Yeah, the European Trains Are Great, But …

I had two overnight train rides on my recent trip – from Paris to Hamburg en route to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Cologne on the return. Both were on a City Night Line train. Both were disappointing.

Accommodations were acceptable, if rather drab. But the combination bathroom/shower was a marvel of efficiency and design.  Quite luxurious, actually.

However, while both departures on the overnight journeys were around the dinner hour, there was no dining car on either train. The first train left Paris at 8:00 p.m., and the return overnighter departed from Copenhagen at 6:45. Good heavens! That’s right in the middle of the European dinner hour. Good thing I asked. I had to grab a bite at the station before boarding.

Breakfast was served on board the next morning: it came in a cardboard box handed to each passenger by the car attendant. I ate some of it. There was orange juice in a waxed box the size of a deck of cards, a croissant that was not much bigger than a roll of quarters, and a pinkish, pasty substance in a plastic cup that smelled vaguely of liverwurst. It was pretty meager.

We constantly hear about the vaunted European rail system, and God knows, compared to what we have in the U.S. it is miraculous. Europeans can go from anywhere to anywhere by train, quickly, efficiently and affordably.

But when it comes to overnighttrain travel – certainly when compared to my two recent experiences –Amtrak really does an excellent job: we get comfortable accommodations, good service and good food in the dining car.
Oh, yes … and on the Coast Starlight, before going into the dining car for a good, hot breakfast, we can have a freshly made Bloody Mary in the Pacific Parlour Car.  Let’s see if the Europeans can top that!