Monday , December 5 2022

‘Is your backpack full of dreams?’: readers’ Interrail memories

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Winning tip: Planning went awry in Paris

I still have our 1987 copy of Europe by Train. Simple pen and ink maps that had little basis in reality – a bit like the planning my friend and I did. Pre-internet, pre-glasnost, pre-midlife indecision, we naively arrived in Paris and filled in our paper booklet ticket with the first destination, Nice, without considering booking a couchette, or simply a seat. In July. After desperate visits to ticket offices to try to get on any train leaving Paris, we to took the last train of the night, north, to Amsterdam, and thus did the whole adventure back to front. That same friend’s son is about to go on his own Interrail adventure. Apparently he’s got a spreadsheet.
Stephen Bowden

Secret hostel, Switzerland

Gimmelwald.
The chalets of Gimmelwald have amazing views. Photograph: Lukasz Janyst/Alamy

I Interrailed with my friend Gabby in 1992. We met so many Interrailers and quickly forged friendships. One group of friends we met mapped out some instructions to direct us to a not-listed-in-the-guides hostel in the Swiss alps. You could turn up to the unmanned wooden chalet in Gimmelwald, and if you could find a bunk, you could stay. Payment was by some kind of honesty box. It was the most incredible location with stunning mountaintop views and wonderful waterfall walks.
Nichola Gaskins

Cheesy chat-up line

A bulky backpack led to love for Nick.
A bulky backpack led to love for Nick. Photograph: CrispyPork/Getty Images

Back in the heady, optimistic days of the 1980s, Interrail allowed me to get away with a chat-up line that had a lasting impact on my life. As a girl was struggling to squeeze into the compartment of the night train from Paris to Barcelona I offered to help by 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 of 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, then, a few years later, got engaged.
Nick

Dancing on the Algarve

Hitting the beach on the Algarve.
Hitting the beach on the Algarve. Photograph: Silvia Pilar-Fernandes/Alamy

With six girlfriends I started in London, then took a ferry across the Channel. In Paris, after first meeting up with a group of Austrian men, we were soon practising our French with friendly French men. After passing through Spain (no men), we arrived in Portugal. We camped and partied on the Algarve where one of my friends was asked to dance by a lonesome Dutchman. Now, 39 years later, they still dance – and live in the UK.
Alison Anthony

Italian epic

Laura
Laura, with partner and baby waiting for another train. Photograph: Laura

In 2017, we were invited to a wedding in Sicily, and also had to attend, in Cesenatico near Rimini on the Adriatic coast, the scattering of the ashes of a family member in the sea. Living in Geneva, we got our tickets from the Interrail website, at about CHF100 (£87) each and decided to make a proper trip of it with our nine-month-old baby. So after the wedding we journeyed from Catania to Taormina’s beautiful station, crossing to the mainland with the special ferry-train, with a 10-hour trip to Rome, then Cesenatico, and back to Geneva through the Italian Alps. It was fantastic.
Laura

Plum brandy en route to Pula

Pula, Croatia
Sun, sea and rocks at Pula, Croatia. Photograph: Design Pics Inc/Alamy

Travelling from Vienna to Belgrade in former Yugoslavia in 1983, we three 18-year-old Chesterfield school friends were asked to take a package over the border by a friendly chap. Plied with plum brandy we agreed, only to renege when we saw him escorted off the train by border police. After a further 24 hours we reached the coast at Pula in Croatia and dived into the beautiful sea – only to be stung by jellyfish within seconds. A fantastic week of sun, sea and rocky beaches with great food and drink at bargain prices ensued.
Tim Andrew

Grumbling husband

Bernina Express
Bernina Express near Chapella, Switzerland. Photograph: Roberto Moiola/Sysaworld/Getty Images

“A seven-day commute!” grumbled my husband when I suggested we should take Interrail to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We had met on a train more than 30 years earlier, so why not? Taking the Eurostar to Paris, we boarded a TGV to Strasbourg and another train to Brig, Switzerland, via Basel. We boarded the Glacier Express and were mesmerised by the snow-capped scenery. We travelled on to Milan, Venice, Nice and Béziers. Highlights included meeting an elderly couple in the Bernina Pass who were munching hardboiled eggs and taking two trains to go to Milan to watch an opera.
Jenny Vickery

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Travels with my daughter

Bled in Slovenia is a popular stop-off for Interrailers.
Bled in Slovenia is a popular stop-off for Interrailers. Photograph: Pintai Suchachaisri/Getty Images

A couple of years ago we took the train from Redruth in Cornwall to Slovenia for a family ski trip. Going via London and taking the Eurostar to Paris we then got an overnight train through the Alps to Venice. Our daughter was seven at the time and it was a great experience to be able to share some of the sights en route with her. She found sleeping on the train hard but the moon lighting up the snowy peaks was a beautiful distraction. We had a morning in Venice before taking the train to the border, crossing on foot into Slovenia where the railway gauge is different, and then on to another train into the mountains. It was so brilliant my family have just been to Greece and back on the train.
Layla Astley

Venice prince

Venice is a favourite destination and an ideal place to be stranded for an evening.
Venice is a favourite destination and an ideal place to be stranded for an evening. Photograph: Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images

After going to a festival in Venice, two friends and I missed the last train with no place to stay. So we did what any 19-year-old Interrailer would do: sleep in the station. A suited man with a briefcase approached us, and asked if we wanted a drink. One friend and I declined but the other said yes and he bought her a hot chocolate. Concerned for her safety, my eyes were glued to the beverage. “I’m a Turkish prince,” he gushed. He opened his case and revealed its contents. I was expecting gold. Instead, it was full of cigarettes.
Zara

Marzipan cake in the Arctic Circle

Scandinavia is great to explore by train. In 1988 we travelled from Helsinki to the Finnish Lakeland, feasting on marzipan cake for my friend’s birthday. We walked for a few days through the immense heat and travelled on to Rovaniemi. From there we visited the Arctic Circle and enjoyed two ice-creams a day in freakishly high temperatures. We took the bus and train to northern Sweden, where we walked the beginning of the Kungsleden long-distance trail from Abisko. The tundra, dotted with reindeer, and the snow-capped mountains contrasted with the blue skies. One of my best holidays ever.
Mirjam Speksnyder

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