This One Time I Went Interrailing…

…in which the blogger retells many a told-before anecdote; ritz crackers are awarded to two weary travellers; a passport is lost in the icy depths…

IMG_7352You may have read in my second ever blog post that it’s a running joke among pretty much anyone who knows me that I can’t stop bringing up the time I went interrailing.

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Switzerland is the prettiest place you will ever see

Well, faced with the risk of losing those closest to me, I have been forced to ask myself what I am going to do about this constant reminiscing. Consider this post a catharsis, if you will. A purge. A release. The last time you will ever hear me use the word ‘interrailing.’

People once told me that prom would be the best day of my life. I have been told that my university days, even fresher’s week, would be the best days of my life. An ex-boyfriend once actually promised me that Valentines Day would be the best day of my life (makes sick noises). My time at University has not, so far, included many of the moments I would choose for my ‘best bits’ video. Fresher’s week was certainly not my finest moment. Prom was overrated. That particular Valentines Day, or any since then, have, quite simply, not been the best days of my life. The best days of my life, without a shadow of a shadow of a shadow of a doubt were the days I spent interrailing around Europe with my best friend.

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Bastille Day Parade in Paris

This isn’t necessarily a ‘how to’ or advice post. Indeed, do not replicate any of these actions unless you would like to end up throwing up, stranded in the British Embassy. A ‘how to’ post is something I am definitely thinking of posting in the future, though. In the mean time I would be happy to answer any questions for any prospective interrailers out there (I’m jealous) – if you don’t want to leave a comment you can email me at helengracebookface@gmail.com. Yes, it was a lie when I said I wasn’t going to mention interrailing ever again. A big fat lie. I have a problem.

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This is one of many photos I have no recollection of being taken. I also have no idea who this dude is.

This is just me telling anybody who is interested what I experienced. For anyone who is interested in the philosophy (for want of a better word) of interrailing rather than the logistics of it, I really enjoyed reading this article from the bbc; it’s what made me decide to write this post.

(cont below)

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Interesting people I met along the way

Creepy Creative Aura Guy

You meet some weird people on trains, I swear. This is an actual note my friend passed to me:

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Creepy Ritz Cracker Stalker Guy

You meet some weird people not on trains, too.

So, following our adventures in Venice, me and my friend were supposed to be changing trains in Padua, Italy. Except our next train to Budapest wasn’t for three hours. After biding time at a McDonalds we managed to find a bar. Everybody we asked seemed to be baffled by the fact that we wanted to find somewhere to drink on a Friday night?! There seemed to be a congregation of people passing a bottle round near one of the tram stops but that was about it. ANYWAY. In this bar there was this weird guy who sat next to us and kept asking where we were going and had been with our backpacks. I don’t like to jump to the conclusion that any strange male that takes an interest is a creepy perv, so I answered his questions while my friend gave me stink eye across the table.

Admittedly, I probably shouldn’t have shown him our itinerary but I felt too awkward too decline. He denied this but we are both 99% sure he took a picture of it on the phone. I started to realise that our gut instincts were accurate and yes, he was a creepy perv when he started trying to persuade us to go back to his house. Surely we would at least let him walk us back to the station, he kept saying, to keep us safe. In the end we pretty much had to tell him we wanted to walk back alone. I always feel mean in these situations. Maybe he did have the kindest intentions, and the whole ritz crackers thing (which I will come to in a second) leads me to think this is the case in a small way. But why do people feel the need to put you in these situations in the first place? Right, so, anyway. We managed to escape.

