After a fun night out in Ljubljana, with excellent Istrian fuzi pasta with beef and truffle at restaurant Most, it was time to take a final train to our first proper stop of the trip, the famous Lake Bled. As we stayed quite close to Ljubljana’s train station, we just walked over there a short while before our Slovenian railways train was to depart. We had bought tickets online costing us about €5 each for the 1 hour trip to Lesce-Bled, which is one of two train stations in Bled, and the one that seem to handle long-distance traffic. The other one is Bled Jezero which is closer to Bled town and the lake, but with fewer trains connecting to it.
The train departed on time from one of the farthest away platforms, it’s quite long distances at Ljubljana station, so it’s good to have some extra time with that in mind we realised. The train itself was quite modern with screens showing the next few stops in real time and announcing each stop as we approached. The seats were also comfortable and onboard staff spoke good English. It’s more like a comfortable commuter train than anything else, and it stopped at many places along the way, but it’s still a very smooth way of getting to Bled in under an hour.
In Lesce-Bled we took a pre-booked taxi that we had booked through our hotel to Lake Bled. It costed us €15 for the approximately 10 minute ride, which was quite steep, but on the other hand Lake Bled is surprisingly expensive in general. We also paid the same price for the return booked through another hotel, so I guess it’s just what the price is (was).
After checking out beautiful Graz, eating a mediocre schnitzel and getting semi-submerged in a massive Austrian rainfall, it was time to move on once again. We stayed very close to the central station in Graz, so after checking out from the IntercityHotel Graz, we walked the 100 meters or so to the station for our next train, which would take us from Graz to Ljubljana, the small capital of Slovenia.
Since we were travelling in first class on ÖBB we had access to Graz Hauptbanhof’s lounge. After some searching we found it past a few fastfood outlets to the left of the main entrance to the station. We just scanned our tickets at a reader and got automatically let in. The lounge is quite small, but there was seating, a coffee maker, a few snacks and reading materials. We only spent 15 or so minutes there though as it was soon time to find our platform.
The train arrived on time and was quite busy, despite booking online many months ahead, we did not get seated together, but still next to each other with the aisle inbetween us. The leather seats were relatively comfortable, but like the whole train the first class carriage felt a bit old and worn. We had paid around €50 per person for the 3,5 hour trip though, so given that it wasn’t too bad, and views were at times spectacular.
A nice aspect with the train was the onboard restaurant. I’d always wanted to have a schnitzel onboard an ÖBB train, and now it was finally time for that! Unfortunately they did not accept card payments onboard, but we managed to scrape together exactly the 14 euros that was needed. As it was pretty much all cash we had, we could only afford one, and no drinks, but it was quite tasty to be honest, and very exciting to eat while passing by the Austrian and Slovenian countryside outside the window.
After finishing our schnitzel we made our way back to our seats as it was almost time to get off. All in all the ÖBB Eurocity train from Graz to Ljubljana was quite comfortable. Seat was decent, views were great and food quite tasty.
In Ljubljana there is a short walk into town from the central station, and like earlier stops on the trip we stayed quite close to the station at the recently opened Ibis Styles Ljubljana Center.
After a night at the Intercity Hotel Hauptbahnhof it was soon time to get moving again. Although we had a few hours to kill before our 18.45 departure, so since our next train would not have any dining car (but you can order some food to your compartment from the staff), we thought we’d have an early Berlin kebab dinner. We took the S-bahn commuter train a few stops from Berlin’s centrail station to Zoologischer Garten, took a walk to Kurfürstendam and the famous department store KaDeWe, before ending up at Zaddy’s kebab very close to the station as the line was long and that is usually a good sign.
The kebab was actually really good – thin juicy döner kebab meat, pickled red cabbage, lots of onion and pink kräuterßose in a fluffy sesame bun. The place was packed with people, and we had to stand on the sidewalk eating our food, but absolutely worth it in my mind.
Anyway, it was time to get on the S-Bahn train again and go back to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof to catch our next train, namely the sort of famous ÖBB Nightjet.
We had paid roughly the same for the ÖBB Nightjet trip from Berlin to Graz in Austria as the trip from Stockholm to Berlin, which was roughly €350 for two. This time however we also had our own bathroom and shower in our private sleeper, which of course makes it a whole lot more comfortable.
The train arrived on time, and boarding went smooth. The train we were on had three different destinations; Wroclaw in Poland; Budapest in Hungary, and of course Graz in Austria, where we were going. The train did split up eventually, but all carriages would first go to Wroclaw.
Our sleeper compartment was very clean, quite large and super comfortable. It was especially great to have our own bathroom again. It’s not that bad to have it in the train car of course, but it’s inconvenient in the night for instance, although it definitely is a luxury problem. Another luxury problem is that ÖBB clearly states that a welcome onboard amenity kit is provided, as well as a welcome onboard drink. We did receive one amenity kit, and no drinks without any explanation. We asked about another amenity kit when our tickets were checked but the onboard stuff just shrugged and said they had a shortage. We later heard another passenger ask about the welcome drinks, we did not hear exactly what was answered but it sounded like the warm tiny bottle of water in the amenitiy kit had replaced the cold bottle of prosecco we had our last trip.
