DW reporters Giulia Saudelli and Luisa von Richthofen traveled through Europe for three weeks with an Interrail ticket. Accompanied by good wishes from the editors and numerous followers on Instagram. How was the trip?
DW reporters Giulia Saudelli (left) and Luisa von Richthofen catch their first Interrail train from Berlin to Prague
DW: Traveling across Europe by train: one ticket, 12 cities, 22 days. Your Interrail journey has come to an end — how do you feel?
Giulia Saudelli: We are definitely tired and very much ready to sleep in our own beds again. But it really was the trip of a lifetime! We saw so many beautiful places, experienced a few adventures and laughed very often.
Luisa von Richthofen: This kind of traveling can be very intense, especially when you constantly share the experience with followers around the world. I look forward to having a moment to reflect on all the things we've seen and experienced. It felt like a unique, wonderful opportunity and we really worked well as a team. Giulia was the best travel buddy one could wish for!
After seeing and experiencing so many things — what were your highlights?
G: I found it great to get a mix of different experiences: big metropolises like Paris and smaller cities like Ljubljana, the mountains in Slovenia and the beautiful seaside of Italy and Southern France (especially to survive the summer heat).
I personally enjoyed discovering Budapest, where I had never been. It was a great visit especially because Luisa lived in Budapest for two years, and she helped me experience the city like a local together with her lovely friend Mark.
L: My favorite moments were those when we managed to get off the beaten track and escape the swarms of tourists (which are also — let's face it — part of summer holidays in Europe). There was a beach opera in the Venetian Arsenale, a sunny day spent vintage shopping in Paris, the evening at the market in Southern France. Really every stop had its moment of magic!
If you travel through Europe with an Interrail ticket, does it make you feel like part of a backpacker community?
G: Already on our first train trip between Berlin and Prague, we were surrounded by other young backpackers from all over Europe and the world. It is definitely a community, especially on some of the most popular Interrail itineraries. We often found ourselves chatting to fellow travelers on trains but also around the different cities we visited. We also met many solo travelers who were meeting many new friends on the way, and it seemed to be a great way to experience such a trip.
The other Interrailers were mostly young, but we also made friends with people of all ages along the way. Like the lovely retired American couple which we shared a drink with in Prague — we hope they didn't get in too much trouble for having left their travel group behind to enjoy Prague on their own terms!
You were traveling during the peak season. How crowded are Europe's cities in July and what is it like to experience overtourism first-hand?
G: Personally, I was quite worried about the Italian leg of our trip — I know how crowded Venice and the Cinque Terre can get in the summer. Both were definitely full of people, but we quickly realized that by avoiding the main tourist sights during the day and venturing to more authentic, less-known neighborhoods, it is quite easy to get away from the masses.
But I must admit, I am a little tired of having the big groups of tourists around all the time, and am looking forward to some "quiet time” at home with fewer people around!
L: The overcrowding was definitely noticeable at some points during our time in Venice. While we were riding around the city to report on mass tourism and cruise ships we witnessed a confrontation on the vaporetto, the bus boat, which showed us just how frustrated locals are with tourists.
Personally, I would also consider taking a trip before or after the peak season! The weather in Southern Europe is still splendid, the water warm and most destinations are just less crowded.
Exploring Europe by train — would you recommend this way of traveling?
L: I really recommend doing an Interrail trip. Many people, including friends of mine, think they're too old to buy one. But here's some good news: there's no age limit for purchasing an Interrail ticket!
G: But keep in mind that the Interrail ticket is for Europeans, while non-Europeans have to purchase a Eurail ticket.
With Interrail, you can board almost every train in Europe. It gives you so much freedom, you'll meet many people on the road, perhaps some will convince you to change your plan and be spontaneous — and that's completely ok!
What's your take away from touring Europe by train?
L: This trip showed us just how connected Europe and Europeans really are — through their history, the economy, the shared cultural traditions, etc. Traveling by train gives you a much better idea of the distances between countries — and they are not actually that far apart! It takes four hours from Ljubljana to Venice, two hours from Vienna to Budapest! People tend not to realize how close we are.