Barcelona > Pamplona > Barcelona > Paris > Lille > Frankfurt > Berne > Geneva > Verona > Rome.
It was my first backpacking experience, and unsurprisingly it consisted of many ups and downs. I saw 9 cities over two and a half weeks; some I’d been desperate to see for years, and other’s that had never crossed my mind until they appeared to be logical stopovers between long train journeys. All in all I have mostly fond memories of those 17 days, so nearly 3 years later I’ve finally decided to get on and write about it…
I still love trains.
“A train which is due to leave at eight will normally leave at any time between nine and ten, but
perhaps once a week, thanks to some private whim of the engine-driver, it leaves at half past
seven. Such things can be a little trying. In theory I rather admire the Spaniards for not
sharing our Northern time-neurosis; but unfortunately I share it myself.” – G. Orwell, Homage to Catalonia.
Even though this actually happened. Our stay in Paris was cut short firstly by our Pamplona-Madrid train leaving early without notice, there being no other train for some 4 hours (if I remember correctly), which resulted in us missing our overnight train to Paris that night. Just to mix things up a little, France decided to have a Rail Strike the next day, and so in the end we lost 2 days in Paris and nearly £100. This was incredibly annoying, but I’d still give trains another chance. The views on some journey’s were absolutely breathtaking and, well, people watching at each new station is always interesting. But if I am to do it again, I would check the timetables at each station upon arrival, rather than trust what was provided online.
Hostels are a lottery.
In Frankfurt we were spoiled with a luxury private room and incredible skyline views from the top floor, but in Rome we were stuck in a seperate bulding with a dodgy computer room and very stingey shower for the same price. Next time I won’t stay in private rooms (atleast not every night), and niether will I always go for the best rated. It seems to me that often hostels with the best rating are rated in such a way because they closely replicate the comfort of a hotel. As a result, they’re less sociable and many are part of larger hostel chains which are just a liiiiittle bit dull. To save money I will definitely opt for some nights spent couch surfing next time, as although interrailing is mas facil, there were maaaaany hidden costs that that could be totally made up for if one spent the odd night surfing on a couch instead.
My favourite cities included none of the ones I’d originally planned to visit.
Barcelona, Pamplona, and Frankfurt were by far the best stops on the trip. Paris, Rome, and Berne were my least favourtie, even though the former two were those I was most excited about visiting. One thing is for sure, I’ll pay much closer attention to the weather forecast next time. Cities like Rome are hell in the Summer, and when the wind is hot it’s suffocating, which just drained any excitement I had for Roman ruins from my veins like a leech. But eh, you win some you lose some! It was on that journey that I started to fancy Spain, and look where I am now!
To hell with the rigid itinerary.
I spent sooooo many months planning an itninerary that in the end was definitely not worth the hastle. Every interrailer I have met since seemed to have a much easier time by embracing european laid-backness and taking the trip day by day. I don’t think I’ll ever let myself travel without some idea of where I want to go and what I’d like to see, but in the future I’ll hold back from having everything booked 6 months in advance. There will always be a bed you can sleep in soooomewhere, and you’ll pick up recommendations from fellow travellers on places worth visiting, so it’s definitely a good idea to keep your itinerary general and flexible to allow for some spontaneity along the way. All those train times I carefully worked out (including back up trains) were almost totally redundant, and our unexpected return to Barcelona was actually better than the ones we planned a few days prior.
I think I’ve seen enough Christian Medieval art for this lifetime.
Of course, I will never bore of meandering around galleries, but holy moly after Interailing I was done with biblical paintings. Frankfurt hosted the best Gallery of all, because it contained both modern and classic artwork. All those bare bodies on oil canvases inspired my own project later that summer, which you can read about here.
Europe is really damn beautiful, and diverse.
But pretty old buildings do all start to look the same, and they certainly aren’t a guaruntee of greatness across the board. Berne was a perfect example of this – stunningly quiant, expensive, and unfortunately rather dull. We alternated between big and small cities, but it would be a good idea to stop off somewhere rural just for a change of scenary next time.
I’ll definitely do it again.
Hopefully learning from the mistakes I made last time will make for a smoother trip, but who knows! This summer I’m thiiiinking of going to Eastern Europe with an interrail pass. As it is likely I’ll be doing this on my own, opting for the train I think is the best option for me. The rail companies in the east are also a hella lot cheaper, so reservation costs shouldn’t be such a burden. I’m also planning to go for 4 rather than just 2 weeks, in order to allow for more flexibility if needed… Innesbruk, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, and Ljubljana are at the top of my list, but if my savings will allow it I would also like to visit Greece again. We shall see!