Other Travel Arrangements

A quick guide to some of our other transport arrangements around Britain and Europe. For each trip, prior research was the key to ensure that our expectations were met and we didn't get ripped off.

  1. London Heathrow to Oxford with The Airline
  2. Oxford to York with National Express
  3. York to Edinburgh with Virgin Trains
  4. Edinburgh to Dublin with Ryanair
  5. Dublin to Kilkenny and back with Bus Éireann
  6. Dublin to Bath with bmi and National Express
  7. Bath to London with First Great Western
  8. London to Madrid with British Airways
  9. European Rail Passes
  10. Madrid to Barcelona with Grandes Líneas Renfe
  11. Barcelona to Nîmes with Grandes Lineas Renfe and SNCF
  12. Nîmes to Paris with SNCF TGV
  13. Paris to Milan with Easyjet
  14. Milan to Venice with Trenitalia
  15. Venice to Florence with Trenitalia
  16. Florence to Rome with Trenitalia

1. London Heathrow to Oxford

The quickest and easiest way to get from Heathrow to Oxford is using The Airline, operated by the Oxford Bus Company. Tickets are purchased on board, and are somewhat overpriced at £14 each. But there isn't really any alternative. All buses leave from Heathrow Central Coach Station near terminal 1, most of them also stop at Terminal 4.

Since we arrived very early in the morning we had to depart from the Central Coach Station. We took the free Heathrow Express service from Terminal 4, then followed the signs. The Oxford service arrived about ten minutes late (it was continuing from Gatwick). The coach was spacious and comfortable and didn't have many people on board. We arrived in central Oxford about forty minutes later, well ahead of schedule.

Ratings for The Airline - Heathrow to Oxford
Ticketing: 4.5 stars
Convenience: 4.5 stars
Comfort: 3.5 stars
Price: 2 stars

2. Oxford to York

There were two options - National Express coach or train. The most convenient train tickets were rediculously overpriced at £46.50 each. Or we could be signficantly inconvenienced and pay "only" £24 each. Luckily for us, National Express were having a sale offering any one-way trip for £9. So that's how much we paid.

We ordered our tickets through the website and arranged to collect them from Oxford Bus Station. We went to collect the tickets the day before departure, only to find that they didn't have them! So they made some phone calls, we went for a walk for half an hour while they sorted it out, and when we got back everything was fixed and we had our tickets.

To get to York we travelled from Oxford to Birmingham via Stratford, then changed onto another service to York. There was a tea and coffee service available on the first coach; on the second we stopped at some motorway services for a refreshments break. It was quite a long and boring trip, but stress-free.

Ratings for National Express - Oxford to York via Birmingham
Ticketing: 2.5 stars
Convenience: 3 stars
Comfort: 3 stars
Price: 4 stars

3. York to Edinburgh

Again we had the choice of National Express coach or train. National Express had a sale on offering the trip for £9, which Virgin Trains had a 14 day advance purchase ticket for £11. We opted for the train since it was far quicker.

I had some problems getting the 14 day advance purchase tickets online because it was exactly 14 days in advance. Most websites only look at the date when deciding whether to allow the purchase, but I managed to book on thetrainline.co.uk, who must check the time as well.

On the day before travel, we collected our tickets from a machine at the train station. It was a very good system. On the day, our train arrived about ten minutes late. The journey was fine but slightly uncomfortable due to a hyperactive heating system.

Ratings for Virgin Trains - York to Edinburgh
Ticketing: 4 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 3 stars
Price: 4.5 stars

4. Edinburgh to Dublin

The plan was to do a circuit from Oxford up to Scotland, then across to Ireland, and back to southern England, or vice versa. Since we had limited time, flying was the only way to go. And we hoped to be able to do it on a reputable airline, but unfortunately that plan didn't really work out.

Firstly, flights from Edinburgh to Dublin. There really wasn't much choice in this department, with only three airlines operating (in order of preference):

British Airways wanted some exorbitant fare, so they were instantly eliminated. Aer Lingus were fare more reasonable, but surprisingly (to me anyway) a return ticket was far cheaper than a one-way ticket at about £60 each, including taxes. The fares themselves were pretty reasonable, but paying the taxes twice isn't kind to the budget. But the clear winner on price was Ryanair, at £17.43 each including taxes. As much as it hurt me, that was the way that we decided to go.

It's hard to believe that the mainstream airlines are so unenlightened that they don't have reasonably priced one-way fares. We've had them in Australia for years, so why not in Europe? It seems to me to be an excellent way to lose customers.