We were waiting on the platform when this guy appears up the stairs. I’d seen Taken. I thought my life was over. I was expecting him to bundle us in a bag when he started questioning us about our food provisions. I was confused. He was insistent on finding out what we had with us to eat or drink and whether it was of sufficient nutritional value. Maybe this was something that affected our worth when we were kidnapped and SOLD. He disappeared after finding out we only had a bottle of wine between us. I assumed we must have offended him or something. But he reappeared again five minutes later with some ritz crackers and some bottles of juice for us. We thanked him and he waited with us in awkward silence until our train came. He asked us for our addresses. I can’t remember what we said but we managed to dodge our way around this so he wrote his down on a piece of paper and asked us to write to him. Creepy ritz cracker guy just wanted a pen pal. Yes, he was a bit of a creep who didn’t know when to leave, but I feel sad thinking about it now. If we had kept his address I might send him a postcard…

The Owner of this Croc

IMG_7343Again, weird people. Europeans, jeez!

Is that a Bratz croc?! Also, I would like to point out that this was a lone croc. There was no matching left croc.

Crazy Dutch Lady

We only stayed one night in Berlin, and we only spoke to this woman briefly. I can’t remember her name, or much of what she said, which is a shame because she had some interesting stories. She was an artist and she mostly travelled and gave all her food to the homeless apparently, and had been to stay in some kind of homeless recycling convent in France somewhere that had something to do with the pope or something. I can’t remember the name of that place either, which is also a shame because it is something I would like to read about (or at least check is real). She kept showing us her armpits in the smoking area, which she didn’t shave. I think she hoped that we would be amazed and enlightened by this, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was about thirty years behind in the feminist trend and armpit freedom was a well documented and frequented phenomena these days. Anyway, both of us went along with it when she got us to ‘inhale our scent’ and exclaim to the sky in celebration of our femininity with a kind of black-pride-esque fist thing. Neither me or my friend did it with quite as much fervour as she did, though. We got some funny looks.

So many genuinely lovely and kind people

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me and a hostel pal in suicide circus, Berlin

If you are planning, or have planned any kind of trip like this, you will no doubt come across countless warnings about strangers and murderers and kidnappers and the lochness monster etc. etc. I’m not trying to say that these warnings are not necessary. We know from horror stories, and I could guess from all the weird creepy people we met too, that they are absolutely necessary and should be heeded. But instead of diminishing my faith in human nature, our trip multiplied it by a hundred. Honestly, people are so nice. I can’t even explain. I just had the best time of my life meeting people and talking to them and everybody was so welcoming and had so many amazing stories. All I can do is urge you to go and stay in lots of hostels and don’t be shy and just talk to people. Hostels are full of young, open-minded people from different cultures who are often well-travelled. And they know some good drinking games.

Which brings me to….

The best and worst day of my life

I lost my friend on the infamous Prague Pub Crawl. At the time I was angry at her for leaving me, but I must admit that after one hour of free all-you-can-cope-with absinthe shots, the blame lay entirely with me. I lost the rest of the group while I was having a conversation with the most gorgeous man I have ever met. I hope my boyfriend isn’t reading this. He was Swedish and tall with a blonde ponytail and he was a primary school teacher and actually drove a vw camper van (he probably made all this up). I’m still in love. Where are you now, Alexander? (I think… or something beginning with an ‘a’).

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all of the signs in our hostel had strange pictures of cats on them?? I don’t even know

I have no idea how i managed to track down the ice bar that everyone had ended up at whilst I was in this state. Sometimes I think I must have a fair godmother. After what felt like two hours searching for my friend and the others among the seven-hundred-and-forty-eight different rooms of this ice club contraption I decided to head back to our hostel. My friend’s texts were getting increasingly incoherent and I was tired. After about five minutes, however, my drunken brain processed the fact that my friend had our only set of keys. I panicked. Her phone was dead.

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lovely people, rude gestures

By the time I ran into these three gents (left) I was crying hysterically. I think I had managed to convince myself (but not them) that someone was trying to rape/mug/murder me. The next morning I shamefully realised that the car I was convinced was trying to run me over was actually driving really slowly behind me, not because they were following me but because I was staggering about crying in the middle of the road they were trying to drive down. They were shouting and beeping for me to move, not because they wanted my blood.

