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!

Ich bin ein Hamburger

Ok, so I’m feeling a wince at the incorrect German but for comedy effect, it’s staying.  Having felt quite chuffed 10 years previously at the end of my German language G.C.S.E exam I thought a holiday would be a great way of seeing what I remembered.  After a series of awkward hand gestures and fading at the 3rd syllable of incredibly long words I quickly realised my Deustch was the wurst.  Fortunately for me, the friend I had gone to visit spoke German fluently and was able to help clear up my car crash of sounds.  Thank you kindly Amazing Miss Alice.  I had the pleasure of meeting her lovely little hamsters – Hannah and Sophie – in a previous post, you can meet them too if you follow the Amazing Miss Alice link.

 

If you thought my holiday in Hamburg was just a jolly, think again!  We spent lots of effort on moseying, kicking back, hanging out, mooching and swinging. And drawing.  Don’t forget the drawing.

 

My first picture of St. Marien Cathedral was a bit of a warm up, which is why it looks representative of the leaning tower of Pisa opposed to a cathedral…

domkirche cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand cramp and numb fingers told me it might be a good idea to head inside.  Pew numbers and a stained glass window took my fancy –

stained glass window at st marien cathedral   biro drawing of pew numbers at saint marien cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst drawing the window, I was lucky enough to be treated to the organist’s practise time.  The dramatic music penetrating every bit of my head made me feel like I should have been in Mordor or something but I always manage to leave my Ring at home, dammit.  I couldn’t decide whether an elf leap or a hobbit waddle was more appropriate but I made my way to a good view of the dwarfed musician.

 

dwarfed organist playing at saint marien cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was truly incredible; the sound of the organ filling every corner of the cathedral, filling my head, every space as I walked to the door and into silence.

 

Well, the relative silence of outside.  I later drew the train station Hauptbahnhof (a few stops down from Hasslehof):

main train station in Hamburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the spire of St Georgs as viewed from Hauptbahnhof:

st georgs spire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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.