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/

Applibility

Buying a ticket at the airport is of course a possibility!
It’s only the ”buying over the counter” that is not an option. Just as my Serentripity by train, having the application of the chosen airline company, a flight ticket can be booked (by latest one hour before take off*) even from the airport.

This time, I didn’t go that far before booking as my trip already had a decided destination. Therefore, I packed my luggage, left the house and booked the flight on the way into town. The first hotel reservation was done just before the lights of fasten seatbelts switched on.

Since some time, I am affected by exhaustion syndrome. With that comes difficulties of making decisions and moments of general anxiety, e.g. I feel nervous, just like before a speech for a group of people.

The day before leaving, the planning and booking of the trip seemed like an enormous mountain to climb. Sunday morning, after having decided to postpone the trip, taking at the same time a quick glance for later flights that day…, I set my mobile alarm for two hours later and started to clean my kitchen.

Letting go of the trip, gave birth to a new wish to actually do it and once decided, I have never packed a suitcase so quickly. All I checked before leaving the house was that it was still possible to book the flight. Being off season, I didn’t have to worry of finding a place to stay in Visby.

It could seem that the stress of going away for a couple of days would deteriorate my exhaustion. Yet, it rather had an opposite effect. Instead of a general anxiety for heavens know why, my trip fever was a very concrete kind of anxiety. And a positive one. As a matter of fact, I ”smiled my way” to the airport for the excitement of doing this good to myself.

One thing contributing to this good is, I believe, the choice of making it a spontaneous adventure. After some days of indecisiveness whether to go or not, then calling the trip off, I finally left home precipitately with a wondrous feeling of being very much alive.

I am so accustomed to secure the control of things, something I believe is one of the reasons for my exhaustion syndrome. Checking and controlling is good, to a certain limit. A colleague said something that has stayed in my mind now for some time: ”The more you check, the more you risk to loose confidence in yourself ” That is actually exactly what has happened and it seems to me that my ability of checking that things are correct is ”broken” at present. I feel confident this capacity will heal in time as I learn not to overuse it.

And so, on my way to healing, I explore the opposite, the letting go of controlling, just like booking the flight ticket when the trip has in fact already started…

Going off season to a place which is very popular in summer was a great advantage. Visby was so calm and peaceful, so much exactly what I needed, a nourishment to my soul and a rest for my mind…

*) The one hour limit is for many SAS flights and might be different for other companies. Also, for destinations abroad, one needs to be aware of the eventual need for e.g. Visas when spontaneously choosing a flight.

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.

Tågluffen som inte blev av

(In English, please see below)

Äventyret kunde börja!
En kompis i Frankrike och jag bestämde oss i maj för att tågluffa med hennes två döttrar till Bulgarien och Svarta havskusten. På vägen dit tänkte vi stanna till i Wien, Salzburg och kanske Kroatien eller Slovakien.

Med tiden kom vi dock att upptäckta att resan riskerade att bli avsevärt mycket dyrare och flera resor besvärligare än vad vi vågade föreställa oss. Vi valde mellan 22-dagarskortet med 10 resdagar som för en vuxen kostar 3755 kr och 22-dagarskortet med helt fria resdagar vilket kostar 4795 kr. Därutöver behöver man, precis som förr, betala 50 % av ordinarie pris för biljett till och från gränsen inom det egna landet.

Av informationen att döma på www.interrail.eu hade vi nog börjat vår planering i senaste laget eftersom endast ett visst antal tågluffare accepteras på vissa tåg i Frankrike och platsbiljetter därför behöver bokas i så god tid som möjligt.

Det billigare alternativet, regionaltågen, till vilka platsbiljetter inte behövs, var en möjlighet jag utforskade med lika delar upptäckarglädje som frustration. Å ena sidan kunde det ju vara trevligt att övernatta i en mindre stad jag aldrig annars tänkt besöka eller ens hört talas om. Å andra sidan kände jag mig orolig för att vi skulle tillbringa större delen av semestern på tågen, snarare än på de olika resmålen. Det fanns stunder jag fick känslan av att planera en flykt ut ur ett ockuperat Frankrike och att allt som betydde något var att nå gränsen så snart som möjligt…

Kanske var det när jag började titta på resvägen till Paris som det gick upp för mig att den numer konkurrensutsatta & avreglerade järnvägen skulle bjuda på helt andra förhållanden än den statsägda gjorde som 1982 hade fört mig med på första resan till Frankrike och senare på några tågluffresor under 80-90-tal. På den tiden tog sträckan Stockholm – Paris ca 25 timmar med ett byte i Köpenhamn.

2015 erbjuder en tågresa från Stockholm till Paris två alternativ:

  1. Med platsbiljetter för ca 450 kronor tar resan 21,5 till 25 timmar med 3-6 tågbyten.
  2. Att resa med tåg där platsbiljett inte behövs tar 29 till 42 timmar med 7-14 tågbyten.

