I watched a TV programme earlier this year about Michael Portillo, a former politician, who travelled around Europe by train. I longed to do something like that so I was really excited when I was given the opportunity of doing something similar but without the TV cameras.
This was my chance to travel around Europe by train, my way. After my initial excitement though, anxiety set in because I was like a child in a sweetie shop; with 30 countries to choose from and so many places and amazing train journeys within that, I just couldn’t decide where to go. I’d think of one and then I’d see yet another scenic route or look at another place on the map and… argghh! It’s a good problem to have and it made me realise how lucky we are to have so many incredible places to choose from. The thing is, I was starting to get quite frustrated because I didn’t have that long to plan the trip and couldn’t make a decision.
In the end, having looked at the map several times and searched for info online, I decided on Prague for my first destination. I checked online to see what accommodation was available and then went online to make a reservation. I typed in my starting point – Lille – and my destination – Prague. For some reason, it wouldn’t accept the journey and said that I would have to ring. The problem with that was the office had closed and it was a bank holiday weekend. I looked at booking the journey in sections but it was working out really expensive, which I really couldn’t understand. I tried another destination – Budapest – and it was much cheaper but, once again, I couldn’t book the journey online. It was cutting it fine but I had no choice other than to wait until the office reopened on Tuesday.
I phoned up first thing on Tuesday and explained the problems I had encountered. I was told it was because one of the three trains on the journey was full. Hmmm, that was a problem. Next, I asked about going to Budapest instead. Well, that’s another one on my list of places to go and I hadn’t booked any accommodation so I could begin my trip there. That was available but there was yet another problem – getting the ticket. I didn’t realise I needed a physical ticket as well as my InterRail Pass but I did. There wasn’t enough time to send out the ticket because I was leaving the following morning. I had two options: go to London to reserve and collect my tickets or do it in Lille. I decided to go for the first option so I could then book accommodation and I’d know what I was doing.
When I arrived, I took a numbered ticket and waited my turn until they called my number. The member of staff I saw was really helpful and she demystified the InterRail Pass which, by that point, had gotten me really confused. I had this naive idea of just hopping on the first train I could from Lille with my pass but it doesn’t work quite like that so I found out.
Because I was getting into Lille and not Brussels that was a problem for getting to Prague. Unfortunately, I had a non-flexible Eurostar ticket so I couldn’t extend it without buying a new ticket. I asked her to look at the journey to Budapest instead. That was possible to do – Lille to Paris, Paris to Munich, Munich to Budapest – perfect! The thing is, having sorted out the whole journey and having decided on a couchette (a 6-bedded berth) on the night train, she printed off the Lille to Paris ticket but she couldn’t print any other tickets because the printer wasn’t working. OMG, what on earth was going on? Was the Universe conspiring against me? A little dramatic maybe but I was beginning to wonder!
So, I can definitely get as far as Paris on my first day and, providing there are spaces on the night train to Munich, I will be there by Thursday morning. If not, I’ll stay in Paris for one night and then continue my journey to Budapest via Munich on Thursday. I’m so glad I hadn’t gone ahead and booked any accommodation because it gives me the flexibility of staying in Paris or indeed Munich should I decide or need to.
So, Paris, here I come and then… we’ll see. I’m interested to see how the remainder of my trip will unfold. It will certainly be off the hoof, as it were. I’ll keep you posted. I will be using the #raileu hashtag for the trip, which you can follow on Twitter and other social media channels.
Have your say
What was your first experience like of using an InterRail Pass?
My pass is an InterRail Global Flexi Pass, which gives me a fixed number of days to travel for a period of time. I am doing this trip on behalf of Traveldudes and would like to thank ACP Rail for providing me with the complimentary InterRail Global Pass that will cover the next 22 days of my journey around Europe.