Shockingly, it’s my first time traversing Europe with Interrail.eu. And after the Eurostar from London to Brussels, which I booked in advance to secure the £39 one way fare – on a very early train that I have to run for, dropping strawberries at the Tube barriers on the way – I’m ready to begin the first leg of a trip to Tampere, Finland, to cover the Tampere Theatre Festival for the mustlovefestivals project. The first leg is the London to Hamburg by train. I’ve always booked journeys point-to-point in the past because I’m always going somewhere. With an Interrail pass – or Eurail pass, for those of you in the US – you can be going nowhere in particular. That’s the whole point. I guess if I took long holidays I’d do Interrail more frequently. As it is, for this trip, I spend hours on the phone meticulously making all the reservations I need for the specific trains I’d usually book point-to-point.
London to Brussels
The cheapest Eurostar tickets are also non-exchangeable and non-refundable, so don’t do what I did and decide to do the washing-up just before you leave the flat because you forgot to do it the night before, miscalculate the length of time it takes you to walk to the tube station and then gallop full pelt to check-in once you reach the station, cutting in the queue when you get there, and reaching the train with only five minutes before it’s due to leave, sitting down in a puddle of your own sweat, gasping and sucking in dry air and wondering where your water is.
To secure the £39 one way fare from London St. Pancras to Brussels Midi, I booked two weeks in advance and chose the 06:50 train because it was the cheapest. The journey takes about two hours twenty minutes and I had just under twenty minutes at Brussels before the next train for the day…
Brussels to Cologne
On the Deutsche Bahn (DB) train to Cologne I learn that seats with ‘Freigeben’ on the teeny monitors above are ‘sort of unreserved.’ This means they were unreserved up until the last minute but might potentially still be reserved. This, I think, is a little disorganised. As my reserved seat is near to a man with frighteningly bad B.O. I move to a Freigeben seat. When smelly B.O. man sees this he seizes his previously unrealised freedom and follows. So I move to a window seat away from his musty underarms.
Liege, in Belgium is the first stop. The station is an architectural delight, and the same architect has been commissioned to design the new station being built in Mons.
Shortly after this, Aachen Hpf is announced by the German flags on buildings just before it. Forest and very tidy fields and windmills follow and before long the train arrives in Cologne.
If you have a gap between trains, leave the station and take a look at the cathedral, it’s right outside the station and is big and beautiful. After that, pop back inside and find a local beer for the onward journey.
The Brussels to Cologne journey time is just under two hours and the reservation to ride with an Interrail pass or Eurail pass is €5.
Cologne to Hamburg
After a look inside the nearby cathedral and a Dom beer purchase, I board the 13:10 to Hamburg. The train first passes over a bridge that crosses a river then stops at Dusseldorf, which has a disappointingly uninspiring station, all small and concrete. Then the train continues past trees and trees and trees, a lake, more trees. When Germans get on to the train they say hello, which is nice. At Bochum, two cocky guys get on. They lie over two seats each and put their legs in the air. When they get bored of pretending to sleep, they sit up and talk about their cars and how on the whole German cars are the best in the world, even though Italian cars look good. I pretend I can understand less than I can, and they show pictures of their cars to the electrician sitting near me instead. They are still talking about cars long after Dortmund. I sigh a breath of relief when they get off at Bremen. Not long after that I reach what I absentmindedly think is Hamburg Hpf.
The Cologne to Hamburg journey time is four hours and the reservation fee to ride with an Interrail pass or Eurail pass is €5.
I’m pretty much past the point of wanting to stay in dorms with other travellers, but still enjoy access to ‘hostel atmosphere,’ so I book a private room at the original Superbude in Hamburg.
I’d accidentally alighted before Hamburg central station so have to go to the U-Bahn (Metro) a little earlier than intended. This means I then get a bit lost figuring out the system. It’s like having to figure out the London Underground or Paris Metro in ten minutes. If you alight at the main station like you’re supposed to, it’s a lot easier. Thankfully I have enough broken German left over from school to ask station staff what the hell I’ve done wrong. From the central station, Superbude is just one stop to Berliner Tor. As with any unfamiliar place, it’s best to print a map of the area before you go.
As I only have a few hours in the city, I walk round the corner from Superbude and find a light-filled hotel restaurant called Essraum, in the Junges Hotel. There are elegant pink flowers on each table. There I eat a wonderful schnitzel that reminds me of a half-German family friend’s home cooking. I have a glass of German red wine to go with it. It is glorious. One of the best solo dining experiences I’ve ever had. The waitress even winks at me.
In the morning, Superbude provide an impressive breakfast buffet, for €8, which featured waffles you can make yourself, juice and coffee, fruit, rolls, hams and cheeses, yoghurts, muesli and fruit. When I explain I have a train to catch, the staff gave me a takeaway paper bag. No hotel or hostel has ever done that for me before. I put some rolls and kiwi fruits in the bag, plus a couple of colourful chocolate ladybirds.
The next leg of the journey would be Hamburg to Odense with a ferry crossing and a change at Hoje Taastrup…
If you are travelling London to Hamburg in a day, and Hamburg is the final destination, book point to point – it’ll cost from £159.50 when booked in advance, maybe even less. The cheapest pass is £191 on its own for 5 days in 10, so only get one if you’re travelling for longer.
I paid £56 for the room at Superbude last minute, with the breakfast. Dinner at Essraum was a bit of a treat and I spent about €30 (£24) on it. A local transport ticket was less than £2 and I used the machines to get one.
With an Interrail or Eurail pass, my entire journey, London to Tampere costs from £343, and less without making reservations AKA winging it. Point-to-point costs from £399 – although the day crossing on the ferry from Stockholm to Turku might have been worth it, it’s cheaper and you get the wonderful scenery of all the Swedish islands for longer.
Here is a full breakdown of my journey from London all the way to Tampere:
- £39 one way Eurostar ticket London to Brussels
- A 10 days in 22 Interrail pass was kindly provided to me by Interrail.eu. A standard adult pass for 10 days in 22 costs €339 (£271) or €534 (£425) for first class. Be careful to purchase only what you need, as in the end I could have gone for a 5 days in 10 pass, which would have cost €239 (£191) in standard or €375 (£300) in first class
- I called my friends at International Rail to make the reservations, these cost me £57 in total, for all the trains as far as Stockholm. I didn’t need to make all those reservations (although you do have to with high speed or overnight trains for the pass to be valid), but it’s risky not to
- The Viking line overnight ferry was €70 (£56) for the budget four bed dorm, so if I’d had three friends it would have been just £14 each
- It wasn’t necessary to make reservations for trains in Finland
Point-to-point London to Tampere would look something like this…
- £39 for my one way Eurostar ticket London to Brussels
- Brussels to Cologne from £41.50
- Cologne to Hamburg from £79
- Hamburg to Odense via Hoeje Taastrup from £71
- Odense to Copenhagen from £35
- Copenhagen to Malmo £12
- Malmo to Stockholm, £42.50
- Viking overnight ferry Stockholm to Turku, £56
- Turku to Tampere from £23