Although I’m an aviation geek, train travel is my travel of choice. It could be the freedom and comfort of being able to walk around and stretch your legs, or the fact that most trains have bar cars. Then there is the fact that my grandparents ran a train station, one that my mother grew up in. Either way, it was a few memorable European train station stops that really started this love affair. I have traveled by train to many great destinations in Europe and alongside being comfortable, it was the train stations that provided some of my fondest memories.
Here are a few of my favorite.
Gare du Nord – Paris, France
Although this north Paris train station is one of the busiest in the world, it was the realization that train stations in Europe are so much more than getting from A to B that makes it a memorable European train station to me. Gare du Nord was the first major train station I ever passed through and I was amazed at how alive it was on that cold Sunday evening. Inside its historic 1864 walls, Parisians and guests were having a drink, buying groceries, and shopping – all between catching trains or waiting on family or friends.
Keleti Railway Station – Budapest
Really, this memorable European train station stop should go to some dirt patch in the middle-of-nowhere Slovakia, but I have no idea what the name of it is. Regardless, it was there I saw a beautiful backpacker chase down our train. I questioned my Australian train-mates why there would be a backpacker here when they said that they knew her. Turns out she was locked out of the sleeper car and had to run from one car to the next to get in – before the train started moving again. We drank in our tiny bunk room and I spent the night working up the courage to ask her for her email address. It was all for not as in a weird twist of fate we happened to end up at the same guesthouse in Budapest. 10 years later we returned to the Keleti Railway Station together.
Note: The planning of my trip was made easier by booking my train from Prague to Vienna and my train from Vienna to Prague through Rail Ninja. The whole ordering process was very clear and easy and will be using it again the next time I travel through Europe!
Bergen Station, Bergen Norway
When thinking of travel in Norway trains don’t come to mind, but they should. Although cruising the fjords are a must, train travel is equally scenic. I was lucky enough to travel by train from Oslo to Bergen and saw all the snow-capped beauty along the way. At the end of the line I was met by my Viking friend Sunny who eagerly waited by the tracks. The station was cold and airy but had a certain feel about it that made it uniquely Norwegian. Although on my recent return to Bergen I was not traveling by train, I still met Sunny at this tiny but picturesque station. While waiting in its trendy coffee shop, the memories of that first trip and how great it was, came flooding back.
Šargan Eight Railway Stations – Mokra Gora, Serbia
As the ticket agent grunted and handed me my change I questioned if this train trip was going to be worth it. Although Serbians are not known for their hospitality, a trip on the Šargan Eight Railway helped soften this perception. The narrow-gauge tourist train travels along a windy figure eight track through a beautiful countryside and between a few small stations. Each station had a little bar and its own character. Along the way I mingled with locals, sharing laughs and their homemade blueberry wine…which may or may not have been made with antifreeze. A collection of fun and a memorable European train station stops nonetheless!
Pisa Centrale Railway Station – Pisa, Italy
Confession. This memorable European train station has more to do with leaving it than the station itself. I can tell you little about what amenities it has or where you can find the best espresso. I can tell you it is a sweaty 20-minute jog away from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was traveling through Europe with a friend who had already been to Pisa and wrote off the tower as “meh.” I took this to heart but when I found out we had a 65-minute wait for our train to Naples I took it as a challenge to make up my own mind. The result was getting lost and almost missing my connection. I did get to see the tower and all its leaning glory with just enough time to snap a picture and buy a snow globe. If it wasn’t for the very confused and possibly frightened Chinese tourist that I shared (forcibly) a cab with, I may have had much longer to enjoy it.