How can I get to Rome or Barcelona from Paris? With ash-filled skies above?
April 16, 2010 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I need to get from Paris to Rome. Or Barcelona. Or any place really where the skies are blue and planes are flying. Help!

I am stuck in London and the travel situation here is getting worse, not better and I'd like to get home to Greece sometime in the next, I dunno, week? So, after multiple trips to the station and hitting the Eurostar website, I got myself a precious ticket that gets me in Paris at 8pm tomorrow.

The problem is: I can't figure out a way to get further south to an airport I can fly out of, which after some thinking (*) I narrowed down to either Rome or Barcelona. I've found a couple of hotel-trains that can get me from Paris to Rome/Barcelona, but they both leave too early for me to make the connection. Since I don't wanna spend a full day waiting in Paris, I've been looking for alternate means of transport but I can't find any using Google. Any resources/sites I should be checking out? buses, trains and cars are fine and if I can keep the expense at below €500 I'll be a happy camper.

(*) The rest of France looks pretty useless to me (no direct flights to Greece and any connections are via countries that are now shutdown like Germany or Hungary). Northern Italy (Milan/Turin) is also closed, so I figure I have two options: a) Rome, which will get me physically closer to Greece and give me the option to continue by train and ferry but where things should be pretty crazy as well (as half of the country is shutdown), or b) Barcelona/Madrid, where most flights are flying fine and I can get a direct flight home sooner or later, but it's actually the wrong way.
posted by costas to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If I had to gamble on who would keep things open and functioning the best, I'd head for Spain instead of Italy, even though it's the wrong direction. This is long, but will get you to Athens by Monday afternoon.

I would: overnight in Paris tomorrow night.
Sunday morning, train from Paris Lyon to Montpellier Saint-Roch (07:19-10:38, 08:20-11:47, 08:57-12:32, 09:20-12:47). Connect to 15:09 direct train to Barcelona, arriving 20:00ish.
Monday morning: Aegean flight A3681 11:55am direct to Athens (132EUR on the website right now).
posted by meerkatty at 5:00 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is car hire an option for you?
posted by biffa at 5:10 PM on April 16, 2010

As the situation continues to deteriorate, don't plan on planes at all - it'll be days, I imagine, before planes are where they need to be. I'd say your best bet is a train or National Express bus to a ferry port (say, Harwich), ferry to the continent (say, Hoek van Holland), local trains/Eurolines bus patched together south to Bari/Brindisi/Ancona, then a ferry to Greece and a train home.

To get local trains, go to the Deutsche Bahn website, switch to English, and *uncheck* "prefer fast connections", then on the detailed search screen, unchecked the fastest ICE/IC/EC trains.

I searched for a ride from Hoek van Holland Haven to Milan - it's a ridiculous day with changes in Rotterdam, Roosendal, Antwerp, Liege, an overnight in Luxembourg, then a bus to Saarbrucken, and back on a train to Milan via Strasbourg, Basel, Bellinzona, and Chiasso - BUT it's all on non-reservation-needed trains, meaning you just walk up and buy a ticket, and the absence of huge megacities along the way means you'll hopefully avoid crowds.

Once in Italy, you can buy tickets at machines in English on trains south to ferry ports, then get home as a foot passenger.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 5:13 PM on April 16, 2010

Ah! Missed the already-going-to-be-in-Paris part. You know what? Take the train the whole way. Paris-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Belgrade/Bucharest-Thessaloniki-Athens.

You can book all the train tickets up to Budapest online, Budapest to Thessaloniki by phone via the Deutsche Bahn phone reservation system, or just when you get there...Budapest is probably lovely in spring and this probably isn't a busy route even in the height of summer. Lots of options and info here, with estimated prices.
posted by mdonley at 5:31 PM on April 16, 2010

A shorter connection: Paris Est-Stuttgart Hbf-Villach Hbf-Belgrade-Thessaloniki. Leave Paris on Monday morning and be in Thessaloniki on Tuesday night.

Book them like this:

1) Paris-Stuttgart (07:24-11:04) bookable on the Bahn website with a printable PDF ticket (€103).
2) Stuttgart-Villach (11:58-18:43) - another printable PDF ticket (also €103).

In Stuttgart station, head to a DB ticket office and buy your onward ticket to Belgrade:

3) Villach-Belgrade (19:25-06:19 Tuesday)

They should be able to sort you out. Greek citizens don't need visas or anything like that to transit the Balkans.

If you can't get it in Stuttgart, you'll want to get your ticket to Thessaloniki in Belgrade.

4) Belgrade-Thessaloniki (07:50-22:37).

From there, you'll need to get a ticket to Thessaloniki (Greek Railways aren't in the Bahn system, so you'll be buying your ticket to Athens on arrival in Thessaloniki).

Again, Godspeed! :)
posted by mdonley at 5:48 PM on April 16, 2010

(as far as I can see from his profile, Costas lives in Thessaloniki) and I'd make that train trip posted by mdonley any day. The airport situation in Italy is... evolving. All northern Italy airspace is closed to commercial flight until 14.00 tomorrow. Then, I guess, we'll see.