But, apart from this, the rest of the trip was immaculate. As we started to leave Berlin, we went to the small compartment from where staff were selling drinks and paid for some Austrian sparkling wine instead. A half bottle, 37,5 centiliters, was priced about €14. We had also bought some snacks at the Rewe supermarket at Berlin HBF, and as we were crossing the border to Poland the train feast was on. Nibbling on olives, pretzels and having a few drinks we went through eastern Poland on the way to our train’s first major stop in Wroclaw.
After stopping at Wroclaw, it was time to get some sleep. The bed was comfortable and we slept okay – but I never sleep that good on trains unfortunately.
We woke up already in Austria with approximately half an hour to breakfast and two hours to Graz where the train was terminating and we were getting off.
We had a go with the onboard shower and I actually think it was quite alright. It wasn’t one of those where you had to sit on the toilet and shower, but you had a small but manageable shower cubicle with both decent pressure and temperature of the water.
After the shower it was time for breakfast. At the ÖBB Nightjet, breakfast is included and what is very nice according to me is that you can order what you want (maximum 6 picks though) from a small selection of different breakfast options.
Altough our selection of gouda cheese had run out, we got both salami, ham and cream cheese as compensation and was happy anyways.
As we rolled through a fantastic mountain-y landscape close to Graz, we enjoyed our breakfast of semmel bread rolls, butter, salami, yoghurt, coffee and juice.
A little while after breakfast we arrived into Graz, Austria’s second largest city. And like in Berlin, walked a few 100 meters from the station to our next Intercity Hotel, this one the IntercityHotel Graz.
It is always super convenient to stay near the train station, especially with bags. But although the hotel was quite nice, the immediate area around the train station wasn’t really that fun. It wasn’t very seedy or anything, but central Graz a kilometer away felt like another world.
I’ve grown fond of train travel the last couple of years with train trips from Stockholm where I live, to both Malta in 2019, and to Scotland last year. It’s an incredibly (mostly) comfortable experience compared to flying, you just take your bags to the central station, no lines, no checking in, no waiting, no slow boarding. Just jump onboard and you are already on your way.
This year we wanted to visit Slovenia which we had planned to go to in 2020, but due to a certain pandemic, we had to cancel the trip. When we started to look at ways to get us there, and while studying the map we noticed that Venice, where I’ve never been, but always wanted to go, is quite close, and from Venice there are lots of ferry lines connecting it to Croatia. Our goal was to finish the train travel part of the trip with a week of sun lounger-ing in a nice resort somewhere, and Croatia has a lot of such places.
Okay, so with the route set, it was time to start building the trip. We do not use a travel agency or a rail pass as we usually go by a combination of private sleepers on night trains and then in first class on day trains. Instead we just logged on to each train company’s website and booked straight through them. Mostly we used Austrian ÖBB’s website which is quite easy to work out. The Stockholm to Berlin train we booked on Sj.se and paid for with credit card.
A reason for the entire trip was that I wanted to try out the new SJ Euronight train, that goes from Stockholm to Hamburg, and during the summer all the way to Berlin. Since a first class sleeper compartment with private bathroom was quite insanely priced at around 6500 sek (~€550), we opted for a second class one, where you have the compartment to yourself, but with shared bathroom and shower in the carriage. For that we paid the still very costly price of 4000 sek (approximately €320).
Before boarding our train, we went on a dinner shopping spree in Stockholm’s central station since there’s no dining car onboard the train, although there’s a small kiosk. In Stockholm’s Centralstation there’s quite a lot of eateries such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Urban Deli’s take out kiosk, and several bakeries from which you can bring take away food. There is also a large COOP supermarket, and proper restaurants such as Luzette and Urban Deli where you can have a sit-down meal. We opted for a mix of McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries; shrimp salad from Urban Deli; a bag of chocolates and water from COOP and some dinner rolls from Gateau bakery for a train picnic.
Then it was time to board the train, which left right on time just before 18:00 o’clock.
Our second class sleeper was quite dirty when we entered it, crumbs on the floor and also an empty champagne bottle under the bed which we found after a while. It was also quite dusty and when touched, our sofa gave a way a little dust cloud. Not so nice.
Despite this, we had our little train picnic dinner and was still quite happy with being on our way. After a while we heard some clicking noises and suddenly a child appeared in our compartment, seemingly the door lock between ours and our neighbour’s compartment wasn’t too effecient and despite being locked from our side the child could still easily open it. He looked as surprised as we did though, apologized and quickly retreated back to theirs. But not very safe.
After dinner we went to check out if there was any life onboard, remebering a night on the Arctic Circle Train with a dining car full of happy beer drinking tourist on their way to see northern lights. No such luck though, we overheard the staff telling another passenger that they wanted a dining car for the train, but since there are different train tracks in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, they couldn’t find any that worked all the way. My suggestion is take one from Stockholm and leave it in Malmö then, no one’s going to eat after midnight any way. But maybe that delays the trip too much.
