Trip to Europe by Rail Review

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Reviewed by Debbie Talbot

This summer we decided to take our holiday in the apartment I own, near Moraira in Spain. There were 5 of us traveling and when looking into travelling out there via train, we discovered that under 4’s can go free of charge as long as sitting on an adult’s lap. This meant that we only needed to buy a ticket for myself, my partner, my 9 year old daughter, so my twin boys travelled for free.

Our route was in 3 stages:
Stage 1: London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord,
Stage 2: Paris Gare de Lyon to Barcelona Sants
Stage 3: Barcelona Sants to Alicante.

The staff at Voyages SCNF were fantastic. They helped me select journey times which allowed for an overnight stay in Barcelona on the outward trip and one in Paris on the return trip. I then phoned a very helpful staff member at Eurostar and purchased discounted train tickets between Leagrave in Bedfordshire and London St Pancras.

We were all very excited and spent the next few weeks in eager anticipation of our trip. Early one Saturday, we set off from my parents’ house in Luton to Leagrave Station. Using the code given to us by Eurostar, we collected our prepaid tickets from the automatic ticket machine. We then had a fairly short journey on the First Capital Connect route into London. Having 2 year old twins with us in single strollers, we were pleased to see that there was a ramp at Leagrave Station and lifts at St Pancras. This makes life so much easier. Upon arrival at St Pancras we headed for the Eurostar Terminal.

When we arrived at the Eurostar terminal a helpful member of staff informed us that although we were a bit early for check in, because we had young children with us she would let us through to the departure lounge. We waited on comfortable seating for our train. The toilet facilities were spacious and well looked after. Although we had bought our own snacks with us, had we wanted to buy snacks there were coffee shops and a retailer on hand.

Once our train was ready to depart, we boarded the train quickly with plenty of space for our luggage. Part way into our journey, our twins were getting a bit restless. One of the train managers offered us our own compartment. This had comfortable seating and a table. When I asked what this compartment was for, I was told that frequent passengers get chosen to use it from time to time. This is such a lovely idea. Whilst we didn’t buy food and drink on this part of the journey the prices were as you would expect during train travel and there were a good variety of options.

Upon arrival at Gare du Nord, we quickly found the taxi rank and were delighted to be ushered into a priority queue due to having small children with us in buggies. We opted for a taxi because of having just under 2 hours between trains. Had the children been buggy free, we probably would have chosen different travel options between stations. After a 15 minute pleasant taxi journey, we arrived at Gare du Lyon. We bought sandwiches and a drink from one of the many retailers on the station concourse and enjoyed them whilst waiting for our train. Once our train came up on the departure board as ready to depart, we collected our tickets and headed down to the train. There was a bit of a queue to get on the train, just as the train was about to depart members of staff quickly stepped in and offered assistance to passengers. This part of the journey was the longest on our route, lasting over 6 hours. It was very pleasant. Whilst we did not buy meals in the buffet car, we did buy soft drinks at a reasonable cost of between 2 and 3 euros. One thing I would advise to anyone taking small children on this long journey is taking plenty of snacks and activities with you.

Finally we arrived at our destination in Barcelona. The children were very tired, so we opted for a taxi rather than walking to our hostel. The one negative point I would make is that one of the passengers asked the taxis in the taxi rank to call a taxi which could carry more people, but they refused. This meant that my partner and I had to split up between 2 taxis. This was not the most ideal situation and also meant a much higher taxi cost.

after_hostelWe used www.booking.com to find hotels for our overnight stays. This was a very straightforward process. We had a very small budget for our holiday as a whole and were delighted to be able to book a quadruple room in the www.afterhostel.com/en/ for 87 euros. The hostel was situated on the first floor of the building. Whilst there was no lift, the member of staff we dealt with helped my partner get our luggage up the stairs. The hostel was clean throughout. There was a shared bathroom. There was also a lovely lounge area with a TV and computer. The location was very convenient for nightlife and sightseeing. My partner was able to pop out to get us our dinner from a local fast food establishment. We did have a bit of an interrupted night’s sleep due to how lively the local streets were. I think that it was perhaps not the best choice for a family wanting a good night’s rest, but more suited for those seeking the night life of Barcelona.

