Win a trip to Europe with Rail Europe

Switzerland. get natural. The Brienzer Rothorn steam-powered cogwheel train in the Bernese Oberland. View of Lake Brienz.  Schweiz. ganz natuerlich. Die Brienzer Rothorn Dampfzahnradbahn im Berner Oberland. Blick auf den Brienzersee.  Suisse. tout naturellement. Le train a cremaillere a vapeur du Rothorn de Brienz, dans l'Oberland bernois. Vue du lac de Brienz.  Copyright by: Switzerland Tourism  By-Line: swiss-image.ch / Christof Sonderegger

Switzerland. get natural. The Brienzer Rothorn steam-powered cogwheel train in the Bernese Oberland. View of Lake Brienz.
Schweiz. ganz natuerlich. Die Brienzer Rothorn Dampfzahnradbahn im Berner Oberland. Blick auf den Brienzersee.
Suisse. tout naturellement. Le train a cremaillere a vapeur du Rothorn de Brienz, dans l’Oberland bernois. Vue du lac de Brienz.
Copyright by: Switzerland Tourism By-Line: swiss-image.ch / Christof Sonderegger


THIRTY years ago I experienced my first encounter with a European train and was instantly hooked. I had just journeyed some 36 hours from Australia on what was also my first ever plane ride anywhere, and arrived in Frankfurt to catch the train to Hamburg to meet what would be my new German “family” for the next three months. It was winter, I was wearing an entirely unsuitable pink tracksuit and ugg boots for a Queensland teenager who’d never even seen snow (I mean, who do you think introduced Europe to the ugg boot?). As I alighted the train they asked me about my journey. “I’ve been travelling for 36 clocks,” I declared, delighted to finally practice my high school German on real-life Germans.
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Despite murdering their language, somehow they fell in love with me and I with them, as well as travelling by rail around Europe. The only other train I’d ever been on before then was the Ipswich Line from Ipswich to Brisbane, or the “big smoke” as we called it back in 1970s country Queensland. Apart from that, my transport options had been limited to the gold Kingswood family station wagon for our annual holidays to Coolangatta. Oh yes, we were living the dream back then. As the youngest of four children, I even got the best bed in our two-bedroom holiday flat…two seats pushed together. And they wonder why I’m bitter. So imagine my delight when not just one, but many countries I’d only read about in books instantly opened up to me with the flourish of a rail ticket.
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It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, European trains have run late over the years, which isn’t great news when you are backpacker on a strict budget and need to snaffle that last hostel bed in Vienna or sleep at the station. Then there was the time back in the days Aussies needed visas to cross almost every bloody border in Europe, a conductor had unwittingly taken mine out of my passport as we nicked the corner of a country, only to attempt to arrive in the Czech Republic a week later to find not only did I not have a visa, but was considered a criminal. My passport was taken, I was forced to sit in a room for 12 hours without food, and I cried hysterically (yes, because crying always helps) until a train arrived late that night forcing me back into Poland that I had attempted to leave. Believe me, it was a long journey at midnight with a bunch of gypsies in my carriage asking for money every five minutes as the train headed towards Germany, and I was a little exhausted from all that crying. But it has become one of my best travel stories over the years.
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And that’s what travelling by train around Europe is all about, as regular readers have seen in my most recent blog posts. It’s real and it’s romantic. Nothing used to beat the glee only an impoverished Aussie backpacker can feel at catching an overnight train in one European country (hence saving on a night’s accommodation), only to wake up in the next. One night, on a train journey from Munich to Hamburg, my boyfriend at the time and I even covered our backpacks with sheets and pillows and pretended they were two extra people in our carriage to ensure we had the compartment to ourselves.
DB train Germany
And now, fellow Aussie bloggers have the chance to win their own Rail Europe adventure. Looking for creativity and inspiration? This is your big opportunity to unplug and daydream. Simply enter the #TailsOnRail competition at http://www.raileurope.com.au/deals/talesonrail and you, too, could be enjoying a trip to Europe. This is a great prize, which includes a flight to Paris, and a one-week train journey with Rail Europe from France to Switzerland. That’s right, flights, hotels, food and your rail tickets are included. Check it out, it could be your chance of a lifetime.
Schweiz. ganz natuerlich. Bernina Express: Chur-Tirano. Landwasserviadukt bei Filisur, 65m hoch und 136m lang. Wahrzeichen der RhB und UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe.

Schweiz. ganz natuerlich.
Bernina Express: Chur-Tirano. Landwasserviadukt bei Filisur, 65m hoch und 136m lang. Wahrzeichen der RhB und UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe.


For those who don’t win, or are considering a trip with Rail Europe, here’s some benefits to travelling by train around one of the truly great continents. By the way, Australia is the top-selling country for Rail Europe tickets.

