Interrailing: The First Half

17 minute read

The Interrail trip has officially begun! Traveling alone has so far been an interesting experience, and is quite different from any other kind of traveling I’ve done before. I’ve met some great people at hostels I stayed in, although for the most part I just use hostels as a place to get a good nights sleep. I wrote most of this post while sitting on trains, but right now I am finishing it in a hostel in Paris (my feet hurt from walking and I needed a break). My Interrail trip is now halfway over, and there is just under 3 weeks until I’m back in Canada! I’m super excited to get home, but also sad about what I’ll be leaving behind.

This also means that my time at Bosch Sensortec has come to an end. I’m going to miss working there and living in Reutlingen. Sensortec hires a lot of international students and interns, and I met a lot of cool people from all over the world. If I ever get the chance to return in the future it would be hard to say no, they are an awesome company with a terrific work culture.


The last time I walked out of the apartment in Reutlingen

Konstanz

The first place I visited was Konstanz, and I wish I could have stayed longer. The water in the lake (even just a 20 minute walk from the train station) was a brilliant shade of turquoise, and people were swimming everywhere.


Shades of blue and green

View of the main lake from a pedestrian bridge

I got off the train stop in the middle of the old city, and then proceeded to walk from there to my hostel, which took about 30 minutes. It was sweltering, and the only thing I wanted to do was jump in the water and join the swimmers.


It was so hot they had free water at most train stations

So after dropping my main bag and locking it in the hostel, I took my towel and a small bag down to swim.


Where I swam

Innsbruck

The journey from Konstanz to Innsbruck was the first one that I used my Interrail pass on, as you can’t use the pass in your country of home residence (Germany for me) except for the first and last leg of your journey. I chose the train route with the fewest transfers: from Konstanz to Zurich, and then from Zurich to Innsbruck.

These first few train rides did not go as smoothly as the rail schedule led me to believe they would. The one from Konstanz to Zurich required me to take a local tram to a different bus stop where they took everyone who was supposed to be on that train to another station where I finally got on my originally planned train. This added about 30 minutes to my schedule, and unfortunately the train from Zurich to Innsbruck I wanted to catch only had a 25 minute window for me to catch on my original schedule.

So I had to spend 2 hours in Zurich (which was very nice actually, there is a park just outside a natural history museum that I sat in and read parts of numerous books).


More turquoise water!

After 2 hours had passed, I got on the first long-ish train ride of the trip, one that was supposed to last 3.5 hours. However, about 3/4 of the way through there was a section of railway closed because of a landslide, which meant everyone got off, and we took a bus to the next station, where we got right on another train that was waiting for us there. It was all very smoothly organized, and only added about 30 minutes to the overall journey time. Once I arrived in Innsbruck I was fortunate to have just enough time to walk to the hostel before it started raining.


The rain, as seen from the hostel window

There was also some great running trails just behind the hostel, which were just above sandy beaches that lined the river. I went for a 10k jog, the first one of the trip so far, and hopefully not the last.


One of the beaches along the river

Salzburg

I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Salzburg, because I heard it was an incredibly beautiful city. I can now confirm this is true. The main thing that drew my attention was the proximity of sheer cliffs and a steep hill to the city center. There is also a river running through the main part of the city, but it was not as clear as the ones I saw in Zurich or Konstanz. I had booked a hostel that was close to the main station in Salzburg, so I only had to walk for 5 minutes right after I got off the train to get there. I left my bags in a locker, and was about to start walking around the city when I realized I wanted to have a bit more of a structured approach to my sightseeing. So I googled an online walking tour of Salzburg, which led me around the city to all of its highlights. I skipped the restaurants, cafes, and anything food related that it mentioned, and I tried to see as many architectural and natural features as I could.


One of the first stops was a popular "lock bridge"

The house where Mozart lived from age 17-25

Entrance to the Mirabell palace gardens

One of the dwarf sculptures in a section of the gardens

Me in front of a hill in the middle of Salzburg

The castle in Salzburg

After my time in Salzburg was completed, I hopped on an early morning train to Venice. This took me through mountain ranges, and I transferred trains in the middle of the range.


