Chapter 17, Part 4
HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
Internet edition. By John Bermont.
Photos by the author except as noted.
A page from
with photographer and author
This is the bus I rode in on from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia. It cost about
$17 for the five hour afternoon trip, with no pit stops. But there was a
stop at the border for the passport
police even though Estonia and Latvia are both members of the European Union.
At the Riga bus station a pee in the urinal cost 0.10
lati but I had no Latvian money and had to find a money changer fast.
INTER CITY BUSES
Some cities in Europe are train deprived. In those cases intercity
buses serve to get you from one town to another. Even where there is a train
it is usually cheaper to take the bus. A couple of quality international bus
lines now serve scores of cities throughout Europe.
I've used intercity buses in maybe a dozen countries throughout Europe — Holland, Portugal,
Greece, Latvia, and others. Normally the buses are big comfortable
air conditioned cruisers. Sometimes they are something less.
The bus terminal is usually in the center of town, probably in sight of the
train station, and often right in front of it. Parking places for the buses are always
numbered. If the bus has a number the parking place may have the bus number posted.
Unfortunately the bus parking places are usually some distance from the door of the
terminal so if the weather is inclement you can have a nasty wait.
Verify with others standing at the bus stop that you are at the right place. Bus stops have
far less explicit information than train platforms. At a bus stop in Riga I was waiting at
position number 2 for the Ecolines bus to Villnius. It didn't appear when it should have so
I went back in to the ticket office to inquire. The clerk said that it was 10 minutes late.
After standing at position 2 for another 20 minutes an Ecolines bus drove by me and
right out of the station. I went back to the ticket office to inquire again and was told
that the bus had just left. Then I learned that there happens to be another section
of the Riga bus station
which also has a position number 2 and that was where the bus was waiting.
I got no refund and had to buy another ticket, on the next bus
which happened to be a Eurolines bus.
I'm waiting with the locals at the Waterford bus station for my bus to Cork. Rail service in Ireland
is not so plentiful so buses are often the best way to get around the country. They are certainly cheaper than renting
a car, by a mile. Besides, can you drive on the left side of the road? How about going clockwise on a
traffic circle, known as a timpeallán in Eire?
Tickets and Reservations
Tickets can be purchased in the office of the bus line. Sometimes tickets can be purchased
from the bus driver.
Seat reservations are required on some buses, especially night buses. Your ticket
will indicate your place on the bus.
The Ecolines bus route map is posted in the Vilnius bus station.
Lietuva is the way they spell Lithuania in Lithuania.
Ecolines goes as far as Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. It also
goes to Odessa, Ukraine but that route takes you through Belarus for
which you will need a visa, and you can't buy it at the border. Click it to see
this map in greater detail.
Bus schedules are posted in the ticket offices and often at the bus parking places. Since
there are only a few buses daily it is fairly easy to figure them out. It is also important to be on time
because the next bus may not depart for hours, or until the next day.
Luggage space is usually provided in a hold under the seats. Sometimes the driver or an
assistant will put it in or you can throw it in yourself. Do not leave any valuables in
your luggage. Thieves can smell cameras and cash like dogs can smell a fresh steak bone.
After missing the Ecolines cruiser from Riga, Latvia my next choice was
this van operated by Eurolines. We put our luggage in the trailer. This one cost about $13 for the
five hour afternoon ride to Villnius, Lithuania, again with no stops except for the passport
police and to drop off some fellows out in the middle of snowy nowhere.
There are several international bus lines which offer night service. Sleeping on buses is not
pleasant at all. You must sleep sitting up and cramped unless you get lucky and have the last row to yourself.
I will not do it again unless there is no other practical alternative.
A few international buses have toilets. It's hard to know so it would be a good idea to drain your
bladder before getting on board. On my mid-winter overnight ride from Villnius, Lithuania to Warsaw, Poland
the toilet was sealed closed because it had frozen up. Fortunately the driver made a 20 minute stop
at the border where I siezed the moments to make a currency exchange and take a quick leak.
Normally the only time that a bus stops is to let people off or for passport checks.
Boats and ferries are a convenient way to travel between Ireland
and England and the Continent, the countries bordering the Baltic Sea, between Italy and Greece,
around the Black Sea, around Lac Leman, and to other water-bound places. If you are in a hurry take a plane.
The Nisikli Turizm agency offers
daily ferry service from Varna, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey, and
from Varna to Constanta, Romania. "Non stop" in the window means
that they answer the phone during the lunch hours. On the left side of the window
the place called BAPHA is the Bulgarian speling of Varna. Everything else
on the left side is also in Bulgarian, and I hope that it is more understandable
than the English version on the right side.
Tickets are sold at the port, or straight through
train/boat/train tickets can be purchased for, say, Amsterdam to
Copenhagen, at the major train stations.
Eurailpass allows free passage or reduced fares on many
ferries. In most cases,
service is provided by more than one steamship company but
Eurailpass is only valid for one
of the companies. Make sure that you go to the right dock at the
right time for a discounted ride with your rail pass.
Eurailpass does not entitle you to a private cabin. You pay extra for a cabin
on overnight ferries.
