Winning tip: The planning went wrong in Paris
I still have our 1987 copy of Europe by Train. Simple pen and ink cards that had little to do with reality – a bit like the planning my friend and I did. Before the internet, before glasnost, before mid-life indecisiveness, we naively arrived in Paris and filled out our paper ticket with the first destination, Nice, without thinking about booking a couchette or simply a seat. In July. After frantic visits to ticket offices to try and board a train leaving Paris, we took the last train of the night, northbound, to Amsterdam, thus doing the whole adventure front to back. The son of the same friend is about to embark on his own Interrail adventure. Apparently he has a table.
Secret Hostel, Switzerland
I rode the Interrail with my girlfriend Gabby in 1992. We met so many Interrailers and quickly made friends. A group of friends we met drafted some directions to take us to an unlisted hostel in the Swiss Alps. You could show up at the unmanned log cabin in Gimmelwald, and if you could find a bunk, you could stay. Payment was made via a kind of honesty box. It was the most incredible place with breathtaking mountain views and wonderful waterfall hikes.
Cheesy chat up line
Back in the heady, upbeat days of the 1980s, Interrail allowed me to get away with a chat-up 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 to her, “Your backpack looks heavy – is it full of dreams like mine?” It led to a smile, a shared compartment, shared wine and a sociable sleepless night as we exchanged stories about student life and travel in Europe. Cheap hotels, midnight barbecues on beaches and art galleries followed as we put our Interrail passes and relationship chemistry together and got engaged a few years later.
Dancing in the Algarve
I started in London with six friends and then took a ferry across the English Channel. After first meeting a group of Austrian men in Paris, we were soon practicing our French with friendly French men. After crossing Spain (no men) we arrived in Portugal. We were camping and partying in the Algarve, where one of my friends was asked to dance by a lonely Dutchman. 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 witness the scattering of the ashes of a family member in the sea in Cesenatico near Rimini on the Adriatic coast. As we live in Geneva we bought our tickets on the Interrail website for around 100CHF (£87) each and decided to take our 9 month old baby on a real trip. So after the wedding we traveled from Catania to the beautiful Taormina train station, crossed the mainland on the special ferry train, with a 10 hour journey to Rome, then to Cesenatico and back to Geneva through the Italian Alps. It was fantastic.
Plum brandy on the way to Pula
In 1983, when we were driving from Vienna to Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia, we three 18-year-old school friends from Chesterfield were asked by a friendly boy to bring a package across the border. Heaped with plum brandy, we agreed, only to disagree when we saw him being escorted off the train by border police. After another 24 hours we reached the coast near Pula in Croatia and dived into the beautiful sea – only to be stung by jellyfish within seconds. What followed was a fantastic week of sun, sea and rocky beaches with great food and drink at bargain prices.
“A seven day ride!” grumbled my husband when I suggested we take Interrail to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We had met on a train more than 30 years ago, so why not? We took the Eurostar to Paris, boarded a TGV to Strasbourg and another train via Basel to Brig in Switzerland. We boarded the Glacier Express and were fascinated by the snow-covered landscape. We continued to Milan, Venice, Nice and Béziers. Highlights included meeting an elderly couple at the Bernina Pass, munching on hard-boiled eggs and taking two trains to Milan to see an opera.
Traveling with my daughter
A few years ago we took the train from Redruth in Cornwall to Slovenia for a family ski trip. Via London and with the Eurostar to Paris we then took a night train through the Alps to Venice. Our daughter was seven at the time and it was a great experience being able to share some of the sights with her along the way. She found sleeping on the train difficult, but the moon illuminating the snowy peaks was a nice distraction. We spent a morning in Venice before taking the train to the border, crossing on foot into Slovenia where the gauge of the railway was different, and then continuing on to the mountains on another train. It was so brilliant my family just stayed in Greece and on the train back.
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 train 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 bought her a hot chocolate. Concerned for her safety, my eyes were glued to the drink. “I am a Turkish prince,” he enthused. He opened his suitcase 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 and feasted on marzipan cake for my boyfriend’s birthday. We walked through the immense heat for a few days and continued to Rovaniemi. From there we visited the Arctic Circle and enjoyed two ice creams a day in insanely high temperatures. We traveled by bus and train to northern Sweden, where we hiked the start of the Kungsleden long-distance hiking trail from Abisko. The tundra dotted with reindeer and the snow-capped mountains contrasted with the blue sky. One of my best vacations ever.
Please use the comments to share details about your own Interrail journeys