What was offered was a small kiosk where staff sold drinks, snacks and I think maybe some kind of light meals. In our compartment ’information folder’ it was stated that staff would come around with a trolley service, but that never happened.
After a quite reasonably priced (for Sweden) €5 cold German beer together with watching the moonlight crossing of the Øresund Bridge to Denmark, it was time to hit the sack. Sleeping quality was standard for a train I’d say. It was quite comfortable and we both slept okay.
The next morning, we had to go out to the kiosk to pick up the breakfast box that was included in our sleeper compartment. It consisted of a bread roll, jam, butter and juice, and you also got free coffee or tea.
At this point, towards the end of the trip, the train looked like a dump unfortunately. The hallways had trash and paper on the floors, and the toilets hadn’t been cleaned and was really, really gross. I’ve sent SJ a complaint about this, but they haven’t yet responded about a month later. We’ll see if they do.
In the end though, we arrived safe and sound, and on time, to Berlin Hauptbanhof, one of my favourite train stations with lots of food, shops and connections. For us it was time for a brief one night stop though in the nearby Intercity Hotel, a few 100 meters from the station.
A tip, if you stay near the Berlin HBF and want to have a proper German dinner, is to visit Zollpackhof restaurant and biergarten. Good prices, full of locals and tasty food. It has both a quite affordable self service part where you pick up you food yourself from a sort of food court concept, or a terrace with table service. We chose the former and were quite happy.
Stockholm-Sundsvall: A night at Elite Hotel Knaust
This Christmas, we found ourselves with a few extra vacation days we needed to spend, and not wanting to spend them entirely on video games and Netflix in the sofa at home, – and prices for flying to the sun in Southern Europe and beyond already steep – we decided to go on a domestic trip.
I’ve always wanted to stay at the famous Hotel Knaust in the northern city of Sundsvall, and finding out that Sundsvall is a perfect first stop to chop up the long train trip to one of Sweden’s most famous ski resorts Åre, where another hotel I haven’t stayed at, but been wanting too for ages as well, is situated, the trip started to take form.
Sweden’s high speed trains are called X2000 and X3000, they are not that highspeed compared to what you find in continental Europe or Asia, but they travel fairly fast in about 200 kms per hour and are decently comfortable, especially in first class. At the moment at least you can’t find one of those going to Åre, but you can take one to Sundsvall in about 3 hours from Stockholm and then continue the trip with a slower train, either with SJ, that also run the high speed trains, or with VY Norrtåg, which is what we did.
Jumping back to Stockholm’s central station, we purchased sandwiches and a Christmassy saffron bun at the bakery outlets of Gateau and Fabrique bakeries as we just missed the before-9 a.m.-free-breakfast with a 9:20 a.m. departure in SJ highspeed train first class. Onboard there’s free coffee and tea, as well as usually some snacks, sweets or fruit.
The train ride was a relaxing and uneventful one, and we arrived Sundsvall on time just before one o’clock. Since we would be back in the same station the next morning for our continued trip, we took extra notes of how to find our way, which was a bit unneccessary as it was close and very easy to find.
At Hotel Knaust, we of course immediately noticed their marble stair case, for which they are most famous. The hotel was opened in 1891, and lots of history has gone through the building. For instance a Thai king got addicted to salmon salad there in the 1890s, according to legend at least. 🙂
Being about a week before Christmas, the hotel was beautifully decorated, and despite being quite tiny we really liked our cozy room.
After a short walk around the mostly empty city center, as this time of the year the sun goes down early, around 2.30 pm, and it was a Sunday with many shops and places closed, we headed back to Knaust for some in-room relaxation followed by dinner. Like the shops, many of Sundsvall’s restaurants was closed due to it being Sunday, but the in-hotel Bishop Arms gastro pub (part of a chain of restaurants all over Sweden) was open.
We tried their club sandwich as well as their fish and chips with lobster mayonnaise, paired with two local craftbeers made by Alnöl, which is a pun of Alnö Island where the production is made, and öl, which is the Swedish word for beer. Pun aside, the beer was tasty and the food delicious. My only complaint is that fries were not included with the club sandwich and had to be ordered extra.
After a good nights sleep, we headed for breakfast in the Knaust mirror hall. The spread was decently large, and quality was good. I did not like the scrambled eggs, but the rest of the buffet was quite good. Especially nice with the possibility to squeeze your own orange juice using fresh oranges, as well as a waffle making station with my favourite luxurious Northern Swedish delicasy cloudberry jam, paired with fresh whipped cream. Mmmmm.
Sundsvall-Åre with VY Norrtåg
After breakfast it was time to check out from Hotel Knaust and make our way back to the train station. The station house it quite clean, and had a Pressbyrån convenience store as well as free restrooms, which is not that common in Sweden, at least not in my experience.
From Sundsvall Central station the plan was to catch VY Norrtåg’s train that starts in Sundsvall all the way to the second to final stop of Åre.
Upon booking we got a little confused as we did not receive any seat numbers on our tickets. Checking on Norrtåg owner VY’s website, it stated that every passenger was assigned one, which stressed us a bit. On the train however we realised that we should have read on Norrtåg’s website instead where it, like the train information screens clearly stated ”free seating and no classes”.