Anything south of the Apennines seems to be operating regularly with regard to southbound flights, northbound flights are all canceled.

Good luck.

my hunch, if this volcano doesn't behave quickly, this is going to be it for a few airway companies.
posted by _dario at 5:52 PM on April 16, 2010

Yeah, DEFINITELY avoid planes at the moment. Strange times....

This is what I'd do: arrive in Paris tomorrow night, bunk up in a hotel or something and spend Sunday in Paris. Get the overnight train to Milan, change there for Bari, hop on a ferry to Corfu and get a flight to Athens from there - or, obviously, just stay on the ferry to Piraeus.

Train details here.

God, wish I was heading off to Greece. Kalo taxethi!
posted by HandfulOfDust at 5:54 PM on April 16, 2010

There is an overnight train from Paris to Rome, leaving from Paris Bercy at 7:06 PM and getting into Rome at 9:42 AM. From Roma Termini, it is then another 30 minute train to Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) Airport.
I have taken both within the last few months, and they are pretty reliable.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 6:32 PM on April 16, 2010

Critical Reading Fail.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2010

Best answer: Actually, the best plan could be this: leave Paris Sunday morning, get to Barcelona Sunday night, then get the Vueling flight out Monday morning to Athens at 11:20, arriving at 15:10. €250 for the flight.

First, get the TGV south from Paris Gare de Lyon to Perpignan via Montpellier on Sunday morning (8:20-13:37). It's €113 on TGV-Europe, which is basically the English version of the French SNCF site.

Have lunch.

Change to a train for Barcelona Sants or Estacion de Franca (say, 16:54-19:59), crash in Barcelona (or not - it's not like there's nothing to do at night there!). Book this train on the same site. It's like €20-€40 based on how long you want for lunch.

Were I you, I'd want to get the heck out of the Eurostar pandemonium of Gare du Nord as soon as possible and find a nicer, quieter station (Gare de to pick up your tickets in - I'm pretty sure you can use any French station desk to collect tickets you've purchased online. French ticket machines DO NOT like non-French bankcards, so DON'T choose this option when going through the booking process. Gare Montparnasse mostly handles domestic trains, so that's something to consider if you're looking to avoid stranded stag partiers and people who've been stranded for days. It's also where this happened, which seems apropos. :)

The epic train journeys above are awesome, but I don't know how soon you need to be home, and this would save you a day, plus extra nights of accommodation in Paris.
posted by mdonley at 6:47 PM on April 16, 2010

Whoops - the Vueling flight's only €150!
posted by mdonley at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2010

(I think the Artesia overnight Paris-Rome trains need to be booked something like a month in advance or so). However, if you manage to get to Milan AND they reopen northern Italy tomorrow at 14.00 as advertised, there's a daily MXP -> SKG with Easyjet leaving in the morning, 116€ on Sun, 89€ on Mon.
posted by _dario at 7:04 PM on April 16, 2010

(easyjet status)
posted by _dario at 7:11 PM on April 16, 2010

I am going to ask mdonley to book my train tour through Europe, should I ever have the proper combination of money and time. Good luck, costas - hope your homeward trip is more fun & adventure and less anxiety & aggravation.
posted by rtha at 9:39 PM on April 16, 2010

Do you NEED to leave France?

It is sunny and pleasant temperature here in Rennes, Brittany, and forecast to stay that way for a while. Two hour TGV from Paris, if THOSE are running (there has been an SNCF strike this week apparently, but I drive, so what do I know), and lots of coastline if you go north or further west.

The food here is fantastic, and there is plenty to do.
posted by whatzit at 1:06 AM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everybody and esp. mdonley. I just checked with my travel guy and Italy is getting crazy(er), plus even the northern Balkans are being shut down, so it looks like it'd be surface-only going eastward. So, I am following the elegantly counter-intuitive Barcelona plan. If nothing else, it's an excuse to crash in Barca for a couple of days :-)
posted by costas at 1:27 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post an update with your final route when you get home...let's hope everything goes well!
posted by mdonley at 4:11 AM on April 17, 2010

> Italy is getting crazy(er)

yup. Airspace progressively closing north to south, reopening postponed at 20.00 today, ash permitting. (I suspect they're making it up as they go)
posted by _dario at 4:12 AM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: Still in London... The TGV website shows all trains heading south to Spain (or Perpignan) as sold out. I am hoping that's a logistic issue and they are issuing tickets in person.
posted by costas at 6:01 AM on April 17, 2010

Me, I love driving. I'd rent a car.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:15 AM on April 17, 2010

costas, if you are still reading, I overheard a group of backpackers at the train station here in Rennes, who are also unable to get to Spain by train. It sounded like it might be a sort of sympathy strike, or complications spilling over from the SNCF strike here in France, but it could be the sold-out issue. Either way, good luck with that. Oooh plus this week is school holiday!

