Between Places: Bus Travel Part 1—reviewing European buses

This post is all about bus travel—it’s long so it’ll probably be split into three parts. I was saving this post for after we’ve taken Polskibus, so that I could make a fair comparison of the various bus companies we’ve tried.

Bus travel was a huge part of our Euro tour this time round, mainly because it’s cheap and taking overnight buses meant we’d save the night’s accommodation costs. Traveling by night also meant less daylight hours wasted, which should be spent sightseeing.

Furthermore, there were no regulations on what you could pack in your luggage, i.e. limits on liquids. This meant packing larger bottles of soap/shampoo/micellar water, which translates to savings for both your wallet and the environment.

However, this #budjetsetGO strategy was not without its caveats. Watch out for Part 2 of this post for the cons of overnight bus travel and how to survive them.

National Express/Eurolines

national_express_main_image.jpg1200px-Eurolines_Bova._AB_2009-5,_Minsk,_Belarus._ЕВРОЛАЙНС,_Минск,_Беларусь(Pictures from NUS and Sludge G)

We took these buses during spring break for the London-Paris and Paris-Amsterdam routes respectively. Despite claiming wifi on-board, neither buses actually had working wifi. It was not a big problem since we had UK SIM cards and they worked across these cities. We should be sleeping anyway as well.

Comfort level was acceptable, though I could do with a little more legroom. And this opinion comes from me as an Asian girl more petite than other European travellers. I did not like that we had to be at the station 60 minutes before departure. This was also the first time we found out that Europeans are equally as, if not more, kiasu (Singlish word for being afraid of losing out) than Singaporeans. They started queueing for check-in even before the counter opened, just so that they could get to the bus bay first and scramble to board first. Not wanting to lose out—I am Singaporean, after all—I followed suit and got to chope (Singlish: reserve) seats while Khai stowed our backpacks in the hold.

However, the drivers were very conscientious in counting the number of passengers on-board before setting off after every stop. We were also each given plastic bags for our trash.

Our bus to Amsterdam also reached its destination one hour earlier than expected, which is absolutely not what you would want when traveling overnight. We were dropped off at the train station, cold and disoriented. The sun hadn’t even risen yet.

Flixbus

flixbus-busbud-partner-city(Picture from busbud)

We‘ve looked forward to our Flixbus ride since seeing the gleaming green buses at the Victoria Coach Station. They certainly looked newer than our National Express bus, its white exterior showing water stains. They also boasted wifi on-board, as well as charging ports.

We saw a Flixbus being cleaned at Milan’s Lampugnano station before its shift. And I gotta say, Flixbus’s attention to image really made a difference. I was always thankful to board a clean-looking Flixbus rather than the other dingy inter-city buses.

We took Flixbus trips for Rome-Milan, Milan-Venice, Venice-Vienna, Vienna-Prague, and Prague-Berlin. A total of five trips because…I bought the Interflix package for 99 euros. Buying these individually would have cost me 130.6 euros. Always say yes to $aving$. (31.6 euros can get you about 11 large cappuccinos from a local cafe in Berlin. Go figure.)

Our Flixbus experience has sometimes been stressful, but overall more comfortable than National Express/Eurolines. Wifi is limited to 150MB per device per day, but works well when it does work. (The wifi did not work on our Vienna-Prague ride, though.)

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Look at these windows overhead, 8-hour bus rides don’t feel so claustrophobic with these. The air-conditioning on FlixBuses worked well, and the heater turns on in the middle of the night, keeping my feet warm. The bus drivers in their neon green neck-ties were also an adorable sight.

Flixbus was also where I understood why people rushed to get first dibs on bus seats. Solo travellers were hogging PAIRS of seats so that they could spread their piggy bodies to sleep. Very inconsiderate. Khai and I had to sit separately when we rode from Prague to Berlin, grabbing the first seats we could put our butts down on. Many other passengers were standing in the aisle until someone thought to poke the sleeping hogs awake.

Polskibus

dsc0892mdsc0898mmsExpectation (Picture from Larugin)

I am currently on a Polskibus as I write this. I was honestly looking forward to this trip because the red seats of this company reminded me of my favourite Turkish bus operator, Pamukkale Turizm. Esna also sang praises and claimed that Polskibus was better than Flixbus.

IMG_8164Reality ): The special seats with tables are situated on the ground floor of the bus (same for Flixbus double-deckers) so keep that in mind when you book your ticket.

Nuh-uh, I am not pleased with Polskibus so far. The air-con doesn’t work, the wifi doesn’t work. There is no table nor seat pocket in the seat in front of you. The bus did not look as new as the images online.

However, they did allow you to choose your seats when making your reservation, which made a whole lot of logistical sense. Passengers could board in an orderly fashion without the competitive aggression apt for the Hunger Games.

Something else worries me, there was no relief driver in sight. This one Polskibus driver was loading luggage and checking documents by himself; not an easy job at all. Is he going to have to drive the entirety of the 10-hour trip? I hope not.

Update: they picked up a relief driver on the way. They seem to always stop for smoke breaks, though. But I think it’s to help them stay awake so I better not complain.

Another thing that I didn’t like was the weird and limited time slots for this route. Our 10-hour ride starts at 1930 and concludes 0530 tomorrow morning. The other one available was for day travel. Would it not make more sense to depart 2 hours later and arrive at 0730? But, since I was buying bus tickets based on its price tag (really cheap btw, it’s about 16eur/person for Berlin-Warsaw, and 14eur/person for Warsaw-Budapest), I can’t complain much.

Honourable Mention: Pamukkale Turizm

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Okay I can’t write a post about bus travel without sharing my love for Pamukkale buses. These buses are for travel within Turkey and they are a great value for money, considering how cheap tickets are. (A 4-hour trip from Denizli to Kusadasi was only 35TL, which is about 8 euros.)

For 8 euros you get a comfortable seat, with on-board entertainment that includes both Turkish and international movies. But that’s not all, folks.

They serve snacks and hot drinks on board. Complimentary. Free-of-charge. Gratis.

(These are a few of a Singaporean’s favourite words.) (No matter their socioeconomic background, might I add. Nobody can resist a free gift.)

I was kinda sad to leave the bus when we got to our station. I hadn’t felt this pampered since my last visit to my grandparents’ house.

The only inconvenience we encountered was when all our cards (Singaporean/French/Italian) were rejected while trying to buy the tickets online. I had to go down to the agency to book them myself. Since the office was in my district and a 20-minute walk from my apartment, I offered to buy the tickets for the 6 of us. Buying the tickets in person also saved us the 5TL online booking fee.

Another thing about booking these tickets online: you can’t seat a male passenger beside a female one. However, the tour agent who processed my booking didn’t even care about the gender identities of my travel companions. In fact, I’m pretty sure Khai’s ticket lists him as female. The conductor on-board didn’t fuss about me and Khai sitting together either. Turkey is a Muslim country, yes, but they are not conservative to the point of oppression. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re really chill people.

Man, I miss Turkey.

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