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My Interrail Diary

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I lost my diary on a train in the South of France but reported it straight away.  Unfortunately they couldn't get hold of it.  6 months later I got a letter saying that it had be found and so I sent away my ten euros and received it, despite Royal Mail's attempts to lose it.

SO here it is.  Full of opinions and a few quirks about the countries I visited.  I'll also include some pictures of bric-a-brac I picked up along the way.

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22-06-04

The ferry we are on boasts of being the fastest (and I didn’t believe it) but we have just overtaken a ferry that left port way before us.  It said either “Stenna Partner” or “Stenna Panther”.  I’m not sure (I don’t have my glasses on) but thought panther would be highly amusing for a ferry.  Sea is as flat as a pancake and I don’t feel sea sick in the slightest, although admittedly I did take a travel pill this morning. 

            The ferry is full of Dutch people.  Indeed, you may scoff, but when you go across to France on the ferry it is definitely English-dominated.  I think this is because more English people visit France than vice versa and more Dutch people visit England than the other way around.  I saw two Dutch ladies with their knitting (who takes knitting on holiday?) and I also saw my second favourite Dutch word plastered across a man’s newspaper; “SLAG”.  I know that slagroom means whipped cream – so was the article about cream or whipping?  Or does slag mean something else in Dutch?  Or does it mean the same, indicating that the Dutch have very exacting moral standards, with public naming and shaming as the punishment?  Who knows! 

            We are now sat in the cinema in the ferry and the lights have just gone down, will have to resume after “The Day After Tomorrow”. 

            3 hours’ sleep + darkness + boring film + gentle rocking = one very sleep-filled Alice! 

 

23-6-04

On train to Amsterdam.

Either windmills are a lot smaller than I thought, or people only use them as garden ornaments now.  They’re only about the height of a child’s swing (the reason I make this comparison is because I saw it in someone’s garden, next to a child’s swing!)

            The trains are so quiet, as are the stations.  In England the announcers have to say which train is arriving next – here the trains stick to the timetables!

            Just went through a station and I said, “where are we?” and Darren replied, “Spoor”.  I then said, “no, spoor means platform”!  Dutch is very odd to read, but spoken it becomes even more difficult to understand.  Written, I can see bits where it is similar to French, German and English, but spoken it bears no resemblance to the way it is written down.  In Gouda we asked directions and, of course, he spoke no English so we got “slow” Dutch.  It wasn’t much slower than normal Dutch!  We just went by what sounded like the word “busen” and arm gestures.  So we went forwards until we met the buses and then right.  We were fairly near the bus station, and I was proud of our Dutch communication skills – complete with “scusi” to grab attention, but we forgot to say “Dank u” instead of thank you.

            In the Nederlands a lot of adverts use English writing and on TV only about half are dubbed.  Listening to Dutch people speak you can hear snippets of English “What?” and “all-inclusive” I have heard punctuate Dutch.  I heard “lieg-beest” on the TV and it meant liar, so actually alliance-beast.  How cool is that?  “Het is guet” is “that is good”, “Niet roken” is “no smoking”, “geen” is “none”, “uitgang” – exit and “trekken”, pull.  Isn’t my Dutch impressive?  Oh and “te koop” is “for sale” and “Let op!” is danger.

            We spent last night in Gouda – half way between Hoek v. Holland and Amsterdam.  The hotel was E55, including breakfast.  It was so nice and clean and really comfortable – I was asleep by 8pm!  Most European on-the-continent (yes! I keep forgetting I’m European also!) only have one pillow on the bed.  Now, at first  I thought this was both cheap and primitive but I now realise it’s just another thing they do better over here.  You see, sleeping with one pillow is mightily uncomfortable if (and only if) you sleep on your side (as there is not enough height to support your head).  This matches up to a report I read that sleeping on your side puts excess strain on your joints and makes your internal organs all squished-up – it then said this could take two years off your life but I dismissed that as sensationalist.  So people on the continent probably have better organs and skeletons for sleeping on their backs with one pillow.

            [very neat handwriting] As a testament to the smoothness of Dutch trains: you wouldn’t get handwriting like this on an English train would you?

            It’s so funny when people start speaking to me in Dutch.  I pass as a Dutch person!  Even with my Cam jumper on!  Yesterday I saw someone with an Oxford t-shirt on  (on the ferry) and I gave her sideways scornful glances; I noticed her see my jumper but she didn’t reciprocate, so I assume she was a tourist rather than a student from the Other Place.

            I think I should apologize now for the haphazard nature of this note book.  I will be writing thoughts and observations as they occur – not a nice summation at the end of the day.

 

Urtizon voor een zomer zonder zoon-uitslag.