Share a bunk room with three
others of the same sex on the Silja Symphony ferry from
Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland. The room comes complete with a tiny
closet and a full bathroom. I shared this room with a Finnish truck driver
and two mechanical engineering students from Turkey who were moving from Sweden to
Finland. The students had so much luggage that it would have filled the room.
They took most of it to the luggage storage room.
Port taxes are often charged. These are in addition to the price
of the ticket and must be paid before boarding. Have a few extra
dollars worth of local currency in your pocket when you go to the
port. I have not experienced a fee for getting off.
It is best to buy your ticket or cabin supplement at an office
of the shipping company. In Brindisi and in Patras there must be a
hundred shops selling tickets for the Greek/Italian ferries.
The ferries carry cars and trucks, and often whole trains roll
on board. There is sometimes a separate gang plank for pedestrians, but
often you'll walk up the vehicle ramp dodging cars and trucks. The ramp can
be wet, oily, and slippery so watch your step.
I've driven on board a number of times. My first was an
overnight ferry from Amsterdam to Gothenburg, from where I made a
circuit of Sweden and Denmark, returning on another ferry from
Rødbyhavn to Puttgarden, Germany. I made the short crossover
from Jutland to Sweden on another trip. In the south, we went from
Ancona, Italy to Patra, Greece on an overnighter with a car. Those Greek truck drivers sure
can party. I've driven onto small river ferries several times in
Bringing your car on an overnight long distance ferry is
expensive, but you can't drive a car over open waters. You should
inquire about reservations in advance during high traffic seasons.
Usually you park in the hold under crew directions and give your keys to the crew master.
In some cases the ship's crew parks the cars and 18-wheelers, and they pack them in
tighter than anything you can imagine. You will not be able to get
into your car during the voyage. Do not leave any valuables in your car.
At the dock, early arrivals get better service, but may or may
not get off first depending on whether the ship comes into the dock
bow or stern first.
Your car may be moved by the crew to allow others to get off if
the ship makes other ports before your destination and your car is
in the way. We were the last to drive on the ship in Ancona and had a
precarious parking spot at the top of a ramp. The ship made port
twice before reaching Patras, our destination. Each time I went to
the aft bridge and watched our car to make sure it made it back on
board before steaming out of port. Better to make sure than to be
sorry I thought, and it was an interesting show watching the dock
On board, you'll normally find a large number of theater-style
seats, bars and a disco (with more comfortable chairs), cafeteria
or snack bar, dining room, currency exchange, duty free shop,
casino or just a blackjack table, plus the necessary facilities and
a lot of "do not enter" doors. Small river crossing ferries have no
amenities, but for a five minute ride you can probably do without.
This is the bar and dance floor area of the MS Romantika
of the Tallink Line on the sailing from Helsinki, Finland
to Tallinn, Estonia. The entertainment consisted of karaoke with popular American
songs sung well in languages I couldn't understand.
Reservations are normally not required. There is enough deck
space on most of the big ferries for an army brigade. If you
want a cabin, you should reserve it as soon as possible.
When reserving a bunk in a cabin, specify whether you want an
upper or a lower berth.
I met a honeymoon couple who thought they
were getting a private cabin. When they boarded they found out that
they had tickets for two berths — him in a cabin with three other
fellows and she in with three other girls, and they paid 25% more
than they should have for the two berths at a ticket shop. They
complained to the purser and he was kind enough to help their
marriage off the rocks by giving them a private cabin at no extra
Each deck on ships normally has posters showing the deck
arrangement and the floor plan for the deck you are on. This is the plan of the Silja
Symphony, in English, which "sails" between Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland.
The bar is at the aft end, the preferred place to be because the ride is
smoother in the rear, the chairs are more comfortable here, there is usually
some entertainment and, of
course, you can settle your stomach with a shot of scotch. Crackers
or toast can also help if the waves are getting you queezy. Your discounted EurailPass bunk is
down there with the fishes on deck 2, below the cars. This is definitely
smoother sailing in a storm than if you were up there on the Sun Deck, 12.
Click on the picture to see it in greater detail.
If there is a formal dining room, eating on the long distance
ferries is even better than on the high speed international trains.
First and second seatings are announced before leaving port. It is
best to put in your reservation as soon as possible. If you do not
hear the announcement, ask the purser. On Scandinavian ferries the
smorgasbords breakfast, lunch, and dinner are good values for
great food. Don't miss a chance for one of these feasts.
Low budget travelers should bring a picnic. The cafeteria and
snack bars on board are usually quite expensive and the quality is fast food.
Coin of the Captain's Realm
Usually, money of each country on the route is accepted for food
and goods. Change your greenbacks at the purser's office if there
is no regular exchange office.
Duty Free Shops
Virtually every ferry which crosses international borders, and
that is virtually every ferry, has a duty free shop. Locals stock
up on tobacco and alcohol, products which suffer some pretty high
taxes in most countries.
In the duty free shops, the
clerks expect you to take a shopping basket. Even if you are only
buying one bottle, they don't want you to carry it (and maybe slip
it under your coat).
The Silja Symphony and her twin sister Silja Serenade are magnificent
ferries carrying passengers between Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland.
