WInterrail

About one year ago I went on sick leave due to exhaustion syndrome and ever since I don’t like to plan trips in advance. That is why I booked a plane ticket on the way to the airport in March 2019 to go to Visby. And that is also the reason why I bought an Interrail card from SJ, (the Swedish state-owned railway company), the day before departure last summer (2019). Photos from the Summer interrail trip is at my photoblog.

Having wondered since the interrail trip that didn’t come off if an Interrail card really is worth its price nowadays, I contemplated making a mini-interrail trip after Christmas on regular tickets for comparison.

An interrail card also needs to be booked about 1-2 weeks in advance to be delivered in time (Interrail.eu presently mentions 10 days delivery time) At least for this trip, the interrail card was out of question due to my present dislike for booking in advance. What if I wouldn’t want to travel the day of departure but just having a peaceful rest at home?

Who was the winner then? On the page Interrail card or regular tickets there are some comparisons for my trip. I also plan to update the page on future trips to see what is the most affordable.

For the rest of this blog post, I will instead share some of what I experienced1

27th January 2019 Heading for adventure

The feeling of anticipation…, waiting for the train at the home railway station. The typical sounds, like the attention signal, followed by the speaker voice, the ringing bell when a train is departing, people talking nearby… And then, your train arriving on squeaking brakes, an adventure about to start, the trip ahead of you…

I was as thrilled as ever, not having a fixed return ticket, every possibility laying open. Nothing decided even though somewhere in my mind, an idea had started to take form; to see the places passed by on previous trips, yet with the freedom to choose something else along the way, should another wish appear.

Sitting in the train and watching the passing landscape is an opportunity of peaceful relaxation, like a shower for the eyes and meditation for the mind. Letting go and emptying the thoughts. Or at least, just letting them wandering away and, sooner or later, coming back, maybe with a new and fresh perspective.

”Lean your thoughts on me” Snälltåget is the train company that could be translated as ”Kind train” or with the more accurate origin ”Fast train” (from German Schnellzug)

My first destination – Copenhagen

Having visited Copenhagen in September 2017 and August 2018, my purpose this time was to take a daytrip to Elsinore. I also had the chance to meet with a colleague and her two daughters over a nice breakfast before heading for the town and its castle, central in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

28th December – Elsinore (Helsingör)

My first aim had actually been just to stroll around in the town. It was a cold day and in order not to be too late to have a look at the Kronborg castle, I started by paying it a visit (thus hiding away from the cold). I ought to have remembered my aptitude of getting stuck among beautiful tapestry and paintings… When returning to the small town, it was already dusk and soon night fell. It was time to take the train back to Copenhagen and have dinner.

Kronborg Castle

The breakfast restaurant that my colleague’s eldest daughter had found, was one in a chain and close to my hotel was one of the others in the same chain, Cofoco.

The dishes were like Scandinavian Tapas, following the concept “Less is more” which suited me just fine as I am rarely hungry in the evenings. The taste was heavenly!

Top: Sustainable Danish salmon, green grapes, lemon balm, pak choy, cilantro and crispy rice Bottom: Hokkaido pumkin tatare, miso-orange bouillon, greek yoghurt, pickled pumkin and shiso

29th December – Odense

I have to admit it. I have always been a gourmet and since being a child, the name of Odense makes me think of the Odense Marzipan manufacturer’s soft and creamy nougat:
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Odense also has 5 museums about the author H.C. Andersen, something I didn’t realize before it was too late to visit them all. That is one of the reasons to come back. Another one being the fact that a great deal of the town was under reconstruction. A highway that used to split the town in two is now redirected around the center. Also, the town will get a tram. My plan is to return on a warmer day in 2022 (since also my Odense day was a chilly one). And starting early to see the remaining 4 museums.

On this visit in late December 2019, I contented myself with H. C. Andersen’s childhood home and, in the morning of the following day, before leaving Odense for Hamburg, I took a walk to the nougat and marzipan factory (even though the outlet I had hoped to find, didn’t exist). At least I had seen the place…

30th December – Hamburg

Hamburg is the town I always passed by on my way somewhere else, thus being like a symbol for me of an adventure that has recently started…

When the train slowed down, I was already stuck by a window, luggage ready beside me, taking pictures. Once at the platform, I just enjoyed the feeling of BEING there, taking in the sounds and busy atmosphere of Hamburg Hauptbahnhof.

The hotel I had booked, Europäischer Hof, happened to be a real treasure! I fell in love with my room facing on to a small road and showing a glimpse of the open space outside the central station. Arriving about 4 pm, I soon could admire a golden sky from the setting sun.

