Family vacation in Europe. A family member thought that it would be a good idea to experience train travel in Europe, so we did. Here's the result.
After some research, we booked our tickets through Rail Europe. We opted for the Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan, then the Le Frecce train from Milan to Rome.
The Thello sleeper train is described by the following web page.
We opted for the T-4 option, that is, the same sleeping compartment has 6 beds, and you can book it as sleeping 4 people (slightly more expensive) or sleep 6. (T-6) Children younger than 4 do not need a ticket, which worked well for us, as we could use the extra bed for the 3 year old without paying for an additional ticket.
The train departed on time, pulling out of the station exactly on schedule.
The train was segmented in a way so that the (T-4/T-6) cars were all connected together. Each car had 1 toilet at each end of the car. The room with the toilet had a wash basin of course, but there were also two other smallish rooms next to the toilet room where each room had a wash basin (sink). The toilets were smelly and not the most pleasant experience. I've seen worse, but I would've expected better from modern facilities. (As it turns out, the toilet cleaniness seemed to have been in line with general cleaniness in public toilets in Italy, but we didn't know that at this time)
Since the sleeping compartments were shared with 4 or 6 people, there's no privacy in the compartments, but you could use the small wash rooms to change clothing or to towel off. There were no showers in the T-4/T-6 cars.
Walking past the string of connected T-4/T-6 cars, you get to the dining car. The dining car was jam packed with people right when it opened. It took an hour for the first wave to clear out, then another hour waiting for the food. The service wait was long and terrible. If you could possibly have dinner before you get on the train, that would be the best.
Walking past the dining car gets you to the cars with T-3 compartments where each compartment only had 3 beds. These cars were notably newer. I didn't try the toilets in these cars, but I suspect these would probably have more modern facilities.
There was a power connector on the fold out table, but that didn't work. We couldn't use it to charge anything.
After all the excitement of exploring the train, eating dinner, and enjoying the European toilet on the train, we returned to the compartment to find that the air conditioning unit was not functioning. There was literally no airflow. We also could not figure out if there was a way to crack open the top window. I do not know what the exact temperature was, but it was very hot in the compartment. I can only guess that it was above 80 degrees and very uncomfortable. I climbed down from my bunk bed several times to open the compartment door and do some fanning, as the air in the corridor was notably cooler than the air in the compartment with 4 people sleeping in it. I also went into the wash room to towel off and cool down a bit. It was miserable. Somehow, I did eventually manage to fall asleep, and the next thing I knew was that I was being woken up at 5 AM and stumbled off the Thello sleeper train in Milan to get on the train to Rome.
We then boarded the Le Frecce train at Milan to get to Rome. The following web page superficially describes the Le Frecce train.
on the Le Frecce train, we opted for the second class option. 4-Club seating throughout.
The difference between the Thello and the Le Frecce was night and day. Whereas the T-4/T-6 car from the Thello seems to have been designed in the 1970s, Le Frecca was clearly built in the 21st century. The cars were airy, bright, clean and new. The toilets were very modern and clean, the power plugs worked, the air conditioning was comfortable. The ride was smooth. We even hit 300 KM/H for a few seconds, although that was clearly for show. The train mostly cruised along at 250~280 KM/H when it could, other times slowing down as it went through (non-stop) stations or more populated areas.
1. I wouldn't do the Thello sleeper car if I can possibly help it. I can deal with the outdated car, the mostly clean and only slightly smelly toilet, the non functional power and the other little nits, but the no-AC thing was a deal breaker. Having to roast for 5+ hours made for a very uncomfortable night. I would not want to pay money for more self-torture in the future.
2. I would use Le Frecce (and similar) trains again. Very modern and convenient. Very comfortable ride.