Interrailing is not for everyone

Hungary from my train window: Nothing but the fields and blue sky

 

It’s a 9 hour journey from Budapest to Ljubjlana.Plenty of time to think and reflect on the journey so far. Which is what I love about Interrailing. As I write, the train glides over the flat, lush green fields of the Hungarian countryside that stretch for miles to meet the infinite blue sky.Just when the scenery becomes a little predictable…ooh there comes a canal.A stork! Then out of nowhere two bronzed, middle aged balding men pop up, cycling by in red pants with bulging potbellies.

One thing that Interrailing has taught me that nothing in life is predictable. Definitely not for everyone.

I am struggling to draw a line between my recent past life in Edinburgh and my current reality. When you are Interrailing, somedays you don’t where you came from and where you are really  going. I knew the name of the cities and the hostels I was staying in. That was pretty much it. Well that’s pretty organised some of you would say but for me phew…. big change. I had left my beloved Europe on a Shoestring LP guidebook at home. I turned up at each city clueless with not even the foggiest clue of how to get from the train station to hostel. This is very unlike me. Whenever I travelled in the past I have always planned my each move meticulously a few moves ahead like a chess player.

This time it’s different. The whole flexible nature of Interrailing allows room for spontaneous travel. I turn up at each city wide eyed in wonder. I admire the impressive landscape and beautiful architecture.

 

Untravel- Go through every open door and seek adventure. Do not fear the wrath of locals and risk of trespassing

 

Whatever place looks interesting , I walk towards and inspect with inquisitive eye.I ask the local people about the history of the place and get all kinds of interesting insights. As Andy Jarosz observed in his excellent piece on why the best travel experiences often involve seeing nothing :  often these people you just meet on your travels , their faces and smiles are the memories that you carry away with you when you look back at your travels.

The places we go and the people we meet…

Like when I think of Prague, I remember the faces of the all the travellers at Plus Prague I met and having this awesome night out in town.Not likely that we will all meet again in the future- who knows …but hey was such a cool night out.

Tales of the unexpected: The places where we go and the awesome people we meet…wow what a wonderful world.

 

I was the following day wondering around Malastrana and wondered into the local Museum of Modern Art: The Museum Montanelli.I got chatting to the lovely Jana K there who kindly invited me to the degree show party of the local art college. A great night of great and bad art, weird and wonderful characters and awesome swing dancing to the tune of Caravan Palace [ Thanks Jana for introducing me to them] 🙂

 

The weird and the wonderful: Great night at the local art college degree show party in Prague

Life without a travel plan? An itinerary? A guidebook? Life gets bloody exciting! Getting ideas of things to do is not a problem.You don’t even need Twitter or a smartphone.

Few basic rules to remember to make the most of the Interrail experience.

Wherever possible, chat & meet the locals. I had an awesome walking tour of Copenhagen thanks to local blogger Alex Berger from Virtual Wayfarer  Thanks to him I stumbled upon possibly one of the most perfect sunsets ever at Nyhavn harbour.

 

 

In all the luxury hostels I’ve visited so far is that there is no shortage of excellent ideas and tips from the staff members I’ve met. Being travellers themselves, they are keen to impress me with their knowledge and often enough they’ll let me into a secret- a favourite bar or place to eat where they would tend to go with friends. For example when I stayed at the fantastic Plus Hostel in Berlin, one of their reception staff tipped me off about a cool bar at the Hotel Michelburger. This bar was the perfect place to unwind after a long day seeing the sights in Berlin.

 

Very cool bar at the Michelburger Hotel in Berlin

 

Great ambience- Low lighting, a very cool retro feel,  the long wooden share tables, mismatched chairs ,comfy couches, musical instruments, bookshelves and lamps made out of book covers in the front. When chatting to the bar staff at the Michelburger, one of the bartenders turned out to be a bit of an authority on the underground club scene and points me in the direction of a cool club called the Watergate across the bridge on Warschauer strasse.So from pretty much planning nothing and depending on the kindness and knowledge of strangers, I had a great night out in Berlin sorted and it was one of the coolest nights out I had in a long time.

 

So is the way we travel essentially changing? Or just it’s meaning….

For me personally, this trip has been quite a radical departure.For instance with an Interrail pass, travelling across Europe has been a breeze so far.It’s just been a matter of looking at the timetables for the train schedules online then turning up at the station on time.

Supercool.Some trains require a reservation to ensure a hassle free journey. Berlin to Prague and Vienna to Budapest, though not compulsory, I’d recommend reserving your train. There is no stress.Maybe then again, this has been my ignorance till date, hopping across Europe on low cost airlines. I haven’t had my passport checked once. Which is kinda of strange. No dark looks or hard questioning from the guys in uniform for the Asian man with beard and the black backpack. ( yup I’ve grown a beard, just today morning I finally got around to shaving it )

Maybe I’ve seen too many cold war and James Bond movies.

