So, the day is finally here. The Ultimate Train Challenge has begun! And the three of us are excited and ready for some major fun for the next month.

rossio patio hostel common area

our "work" area at Rossio Hostel

For the last two days, Jeannie, Nora and Michael have been staying at a truly amazing hostel, the Rossio Patio Hostel here in Lisbon, our pushing off point for the challenge. This place is truly amazing — seriously one of the best hostels any of us have ever stayed in.

Bonus for this particular trip… it is actually located IN a train station. On the same level as the trains. The amazing people at Hostel Bookers have truly outdone themselves on this occasion. They have been a great sponsor and wonderful to work with and frankly, I think they set the bar too high with our first accomodation arrangement.

I don’t know how they are going better themselves with their choices for us in Moscow and Saigon, but we can’t wait to find out.


Our Routes…. So Far.


The three of us have been sitting here for the last few days looking at maps and train schedules and trying to sort out our routes. In a shocking development, we actually are all winging this whole thing in a last minute fashion, in terms of planning.

Just how I like it.

So here are our tentative routes and reasons for choosing them, so far. We strongly encourage and want feedback on our plans, now and as we progress. If you know of fun or interesting things to do or places to see (or eat or drink) along our routes, please tell us. We are all open to alternations and changes in our plans, based on your input and knowledge.


Michael’s Route

I posted up on my website a little while back that I was looking for a theme to possibly run with for my route choice and I was amazed by the volume and quality of the replies. Drum roll….. perhaps not shockingly, I am going to initially start with “Wines of Europe.”

The folks at have been nice enough to sponsor us with 15 day passes and I also want to make the most of mine, so I am planning on taking trains every day of the trip, if my body and mind can keep up that pace. I also want to try to sleep on as many trains as possible.

So, my current route is planned for about the next 5-6 days, which is about as far ahead as I can manage to plan.

francesinha sandwich from porto portugal

Day 1, today. Up to Porto, Portugal to get some Port wine and a great local sandwich, called a francesinha. This is all thanks to my meeting up with Célia Pedroso of Eat Portugal yesterday. She was very persuasive when she was describing the delights of his massive sandwich and she didn’t need to talk me into some good Port.

Day 2, overnight from Porto to Bordeaux, France. Perhaps the epicenter of wine. Day 3 will begin by arriving in Cannes for breakfast on the beach, then a quick hop over to Monaco to check out one of the smaller countries in the world, then the overnight train to Pisa. Day 4 will be my first photos of the Leaning Tower, and of course, some great Italian food and wine.

Then overnight to Beaune, France to sample some Burgundy for lunch. Up to Épernay, in the Champagne region, where I think I will only have about 2 hours to jump off the train, have some Champagne and then hop back on to take the overnight train to Amsterdam.

So, I think that is about the first week of my route. I might have to switch from wine to beer as I move east across Europe, but somehow…. I shall find a way to manage.


Nora’s Route

Despite my proficiency with plans, I’ve been surprisingly unprepared. No really. In fact, I’ve surprised the whole Ultimate Train Challenge gang and even myself in being the least prepared for the European Leg of this train trip of all three of us! And I’m relatively unfazed by my unpreparedness, which is shocking for me.

I’ve been truly paralyzed by choice.

Day 1: Waking up today, I had no idea where I’d go, or where I’d put my head down tonight. Maybe an overnight train to Madrid? Maybe a jaunt south to Faro? Maybe skip Spain entirely and head straight for Bayonne in the south of France? Or maybe just stay in Lisbon for another day, since I’m really liking the vibe here but haven’t yet emerged from behind my laptop (which is an unfortunate hazard of the full-time traveling occupation).

But as soon as I logged on to my computer, my plans started taking form. Nellie of Wild Junket offered up some Spanish hospitality in Granada. And our new friend Celia (author of Eat Portugal) offered to show Jeannie and I some sights in Lisbon this afternoon.

Perfect! I raced down to the train station to book my tickets. Tonight I’ll take the overnight train to Madrid.