Since I had understood from the reviews, read in the train, about Hamburg hop on hop of buses, it can be difficult to hear the English recording in the earphones as what the German guide says through the speaker is louder. Thus, I set out to find a guidebook, visit the tourist office and get something to eat.

To my great satisfaction, I came across my favorite fast and healthy food chain that I know from Berlin, dean&david, and once again energized, I returned to the hotel doing a bit of a homework to prepare for the guide tour the following day, a lucky decision as it turned out!

31st December, 2019 – Hamburg

Die roten Doppeldecker guidebus outside the hotel where I stayed, Europäischer Hof.

We were only 4 in the bus, Die roten Doppeldecker, waiting for the guide and once arrived he sat down together with us which provided for a really nice and familiar touch to the guiding tour. It was now I really appreciated the homework from the evening before as it helped me to understand as my knowledge in German is not yet sufficient to follow a conversation in whole. I was rather proud when I picked up two of his jokes:

“And to the right, you see an American gastronomic restaurant”. When following his direction, I spotted the oh, so well known, big yellow M… A while later he also indicated the Apple store as an American fruit shop…

Have you ever dreamed away on a language lesson, wanting to see for yourself the places pictured in the textbook? A year ago, I took the beginner’s course in German and now I followed in the traces of the first of the textbooks Lieber Deutsch 2.0, walking through the shopping center “Europa passage” of Mönckebergstraße and took a long walk in the harbor district where I paused for a Fischbrötchen, a sandwich with salt herring.

Being very tired after the days many impressions and the strolling around, I actually considered sleeping through the turning into the new decade. Once in my room that night, I realized that sleeping would not be an option due to all the fireworks and decided instead to admire the view from my safe haven in the hotel room.

Fireworks are not that easy to catch in a mobile camera… See video in textlink above.

1st January, 2020 – Hamburg

The remaining fireworks and crackers both followed me into sleep and woke me up at 6:30 in the morning of the first day of the 20s.

Invigorated after a delicious hotel breakfast with Birchermuesli and fruit salad, coffee and a salmon sandwich, I crossed the open space where I had followed the fireworks the night before, now bearing untidy reminiscences from the festivities. Still tired after all the walking the day before, I opted for the bus.

After the fireworks…

When discovering new places, I have most often stuck to my own two feet and the local transport, more or less despising the hop on hop off buses. Since the tour the day before, I see the point as you get an overall picture of a town in order to take your own best plums when getting off the guide bus.

You may not see so many monuments or well-known statues when choosing the local transport. On the other hand, you will discover the daily life parts in the company of the locals.

A misty morning in Hamburg Altona

Bus 112 brought me through a Hamburg that more and more covered itself in fog. Sitting in the bus, I again remembered being in the train years ago, approaching Hamburg through its suburb Altona. For some reason, the name of Altona, just like the name of Hamburg itself, has always had an adventurous pull on me.

When arriving at the last stop, Neumühlen/Övelgönne and the sign “Fahrt endet hier” turned on, I left the bus and took a short walk in the humid chill of morning, waiting for the same bus to bring me back on the first short stretch, to Altona station.

Leuchtfeuer Pagensand-Süd

When thinking back on this day, the mist of the morning and afternoon plays an important role as it heightened the clear colours of for instance a yellow boat by the shore or the blue bar by a deserted café.

Being New Year’s morning, Hamburg Altona was a very quiet place where I walked through empty streets. Before returning to the station, I stilled my craving for a newly baked Pretzel. My next transport was the commuter train, bringing me back into central Hamburg to one of my very best plums, the Dammtor station, which I had admired during the guiding tour.

The Art Nouveau style Dammtor station opened on 7 July 19032 and is, according to the guidebook I bought3, Hamburg’s most beautiful train station. Except for loving the Art Nouveau style, it seems I am also becoming a railway station nerd. If it is not for the art of the station, it’s for the anticipation of travelling…

Dammtor Hauptbahnhof, Hamburg

Pay it forward

Leaving Dammtor, taking the bus, a couple with a suitcase didn’t have enough money to pay their trip. The man turned in despair to me, asking if I maybe had a euro coin. When asking how to compensate me, I told him about the Pay it forward concept. Instead of paying me a euro once at the station, I asked him to pay something for someone else who would one day need his help. And that sooner or later, that one Euro would come back to me. Nor did I know how quickly this Euro actually would return to me…

After a very delicious lunch at the Schifferbörse, close to my hotel, I took off again to have a look at the few merchants’ houses along Deichstraße that once survived or at least could be restored after the fire in 18424 The fog was back, and the darkening afternoon brought a mystical touch to the town and its buildings.  The next point on my best plums list was Chilehaus which lightened up in the grey mist with all its lights and beautiful architecture.

