Inter-railing across Europe was the least planned trip I have ever taken, and yet one of the most memorable! May - June 2011.
Three students in their final year of university decided to celebrate by taking a trip around Europe. We looked into inter-railing and decided to buy a global pass valid for 22 continuous days travel, for the amazing price of £265, the continent was our oyster!
As students, we didn't have a lot of expendable cash so we looked at flights to anywhere in Europe from our closest airport which was Bristol. That's when we ended up headed for Amsterdam.
Leaving university, we decided to hold a car-boot sale to raise funds for our travels and sold off all of our belongings.
With that done, all of our money was changed into Euros and we set off on our great adventure.
21.05 En route to Denmark
We had studied the map and with the aid of an iPod touch and this European train travel website, we had a plan. We would take the very late train out of Amsterdam to Copenhagen. This would involve several changes and a rather long wait in a town in the north of Germany- Entschede. No problem, between the hours of 11pm and 5am we would find something to entertain ourselves with! We figured that being stuck on the move was better than being stuck in Amsterdam so off we went to the station.
Our final change for the night brought us to Entschede and there was literally nothing there. We decided to find a bar and have a drink. Big mistake! At first, it was all exciting because you could smoke in this bar and for us wild students, this was a real novelty! We were set for the night!!
Two hours later, things took a turn for the worst. Hannah became suddenly very poorly. Figuring it was the smoke affecting her, we decided to leave. We stumbled upon a cafe where men were sitting playing cards. This seemed much more civilised and we took our chances hoping to hang out there for the rest of the night. We even had our own pack of cards!
We got kicked out of the card place after the owner took pity on us, allowed us to stay fairly late but obviously had to get to bed himself.
It was time to head to the station, about three hours early. We kept warm on the outdoor platform doing exercises and dancing!
The train got on a boat!!!
At the time of this trip, we didn't have smartphones or Kindles. We had iPods and actual books. Only we didn't have a book each, we were all sharing 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', So you can imagine our delight when travelling from Trondheim down to Stockholm when we kept passing references from our book.
Upon arriving in Stockholm we decided to use an ATM and withdraw some local currency. It was, afterall, my birthday so we could afford a treat!
Stockholm was truly beautiful. The sun was shining, we were all in good health and there was plenty to see and do. I walked around one half of the city with an old Norweigan friend I had lived with in Australia, who now lived in Sweden. The other two walked around the other half of the city and we all had a very enjoyable day. The only problem was, we were carrying our bags with us the whole time. They were very heavy and we didn't want to pay for lockers to store them. Aside from that, it was most enjoyable. I even snuck in a shower at my pal's house... it had been two days since my last one!
We met later that night and wanted to go to a traditional Swedish restaurant. Ended up in an Irish Pub having cake and Happy Birthday sung by a live singer! I had just turned twenty-four years old! To save on accommodation we decided to take a night train to Germany. Berlin? Hanover? Where was the first stop?
We took a fairly early train out of Berlin and travelled for most of the day. This was unusual timing because up until now we had always travelled at night to save on the accommodation.
Anyway, here we were, heading to Warsaw and the train bubble had most definitely burst. Instead of wide open carriages, we were now squeezed into tiny boxes with barely enough room. We thought it must be a Polish thing and things would improve once we were en route to Prague.
We spent most of the journey sitting outside the toilets between carriages due to a problem with our ticket and not having assigned seats. It was a long five hours.
We had decided that actually we didn't want to go to Auschwitz- perhaps we weren't mature enough... instead we arrive at Warsaw to find that once again, no Euros were accepted and instead it was the Polish złoty. We withdrew the smallest amount possible from an ATM. I think it worked out at about £8 each! We put our bags into storage for the first time ever as we thought we wouldn't spend our budget and this would help us to shift this foreign currency.