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Anyway, these guys kindly walked me back to my hostel to meet my friend and even bought me a McDonalds. After she didn’t turn up (she had got lost too. It’s a wonder we are both still alive) they walked around Prague with me for hours. We were trying to waste time til ten, when the reception of my hostel opened.

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Empty and beautiful

I watched the sun rise from Charles Bridge at 5am. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Charles Bridge but it is always rammed. I will never forget the sight of it completely empty and tinged in a pink light.

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Thank you!!

Eventually, my new pals managed to convince me to stay at their hostel. We were all really tired. I don’t want to advocate, especially not to any young girls reading this, galavanting off with three random blokes.

But honestly, these guys just wanted to help. They didn’t try anything. I slept in one bunk bed while another two top-and-tailed. I’ve never met such caring strangers. They were just concerned about the safety of this mad crying idiot girl running around in front of a car and saying something about a band of armed murderers. I regret to say we haven’t kept in touch but I am eternally grateful.

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This is what an emergency passport looks like. I hope you never have to get one.

Of course, in the morning I realised I had lost my passport in the ice club.

After reuniting with my lost friend and buying her an apology Kit Kat for having a go (she had had a traumatic night too, I later found out) I made an appointment at the British Embassy. Have you ever thrown up in the embassy toilets? I have. One of my favourite icebreakers, I’ll admit, but not my overall proudest moment.

The Soppy Bit

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bmfl lol

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My friend amidst our trail of mess…

Planning this trip, one thing I read over and over again was to travel with someone you know you’ll get along with. Nobody wrote that you and your travelling companion would become closer than ever. The girl I went interrailing with has been my best friend since I was about fifteen (violins/puke) but after interrailing I feel closer to her now than ever (I know, puke vom bork).

IMG_7338Thank you for putting up with my ridiculous amounts of anxiety. Thank you for agreeing to stand near the door of the train so we didn’t miss our stop twenty minutes before it was necessary. Thank you for coming with me to the train station two hours early. Thank you for following my meticulously planned travel itinerary. And thank you for running out to buy something for me when I felt really sick in Amsterdam (two day hangover? You have no idea. Try three week hangover.) Number 1 Interrailing Life Lesson: The ultimate hangover cure is hair of the dog and yogi tea.

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Ly forevz

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This is our coaster, which is on the wall forever (I hope) of the oldest bar in Amsterdam!

Mostly I learned not to be so uptight. The first time we missed a train in Paris, I actually cried, for some reason, quite a lot, while my friend just sort of looked at me unsure of what to do. By the time I lost my passport in Prague, I marvelled at how calm I was about the whole thing. She said ‘I always think to myself, as long as I am okay, and my family is okay, there is nothing to worry about.’ Good advice.

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#2

…in which Helen ceases to talk about interrailing at last, the awesome power of nature and the insignificance of man…

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I was planning my next few blog entries when I came across the around the world reading challenge.

I love travelling. I think everybody should travel whenever they can, if they are able to. It’s a running joke among pretty much anyone who knows me, actually, that I can’t stop talking about the time I went interrailing. Well, I didn’t know you went interrailing, Helen, they say, you never mentioned it. Some have even gone so far as to compare me to that gap yah video. I promise you I am not that annoying. And I have never, probably, possibly… mentioned ‘the awesome power of nature and the insignificance of man’ (although I can say, without a doubt, that I have ‘chundered’ all around Europe. I’m not sure that this is necessarily something to be ashamed of).

Anyway… I was thinking about reading and travelling and how linked they are. Well, for me anyway. I think it’s cool how you can read a book when you are away from home and that book will always remind you of that place. Slaughterhouse 5, unfortunately, will always remind me of sitting on a hot, sticky bus for 15 hours, slowly losing the feeling in my left bum cheek. If anyone has any books that remind them of places they’ve been, or any travel book recommendations, I would love to read them.

For my first around the world challenge book, I’m reading the Nobel Prize winning The Atom Station, by Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness. I would really appreciate any recommendations for books from any of the other five continents, so comment below!