’d long been used to Berlin and Brandenburg being pretty much completely flat, but I was quite surprised to find nearly the whole of the route through Holland and northern Germany to also be as flat a (Dutch) pancake!!
Just one hill, in the distance, somewhere near Hanover. I suspect it was man-made, and built from the digging out of the canals in the area. There was also a small castle-like structure on the hill approaching Hanover.
I wasn’t sure exactly where the border crossing was, but the familiar hunting perch on the edge of a forest indicated we were now in Deutschland. Here the train’s Dutch engine was replaced with a Deutsch one.
Time for a coffee. I ended up chatting with the attendant – she seemed happy that I was spending my shrapnel and had the correct change. They had an actual restaurant carriage, but no more food until after Hanover.
Passed what turned out to be VW’s headquarters and museum.
As we arrived into Spandau, I realised that I could do some programming, as had free wifi. An in joke, it was obviously Ruby On Rails. On Rails!! Don’t worry, I’m laughing to myself – haha.
And so I arrived at Berlin Hbf. Finally. I was three months late, but here I am 🙂 WOOHOOOO! A smooth journey, direct from Amsterdam, and I could be happy that I used seven times less carbon than I would have flying that distance.
After a lovely weekend with my friend Dan at an adorable Airbnb in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, I wasn’t ready to go home. We’d spent the first day exploring on Donkey rental bikes picked up from outside the grand Central Station building. Cycling over to the Torvehallerne food market, we stocked up on fresh fruit, bread and cheese for the day. After returning to our bikes and loading them up with our purchases, we set off for a day’s exploring. Dan’s a lot more confident on a bike than I am, so he led the way and I wobbled along behind, hoping to avoid running anyone over and feeling hopelessly out of my depth among casually stylish Scandinavians who rode as if they’d been born on two wheels.
Our first stop was the appropriately named Round Tower, a seventeenth-century tower and observatory built by Christian IV. Climbing the sloping stone path inside brought us out on to the viewing deck at the top, where there’s a panoramic view across the city. There is also a small observatory, but that was closed the day we visited. You can also stop to peer down through a glass floor into the tower’s inner structure, which was fascinating but probably not recommended if you don’t like heights!
After the tower, we headed into the lanes and alleys of Freetown Christiania, exploring in a cloud of summer drizzle before stopping for a late but delicious lunch at Morganstedet vegetarian restaurant. After lunch, we spent a good while marvelling at the stunningly colourful work of Marios Orozco in the Christiania Art Gallery while the rain pattered down outside. Having made it safely home, we toured a few bars in the evening, sampling some of the local microbreweries’ finest.
On the Sunday, after a tasty Scandi breakfast at Bowl Market and a failed attempt to visit the temporarily-closed Carlsberg brewery attraction, it was time to check out. After getting hopelessly mired behind various legs of the Copenhagen Ironman in the pouring rain, we finally made it to Nyhavn. Dan hopped on the metro to the station, to get back to Amsterdam and his job. I checked into the quaint and welcoming Bedwood Hostel, a half-timbered building in a courtyard off the Nyhavn waterfront, and wondered what to do next. There were still a couple of weeks left of the summer holiday, and I didn’t want to spend them sitting at home, where there was a 90% likelihood I’d end up going into work whether I needed to or not.
The next day, sitting in a pavement cafe watching the boats on the canal, I opened Maps. Where to go next? Maybe I should move out into the countryside for a day or two, or start to make my way west towards Flensburg and the German border, the beginning of the way home. That was when I saw the bridge. Yes, that bridge. The Bridge, the bridge. Mind made up, I picked up my bag from the hostel’s front desk and headed for the station.
Properly named the Øresund Bridge, or Øresundsbron, the 16km bridge serves as a road and rail link between Copenhagen and Malmö. The journey between Copenhagen Central Station and Malmö Central Station takes very little time, about 40 minutes from end to end, and costs around 122 Swedish Krona, or 87 Danish Krone. Tickets were easily purchased from the machines in the station, or can be bought online at the Öresundståg website. It’s handy to know that Copenhagen Central is generally referred to as Kobenhavn H on ticket screens and the booking website, while Malmö Central will usually be shown as Malmö C.
Boarding the 029 Øresundståg train, I briefly wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into first class, but it turned out that Scandinavian trains are just incredibly posh. Gliding out past the airport and on to the bridge itself, the view was obscured by the heavy iron girders. However, it was still possible to get a glimpse of the artificial island of Peberholm. Left undisturbed, it’s turned into a bit of an ersatz nature reserve, although we were going too fast to see much of the wildlife.
Of course, a spur of the moment decision to go to Malmö was going to involve sleeping somewhere. The first listing that came up on Airbnb was titled The Magic Bus. That was far too intriguing to pass up, so I was booked it, thinking that if it turned out to be a joke when I got there, at least it would make a funny story later.
It turned out to be an actual bus, a.k.a. camper van, sitting comfortably on a plinth in the garden of a local art gallery. Passing the plain wooden gate on an unassuming residential street in Norra Sofielund, it would be hard to guess what lies behind if it wasn’t for the sign. Galleri Tikotin, the brainchild of artist Christopher Nelson, is a wild and wonderful combination of cosy home and eccentric artist’s lair. Chris has spent a lot of time decking it out as a traditional salon, and coming back out afterwards, it was a genuine surprise to find myself in 2019 Sweden instead of 1920s Paris.
