Gargellen, Austria. A village on the foot of the Alps in the Montafon region of Vorarlberg sandwiched between the Swiss and German borders.
Snow-dusted mountain peaks towering of green countryside, picturesque Medieval towns, and quiet streams rumbling by along hiking footpaths. These are the views one might expect of such a place. But as you might imagine, this was not a place you’d want to be 80 years ago. If you were Jewish, you wanted to be in neutral Switzerland. That’s where the Juen family came in. Friedrich Juen, a Gargellen local and storyteller, explains.
“My grandfather and great uncle were poachers before smugglers. At first, they took advantage of the bad times to transport goods. Then in the Second World War, they smuggled people. Refugees, well-known Jewish writers and actors who would dare to say anything were prosecuted.”
Today, Friedrich leads what he calls ’theatrical hikes’ around the Austrian Alps using routes his family took to smuggle refugees, telling stories along the way. But in order to smuggle refugees, they needed the right conditions.
Europe is a continent of rails with some of the best opportunities for train travel in the world. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to ride routes in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and plenty more. Despite the ease and affordability (with planning) of train travel in Europe, I’m still surprised to meet people from overseas who treat the continent like they’re flying into Phoenix, renting a car as soon as they land. In reality, train travel is often much faster, shedding as much as a few hours off your travel time when compared to automobiles, especially when looking at long distance routes covered by high-speed rail.
Below is everything you need to know about traveling Europe by train including information about the various high-speed train lines and how long it takes to travel between some of the most popular routes on the continent. Obviously, there are some omissions, but we’d be here all day if I typed out every route, especially once we get into central Europe. But by the time you’re done with the first couple sections, you’ll know how to search and plan your own train trip through Europe.
The train is already waiting on the platform when I arrive at the Munich Hauptbahnhof on chilly November Monday morning. Today I’m taking the Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) Railjet to Italy — a relatively new addition to the Austrian rail network.
The dark grays and maroon colors with a brighter streak of red through the center of the wagons catch my eye. It’s built more like an Amtrak or some of the other, slower regional trains I’ve seen around Central Europe.
I’m not at all disappointed to see that it’s not like the sleek, high-speed lines I’ve ridden before. The high-speed ICE I took to Munich, the TGV in France, the Italian Freccia with the sleek nose, or even the king of kings, Japan’s legendary Shinkansen bullet train all come to mind. I’ve seen the maps. I know the terrain we’re dealing with — the Austrian Alps.