The train trip itself was comfortable enough. There was at-seat electrical sockets so you could charge your phone and the seats were good. In the middle of the train there was a service point where you could purchase snacks, drinks and also food. It wasn’t really a bistro, but as far as I understood it they sold food, we only bought some candy though.
The train is both a long distance and commuter train as it seemed. The further we got from Sundsvall, people jumped on at one tiny rural station, and then off again in the seemingly middle of nowhere. It was really cool to experience this part of northern Sweden with villages, snow-clad forests, icy lakes, and eventually as we progressed towards Åre, taller and taller mountains.
Downtown Åre, a night at Holiday Club and dinner at Hotel Granen
Then, after almost four hours, it was finally time to get off the train as we rolled into Åre station. We had booked our first night at the Holiday Club Åre, a sort of time-share holiday apartment building meets hotel meets shopping center and adventure bath complex. Conveniently it has its own pedestrian bridge from the third floor of the Åre Station building, leading, through a few hallways and stairs, to the lobby. It all sounds very big, which it really isn’t, but still is, I guess, for a sort of tiny ski village.
Despite arriving early, we immediately got our room. It wasn’t fantastic, and a little broken, but despite being on the ground floor it had a fantastic view of a few of Åre’s ski slopes. It was also quite large and could sleep 3 persons using the sofa bed and the curtain to the left in the picture to form a mini-bedroom.
After settling in, we took a 10 minute walk to Systembolaget, the national Swedish liquor monopoly, store to stock up on some local craftbeer from brewer Svartberget as well as some bubbles. After this we headed for dinner at Hotel Granen, a 10 minute uphill walk next to the Åre mountain ’gondola’.
Hotel Granen, translated the fir tree, is owned by Swedish rapper, turned restaurantier and vino, Petter Askegren. Ambience is sort of chic hunting lodge, but very cozy and not overly fancy.
We skipped starters and went straight to main courses. Although we got served a delicious complimentary bread basked with butter to nibble on as we waited for our food. We tried a delicious hand-cut (instead of ground) steak tartare, that came with pickled and blackened leek, parsley mayonnaise, lemon thyme, coarse mustard and a side of BBQ-flavoured smashed potatoes. We also tried the seared rose fish with an emulsion of burnt cream, romanesco, peas and smoked trout roe, served with traditional boiled potatoes with dill.
For dessert, we shared a ”warm doughnut” with apple compote, Brännlands ice wine granité and cardamom ice cream. Like the mains, the dessert was really tasty, and worked well with a glass of Sauternes dessert wine recommended by the staff.
After a good night’s sleep, followed by a decent breakfast, at the Holiday Club Åre, we took a pre-ordered cab with ToppTaxi to our next destination.
24 hours of mountain luxury at Copperhill Mountain Resort
After a fifteen minute drive in almost complete mist, we arrived to the vague contours of a large building – okay, it wasn’t that bad, but almost – on top of Förberget mountain in Åre Björnen.
Copperhill, or Copperhill Mountain Resort was opened in 2008, and is a large 112 room luxury hotel with – normally – tremendous views, and location, next to both nature and ski slopes, as well as being a large chunk of luxurious civilisation on top of a snowy mountaion. It has several restaurants, a decent spa, a giant lobby area with a big fireplace and a bar as well as game rooms and various spots for people to gather and hang out. We learned this as they also have the ungodly checkout time of 10 a.m.
Since we only stayed a night, and since prices weren’t terribly good for standard rooms, but pretty good for suites, we decided on the latter. A small standard room with no window was priced at roughly 1 500 sek per night, while a 50 square meter ”Silver Deluxe” suite with mountain and forest views in at least two directions costed us 2 200 sek a night.
The room, or suite, consisted of a living room part, featuring large windows, which enabled great views over the surroundings (when the mist finally dissappeared), a large bathroom with a pretty, but also slightly hopeless bath tub (do not try to be two persons in it), and a bedroom with a quite large and comfortable bed, mini bar/fridge, another tv, pod coffee maker from Nespresso and a nice forest view from the window.
After checking out our room for a couple of hours it was time for dinner. In contrast to Åre’s just-before-the-start-of-the-season-feeling, Copperhill was quite busy. We had booked a table in the main restaurant, and that was probably a good thing as it was almost full. As usual with hotel restaurants, it’s a little bit tricky to find decent information about them, but at least Copperhill has some menus online that you can study if you’re that inclined (I definitely am) before your visit. Fortunately almost everything sounded delicious, and despite its relatively remote location, I didn’t find the prices overly high. The restaurant also had a nice focus on local produce and northern Swedish flavours, which was exactly what I was after this trip.
We started with Local’s cured moose, which translated into an almost steak tartar-y dish of gin-cured finely cut moose meat with baked egg yolk, dried onion, chive oil and smoked mayonnaise. Very, very tasty. But a little bit on the (too) salty side. We also had an oyster each, which came topped with browned butter, whitefish roe, lemon and chives.
