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The European Rail Timetable Lives!

Take a Walking Tour

Despite all the digital travel resources that are now readily available, I’m still a fan of printed references. Although a senior, I’m not a luddite; when I travel, I carry the usual Wi-Fi notebook and smartphone, I use Wi-Fi everywhere I stay, and I’m enough of a geek that I recently upgraded my primary hard drive to an SSD. (If you want your programs to load like lightning, get an SSD.) But when I’m planning a tour of Europe, I still want the paper: printed rail schedules and detailed road maps. And you should, too.

This column was triggered by my receipt of the summer edition of the classic European Rail Timetable. Although Thomas Cook had published monthly editions since 1873, Cook announced last year that its 2013 summer edition would be the last. Fortunately, lots of people—both professionals and frequent travelers—remained devoted to the timetable, so a group of former editors and compilers formed a new company, European Rail Timetable Ltd., to resume publishing independently.

If you’ve relied on the Cook timetable before, as I have, you’ll be pleased to know that the new version is virtually a clone of the old, with the same comprehensive information: timetables for 40 individual countries, plus long-haul international trains, along with maps that cover all the important lines. In addition, the volume contains lots of details about transportation in each of the countries, including rail passes, airport rail links, and city station locations.

European Rail Timetable Ltd. plans to continue monthly editions. But monthly subscriptions would be overkill for most North American visitors. Instead, depending on when you travel, the annual June (summer) or December (winter) edition should do. This summer’s edition includes bonus timetables for the United States, Canada, and most of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific; it also covers the many ferry systems that ply the Aegean, Baltic, Black Sea, Mediterranean, and North Sea routes. When I ordered my copy, it was available only through the U.K. website for £18 (about $30) plus postage, but Amazon now lists it starting at $19.42 plus $3.99 shipping, a much better deal.

Yes, you can get excellent point-to-point schedules online from Rail Europe, Deutsche Bahn, and other websites, but, at least to me, there’s no substitute for the European Rail Timetable‘s combination of printed schedules and maps. Unless your rail plans are extremely simple, you really need the timetable.

For a driving trip, many colleagues advised me, “You don’t need maps; your rental car will have GPS, or you can use your smartphone.” Sorry, but GPS is no substitute for good maps, especially when you’re planning a driving tour. GPS is fine for telling you how to get from point A to point B in either the quickest way possible or the cheapest way (avoiding the often-very-stiff tolls). But when you want to plan a multiday, multi-stop trip that sticks to the scenic byways, GPS just doesn’t cut it. And GPS can’t help you decide which places along the way offer interesting, short diversions.

On my driving trip last fall, I found my choice of maps to be more limited than in earlier years; the growth of digital has likely taken its toll on the map market. Still, enough maps are available to suit most trip planning. I normally order them in advance of my trip from Amazon, but once you arrive, you can find them in major airports and service stations.

The best digital substitute for printed maps I know are those you can find on the Michelin website; these seem to be direct images of Michelin’s printed maps. Although even a 24-inch monitor is no substitute for a paper map several times larger, it’s better than most alternatives.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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