I won't try and sugarcoat this part of the trip so I'll be honest...I didn't like Warsaw. We were ripped off at the train station in the toilets, spoken to very rudely when asking for directions and genuinely didn't have a nice time. There was even a punch in the stomach from a woman in the public bathroom. Having said that, I would go back again and I'm sure it would be a perfectly pleasant experience!
We spent the day walking around the city, sitting in the sun and even went to C&A to do a little shopping. Then we went to a supermarket to waste the last of our currency. When we arrived back at the station, we forgot we hadn't paid to store our bags. Now we had no money. We couldn't possibly withdraw from the ATM. We sat panicking, our train would soon be leaving, we needed our bags, we were broke again! Then I had a sudden realisation. I had a birthday card with me and in it, someone had given me £10! We were rich again. We changed it at the currency exchange, grabbed our bags and were on our way to Prague. Where was Prague? What was Prague?
We arrived in Budapest and were immediately excited, but didn't know why. We supposed it was one of those places you heard people talking about and now we were finally here!
We turned left out of the train station, backpacks and all, and began to walk. We were a little confused as no shops were open and it didn't have the grandeur feel of the Eastern European city we were expecting. We walked for what felt like hours until we finally asked some locals where we were and where the city centre was. We were pointed in the opposite direction and wished well! How silly, we'd wasted all this time in the wrong end of town.
Due to this error, once we arrived in the city centre we decided to do an open-top bus tour. This would make up for lost time and allow us to see something of the city. We went to another ATM, withdrew some Hungarian forint on the credit card and paid for our tickets. Hannah didn't join us as she preferred to walk and save her money.
We had the most amazing time seeing the famous structures and hearing about the history of Budapest. It was great to get the backstory of these histrocial buildings as in lots of the other cities we went to it was a case of standing close to a walking tour and listening in or making our own conclusions! Budapest is a remarkable city and I'll definitely be returning.
We left Romania almost as quickly as we had arrived. Again, doing some research would have been beneficial but we live to learn these things, right?
We had booked our hostel ahead of time in Zagreb. The first one, all the others had been a case of just turn up. It was located a little out of the way of the city centre in a residential area. I'm not sure it's still open as I have been unable to find updated information. If I do find anything, I'll be sure to post it!
Back to Croatia, Zagreb was a lovely city but at this point in our trip, the temperatures were warming and we were now seeking some beach. We made enquiries and found that we could take a train to Split, or nearby and there would be beaches nearby. We spent one day in Zagreb and the next day headed for the beach. Again, what we didn't know about Croatia was that the beaches are predominantly pebbles! Nonetheless, after taking a train, a bus and a very long walk, we found a tiny beach and had a lovely day in the sun.
Spectacular Croatian scenery.
We arrived into Paris and Hannah went to investigate making a police report for her insurance company. More about the iPod than the shoes! Wolvo and I found the showers and used our wonderful, glistening, shiny Euros to pay for a cubicle each. It was wonderful after the almost twenty hours it took from Zagreb to get to Paris. We reunited with Hannah and proceeded to walk around Paris. The sun was shining and the weather was warm. We tried to find a hotel but it was a very busy weekend in Paris and there didn't seem to be anywhere to stay. Eventually we split up and met back at the train station later where Hannah said she was heading back to Germany to find her lost items and make a police report.
Wolvo had no money left but couldn't find a flight out of Paris for a few days. I was due to meet my sister in Venice in two days and didn't want to go ahead. We waved Hannah off and wished her well. The two of us booked on an overnight train to a place called Chamonix south of Paris. We had no idea what was there but ultimately it was a free, warm place to sleep for the night. We could come straight back in the morning and try looking for somewhere to stay whilst we were in Chamonix. Whatever Chamonix was!
Well, we woke up at about 6am just as we were pulling into Chamonix and the scenery was just amazing. We were in the Alps! Looking right at Mount Blanc in front of us! What an amazing place Chamonix was. Despite having no money, we got out the credit cards and decided we should take advantage of being in the Alps! We paid for a cable-car ride, a hike down to a glacier and a very fancy cheese fondue dinner.