Thought this was a funny slogan – not often that you get “z” alliteration.  The advert is for sun-cream, so “outcream” would make sense.  Shame, because I did think Holland was very moral for a while – I have forgotten about Amsterdam.  Got to go we are arriving in Centraal Station.

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26-06-04

Just heard:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Germany”  The train also had to stop for 15 minutes for border control.  Two khaki, gun-toting, eagle-embroidered German officers came on board, looking down each row as they walked past.  No trouble on out carriage – they didn’t even check our passports! 

            The Germans seem a lot more anal even than us Brits.  I observed much stern-toned arguing over reserved seats.  Also, Germans are very nosy.  While I discreetly peeped over my book to check out the commotion, most everyone else were craning their necks most conspicuously to get a better view of the scrap.  This incident got me thinking about the general differences between Europeans and especially about buses in Torquay.  You know why the foreign students don’t queue?  Because in their countries buses are bigger and arrive more frequently; so instead of blaming ‘pesky foreigners’ I will, from this day forward, blame the British transport system.

            It has rained all day today, so I was not a happy bunny and I expect this has coloured my judgement of Germany.  Yes, I was happy to see some hills (after flipping Cambridge and Holland) but I found the train very disappointing.  It was much nosier and shakier than the ones in Holland and much fuller which, of course, makes it too small.

            I must concede that the ticket collect was lovely (I expect it is very rare that inter-railers fill out their tickets properly) and told us which platform (Gleise Drei) we should change to at Onsabrucken.  Just as well really because German people seem far less fluent in English than the Dutch.

            I am now in the Youth Hostel in Hamburg which is nice and clean and very big, but it’s a shame to be separated from Darren.  Being here is such a relief.  Darren and I walked for an hour in the rain in one big circle when a nice German lady showed us how to use the underground – which took us straight from the station to the youth hostel.  Much annoyed, we saw the sign and went for it – up lots of stairs in a drippy park.  On reaching the sign we realised that you had to go to the other entrance which was a much further walk (really, they should have a sign post).  I threw off my bag, sat down and cried.  I was angry with the weather, with not knowing the route, with feeling silly and being very very tired.  Darren managed to convince me to make it to the entrance where we were greeted with a very (I was going to say dismissive or sceptical, but these words don’t describer it)… a very _____ receptionist.  To help me choose a word I will explain.

1)                  She demanded that we give her the YHA card and our passports – as though we were lying about being members of the YHA, or in the country illegally

2)                  She gave us bed linen and when I said I had no pillow case she gave me a look as if to say “you’ve just stuffed that up your jumper…” and reluctantly gave me (and she stressed this) “another” one.

3)                  She informed us that we owed E6 to the youth hostel as we had been upgraded since our booking (bloody cheek, upgrading you without consent and then charging you for it)

4)                  When handing over the keys she made such a fuss of impressing upon us that we would have to pay if we lost them.

I felt so patronised.  I wanted to whack her!

            Youth hostels should be kept as youth hostels because old people snore.  True, they don’t run up and down the corridors, but I find that far less objectionable than a non-youth who almost shakes the bed as she snores.  Plus, she came in at 11.00pm and took all my drying stuff off the radiator, banged a chair around and made no attempt whatsoever to be quiet.  Compare this to when I took a nap earlier and Reena and Anna (two girls on GAP years from Sheffield) whispered to each other!  Youth hostels should be strictly –26 and teachers.  Old fogies who are just too miserly to stay in a hotel should most certainly not be allowed.  I mean, she’s been to see the ballet every night this week – surely she can afford more than a youth hostel!

            Grrr!! 11.45 pm and I haven’t slept yet.  Bloody German crowd outside singing and generally being rowdy to add to the snore lady.  Humph.

 

26/06/04

 

Christopher Street Day

Foreign teenagers speak using “sound bites” of English.  I heard “That isn’t very nice” amongst a conversation in German taking place between some of the people in the youth hostel in Berlin.

czechstuff.jpg

28/06/04

 

Just spent four hours in the Berlin Zoologisch Garten Station and am now on the train to Prague (Praha) for another five hours.  Joy!  I have to have a quick moan about night trains now; yes, they might seem like a good idea but most places are only 4-5 hours apart and what with hotel check-in and check-out times they (the night trains) are of no use to us at all.  It’s a good job I like looking out of the train window, I think it’s half the fun of travelling.  You never see the same thing twice, after all!

            Germany has a really bad graffiti problem – it’s everywhere and it’s not even pretty or creative and much of it is written in English.

            Just passing through Dresden and much of it is pock-marked with bullet holes.  It seems to me that the Germans prefer to demolish rather than restore.  Big glass buildings built where old ones used to be.  In one part of Berlin they’ve left a church that was bombed exactly how it was (although obviously made safe) and it was quite shocking.  Dresden seems quite pretty. 