I promise I'm not usually this much of a downer on exciting travel plans. It must be all the sunshine we have here today. What I mean is, you might keep another back-up plan in mind.
posted by whatzit at 10:35 AM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: Made it to Paris, tried the Gare de Lyon: only made it in a few minutes before it closed and the agents told us no tickets to pretty much anywhere until Tuesday/Wednesday. I am looking into bus lines as well --Eurolines shows that it's sold out tomorrow, and there maybe some tickets late Monday.

whatzit: I only know France from a few business trips, but it seems to me that this would be a prime opportunity for bus/tour operators to make a few extra euro and drive ppl south/east (either would be fine by me right now). Has there been anything in French news about such offers?

Meatbomb: looked into it, going rate is now €2000 ($3000) to rent a car between Paris and Nice. I am cool with paying a bit extra to get home this month, but €2k for not even half-way there (Nice is dead in the water) aint worth it.
posted by costas at 3:28 PM on April 17, 2010 this point: Eurolines to Germany, train east.

There's a bus on Sundays from Paris to Stuttgart, from whence you could get the train to Villach. PDF link here. Leave Paris Gailleni 22:00, arrive Stuttgart bus station 07:00. You can book from 03:00 on - about 50 minutes from now. The Stuttgart-Villach train I mentioned above is at 11:58, so you'd have plenty of time to get your onward train to Belgrade sorted out.
posted by mdonley at 5:12 PM on April 17, 2010

Ah! The German site will let you book the Paris-Stuttgart journey RIGHT NOW, for a Monday night departure - still faster than the train. It's €43.

I honestly think this is going to be the easiest way to get home, especially past France/Germany when the crowds die down, and if you are based in Thessaloniki, then you'd get in just a day or so later - Wednesday night. Faster than the train-Spain-plane combo above!
posted by mdonley at 5:16 PM on April 17, 2010

Cars: have you consiered car-sharing? Check out or if you are on couchsurfing go to the Paris group (there may be a covoiturage subgroup) and ask if anyone is heading ANYWHERE in your direction.

Buses: Mmm you would think it would be a good opportunity, but I don't know as it is easy like that with labor limitations. Can't hurt to ask, but I don't know anything about it.
posted by whatzit at 1:14 AM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: Buses are booked thru Tuesday. Got some TGV tix to Nice and I am shooting for Italy tomorrow, then probably a ferry.

Saw some hot air balloons yesterday. It starts to sound like a reasonable option. Just call me Fineas.
posted by costas at 2:36 AM on April 18, 2010

Glad you're not going to Barcelona - they've just closed the airports of northern Spain!

Trenitalia has a mostly competent website that can print e-tickets for most intercity trains. And don't neglect local trains!

A ferry to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia or Slovenia might be less busy then a ferry to Greece, and you can overland it from there.
posted by mdonley at 2:45 AM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, my luck has changed: right after posting the last comment, I managed to get a bus ticket to Barcelona for tomorrow. I then sold (at face value) my Nice ticket and checked the web to find out that BCN has closed... there are now no train tickets for the next 2-3 days.
posted by costas at 4:45 AM on April 18, 2010

if you can get to Marseille, then ferry to Tunis and then fly from Tunis to Athens. I found a flight for $172.
posted by acidic at 5:48 AM on April 18, 2010

There's a ship route from Barcelona to Genoa or Livorno. Might work as an alternative to keep in mind though it's not very clear on departures.
posted by _dario at 5:49 AM on April 18, 2010

um, ok. Next ship leaves tue at midnight and gets to Livorno on wed. 19.30... keep it in the back of the head.
posted by _dario at 5:51 AM on April 18, 2010

aha, Genoa goes to Tunis too by ferry. But Genoa-Bari/Ancona by train might be better. Don't be tempted by ferries from Bari or Ancona to Albania, even if they get you there faster-- overland in Albania is a big hassle.
posted by acidic at 6:08 AM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: I am sticking with BCN. I managed to change my original tickets to BCN to Greece on Wednesday. The eastern route would have me home Thu or Friday.
posted by costas at 9:58 AM on April 18, 2010

Worst case scenario: continue south through Spain to Morocco and fly from Casablanca to Istanbul on Air Arabia, then get home overland.
posted by mdonley at 10:17 AM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: Looks like my luck has turned again: Barcelona is operating... fingers crossed!

Viva Espana!
posted by costas at 2:37 PM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: I spoke too soon (I hadn't actually checked BCN in a few hours): it's closed again. Their website is unreliable (the actual info on it).
posted by costas at 2:40 PM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: Final update: I made it home just a few hours ago after flying out of Barcelona this morning. Of course, Heathrow opened today too :-)

Thank you all for steering me along --I got more info out of this post than in the hours of Googling I did in hotels and airports along the way. And after this, I am grateful for the privilege of air travel now...
posted by costas at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2010

posted by HandfulOfDust at 3:18 PM on April 21, 2010

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