Chilehaus, Hamburg

2nd January – Lübeck

Besides being an old Hanseatic town with 3 zones on the UNESCO world heritage list5, Lübeck is also home of the Niederegger marzipan company since 18066. (And yes. It did have an impact of my choice of going to Lübeck…)

Niederegger Stammhaus, Lübeck

Staying for just about 24 hours, I prioritized just strolling around, looking at the exteriors of the many beautiful houses. I even failed to see the Marzipan museum on the top floor of the Niederegger café and shop which is just a good reason to come back one day. It was a cold sunny day and after a long walk with many photographs stops, I took delight in one of the delicacies at the Arkaden café, just across the street to the original café. In the evening, I discovered another sort of delicacy at the hotel’s Restaurant Yachtzimmer, namely Salsify soup seasoned with orange, a dish I have already made twice since coming home. Besides, I stayed there for about two hours for the calm atmosphere, looking back on the past days with joy and writing about my trip that was now approaching its end.

3rd January – When a Euro coin caught up with me in Kiel…

The rain poured down on my last day in Germany. Carrying my suitcase along, I stuck to the shopping centre. My Kiel sightseeing would have to wait for a sunnier day!

On my way to the harbour and the boat for Gothenburg, I just wanted to have a coffee and a last delicious German pastry. In the café there was this special creamy nut cake that I had seen already in Lübeck and not yet tried. It looked so delicious.

– Sorry, we don’t take cards here. Do you have cash?

– Oh, is that so, Sorry, I will not have a cake then, as I can only pay for the Cappuccino.

The bakery assistant said something I didn’t really understand. Having my coffee, my eyes fell on the pastry, still on the counter. Did she forget it? How come she didn’t put it back?

When finally returning, this kind bakery assistant asked me if I didn’t want it? And I suddenly realised that a one-euro coin had come back to me as a gift in the shape of this very delicious pastry at Bäckerei Tackmann Boostedt.

A Euro coin in disguise

Boat trip Kiel – Gothenburg

Fearing the winter weather at sea, I had at first decided on taking another way back. Yet, I don’t want to live a fearful, avoidant life. And I wanted to go to Lübeck and was happy that I did. Yet, getting on the ferry meant challenging my fear and I first felt a bit nervous. With the good company of a family sitting by the same table in the bar, guessing the answers at the musical quiz, time flew and I relaxed. After all, going by boat wasn’t that fearful…

A loud crack woke me up about 4 in the morning. And yet another one. What WAS that noise?

My heart pounded more at every crack and after a while, I dressed, rushed out of my cabin in hope to find some other soul needing comfort and company. There was none. Obviously, I was the only scared one, a fact that paradoxically had a calming effect on me. Coming back to my cabin, I realized the noise must be coming from the wooden details of the fixtures e.g. the cabin table. Irrespective of this reassuring effect of my finding, it didn’t help me to sleep, even though, from time to time I managed at least to doze off between the loud cracks.

4th January – Gothenburg to Stockholm

Much longed-for dawn through a drop-covered window

Lacking sleep after my night on the ferry, I was not at all in the mood to stroll around in Gothenburg. Trying to catch the first possible train home, I was one of the first touching steady ground & heading for the tram to the central station.

To save some time, I started looking for info on how to change the afternoon train already booked some days earlier. Suddenly startled, I looked up and asked a fellow passenger if we had already passed the central station? I understood the answer (N.B. in my own language!) as it would be after having passed the bridge.

It wasn’t until after we had passed that (?) bridge, from which I had enthusiastically admired the sunny view over Gothenburg, that I realized the tram was taking me far beyond the central station, permitting me to see the north-western suburbs of Gothenburg. Tired as I was, it even took me a few stations before collecting my strengths and my luggage to get off and change direction. After all, having missed that first train, there was now plenty of time…

Following the way back meticulously, I got off at the right stop and entered the central station. The moral of my last paragraphs is of course: Never dwell too fondly in your mobile while travelling in a non-familiar area.

Suddenly spotting a fast train departing in less than ten minutes, I ran off to the right track, got some help from the very kind SJ staff to change my ticket and was the owner of a first-class ticket one single minute before the departure. The first-class ticket was actually at the same price as the second class, a luxurious detail that heightened my spirits. Also, this train would arrive 1 hour and 15 minutes before the earlier missed train due to my excursion.

The moral of the last paragraph is one of my favourites in life: Every cloud has a silver lining!

