Travel Advice on InterRailing around Eastern Europe

Hello everyone that found my site whilst googling interrailing through europe! I had discovered that people are being directed to my old posts from last year.  So with the benefit of hindsight, I thought I’d write this post.

I realised that a year ago, I was doing the exact same thing that you’re doing now and whilst I was absolutely clueless then, I learnt a lot from my journey and I’d like to offer some advice/experience if you happen by my blog, feeling the same way.

When I say ‘clueless’, I really meant it.  I had no idea how long it would take me to get from A to B.  I had no idea what I should pack.  I had no idea where I wanted to go (other than I wanted to delve into eastern Europe).  For inspiration I looked to organised travel tours, there are a few about that offer trips around Europe.  They were a bit expensive for what I wanted but they were a great place to find a suggested route and a list of must-see places.  This is how I discovered Kutna Hora and the Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic (and I’m so glad I did – it’s a day trip out from Prague).

The dates I looked at for my flight out and return gave me 5 weeks and I stayed in each place (13 stops) about 3 nights each, give or take depending if I liked the place.  I found this gave me time to saunter at my own pace – staying just one night for several stops doesn’t give you time to soak in a place and it just knackers you out.

If you’re interested, this is the route I took, I found it was a good pace for me:

Prague (czech republic) 3 nights

Olomouc (czech republic) 3 nights

Krakow (poland) 4 nights

Zilina (slovakia) 1 night

Kosice (slovakia) 2 nights

Budapest (hungary) 4 nights

Pecs (hungary) 1 night

Budapest (hungary) 1 night

Cluj Napoca (romania) 2 nights

Sibiu (romania) 2 nights

Brasov (romania) 3 nights

Veliko Tarnovo (bulgaria) 2 nights

Sofia (bulgaria) 4 nights

My favourite cities/areas:

Krakow and Budapest and would recommend them.  Be aware that train travel is slow going through Romania and Bulgaria but it’s not so bad because the landscape is just stunning.  It gives you a good amount of time for gawping.

Things I’m so glad I packed:

I bought a digital watch which I love.  It has an alarm for when you need to get up to catch a train; it has a stop watch so you can time how long it takes to walk from the train station to your hostel (so you can allow yourself plenty of time for the walk to the station to catch the train); it even glows in the dark.

A torch in an accessible place in your bag.  Great for when you get back late/get up early and need to tip toe around whilst others are sleeping.
3 separate waterproof bags of varying sizes and colours.  This kept my bag fairly organised so I could get to various bits and bobs easily.

A phrasebook.  But I’m guessing you thought of that already.

The fear:

I was pretty damn scared before I went into the deep unknown (to me, at least), all alone – I guess the people that gasped at me with wide-eyed wonder saying that I was ‘just so Brave’ didn’t help to calm me.  Although this did allow me to feel smug for being so Brave once I’d come back alive and (relatively*) unscathed.  A friend told me that the worst bits are the going and the coming back.  I found that very much true, I had loved my trip so much I didn’t want to come back to real life.  In my case, the way I’d phrase it is that you start out nervous, you bumble about a bit** and come come back saying ‘that was AMAZING!’

*a little bit of being scathed adds to the journey of self discovery.

**(no adverture-er ever knew what they were doing otherwise it wouldn’t be an adventure)

Play the game whilst you’re out there, tasks become puzzles, even your own detective story.  If you’ve never travelled like this before, it’s ok, you get better at it quickly.  It becomes your full time job, so you have to.

I hope you have fun, wherever you go!

The Food Post

I realise I haven’t really spoken about my thoughts on food, which really is quite a major part of any culture.

My first ever meal in Prague was a fantastic welcome, (I specifically chose a Czech specialty) pork so tender it fell apart, sweet delicious cabbage and beautifully soft dumplings.  Nom nom.  I also had a Czech goulash – beef with pickles and potato dumplings (which I’m not sure ever saw a potato).

Cabbage is served with everything.  Everywhere.

Poland – I bought a ring pretzel from one of the street vendors, it was thick and filling but so tough I almost got cramp in my jaw…  I have since discovered that these sort of pretzel things are sold everywhere but not all are stale.  I have tried perogie, like ravioli with various fillings inside.  One meal I had simply said ‘meat’ perogie.  So I took my chances and it was quite nice, although I think they served it with chunks of fat on top.  Not sure I was too keen on that, but as always, adds to flavour.

There have been some things where I have wondered ‘what the heck is that!?’ and then requested it for dinner.  This is how I discovered pork knuckle.  Never having had it before and not really sure what to expect I was served this massive bone surrounded in meat and fat.  The meat took some digging out but it was delicious having been roasted in plum and honey sauce and garlic.  It was served with the most superb roast potatoes ever.  I did also very much enjoy chocolate coated banana on a stick I bought from a market but don’t think that’s particularly Polish…

Apparently the Polish know their vodkas – hazelnut vodka was recommended to me and dear god, it was the most beautiful thing.  I’ve never been one for drinking spirits neat (aside from shot form occasionally) but this I could drink neat aaaaallll day long.  Will have to search it out in England…

In Slovakia I pointed to a random ice cream flavour ‘rafaela’.  Jackpot, it was coconut – and bloody yummy too.  I went to a restaurant advertising Slovak cuisine and had fried chicken with sesame seeds, potatoes and a tomato spinach salady thing.  Really good, felt quite fattening despite the salad.  I would have liked to try something else from that restaurant for another night but the guys serving were miserable buggers – I couldn’t work out if they were just surly boys or hated foreigners, I don’t know.  And I didn’t fancy having to challenge their poe faces again.

