Bon voyage

A trip across Europe via train

“Isn’t that for students and, well… young people?”

It was a common reaction and frankly, who could blame them? Many of my friends and family members had posed the question when I happened to mention my plans to “go Inter-railing”. The very act of going on holiday to multiple destintions has worked its way so deeply into our language that it has become a verb. But it’s a verb that comes with a certain image, and when you’re in your earlie fifties that image doesn’t apply to you.

Except it does. Especially when said InterRail ticket has been offered at a heavily discounted rate, and when that offer also includes First Class tickets. It was a flash sale in early Summer 2022 that did it for me; a one month continuous pass offering travel in over 30 countries. And when you’re my age, you can generally afford a better standard of living. With the ticket price being so cheap, I could add a nice hotel for every night of the trip. Because while sleeper trains may have a romantic image, there’s nothing attractive about spending the night in a bunk bed, potentially with complete strangers. And also, the continuous pass comes with a few strings attached.

Which is partly why the journey starts early – very early – on the 0549 from Nottingham to London. You’re allowed one continuous trip out of your home country and one back in. In its simplest form, this could just be the Eurostar to France or Belgium, but careful planning is required.

Most UK trains don’t require reservations, but with InterRail they’re compulsory for the faster trains and some international services including Eurostar. The seats sell out quickly, because the company isn’t making much cash from the pass. So the only way to get to Paris in a reasonable time is to set off at the crack of dawn, with the idea of being in Lyon by late afternoon.

This first part of the trip is also the most costly in terms of extras. Both Eurostar and the TGV that wil take me onward from Paris have compulsory supplements – about £35 in total. But as I head further South and East many of the trains are simply hop on and off as you please. The app that came with my pass can technically plan the whole trip, but Ive found that the Austrian Railway website (OBB) is by far the best for listing just about every service in Europe. It also allows you to book a reservation for a small fee (about £3) to ensure a seat.

Being First Class, East Midlands Trains offers a morning breakfast service which includes a hot bacon roll. The very mention of food gets the interest iof NewsMutt, not least because the train crew has unwisely left the trolley unattended.

The slightly scruffy looking bag to the right in this picture is my entire worldly belongings for the next three weeks. Again, keen to stress that travelling is not the preserve of the young, I’ve chosen a backpack to lug about. It hails from the days when I used to do loads of walking in the Peak District, when hostels costing £4 a night were my accommodation of choice. And when I could actually bee arsed to make an effort.

The theory is that the pack will be far more useful than a suitcase for distant railway stations with confusing platforms and potentially short connection times. But it’s inevitably meant some sacrifices. There’s no room, for instance, for my silk bath robe, cut glass whiskey decanter and elephant hide boots. I jest, of course, but choosing what to pack in a relatively small space – and moreover having to carry it all on yours back – is not an easy task. Still, a daily workout may be no bad thing.

Next stop, St Pancras International – always a beautiful sight – and the gateway to what may just well be a jolly good adventure.


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