‘Is your backpack full of dreams?’: memories of Interrail readers

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images

Winning Tip: Planning Gone Wrong in Paris

I still have our 1987 copy of Europe by Train. Simple pen and ink maps that had little basis in reality, a bit like the planning my friend and I did. Before the internet, before glasnost, before midlife indecision, we naively arrived in Paris and filled out our paper ticket with the first destination, Nice, without considering reserving a berth, or even just a seat. In July. After frantic trips to ticket offices trying to catch a train out of Paris, we took the last train of the night, north to Amsterdam, and thus did the whole adventure in reverse. That same friend’s son is about to embark on his own Interrail adventure. He apparently has a spreadsheet.
Stephen Bowden

Secret hostel, Switzerland

Gimmelwald chalets have stunning views. Photo: Lukasz Janyst/Alamy

I traveled on Interrail with my friend Gabby in 1992. We met many Interrailers and quickly made friends. A group of friends we met mapped out some directions to an unlisted hostel in the Swiss Alps. You could go to the unmanned wooden chalet in Gimmelwald, and if you could find a bunk, you could stay. The payment was for some kind of honesty box. It was the most amazing place with amazing views to the top of the mountain and wonderful waterfall walks.
Nicholas Gaskins

cheesy talk line

A bulky backpack led to love for Nick.

A bulky backpack led to love for Nick. Photograph: CrispyPork/Getty Images

In the heady, optimistic days of the 1980s, Interrail allowed me to get away with a talking line that had a lasting impact on my life. When a girl was struggling to get into the compartment of the night train from Paris to Barcelona, ​​I offered to help her by saying: “Your backpack seems heavy, is she full of dreams like mine?” It led to a smile, a shared stall, shared wine, and a social sleepless night as we exchanged stories of student life and travel in Europe. Budget hotels, midnight beach barbecues and art galleries continued as we put together our Interrail passes and relationship chemistry, then, a few years later, we got engaged.

Dancing in the Algarve

Go to the beach in the Algarve.

Go to the beach in the Algarve. Photography: Silvia Pilar-Fernandes/Alamy

With six friends I started in London, then I took a ferry across the Channel. In Paris, after first meeting a group of Austrian men, we were soon practicing our French with French friends. After passing through Spain (without men), we arrived in Portugal. We camped and partied in the Algarve, where a lonely Dutchman asked one of my friends to dance. Now, 39 years later, they are still dancing and living in the UK.
alison anthony

italian epic

In 2017, we were invited to a wedding in Sicily and we also had to attend, in Cesenatico, near Rimini, on the Adriatic coast, the scattering of the ashes of a relative in the sea. Living in Geneva, we got our tickets from the Interrail website, at about CHF100 (£87) each, and decided to make a proper trip with our nine-month-old baby. So after the wedding we traveled from Catania to the beautiful station of Taormina, crossing to the mainland with the special train-ferry, with a 10-hour journey to Rome, then to Cesenatico and back to Geneva via the Italian Alps. It was fantastic.

Plum brandy on the way to Pula

Pula, Croatia

Sun, sea and rocks in Pula, Croatia. Photograph: Design Pics Inc/Alamy

Traveling from Vienna to Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1983, we, three 18-year-old school friends from Chesterfield, were asked by a friendly chap to take a package across the border. With plum brandy, we agreed, only to back down when border police escorted him off the train. After another 24 hours, we reached the coast of Pula in Croatia and dove into the beautiful sea, only to be stung by jellyfish within seconds. A fantastic week of sun, sea and rocky beaches followed with great food and drink at bargain prices.
tim andrew

grumpy husband

“A seven-day trip!” my husband complained when I suggested we should take Interrail to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We had met on a train over 30 years ago, so why not? Taking the Eurostar to Paris, we boarded a TGV to Strasbourg and another train to Brig, Switzerland, via Basel. We boarded the Glacier Express and were mesmerized by the snowy landscape. We traveled to Milan, Venice, Nice and Béziers. Highlights included meeting an elderly couple at the Bernina Pass who were eating boiled eggs and taking two trains to Milan to see an opera.
jennifer vickery

Advice from Guardian Travel readers

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations on their trips. A selection of tips will be presented online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition, visit the tips for readers landing page

travel with my daughter

Bled in Slovenia is a popular stop for Interrailers.

Bled in Slovenia is a popular stop for Interrailers. Photograph: Pintai Suchachaisri/Getty Images

Related: I took the train to Strasbourg, France. This is my city guide.

A couple of years ago we took the train from Redruth in Cornwall to Slovenia for a family ski trip. Passing through London and taking the Eurostar to Paris, we took a night train across the Alps to Venice. Our daughter was seven years old at the time and it was a great experience to be able to share some of the sights along the way with her. She found it hard to sleep on the train, but the moonlight lighting up the snowy peaks was a beautiful distraction. We had a morning in Venice before taking the train to the border, crossing on foot into Slovenia, where the gauge is different, and then another train up into the mountains. It was so brilliant that my family just got to Greece and back on the train.
Layla Astley

prince of venice

Venice is a favorite destination and an ideal place to be stranded for the night.

Venice is a favorite destination and an ideal place to be stranded for the night. Photograph: Photograph by Diana Robinson/Getty Images

After going to a festival in Venice, two friends and I missed the last train with no place to stay. So we did what any 19-year-old Interrailer would do: sleep at the station. A man in a suit with a briefcase approached us and asked if we wanted a drink. One friend and I declined, but the other said yes and bought her a hot chocolate. Concerned for his safety, my eyes were glued to the drink. “I am a Turkish prince,” he gushed. He opened his briefcase and revealed the contents of it. I expected gold. Instead, it was full of cigarettes.

Marzipan cake in the Arctic Circle

Scandinavia is great to explore by train. In 1988 we traveled from Helsinki to the Finnish Lake District and treated ourselves to a marzipan cake for my friend’s birthday. We walked for a few days in the immense heat and traveled to Rovaniemi. From there we visit the Arctic Circle and enjoy two ice creams a day in abnormally high temperatures. We took the bus and train to northern Sweden, where we walked to the start of the Kungsleden long-distance trail from Abisko. Tundra, dotted with reindeer, and snow-capped mountains contrasted against the blue sky. One of my best vacations.
Mirjam Speksnyder

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