It can take a person, a place or a lost memory that we are able to reenact. On a train platform in Amsterdam this seems so obvious as it has so many times before. The goal is here, this very moment, going somewhere, not really having the faintest clue where it is or who I will meet. The important thing is to continue the search, for the search is really life. Try to stop time and you will find yourself loosing so much of it. Time is elusive. At one point you think you have so much of it only to realise after a while that it passes by unforgivably fast. To travel takes energy, and time, as well as an open mind if you want to explore and stay off the beaten track.
To travel through Europe by train is one of the most exciting and rewarding ways of exploring the continent. You will meet plenty of travellers along the way, maybe some that will become friends. You will see and experience cities from the perspective of a temporary nomad. And it can be a very random experience, opening up possibilities to see places and meet people you had no idea you would encounter.
Don’t wait too long as the excitement of travelling by train grows the more you do it. You will pick up tips and tricks, learn about the regions and places in Europe which you enjoy the most when zig zagging around by rail.
Catch every moment because you only get one chance to experience it. Get that rail pass and jump on that train and let yourself get lost among the many cities and villages in Europe. To travel by train emphasizes the importance of making the most of your time, it serves as an epiphany of just how important your time is and how you need to enjoy life every second. With a time limited rail pass this becomes ever more evident because you only have so many days to use for travelling on the regional trains and you can only use those few days in a certain time period. To find the places in Europe which give you the most satisfaction, you will need to explore. This is how you might discover a global village that suits you. Take Amsterdam for instance. Every year thousands of backpackers arrive in Amsterdam Central Station with their backpacks, all hungry for adventure. This is one of the global villages in the world where so many people flock to the bustling nightlife. The lively atmosphere and the likeminded that are available to share all that fun with make for a good place to experience adventure.
Yet Amsterdam is only one of the global villages you have at your disposal in Europe, all reachable by train, car and bus. That is for those of us who enjoy zig zagging across the continent. Other noteworthy cities include Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, Lisbon, London, and Paris. Take your curiosity for new places a step further and you have larger cities that stand out on the map of Europe. Take for example Hamburg, Munich, Malaga, Montpellier, and Porto. These cities have thousands of internationals flocking to them throughout the year, some for shorter time whereas others stick around longer. Yet this latter list of cities is still somewhat off the beaten path by travellers. All the more reason to go there and check out what they have to offer in terms of culture, be it music, food or just hanging out with the locals.
..And Germany has plenty of fun places to explore!
Let’s consider Germany a bit, that huge country in the center of northern Europe. There is plenty to do in the many larger cities where the nightlife is teeming. The German attitude to social life is very easy going and unpretentious. Germans are very social and with an open and curious mind you will certainly strike up conversations with people you meet along the way. If you want a cozy atmosphere then just go to one of the smaller places along the coast or how about Freiburg in Bavaria. If you instead want the buzz of a large city, take a train to Berlin, Munich, Cologne or Hamburg. Sure enough it will help you if you speak the language. This is after all the country where television and cinema is dubbed fron English to the local language. But you can still get by with English in almost all cases. This is a country where making contact with people, on a train for instance, is something normal.
On that note, as I’m writing this on the train towards Freiburg, an elderly gentleman and a girl in her young twenties are conversing about her apartment for rent and her studies in Stuttgart. I jump into the conversation and soon find out that he is commuting on a weekly basis because of his job whereas she is studying for a bachelor degree in IT. Later on in the bistro as I was enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (a remarkably good one for being served in a train bistro) I ended up having a conversation with one of the train conductors about the train ride. During our short conversation I learned out that the busy season of the year was just about to kick off and I was just in time to experience the relative tranquility on the train (not to mention the opportunity to get a good seat by the window in the bistro car).
Freiburg and maybe the Alps..
It was early Sunday afternoon when I arrived in Freiburg and fairly quiet. Too quiet. This called for scouring for Meetup.com groups.
Difficulty level: Easy. With train from Amsterdam to Frankfurt: 4 hours. An additional 2 hours to Freiburg and you’re there. Frankfurt was merely a place to change trains for me. I wanted to see Frankfurt. Two hours with train. That’s the distance to Freiburg from Frankfurt. It’s short and becomes even shorter with the comfortable DBahn train that has a bistro for even such short journeys. Although this is a large country, distances are remarkably short as the train connections are many and fast.
Well in Freiburg it turned out that not much was happening in the city. At least not in the way of Meetups. I found a total of three IT-related gatherings the coming week. But what stood out was the group Life Quality, now that could be refreshing I thought to myself as I started reading the description. If I was doubting before, I knew then that Freiburg is all but “happening”. The group was created in 2013, has 21 members and has one (1) completed event to date. 1 person attended. Either people are incredibly happy in this little town or they simply don’t use Meetups for meeting new people.
Then again, Freiburg might just be a place to go to for nature and to chillax a bit. With that thought firmly planted in my mind, I made the best of the situation, grabbed my Canon DSLR camera and walked around the center to get some picturesque photos of medieval Freiburg. I got a few photos of the old town before my stomach began it’s four o’clock rumbling. Freiburg being a very small city I was in my hotel within 40 minutes with a glass of the local beer Ganter and a sandwich with Serano ham beckoning me to sit down. As I sat there and flipping through the pages of a few pamphlets at my disposal I quickly realised that people go to Freiburg to continue either into nature for a real outdoorsy holiday, or to travel further into the alps and maybe even Italy.
