Interrailing: Rite of Passage or Waste of Time?

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Let’s all take a moment to thank the old Gods and the new that interrail.eu have confirmed that Brexit will not affect our eligibility to obtain an InterRail pass. For many teenagers, European and otherwise, InterRailing (or for the latter group, EurRail) will be their first experience traveling without their parents. For me, it was at least the first extended period of travel that I’d taken without my family. I’d been to Paris for a week, but that didn’t seem like such a big deal. I just had to take the Eurostar, and everything was pretty easy. With InterRailing, you’re thrown into taking flights, planning an itinerary and booking multiple places to stay.

For those who don’t know what it actually is, an InterRail pass is one ticket which gives you access to Europe’s largest network of trains and ferries for up to one month. You can either opt to buy a pass which covers transport in one European country, or the global pass which covers 30 countries. This is arguably the biggest perk of InterRailing – being able to see so many places in such a short amount of time.

Take our route for example:
We flew from LONDON, ENGLAND →

MADRID, SPAIN (two nights in The Hat Hostel, our favourite hostel of the trip – spacious, clean and complete with a rooftop bar)

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The Hat Hostel
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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

BARCELONA, SPAIN (three nights in Hostel Tierra Azul)

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Tierra Azul
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Parc Güell, Barcelona

From which we spent over 24 hours on various trains →

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (four nights – one in a random hostel we stumbled into on the night we arrived earlier than expected and then three in Infinity Party Hostels)

St Stephen's Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica

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VIENNA, AUSTRIA (one night in Hostel Ruthensteiner)

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Schönbrunn Palace

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (two nights in Miss Sophie’s)

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View of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

BERLIN, GERMANY (two nights in Lett’em Sleep Hostel – they really do let you sleep, not recommended for those looking for a more sociable experience)

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
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The Reichstag building

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS (two nights in the White Tulip Hostel)

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One of many pretty bicycle strewn bridges

From where we flew back → LONDON.

Due to chaotic nature of InterRailing, it is unlikely that you’ll get bored. How can the novelty of a place wear off when you’re only there for a few days before being whisked off to somewhere new? Of course, this has its downsides. It’s unrealistic to expect to achieve anything more than a basic understanding of a location if you’ve only got a couple of days to spare. This is fine if you just want to sample a variety of places and then plan your future travels based on which ones you found most appealing. If you don’t particularly like a place, then you’re free to simply move on. However, it won’t appeal to you if you’re the kind of person who likes to take their time with getting to know a place and doesn’t like to be rushed around.

Another positive aspect is that you’ll probably be able to cover most of the touristic sightseeing in any given European city in a few days. You should do your research though as some places require longer than others. For example, two nights in Amsterdam was just about manageable, where as two nights in Prague was nowhere near enough. We went out both nights and were pretty exhausted during the day. This caused us to do the majority of our sightseeing at 5am on the last morning, guilt stricken, having just come out of Karlovy Lazne and realizing just how scenic Prague is. The streets were empty and the sunrise was magical, but I didn’t feel like I had gotten as much out of my time there as I could’ve done, leading me to go back to Prague last December.

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Charles Bridge
Prague at sunrise
Prague at sunrise

It is also important to establish what you want to get out of the trip especially if you’re going with someone else. Europe has so much to offer so it is essential to ensure that you’re on the same page. It’s not going to work out if you want a cultural few weeks peppered with art galleries and exhibitions while they are planning to focus on Europe’s nightlife. It is hard to get the sightseeing-partying balance right, especially if you’re only in a place for a couple of days, but it’s not impossible. Since my InterRail experience, I’ve learned to try to get the majority of the more physically demanding sightseeing completed on the first day so you can go out in the evening and not worry about an early start. Then, the next day it’ll be easier to cope with a hangover if you’re not doing anything too strenuous.