Ratings for Ryanair - Edinburgh to Dublin
Ticketing: 4.5 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 3 stars
Price: 4.5 stars

5. Dublin to Kilkenny and back

Like in Britain, the choice was between train (operated by Irish Rail) and bus (operated by Bus Éireann). From the respective websites we found that the bus costs €12 return and takes two hours 30 minutes, and the train €23.50 return with a journey time of one hour 43 minutes. Note that both bus and train prices are far more reasonable in Ireland than Britain, and don't seem to be subject to a million different variations and conditions. In the end it came down to convenience, and with the arrival time of our flight we could choose between a half hour wait for the bus or a two hour wait for the train. So bus it was.

We took bus number 747 from Dublin Airport to Busaras, the main bus station in Dublin. We purchased our tickets from the ticket window, had some lunch while we waited, then hopped on the bus. Due to roadworks, we ended up taking the scenic route through the back roads and small country towns of Ireland, but this was hardly a problem. Our arrival in Kilkenny, at the train station, was about fifteen minutes later than scheduled.

Since return tickets worked out much cheaper than one-way, we were constrained to return to Dublin in the same way. It was only a short walk from our B&B to the train station, which was lucky since it was raining at the time. The journey back to Dublin followed the same detours as the previous journey, but otherwise was unremarkable.

Ratings for Bus E´ireann - Dublin/Kilkenny return
Ticketing: 4 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 3.5 stars
Price: 4 stars

6. Dublin to Bath

Coming back from Dublin was difficult, as there was a plethora of options. We wanted to spend a day in Bath, so flying to Bristol would have been ideal. Ryanair offered very reasonable fares on Dublin-Bristol during the week, but on Sundays it skyrocketed to £50 each, plus taxes. Not wanting to be gouged, the search was on for a suitable alternative.

Flying to London Heathrow with bmi was the answer. They had a fare of €28 available for a 09:00 departure (and an even cheaper fare for an earlier departure). And bmi is a real airline that serves food and drinks onboard!

From Bath we took the National Express coach to Bath, which cost £14.50 each. Far cheaper and more convenient than the train. National Express don't seem to make tickets available for pre-purchase for services from the airport, which makes a lot of sense. Instead you can buy the tickets from the ticket office at Heathrow Central Coach Station.

Ratings for bmi - Dublin to London Heathrow
Ticketing: 4.5 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 4.5 stars
Price: 4 stars

Ratings for National Express - London Heathrow to Bath
Ticketing: 4 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 4 stars
Price: 3.5 stars

7. Bath to London

It was the usual train vs bus decision, and this time the train won out. From memory they worked out to be the same price. Again there were a huge number of options and variations in the pricing for the train tickets. By buying a return advance purchase ticket for £18.50 each from thetrainline.co.uk, we saved £4 each over a one-way ticket. Naturally we had no intention of using the return portion. It's crazy!

We collected our tickets from the machine at Bath station on the day of travel, and the process was as simple and easy as in York. The train was a few minutes late leaving (I believe it's expected in Britain), but the journey was comfortable and uneventful into London Paddington. And from there, it was just a short walk to our hotel.

Ratings for First Great Western - Bath to London Paddington
Ticketing: 4 stars
Convenience: 4.5 stars
Comfort: 4 stars
Price: 3.5 stars

8. London to Madrid

This flight was included in our main airfare. We took the Heathrow Express train from Paddington to the airport, which was quick and easy. We managed to avoid the normal downside of the exorbitant cost because we received a free airport transfer with our Eurail pass.

9. European Rail Pass

When our Contiki tour from Madrid to Barcelona and Paris was cancelled, we decided that a Eurail pass would be an economical way to get around. The Eurail Selectpass Youth was the best option for us, offering six non-consecutive days of travel in three adjoining countries.

We got a quote from our travel agent for the pass, and compared it with prices on the internet. Unfortunately, the price of Eurail passes is set way in advance in each currency, and an improving Australian dollar meant that buying the pass locally would cost us about $150 extra. So the search was on for a way to purchase the pass in US dollars.

Most sites are unwilling to ship these passes internationally (no idea why) but Euro Railways is the exception. They threw in a free airport transfer, saved us $150 on the Australian price, and had it shipped to us within a week. Hooray for Euro Railways!

10. Madrid to Barcelona via Zaragoza

It should have been a simple matter of getting our Eurail passes validated and paying €3 for a reservation. What we didn't anticipate was that trains from Madrid to Barcelona would be very popular on this particular day, and we left our reservation until the day before we were travelling.

