Is This Seat Taken? Maybe.

By Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Q. For European trains, buying a ticket and having a seat reservation are two different things. If you travel with rail passes, do you always have to make a seat reservation?

Walter Lazear, Reston

A. The express answer: on high-speed trains, yes. On regional or local trains, no. Usually.

Travelers with rail passes aren't guaranteed spots on high-speed trains. Separate seat reservations are also needed. This applies to first- and second-class travel on such high-speed lines as the TGV (in France and Switzerland), Thalys (France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands), Eurostar (United Kingdom, France and Belgium), Lyria (France and Switzerland) and AVE (Spain) trains. An exception is the InterCityExpress (ICE) in Germany.

Seat reservations are not required on local, regional, inter-regional and most EuroCity trains unless you're traveling during a peak time -- that being early morning and evening rush hour during the week, and weekends and holidays.

You can purchase seat reservations with your rail passes through Rail Europe (888-382-7245,, through another European train ticket provider or at the train station. Prices range from about $5 to $35.

It's highly recommended that you purchase your seat reservation in advance, says Samina Sabir, public relations manager for Rail Europe. Waiting until the day of departure to secure one at the station, for example, is a risky move, because some high-speed trains limit the number of seats they dole out to rail pass riders. And popular routes, such as the high-speed train from Paris to Italy during the summer, sell out weeks in advance.

For a helpful chart outlining reservation fees, plus advice on how far in advance to reserve seats for Europe's most popular high-speed train routes, check out Rick Steves's Europe Through the Back Door Web site at (click on "Using Your Railpass").

Hotels are abundant on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but I'd prefer to rent a house or cottage on that side. Any ideas?

Alison Malzahn, Oak Hill, Va.

The main strips on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls are commercialized to the hilt, filled with chain hotels, fast-food restaurants and souvenir shops. Still, quiet lodging spots are available, especially on the Canadian side.

A number of individuals and small companies rent cottages. Niagara Falls Cottage Rentals (905-357-2271,, for example, comprises five vacation houses within walking distance or a short drive of the falls. The cottages start at $172 a night or $1,278 per week and have full kitchens, cable TV, hot tubs, and towels and linens.

You also may want to consider staying in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pretty, tree-lined town that's a 20-minute drive from the falls. While still touristy, it's a different kind of crowd -- think theater and winery fans -- and more rental properties are available. They tend to be a little pricier than in Niagara Falls, though.

The Anne Street Cottage (888-252-3597,, for example, is a four-bedroom, three-bath house with wireless Internet, a kitchen, backyard patio and wraparound porch and barbecue for $1,894 a week during the high season, or $1,575 offseason. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Visitor and Convention Bureau (905-468-1950, lists 65 more rental cottages on its Web site.

More info: Niagara Falls Tourism, 800-563-2557,

Send queries by e-mail ( or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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