The Salzburg to Venice train route

View of the mountains

Another view of the mountains

Venice

The main reason I wanted to go to Venice was because I heard someone say that in a couple years, Venice might not exist anymore because of global warming. It’s a pretty unique place, but it’s very obviously a tourism driven city. I signed up for a free walking tour with a local Venetian, and one of the things she mentioned was the concept of “sustainable tourism”, which is something that Venice is struggling with. Sustainable tourism means that tourists can visit a place, but not affect it so greatly that the city can preserve its uniqueness. Apparently there are 75,000 tourists that visit Venice every day, which is about 1.5x the population that lives in Venice. This imbalance was glaringly obvious, as I always felt like everything was geared towards selling things to tourists. However, the city is incredibly beautiful and unique, and I’m really glad that I visited and got a tour from a local, who taught the group more than I would have ever learned on my own.


One of the first views I had of Venice - multiple massive cruise ships

Another picturesque view

Classic gondola

There is a famous bridge in Venice that used to be filled with butchers shops, but at some point a ruler of Venice mandated that only goldsmiths could work there. That tradition is continued today, with expensive luxury jewelry shops lining both sides of the bridge.


The bridge full of jewelry shops

Standing on the jewelry bridge

Saint Marks basilica and square are also famous Venetian landmarks, and were absolutely packed with tourists. Our walking tour avoided these places, as our guide said she focused more on the “real Venice”, which was awesome.


The famous Saint Mark's square

The hospital in Venice - learned this from the walking tour guide

And one last impressive scene

Florence

After Venice, I made my way to Florence, and I can honestly say I enjoyed Florence more than Venice. It felt less geared towards tourists, and it felt like there was a more active local culture. It also happened to be the first Sunday of the month when I was there, which is when all the museums are free! This was a total surprise to me, and I only found out after I walked into the Biboli gardens, and was preparing to pay the admission fee when the attendant told me it was free.

I got in to those gardens for free, and I also did not have to pay anything to see Michelangelo’s David. There is an incredible amount of art in Florence, and I didn’t make it to many museums, but I got to sample a bit of the most famous one.


The long path through the gardens

Three laughing / grimacing statues in the gardens

Main pond in the center of the gardens

Another view of the long path

How I felt walking in the mid-day sun

View of the countryside from the top of the gardens

View from the Piazzale Michelangelo of the main city

At the Piazzale there is a bronze copy of Michelangelo's David

The outside of the famous Duomo in Florence

And the front side to the Duomo

The same front side of the Duomo, but at 5am

Michelangelo's David

One of Michelangelo's works in progress

No on was allowed to walk further into this room filled with sculptures

One floor above David, there is an extremely well preserved Florentine tapestry

Sculptures in an open air display

The imagery of a swan feeding her young with her own blood appeared in many places in Florence

Nice

I treated my stop in Nice as a more relaxed one, and I didn’t try and walk through all of the city. Instead, I bought some food, got some water, and relaxed on one of the main beaches for a couple of hours. I did eventually climb up a nearby tower which gave an impressive view of the main beaches and city, but that was the only walking I did that day. I remember starting my day in Nice feeling drained of energy from traveling so much, but I felt great after a day of relaxation.


First view of the beaches in Nice

I splurged and spent 20 euros to lie on a lounge chair and have access to a less crowded section of beach

Overlooking the main beaches

Near the top of the tower was a waterfall which provided cool mist to everyone walking by

Marseille

This was the first place that I spent more than one night in. The day that I arrived I explored the city, and the next day I made a trip to the Calanques National Park, which is a 30 minute bus ride away from the center of Marseille. The national park was my favorite part by far, as I got to swim, hike, and see calanques for the first time.


Main docks in Marseille

Mirrored roof to provide shade and rain cover

Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica

Paintings on the walls of the basilica

The main altar in the basilica

The elaborate basilica ceiling

View from a park I walked through

The city directly borders the coastline

In front of the docks with the basilica in the background

As I mentioned, my favorite part of Marseille was the national park. I hiked through some trails where I was alone for close to 2 hours, but also got to swim in beaches where hundreds of people crowded around the crystal clear water.