First they told us it was not possible. Then that it was possible if we went via Zaragoza. So we went to make the booking at the ticket window, only to be told that there were no trains available from Zaragoza to Barcelona. Back to the information window, we got a print out of our itinerary, took it to the ticket window, and made our reservations for the Zaragoza train for €3 each. The train from there to Barcelona did not require a reservation.

We had a horrible journey. There was a four hour wait in Zaragoza between trains, and we were told we couldn't get onto an earlier train even if we paid a supplement (I suspect this was incorrect). The train to Barcelona was slow, very crowded, smokey, and uncomfortable. There were no luggage racks, so we were crammed into a seat with our luggage.

Ratings for Grandes Líneas Renfe - Madrid to Barcelona
Ticketing: 2.5 stars
Convenience: 2 stars
Comfort: 1.5 stars

11. Barcelona to Nîmes

Again we were using our Eurail pass for this trip, and we made our reservations two days before travelling. Both the information people and the ticketing people in Barcelona were cheerful and helpful, so it was a simple process. We paid €3 each for the reservations.

The journey itself was fine. Our first train from Barcelona Sants to Montpellier was comfortable, with semi-reclineable seats, luggage racks, food, and retractable tables. Completely different from our previous experience! We left Barcelona 10 minutes late but arrived right on time after a delay at the French border for a passport check.

The second train from Montpellier to Nîmes was a local train, but still fast and spacious and much better than in Spain. It took only 30 minutes to get to Nîmes.

Ratings for Grandes Líneas Renfe and SNCF - Barcelona to Nîmes
Ticketing: 4 stars
Convenience: 4 stars
Comfort: 4 stars

12. Nîmes to Paris

Once again we made reservations two days before travelling, using our Eurail passes. The ticketing people in Nîmes were friendly and helpful, despite my abuse of the French language that I inflicted upon them. As on our previous journeys we paid a small reservation fee.

The train was on time, fast and comfortable, and had plenty of room in the luggage racks. Food was available on board.

Ratings for SNCF TGV - Nîmes to Paris (Gare de Lyon)
Ticketing: 4.5 stars
Convenience: 4.5 stars
Comfort: 4 stars

13. Paris to Milan

Due to time constraints, we decided that flying from Paris to Italy would be the way to go. We thought that these flights would be included in our main airfare but that didn't work out. We had a number of options from Paris, but we focused on northern Italy so we wouldn't have to do a big loop out of Rome.

Air France and Alitalia both had flights from Paris to Venice, but they wanted to charge a fortune for flying one-way. Swissair to Milan via Zurich might have been an interesting option, but at around €100 each it was still a bit pricey. It came down to a decision between Easyjet to Milan and Volare to Venice. Ryanair were not considered! We decided on Easyjet because of their more generous baggage allowance, higher profile, and earlier release of tickets. We purchased our tickets online for €34.24 each, including taxes.

Getting to Paris Orly airport was simple and efficient via the metro, RER, and Orly light rail link. We had no problems on the flight, legroom was good, and we had excellent views of the Alps. Easyjet uses Milan Linate airport, which despite its proximity to the city has very poor transport links. It was very disorganised, underserviced, and frustrating.

Ratings for Easyjet - Paris Orly to Milan Linate
Ticketing: 4.5 stars
Convenience: 3.5 stars
Comfort: 4 stars
Price: 4 stars

14. Milan to Venice

We enquired about train times the day before travel, and we were told that we didn't need a reservation with our Eurail passes. The train was on time but there weren't enough seats - luckily we got on quickly so we were ok. I believe there were overhead luggage racks which were just big enough to hold my fiancée's enormous purple suitcase.

Ratings for Trenitalia - Milan to Mestre
Convenience: 3.5 stars
Comfort: 3 stars

15. Venice to Florence

No reservations were required again. The train was on time and not too crowded, which was lucky because the luggage racks were inadequate. Mine fitted on an overhead rack, my fiancée's had nowhere to go so it just stood in the aisle.

Ratings for Trenitalia - Mestre to Florence
Convenience: 3.5 stars
Comfort: 2.5 stars

16. Florence to Rome

Reservations were again unnecessary, the train was relatively empty, and we had a six seat compartment to ourselves and my fiancée's purple case. There were some overhead luggage racks, where my case was stowed. The train was about ten minutes late.

Ratings for Trenitalia - Florence to Rome
Convenience: 3.5 stars
Comfort: 3 stars

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