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!

Who’s Afraid of Cyrillic?

After time spent on the train cramming like a student the day before a language exam, I did my best to make sense of the cyrillic alphabet so that I would at least recognise the name of the train station I needed to get off at (which looked a bit like ropHa but actually said Gorna).  The train gave me lots of cramming time, stopping for passport checks both sides of the border.

I’m currently in Veliko Tarnovo and I have been trying to pronounce words that I see, on posters, signs, in shop windows, getting a buzz of satisfaction when the word I’ve just struggled through says something like  ‘hotel’ and I realise that I can both pronounce and recognise the word!  Wahey!  It’s turning in to a little game for me, what can I say, I like puzzles.

I am also currently in hostel heaven – so considered because of the free food and perfect showers.  In my mind I have a tick list as to what makes a perfect shower.  This was not important before I left because I’ve been fortunate enough to not experience that many bad showers.  I’ve discovered that you become grateful for small things when you travel, your perspective changes drastically when you’re on the road.  I also miss vegetables.  And hot chocolate (again, which they have here, thus further confirming this is hostel heaven).  And having a choice of clothes that isn’t one skirt, one pair of trousers and one pair of shorts.  Actually, I miss jeans.

So, here, whilst sipping on my hot chocolate last night, I see flashing before my eyes – a firefly!  It morse codes its way across the patio and I can’t help but smile at it.

Today I went into old town and bought some locally produced trinkets.  I’m a sucker for earrings, so bought some delicately decorated copper earrings, a communist badge celebrating Lenin (it seemed so odd, these trinkets would be everywhere and are now dustly bits and bobs in a bowl near the shop desk – it also seemed like I needed something as a nod towards communism to remind me of the things I have seen and learnt here.  It was also strange seeing the communist art exhibition in Brasov’s Art Museum –  yes I realise I forgot to mention this in the last post) and a mask that I had seen everywhere in Romania (and I guess will see in Bulgaria) that was small enough to put in my bag.  The mask was designed to ward off evil spirits.

Earlier I walked around a ruined castle and church.  The church was really cool, all the paintings on the wall looked quite contemporary and a little abstract.  This afternoon has been slow, which is good because I am still not used to this heat!  However hope to take a walk amongst the greenery later…

one of the many haystacks seen on farms around Romania

Surprise Festival #3 and #4

After having spent a lovely weekend in the chilled Pecs – soaking in the local nightlife, drinks and highly decorated roofs with my friend who decided to come along for a short jolly – I headed into Romania.

First stop Cluj Napoca, where there happened to be a city celebration that fortnight.  There were lots of folk bands and guests and markets,  it was great!  I intended to spend only one night there but thought it worth staying for a proper look at the city, having spend my first hours in Cluj at the festival.  I went with another guy staying at the hostel and we couldn’t understand much of what was going on during the speeches given by the bands but we heard lots of blah blah Cluj (cue cheering) blah blah blah Cluj (more cheering)… and so on.  So felt we knew enough to know when to cheer…

Fortunately Cluj is a fairly small city so could reach all the highlights in one day –  the botanical gardens, the tailor tower (part of the old city wall), the citadel, a crazy little pharmacy museum.

I left Cluj in the direction of  Sibiu.  I say direction because I really didn’t know which train I was catching where because I was getting loads of  conflicting information from websites and train timetables.  I got shooed onto a train with an over-familiar creepy train conductor (I was so glad when I switched trains) and managed, with creepy train conductor, to figure out the route of where the hell I was meant to be going.  And before you say, I did ask at the front desk but they said, um the next train is.. Oh god! now!  go go go! so leapt on without a plan.

I got let off at a station in the middle of nowhere.  I climbed down the train and jumped onto the gravel beneath.  I walked to the ‘platform’ (some concrete slabs) and was told to get the train behind me.  Again no platform to speak of so the train door started at about waist height.  I lugged my bag on and clambered up after it.  I felt sorry for the little old ladies I saw having to do this too…  The train passed through fields, the landscape was so beautiful, really green and tumbling hills that last forever.  We stopped at stations that had a sign, a rusting hut and a farm next to it.  I got the feeling this was a very local train.  Especially when some farm workers got on with a bucket of paint and a scythe.

Eventually made it to Sibiu and discovered festival #4 – an up and coming well respected theatre festival.  I saw some street performance, some music and a one woman show about her cycling journey across the Middle East.  There are performers from all over the world here to perform, how exciting!  Today I’m hoping to catch some more street theatre music and a dance performance.  On that note, the festivities will be starting again soon so I had better go!