For main course we selected the arctic char from Landön island with apple, cucumber, trout roe, fennel, dill, butter sauce, and potato puree; as well as the grilled venison with black currants, white onion, cabbage, porcini mushroom, a creamy thyme velouté and potato cake. both dishes were absolutely delicious. Good, mild flavours which allowed each detail and ingredient to shine through. Really excellent combination of flavours in both dishes.
For dessert we decided to share a ”Winter apple” with apple cubes, muscovado sugar, vanilla custard, browned butter ice cream, rosemary caramel and roasted almond paste. While still delicious, it wasn’t – as – delicious as the starters and the main, and quite brutally priced at 145 sek.
The following morning we had breakfast in the restaurant. It was served buffet style and was of quite high quality, but nothing out of the ordinary. Eggs (a bit watery), bacon, cheeses, coldcuts, a few local items such as game sausages and cloudberries to be put on for instance yoghurt, fresh fruit and pastries was available. It was quite crowded, and quite busy around 8 a.m. but we managed to feed ourselves before rushing back to the room for some final rest and relaxation before the 10 a.m. checkout time. We tried several times to extend it a bit since our train back to Stockholm was departing at 7.30 p.m. in the evening, but as they were fully booked we were told it was not possible.
Instead, we opted to visit the famous spa, that, at the time of writing this, was complimentary for hotel guests if you visit between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. You had to book ahead via your welcome email that arrived approximately four days before your check in date.
The spa is relatively small, or quite large depending on perspective, or rather if someone else is there. When we arrived we were practically alone with one lap pool, a heated indoor pool (picture above), an outdoor jacuzzi sized pool for maybe 4-6 people, and two saunas (plus there’s small saunas in each locker room as well). But steadily as time approached noon, more people arrived, not terribly many, but enough to make it less relaxing and more of a normal pool area. During our selected time slot, the website stated only adults, but there were several children there, so they might have recently changed the rules or did not enforce them.
All in all it was a pleasant experience, but I’m not sure if I’d be happy if I’d paid the non-guest price of 295-495 sek per person, depending on time of the day. It’s a great perk to include it for guests between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. though.
After the spa, we still had roughly 7 hours to kill before our night train from Åre Station would depart. We took a walk around the area where Copperhill Mountain Resort is located. The weather had turned amazing with blue skies and sun, and we could see several mountain tops from our elevated position just outside the hotel.
After the walk we camped out in the lobby, having a coffee and a pastry from their bar/café/fika counter that was delicious.
At around 3 p.m. we asked front desk if they could call us a cab, and then took it to the Åre train station (~ 350 sek) where we had planned to have dinner at the next door Åre Ölkafé restaurant and beer place. They were however closing at 5 p.m. which did not really work for us and our 7.30 departure, so instead we walked up the slope to Mister French, which is a smaller sibbling to Mister French restaurant in Stockholm, as I was craving mussels and fries (it was my plan to eat that at Åre Ölkafé).
Mussels and fries were good and came with aioli and a few slices of baguette. We also tried their steak tartare that was tasty too.
Taking SJ night train from Åre to Stockholm in a first class compartment
After our meal, we walked the five minutes or so down to the station building. For a small town, Åre’s train station is quite large as earlier mentioned, and apart from being connected by an indoor pedestrian bridge to the Holiday Club complex, it also features a couple of floors of a smallish shopping center, with a quite large ICA supermarket on the bottom one. There’s also restrooms, but you need to pay to use them, which is something I really dislike about Sweden. It was only 5 sek (tap your card on the card reader outside), but it should be free for everyone, especially in a train station. Fortunately we knew there were free public restrooms at the Holiday Club, just across the mentioned indoor bridge, from our stay the day before, so we walked over and used theirs. We finished our time at Åre station with buying some snacks in the supermarket, and pretty much on time – 7.30 p.m. – our SJ night train bound for Stockholm rolled into the station.
There wasn’t that many people getting on, as we had suspected, as it was still a few days before Christmas, and season for going to, not from, Åre was just picking up. At moments it felt a little bit like being alone on the train, as we had booked our own ’first class’ sleeper, and barely heard or saw someone for the entire trip.
First class sleeper onboard SJ it pretty much the same as 2nd class, except for the added convenience of a toilet and shower in the compartment. There were also only two beds instead of three, so if you’re sharing with strangers, it’s slightly less crowded. Bed quality was quite decent, and I always find it extremely cozy to sleep on moving trains, similar to the same in business and first on planes, but that is of course usually much more expensive as 10 hours on a plane will take you slightly longer than Åre-Stockholm.
Sleeping quality itself is another story though, and I didn’t sleep that great. We arrived Stockholm at around 5.30 in the morning, and were told by the conductor that we could stay in the train until ”just before 7”, ”if we didn’t want to wake up in the depot”. Those words and the slightly vague time-frame haunted me, so when they put on the engines again around 6.10 a.m. we sort of panicked a little and rushed off the train. Since it was so early, the train bistro that opens at 6.30 a.m. never opened, which I think entitled us to a free breakfast, as we were in first class, at the Central Station Café Ritazza. We were so tired at this point though, so we just walked straight to the connected subway and went straight home for some extra hours of sleep.