            Damn this European being-allowed-to-smoke-on-the-train malarkey.  I was having a nice train journey in a smoke-free compartment when a man got on and processed to light up in our windowless compartment.  Smoke does not do anything for my travel sickness!  I have opened the door but am still very much annoyed.  They would never get a smoking ban passed on the continent.  In French schools they have rooms set aside for students to smoke in at playtime [if my A Level is to be believed] and when you see big groups of foreign students have a school trip in England the teachers don’t see to give two hoots that their pupils are smoking!  In Hamburg Darren and I went to a restaurant and we asked for a table in the no-smoking section and we just got a totally incredulous face!  He then moved us about two places away from the smokers!

            Right now we are travelling between Dresden and Prague and the scenery is beautiful.  Lakes, big tee covered hills, jagged grey rocks, ochre and mud-coloured houses, aquaducts, hanging baskets, steam boats, citadels.

            [interruption – I opened the door and the people outside started smoking!! SO I closed the door and Mr Smokey in the corner lights up grrrr]  And now the smokers are standing in front of the windows so I can see bugger all!

            Half clad with wood, stable-esque doors seemingly floating in the middle of walls, old trains with the red DB stickers slapped on the sides.  Bad-Schandau (we are in this area)

            We have just had our passports checked – we must be close to entering the Czech Republic!

            This place looks like someone went a bit mad with the wooding-out tool on The Sims plots and were really going for the “Ye Olde Worlde” look.  The scenery is becoming less even and more dramatic.  I expect we are getting closer to a big lake – higher and peakier hills, choppier and wider water, churches with squat domes and bell towers, houses creeping higher up into hill.  Houses up against vertical cliffs with trees above, looking as though they might plummet downwards at any minute.  Trees that are becoming less alpiney and more beechy – trunks, and not foliage, dominate.  Now from the window I can only see water – I assume we are perilously close to the cliff’s edge!

            The pointier hills are starting to overlap now, and you can see hill behind hill (when does a hill become a mountain?)  More shops and bridges now as we go through Schona. The cliffs are broken up vertically  here – I wonder what’s hiding in the gaps?

The roof designs are really different.  More ornate, almost oriental looking in comparison to the square functionality of the Dutch and Northern German houses.

            The scenery is now opening up on the other side of the train window (it was a flat [well vertical!] bank of trees before).  More rural again and houses really do look nestled in the bushiness of the mountains.

            Towns now.  Houses that look as though they should be desserted have net curtains and other lived in touches.

            Decin.

            Scenery becoming more gentle (at the bottoms of the hills) fields and rivers.  Can’t see many of the houses as they are deep in the dimple of the hills’ feet and surrounded by trees.

 

01-07-04

 

Czech – small people.  Receding chins, bulbous eyes, look rather in-bred.

Czech announcement music in trains sounds like the beginning of the bagpuss theme tune before bagpuss yawns.  In Germans the U-Bhan just had a great big “DONG!!!”

 

3.30am.            Thuds loud enough to wake the dead.

Thud (pause).  Thud (pause).  Thud (pause.

Darren and I were absolutely terrified, not helped by the fact that we have both started to read the “The Shining”.  The thuds stopped and the door handle was furiously tried – thank goodness we locked the door.  More thuds and rattling (we thought whoever it was might go away) and then “Open this door!” More rattling.  More thudding.  I begged Darren not to open the door.  He went up to the door and asked, “Why?”.  The voice answered that this was his room, which puzzled us because we had booked a private room for just the two of us in the youth hostel.  After much muddling (probably fuelled by abstinthe) he yelled in his Scouse accent “let me through, this is a corridor”.  I twigged and said “This is a room, not a corridor.  Go to your left”  and the banging stopped.  THE IDIOT had not looked to check the door was in fact a room and not a corridor, but decided to terrify us at 3.30 am instead.  WHAT A PILLOCK.  I don’t think this truly expresses how scary the situation was – Darren had to take me to the toilet later that night.  It didn’t help that at 4am some silly buggers decided to run up and down and bang on doors.  Not a happy night!

 

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[The following paragraph is written in truly horrific handwriting]

 

Czech trains are awful: the stations are confusing, trains are late, windows don’t open.  The train is jolting around, brakes screech so loud it is almost painful.  The ticket collectors over-enthusiastically stamp everything over and over and over – even when it has already been stamped.  Look at the difference between this writing and the writing on the Dutch train!

 

I officially give up.  Sanctimonious ticket collectors close windows despite the fact that they are not the ones who will have to put up with the heat.

2-7-04

Eggs and gherkins in everything.  I can’t escape them. [edit – even now, six months on, I can’t stand the smell of gherkins or the look of a boiled egg]

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In Czech train stations there is a special column between departure time and platform detailing how many minutes late the train will be – tardiness is THAT frequent.