Loving Krakow

I love it here in Krakow.  It may be that the weather is gorgeous, the the buildings are beautiful, there are more galleries and museums than you can shake a stick at but I have a good feeling about this city.  Oh and the keyboard here is not a topsy turvy let’s do the ol’ switcheroo one either.  Bonus.

After a marathon train journey changing twice and trying to decipher train station words and departure sheets, Poland greets me with lush forests, geometric concrete houses and the slimmest local railway platforms imaginable.  I was wondering how I would know when I crossed the border; unfortunately the landscape doesn’t have a massive red line denoting one from the other.  The first clue was passing a local station (with tiny platform) and the word I recognised in czech as ‘platform’ was now nowhere to be seen and became ‘Peron’.

The hostel is brand spanking new, and feels a bit like I’m staying at a friend’s.  Or the inside of an Ikea catalogue.  The staff here are so lovely and genuinely want you to enjoy Krakow.  Last night there were a bunch of us sitting in the communal area and the woman who runs the place came in with a bottle of wine saying, ‘look what I found, anyone want some?’  We spoke about culture from our different countries – how stereotypically, where English like to tease the French, Poles will tease people from Slovakia.  I found it quite interesting how apparently the Polish language has a round-about way of saying things.  For example, they don’t use the word ‘bra’ it’s more ‘comfy thing for your boobs’.

Yesterday I went for a good old wander, trying to find places I want to revisit during opening hours.  I quite enjoyed looking into the window of an ‘art lampshade’ shop.  And there was a 360 degree outdoor cinema I wandered into which was all Polish but fun to watch.

Today I went to an art exhibition called ‘Us and Them’, about how throughout history, people regarded as ‘out of the norm’ were viewed as freaks, fools, madmen and monsters.  There were ‘scientific’ drawings of people considered freaks and the exhibition explained how and why these people were viewed in such a way.  The main theme (at least, to me it seemed) was that people fear what they do not understand.  Which, I’d say is true in modern day.

I also went to Muzeum Ethnograficzne which gave a detailed history on Polish folk traditions.  There were lots of costume examples, replica rooms of mills and houses, farming equipment and a curator tailing me most of the way.  I tried not to take it personally – she’s just doing her job as I was the only one in there.

I had a lovely mosey along the river, saw the fabled dragon – which is really tourist dragon – apparently you can text a word to a number and it makes the statue breathe fire (my hostel lady says that it’s for children and British lads).  The legend is that there is a dragon that lives around the caves there.  The legend was started to keep people away from finding the secret tunnel up to the Wawel Castle.

I bought some earrings as a souvineer, a local artist was selling them in her little gallery – they have cats on whose character really appealed to me.  They make me think of man-about-town cat as he’s reading a newspaper whilst drinking tea in one, smoking on the other side, and general wistful and thinking poses on the other.

More random act of kindness – I helped someone reverse out of a tight space. He looked like he was having trouble so I waved him along a bit, after a bit more to and fro, he got out of the space, gave me a thumbs up and a dziekuje.  Cue grin.

Ah, one more thing – god these posts are so long, there is so much to say! – hearing him now reminds me.  Every hour on the hour there is a trumpet guy that bugles a song from St. Mary Church.  The song stops abruptly marking the event that in olden dayes a trumpeter guy would bugle a warning.  In this instance the unlucky bugler was hit in the throat by an arrow, thus stopping his song short.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to get off to Auschwitz, which will have a somewhat more sombre post.

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.

Bristol Buildings in Watercolour

As you’d seen in an earlier post, I’ve been enjoying drawing buildings from around Bristol. Here are some of the sketches in watercolour fruition:

Below is Bristol Temple Meads train station; a lot nicer to look at than some of the more modern stations…

Here is Saint Mary Redcliffe church, which I’ve drawn before but had not painted until now.

I really enjoy drawing grand buildings like these, the details really pull me in and when I’m drawing them, the time just flies by without notice.

People I Meet 1

I have been utilising our British train system of late and one of the joys of travelling in this way is the opportunity to make ‘single serving friends’.  In this instance, my friend and I were asked for help to use the ticketing machine.  Unfortunately we were unable to help (and I thought to myself, ‘I’m so glad I never have problems with these machines – I always buy online’ only to have my next run-in with said ticket machine turn into an unholy frustrating mess, but that’s another story).  Afterwards, to pass the time on the train, I drew out the little scenario where if the ticket machine could talk, it would be a petulant sod.