Hungary – believe it or not, I never ate goulash here.  I did try paprikash krumpli which the owner of the hostel cooked up for everyone.  It consisted of potatoes, a paprika broth, more potatoes, chopped sausages (one being chorizo I think) and some potatoes.  Very filling.  And they kept offering us more bread.  Delicious bread but more stodge to go with the potato stodge.  Eastern Europeans know how to do stodge.  I was a little bit too scared to try langos, it’s like a big doughy bready pizza base sort of thing, fried, with cheese and garlic on top.  Everyone that I’ve spoken to about it have said that it makes you feel pregnant.  So I missed out on that one.

I got to try a Hungarian drinks specialty: Palinka –  a fruit brandy – in various flavours.  I tried some cranberry flavour and Elderberry I think… And Unicum which tastes disgusting, like medicine.  Ugh.  But I must admit I think I preferred it to the Elderberry palinka.

Romania – here I had my first taste of polenta, can’t say I thought much to it, shaped in a stodgy ball covered in cream, accompanying meat in cabbage rolls which were well worth suffering the polenta for.  I had polenta again in another restaurant and I enjoyed it much more here, which goes to show it’s how a thing is cooked which can make you form an opinion, not necessarily what it is.  I’ve had quite a bit of cabbage on my travels and Romania is no exception, aside from the cabbage rolls, there’s been fried cabbage too.  And cabbage comes with a lot of things on the menu.  In Sibiu I went to a recommended restaurant but I made the mistake of ordering very non-Eastern European vegetables.  Vegetables are rarer than hens teeth in this neck of the woods.  The meat was fab, kinda like a hunters chicken but with pork instead.  The vegetables  were obviously unloved.

I’ve had papanashi here for dessert – like a donut but with jam and sweet cheese cream spread over the top  instead of inside.  The centre had been cored, so to speak, and the little ball of dough left over had been fried too and put on top.  Delicious.

I’ve lost count how many times I have used the word delicious.  A lot of the food here had been utterly gorgeous and I know I’ll miss eating my way round Eastern Europe.  But I’m going to come back with some extra poundage, I’m sure of it, ha ha!  So much eating!  So much frying!  So few vegetables!

Goodbye! Awesome Adventure beckons

Wow, only one more sleep before leaving the country.  It’s an odd feeling, I’d had this idea that I wanted to go travelling for a little while, so long in fact that the thought of ‘oh I’m going to go somewhere sometime’ became just another normal thought in my bunch of thoughts that reside in my head.

Until suddenly, I realised 3 weeks ago, for all my tickets and important bits of paper to arrive on time I had to commit money and I had to do it NOW.  So the past 3 weeks have been a little manic but good.  It means less time fretting, more time focused on ‘Awesome Adventure’.
Note from the future:  if you’re looking for advice on travelling around europe, you may want to read this:  Advice on Interrailing around eastern Europe

map of my route through eastern europe

I’m going to be InterRailing for a month around eastern Europe, flying into Prague and winging it between there and Sofia in Bulgaria where I’ll fly back home.  Please see illustration for hideously vague route and badly scaled map…  I have never done a trip quite like this before, neither have I done much travelling on my own, so when I first started planning this trip, I didn’t have much of a clue.

First up, info:  Ok, I think, let’s do a little research, so I buy a couple books off the internet (meanwhile pumping all my friends for information and advice).  Unfortunately, I made the error of buying a book that didn’t have a photo to go with it’s blurb.  Book arrives (hooray), I open package to discover a slightly battered Rough Guide on Eastern Europe.  Published in 1988.  Ok, internet purchasing lesson learned.  Apart from that, I’ve been vaguely sussing out where I want to go but as to where I’ll actually end up, is anyone’s guess.  And yes, I have been reminded about that film, y’know, called Hostel, set in Slovakia, lots of gore, a bit deathy…

Packing:  I tried so very hard to pack light.  Usually I’m quite good.  We’ll see how I manage carrying a 60 litre bag for 5 weeks.  Ok, uh…   Silver lining…  It’ll be a good workout?  Maybe when I come back I’ll be a beefcake.  I have allowed myself a couple luxuries in the shape of a sketchbook with the Amazing Spiderman pencilcase (it was the only one in the house that was the right size) and my pocket etch-a-sketch.  These will entertain me for hours, I’m hoping not to the detriment of me sightseeing.

I’m most excited about the inspiration inundation, I can’t wait to draw to my heart’s content.  Unfortunately, you all will have to wait to see the fruits of my labour, I intend to update my blog where I can but won’t be able to upload pictures until I’m back.  And then my posts will be flooded with imagery.  At least that’s the plan.

I’m travelling solo and have lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard the word ‘brave’.  When it became clear that I’d be on my own, I’ll admit that I went through varying degrees of pant-wetting fear but the sunny rays of excitement are beaming through (amongst a few remnant clouds of ‘the fear’).  I’m sure that once I’m out there and into the swing of things I’ll be well on my way.  Besides, I believe that a little bit of courage is required for adventuring otherwise it won’t be much of an adventure.