Posted by: patriciamar | July 2, 2010

To know and not to know about NS Rail

 The Dutch Rail System, if you ask me, is phenomenal.  Fine, fine, get out your rage, sometimes it’s late, sometimes leaves fall on the tracks and they just don’t know quite what to do, and yes, the purple plush first class seats on the French TGV trains are so much better than any armchair in my own home.

But – overall, if you want to go somewhere for a reasonable price at basically any time of day, just be thankful you are in the Netherlands. 

If you are in the Randstad (~Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Dordrecht), you can basically go to the train station any time between 6:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. and get on a train in 10-15 minutes to your destination of choice.  Don’t even bother looking up the times.  If you are heading out the Randstad, then it could be every half hour, but it’s probably more frequent than that.  Note: if you are taking internation trains to Brussels, Paris, Dusseldorf, etc., make sure you check the time and what you need to do for a reservation.  The Thalys, especially, (the high speed train to Paris via Antwerp and Brussels), requires a reservation in the most annoying sense of the word.  Back to the Netherlands, the train system is smooth and basically effortless.  Get a discount card and you’re home free.  The discout card costs 50 euros (or used to) gives you 40% off all trains after 9:00 am and during holidays (which means weekends and almost the whole summer).  You can also pay an extra 15 euros and get NS Rail Plus which is an addition that
gives you 25% off all international rail tickets that either start or
end in the Netherlands.  You need a passport photo, which you can buy in the train station in one of those machines for 5 Euros.

Everyone who lives there buys this (unless their employer compensates them, which is also quite normal).  Their high speed rail site, which has more international journeys: http://www.nshispeed.nl/en can be used to search, although we have found that the German site tends to be better (www.bahn.de).  The French site isn’t bad either (www.tgv.fr).

If you are making some longer trips around Europe, I highly recommend checking out raileurope.com or eurail.com, and the possibility of a railpass.  They can be substantially cheaper.  If they try to make you make (and pay for) reservations for every trip, don’t do it!  You don’t have to and  you’ll just end up missing one and have to pay for it again.  Find out which ones you have  to make reservations for (night trains, Thalys, some high speed German trains, the Eurostar under the English Channel to Britain, etc.) and make reservations for those beforehand, when  you buy your railpass, as they are cheaper then and you don’t have to stand in line.

Regarding other rail systems, I personally have a quite livid anger towards the Belgian rail system.  It is based upon 5-10 trips to Brussels, Brugge, Ghent, Antwerpen, that were more or less the worst experiences of rail travel that I’ve experienced in my life.

And I’m from the U.S.

And I travelled in Romania.

We actually had one particular instance when we were attempting to get from Durbuy, a tiny town in the Wallonian part of Belgium, back to Leiden.  I admit, we did make the mistake of stopping in Brussels for beer and chocolate, but still, is there any reason we should have ended up stuck on the Netherlands/Belgium border? 

The train stopped, ended and didn’t cross the border.  After a 80 Euro taxi ride to Breda, life resumed- as did the train system, and we could get a train back to the Randstad. 

Okay, so it was slightly more complicated than that, but the main point is that you Can and Will get stuck on some train in Belgium that’s hot, stuffy, crowded, delayed, ending at an inopportune time, or some other BS that will probably make you loathe the Belgian train system as much as I do.

*On a kinder note, my friend Martha thinks that the Belgian rail system rocks.  She has some bizarre form of luck that I simply do not have.

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