I spent the remainder of the day checking out the city. I should say again and again since you can walk through the historical center plenty of times in one day by foot, a characteristic which is shared by so many European cities with Old Towns from medieval times. The cityscape in Freiburg has buildings from hundreds of years back all huddled together in a very compact center and surrounded by modern buildings housing all the known clothing brands. If you’re into shopping in a pleasant small town atmosphere, Freiburg has plenty of shops to offer.
The following day it rained heavily in the morning. It was a proper downpour that would make a penguin chip for air before giving in and diving right back into the sea. Anyway, you can expect as much this close to the alps. With a cup of coffee and some fresh fruit followed by a cheese and serano ham sandwich (again, the beginning of a habit started appearing) I was able to tackle the weather just right. Oh, and I was sitting inside with huge panorama windows allowing me to observe fellow humans rushing off to work in sodden clothes on the wet streets of Freiburg. I was overjoyed, who needs cinema anyway! So much for Freiburg, the city itself takes no more than a day to check out if you are not keen on going into nature or trying out the local nightlife.
Options were piling up as I found myself in the Reisecentrum the morning after. Milan, Berlin or why not Münich..? Time for a break with a cappuccino and ponder on these attractive options. I felt like there were three possible mistresses in Europe, but who was more than a possible? Which of these cities could become a mistress to tempt me with a vivacious nightlife, good food and architecture to feast my eyes on, maybe even for more than one day? Maybe even to return to sometime soon. These profound questions called for a banana milkshake to make a decision.
To the slurping sounds of emptying the milkshake I finally realised that I wanted to check out Berlin. Enough with nature! Time to roam the streets of a huge city!
Difficulty level: Easy. Four hours with a comfortable ICE train from Frankfurt to Berlin. Leaving from Freiburg? Add two hours and a total of six hours will see you all the way to Berlin.
I spent most of those four hours in the bistro car from to enable me to feast my eyes on the picturesque landscape as when racing through the countryside. They served a surprisingly tasty Sauvignon Blanc on board DBahn trains. So there I was sitting comfortably planted in the train chatting up staff to learn more about the origin of the wine, which cities they favoured to go to on a weekend and so on.
On the train towards Berlin on a Monday afternoon it soon became apparent how easy it is to move around the western cities in Germany. With the ICE trains and the RE connections for local connections there is always the possibility to move from A to B with relative ease. The seat reservations are fairly cheap. At less than five euros you can make sure you have your own seat as you do your cross country journey with Dbahn. A measly four hours later I arrived late night in Berlin. The train ride was very comfortable, the bistro cars in German trains certainly offer all the food and drink you might want. *hiccup* Add the good service to that and you are sure to enjoy your journey. With several jovial people to talk with there, including the friendly staff, the hours passed by quickly enough.
Berlin ist kein Dorf
Berlin is definitely not a village. I told myself the same as I was huffing and puffing with my backpack, making my way to Prenzlauer Berg. I steered towards Prenzlauer Berg with the aid of the television tower. As I arrived 45 minutes later in the neighbourhood I reminded myself that Berlin is one of those cities where you are better off choosing a neighbourhood and focusing on that for your exploration. Unless you are staying for more than a week it will help your focus. Also expect it to take one to two days to get your bearings right as you walk around the city. The city is huge and the different neighbourhoods have plenty to offer and they are remarkably different compared to each other. This is in many cases due to the Berlin wall that divided the city for several decades.
Sure, if you want to do the touristy thing you can also check out the city with from the comfort of a sightseeing bus and check out some of the key museums. To each his own.
Prenzlauer Berg is nowadays considered as a neighbourhood well suited for going out to cafes and bars, not to mention jazz bars. Only 10 minutes away by car or bus from the central station it is one of the areas that should make it into the top list of places to visit when checking out Berlin. Well now, first thing’s first. I set out on a bike excursion through the center with the aid of a map provided by wheretraveler.com and, yeah, a bike.
Prenzlauer Berg turned out to be a success in terms of exploration. There are plenty of eccentric cafes, restaurants and fun people to talk with. It was so amusing that four days of constant walking about was mere pleasure and there were still areas and places I still wanted to see more of. This was only in Prenzlauer Berg, which should give you an idea of how much time it takes to thoroughly explore Berlin.
Tip for searching Dbahn connections online on bahn.de:
- Open “Weitere Optionen” and uncheck “Schnelle Verbindungen bevorzugen”. That shows more connections which may be slower.
- Choose a longer “Umsteigezeit” (time to switch trains). This shows different train combinations.
- Select 1st class and see what happens. It may be that all offers are sold out for 2nd class, whereas 1st class offers are still available.
All good things come to an end they say. But when I packed my backpack and made my way to the central station in Berlin I felt happy to have been in the cool and unpretentious atmosphere of Prenzlauer Berg. The hours on the train back home simply served as a cushion to ease back into the normality of home and the daily city life. With an hour long discussion about seaside resorts in Germany with a couple seated opposite me, the train ride became spawned new ideas for places to visit. And so should an InterRail journey end, with ideas of destinations to explore the next InterRail adventure.