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European Transportation

On my recent trip to Europe, we used almost every form of transportation available:  planes, trains, buses (or as the UKers say coaches), subways, city buses, taxis... You get the idea.  

I told my Dad we went on every form possible.  His first question, "Boat?"  Which is of course one of the very few we didn't use.  Ha.

I'm going to quickly run through some quick tips, if you happen to be planning a trip and then I'll get into some more details.

*the train is faster, coach cheaper.  You can weigh out what is more important to you.  We did a bit of both.  Don't ignore plane flights either.  We found an extremely cheap one.  Check out easy jet.  (It seems like the Southwest of Europe, but read the tiny details with this one.)
*Book train and bus tickets online, in advance for cheaper rates.
*It seems European cities close down a bit earlier than the US.  On my way to London, I caught the last train from Heathrow at 11:30pm.  Then as I attempted to transfer trains, the gates of the station were shut and locked behind me.  (Not to worry, I found a bus...) Be warned!
*How to get cheap airfare?  I had great luck with sky scanner and the girls I traveled with had great luck with aer lingus.  And again, within Europe easy jet.

Now, if you're interested, here are some more details:
(This may get boring unless you're researching or something.  You've been warned.)
flight from St. Louis to London.  I flew American and judging by my flights to Europe over the summer, they might be a bit behind with entertainment, etc.  But it was the cheapest and the flight back was a bit better.

Took the subway/underground and a bus to the hostel.  Once I got off the underground and realized the underground was closed and I was unable to transfer, I walked frantically up to an info desk attendant and got the scoop on which bus to take.  Then a very nice bus driver accepted my single ride ticket.
Don't be afraid to ask for directions.
Once I got off the bus there was no one to ask for directions, but at each underground exit they had little maps.  I actually loved walking around with a paper map all week.  Suggestion:  I know it can be difficult to get a map before you arrive, but as we found, we always needed the most help getting to the hostel/hotel in each city.  Yes, we always got maps once we got there, but it would be helpful to have one in advance.

The next day we walked all day.  Somehow I had everyone walk approximately 6 miles...woops.  We did get to see a lot of the city, but it was clear that wouldn't happen again.

Then we embraced the underground.  If you're planning to use the underground, I recommend getting an oyster card, which you can buy in the station.  It includes a 5 pound deposit.  When you are leaving, return the card at the service desk and they will return your 5 pounds, as well as any extra money you have on your card.  And when using the oyster card, all rides are about 1/2 price.

We took the coach from London to Bristol.  This is where we learned the hard lesson of buying things online.  Not only were we running (literally) because of the lines at the service station and not positive where to go, we finally got to the ticket station and found out it was 5 extra pounds since we didn't purchase them

Taxi time from the hotel to the train station.  It was a solid downpour and we were in a hurry.  Just like a taxi in the US.  Except the driver sits on the opposite side of the car and the car is on the opposite side.  It's confusing.

Train from Bristol to Bath.  We learned our lesson and bought these online and easily picked them up at the station.  We asked around to figure out which train was ours because clearly the train would continue after Bath (it was an 11 minute train ride) and easily made our way to the platform.  
On the way back we were at the train station before our scheduled train (downside of buying in advance), but we asked the lovely attendant and she said we could take any train stopping in Bristol.  This time, luckily they had the stops listed under the train so we could find which one was ours.  (Bath's station was much smaller than Bristol's.)

Airplane from Bristol to Edinburgh.  As I mentioned, easy jet seems to be the best deal for flights in Europe.  And be sure to note the small details.  
Something to be aware of, which I ran into on this trip, but strangely not on my trip in the summer, ONE carry on.  I am trained and very good at packing a bag that fits in the overhead bin and having a back pack to go under the seat.  This is what I always do.  I do not like checking my bag.  I did not understand why on a plane that was basically the same layout as a southwest plane, this was not allowed.  During boarding they made people step off to the side to combine.  I asked Sarah to put her purse in my backpack and carry that.  She was nice enough to do so, but I was still annoyed by the process.

Edinburgh has a very convenient express bus from the airport to the city.  It was £3.50 one way, £6 roundtrip.  Yes, we all bought roundtrip, you just can't lose the slip of paper!  It took maybe 15 minutes.  Super easy and relatively inexpensive.

Now we begin with my flights home and this is quite a story.  Let this be your reward if you're still reading.
I left the hotel about 4am to get to the express bus to get to the airport.  During check-in with Virgin, I ran into the same silly 1 carry on only and after some negotiations they still made me check my one bag.  I was unhappy about this.  This flight was about an hour flight to London.  (It was less expensive to purchase a roundtrip flight to London than 1-way to London and 1-way from Edinburgh so I had to get back to London.)  They gave us food and treats.  I was mildly impressed.  I had my row to myself, but sat up like an adult.  Flight 1 done.
After picking up my bag, traveling to a different terminal, checking in for my airline home, I tried to sleep a bit while waiting for the gate announcement.  Another thing I find odd about flight travel in Europe:  they don't disclose your gate until 10 minutes before boarding or something like that so everyone sits around in this central area until the gate is displayed on one of the many boards.  I made it to flight #2 and didn't have any real issues.  I just wasn't very comfortable on this flight and I'm choosing to blame it on the seat being back.  See I am one of the flyers who never puts my seat back because I hate it when the person in front of me puts theirs back.  Well, this flight I didn't have anyone behind me (it was the bathroom) so I put mine back a bit.  And that's where I'm placing the blame for my discomfort.  Flight 2 done.

In Chicago customs was different to me.  I did most of the leg work at a computer (which took my picture) then breezed through the customs agent.  That was new to me.  (I felt very bad for the non-citizen line...whew.)  Didn't wait for a bag since it was not necessary to check one!, went searching for my next terminal, went through security...again.  Then I found my flight delayed, which I somewhat expected, but at this point, I'm tired, my head is starting to hurt and I just want to be done.  First the flight was delayed 2 hours.  I figured that was fine because my layover wasn't too long to begin with so it would be ok.  Then I sat in chairs dozing off and then walking.  Dozing off, walking around.  I just finished giving myself a pep talk that I COULD make it until 7:40 when I glanced back at my gate's screen and saw 8:30.  That just pushed me over the edge.  (My flight was supposed to leave at 5:40.)  I walked up to the screen, saw a different flight for St. Louis that was boarding.  I walked right over to the gate and asked to get on.
Do you have any checked bags?
Ok.  We can get you on.  Usually it's a $75 fee, but because of the weather and delays, we are waiving it today.

I basically walked right on.  This time I had the entire row to myself and goodbye to being an adult.  I tried real hard to sit up for take off and then laid across the entire row and slept the entire way.  

Dad & Karen met me at the airport and I was reaching 24 hours of not sleeping.  Sheesh.  I filled them in on stories during the ride home and then I passed out.

Boom.  Transportation stories.
Hopefully someone finds something in there helpful.


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