Coming home, I felt very happy and content with my trip and for weeks I actually kept thinking “1 week ago, I was in Odense, 2 weeks ago, by this time, I had dinner in Copenhagen, 3 weeks ago, I strolled the streets of Hamburg Altona. And so forth…”


1. Want to see more photos? Just click the header links above for each date to see the photos of the same day of the trip on my photoblog. There is a somewhat parallel narrative in more pictures than words.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburg_Dammtor_station
3. DK Eyewitness travel guide HAMBURG, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London.
4. IBID.
5.https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/272
6. https://www.niederegger.de/en/history/

Serentripity *)

Musings at a Pizzeria in Stockholm Central Station, 28 November 2018

Once upon a time, I nurtured a dream of leaving home for the airport and buy a ticket for wherever I wanted to go in the moment (and where a ticket were available and affordable).

However, my closest airport doesn’t sell any flight tickets so I have now modified my dream to going by train.

It is possible… I can do this, maybe I will do it already in 2019?

Coming to the station with my (possibly light) luggage, I would buy a coffee (take away cup!), sitting down for a while, listening to the announcements of the loudspeaker. And in the moment I hear the name of a town that my heart spell out its Yes! to, I’ll tap the name into the ticket app, buy the ticket and then hurry off to the train.

I could do it again the day after and who knows where I would end up?

Same cup- different seat (And tea instead of coffee…)

7 March 2019

I am doing it….

The train is rushing through a grey and foggy landscape. In my heart though, there is a sunrise which is about living in the moment. A sunrise, because there is no plan, it’s just a shimmering beginning. Perhaps I go back already this evening. Or not. It doesn’t matter right now. All I know is the whining of the wheels, the jerkiness of the old fashioned wagon. As this is a regional train, I am not in a comfortable high speed intercity train. It is a train, just as it used to be as I remember from my childhood and in the time of my twenties, bringing back memories of the first trips on my own. Just like today..

So what happened? The Readiness for the unexpected doesn’t mean that something unexpected will necessarily happen.. Today it didn’t. What I did get was a peaceful day on my own, the joy of being on a trip, if just for a single day and the pleasure of seeing new surroundings.

Hallsberg is a town where I have often changed trains and I enjoyed seeing more of it than just the station on the way to somewhere else.

Seen in Hallsberg

Sitting in a train, watching the landscape is a peaceful way of spending one’s time, an opportunity to reflect and get new perspectives, as if the trip allows to see your life from ”outside” or just taking a needed rest from daily life. And maybe that is also a sort of serendipity…

Coming back to Stockholm, the station looked the same. Yet something was different. My experience of change was all in me. The time passed, the new surroundings I saw, altered my life experience even if ever so little, just as a journey always does or daily life as well. The strong awareness of something being different, is, I believe, due to the fact that the trip was short enough not to be overwhelmed by impressions and long enough to make an impression.

One thing is for sure: This ”Serentrip” gave me the taste of again. It would be an excellent way of interrailing, combined with another dream of mine; to get on a night train and getting off the first station after waking up…

*) Playing with the word Serendipity. For the definition of the word, please see:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/serendipity
Serentripity, as I define it, is going on a trip with the sole aim of being available for the unexpected happenings of a trip.

Centralens Café

Liksom bara måste
   skriva
Minnen av resor,
   avfärder... ankomster

Visselpipan
   som föregår avgången,
Tåget som sätts igång
   med ett ryck

På väg
   mot okänt eller känt

Framtiden är
   alltid oviss
Livet självt
   är en resa

Café au lait och en muffins
Gemenskap för en stund
   med ett resande folk.

The Interrail trip that didn’t come off

Adventure could start!
A French friend and I decided in May to do an Interrail trip with her two daughters to Bulgaria and the Black sea coast. On our way there, we planned to stop by in Vienna, Salzburg and maybe Croatia or Slovakia.

In course of time we discovered however that our trip risked being both more expensive and more laborious than we had dared to imagine. We chose between the 10 days within 22 days pass for 374 € per adult and the 22 days continuous pass for 484 € per adult. In addition to that, one needs to pay 50% of regular price of a ticket to and from the border of the own country, just like it has always been.

Judging from the information at www.interrail.eu we had started to plan our trip a bit too late as only a certain amount of interrailers are accepted on some of the trains in France and that reservation fees therefore needs to be payed as far in advance as possible.