1. No check-in queues, meaning you can rock up 10 minutes before the train departs (unless it’s the Eurostar, which requires a little bit more time).
2. City centre to city centre connections – no expensive cab charges and traffic.
3. Comfortable and spacious seats in all classes plus lots of legroom.
4. Power points for charging electronic devices – tablet, laptop, camera or phone.
5. No baggage limit, meaning great for shopping, though it’s not advisable to bring on too much or more than you can carry to ensure a comfortable journey for all.
6. Exposed to Europe’s stunning scenery throughout the journey.
7. Go wherever, whenever – a lot of flexibility with Passes.
8. High-speed services often trump flying or driving (no traffic, no queues plus all of the other benefits listed here).
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But wait…there’s more!
9. Cost efficient – tickets are cheap, especially when bought in advance – up to 70% off the regular price, bookable up to 120 days in advance.
10. Family friendly – certain trains have kid friendly carriages. In Switzerland, children under 16yo travel for free when accompanied by an adult and on the Eurail Pass, children under 11yo travel for free with a guardian.
11. Environmentally friendly – a lot less carbon emission than air travel or driving.
12. Convenient for day trips to neighbouring towns or wine region (no worries about drinking and driving!).
13. Travel overnight (save on hotel costs).
14. See Europe off the beaten track (with 240,000km of track, rail reaches to almost every corner of Europe that’s not accessible by road).
15. Great way to meet locals – Europe has an extremely efficient rail system used by most locals.
16. Good onboard dining services.
17. A wide of discounts and bonuses come along with the passes (check online).
To find our more, go to http://www.raileurope.com.au. All photos used in this blog are courtesy of Rail Europe.

Saluting the Anzacs

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HERE is my confession. I have never been to an ANZAC Day dawn service. I have been to numerous war sites around the world, I’ve played two-up with Diggers in my local RSL on ANZAC Day, and watched them march on the streets of Brisbane, but I have never risen before the sun to listen to the hauntingly beautiful Last Post, which honours our soldiers who have died in global conflicts.
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As a young backpacker, I followed in the footsteps of my peers and made the trek to Gallipoli to see where so many Aussie lives were lost on that impossible stretch of beach. I have stood in the trenches where they bled out and died. I remember the undeserved awe in which the Turkish regarded my pilgrimage, so astounded were they that so many young Australians would cross the oceans to honour their dead. I’ve visited the Egyptian pyramids from where the Aussies did some of their training in preparation for Turkey.
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I have knelt in the gas chambers of Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland and wept at the futility of war itself. I have scanned the piles of suitcases, teeth, hair combs, reading glasses and shoes, and tried to imagine how those captured by the Nazis endured their fate. Tried to fathom the stroke of dumb luck that makes one person survive a war and another perish. I have sauntered through Switzerland and marvelled at how a country so tiny, and in the midst of all the combating countries, could remain neutral.
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In London, I have stayed in the Savoy which miraculously only sustained minor damage during the bombings of World War Two, retained its stiff upper lip and kept trading, and from where Winston Churchill regularly took his Cabinet to lunch. It is believed Churchill made some of his most important decisions regarding the war from the Savoy, whose air-raid shelters were considered some of London’s toughest. And like so many Aussies, I have stood in the London Underground and tried to imagine its role as an air-raid shelter.
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I have sat on the shores of Pearl Harbour and imagined the Japanese fighter planes overhead. On the other side of Oahu, I have seen the beaches from where local Hawaiian kids fled when they saw the jets overhead, before racing inside and crowding with frightened family members around a simple transistor radio to try to understand what was happening to their peaceful paradise.
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In south-east Asia, I have witnessed the effects of war and the cruel regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the torture chambers of Phnom Penh and on the streets littered with the limbless in Siem Reap. I have visited the many war museums of Saigon in Vietnam and crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels before becoming overcome with claustrophobia. In Thailand, I have visited the River Kwai many times, and walked along the railway sleepers, the construction of which claimed the lives of so many Australian soldiers. I have paused on the site of Singapore’s Changi Prison and attempted to feel what it must have been like to survive the heartless humidity and the chaos of capture.
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As recently as last month, I was up in Papua New Guinea where I learned that it was actually in Rabaul that the first Australian soldier lost their life in any global conflict back in 1914. There’s war history galore there and I walked into in one of the tunnels which the Japanese forced the Aussies, along with other Allied soldiers, to build so that the enemy could store their food, weapons and themselves during air raids. I visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery, funded by AusAID, which pays homage to thousands of soldiers, many of them Australians. There’s even a remaining tree there from which the Germans are said to have climbed to shoot at the Aussies during World War One.
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Thanks to the ANZACS, I’ve been granted the freedom to travel the world and to experience their stories. Because of them, I live in a free and beautiful country. On this ANZAC Day, and not just because it’s the 100th anniversary since the ANZACS tried to steal Gallipoli but because it’s high time, I intend to set my clock, rise before the kookaburras, and tip my hat in their honour and of all of those who have perished in war. Lest We Forget.
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Northern Exposure