Tveksamheten till vårt semesteräventyr ökade i takt med timmarna vi tillbringade på Internet i jakten på information och i min allt större frustration över hur mycket förhållandena för en tågluff hade förändrats sedan 90-talet lånade jag en dag på biblioteket Mikael Nybergs bok Det stora tågrånet. [1]

Det är en bok som berättar om hur en järnväg som konkurrensutsatts och avreglerats lett till eftersatt underhåll när företagen tävlar om att erbjuda det billigaste anbudet i jakten på nya eller förlängda kontrakt. Bokens näst sista kapitel, Den pantsatta välfärdens land, beskriver hur ekonomin i Sverige tudelas. En liten del av befolkningen har möjlighet att av bankerna låna stora belopp för att finansiera investeringar i t.ex. fastigheter och aktier medan den större delen av befolkningen får ta ansvaret för statsfinanserna genom att löneökningar och kostnaderna för offentlig verksamhet hålls nere.

Argumenten för konkurrensutsättning och avregleringar brukar vara att det blir bättre service och kvalitet till ett billigare pris för kunderna när företagen konkurrerar med varandra. När SVT nu under augusti har rapporterat om hur tågen riskerar att spåra ur p.g.a. ruttna slipers och räls som spricker på längden [2] har jag svårt att se dessa utlovade förbättringar. Det är istället som att läsa en fortsättning av Det stora tågrånet. Under planeringen av tågluffen som inte blev av tyckte jag mig också kunna se resultatet av avregleringar och konkurrensutsättning på de europeiska tågen, bl.a. i de dyrare platsbiljetterna.

Ett av skälen till att tågluffen inte blev av var att en missad anslutning p.g.a. tågförsening innebär köp av ännu en platsbiljett och att behöva köpa nya platsbiljetter till oss fyra för upp emot 1600 kr för en del av resvägen var inte särskilt lockande. I min tveksamhet över hur texten på hemsidan skulle tolkas skickade jag frågan till supporten hos interrail.eu som bekräftade: ”Om du missar ett tåg för vilket du betalat platsbiljett p.g.a. en försening, behöver du tyvärr köpa en ny platsbiljett till ett senare tåg. Vanligtvis är inte platsbiljetterna ersättningsbara eller utbytbara”. Var ett tåg på åttio- och nittital så försenat att följande anslutning missades brukade det vara möjligt att åtminstone få en ståplats på ett senare tåg med en redan inhandlad platsbiljett. Det var även möjligt att gå in på närmaste järnvägsstation för att ändra sin biljett till en annan dag om planerna ändrades.

Det går förvisso att söka ersättning hos Eurrailgroup OM man råkat ut för minst tre förseningar à 60 minuter och under förutsättning att interrailkortet har ett dagsvärde på minst 32,5 €, att minst 3 av förseningarna skett i EU-länder och att högst 6 månader har gått sedan kortet upphörde att gälla. Om inte dessa förutsättningar uppfylls ombeds man att inte skicka in sin ersättningsansökan [3].

Något annat som kan stå en tågluffare dyrt är att råka skriva fel i den s.k. biljettfickan i vilken man antecknar resdagarna. På ett interrailkort med begränsat antal resdagar går idag en hel resdag förlorad vid en felskrivning. Att försöka ändra datumet ses som ett bedrägeriförsök och man riskerar därmed att få betala böter samt en ordinarie fullprisbiljett [4].

I mina fotoalbum har jag klistrat in mina tågluffarkort från 80- och 90-tal. Datum, avreseort och destination fyllde jag en gång in i avsedd tabell. I den sista kolumnen till höger finns konduktörens datumstämpel som bekräftar respektive resdag. Undanröjer inte en sådan stämpel risken för att samma resdag används två gånger?

Kanske bekymrade vi oss i onödan över alla eventuella svårigheter på tågluffen som inte blev av. Oron från i somras över eventuella tågluffstrapatser kan dock inte mäta sig med den oron jag känner efter läsningen av Det stora tågrånet. Om jag minns rätt, har det sagts att vi alla behöver vara med och spara för att ha råd med fortsatt välfärd. Är det nu istället så att vårt gemensamma sparande hjälper till att finansiera fortsatta spekulationer på bostads- och aktiemarknaden medan välfärden säljs ut?

[1] Bokens baksidetext finns på Mikael Nybergs hemsida: http://mikaelnyberg.nu/bocker/det-stora-tagranet/

[2] http://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/ny-skandal-pa-jarnvagen
http://www.svt.se/nyheter/regionalt/orebro/tag-kor-pa-utdomd-rals-1

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

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

Istället för tågluff blev det en biltur runt Bodensjön med övernattningar i Tyskland, Schweiz och Österrike.
Istället för tågluff blev det en biltur runt Bodensjön med övernattningar i Tyskland, Schweiz och Österrike. (Bilden är från Lech i Österrike)