Chris was a warm and welcoming host who regaled me over coffee with stories of the artists’ salons he held in the gallery. He was kind enough to show me the main room, where there are some stunning works to be seen. The beautiful weather meant plenty of time in the garden, picking tomatoes from a huge overloaded vine under the close supervision of the resident cat, and getting a shock from suddenly catching sight of my own reflection in a half-hidden mirror among the bushes.
The next day, I walked up the coast along the Ribersborg Beach to meet a local connection from a hospitality network at the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus sauna. The men’s and women’s sides of the sauna are segregated, so we made sure to have a good chat over coffee on the outdoor patio before we went in, staring out the the glistening sea with the Øresund Bridge in the distance and occasionally warding off marauding seagulls. The contrast between lounging in the heat in the classically Scandinavian wooden steam rooms and scrambling down a ladder directly into the Oresund Strait made for a refreshing and invigorating experience.
After another couple of days of lazy beach walks, rambling round the Kungsparken and through the backstreets and squares, seeing a live band at a courtyard bar at the Folkets Park, finding an adorable baby wild rabbit in the most unlikely of spots (see photo) and eating far too much lakrits ice cream and smørrebrød, it was finally time to say goodbye and make my way back to the UK. Until next time, Scandinavia!
“You’ll love Odessa,” my Ukrainian friend Krystyna said, when I described the trip I was planning. “You’ll wish you had more time there.” She wasn’t wrong – it’s now yet another on my list of places I have to go back to someday. She also told me that Odessa is famous for two things – the sea, and cats. Having arrived via the first, it didn’t take us long to find the second – they were everywhere, from the souvenir shop opposite our hostel to the Potemkin Stairs. After checking into cosy Hostel 51, we went to explore the city, walking down to the Potemkin Stairs to admire the view of the harbour before looping around through City Park and past Vorontsov Palace with its impressive colonnade.
By then it was getting towards dinnertime, so we stopped off at the Amsterdam Hotel and Restaurant (cue silly jokes about how we spent the afternoon in Odessa and ate dinner in Amsterdam). After a delicious dinner and a lovely couple of hours people-watching on the pavement patio, we headed back to the hostel, where I got chatting to a Canadian international relations student who had been studying in Russia. We ended up going out for drinks and sampling the vodka at the Bourbon Rock Bar just up the road.
In the morning I headed out for a quick walk round the nearby City Gardens and Cathedral Square before catching my train. Luckily I’d brought a scarf to cover my head, so I was able to go inside the imposing Spaso-Preobrazhensy Cathedral and look around the stunning gilded interior. Apart from a few locals praying silently in one of the side chapels, I had the place almost to myself. I spent a peaceful twenty minutes admiring the art and architecture in the cool of the church. Stepping back out into the already-hot sun, I headed back to the hostel to collect my bag. It was time to say goodbye to Odessa, and to Lau Kaping, and make my way to the station.
Since I’d booked last-minute, I had ended up with a more expensive Lux-class sleeper ticket despite taking a daytime train. Handily, you can see which berths have been booked on the Ukrainian Railways website when reserving tickets, and I had chosen a cabin with both beds free. No-one had booked the other bed, so I had the two-berth cabin to myself for the day. Stretching out on fresh linen, sipping tea from a traditional glass and steel mug and flipping through the complimentary magazine, I decided perhaps getting Lux ticket hadn’t been such a bad thing. A girl can treat herself, right? I lay propped up on one elbow, staring out of the window at railway markers and level crossings flicking past, until we reached Zhmerinka, where the train stopped for a break.
On the platform, women walked up and down selling freshly baked pastries and plastic cups of berries from baskets and sports bags. Hopping down to buy something for later, I spotted a couple of familiar faces further down the platform – the German couple Kaping and I had walked to the bus station with when we got off the ferry. We stood for a while catching up in the hazy sun, sharing raspberries and plans as passengers ebbed and flowed around us, until the whistle blew and we wished each other safe travels, racing back to our carriages before the train departed.
I stared out of the window again, daydreaming as the train swished past quaint villages and isolated farms along the Moldovan border. Dirt roads crossed the track, and geese pecked among lush grass on the railway verge. Occasional guards in hi-vis jackets waved at us from trackside cabins at level crossings. Gradually, the sky darkened, and I switched on the cabin light and read as the sunset faded and it got too dark to see the outside world. We slid gently into Lviv Station at 10:30pm. My friend Oksanka greeted me with a smile and a hug on the station platform.
Lviv is a beautiful city. The centre is all winding cobbled streets, dotted with pavement cafes and hanging baskets full of flowers. Over the next few days, we fell into a comfortable routine. During the day, while Oksanka worked, I went out to see the sights, including the fascinating House of Legends with its rooftop car, the Shevchenkivskyi Park Museum, where traditional Ukrainian dwellings have been gathered to create an outdoor folklore museum, and the Park High Castle, with its glorious views across the city.
Oksanka is a wonderful host, and knew all the best places to go in the city. In the evening, we’d go for dinner, or to a jazz performance at Libraria, or one of the local bars. One of the most interesting restaurants was the incredible Most Expensive Galician Restaurant, only accessible through a fake apartment. At the weekend, we went for an amazing buffet brunch at Baczewski – highly recommended! Kaping, who was planning to go hiking in the mountains south of Lviv, came to visit us on her way. We met up over cups of hot melted chocolate at the Lviv Chocolate Factory, chatting until the place closed and the wait staff politely kicked us out. One day, I took a day trip to the nearby town of Ivano-Frankivsk to visit Krystyna at the youth exchange project she was running. All too soon, it was time to get my next and last train of the trip – the sleeper to Kyiv, where my journey would end.