Nowadays, the old clackity-clackity rhythm of the rails has been replaced by the nearly silent swoosh of bullet trains. These super-fast trains are making European rail travel more time-efficient than ever.
Take the speedy Eurostar train, which barrels between Paris and London in about 2.5 hours via the Chunnel. Within minutes of departure, the train is zipping at 180 mph across the French countryside. The train travels so fast that, where the tracks parallel the highway, the cars you pass seem to be standing still.
Sleeping while rolling down the tracks can save time and money. With night trains, you can easily have dinner in Paris, sleep on the train, and have breakfast in Venice, Munich, or Madrid. If a train ride is six hours or longer, it’s worth considering whether a flight (try www.kayak.com for low-cost flight options) or an overnight train is more convenient.
Sleeping cars require a paid reservation beyond the regular ticket price, but for less than the cost of a simple hotel bed, you get your own bunk with clean linen and an attendant who monitors who comes and goes as you sleep. What you miss in scenery is more than made up for by the entire extra day you gain for sightseeing.
Trains remain the quintessentially European way to go, and are the best option for romantics. Across the Continent, train stations are being remodeled into gleaming transportation hubs. Whether old or new, each station is a temple of travel. Just pick a platform...and explore Europe.
(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his blog on Facebook.)