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

A Place Like Vienna

Quote by William Blake
Quote by William Blake in the MuseumsQuartier

Ah, Vienna. Vienna is definitely in my top three favourite places in Europe. Even though I’ve only been there twice, I fell utterly in love with it. Vienna has got everything you could want from a cultural city break:

Architecture

Everywhere you turn, you are greeted by a fascinating building. Before I went to Vienna, a friend told me that it reeks of wealth, and she was right. Once the seat of the Hapsburg Empire for around 700 years, no expense was spared and its grandeur is overwhelming. The grand Gothic structure of St Stephen’s Cathedral is probably the most recognized building in Vienna, and the Austrian Parliament Building and the Austrian National Library are both definitely not to be missed.

St Stephen's Cathedral
St Stephen’s Cathedral
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Austrian National Library
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Austrian Parliament Building

It has its quirky buildings too. My favourite place in Vienna is the Hundertwasserhaus, a little gem of expressionist architecture. Bright and vivid, not only is it aesthetically impressive, but the philosophy behind it is also interesting. Hunderwasser wanted architecture to be closer to nature rather the reigning over it.

Hundertwasserhaus
Hundertwasserhaus
Hundertwasserhaus
Hundertwasserhaus


Music

Vienna is often dubbed as the capital of classical music and for good reason too. When considering the top ten composers in history, figures from the Viennese classical period consistently make the ranks. The ‘Vienna Four’ (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert) all worked in Vienna from 1750 to 1825, not forgetting Strauss and other greats who were either born in, or lived in the city.

Johann Strauss in Stadtpark
Johann Strauss in Stadtpark

You can see statues of famous musicians throughout the city, and can even visit some of their places of residence. If you wish to take a trip to the famous State Opera while you’re in the city, then you will need to book well in advance. Alternatively, there is a myriad of other concerts offered, which is what we opted for.

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‘An Evening with Strauss and Mozart’ performed by The Vienna Residence Orchestra
Mozart Haus
Mozarthaus


Museums

Vienna has such a rich history that it houses around one hundred museums. Many of them revolve around the history of the monarchy. There are an array of palaces open to visitors including the Hofburg Palace, the Belvedere Palace (home to Klimt’s The Kiss) and the summer residence Schönbrunn Palace, which is home to the oldest zoo in the world, founded in 1752.

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Schönbrunn Palace
Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace

There is also an entire museum in the Imperial Apartments dedicated to Austria’s most beloved member of royalty, Emperor Elisabeth, or ‘Sisi’ as she was known.

“Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
“Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Vienna is also home to some of the best art collections in the world. The Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum) is probably the biggest, with the Albertina coming in close second with an extensive collection. The Museumsquartier is an entire area full of museums and cafes, most notably the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (mumok). Also, be sure to check out the performances given by the Spanish Riding School. You can book online here. I’d definitely recommend doing so in advance, as they sell out quite quickly. We waited until we were in Vienna and could only see the morning exercises as a result (tickets for which can’t be booked online and have to be bought on the day). If you are a student, make sure you keep your student ID on you at all times as many museums offer discounts.

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Kunsthistorisches Museum
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The morning exercises at the Winter Riding School

 

Cake, cake, cake

Need I say more? Vienna has the best confectionery that I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. Purely on a research basis of course, I took it upon myself to sample as many as I could. It is home to traditional Austrian deserts like apfelstrudel and kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes with rum soaked raisins).

Apfelstrudel
Apfelstrudel
kaiserschmarren
Kaiserschmarren

It is also the birthplace of the famous Sachertorte (go to Hotel Sacher for the best one), the recipe of which was originally created for royalty. Demel, the famous pastry shop and chocolaterie which supplied to the royal family, was established in 1786 and is still going strong today.

The famous sachertorte
Sachertorte
Demel
Demel