Day 2: Getting off the train from Lisbon to Madrid, I’ll enjoy a nice breakfast in Madrid during my 2 hour “layover”. Then I’ll have lunch in Seville, and dinner in Granada. As long as I’ve got my meals sorted, I’m a happy girl.


Day 3: Now we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. 10 minutes ago I had no idea where I was going at all. How on earth can I know where I’ll be in two days? I mean, really.


Instead of planning forwards, I’m finding it easier to work backwards. With a really tight Russian visa start date and Trans-Siberian departure date, I’ve booked one of the only trains that can get me to Moscow in time, which departs from Kiev, Ukraine. So I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days in Kiev.

I also have some friends I’d love to terrorize in Prague, which is a possible hopping off point to Kiev.

And I have friends in Switzerland, which has been on my list of places to visit for a while. Whether I stop anywhere between Switzerland and Prague depends on train schedules, connections, how the stars are aligned, and a myriad of other intangible factors, including whatever lurks in my email in-box tomorrow morning. (This morning was fruitful…who knows what tomorrow will bring)!

This general lack of planning is completely counter-intuitive for a planner like me, but since I’m already the least prepared of our group, I figured I may as well exploit it.

I’m starting to think that the freedom of a Eurail pass is too much for me to handle. Thank goodness I’ve come to accept destiny as a direction, and not a fixed place or idea; otherwise I’d really be screwed.



Jeannie’s Route

Out of the 3 of us, I’m definitely the baby traveler.  Hodson had to “act” out how the Eurail pass works this very morning.  By the afternoon, I think I got the hang of it, booking my first stop: Seville!

This may sound silly and underwhelming, but I’m most excited about my stop in Spain.  Out of everything else.  I’ve been an armchair lover of flamenco for years, so to step into the heart of gypsy land?  MY GOD.

I’ve gotten some sound flamenco and tapas recommendations from Abigail King, and booked myself into a hostel in Triana (check out the outdoor hot tub!), the kookiest, funkiest, most passionate area of Seville.

Remember when I kept whining about needing sleep?  Well, I’ve decided to go for the second-class seat ticket over a sleeper on the trip to Seville.  Am I going to regret it?  We’ll find out.

After that, I plan on splashing around in the south of France.  Oh, then Italy.  Should it be Verona or Milano?  Or somewhere else?

I think I’ll keep what comes next a surprise, until the crew meet up in Moscow. One thing for sure, I need to meet Nora in Kiev by September 15, where we’ll grab an overnight train towards Russia.  The game is afoot!

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About Michael Hodson

overland adventure traveler

9 Responses to And… THEY’RE OFF!!

  1. Craig Zabransky September 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    sounds like this will be quite the adventure… good luck, eat and drink well, and see what you can… I look forward to reading up on it.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Teōtīhuacān – Mexico’s Famous Pyramids

  2. Tawny September 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Very excited to follow you all on your great adventure.

    Jeannie are you going to take a Flamenco lesson?
    Nora, I think you may be surprised by the ‘winging-it’ plan…
    Michael, since I am named after a port… enjoy

    …a Micronesian currently living in S.F.

  3. Stephanie - The Travel Chica September 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    It’s going to be so fun to see what you all encounter along the way. I hope you guys weren’t too hungover to start the trip :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..What Will It Be Like to Come Home?

  4. Randy September 1, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Awesome! Each route sounds amazing.
    Randy recently posted..Brigida, Gina & Emilio’s Nocino – Rome, Italy – Somewhere In Time Weekly Travel Photo

  5. jenjenk September 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    what a fun and creative experience! I’m excited to be “following” your adventures on the train challenge!!!
    jenjenk recently posted..Photo of the Day: Willemstad, Curacao

  6. Nicole September 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    You are going to have so much fun!!!! Good luck!
    Nicole recently posted..Photo of the Week: Hiking in Jordan’s Holy Land

  7. Nomadic Samuel September 2, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    The epic journey has begun!
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Teaching English in China | Interview with Michael Tieso (Art of Backpacking)

  8. Jade Johnston October 2, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    Sounds like an epic adventure! Good luck!
    Jade Johnston recently posted..Photos – Vietnam 2008


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