The best part of this was that we were dressed in flipflops and summer dressses. We were hiking to the glacier with people in hiking boots, walking poles and camelbaks attached to their backpacks. It was very amusing. And we survived the experience!
That night, we took the train back to Paris, another bundle of cash saved on accommodation. Wolvo managed to book a flight out of some small French town back to the UK for a small fee so things were looking up. All we had to do was find somewhere to stay that night. Looking online at the train station in Paris, we couldn't find anywhere with vacancies. We sat on the curb outside the station, unbeknown to us, being watched by a kind civillian. This lady approached us and asked if we were OK. She told us her friend had a hotel and would give us a good rate. We took her up on the offer and though the hotel wasn't fancy by any means- it had carpet on the walls, we were more than grateful for a place to stay! In celebration, we treated ourselves to a giant watermelon as it was all we could afford for the next three meals. We scoffed it in our carpeted room and decided to make the most of the sunshine.
We made our way to a park for some lying down when some boys begain pelting stones at us. Looking back now, it's a hilarious situation. Back then, we were outraged and found a police officer who made the boys apologise to us! The next day, I said bye to Wolvo as she took her train to the airport. I made my way to a different train station to board my train for Venice. Moments away from another disaster!
Once we arrived in Amsterdam, we realised we would need a place to stay. Being a little frugal, as we were then, instead of heading towards the city centre, we thought we would find somewhere cheaper on the outskirts of town. It turns out that three hours later we hadn't found anywhere to stay and anywhere we had found was fully booked, even the Christian hostel wouldn't take us in, despite our offer of sleeping in the bathroom!
It wasn't long before we found another hostel which could accommodate us for one night only, due to it being a holiday weekend in Amsterdam. It would seem that planning pays sometimes! We now needed a new plan as staying in Amsterdam for another night wasn't going to be possible.
We had a lovely day touring the city the next day, saw the sights and began making our first plan.
We arrived in Copenhagen after a very memorable journey involving our train driving on to the ferry to cross from Germany to Denmark. It's true! The train actually got on a boat! Click here to read about it.
Anyway, back to Copenhagen. This was where we realised our first proper mistake... Denmark doesn't use Euros. We had pretty much changed all our money in the world into Euros and now they were obsolete. Once again, it pays to do a little research.
We checked into a hostel which was one of the strangest experiences we've ever had. It was like being at an asylum centre or a makeshift evacuation centre that had been setup in a local school hall. Cheap, cheerful and clean, it's worth staying just for the experience!
Illness had struck myself in Copenhagen so unfortunately I became very acquainted with the hostel and Hannah and Wolvo went off sightseeing. We quickly found that Copenhagen was a little too expensive for us so the next morning it was off to Norway. Maybe they would take Euros in Norway... little did we know!
Scandanavian trains are something to be admired. Huge reclining seats, blankets and pillows provided. There were hardly any travellers too, giving us empty carriages on many journeys.
We arrived in a cold and raining Oslo. Dressed in flipflops and summer dresses, we took refuge in a cathedral. It was Sunday, it was a church service. Norway didn't take Euros. We were hungry. We decided that we should take the train as north as possible and go and see the northern lights. Excellent plan. It's summer, I'm sure they will be there?!
We took a train headed to Trondheim, figuring that would be far north enough to see the lights. That litte word springs to mind again... 'research'. We arrived in Trondheim and what a beautiful town it was! We spent the day walking around and sat by the water relaxing, after all, we didn't want to have to use an ATM! We wouldn't need accommodation tonight because we would sleep on the train. So that was decided, it was off to Sweden... Euros?
I slept the whole journey on that lovely Scandanavian train. Little did I know that soon this luxury would end. Blankets? You have to be joking! Individual seats... soon to be no more!
We pulled into Berlin and once again the sun was shining. The first thing we noticed was all of the Euro signs everywhere. Water €2, Burgers €5! Suddenly we felt invincible. Let's treat ourselves to a hostel! We checked into a room which had six bunkbeds and were fortunate to have the whole room to ourselves. It was wonderful. This gave us a chance to empty and repack our bags, we had been on the go now for five days and things were beginning to smell. We all loved Berlin and had a wonderful time getting lost, exploring and spending those Euros. Up until today we had been living off jam and bread. We would buy a loaf each day and carry this pot of jam with us. In Berlin, we ate in restaurants and cafes!
If you've never been to Berlin, you simply must. So much history and culture. Beautiful architecture, park areas and it's just good fun to wander with no real aims. The next day, the trio became split. Hannah wanted another day in Berlin, Wolvo and I decided to head to Poland. We might go to Auschwitz, we might not. We would meet Hannah in Prague in two days. We hoped!
28.05 Czech Republic
We arrived in Prague around 9am. The train here was awful and squashed once more. They had showers at Prague train station and this was the best news ever! We joined the line and that awful fear struck once more. The currency here is Czech koruna. They don't take Euros!!!!! Back to the ATM we went. We were now withdrawing on the credit card. We would pay for that later... literally!
Soon after, Hannah showed up and we managed to take showers. Wolvo, being an avid hair-straightener insisted on finding a socket. She ended up on the floor in Vodafone, Prague central train station, plugged in and straightening her hair. We have photo evidence of this. Dear Vodafone at Prague central train station, she is forever grateful. Thank you!
We had the loveliest of days walking around Prague, posing on famous Charles Bridge, smoking in restaurants and admiring the gothic architecture. Hannah went off to an orchestra performance and Wolvo and I found a pancake restaurant. Prague is definitely on my return list. It was so beautiful!
Later that night we checked in with our travel website and decided to head to Hungary.
Back on the horrible train we met a lovely Solvakian woman who entertained us playing cards and telling us stories. We hardly met any people on the trains but we did enjoy this woman's company.
Looking down over Prague.
The decision was made not to stay in Hungary and to head to Romania. We didn't have a very good night on the train, nonetheless, we arrived in Bucharest ready for a new adventure. We found a little park and sat down to brush our teeth. The toilets didn't seem fitting for teeth brushing inside the station. We brushed our teeth in all manner of places on this trip!
We decided to keep our bags with us for the day after the disaster of Poland. We tried to find a tourist information to see what exactly one should do when in Bucharest. Then we thought to ask the locals and we were told to follow the brown signs. Unfortunately, we couldn't see any brown signs! We decided to have some lunch and found a little restaurant. The waiter couldn't speak English so in the end we agreed on tomato soup and omlettes. Very exotic! We managed to connect to some wifi and found a train leaving to Croatia very shortly so decided to wave farewell to Bucharest and head to Zagreb. I think Bucharest would be a very lovely city now I've researched it and have a fair idea of where to go! I shall add it to my return list!
02.06 Leaving Croatia
After what seeemed like quite a relaxing two and a half days chilling out in Croatia, we decided it was time to move again! Money was being spent and our stockpile of Euros wasn't going down. We needed to get back to the Euro-zone! The exciting thing about being in Croatia is that you can take a train almost straight to Paris, well to München and then onto Paris. It was München where we encountered our next problem...
We were on the train reflecting on our time in Croatia and saying that we would definitely be back as it wasn't too touristy and would be lovely to see more of the country.
We fell asleep as we had a little cabin to ourselves so we were able to spread out for the first time in a while. We also made friends with the guards who allowed us to smoke on board- we were the height of cool right now!
We had fallen asleep for most of the journey and were dead to the world when we pulled into Munich. We were woken by some fellow travellers, a group of guys who asked if we had had anything stolen. We checked our few belongings and decided that nothing had gone missing. It seemed that someone had been into their cabin and taken things- cameras, wallets etc. We felt very fortunate. But didn't have too much time to be grateful. It was time to get the next train. This was when Hannah noticed that a whole bag was missing. Containing her shoes, iPod and travel scrapbook she had been making. Disaster had struck. She jumped off our train (whilst still on the platform, of course) and went to look on the train we had just gotten off. There was nothing there. There was nothing left to do but head to Paris.
06.06 Paris to Venice
I arrive at the train station, a solo-traveller after three weeks of having my pals around. I took my ticket to the counter to pay the fee which enabled me to reserve a seat. My Inter-Rail ticket was valid for travel on all services but on some journeys, you had to pay a few Euros to guarantee a seat. Well, this is where everything went wrong. There were so seats available on the next train. The man advised I wait three hours for the next train. Needless to say, this happened the next three times until the last train had arrived and I HAD to make that train. I was meeting my sister at Venice train station the next morning! This is the part where I did the bravest thing I've ever done... I climbed aboard the train and hid in the toilet. It was approximately a fifteen hour journey so the longer I stayed hidden, the closer I would get to Venice. Of course, I had these horrific visions of being thrown off in some abandoned half Fench- half Italian train station. I decided to move between the two cubicles so not to arouse suspicion that the one on the left was always occupied. I got seven hours in when there was a knock on the door. There was nothing I could do. I wasn't Jason Bourne, I couldn't make myself disappear, reluctantly I opened the door. Someone had spied me. The ticket officers were there demanding to see my ticket. Of course, I only had the Inter-Rail pass, I tried to play dumb. They asked if I had any Euros. I had twenty-five. I was relying on my sister to bring some for me! Emergency funding! The guard took my twenty-five Euros, said something in French so I smiled sweetly hoping that would save me from being thrown off.
He returned and asked me to follow him. I figured I was being led to a special part of the train where they push you off into a future of living in the countryside between France and Italy!
I couldn't have been further from the truth. A door opened and he showed me into a bedroom. A four-berth cabin. The type we had dreamt of for so long. The cabins we had seen the rich and wealthy boarding at so many stations before. Now, here I was, in my very own one for a small fee of 25 Euros and a cramped seven hours in a toilet! Thank you Mr. Nice Guard Ticket Man. I'll be ever grateful!
I met my sister in Venice and we sorted her out with an Inter-Rail ticket which would cover us for the next week in Italy.
Looking nervous hiding in the bathroom!
We decide to spend two days in Venice. We take in the sights, cover lots of ground walking about and of course, go for a gondola ride. Venice is truly beautiful. We ate wonderful food and enjoyed walking up and down the quaint streets looking at the designer brands and fantastic architecture. We stayed at a fantastic spot, outside of Venice but very easy to get to with public transport and much cheaper than city centre rates. They also run shuttles in and out of Venice which are convenient. From Venice we travelled to Pisa. We only really wanted to see the leaning tower- which really does lean! We took the traditional 'pushing the tower' photographs and walked around the streets. The cobbled stones made us feel like we had travelled back in time. We also took a bus out of the city to a small coastal town where we sat and watched the waves and ate some delicious Italian cakes. We didn't stay in Pisa, instead we took an overnight train to Rome. Even though I had some extra money, I was still on a tight budget!
The next day, we literally woke up in Rome. We had a wonderful time seeing all of the sights. We bought our tickets here to save money on the separate entrance fees. We didn't pay to beat the line as on day one the lines looked huge from a distance. The closer we got, we realised it was tour groups receiving information and people taking photographs. It wasn't necessarily people awaiting to enter the Colosseum. We stayed at this hostel which required a bus to get to central Rome but we had our own room and it was very well priced. The staff was very helpful and able to give us good directions about travelling around.
In Rome we ate pizza, ate ice-cream, visited Vatican City, sat watching nuns potter around the place and marvelled at the architecture.
Our Italian time was almost at an end. It was time to make our way back to Venice for our flight home.
We didn't plan this trip, we didn't have a route or any prior knowledge. We had a tiny budget and a train ticket. Though we may not have done much more than marvel at the architecture, I don't think I would have done anything differently. We had a fab time and I will definitely go back to certain spots.