FOSDEM by train

I’ve always loved train journeys, but with flygskam changing people’s travel preferences across Europe (and possibly worldwide, though probably not that much), I decided to take train to FOSDEM this time.

When I first went to FOSDEM which, just in case you don’t know, happens each February in Brussels at ULB, I flew with Ryanair from Bratislava to Charleroi because it was cheaper. After repeating the same journey a couple of times and I once nearly missed the last bus coach to Brussels because of a late flight, and decided to rather pay more but travel with more comfort to Brussels Zaventem, the main airport of Brussels. It’s well-connected with Brussels, trains run fast and run often, which is a significant upgrade in comparison to Charleroi, where the options were limited to bus coaches and a slow train connection from Charleroi the town.

As some of my readers may know, my backpack was stolen from me after FOSDEM two years ago, and with it were gone, among other things, my passport and my residence permit card. With my flight home having been planned two and half hours from the moment when I realised my things are gone, I couldn’t get a replacement travel document quickly enough from the embassy, so I had to stay at my friends in Vilvoorde (thanks a lot again, Jurgen!) and travel with the cheapest ground transportation I could find. In my case, it was a night RegioJet coach to Prague with a connection to (again) RegioJet train to Bratislava. (I couldn’t fly even though I already had my temporary travel document since I might need to somehow prove that I’m allowed to be in the Schengen zone, which is difficult to do without a valid residence permit.) Sleeping on a bus isn’t the best way to travel for long distances, and I was knackered when I finally dropped on my sofa in Bratislava next morning. However, what I learnt was that it was possible, and were it a bit more comfortable, I wouldn’t mind something like this again.

Here I must admit that I’ve travelled by long-distance trains quite a fair bit: in my childhood we went by train to summer holidays to Eupatoria in Crimea and Obzor in Bulgaria (through Varna). Both journeys took days, and the latter also involved a long process of changing the bogies on the Moldovan-Romanian border (Giurgiulești/Galați). Since I moved to Slovakia, I many times took the night train from Minsk to Warsaw with a connection to Bratislava or Žilina, a journey which usually takes at least 18 hours. Which is to say, I’m not exactly new to this mode of travel.

With the Austrian railway company ÖBB expaning their night train services as a part of their Nightjet brand, the Vienna to Brussels sleeper returned to service last week. Prices are still a bit higher than I would have preferred (at the time of me writing this, ticket in a compartment with 6 couchettes start at €79, but it’s not as bad as it could be (apparently the last minute price is more than €200). Anyway, when I decided to go to Brussels by train, this service didn’t exist yet, so instead I followed the very useful tips from the Man in the Seat 61 and booked a day-time connection: Bratislava to Vienna to Frankfurt to Brussels.

Train route from Bratislava to Vienna to Frankfurt to Brussels
Train route from Bratislava to Vienna to Frankfurt to Brussels

Date Station Arrival Departure Train
30.1 Bratislava hl.st. 9:38 REX 2511
Wien Hbf 10:44 11:15 ICE 26
Frankfurt am Main Hbf 17:36 18:29 ICE 10
Bruxelles-Nord / Brussel Noord 21:26 21:37 IC 3321
Vilvoorde 21:45
Date Station Arrival Departure Train
4.2 Bruxelles-Midi 8:23 ICE 13
Frankfurt am Main Hbf 11:31 12:22 ICE 27
Wien Hbf 18:45 19:16 R 2530
Bratislava hl.st. 20:22

I’ve booked two through tickets since in this case the Super Sparschiene discount offered lower prices than normally an international return ticket would offer. For some reason neither ZSSK (Slovak railways) nor ÖBB offered ticket online (or for a comparable price in a ticket office anyway), so I booked online with Deutsche Bahn for €59.90 each way. This sort of ticket, while bookable online, had to be posted for a €5.90 extra.

Since I’m staying the first night at friend’s in Vilvoorde again, I also had buy a ticket for this small stretch of the track from the Belgian railways directly.

See you at FOSDEM!

Building AW
Building AW
Inside the K building
Inside the K building
Grand Place
Grand Place

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