And there we are! Back in London!

At last, a chance to relax and collect my thoughts. To wit:

 

  • Unless you’re anticipating sleeping in the station after missing a connection, sleeping bags are dead weight if you’re hopping from hostel to hostel. I’d recommend taking a small one just in case, but know that you’re sacrificing space that could be used for another pair of trousers.
  • Take a laundry bag. Unless you’re happy for the clothes in your rucksack to stink like old sock after a few days travel.
  • Flannel shirts are surprisingly suited to most weather conditions. Just be prepared for people online to compare you to The Dude or Nickelback. Additionally, if you’re being compared to Nickelback, either challenge the accuser to a duel or look inside yourself and reflect if something has gone catastrophically wrong with your life.
  • The promise of freedom your Interrail promises will be anchored by hostel availability. If you decide “ooh I fancy going there” the day before, be prepared to sleep in a grimy hotel for travelling salesmen out by the airport because hostel beds can go fast if you’re not careful. Unfortunately this does mean that you will need to psychically divine where you will be 3-4 days in advance.
  • The EURail reservation self-service website is your friend, even for those enlightened nations where reservations aren’t required for intercity travel (I’m looking at you, France and Italy – that said, you can nab some cheap-as-chips reservations if you’re canny enough). It lists all trains, not just those that need reservations, and tells you exactly which connections to take to get where you’re going the quickest.
  • That said, don’t be afraid to improvise if the train you wanted to catch breaks down. The beauty of an Interrail ticket is that you can grab a train to Rotterdam if the route from Amsterdam to Brussels is arbitrarily cancelled.
  • Don’t let day-before reservations for France and Italy fool you into thinking you can do the same for the Eurostar. Standard-class Interrail seats can run out days in advance, and if your Interrail card is running out and you’re stuck on the wrong side the channel, finding another Eurostar ticket for that day will be hells expensive.
  • Unless you absolutely need to watch videos on the hop, 2 gigs of data will do you just fine for the entire three weeks as long as you make use of the hostel wi-fi. No data roaming charges make mobile-ing abroad an absolute cinch – except in Switzerland, because god knows they love being SPECIAL.
  • Dorm rooms are not for swapping stories and sharing travel tips. They are for sleeping and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE. This rule applies even at 1 in the afternoon.
  • Mega-dorms are an absolute must for travelling on the cheap, but resign yourself to the certainty that someone will snore like a gas-operated lawnmower throughout the entire night. Luckily, growing up with dad has inoculated me, but be ready to bring ear plugs if you’re not so desensitized to midnight automobile manufacturing.
  • Never trust a city that’s meticulously clean. That there is a city that is effectively dead after 7pm. That’s right, I’m talking about you, Innsbruck.
  • As a corollary to that, ancient cities that have been dipped in formaldehyde and frozen in time may be interesting to look at, but I found that the really fascinating cities are the ones that dared to show some scar tissue from the centuries of things happening to it. Venice may be a priceless Ming vase kept behind a screen that hucksters charge you a hundred bucks to look at, but Berlin is a Ming vase that was shattered and haphazardly glued back together by a committee of quarreling half-blind lunatics with missing bits replaced by ersatz plastic and bath tile, and it was glorious, my favourite city on the trip.
  • Americans are everywhere, and their accents are somehow even twangier than the ones you hear on TV.
  • Chinese tourists are also everywhere, but their wide-eyed naivete is strangely endearing rather than annoying.
  • Do not piss off the bartender of a Berlin nightclub. They are the master of their dungeon.
  • Do not feel too disappointed when you try ordering something in the local language and the cashier talks to you in English anyway. They’re just saving you from the embarrassing inevitability that at some point you will be flailing at what you want and begging the cashier to please just give you some food.
  • Do not stay in Italy too long if you don’t want your wallet to shriek in agony.
  • On Italy: basing your knowledge of Venice’s street layout off of Assassin’s Creed 2 is generally a bad idea.
  • As much as you may pride yourself on how fit you’re getting, walking until your gawpin feet can no longer biologically be considered “limbs” does not earn you a medal. Become familiar with public transport, using it does not constitute “cheating.”
  • Take good care of your feet and remember to pack plenty of plasters.
  • Failing that, pulverising your blisters into submission is also a workable strategy.
  • For the traveller on the go, a croissant and a smoothie will satisfy most nutritional requirements.
  • TripAdvisor has little to say on nightlife activities, but for museums and cultural sights it’s a pretty useful compass.
  • Keep hold of your museum ticket, for the love of god.
  • If you find a really clean and comfy hostel in the heart of the city that costs peanuts a night, be wary of costs for basic amenities like towels, laundry or luggage space as these are likely to be extortionate. It’s not the razors, kids, it’s the razorblades.
  • Scenery may change radically from one place to the next, but what I quickly found is that people are basically the same everywhere. They get mad in traffic, they get shouty drunk at 3AM, kids are universally obnoxious brats who should be grown in vats until they’re 21, commuters on the tube/tram/vaporetto will bury their noses in newspapers and aggressively ignore each other, interrupted by buskers who are apparently convinced this is acceptable behaviour despite all evidence to the contrary, homeless people and charity muggers will beeline to me and only me from King’s Cross to Friedrichstrasse, and roadworkers across the continent will seize any opportunity to dig up the pavement in the most inconvenient spots (there isn’t even a road to dig up in Venice, and yet they found a way). This was a poignant observation given the territories I was crossing had been fought over and lives sacrificed to seize across countless centuries, from South Tyrol to the Berlin death strip, through Belgian towns seized and re-seized by Dutch and Spanish and Austrian and French and German, blood shed to stake hard lines in the earth that I blinked and missed buzzing past at least four times in my travels. French trains were very efficient and sticklers for paperwork while German trains were free and easy and often late. In short national stereotypes are bunk and it’d be better if we all just got along.

 

And lastly, yet most importantly:

 

  • If a random stranger tries to kiss you on a train, say that you’re flattered but not interested.

 

10/10, would recommend to anyone with a thousand quid to chuck in a furnace.