2000 – the year before the introduction of the Euro and the serious political attempt at multi-culturalism and homogenisation – the year a friend and I purchased Inter-rail tickets and set off on a whistle-stop tour of central and eastern Europe. We had spent many hours planning our itinerary, poring over train timetables and maps of Europe to determine the best route. By best route we meant the quickest way to travel across Europe and see as many cities as we could in the fifteen days available to us.
We concentrated on central and eastern Europe as we wanted to experience some of the countries that had sat behind the Iron Curtain before the final vestiges of Communism were swept away. In hindsight we were ten years too late, the Berlin Wall having fallen eleven years previously, but the past is not so easy to erase. Our inter-rail passes took us to some of the most wondrous European cities – Amsterdam, Bratislava, Brussels, Budapest, Kraków, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw – where spires, canals, statues, architecture and artwork came together in a cultural melting-pot. The flavours of each city combined to produce a sumptuous feast highlighting the best Europe has to offer.
Train travel is one of the best ways to travel across Europe. Train lines criss-cross the continent and the added bonus of an inter-rail pass is the flexibility it allows you. Itineraries can be changed if a day more or less is desired in one of the destinations or you want to take off on a flight of fancy! Trains are a more social way of travelling (forget the British reserve), talking with your neighbours on a night train as you whizz through the shrouded European countryside can be an interesting and enlightening experience.
I really enjoyed my first inter-rail experience, I have memories that I will always cherish and the train journeys are an integral part of them. Since that first journey I have undertaken two more, one covering parts of Italy and the other a trip from Bulgaria to Istanbul. My train journeys have not come to an end; plans are being made for more inter-rail in Europe in the near future. There’s a vast continent to explore and I’ve only just started.
You can read about my train travel and experiences in City Chronicles: A Tale of Nine Cities which is available now from Lulu.com. City Chronicles: A Little Bit of Italy and City Chronicles: Crossing the Bosporus will be out later in 2012.