After four amazingly nice days in beautiful Inverness, visiting the famous Loch, Isle of Skye and eating plenty of delicious food, and drinking semi-plenty amounts of local whisky, it was time to hit the rails one last time.
LNER first class to Edinburgh
We had booked two first class tickets (£70 in total) for the three and a half hour trip to the Scottish capital, onboard the highspeed Azuma train of the LNER (London North Eastern Railroad), that continues all the way down to London, stopping at Edinburgh and a couple of other places along the way. This is of course also a way of doing London-Scotland by train, if you don’t want to catch the night train, as we did a few days prior to this trip.
We had a quite early departure at around 8 in the morning, and walked to Inverness Station from our nearby hotel, River Ness by Radisson, about 20 minutes before the train was due to leave. The station wasn’t really up and running yet, but it was open so as you could enter the waiting areas. The train was already at the platform, and about 10 minutes before boarding we were allowed to get on. A nice feature of booking with the LNER was the possibility to pick your prefered seats, ’airline style’ using a seating map of the train on their website. We chose a one-to-one facing seat pair as we’re asocial Scandinavians and don’t really want to make conversation with any strangers. 🙂
Shortly after departure, the onboard staff handed us menus for breakfast. Food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included in First Class tickets, and you could choose from a few different meal options. We went for the Full Scottish Breakfast, as well as a smashed avocado toast with a poached egg.
The food arrived quite quickly and came with coffee and orange juice. Quality was quite good to be honest, possibly slightly better than on the Caledonian Sleeper that we tried a few days earlier.
As the landscape passed by outside we enjoyed our breakfast with both the full Scottish’s sausage, hashbrown, bacon and eggs as well as the avocado toast’s creamy spread of avocado and eggs. Extra marks for the eggs being surprisingly well-cooked and delicious.
After breakfast we just relaxed watching the beautiful landscape changing into more cityesque as we approached Edinburgh’s Waverley station.
The trip and the train is really comfortable, and I wouldn’t at all have minded to stay onboard longer to for example continue on to London. But, it was time to get off the train for a final time for a few days of eating and drinking in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, before throwing in the towel and fly back home to Stockholm.
After four days of eating, drinking and walking our way through a surprisingly sunny London, it was once again time for the next part of the journey. And this time, it was for the first time of the trip on a night train, the night train that pretty much was the reason for the whole trip, as since I first saw a Youtube video of it I’d been wanting to go.
The train is called the Caledonian Sleeper and serves two routes: The Highlander route, that goes all the way to Fort William in Scotland, and the Lowlander route that goes to Glasgow or Edinburgh. It offers a sort of hotel experience onboard the train with nice bedding, pillow spray, a sink, bathroom and shower in the compartment (if in a Club Room), included breakfast and a nice dining car, or Club Car as they call it, where you can have both dinner (at a cost) and breakfast. There are also regular seats onboard, but that won’t get access to the Club Car, or any of the sleeping perks mentioned, of course.
We were on a Highlander that finished in Inverness, which was our final destination, and opted to book a Club Room, as the Caledonian Double, which as the name implies has an actual double bed in the compartment was a little bit too pricey for us, but we wanted to have our own bathroom.
Our train left from London’s Kingscross, as the usual Euston Station was closed for renovation when we travelled during Easter 2022. The departure time was in the evening, around 8.30 p.m. so we were quite tired after a day of walking around town when we arrived the lounge – included in club rooms – around 7. The lounge was maybe nothing to elaborate too much about, but was nice enough with tea, biscuits (of course, we were in the UK), crisps, sparkling water and decent seating as well as electrical outlets where you could charge your phone. There was also beer and wine available from the reception at a cost. Around 8.15 it was announced it was time to board the Caledonian Sleeper, and we walked straight to the platform through a little ‘private’ walkway.
We had to stand for a few minutes on the platform waiting for something before they let us onboard, but it wasn’t too long before we were in our small but cozy Club Room. The beds in the Club is bunk bed style and there is a toilet and shower combination in the bathroom. Floor space is quite tiny, but we managed fine with our two relatively large bags. Unfortunately (or actually not so unfortunately) we soon discovered that our toilet couldn’t flush. So we used the in-room intercom to call the staff to let them know. A staff member soon showed up and after some work, he concluded that our toilet was broken and we had to move.
The room offered to us as compensation for the inconvenience was the famous Caledonian Double which, without being huge, probably was twice the size of our Club Room, with a decently sized double bed, a painting on the wall as well as a nice amenity kit. It of course also had the in-room toilet and shower like our last room. Super nice and the first time ever I’d slept in a double bed on a train.
Happy with our fortune we went for dinner in the Club Car. The Club Car was decently busy (picture taken when boarding), but we found a nice table for two and were handed a menu each – it’s table service in the Club Car which felt extra luxurious. The food and drink offering onboard is heavily focused on local Scottish produce, which I loved. It really felt that we entered a tiny bit of Scotland just by getting on the train. Fun and adventurous. We ordered both the Scottish salmon with lemon sauce, as well as macaroni and cheese made with local Arran and Orkney cheddars, both were quite delicious considering it was on a train. We also ordered a whisky each from their quite (again, for a train) extensive whiskey menu, as well as a beer and a glass of wine. Price was around £45 for the two of us with drinks and food.
