Planes, Trains and Absolute Giggles.

“The most prominent memories one possesses are the ‘almost’ disasters, the times you laugh because if you do not, you will cry.”

In the year of 2015 with the ever-present feeling of impending A-Level doom, the majority of people comfort themselves with their plans of a ‘lads’ or ‘girls’ holiday in Ibiza. My decision to go InterRailing with 10 of my friends was by far the best decision I have ever made. First and foremost, in the lead up to the trip we arranged travel meetings which often involved pizza, drinks, a map of Europe and a laptop. Looking back through the various memorandums, scrapbooks and notes, one can distinctly remember so much of the trip. Nevertheless, the most prominent memories one possesses are the ‘almost’ disasters, the times you laugh because if you don’t you’ll cry. 

On the 30th June the adventure began. Being a native of Hungary would prove to be nothing but advantageous to ease ourselves into our journey. A centrally located apartment in the heart of Budapest alongside an ability to speak the language meant it was a great way convince oneself into believing that we knew what we were doing. Almost immediately, in time-honoured fashion, it became evident that all the planning and preparation had not been enough upon arrival. The minibus transport took our group into the heart of the city and everyone turned to this humble writer expectantly in order to find our way to the apartment.

Too proud to admit that having absolutely no clue as to the location of said apartment, all one can do is smile, take the lead and soldier on. In the wrong direction. Yet undeniably, Budapest is a beautiful city and the sight of the historic Vaci Utc was a welcome balm to the angsting group. However, the mixture of heat and heavy rucksacks did not bode well with sightseeing and the group began flagging. Luckily, a capacity to communicate in Hungarian to the locals was enough to find the right metro. Others in the group were none the wiser. 

This initial success notwithstanding, the luck of the group was to oscillate continously. Serbia was the next destination and a must see sojourn for the intrepid interrailer. 

“One cannot help but lose one’s breath at the crystal clear waters stretching from shore to the horizon.”

After the stop in Budapest, a train to Serbia was marked by poor first impressions. The 8-hour train journey in 40-degree heat with urine leaking out from the toilet did not exactly fill the group with confidence for the rest of our trip. This impression didn’t improve when a group of homeless men formed a most unwelcome greeting party and began surveying the group with less than friendly eyes. Nonetheless,This first impression is in complete contrast to the city itself because Belgrade truly is a hidden gem! The city really strikes the balance between old and new, with a commercial main street, a beautiful fortress to explore, a wide range of art galleries and some of the most stunning views from the King Aleksander I Bridge.

After 3 days, our time in Belgrade ran out. Croatia was our next destination & if you are looking for a beach holiday, free from the metropolis and its panoply of tourist-centric places, Pula is a paradise hugging the rim of the Adriatic. However, one particular instance did stand out. The Island of Brijuni, a scenic and relaxed hideaway, which whilst secluded from prying eyes, is a nature park filled with a Pandoraesque variety of flora and fauna. Indeed, when driving along the beach our guide memorably stated ‘if you look to your left, you will see nothing but the waves’. The Adriatic may not have the same reputation as its cousin the Aegean, yet one cannot help but lose one’s breath at the crystal clear waters stretching from shore to the horizon.

A restful few days along the Croatian Riviera was a perfect chance to catch the breath, yet now, it was time to switch to its Italian counterpart. In Venice, the four days were filled with an ostensible lack of disasters. However, hubris is a fickle thing. If one has ever been InterRailing before, some trains, most commonly night trains, will require a seat reservation alongside your ticket. Thoughtful squad member Sam had taken responsibility for booking all reservations, including the night train from Venice to Munich. Now this was a highly congested train, and settling into our allocated compartments came with the realisation that Sam had a shifty countenance which did not bode well. It was at this point he admitted he’d made a terrible mistake. Sam had accidentally reserved the seats on the same train, but for a month earlier. Needless to say, this was far from ideal. The seats were taken and the group forced unceremoniously out into the corridor. An argument erupted and tensions ran high. The train conductor inevitably came, and upon explaining calmly the situation he luckily seemed to be kind, fatherly type. He took half of the group into a spare compartment much like the one that had been so reluctantly abandoned, and then took the rest of the group to a first class carriage with air-conditioning and bunk beds! Total luxury and proof that all things come to those who wait.

The odyssey across the Alps now completed, Munich, symbol of Germanic and Teutonic culture awaited. Undeniably, the city was a fantastic blur consisting of frothing ale, history and German Bratwurst. The city which, for students of A-Level History, is a place of great import was a proud reminder of the cultural progress achieved in Germany since the end of Communism. Similarly, Berlin proved to be a relaxing but engaging denouement in Deutschland. Its rich cosmopolitan feel harks back to its heyday in the 1920’s and the food & edifices are second to none. Hopefully, Berlin and this author can be reunited as soon as possible. 

The German architectural adventure aside, Prague was the next stop on the journey. To this end, the accommodation in Prague was a little different to your standard apartment, a slightly leftfield decision was made to book a Dojo as our place of rest. Sleeping sardine-like on air beds coupled with the annoying but hilarious robbery of a group member’s dirty clothes ensured that Praha (Prague) was an insurmountable success. Significantly, it must be mentioned that Prague may be slightly well known for its picturesque cityscape. The city boasts more than ten major and extremely popular museums, a opera house which echoes with past symphonies, yet Praha must now add robbery of dirty washing t its most distinguished cultural repertoire. A must see site, in this author’s opinion, is the 1410 Astronomical Clock which is the third oldest in the world and the oldest still working, a true testament to Czech durability and craft.   

Ultimately, this was a trip which had no major disasters, a couple of stolen clothes maybe, a few lost items and only one minor head injury from a bike crash. Yet, these were all relative bumps in the road and constitute the backbone of any InterRailing adventure. Importantly, a positive attitude is the most valuable item to pack into your rucksack. This includes making light of situations that seemed a bit doomed. Going with the flow and being spontaneous may seem like buzzwords but they are the essence of travelling. If you wake up early and no one else is, go out alone. Feel the pulse of the city, be it Prague, Berlin, Budapest or just a small, quiet beach on the Adriatic coast.

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