            We spent most of today travelling as the trains skirt around the Czech Republic rather than cut across.  The train to Vienna split halfway and one half went on to Budapest.  I had visions of going to the toilet to find the train splitting with me on the way to Hungary and Darren on the way to Austria!

            Travelling was fairly uneventful (apart from have our passports checked twice – but still no stamps L).  As for Linz, it seems fairly modern as it was bombed relentlessly in WWII.  Darren and I walked to the Danube, saw a house Mozart stayed in. spotted the place where Hitler announced the Anchluss (but were too lazy to walk to it). 

            In Vienna we had to catch the train to get from Sudbahnhof to Westbahnhof.  (WARNING – THIS HAPPENS A LOT).  Glad we decided to leave Vienna out  it seemed decidedly uninteresting save a few pretty churches.

            The FURB song is widespread here on the continent – people mouth along but I don’t think they really know the words at all!

Right now I am waiting for a bus.  There is a digital screen telling me it will be in ten minutes.  Darren and I are getting good at this touring-foreign-countries business – we managed to get a bus in Kutna Hora and even learnt to say thank you in Czech (sounds like Deck-way).  We have been waiting on the wrong side of the road for buses though, which can be a pain as soon as we realise.

 

 

Interrailing can be really up and down.  You arrive tired, bagged-down with no map, no idea of where you are staying, no idea what you are doing, usually hungry and almost always dressed inappropriately for the weather (leaving rainy Austria at midnight and arriving sunny Italy midday!!!)  After the first evening everything becomes much better.  Similarly, some places are glorious and some aren’t.  Interrailing can be quite a mixed bag!  When you’ve been up since 4am it is difficult not to be ratty by 9.30pm, so GO WITH SOMEONE YOU GET ALONG WITH!!
 
 
This is where we stayed in Salzburg.  Such long names!! :o

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romestuff.jpg

5-7-05

I am so fed up with people who insist on taking up a whole extra seat with their bags and then start rolling their eyes when you ask (well, more like gesture) to move it.  If you bought two seats then fine, if not – shut up!

            The train from Salzburg to Villach was wonderful – we had a whole compartment to ourselves and so we stretched out and slept.  Unfortunately the ride was only a couple of hours long!  The train from Villach to Venezia was entirely packed and we got on the locked sleeping compartment by mistake!  We sat with a nice Canadian girl until a grumpy guard made us go to the other section.  It was cramped, smelly and horrible.  For five hours I sat sideways on a flip out chair in the corridor with my rucksack between my legs and my head on the top of my rucksack, trying desperately to sleep.  People woke me up every ten minutes, if not more frequently.  When we got to Venice we got on the Eurostar by mistake and made it to Rigolo before the ticket man asked us to cough up E52.00!  Darren only had a 20 euo note so we got off and changed trains.  I am now on another hot and crowded train to Napoli, which we will get off at Roma Termini (hello!  This is Italy!  If you can’t provide a train with windows that open, at least provide ventilation!)

            There are supplements on non-regional trains (e.g. Intercity).  Just paid another E18.28! Regional trains wouldn’t get is to Rome until tomorrow.  Just as well we had to limit our selves to only Rome and Pompeii.  Imagine having to traverse Italy with all the extra supplements!  It would cost a fortune on top of the interrail ticket.  Why was this explained NOWHERE?!?!

            Never realised there were quite so many hills and mountains in Italy. 

 

8-7-04

Yesterday on the Metro someone tried to steal something from my bag!  I said to Darren “that woman is doing something funny to my bag” and I moved it away.  It turns out she was trying to cut into it!  I don’t recommend the metro in Italy – it’s so hot, stuffy, someone tried to steal something from me (the only time on the trip) and there was a groping issue that I don’t want to go into.  We did end up going to the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine chapel).  At first the queue was really long, and entirely in the hot sun, so we decided not to.  I went into an internet café to write this in my blog but by the time we came out there was no queue!  The Sistine Chapel itself was buried deep within a maze of corridors that we had to walk through.  After all the amazing paintings everywhere else (carvings that turned out to  be painted, giant maps of the world) the Sistine Chapel was a bit … oh.  The people were exceptionally pink and muscly and he had a horrid habit of drawing people’s big toe smaller than their second tow.

 

IT IS TOO HOT

 

9-7-04

 

We have had no problems with trains until we came to Italy.  Here trains are late, unpredictable, hot, sweaty, have enormous supplements, they sell you singles when you ask for returns, information people are never impartial etc etc.  Italy is a BAD PLACE FOR INTERRAILERS!  It seems as though the whole system is sneaky and corrupt, trying to screw as much money out of people as possible.  I expect this all stems from the partial privatisation of the system here.

 

I didn’t write much in Switzerland and lost my diary as soon as I entered France.  Here are my little pictures though J

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