Late on August the 18th I sat in my friend’s kitchen attempting to formulate a last minute plan involving numerous complications with transport and places to stay. Tomorrow we would set of on an interrail adventure using trains to go between cites. Our rough idea of where we would go included visiting Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Zurich before, all going to plan, we made our way back to sunny Scotland. We had a week to visit all these exciting places and wanted to sleep on overnight as much as possible, hoping to save as much money as we could.
However, we realised that on the majority of the days we were traveling this wouldn’t be possible, leading to us booking two places to stay in Lille and Berlin before we set off. The beauty of having an interrail ticket was that it provided us to jump on most trains without making a reservation. Although we did have to book tickets on the Eurostar for day 1 of our adventure to take us into continental Europe. This cost 60 euros and would take us from London to Lille, just inside Northern France. We had done this journey together from Stonehaven to Lille in 2013 on a visit to Northern France so knew this part of the journey reasonably well.
Our first port of call on our poorly organised but very exciting adventure was the small coastal town of Stonehaven on a pretty non descript (Scottish) summer morning. We awoke slightly late and just enough time to wolf down some breakfast before dashing over to Stonehaven just in time for our 8 am train to London Kings Cross. After a short wait on the platform we saw the first of the many trains we would be experiencing coming around the corner and then slowing. We found unreserved seats fairly easily and waited slightly nervously for the ticket officer to walk down the corridor and check our interrail passes.
To my relief they worked and were on our way to London! From Stonehaven we made our way down the east coast, through Edinburgh and into England-shire through Newcastle and York, which is inland. I even found this first part of the journey exciting as I figured I hadn’t actually left Scotland for over two years! If you ever travel this route you will discover that it is slow up until Edinburgh as the train stops at most of the stations north of the capital enroute. The trains on this route are also often overcrowded as we found out. We hadn’t been across the historic border for long when were informed that we would have to switch trains at York, as our train manager wouldn’t be carrying on with us. I thought you only needed a train driver! This was the first slight spanner in the works, though was child’s play compared to what was to come later on….
We were told to wait at York and catch the next train to London which had departed Edinburgh. Unfortunately this train was packed full and we ended standing the next two and half hours to London, moving our bags every two minutes to let people through to the toilet. In fairness I felt more sorry for the couple with a baby who had also been forced to sit in the corridor. Thankfully time flew past and we arrived in London relieved to get a seat and some food.
From Kings Cross it was a short walk across the road to St Pancreas station to catch the Eurostar. Our train was at 7pm so we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare and to get food. We found a café in the station and complained about the prices of our wraps as two Scotsmen in London should. Then check in time rolled by and we went through passport control for the first of only two times on our trip. In no time we were on the Eurostar, speeding through the English countryside at amazing speeds. When it reached the English Channel the quiet and efficient electric train was plunged into darkness as it travelled the 50 kilometres under the narrow body of water to Calais. It is difficult to get a grasp of the amazing engineering feat which the channel tunnel is as it just felt like a long tunnel.
In no time we were pulling into Lille train station, only an hour and half after we had left London. In France the clock was an hour ahead, meaning that darkness had already fallen on the small city near the Belgian border. However, it was still pretty warm when we left the station, the smell of a warm day still wafting in the air. It definitely felt like we were abroad! We left the huge train station and walked to the hotel with the help of google maps and the fact that my friend actually had data on his phone. We had managed to book the hotel for 30 euros between us so were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the room when we arrived. A bed, shower and television. I would only realise how lucky we were a couple of days later, but Ill tell you about that later….
Meanwhile we went to bed early after looking at train times on the TGV route to Paris the next morning. It is perhaps useful to know that on all of the main routes in France, operated by TG high speed trains, it is compulsory to reserve a seat. In most of the other European countries it isn’t essential, though logic can be used when travelling on a busy route to determine whether it would be sensible to spend a little more to make sure you have a seat. We let France get away with it as their trains are generally fast, effective and clean, getting you from one side of the country to other in no time at all. We reserved a seat and fell asleep, pleased that we had at least got this far. Au revoir.
Part 2 to come…….