Most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH. We wandered aimlessly around Vienna in the completely wrong district, assuming Schönbrunn Palace was all it had to offer and writing it off as rather boring. We didn’t even notice that the public can enter the palace! It wasn’t until I revisited Vienna with my family that I realized just how dynamic it is, making it one of my current favourite European cities. It’s always good to go with the flow and be spontaneous, but have a rough idea of what the place has to offer, and if you can learn a few phrases in the local lingo, even better.

Visit InterRail.eu to view example itineraries and plan your trip

The Importance of Staycations: Bath and Glasgow

While I have been lucky enough to travel abroad from a young age, I haven’t spent much time exploring my own country. I didn’t appreciate England because it was home terrain. I was much more interested in going to exotic, far-flung destinations. A few years ago, my dad invited me along on a trip to the Lake District and I rejected, assuming it would be boring. I definitely regretted that when I realized just how picturesque it is. Due to my parents separation, I’ve grown up splitting my time between London and Kent. The best of both worlds: a seaside town during the week and the city on the weekend. Like a stereotypical ignorant Londoner, I presumed that this was everything I needed and there was not much else to see in the rest of the country. However, in the past couple of years I have completely altered my attitude. It was when I was forced to visit other cities for university open days that I realized what the rest of the UK had to offer and how much I’d been missing out. I am so lucky to have not only England, but also Scotland, Wales and Ireland right on my doorstep. In wake of moving to Shanghai at the end of August for a year abroad and the possible break-up of the UK post-Brexit, I have decided to try to spend as much of my spare time as I can this summer sampling various cities around the UK.

I took the first of these trips last week and traveled to Bath, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Bath and Edinburgh are both UNESCO world heritage sites and I am so lucky that two of my close friends live in two of the most beautiful cities in the UK, and were kind enough to host me and act as my tour guides. I’ve always thought that I want to eventually settle in London, but this trip has definitely changed my mind and made me consider other possibilities. I was also able to host one of my friends when she came to visit me in Kent (although I’m embarrassed to admit that most tourist excursions we embarked on were also new to me). 

BATH, ENGLAND

Duration of trip:
I spent four nights here, and thought that this was definitely enough to cover all of the main attractions. However, due to the large number of museums and other things to do in Bath, you could easily spend a week here.

Attractions:
Bath Abbey, The CircusThe Roman Baths (go in the evening to beat the queues and crowds, when the Baths are also lit up), Pulteney Bridge, the Jane Austen Centre, 1 Royal Crescent and Royal Victoria Park.

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Bath Abbey
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Bath Abbey
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Roman Baths with view of the Abbey in the background
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Learning the language of fans in the Jane Austen Centre
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Entertaining Tasha in exchange for being a great tour guide at 1 Royal Crescent

Food and Drink: 
We had Afternoon Tea at The Regency Tea Room which can be found above the Jane Austen Centre.

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We had dinner one evening at Hall & Woodhouse which also has a beautiful rooftop bar and grabbed some ice cream from the Real Italian Ice Cream Company.

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We had relaxed drinks at Turtle Bay (go for 2for1 cocktails during happy hours 6-7 or 9-10pm) or alternatively, some great nightclubs include The Second Bridge, Zero Zero and Po Na Na.


GLASGOW, SCOTLAND

Duration of trip:
One night which definitely was not enough, I’d say at least another night was needed, if not two.

Attractions:
I only had time to go to The Gallery of Modern Art, George Square, and the Glasgow Cathedral. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is meant to be amazing and is definitely at the top of my list for my next trip.

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Gallery of Modern Art

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Food & Drink:
Went to Ashton Lane in the West End, which is strewn with quirky bars. 
Dinner was at Ubiquitous Chip which was delightful. Being in Scotland, I thought it was only right to try the vegetarian haggis to start, followed by the charred asparagus.

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Afterwards, we had some drinks at Vodka Wodka opposite the restaurant, and were really impressed with the quality of the cocktails and how reasonably priced they were.

To be continued…