I have been wrestling with this decision for a few days now and figured maybe someone reading this has a logical point to make in one direction or the other.
My wife and I are headed to Prague in March but our final destination is Berlin. Basically, the cheap fares were to places outside of Germany, so I looked for one that had a decent train schedule to where we were headed. Anyway, the train to Berlin takes about four hours. It’s relatively inexpensive and we would leave the Prague airport, after a 2pm arrival, and head straight for the central train station, eventually arriving in Berlin around 8pm.
Unbeknownst to me, Air Berlin started a regional service with Etihad between Prague and Berlin. The price is nearly the same as the train if I buy a roundtrip, which is fine, because we have to come back to Prague for the return home, and it’s a 1 hour flight. The only catch is, the connection means four hours of sitting in the Prague airport. Seth brought up a good point that he would rather keep moving than potentially fall asleep and I am taking that into consideration.
But what would you do? The arrival time into Berlin is about the same with both options. I guess one upside of going by train is being able to take public transit on arrival to the hotel instead of a cab from the airport.
Last week a number of airlines had a sale on business class tickets from the U.S. to Europe. Prices were about the same as coach and the destinations varied by airline alliance but most of the overlap seemed to be Dublin, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. The key was, the tickets had to be purchased by Friday, October 16. We had been looking for options for the spring break holiday and considered some of these destinations as well as a reward I had on hold for Japan for the cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, the timing of the flights to Japan meant we would only have four days in the country and to me, that was not long enough to really enjoy the trip. In addition, the hotels in Japan during cherry blossom season are insanely priced and that made it even less attractive. Since the fare sale did not include any German cities, we decided to fly into Prague and take the train to Berlin for a week.
I ended up purchasing Portland-Washington Dulles-Vienna-Prague for the outbound and Prague-Frankfurt-Denver-Portland for the return. We’ll get to try Austrian Airlines on the longhaul Dulles-Vienna segment, which I am a little excited about, but a little worried about the short duration of the flight. I prefer longer flights so I can rest and try to adjust to the destination’s timezone. There were not many options available by the time I booked, so I went with the new carrier.
All of this came together rather quickly, I saw the fares on Thursday and purchased Friday afternoon. A number of the available destinations have less than stellar weather in March (Dublin) so we were looking at options with better weather (it will be cold in Berlin, but not too bad) and since we know Berlin, it will be pretty easy for us to get around. The other things I was having to take into consideration were airlines. The fare was available on Delta and they have a non-stop Portland-Amsterdam flight. Unfortunately, the outbound was not available but the return was. I strongly considered Delta though, as I would really like to fly them on a longhaul flight.
Overall, I think it will be a great trip. The flight from Dulles to Vienna might be short, but I can sleep on the train. It will be our first long vacation since moving to Portland and we are really looking forward to it. Making quick decisions is tough, but when a good fare comes up, you have to be quick.
An hour outside of Bratislava, on a train that can only be described as “Soviet”, my friends and I feel the sensation of slowing. Looking out the window we see the beginning of a rail yard. Oh, we are making the first stop; Except not. Our train comes to a halt about 200 yards short of the Nové Zámky train station. People are looking around, maybe something is on the tracks. The looks on their faces show an expectation of us moving again. Nothing.
For a few passengers, Nové Zámky, or New Castle, is their destination. They grow impatient, grabbing their bags, opening the train doors, and stepping off of the train into a foot of snow. As we watch those passengers drag their bags through the snow we wonder what is actually in store for us. Eventually a conductor makes his way to our car. We attempt to signal him for a quick explanation of what is happening with the train. He says he will explain in a minute and passes us, then proceeds to give a lengthy explanation to the Slovak speaking contingent in our car. A nice woman who knows we do not understand what is being said takes the time to inform us that the train is broken and that the delay will be at least an hour.
Knowing we have at some time to kill, Seth decides to make the most of the delay and hops off the train into the snow. We don’t see him for a while but when he returns he informs us that the pantograph, the device that draws current for an electric train from an overhead catenary, is broken. The pantograph had fallen and there was no immediate way to reconnect it.
We did not really want to sit around anymore so we grabbed our cameras and left the train. We walked to the front of the train, where a number of workers were surveying the issue. We started taking pictures and pretty soon a maintenance engine was pulling up to our train. A Slovak rail worker walked toward us, yelled something we didn’t understand, but got the gist of, “get back on the train”. Twenty minutes later and we were moving toward Budapest again.
Sure, this was one of those experiences that would frustrate most people. And yes, we were trying to meet up with friends in Budapest. But following Seth’s lead, we made the best of an inconvenience that we had no control over. Much like the experience of hitchhiking in Germany, it is a travel moment I never intended but enjoyed nonetheless. Being delayed on a Slovak train and walking around it while stopped is what makes travel interesting. It is what trips are about. Make the most of the bumps in the road and cherish these types of experiences. I assure you that you will look back on them and appreciate that they occurred as much, if not more, than the actual destination you were trying to reach.
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