After this we went back to our Caledonian Double and tucked in for the night. Maybe having a glass of wine, and some crisps we accidentally brought with us from the lounge, while watching a dark United Kingdom pass by outside the window. Sleep quality wasn’t fantastic as the journey was a bit bumpy, but the bed was very comfortable so at least we managed to sleep for a few hours.
When getting on the train, the first thing we did was so select what kind of breakfast we wanted, there were a few options; larger and small; healthier and unhealthier, as well as if we wanted to eat breakfast in the Club Car or in our compartment. We went for the Highland breakfast, meaning a full Scottish breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans and black pudding, as well as the Eggs Royale and chose to have it in the Club Car.
The breakfast, as mentioned included in the price, came with additionnal coffee and orange juice, and an amazing vista over The Scottish Highlands, as we approached Inverness. The views just before arriving Inverness was really beautiful, so we were lucky with the timing of our breakfast. Breakfast food quality was decent, better than you would get on a plane, but less good than in a restaurant.
Shortly after we finished our breakfast, it was announced that we approached Inverness, 30 minutes ahead of schedule (boo). As it was the final stop, we didn’t have to hurry to get off, but it felt weird to just sit around, so we got off pretty much upon arriving. Inverness has a small Caledonian Sleeper lounge just next to the station building, and we managed to get there exactly as the manager started his shift. We were early, so he got a little surprised we had already arrived, but quickly invited us in and offered us coffee and a nice little chat about Scotland, and gave us some recommendations for how to spend our next few days. There was a also a small but decent snack assortment, much like in the London lounge, of biscuits, crisps, soft drinks and water.
From the lounge it was just a short walk, Inverness is not a big city, to our very good hotel The River Ness hotel by Radisson where we based ourselves for the next four days, before the final train of the Stockholm-Scotland by train trip.
When I was around 10 years old, the Eurostar opened and for the first time in history, people could travel by train from the United Kingdom to the rest of Europe. I don’t really remember how I got this information, probably from tv as the internet took another year or two to reach my 1990s family home. Anyway, since then, I’ve dreamt of going with the Eurostar, through the Eurotunnel, and finally, after stuffing our faces in Amsterdam food for three days, it was time.
We had booked tickets in Standard Premiere, which is the Eurostar’s middle option, where you get better seats than in Standard, as well as drinks and a meal onboard. But you don’t get access to the extra benefits of Business Premiere such as lounges, fast track and a nicer three course meal with champagne served onboard.
As we lived basically in Amsterdam’s Centraal station, at the very comfortable Ibis Amsterdam Centraal, we had just a few meters walk to reach the station. Upon arriving the correct platform we entered a quite long que to reach safety control and immigration. Since train travel until this point had been basically to just jump on and off trains, this was the first time since leaving Stockholm we actually had to wait. We did not mind though and everything went quite smoothly and I think we waited for maybe 20 minutes or so to get into the waiting area. The waiting area consists of a few chairs and benches, and not everyone was able to find a seat. I don’t think there was even a cafe in there, but there were a few vending machines for the hungry. The most interesting part of our waiting experience was a couple of Dutch ladies that cracked open a bottle of sparkling wine to kill some time. Reasonable!
After a while we were let out to the same platform that we had queed on to get in to the waiting area, and finally our Yellow ride arrived. I tried to go and take a picture of the locomotive, but a staff member told me (nicely) to get on the train instead. Fortunately there was plenty of opportunity to take pretty train pictures in London later on.
Our carriage on the train was probably half full (or was it half empty?) and we were told to put on face masks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Netherlands had just scrapped mandated face masks shortly before we arrived, as had the UK mostly, but not onboard trains.
We were welcomed personally (nice touch) by our carriages attendant and shortly afterwards presented with drinks and some snacks. We were given the option to have either white, red or rosé wine, beer or softdrinks, and went for wine. Throughout the trip they were quite generous with wine, and we, being in holiday mode, probably had 3 or 4 “mini bottles” each before arriving in London. After stopping in Rotterdam, the train started to fill up, and we were served a ‘light lunch’. I opted for a leek, Red Leicester cheese and rosemary tart together with a sticky date pudding with butterscotch cream. The tart aka pie was served with a little bit of coleslaw-y root vegetable salad as well as a bread roll. Maybe the wine and views of rural Belgium had a little bit to do with it, but it was really good.
So, after a few hours of wine drinking and European landscape watching it was time. We entered the legendary tunnel. I thought it would take a longer time beneath the sea, but it was probably 15 minutes or so until we popped out on the other side of the channel and could continue to watch the landscape go by for a while before reaching London’s St. Pancras International station, and our next stop on the way to Scotland.
In conclusion I really loved the Eurostar. Comfortable seats, friendly onboard staff, great food, and a generally nice modern train. And of course it was also very convenient being able to go directly from Amsterdam to London instead of having to first go to Brussels or Paris. Price was a little bit high as we waited a bit too long to book. When we started checking, a one way ticket in Standard Premiere was €120 per person, but we booked them at €180 due to our own laziness. Despite this, and compared to flying, 180 euros for four hours in a comfortable seat with views of four European countries, free-flowing (at least basically) drinks and a nice meal felt very much worth it.
