We are going from Germany to Italy to France and then to Poland. We'd like to overnight everything to have more sight seeing days. Does anyone recommend booking the overnight trains AHEAD of time or do you think we'll be ok buying them the day before or the day of early in the morning? Do they ALL have showers that you can pay extra for? Thanks SO MUCH everyone!
Erich in Kansas City
Affordable tickets (normal seats, reclinable seats, couchettes) come without the use of a shower, not even for a little extra: only expensive cabins have one. Definitely not worth the extra buck, though; better stay in a hostel every now and then to freshen up.
Booking: it depends when you travel. During european holidays, and especially in summer, pre-booking is strongly recommended unless you're a small pax and flexible with your dates. Getting tickets for friday and sunday nights is usually impossible. Try booking directly with the carrier company, instead of a booking agent: I'm not sure about Poland, but Die Bahn (Germany) and SNCF (France) have decent websites. Trenitalia (Italy) is dreadful; their online payment facility usually doesn't work, so you're stuck with using an agent there.
[ Edit: Edited on 18-May-2009, at 01:00 by bentivogli ]
Most of the night trains do not have showers. A few have, but you have to pay a lot more extra.
Click for pdf-file
The above pdf file contains info on German CNL trains, including all the schedules. It is a brochure that is available for free at German train stations, but if you are going to use the CNL trains a lot you might want to print it out.
To sum up some of the info:
If you are 2-3 people and all hold Eurail passes that are valid for 1st class it will be a good idea to book the 1st class deluxe triple or double cabin - it costs 40 EUR per person if you are 3 people and 60 EUR per person if you are 2 people. The 1st class deluxe cabins have showers.
These cabins are usually very expensive, using them is like flying first class instead of economy - so if you are going to travel by CNL you might as well shell out for them.
But if you got Eurail Youth passes that are valid for 2nd class only I recommend booking the couchette instead - 20 or 30 EUR respectively, depending on the size of the cabin. A seat on the CNL costs only 10 EUR, but you'll be terribly cramped - shell out extra for the couchette if you can afford it. Only chance to wash in couchette or seat compartments will be the toilet at the end of the car - and you'll be queing with 20 other people.
I also recommend that you arrange for hostels in advance - call 1-3 days ahead and go straight to the hostel after your arrival in the morning. Make sure the hostel has 24-hours check in - so if you end up sweaty you can take a shower right away at the hostel. Another tip I have is that you take a shower right before departure - if possible arrange it with the hostel that you check out at 10 am, but leave your luggage in storage until you return around 5 pm. At many hostels it won't be a problem to use the communal showers then. Apply some good deo and you are all set for your overnight train ride.
BTW, some modern big train stations in Germany have showers. A shower there costs 10 -15 EUR.
Another pdf-file - click
This file shows a map of international night trains in Germany that is easier to understand than the map on the CNL train brochure. It is not complete, take a look at the lower left-hand site: There a few connections are listed that are not on the map.
The CNL bruchure also has a few connections that are labelled "Kurswagen" - these are cars that are re-routed during travel. Check them out. Initially Kurswagen are attached to a train that goes to a totally different destination, along the way the train stops and unhitches the car and another train going to the right destination picks it up.
[ Edit: Edited on 18-May-2009, at 01:43 by t_maia ]
You may find that out of the places you mention, the only overnight trains that maybe near to being full - are the ones going into Poland. Otherwise, I think it very unlikely that you'll need to book anything too far in advance. I travel on mainland European trains quite often - and have never experienced late or night trains near to capacity in the west. But overnight trains in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Croatia (to mention just a few of the routes I've taken) are nearly always jammed to sardine tin status!! Saying that, if you go to an agency (they charge no more than the stations) just a day or two before your planned departure, there'll be seats (and beds) available. Most people that do the night trains in Eastern Europe normally don't book till a day or two before they're going.