"The Alps rose up approaching Austria!"
We try to go skiing with family and friends to a different place each year. This time we opted for Austria. Wanting to avoid flying, we chose to travel by train. Our group consisted of two people from Scotland, one from the Lake District and five from Ireland.
Seven of us joined up on Friday 14th of February in Brussels. We came by train from Scotland to Kings Cross followed by the Eurostar; the youngsters flew over from Ireland. We left our luggage in the station lockers at Brussels Midi, met up for lunch in a lovely small Belgian restaurant, Restobieres, near the train station, then walked over to see the Magritte/Dali exhibition and then caught the fast train to Cologne at 18.15, arriving just after 20.00 in Cologne. One more member of our group of eight, joined us there.
We had wanted to take the sleeper ski train to Austria that evening but at the beginning of December this was already fully booked. No problem, we stayed overnight in Cologne, admired the cathedral right outside the station, and had dinner on a heated terrace along the river Rhine with blankets wrapped around our legs and carnival processions passing by.
The next morning we walked over the bridge to the other side of the river and caught the fast 8.44 train to Austria, changing at Munich, and Wörgl to Kirchberg, where we arrived at 15.15 that afternoon. It was wonderful to see the Tirolean Alps rising up at the horizon as we approached Austria!
The hotel was 800m from the station, and the ski pickup another 300m further on. Kirchberg is a lovely small village with ski busses taking you to the ski lifts a short distance away. We had a great full week skiing in five different areas around Kirchberg and Kitzbühel, with a large variation of runs for all skill levels, enjoying the hotel sauna, breakfast and dinner in the hotel, and lively après-ski.
As our train back was for Saturday end of day, we had the extra day skiing and joined the local train from Kirchberg at 17.24, changed in Wörgl to Linz and caught the sleeper train to Cologne at 22.15 there. It is amazing how much luggage, food and people you can stack in a six-bed couchette! Luckily the next door's couchette was half empty! But we were very well cared for by the steward of our wagon, with fresh sheets and blankets provided and breakfast with coffee and tea served at 7.00. We arrived in Cologne at 8.00 Sunday morning with enough time to get on the fast train to Brussels, arriving at 10.35. All train times were exactly correct to the minute, the whole journey! Although we had to change several times, this was made very easy by the displays on the train showing, for each station, on which platform you would find your connecting train. No hassle or panic finding where to go!
We continued on the Eurostar, then back on British trains to Scotland. We felt home as soon as the first UK-train delays kicked in! Toilets not working (“we apologise for the inconvenience”), and the seat reservation system out of order on seriously overcrowded trains. Home at 21.00 after the last 90-minute bus drive from Edinburgh.
Although the trip seemed long, both going and returning felt relaxed and entertaining, passing five countries, four different languages, having time to eat different local foods, drinking local beers and wines, and able to mix in some tourist sites and a museum as well. We got an extra day of skiing out of it, and would have had one more if we had managed to get on the sleeper train going as well.
On the advice from Daniel from Snowcarbon, we booked the rail travel with rail-booking agent Trainseurope and the hotel accommodation as a ski holiday with the agency, Skiline. Both these recommendations made it easy for us to get everything sorted.
Definitely travelling again by train next year, just going to be earlier booking!