As we lived super close to Hamburg’s central railway station, we checked out around 30 minutes before our departure and took the quick walk there to find our first train of the day.
Unfortunately there aren’t any direct trains from Hamburg to Amsterdam, so our first trip of the day was with the sleek German highspeed ICE (Intercity Express) train, that reaches speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, from Hamburg to Osnabrück in Western Germany.
The station in Hamburg was PACKED, but inside the train, we chose to go in first class, it was quite empty. This first leg of the Hamburg to Amsterdam trip was quite short, and since we couldn’t find any information of whether there was an onboard restaurant on the next train we where taking, our priority was food, as we wanted to try German train food.
In ICE’s first class you get food and drinks served at your seat, if you prefer, but it’s not included in the fare, so you still have to pay for it. We had relatively recently had breakfast, so we decided to share a German currywurst with fries, as well as a fassbier (draft beer) each, because draft beer on a train! Unfortunately they had run out of fries and offered us bread instead. Oh well. 40 minutes or so before us getting off the train, the food arrived. I think the quality was quite good to be honest, tasty, hearty and decently priced.
After lunch it didn’t take long before we arrived Osnabrück, where we had a 15 minute wait before our Intercity train to Amsterdam was to depart. The station was quite small and it was easy to find our way and walk to the platform.
After a short delay, the train arrived and we hopped on the super busy train. Once again we were in first class, but gone was the calm, the plush leather seated ”couple seats” and table service, and instead we joined a group of people in a 6-person compartment, where two (very friendly) ladies had our seats. Just like in the Danish train you could travel without a seat reservation, which also on this train led to sort of chaos. After a few minutes of moving bags and people around, we were fortunately seated however, and the trip to Amsterdam could commence.
As the train approached Amsterdam, it was approximately 3,5 hours from Osnabrück, the train got less and less busy. As in Denmark, as fast as the train staff announced that we had entered The Netherlands, everyone removed their masks, as they had just removed most Covid-related restrictions there. To celebrate the border crossing, we headed to the onboard restaurant and, to our sort of sadness, found it identical to the one on the ICE train, meaning we could’ve had our lunch here on this slow train, instead of rushing it earlier on the ICE. Oh well, we had a glass of German bubbly each which we sipped on watching the Dutch countryside go by outside the window.
Then, a canal or two appeared outside our window, then another, then a tall building, and a futuristic museum. And a couple of skyscrapers. We were finally in Amsterdam, after our five our trip through Germany, and this time we were actually stopping for a while for some eating, drinking and exploring. *Speaker voice*: “More on this in the next episode of Train to Scotland”. Tot ziens!
After a quick walk from our hotel to Copenhagen’s railway station, we reached our platform where the next train was due to leave for Hamburg. We had booked DSB (Danish Railway) 1’, which is their first class, via Deutsche Bahn’s website, and because of that we couldn’t choose our seats beforehand. I’m not sure that you can if you book directly through DSB, but I would guess so. Anyway, we were lucky and got a 1 to 1 pair, eg. facing each other with a table between us and no one sitting next to us. Not so lucky were all the passengers boarding the train with ”open” first class tickets, as the train was fully booked. On SJ you need to have a seat when you board the high-speed trains, but apparently not on the Danish trains. This caused a trip-lasting chaos with the non-reserved passengers jumping back and forth around the carriage, alternating between for the moment empty-seats, and sitting on the floor. Must have been quite stressful for them.
Apart from that, the seats were comfortable, there’s a self service bar with coffee and sweets, and the views were at times stunning. Last time we went we used the now terminated train ferry, but I’d say this train was more comfortable as you did not have to get on and off, and could just relax in your seat for the entire trip.
Just before we entered Germany there was an announcement that face masks are still mandatory in Germany due to the Corona pandemic, so the totally maskless carriage suddenly masked up as we crossed the border which was a little bit funny.
The trip lasted about four hours, and we rolled into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof railway station with no delays. The station is quite big, but we found our way and walked to our nearby hotel, Intercity Hauptbahnhof in a few minutes. The hotel was nice, and had what you would expect in terms of a nice bed, a tv and a decent bathroom. But mostly it’s convenient if you’re using the train station, if I’d stay longer in Hamburg, I’d stay in a nicer area. After settling in, we took a walk to the nearby Poggenmühlenbrücke (say that fast 10 times), with its famous canal view.
On the way back from the canal we picked up kebab from a place called Salli’s Döner. It was pretty good, although not fantastic. Tasty meat, decent bread, okay fries and good sauces. It costed us something like €20 which included two beers each to go. We finished our kebab and beers in our hotel room, and then went to bed.
We had no breakfast included in our room, so next morning we took a walk to a small coffee place we’d seen the day before when walking to the bridge-with-the-long-name. The place was called The Bakery and was also very close to the kebab kiosk where we bought dinner the day before. The coffee was really good and we also had a yoghurt with mandarins and ’homemade’ granola that was delicious.