In April 2014, my best friend and I took the long overdue decision to buy Interrail tickets and explore a little more of beautiful, historic Europe. With both of us working, we chose to go over the Easter break and bought a global pass for 7 travel days within one month. There are a number of options available for those wishing to buy an Interrail pass. In terms of the train pass itself, you can choose either a Global Pass or a One Country Pass, and the price depends on your age and whether you want first or second class. Depending on your destination, it usually gives you discounts for attractions or free tram travel in a certain city, so it’s pretty cool. If you choose a Global Pass, you can decide how many travel days you would like within a month or if you would like to travel continuously. Let me explain: if you do what I did, and choose 7 travel days within a month, you can only take the train for free on certain days (so you can spend a few days in each place) and if you use them all up within the first week, you’ll have to fork out for train tickets for the rest of your trip, and these can be very expensive, especially in France or Switzerland. If you choose to “travel continuously” you’ll pay more for the Interrail pass but you’ll be free to travel whenever you want for your chosen length of time.
At the time, I was based in Geneva and my friend in Munich, so we met up in Munich and caught the evening train to Berlin. I had previously visited Berlin with my father, an avid history fan and all-things-German lover, but that didn’t stop us getting lost trying to find our hostel. That’s the drawback to booking the cheapest hostel going; you have extra money for bars, but you have to walk miles just to find your bed for the night! My advice: always write down directions you’ll need before you arrive and don’t have internet service! I could write pages about why you should visit Berlin, but I’m sure you all already know about its history, its food, its nightlife. The remains of the Berlin Wall are a must-see, as well as the Jewish Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie. If you have the patience to queue, you should definitely climb the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), which has unrivalled views of the city and there is even a lovely revolving café on the top floor. It can be quite pricey but they do serve a great selection of cake and ice-cream! Berlin is also great for shopping, I highly recommend the KaDeWe – Berlin’s huge department store on Tauentzienstraße.
Not to waste a day on our Interrail passes, and with a discount on coach trips, we signed up for a 9 hour coach journey from Berlin to Krakow. Not the most exciting of trips, we slept for most of it and tried to watch Netflix on the faltering coach wifi. Arriving late at night in Krakow, we were dismayed that there didn’t seem to be many restaurants in the area. There was, however, a wonderful shopping centre at the main train station. We took a tram to our hostel and after a quick horrified glance at the room, we took ourselves off on a walking tour of Krakow. Now I don’t know where we went wrong, but we certainly were less than impressed with what we saw. Apart from a lovely Gothic church and a suspension bridge lit up in different colours, there wasn’t much happening; we barely saw anyone, the streets were dead and enshrouded in darkness. We ended up getting lost (a running theme on this trip!) and turning up to a locked hostel. After banging on the door for a while, a middle-aged man let us in, complaining about the “curfew” and swearing at us in Polish. The walk back to the train station did little to convince us that Krakow was the cosmopolitan city we had been led to believe. It looked more like a bomb had just hit it; empty, dusty streets, run-down buildings, not a soul in sight and no sign of a supermarket or café. I’ve been told we were in the wrong part of town, but I have not really had the desire to discover if there’s any truth in that. The next thing to go wrong was being unable to find an open ticket desk at the station for what seemed like hours. When we did eventually manage to buy tickets to Auschwitz, on arrival in Oswiecim, we were again disappointed at the lack of information available. Of course, we weren’t the only tourists there and we followed the crowd to a bus stop across the street from the station that took us to the concentration camp.
People ask me what it was like visiting Auschwitz. Did it feel weird? Was it moving? Do the birds sing? Does the grass grow? Like everyone who visits, I did have my own expectations of what it would be like. I had thought people would be walking around in silence out of respect for those who died and suffered there, I had thought there would be organised tours, and that photography wouldn’t be allowed out of respect. What I actually experienced was far from that. We had to queue for almost two hours to even get to the ticket desk, and then we were told to “enjoy” our day. Leaving the reception, we were facing the infamous gate and there were people taking selfies in front of it! I was shocked at such outright disrespect for what happened on this site, I really was. There was no tour guide (I think you can organise them yourselves at certain points in the day), so we were left to walk around ourselves. Which is fine, it allows you to pay your respects in your own way, but with the amount of people there, you hardly got to see anything. If you stopped to look at something, or read something, the people behind were tutting and trying to squeeze you out of the way. However, we were directed into the remaining gas chamber in groups, which was haunting. People left flowers and lit candles inside, and you could really feel that something so terrible for words had happened there. The same in the crematoriums. Absolutely heartbreaking to see and to read about.
I do recommend you visit Auschwitz, I feel it is our duty to go to as many concentration camps as we can as we travel around Europe, to ensure the memory of all those who lives were destroyed by the Nazis is NEVER destroyed. The only thing I did not appreciate was the fact there was a snack bar outside of the camp in one of the old buildings! It just took away the horror and seriousness of what happened there.