I’m sad that there is less mystery about international travel nowadays. Familarity breeds contempt. I’ve become quite irritated at the number of familiar shop outlets I am seeing in every city in Europe- Burger King, H&M, Subway, Starbucks, Tesco and Lidl. It’s like I never left Edinburgh. When I walked into my room at the Aventura Boutique Hostel in Budapest, my first instinct was to walk towards the balcony and peek at the comings and goings of my temporary neighbourhood. I saw a cool grocery shop-luscious juicy plums, cherries, apricots and peaches on show, a sight you’ll rarely see in Scotland. Right in front of the apartment there is a cool beer garden. Tick. Right beside it is a nice pastry shop which sold bread loaves quadruple the size of my head, no kidding. Awesome.Then to the left, I saw the glimmering glass edifice of the local shopping mall that is glued to the local Nyugati train station. Then I saw the sign of the British superstore Debenhams and the blood drained from my face.Deceived. It was like walking into your home to find that your girlfriend has been cheating on you with the bin man. My racing heartbeat slowed down. I shook my head and decided I had enough of my first exciting view of the city that was going to be my home for the next few days. It’s inevitable with the increased political and economic union of Europe, that one day the high street of Budapest and Britain will increasingly look the same.

So here’s my challenge to myself and to you- let’s embrace the spirit of the unknown as long as it exists.

Let’s be unpredictable!

 

Tales of the unexpected: Kash and the Beatles????

 

What do you think of the following?

1. Don’t pick up a map. Leave the guidebook behind. Switch off the smartphone.

2. Walk around wherever possible. Get lost.

In fact, try to get lost everyday on your trip and see how disorientated you can become. See what you discover.

3. Don’t take the same free walking tour like everyone at the hostel.

Walk through every open door -march into whichever building or establishment that takes your fancy.

However significant or insignificant it’s history maybe, discover something for yourself.

4. Eat something exotic and foreign to your palette everyday- desist from having your favourite Starbucks coffee and forgo the guilty pleasures of free wifi.

5. Try and learn to say thank you at least in all the countries you travel.

I’ll start with these 5 ideas to start your un-travel Interrail manifesto.

 

 

 

7 Comments

  • AlexBerger says:

    Love the post, and I definitely agree. Thanks for the shout-out! It was great having the chance to connect and share a taste of Copenhagen. There’s so much richness in the people and casual experiences you can find in each city you visit. I think it is often missed when people focus solely on the museums and more traditional things that make the guidebooks. Which are valuable in their own right, and especially important for novice travelers who gain a lot from learning through those cathedrals/museums/etc. However, as you get more travel under your belt, and start to get a lot of traditional sites and scenes under your belt I think your relationship tends to evolve with the museums and cathedrals you interact with.

    • Ta Alex!

      You set the tone with a great few days in Copenhagen.

      What made it special for me was hanging out with you, meeting your friends and ‘that party’ plus the great evening at the local fanzine…

      I am slowly realising travel is often what you make of it- it can be anything..not just visiting the must see sights but simple things in everyday life you take for granted like a smile, a great meal, a sunset, meeting someone nice or just being in a cafe with great wifi connection….there’s a common strand that runs through this all.

      Look forward to catching up with you soon somewhere in the world 🙂

  • Kirstie McCrum says:

    I absolutely love your blog on this, Kash – I feel like I’m there with you! Keep it up, and stay safe x

    • Cheers Kirstie- coming from you, means a lot.

      We should meet sometime soon! You travelling anywhere soon…

    • Douglas, Laird of Balmawhapple says:

      Dear Kirstie,

      In the interests of genuine travel journalism and honest reporting (not hyperbole – really Kash, so the blood drained from your face when you saw the sign for Debbehams? Cmmon – did your parents bring you up soley on the Sun and Daily Mail?) – I can tell you that I WAS THERE.

      At least for part of Kash’s journey – and he is spinning you a bit here.

      This is how I saw it – and since I hitch-hiked from London to India (and back, bar a 150 mile bit by train) in the 1970s when Kash was not even a twinkle in his grandfather’s eye – I think i can tell a few tales about travelling.

      I’m standing in the train corridor, looking out of the window, and soon after leaving Zalaegerszeg, in SW Hungary on Wednesday, 10 days ago, the door to the next compartment opens and an Indian-looking guy crawls out into the corridor.

      Me; Hey man, you look in a bad way, can I help?

      Crawler (who turns out to be Kash); how long do I have to put up with this? i’m dying of dehydration.

