Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
...plus ferries, busses, hitchhiking
Sometimes transportation is simply a way to get from point A to point B; however, when you are lucky, transportation becomes part of the adventure.
Whether it is taking the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, riding the rails from Veliko Tarnovo to Bucharest, or riding an intercity bus between Riga and Vilnius; the ride can be part of the adventure.
But, the greatest transportation adventure so far was certainly driving my car from Seattle to Mendoza, Argentina.
Travel by Ferry
A few times I had the chance to travel internationally by ferry.
The first time was when I had my car and took it by ferry from Spain to Morocco.
The second time was taking the ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. It was a much better option than flying. And, driving would have been cool to take a trip through Russia, but in 2022, it was not the right time.
Then, there are the short ferry trips when bridges just don't exist. Like the ferry in Rio Grande, Brazil on the left, and at Kamenari, Montenegro on the right.
Train on a ferry
One time, I even took a train where the entire train went on a ferry, This was between Via San Giovanni and Messina, Italy. It took a while, but they split the train in 2, half that would continue south to Catania, and my half that would continue west to Palermo. Then, loaded the halves onto ferries. Take a short ferry ride across , then unload. Hook up to a new engine, and head out again.
Travel by train
Traveling by train can be an experience in itself. From the modern, high speed trains in France and Germany, to the regional trains in the UK, to the Soviet era trains of Eastern Europe; they all give you a different experience.
Eastern Europe Trains
These can be less than luxurious, but the prices are fantastic. In Bulgaria and Romania, I was able to travel from city to city for $5-10.
Trains in Tunisia
The best price I have had yet for an intercity train was from Tunis to Sousse...less than $3. But, I am not sure I would do it again. It wasn't really a pleasant experience, and I ended up standing for hours because it was oversold. These are pictures of a first class seat and the bar car...which of course didn't function. It ended up being filled with passengers, standing room only.
Eurotunnel by car
I had my car shipped from Argentina to London, so I got the chance to take my car on the Eurotunnel train. This is the only time, so far, I have traveled with my car on a train.
I haven't traveled by bus between countries very often. But, I did get the chance between Albania and Kosovo. And, also in the Baltics from Estonia to Latvia, and onto Lithuania. In these areas, it was the best option for a 4 to 5 hour bus ride, as opposed to dealing with airports for a short hop.
Then, the bus from Warsaw, Poland to Lviv, Ukraine as it was really the only option since there was no air, and just limited train service.
Eurostar train from Paris to London
The Eurostar train which goes thought the Eurotunnel under the English Channel departs from Paris at Gare du Nord. The departure is up the escalator near the south entrance to the station.
Since you will be leaving France, headed to the UK, you will need to go through immigration, as well as security. Though the lines may seem really long, they actually move quite fast. After I arrived, I was through French and British immigration, as well as security in 23 minutes. With that said, I would still arrive plenty early. The ability to check in will start about 2 hours before your train departs and most people recommend arriving at least 45 to 60 minutes early.
After going through immigration and security, there is a Relay store, and a café to grab some last minute snacks before getting on your train. Not that you definitely need these; after all, this isn’t an airport, so you can still bring liquids through security here.
The train will start to board 15 to 30 minutes before departure, and will use 2 gates. One gate was for train cars 1-10, and the other gate for the rest.
There are 1st and 2 class seats on Eurostar, but unlike some trains, there is a significant difference between fares. When I booked, it was an extra US$ 150 for first class, so I chose 2nd. But, I was perfectly comfortable on the 2 hour 17 minute ride to London St. Pancreas station.
As a comparison, when I took the 1 hour direct train ride from Lille to Paris the day before, the difference in fare between first and 2nd class was only 1 euro.
Also, to note, I have the Carte Advantage pass that gives me a 30% discount on French intercity trains. But, this doesn’t apply to the Eurostar.
Still, this is much better than flying and dealing with the airports! Once on the way, enjoy the French countryside rolling by at speeds up to 300KPH.
You will spend about 80 minutes traveling through the France, about 20 minutes through the 50 kilometer long tunnel, and about 35 minutes traveling on the English side.
Driving around Europe
Considerably easier than crossing borders in Central America, it makes driving across the European continent quite simple.
When you are inside the area of the Schengen Zone and also inside the EU, the only way to know you have crossed borders is seeing the road sign.
However, when you leave either the Schengen or the EU, you will have to wait at the border checkpoints. But, unlike Latin America or Africa, you just stay in your car and hand your documents over to the official. It is much like driving between the US and Canada.
One change since I went through, Croatia is now in the Schengen, so no more check points there.
Random checkpoints for documents are less usual in Europe than other parts of the world, but occasionally, they are still there. Sometimes you get waved through, sometimes you get stopped.
Of the 20 or so countries I have driven in through Europe, I can only recall being stopped once...in Montenegro by a very nice officer.
Nothing like Central America, where it feels like there is another checkpoint every half hour.