PARIS — I'd just battled an Italian train conductor over a modest procedural omission regarding my Eurail pass, and now, for grisly reasons unrelated to the altercation, her fast train to Milan had become a slow train to Milan.
I wasn't going to make my connection in Milan for Ventimiglia, Italy, and Nice, France, which meant if I got to France at all on this 11th day of my Eurail adventure, I probably would have to settle — in France — for a late vending-machine dinner of a Kit Kat bar.
I was not happy. I was tired of this. I wanted off trains. No more worries about irascible conductors or lifting my one bag onto another luggage rack.
I wanted three untimetabled days in Paris, like what normal adults do.
Until now, I loved trains. I mean, that's why I'd attempted this thing.
* * *
There's more to that conductor story, of course, including the fact that the poor woman who so angered me was absolutely right. Details later.
But first: 30 years and 40 pounds ago, I'd bopped around Europe on a Eurail pass for two weeks, all of it (as I remember it now) glorious.
The purpose of this trip, then, was for a lover of trains (me) to revisit Eurail and, three decades later, judge its worthiness as a travel experience. And there was something a little more personal: to see if years of soft travel — cruises and all-inclusives, hotel rooms with minibars — plus age-related realities had made bopping something better left to the backpacker generation.
But first: Is Eurail still a bargain?
In 1983, an adult pass good for unlimited first-class rail travel for 15 days cost $260; a two-month pass was $560. A good deal.
Pricing and categories are more complicated now, but a 15-day Eurail Global Pass, the equivalent of the classic pass from 30 years ago, runs $799. A good deal in today's dollars?
My original itinerary, which I junked (more on that later too), began in Berlin and was to include stops in Leipzig and Dresden in Germany, Prague and Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, Verona in Italy, Regensburg back in Germany, then Nice, Marseille, Avignon and Paris in France.
Skip Eurail and buy the right mix of single tickets and regional passes (Germany Rail Pass, etc.) while staying in first class, and that $799 plummets all the way to … $791.
But dropping to second class, on some trains an almost indistinguishable drop, cuts that to $347. That's a bargain.
(You, too, can do the same comparison using a number of programs on the Web. Eurail Group, eurailgroup.org, owned by the rail companies, can link you to those sites.)
So if Eurail isn't necessarily cheaper, what's the point?
In first class, you can reserve seats (on some trains it's mandatory, and there's a small surcharge), which can be critical at peak times and seasons.
But the main thing is flexibility. I'd planned a stop in Regensburg, which, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, looked promising. Instead, while in Cesky Krumlov, another UNESCO site, I decided to go to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia.