Winning Tip: Planning Gone Wrong in Paris
I still have our 1987 copy of Europe by Train. Simple pen and ink maps that had little basis in reality – much like the planning my friend and I did. Pre-internet, pre-glasnost, pre-midlife indecision, we naively arrived in Paris and filled our paper ticket book with the first destination, Nice, without considering booking a berth, or simply a seat. In July. After desperate visits to the counters trying to get on any train from Paris, we took the last train of the night, north to Amsterdam, and thus did the whole adventure in reverse. The same friend’s son is about to embark on his own Interrail adventure. Apparently he has a spreadsheet.
Secret Inn, Switzerland
I Interrailed with my friend Gabby in 1992. We met so many Interrailers and quickly formed friendships. A group of friends we met traced directions to a hostel not listed in guidebooks in the Swiss Alps. You could show up at the unmanned wooden cabin in Gimmelwald, and if you could find a berth, you could stay. Payment was through some sort of honesty box. It was the most amazing place with amazing mountain views and beautiful waterfall walks.
Nerdy chat line
In the uplifting and optimistic times of the 1980s, Interrail got me through with a chat line that had a lasting impact on my life. When a girl was struggling to squeeze into the compartment of the night train from Paris to Barcelona, I offered to help her, saying, “Your backpack looks heavy – is it full dreams like mine? It led to a smile, a shared compartment, shared wine and a sociable all-nighter as we swapped stories about student life and traveling around Europe. Cheap hotels, midnight beach barbecues and art galleries followed as we put together our Interrail passes and relationship chemistry, and then, a few years later, we got engaged.
Dancing in the Algarve
With six girlfriends, I started in London, then took a ferry across the English Channel. In Paris, after meeting a group of Austrians for the first time, we quickly practiced our French with friendly French people. After crossing Spain (no men), we arrived in Portugal. We camped and partied in the Algarve where a lonely Dutchman asked a friend of mine to dance. Now, 39 years later, they’re still dancing – and living in the UK.
In 2017 we were invited to a wedding in Sicily, and also had to attend, in Cesenatico near Rimini on the Adriatic coast, the scattering of the ashes of a family member in the sea. Living in Geneva, we got our tickets from the Interrail website, around CHF100 (£87) each and decided to make it a good trip with our nine month old baby. So, after the wedding, we traveled from Catania to the beautiful station of Taormina, crossing the continent with the special ferry-train, with a 10-hour trip to Rome, then Cesenatico, and back to Geneva through the Italian Alps. It was fantastic.
Plum brandy on the way to Pula
Traveling from Vienna to Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1983, we three 18 year old school friends from Chesterfield were asked to pick up a parcel across the border by a friendly guy. Drizzled with plum brandy, we agreed, but gave up when we saw him being escorted off the train by border police. After another 24 hours we reached the coast of Pula in Croatia and plunged into the stunning sea – only to be stung by jellyfish within seconds. A fantastic week of sun, sea and rocky beaches with great food and drink at great prices ensued.
“A journey of seven days! grumbled my husband when I suggested we should take Interrail to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We had met on a train over 30 years earlier, so why not? Taking the Eurostar to Paris, we boarded a TGV to Strasbourg and another train to Brig, Switzerland, via Basel. We boarded the Glacier Express and were mesmerized by the snowy landscape. We then traveled to Milan, Venice, Nice and Béziers. Highlights include meeting an elderly couple in the Bernina Pass who were munching on hard-boiled eggs and taking two trains to Milan for an opera.
Travel with my daughter
A few years ago we took the train from Redruth to Cornwall in Slovenia for a family ski trip. Passing through London and taking the Eurostar to Paris, we then took an overnight train through the Alps to Venice. Our daughter was seven at the time and it was a great experience to be able to share some of the sights with her along the way. She found it difficult to sleep on the train, but the moonlight illuminating the snowy peaks was a nice distraction. We spent a morning in Venice before taking the train to the border, walking across Slovenia where the rail gauge is different, then another train into the mountains. It was so awesome that my family just went to Greece and came back on the train.
Prince of Venice
After going to a festival in Venice, two friends and I missed the last train with no accommodation. So we did what any 19-year-old Interrailer would do: sleep in the station. A man in a suit with a briefcase approached us and asked if we wanted a drink. A friend and I declined but the other said yes and he bought her a hot chocolate. Worried for his safety, my eyes were glued to the brew. “I am a Turkish prince,” he exclaimed. He opened his briefcase and revealed its contents. I expected gold. Instead, it was full of cigarettes.
Marzipan Cake in the Arctic Circle
Scandinavia is great to explore by train. In 1988 we traveled from Helsinki to the Finnish Lake District, feasting on marzipan cake for my friend’s birthday. We walked for a few days through the immense heat and traveled to Rovaniemi. From there, we visited the Arctic Circle and tasted two ice creams a day at abnormally high temperatures. We took the bus and train to northern Sweden, where we hiked the start of the Kungsleden long distance trail from Abisko. Tundra, dotted with reindeer, and snow-capped mountains contrasted against the blue sky. One of my best vacations.
Please use the comments to share details of your own Interrail journeys