The helpful hostel member of staff had booked us a larger taxi and we arrived quickly back at Barcelona Sants ready for the next leg of our exciting trip.

The Barcelona to Alicante part of the trip was great. The train had several TV’s in each carriage and staff handed out earphones. The trip lasted between 4 and 5 hours. As on the other train journeys, there was a buffet car available with a selection of food and drink items. The great thing about travelling with toddler twins on a train is that there is plenty of room to take them for a walk. They loved walking up and down the train. They were also happy to gaze excitedly out of the window. The views on this part of the train journey were my favourite as we got to see a lot of the coast. As on the other parts of this trip, the staff were great and could not do enough to help. After a pleasant journey we arrived at our destination in Alicante.

We were relieved to find upon arrival that the www.tramalicante.es station was signposted. This was about a 5-10 minute walk away from the main train station. We bought our adult tickets at an automatic machine, the children travelled free. This was a 2 hour journey so I thought that the price of between 14 and 15 euros for 2 adults was fantastic value. We had fantastic views throughout the journey. It was lovely to see that this train stops at Terra Mitica (theme park) and also a big commercial centre in Benidorm. We did have to change trains in Benidorm and this involved a quick change of platform. Whilst we got off the train in Teulada, it did go on to Denia which is a beautiful place. By this point my 9 year old daughter and I were beyond excited. The www.morairataxi.com taxi we had booked was waiting for us and we quickly arrived at our apartment. My daughter has really come on with her swimming in the last year or so and was very keen to head down to our communal pool.

We spent a lovely 6 days at our apartment, relaxing on our living area terrace, in the communal gardens or pool. We even booked a return taxi trip to Moraira and enjoyed a day at the beach.

angleterre_hotelWe were very sad when the following Saturday morning came and we had to leave on our return trip. This time we had booked a taxi transfer through www.morairataxi.com. This was because we didn’t want to rely on the first train of the day from Teulada to Alicante or have to rush between stations Alicante end. Our taxi driver was very pleasant and helpful. After just over an hour’s journey we arrived back in Alicante. We waited in one of the café’s and had a drink and snack. It was very handy for someone such as myself who runs their own business as there was free WiFi. We had a very pleasant trip back with the reverse journeys of those described on our way out. This time we stopped overnight in Paris and stayed at The Angleterre Hotel, a 5 minute walk from Gare du Nord www.booking.com/hotel/fr/angleterre-paris.en-gb.html.

The hotel staff member was lovely and helpful. We had booked a quadruple room, but were delighted to see that we had been given 2 separate rooms. I shared with my daughter and my partner shared with our twins. This hotel had a lift. After popping to a local fast food outlet to fetch some dinner, we ate it in the dining room of the hotel. We then headed up to bed and had a lovely restful night’s sleep.

The following morning we had a short 5-10 minute walk to Gare du Nord where we paid 7 euros to leave some of our luggage in a left luggage locker. We then walked the short distance to Mont Matre and took a picture of ourselves in front of Notre Dame. We then felt peckish, so headed back to the area near Gare du Nord. We had a lovely brunch at a brasserie opposite the train station.

We then collected our luggage from the left luggage locker, headed to the shops to buy some souvenirs, drinks and snacks and then checked in for the Eurostar part of our journey. We then had a pleasant 2-3 hour journey back to London where my parents met us and got the train back to Leagrave with us.

Overall I would say that travelling by train to Europe was a very exciting experience for every single one of us. Whilst it was a long journey, the overnight stays were perfect to split up the journey. We loved the fact that not only did we get, 6 fantastic days at our apartment, we got to see both Paris and Barcelona. These are 2 of Europe’s most exciting cities which we would like to return to at a later date and spend more time there. Because our toddler twins travelled free, it made the trip extremely affordable for a family such as ours on a tight budget. I would not hesitate to book with www.voyages-sncf.com again or use the www.tramalicante.es train system as the journey was so pleasant and every single member of staff we came across, so lovely.

FACT BOX
www.voyages-sncf.com – fares from London to Alicante start at £235 standard class return. All fares are per person and subject to availability. For bookings visit www.voyages-sncf.com or call 0844 848 5848. Personal callers are welcome at the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre, 193 Piccadily, London W1J 9EU.

www.booking.com is the world’s #1 accommodation site with no booking fees and the best price always guaranteed.

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