There we were – severely hungover and slightly apprehensive about the five-hour train journey ahead. “This water is sparkling.” – A collective groan from all six of us and then an argument about who should do the shopping next time. Was it really our fault that they label still and sparkling water differently on the continent?
We arrived in Berlin on a Sunday night, not realising that nothing would be open – so we headed straight to McDonalds. I could almost see my mum’s eyes roll. An amazing place; a real mixture of old and new, with wide, clean streets and plenty to see and do. It felt like you would have needed much longer than two days to soak it all in, but we had to move on.
Prague was our next stop. The views from the train just about made up for the fact we had nothing to drink – rolling, green hills cut through by the Elbe and tiny houses scattered all over.
Prague welcomed us with a thunderstorm. All six of us wanted to kill each other, and to make matters worse, the hostel was average at best. However, ‘the city of a thousand spires’ really is beautiful. The old town, with its cobbled streets and ice cream donuts, was one of the highlights of the trip.
Next was Salzburg, a magical, marshmallow-toned city. We were genuinely sad to leave – it seemed like the sort of place where it would be difficult to ever be unhappy – and I would love to return for longer.
Nine hours on a train took us through Austria, Switzerland and into Italy. We were a bit grumpy about the travel time – but it is hard to be grumpy for long, when you are surrounded by huge mountains rising up around you; the Danube river chasing the train through sunflower fields and under bridges, with little houses nestled among the scenery.
Italy was a wonderfully relaxing week of hazy memories after the hustle and bustle of the cities. Lake Como is just as beautiful as everyone says it is – if not more, and the ice cream is great too. Next, we spent three days in the Italian Riviera and the best we could do was eat a lot of pizza and spend all day on the beach, which suited us just fine.
There was no conflict about sparkling water on the next train – it was only an hour. Nice is, like Berlin, an appealing mixture of old and new. The new town is sleek and glamorous, and the old town mysterious and picturesque. We stayed in the old town, and spent a lot of time sitting by the window watching the city play out beneath us.
Buses were cheap, so we went exploring. My favourite place was Villefranche – a higgeldy-piggeldy beach town with houses of pastel blue, pink and yellow, window boxes exploding with flowers and rustic peeling shutters. The sea is unbelievable; turquoise, navy and sapphire all at once. Our only complaint was having to share the beach with half of Europe…
We caught a TGV up to the French capital. I am not sure what I can say about Paris – nothing does it justice – but each time I visit, I am surprised at how attached I become. It is like a different world. We stayed in Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur lit up at night on the hill is one of the most beautiful sights. The restaurants are amazing – on our last night, we had moules frites in a restaurant complete with fairy lights and waiters in red berets.
After three weeks, I was tired, tanned, sick of the sight of my closest friends and boyfriend – and completely in love with Europe.
Oh, and I will never under-appreciate a bottle of still water again. Thank you, Interrail Europe, for giving me the best summer of my life.
[Image: Nick Hawes]