A passenger walking the gangplank is pushing an empty shopping cart to
facilitate stocking up on alcohol and smokes in the duty free shop. These
products are very expensive in Scandinavia. Many
local passengers take the ride only for the duty free shop, and party hard
with good entertainment in the bars on board. Remember to reset your watch because
Finland and Sweden are in different time zones.
Luggage lockers are only available on a few ferries. Normally,
those who are sleeping on chairs and did not take a cabin stack
their luggage in one central area. I haven't met anybody who
suffered a theft on board, but remember to leave no cameras or
valuables in your bag.
The ship's safe is normally available for storing your
valuables. Ask the purser. I slept in a chair and used the safe on
the Espresso Grecia from Italy to Greece but they refused to give me a receipt or
key as hotels always do. The next morning one of my cameras was
missing. After I protested, they finally gave it back, laughing.
Nice joke for them.
The safe on the Silja Symphony is free and is big enough to
hold a couple of cameras and other items.
The luggage room on the Stena Line ferry from Fishguard, Wales to Rosslare, Ireland
is kept locked during the voyage. That's my carry-on next to the big blue thing
on the left. With that little roller bag I travel for weeks and months. Pack light or be a burro.
Ship time is usually the time at the home port of the ship. This
is important when crossing between Finland and Sweden, France and
Ireland, France and England, and Italy and Greece. In each case the
ports are in different time zones. With abbreviated dining hours,
I have missed my lunch a couple times on these ferries because of
confusing signs and/or my own lack of attention. If in doubt, ask
a steward in the dining room and synchronize your watch to his.
If you have a problem or question on board, always ask the
purser. They invariably speak English, but seem to want to be doing
something else than answering questions. So ask your questions
clearly and completely. They will never volunteer any information.
Disembarking is usually quite simple. Just walk down the plank
or up the ramp with everybody else, flash your passport to the
police, and walk through the customs "Nothing to Declare" green door.
Passport police and customs inspectors are becoming an extinct species so
it is likely that you won't be greeted by anybody as you get off.
Returning to Italy from Greece, though, was another story, historically speaking.
Years ago on arrival at Brindinsi only
two passport police were on duty and they looked at
every passport with extra care. It took over half an hour to get
off the ship and there were still plenty of people behind me. I
knew the port so I started walking toward the exit a few hundred
yards away, but two policemen waved me back (waving back in Italian
is similar to the "get lost" wave in America, but not as abrupt
with the motion) and pointed me toward a building. I walked back to
the building, in one door and out the other side without paying any
attention to the commotion going on at my left, and then back
toward the port exit where I had been several minutes earlier. I
was anxious to get out of there so I wouldn't miss the train. Later
on the train, some travelers told me that the Italian police made
everybody put their bags down on a long counter. Then dogs walked
over the bags several times, sniffing for dope. I had walked right
past the whole operation. Nobody asked me anything in there!
The Stena Line high speed ferry from Belfast, Ireland to Stranraer, Scotland has a pleasant
open dining area with a view. There were scores of pre-teen school kids on this ship but they
were surprisingly quiet and well behaved. The ship has a quiet zone if you need even less noise.
There was supposed to be free WiFi but it was out of order. Technology is great, when it works.
A few large ferries have telephones. A few have free WiFi. With WiFi
you can use Skype and talk for free around the world. See
Telephoning to, from, and within Europe.
The large ferries feature casinos with roulette, blackjack, and
slot machines. A live band and dance floor attracts young and old.
It reminds you of a wedding party. There might be a movie theater
Ships often have showers in the restrooms, but
you must bring your own soap and towels. If you have a cabin, soap
and towels are usually provided.
Dress on board is casual
in the south and more formal in the north. Between Stockholm and
Helsinki many of the locals dress up pretty smartly and party hard.
Between Italy and Greece they party hard in dress down.
rough weather, the ship can heave pretty badly. The Baltic,
Adriatic, and Ionian seas, and the English Channel can have some
unbelievably huge waves. Ride in the back to reduce the motion. You
might want to look around for life vests in really bad conditions
so you know where to run if the ship starts to drink.
The Silja ferry boat Symphony from
Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland posts instructions for use of the life jackets in
Finnish, Swedish, and a sort of English. Sorry, no stewardess will
demonstrate nor give safety instructions as on airplanes. You're on your own.
The life jackets are probably stored in the life boats,
but I've never had to verify. The life boats are on deck 8 but
are hard to identify on the ship plan poster above. There are only 8
life boats so get moving if the alarm rings.
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to
Europe that have not been covered well enough in this chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE
are also available, free to read on line.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call:
For Travel In Europe.
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This internet edition of chapter 17 is in 4 parts due to its large size.
This is part 4. Click the part numbers below to see more about trains in Europe.
classes of service, train tickets, Eurailpass, other rail passes, reservations, official business
finding your station, finding your train, finding your car, luggage, on-board train facilities,
eating on the train.
sleeping on night trains, night train reservations, night train facilities,
departure and destination procedures, potpourri, train station facilities.
international buses and ferry services. Sometimes there are no train tracks!
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