Starting the hike to the beach and trails

A viewpoint and the road to get to it

Beautiful view of the harbor from the viewpoint

Natural rock formation near where I swam

Where I swam and sunbathed

My favorite photo from the park - a little island in the calanque

There were many boats docked near the shore

After getting to swim, I wanted to explore more of the park that was not directly on the coast. As soon as I left the beach and main path, I didn’t see another person for close to 2 hours. It was super hot in the sun while hiking up the hills on the gravel trails, and I went through 2.5 liters of water in just that afternoon.


How I hiked through the warmest parts high above the water with no shade

One of the highest points I made it to

Barcelona

I spent one and a half days in Barcelona, and I’m sure (like most places that I’ve visited) that I did not get to see everything that the city had to offer. However, what I did get to see was incredible, and it was one of my favorite places of the trip so far. I had a few main things that I wanted to see, which I will mention below.

Magic Fountain and Montjuic

The Magic Fountain was recommended by multiple people, partly because it was free. The actual show only started at 9:30 pm, so I had about an hour to kill before it started. Luckily the fountain is in front of the Parc de Montjuic where there is a museum, an Olympic stadium, a castle, and panoramic views of the city. So before the fountain show started I explored this area and took some photos.


The bottom of the park and museum

Looking down on the fountain

There were outdoor escalators everywhere near the base of the park

The Olympic stadium

There was the option to take a cable car to the top - but I elected to walk

The castle at the top of the hill

These make the cannons at Victoria Park look like toys

The main shipping port, as seen from the castle

This looked a lot more scenic in person

After walking around the park, I realized I was almost going to miss the start of the fountain show, so I hurried back down. The fountain itself was super impressive, but it was made even more striking by the fact that there was thunder and lightning going on very close nearby, but no rain was falling at all. It was difficult to get a good photo of the fountain show, because the lighting of the water against a black background was a bit too much for my phone to handle. I’ll put some of the better ones below.


Not the magic fountain, but ones near the main staircase

The actual magic fountain





Güell Park

The Güell Park was designed by Antoni Gaudi, who (from what I could tell), is Barcelona’s most famous architect. He designed a number of beautiful buildings around the city, and I’ll mention him again in the next section. I walked around this park for a while, which offered more scenic views of the city, and a display of Gaudi’s unique and captivating style.


Walkway and pillars supporting it

Underneath the walkway

A different walkway

And a different sheltered alcove

The house Gaudi lived in for 20 years

Pillars and plants

Benches that weren't supposed to be sat on

Another elaborate walkway

Sagrada Familia

Gaudi’s most known work is probably the Sagrada Familia (which translates to Holy / Sacred Family). I went on a guided tour of it, and was blown away by the amount of effort that is required to build it, and by the architectural design. It is unlike any other building I have ever seen, and your eyes are drawn to new details everywhere that you look. One quote that stuck with me is that Gaudi wanted it to be a “stone bible”, and there are stories from every part of the bible built as sculptures all around the building. There are distinct themes for each of the three main facades of the building, and I won’t try and explain them all here because I am by no means an expert in religion.


The side where I bought the ticket to go inside

The opposite side

Gaudi held nature in the highest regard, and the pillars are modeled after trees

The main altar

The "our father" prayer in Catalan, with other partial translations behind

The stained glass filled the church with blues and greens from one side, and red and orange from the other

The ceiling

A spiraling staircase up one of the towers

While in Barcelona I also tried a traditional Spanish meal: paella.


It was delicious

First Impressions

I’m really happy with my choice to buy an Interrail pass, as it allows me a ton of flexibility. I don’t have to be committed to any specific train at any time (other than long distance ones I needed to reserve a seat on), and if I want to stay a couple hours longer in a city I can. I’m going to try and continue to stick to my schedule though, since I’ve paid for some hostels in advance, but the option to spend a couple more hours in a city is great. It’s tiring to take a train almost every morning to a new city, but it’s a great way to experience a lot of different and unique places before I head back to Canada.

I will hopefully make one more post when I finish the Interrail part of August, which should be around August 22. Then I will spend the rest of August in France, and fly out of Paris on August 31!

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy