Saturday, April 3, 2010

Union Station Hartford (Apr 3, 2010)

On my way to New Haven again to meet Meg, and had the time to pen down a few more thoughts.

Last post was about how to obtain an visa to Europe – the Schengen. This post I will try to cover a few train sites and how to book tickets on them.

Booking tickets on European Train/Rail sites:

My first country is Spain, but I did not use the train site to book my tickets, as the tickets between Madrid and Barcelona are cheaper if I fly. There are lots of airlines on these two routes which are low cost – Veuling and Air Europa being two examples, and hence I booked on them. For schedules and prices on trains in Spain you can refer to which is in Spanish. I read somewhere that there is an english component to it too.

Next up – France. This is an extremely easy site to book on and after hearing complaints that stuff is in French, you realise though that they have really cheap rates for tickets especially if you book 60 to 90 days in advance. The rates go up later. You cannot also book more than 90 days before your journey.

The French rail site is, which is in French, but there are useful tips on how to navigate on this on seat61, and also I read an article on

There is an english version called, which is exactly the same, and even though I have heard that their prices are more than voyages-sncf, for me I was able to find the same rate. Only difference was that the french site gives online ticket options on more routes, and also there is an option to hold tickets on the french language site.

This should not be an issue if you already know your dates, and also if you can pick up your tickets at the ticket counter. They say that non chip-and-pin cards like american credit cards do not work on automatic machines in France, but do so at the ticket counter. On any of the two sites mentioned above, they work fine and you should not have any issue booking tickets.

Do not book on or as their rates are insanely high, and also the routes displayed are lesser. By default if you pick your country as America or UK on tgv-europe you are directed to them. So select France and you can then pick up your tickets at the counter or online. For me there was India and no issues popped up.

After France, the next destination is Italy on the calendar, and although ticket bookings are open 90 days in advance, and there are cheaper tickets till 15 days before the journey, you will most probably not be able to book them unless you have an Italian or maybe european card.

All international credit cards have stopped working since March of this year, and even before that they said that the barely 20% of the cards used to work. The suggestion given is to check the schedules and try to book as early as possible when you land in Italy from the train station.

The trains are very very rarely full, and the Italian ticket machines accept the credit cards unlike their french counterparts. Also, you may be eligible for an Amica fare if booked 24 hours in advance which may cut the rate by 20% on certain trains.

If you want to try your luck at the Italian site (like I did and failed), the url is, and this has an english language option.

The Austrian site is the best site I have seen for booking tickets. Absolutely no hassles, and they always give you online tickets which is so easy to handle. They also start from 30 to 90 days before, and every route usually has a few tickets at cheap rates.

For example Salzburg to Prague is 64 Euros for 2nd class on their site, but they have 8 seats for 39 euros which is a huge saving. These tickets are only valid for those times, so if you miss your train then you are out of luck. But for planners like me this helps a lot.

The Austrian site is, and this too has options for english.

Last site I tried for booking tickets was for the Munich-Salzburg leg of my trip and the german site was If you are a planner this is the best resource for schedules. Every site has schedules for cities they serve, but displays almost all cities. You can plan a trip from Madrid to Prague on this site, and it will display you all the routes for a day. In this regard this is an essential site to any Euro rail plan.

They display prices for the tickets they sell, and for me as I booked in advance I got a cheap fare from Munich to Salzburg. This site too is hassle free to book from, except that they may not offer online options on their site for all routes they sell.

Now that I have laid the options out for the countries I am visiting it should make it a bit more easier to book tickets.

I am not a fan of the rail passes as they cost around 600USD and are not for planners like me. If you plan and check the schedules and prices, the search may be tiresome, but the gains are huge. I pretty mcuh will be doing this trip for half the Rail Pass cost, by booking early and also avoiding the supplements which travellers using the Rail Passes have to pay.

A bit of research always help whether you be flexible of fixed in you planning!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Metro North from Stamford To New Haven (Mar 28, 2010)

Sub Header – Tips to apply for a Schengen Visa

It's been a long break from my blog writing days the previous year, and I really want to keep up with this habit. It gets tough sometimes as you are having so much fun at a certain place and becomes harder and harder to catch up with everything as the months go by.

I was contemplating writing about my last few trips – Brazil (half of it), Puerto Rico, San Fransisco and New Orleans, but I will do so only if I get the time, which pretty much means – forget it.

Next up for me is Europe with a short trip to Columbus in between. This will be my first trip with someone else – and I am pretty excited – it will be my brother, and I know it will be a fun fun trip.

I have my visa ready, and also most of my trip is planned, along with the tickets for the airline.

Let me get started with a few tips for the Schengen visa application especially if you are planning your trip yourself. This is one of the toughest part of the Euro Trip. The documentation needed is quite extensive.

Here they are:

Airline Round Trip ticket – American Airlines is one of the few airlines which has an option to hold tickets. This comes in handy when you need to have a reservation in your name, but not actually pay for it. Try this feature out if you need to hold a reservation or booking. On the AA site after you have selected your trip, along with a purchase option there is also an Hold option which will keep your ticket on hold for a day which is cool for visa purposes.

Also, the french consulate (which I went to) and also all european consulates need hotel bookings. My suggestion would be to book on sites like, which will allow you to cancel a day or two before your actual stay for no fee. This will guarantee you reservations when you go for the visa interview.

Health insurance is also something which is needed at the consulate for the Schengen visa. Search around for a few providers. Atlas has an insurance for approximately 30 days in europe for around 25USD which is pretty cheap. The steps are easy to follow, and once done log into your account and print out the 'Visa Letter' format which will be avaliable under your account.

Print out a itinerary, and for me it was a simple word document stating where I would be on all days of my trip. This again can be tentative and no one asks for train or air reservations so far as you have hotel reservations. My trip involved more train travel than hotel reservations so that I reduce the bookings which I need to show.

Finally the consulate where you have to apply to is either the country you will be spending the most time in, or if not sure, the country where you will land. I was landing in Barcelona, Spain and the most part of my trip would be spent in France, so I went to the French consulate.

The only document which you need to show is the train or air or bus ticket of you crossing the border. For example my itinerary said that I would be going from barcelona to Toulouse which would be my first city in France, and the lady at the consulate asked me if I had any ticket for it.

This is quite easy. France has their train site: on which you can also hold tickets. I booked a ticket from Barcelona to Toulouse without actually paying for it and viola – I had a booking for that too.

I will try to give info on booking train tickets in Europe as I post my later blogs, but there is a site called seat61 which is an awesome resource for help on booking European trains.

If you are a planner and you need to know exact schedules –, the german site is the best resource. Me personally loved this, and I saved shit loads of money on my train tickets, and did not feel the need to either buy a RailPass, or buy my tickets at the highly expensive RailEurope.

Finally the visa application which can be downloaded from individaul consulate sites asks for the validity of visa. My trip was for 29 days, so I said 90 days and checked the multiple entry option. It is highly likely that you will be asked to change this to 29 days single entry (at least the first time you apply), but if you are thorough with your documentatyion you could end up with a 90 day multiple entry visa, like I did, or even a 180 day multi entry visa like my brother (Damn him...I provided him all the documentation and he got a longer duration).

Hope this helps for planning your Europe Trip visa, and as always I encourage comments or questions.