Hitchin, United Kingdom. D-Day plus 22. Conclusion.

by - September 17, 2010

I think it would be wrong of me to just leave the blog at just getting on the plane in Venice without some kind of conclusion.  I also think that it would be appropriate to leave some kind of advice for people who want to do interrailing in the future, because it is one of those things that a lot of people think of doing and never build up the courage or time to go ahead with it.  As our Lonely Planet concludes, “all you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over. So go!”.  I will therefore aim to sum up what I think I have gained and what might be helpful for those wanting to repeat Overlord.

The biggest issue for most people is cost.  Daniel and I both had to save up for most of the year leading up to the trip in order to have enough money to cover it.  Our first budget put the trip at £50 per day plus flights, the interrail ticket and the Grand Prix - approximately £1800.  This seems like a lot of money, but it is not impossible to save up - both Daniel and I managed to save up the £4000 required for Costa Rica last year and neither of us have extraordinary financial circumstances.  We both have part time jobs and are good at saving and that is all that is needed.  Central Europe is a lot cheaper than the west and I would assume that Eastern Europe is cheaper again.  As somebody who is massively retentive I kept an extensive budget of the trip and came to the conclusion that everything - hostels, food, flights, the Grand Prix and all other bits and pieces (except my new passport) cost about £1430.  This also includes things like new clothes, so I will take them out for the sake of argument  - just make sure that you don’t split your only pair of trousers on the first day when you travel.  This works out at about £50 a day for everything - a fair bit under what we expected.  The costs per city broke down as follows:

  • Amsterdam (2 nights)  -  £55.75 per night
  • Brussels (1 night)  -  £47.35 per night
  • Belgian Grand Prix (2 nights)  -  £41.65 per night
  • Luxembourg (1 night)  -  £36.48 per night
  • Frankfurt (2 nights)  -  £15.17 per night
  • Munich (2 nights)  -  £39.35 per night
  • Berchtesgaden (2 nights)  -  £35.35 per night
  • Salzburg (1 night)  -  £48.73 per night
  • Vienna (2 nights)  -  £37.99 per night
  • Bratislava (2 nights)  -  £34.39 per night
  • Budapest (2 nights)  -  £49.06 per night
  • Ljubljana (2 nights)  -  £42.99 per night
  • Venice (2 nights)  -  £68.65 per night
There are obviously some discrepancies in there.  Frankfurt, for example, was so cheap because we were lucky enough to have some very generous friends.  This isn’t a moot point however - if you have friends in European countries, do your best to stay with them as it dramatically reduced costs.   Also it seems like the central European countries were more expensive, but this is because there was more scope for us to splash out here.  The three best hostels were in Bratislava, Budapest and Ljubljana, because we felt that we would get more for our money.  Also we felt more at ease going to places such as the Hungarian baths, or tipping well for the Bratislava walking tour because we didn’t feel we were being ripped off.  If we had lived as frugally in central Europe as we did in the west the costs would have been far reduced.

On the subject of accomodation, I would say that all of ours was good quality.  There were some however, such as Munich, where we paid well over the odds.  The advice I would offer for this is that in Western and Central Europe at least, a cheap hostel is not necessarily a bad one.  In Vienna we paid £10 each per night for a room that was far better than the one in Munich that we paid £24 for.  As long as you book through a respectable website - we used www.hostels.com, and check out the ratings, I would suggest going as cheap as possible.  Also, don’t be afraid of booking dorms rather than privates.  If you are a group of say four, and book a four person dorm, chances are you will have it to yourself anyway.  Tom booked himself into a 12 man dorm in Bratislava and ended up only sharing the room with 5 other people.  We didn’t do it as much as I had hoped, but dorms are a great way of meeting people.

The completed interail pass
I will get the “don’t lose your passport” point out of the way first.  Though actually if you do lose your passport it isn’t actually the end of the world - the embassy in Ljubljana was really helpful.  It is, after all, their job to help out British citizens in need abroad.  As regards train journeys, getting around couldn’t be much easier.  The trains were a lot better in countries like Germany, but we didn’t spend ages waiting around on platforms in Slovalkia or anywhere like that.  For those of you who are like me and aim to plan a trip to the last detail, trains offer a fantastic way to know exactly where you will be and at what time you will be there.  For those of you who like a bit of flexibility, most trains are repeated every few hours or so.  We found out that major engineering work normally occurs on a Sunday evening - twice we travelled on a Sunday and twice we ended up having to get a bus for part of the journey.  Also some friends of ours found that some trains require a reservation or a small extra rpice.  This is definitely the case for sleepers and high speed trains, but also sometimes the case for longer journeys.  The interrail website is very helpful however and all the tourist informations at the major stations have english speakers there.  Don’t be afraid of journeys that last a long time or that have a lot of changes - sometimes its quicker and easier to catch two fast trains from a to b to c than to get a slow train from a to c.  Some of the nicest moments of our trip were on the massive train journeys.  If, like us, you get interail tickets that have a set limit of journeys over a number of days - we could travel on 10 days in 22, don’t use up a day on a tiny journey.  We actually travelled on 13 days, but the journeys from Amsterdam airport to Amsterdam, the Grand Prix to Luxembourg and Berchtesgaden to Salzburg, were so cheap that it wasn’t worth putting them down and losing a day. 

There is a common misconception I think that most Central Europe is a backward place with not much to see.  Having been lucky enough this year to not only go to Slovalkia, Hungary and Slovenia on Overlord, but also Poland, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia, I can honestly say that they are far more interesting to go to than the standard holidays I have done to Spain, Italy or Germany.  To prove this I will compare some of the sites I have seen in the west with some of the sites I have seen in central Europe.  Firstly, as pretty as St. Mark’s Square in Venice is, I don’t think that it is a million miles away from the Market Square in Krakov, Poland.
Market Square, Krakov

St. Mark’s Square, Venice
As stunning as the views that we had when we went to the Bay of Naples in Italy a few years back, they were as good, if not better when we went to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro in the summer:

Bay of Naples, Italy
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
While Paris may always be the original, Budapest, the Paris of the east, has a lot to offer for a fraction of the price:

Paris, France

Budapest, Hungary
While Amsterdam and Venice may be the original canal cities, Ljubljana is a pint size city built on a tiny canal sized river and it doesn’t have an abundance of prostitutes or fake bag sellers.
Amsterdam, Holland
Ljubljana, Slovenia

While some readers may say that these cases are bad comparisons (and I agree some of them are), I believe my point that the rest of Europe has as much, if not more, to offer than the tried and tested west, still stands.  Italy isn’t the only place that offers good food, Paris isn’t the only place with class, London isn’t the only place with history and Spain isn’t the only place where the sun shines.  As a conclusion then I would encourage people to travel to countries that they know less about.  An exotic name doesn’t necessarily mean an exotic price tag - in most cases quite the opposite is true.  This trip has inspired me to do my utmost to do a complete tour of the European countries by the time I am 21.  At the moment I stand on 23 nations and as a result will hopefully do another interrail trip next year to the real Eastern Europe.  Watch this space for Operation Barbarossa, my tour of the east and Russia.  After all, fortune favours the brave.

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