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ALWAYS on trend, I spent last month indulging in my own little version of Eurovision but rather than it being all about the music, it’s been all about the men. Oh yes, I went all Euro trash on you and spent the best part of May “observing” the male species of the northern hemisphere in the vague hope they may differ somewhat from those blokes south of the Equator to whom I’ve already devoted too much ink, sweat and tears.
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It all started in Berlin where I was researching and writing a story about 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In my spare time (and because I am extremely gifted at doing two things at once), I fumbled into a bar one night and stumbled across Jerry. Jerry, possibly not his real name and of South American extraction, was the official entertainment claiming his skills lay in “music and magic”.
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I was with several newly-discovered friends: Calamity Jane from Chicago; Mike, a jolly gay Welsh man; and Eva “I’m just a poor girl from the Czech Republic”. It was Calamity’s birthday and she insisted we stand at the bar, a bit like Russian prostitutes, and drink wine until Jerry started up with the musical part of his two-pronged performance. Mike’s suspicion that Jerry was lip-syncing turned out to be true, as part-way through one of his love songs his voice kept crooning while he simultaneously whispered in Eva’s ear that he would “see her in an hour”. Our poor Czech girl scuttled promptly back to her room, followed soon after by Mike – the jolliness rapidly draining from him.
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Which left Calamity, me and Jerry, who paused to say: “Ladies I have some bad news, there’s two of you, but only one Jerry”. As it was Calamity’s birthday I insisted she receive the spoils and I was content to do my own interpretive dance in front of strangers I hope I will never see again. I may or may not have been a little rusty the next morning when after breakfast I returned to my room to find not one, but two Romanian men standing there. I assumed they were the cleaners, such as they were grasping some of my most intimate items, and so I spoke to them in German, to assure them I was just popping back to clean my teeth and then I’d leave them alone. They just stood there looking scared and confused. So I spoke to them in English. Again, more confusion. To this day I remain unclear on whether they were the cleaners or two Romanian robbers but they did line my shoes up nicely when they left.
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In the sexy Saxon town of Leipzig, Calamity and I snuck out half way through a Strauss Concert to hit the bar street, where we spent several pleasant hours drinking beer in the company of two young men, one of them who claimed to be Germany’s third-best dancer and quite possibly a distant cousin of Jerry. But we had little time to dance and so we headed on to Bremen with Mike and Eva in tow, and where I promptly fell in love with a Passionate Pole. Women around the world will attest to the fact it’s always the bad boy to whom we are initially drawn, and so it was with the Pole. I was absolutely delighted he had randomly chosen to join my tour of the Bremen Space Centre the next morning. So delighted was I, that I insisted he sit next me on the bus. He even told me the photo on the fake ID I used to get into the Space Centre (bereft was I of my passport or driver’s licence at that particular point) was very nice and the most interesting thing he had to say all trip.
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Yes, it took me no time to realise that, like all bad boys worldwide, he really had nothing to say and was actually a Greasy Pole, so I shuffled down to the back of the bus at which point I turned to my right and happened across the Hot Hungarian. His first name was unpronounceable but he said I could call him “Andrew” which didn’t really fit with his gravelly deep voice, thick curly hair and bushy beard. I actually invested several days in fantasising about the Hot Hungarian, sitting at the back of the bus staring at his head, imagining crawling up into his beard for a nap. Things got a little sticky when he actually caught me taking a photo of him standing at the port at Bremerhaven but I simply pretended I was happily standing in the freezing cold, taking a photo of the unimpressive wharf.
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As luck would have it, I made friends with a Hungarian woman called Suska who offered to act as my wing woman and asked me what I’d like to tell the Hot Hungarian. The only phrase which came to me was “I want to see your Hungarian sausage” which I’m sure is sexy in several languages. But it was not to be. On our last night in Bremen I noticed the Hot Hungarian had attached himself to a gorgeous German with whom I could never hope to compete – all long wavy dark hair and bad-ass boots. So I conceded defeat and amused myself with the plethora of wing women I had accumulated along the way.
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When I eventually dragged myself back to the hotel lobby, I bumped into Suska, my Hungarian wing woman, who happened to be sitting with the Hot Hungarian himself, all traces of the gorgeous German gone. At this point, he leapt to his feet, handed me his business card and asked for mine. “It’s such a shame you won’t be coming to Budapest on your European travels. I would have loved to have shown you around,” he said. “And if you’re ever in Brisbane, I will show you around,” I said, taking one last lingering look at that beard before I turned on my not-so-bad-ass boots and walked straight for the lift.
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Just when I thought my adventure was surely over, into the lift appeared another man from absolutely nowhere. And he started to speak rapid-fire German to me. I was tired and asked him to repeat himself in English, at which point he declared he’d love to have a drink with me, before proffering his business card. His name was Gerhard and he was a Lufthansa pilot, or a cousin of Jerry masquerading as a Lufthansa pilot. Exhausted and confused I just keep repeating: “But where did you come from?”. Gerhard was not fazed and asked me to call him during my Bremen stay. It was tempting Gerhard, particularly the thought that sometime in the near future there might be a Lufthansa upgrade with my name on it, but I’m in love with a Hot Hungarian. The bushy boy from Budapest, whose name I cannot pronounce.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Germany as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. To experience your own German escape, go to http://www.germany.travel
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