      Me; Sorry, old chap, there’s snother five hours to go. But I can give you some water.

      ~Interlude while crawler holds out tongue – which wasn’t really very parched – and he gets himself together somewhat.

      I have to admit that this Budapest – Ljubljana trip, which is almost 9 hours, is a bit of a risk if you don’t know that the train has no buffet car nor person peddling drinks. It is about 35 degrees Centigrade today.

      Crawler, now recovering; I’m never going to do this again, normally all my journey’s are sorted out beforhand. I buy all the guidebooks and have people waiting for me at every destination. This adventurous stuff, where you don’t plan it all beforehand, isn’t for me.

      At this point we pass Zalaegerszeg’s football ground, and I tell crawler that the team beat Manchester United c 2005 in a European Cup game, in Budapest. I was there. (I hope he might be an MU fan, so I can rub this in, but it seems not.) He is genuinely appreciative of the fact, and says he might put it in his blog.

      For the next few miles we exchange banter – I learn that he is a blogger, ie a la here, but he still has to have semi-delirious because, according to this site – he writes that never got his passport checked.

      I can assure you he did, and I warned him it might happen. The Hungarian cops have checked this train everytime i’ve been on it, despite the Schengen HU-Slovene border not requring a passport (in theory).

      Crawler seemed seriously impressed by my knowledge of such things. “You should write a blog,” he suggested at this point.

      Crawler; I’m doing a sort of high-class budget travel report. I’m staying in a hostel in Ljubljana.

      Me; Don’t tell me, it’s the Celicia. The former prison.

      Crawler (jaw dropping); yeah, you know it? Is it really like a prison?

      Me; Only in that you have to leave your ‘cell’ to go to the loo. It’s overpriced in my opinion, but the first time i had to stop there, then there was some kind of folk club scene. That was pretty good.

      By now i’m pointing out the Slovene border, and a Hungarian watchtower that remains from the Cold War days. Crawler does not realise that Yugoslavia, though a former commie country, was not part of the Warsaw Pact – so this was the Iron Curtain, south-western, border. (He, Kash is still young, so I’m not trying to run him down here. And he’s probably still a bit delirious, so unable to take it all in or report accurately.)

      Crawler; Wow, you should write a blog.

      At this juncture, i’m variously sms-ing folks and hanging out of the window waving at friends across the bit of Slovenia I know best.

      I point out a fairy-tale castle at Velike Nedelije (= Big Sunday) and Crawler makes a comment about how earlier we’d been to Murska Saturday. Are all Slovene towns named after days? he asks. (It is kind of funny, but I can’t think of any more examples. Ljubljana Torek – Tuesday – does not exist.

      We now near Pragersko, and I go forward to wake up a Finnish guy who is also dying of thirst in the first comparatment.

      Me; OK guys, we change locomotives here to an electric, so we have time to run off and get some drink and a bite.

      Crawler; you should write a blog. that’s exactly the kind of information travellers need. What is this locomotive then?

      Me; it’s diesel-electric – that’s why it’s been roaring away for the past 90 minutes. (Electrics don’t roar.)

      Crawler; oh. how much will the drinks and stuff be? (going to his pocket for money – to be fair, he gives me €6, which helps me out as I don’t have enough change. Kash may use hyperbole to get you guys to read this stuff, but he’s honest with dosh and has got a soft heart :))

      The Finn and I leave the train, buy some beer from the station buffet, and i get some sandwiches from a newly installed newsagents.

      Others on the train, including one guy in a Man U shirt, see us intrepidly doing this, and then jump off the train themselves to do the same.

      Crawler; this beer is really good.

      The Finn and I agree. It’s Lasko, a Slovene beer which they still export to various former Yugo states. I point out the brewery a few miles later. Crawler tries to take a photo, but I guess he messed up – it isn’t here, is it?

      As we approach Ljubljana I learn the Crawler is Kash (we had not introduced ourseleves – after all, when we met, Kash was a quivvering mass of frightened, dehydrated humanity.)

      Kash even talks about his love life (not really fair to go into that here, is it?) and we discuss arranged marriage. Kash is pretty much against that.

      At Ljubljana, we all give each other a hug, and Kash goes off to his pre-arranged luxury cell in the Celicia.

      A genuine adventure traveller? Ha ha!

      I’m surprised they didn’t meet him a the station with a BMW to make sure he made the last 500m.

      Douglas, Laird of Balmawhapple

      ps I might have used a bit of hyperbole in the above myself 🙂
      Truth is, Kash is a good bloke – I genuinely admire him for carving out a career for himself as he has done.

  • Kirstie McCrum says:

    Nowhere this exciting – but I’ll keep you posted!

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