Lifestyle & Culture

Instead of flying, Jackie Harding takes the ICE train from the Netherlands to Vienna

Photo by Siemens

I made Greta Thunberg happy this Christmas by taking the decision to travel to Vienna, Austria,by ICE train from the Netherlands for my family get-together. This was my second long distance train ride from Austria. The first – an overnight train from Innsbruck to Düsseldorf with a shared cabin – was not fun! This trip we opted for 1st Class and a daytime journey as it was a bit cheaper than the overnight train with a private cabin.

The NS International website has an English language option and is easy to navigate.

Our adventure began at Utrecht station as that is closer than Amsterdam for us. We had reserved seats in 1st class, which I would recommend, as there were quite a few people sitting on the floor at one point in the lobby areas between carriages. We had expected Coronavirus vaccine passport and travel documents checks but just boarded as normal, wearing the required FPP2 facemasks for the duration of the journey, of course.

The journey is 10 hours in total, with a connection at Frankfurt airport. We had an early start and were treated to a stunning sunrise over the platforms, hinting at a beautiful day to come. Everyone turned to gaze together, as we all shivered in the below freezing temperatures. We watched with great excitement as the ICE (an appropriate name for the chilly morning!) Deutsche Bahn train pulled in.

The Netherlands was dressed for our journey with frost-dusted trees and fields and the clear blue sky seemed to be done up like a Christmas gift, with vapor trail ribbons. Once we passed Arnhem, we were international and it was beginning to feel like an adventure!

The German leg of the trip began with industrial units and rather dull looking towns but Köln (Cologne) was a treat as we crossed the sun sparkled Rhine River and gazed up at the immense Gothic cathedral which looms judgmentally over the central station. You get to see the view twice, as the line ends here and the train heads back out, and you are traveling facing the opposite direction.

Deutsche Bahn invents a new Olympic sport – running in masks

As we left Köln, I did have several pangs of regret at not having visited the wonderful, and personal favorite, Christmas market for the second year running. I promised myself that I will go next year (the rising numbers of COVID this year were a big deterrent for me), as it is such a festive affair to start the season.

Next stop Bonn and then the driver put his foot down and we were flying, bullet-like, through several tunnels. Unfortunately, we were late arriving for our 10-minute connection at Frankfurt airport station (who ever thought that was a good idea in the ICE office was undeniably laughing with evil glee when they planned it!) and after running, laden down with suitcases and bags of gifts and containers of requested homemade cookies, we missed the darn connection, along with everyone else of course. The staff were great and advised us to hop on the local train and to get off two stops down where, with a little trepidation and questions as where the ICE train had been for
us to beat it, we were back on board feeling very relieved and not a little sweaty!

Running with luggage and facemasks should definitely be an Olympic sport!

Once we had finished hyper-ventilating and had found our reserved seats, we settled back to enjoy the final six hours of the trip. The weather remained beautiful and now we had hills! The service on the ICE train was excellent, with a buffet car available to all travellers and in 1st class the option for meal service. The food looked good (I’m gluten free so tend to travel with my own treats) with sandwiches, snacks, drinks, including a rather nice Grüner Veltliner, and a few hot dishes such as goulash and a soup.

Trip includes some of Bavaria’s and Austria’s loveliest cities

You don’t get this from the plane (Photo by Jackie Harding)

We passed through the historic city of Nürnberg in Bayern, Germany but the line does not go into the city, unfortunately, from the perspective of glimpsing this old town. This is another Christmas market I have promised myself next year.

Nürnberg (Nuremberg) is the second largest city in Bayern (Bavaria) behind Munich and boasts a castle, the infamous Nazi Trial grounds, and it was the home of medieval artist Dürer and is home to Germany’s second-largest opera orchestra.

Regensberg, the fourth largest city in Bavaria, was once a Roman fort on the Danube and we were treated to some great views of the river in the late afternoon sun. The medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts a Gothic cathedral, an ancient stone bridge that was used by knights, heading to the crusades, to cross the Danube and many ancient buildings.

From Regensburg we travelled south to Passau the last German city before we crossed the border into Austria. By now the sun was going down so the views were limited to reflections of our masked faces in the window. Then it was Linz, the capital city of Upper Austria (see a previous post here about Linz’s tourist attractions.) St Pölten was our next stop and is the largest city of Lower Austria. Apparently its modern and Baroque architecture makes it a city worth visiting.


Relaxing while doing our bit for Mother Earth

Finally, after 10 hours, we were arriving at Vienna Hauptbahnhof and the warm embrace of our children, weary and relieved to remove our masks but surprised at how pleasant and relaxing the journey had been. My husband had used the free wifi to work, and I had read my book, written this post and enjoyed the views.

I would travel by ICE train again but would like a bigger connection window at Frankfurt if anyone from ICE/DB is reading this! That being said, we have done our “bit” for Mother Earth (thank you for the reminder, Greta), travelled around a 1,000 kilometers with much less personal stress than a flight would cause us and arrived “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed”, and hopefully Covid-free, for a Christmas with our kids and their partners.

Here’s to travel being easier in 2022 and, given all the new European train routes opening up from Amsterdam, one full of new adventures…I am already planning the next one.

About the author:

Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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