Europe by train, then and now

There's something about trainsv

There's something about trains

Exactly 25 years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and set off for a summer adventure in Europe. Carefully tucked into my money belt were my dark blue passport, an assortment of Eurocheques (remember them?) and my first ever Interrail ticket (bought as a result of successfully listing my 10 speed racer bike and my beloved table-top snooker table in the Classified Section of the Nottingham Evening Post). I had just finished my A level exams and left my Saturday job at B&Q, thanks to which I’d saved around £500. This hard-earned money would now be carefully spent and made to last as long as possible.

My father had dropped me off at Nottingham station in the afternoon and had topped up my already bulging backpack with a dozen cheese rolls – little did he know at the time that I would eat nothing else until I arrived in Oslo several days later.

Carrying my backpack was no small effort for a tall, wiry teenager little used to physical exercise. As well as the sleeping bag and bright green ground sheet that was an obligatory part of the Interrailer’s paraphernalia, I had nine of my favourite tapes, two dozen batteries for my Walkman, a Thomas Cook rail timetable and the chunky Europe by Train guidebook. I’d also packed my camera, an indestructible Zenit EM; as sturdy as a Soviet tank and only marginally lighter in weight.

With barely any plans I would change my mind many times on a whim over the next month as to which train to catch and where next to visit. Eastern Europe was strictly off-limits although the journey behind enemy lines to West Berlin was a guaranteed adventure.

Sitting on a railway station, got a ticket for my destination...

Sitting on a railway station, got a ticket for my destination...

25 years on and I’m looking forward to yet another European rail journey. Over the years my backpack has become thankfully lighter and smaller. I’m travelling with my wife and we stay in guest houses and hotels to rest our heads in favour of concrete station floors and pull-out seats in musty carriages. The rail pass is no more, with the astronomical rise in the cost of an Interrail ticket now meaning that buying individual tickets makes financial sense for all but the most intensive itineraries. As for the cheese rolls, they are thankfully no longer a must-have travel accessory.

As always, there will be unexpected highlights, places that disappoint, surprising encounters, missed connections, great meals, supermarket lunches as well as those uncomfortable moments that we’ll grin and bear in the knowledge that they’ll sound almost glamorous when they’re spun into a dinner-table yarn back at home. The journey may be smoother than it once was, but thankfully the sense of anticipation of travel is as strong as ever.

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Freelance travel writer

8 Responses to “Europe by train, then and now”

  1. Nice! Rail is a great way to see Europe. And happy travel anniversary, I guess! How many places have you revisited in the years since that you took in on that first trip, and was it interesting seeing them again?

    June 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm
    • Thanks Simon. Revisited many of the places, but the one that sticks in my mind is the Lofoten Islands in Norway. On my 1987 I was blown away by the beauty of northern Norway and promised myself that I would return. It took 15 years but I did eventually go on holiday to the north of Norway with my wife and it still remains the first place I’d go back to without hesitation.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm
  2. Canadian here, and we had the Eurail pass… ah the memories, especially trying to get into East block country that was not covered under the pass!
    Anyway enjoyed the read and thanks for the renewed memories!

    June 22, 2012 at 9:39 am
    • Thanks Lynda – yes, the pass was good in one way in that there were no supplements back then, but the East was certainly off-limits.

      June 24, 2012 at 10:26 am
  3. Have a great time! Are you going to Austria too?

    June 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm
    • Thanks Andreas! Only a brief visit to Innsbruck this time. We’re taking the chance to see a bit of SW Germany as we’ve never been there

      June 22, 2012 at 6:23 pm
  4. Nice! I can only dream of being a free-to-choose-next-destination backpacker. Where are you headed to this time?

    June 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm
    • Thanks Abhi! This time it’s flying out to Italy and then taking the train home, stopping somewhere new pretty much every day along the way. A mini-Interrail of sorts..

      June 24, 2012 at 10:28 am