Region trains are a cheaper alternative as reservations aren’t needed and this was an option I explored with as much joy as frustration. On the one hand, it could be nice to stay overnight in a small town I never had considered visiting or even heard about. On the other hand I felt worried that we would spend most of our vacation in the trains rather than on the different destinations. There were times I had the feeling of planning an escape out of an occupied France and that all what mattered was to reach the border as soon as possible…

Maybe it was when starting looking for the trains to Paris that I realized that the railway, nowadays exposed to competition and deregulations, would offer a very different situation of travelling from what the Government-owned railway did that 1982 brought me on my first trip to France and some years later on a few Interrail trips in the 80’s and 90’s. At this time the route Stockholm – Paris took about 25 hours with one change in Copenhagen.

2015, a railway trip from Stockholm to Paris offers two alternatives:

  1. With reservation fees for about 45 €, the trip takes 21, 5 to 25 hours with 3-6 changes.
  2. To travel with a train where no reservation fee is needed takes 29 to 42 hours with 7-14 changes of trains.

The doubts of our vacation adventure increased by the hours spent on the internet looking for information and in my growing frustration of how much the circumstances had changed for an Interrail trip since the 90’s, I borrowed a book called The Great Train Robbery by Swedish free-lance journalist Mikael Nyberg. The book is not translated to English but there is a short summary on the authors web page: http://mikaelnyberg.nu/english/

The Great Train Robbery is a book telling the story of how the railway, exposed to competition and deregulations, suffers from neglected maintenance as the different companies compete in offering the cheapest bid in the pursuit of new or prolonged contracts.  One of the last chapters, The land of the pawned welfare, describes how the economy In Sweden is divided into two parts: A minority of the population can get big bank loans to provide capital for investments such as real estate and shares meanwhile the majority of the population are the ones to take responsibilities for the finances of the State as increase of wages and expenses of the public sector have been held down.

The arguments for deregulations and exposing to competition use to be that it improves service and quality to a lower price for customers as companies competes. When the Swedish television now in August has reported about the risk for trains to derail due to rotten sleepers and rails cracked on the length [1], I have great difficulties to see those promised improvements. Instead, it is like reading a sequel to The Great Train Robbery. While planning the Interrail trip that didn’t come off, I believe having seen the result of exposure to competition and deregulations also for the European railways, among other things in the expensive reservation fees.

One of the reasons the Interrail trip did not come off was the fact that a missed connection due to train delays means buying another reservation. Having to buy new reservations for the four of us for about 160 € for a part of the trip was not at all attracting. Doubting how the text on the website was to be interpreted, I sent the question to the intterrail.eu support that confirmed:  ”If you miss a train for which you paid a reservation fee because of a delay, unfortunately, you would need to buy a new reservation for a later train. Normally reservations are non-refundable and non-changeable”. If a train in the 80’s or 90’s were so much delayed that a following connection was missed, it used to be possible to get on the following train once you had an already paid reservation even though it maybe meant having to stand on your own two feet for the rest of the trip. It was also possible to drop by the closest railway station to change a ticket for another day if your plans had changed.

It is however possible to apply for compensations to the Eurrail Group IF one has got into at least 3 delays on 60 minutes each, that the value per day of the Interrail card is at least 32,5 €, that at least 3 of the delays have occurred within EU countries and that at not more than 6 months has passed since the card expired. If those requirements are not met, one is asked not to send in the application for compensation [2].

Something else that can be costly for an interrailer is to mistakenly enter a wrong date in the travel report. On a pass with limited travel dates, a whole day will be lost as one has to enter the correct date in the field for the next travel day. To change a date will be viewed as an attempt at fraud and one might end up having to pay both for a fine and a regular ticket [3].

In the 80’s and 90’s I stack my Interrail passes on to my photo albums. The dates, departures and destinations are all in the table of my travel report and in the very right column is the ticket collectors date stamp, confirming each of my travel dates, which I believe, could avoid the risk that someone would use a very same travel date twice.

Maybe we just worried without cause about possible difficulties on the Interrail trip that didn’t come off. The concern of imaginable Interrail hardships cannot nevertheless be measured with how I feel after having read The Great Train Robbery. If I remember correctly, it has been said that we all need to contribute in practicing economy to afford the continuous welfare of our country. Is it however the case that our common savings rather is providing capital for speculations on the real estate and share markets while our welfare is being sold out?

[1] http://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/ny-skandal-pa-jarnvagen
(Only in Swedish)
http://www.svt.se/nyheter/regionalt/orebro/tag-kor-pa-utdomd-rals-1
(Only in Swedish)

[2] http://www.eurailgroup.org/compensation.aspx

[3] http://www.interrail.eu/terms-and-conditions/conditions-use
(paragraph 4.)

Instead of the Interrail trip we spent some days in Germany, Switzerland and Austria around the Lake Constance
Instead of the Interrail trip we spent some days in Germany, Switzerland and Austria around the Lake Constance. This photo is taken in Lech in Austria.