Tristan Pollock shares his real life Eurotrip experience
Skipping the stuffy cabins, cramped leg room and extra hours of wait time commonly experienced by airline passengers, I ventured across Europe for the first time carrying only my Ethnotek backpack and a Eurail.com train pass.
My plan was to train hop from The Netherlands to Germany, then France, and finally Spain. In total, I visited Helsinki (I flew Finnair from the U.S.), Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Marseille, Carcassonne, Barcelona, and Málaga.
Surprisingly, I never missed a train. That counts the instance when I showed up late to the train station in Paris, the train I wanted to take was full, and I was supposed to have made a reservation. The train conductor, quickly, easily and with a smile, helped my group and me make a reservation and board the train with our Eurail passes. Hoping for no-shows, he told us to wait until the train started moving, then look for any open seats. We sat in the dining car for 5 hours. Luckily, that was the only close call I had on the entire trip and every single train stop after went smoothly and without a hitch.
The hardest part about my first Eurotrip, as I’m sure you know if you’ve ever been there, was deciding which cities and countries to visit. With so many options -- think Bordeaux to Bologna, Berlin to Barcelona -- I could hardly make up my mind.
Situated in the Holland province of The Netherlands, Amsterdam offers more bikes per capita than anywhere else I have ever been (and I live in Minneapolis, Bicycling Magazine’s top bike city). I’d encourage any thrill seeker to hop on a two-wheeled ride and navigate through the canal-lined streets.
Next stop: Berlin, Germany. Take the train from Amsterdam Centraal station to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (6hrs).
A creative haven, Berlin boasts a vibrant street art and electronic music scene. Walk the streets and keep your eyes peeled for artistic comedy and colorful creations on the walls, sidewalks and other urban accessories. Want to get involved? Visit a “legal wall” to spray paint, or dance the night away at any of the world-renowned clubs.
Next stop: Paris, France. Take the train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Paris Gare du Nord. (13.5hrs) Opt for the hassle-free overnight train and pay a €14 reservation fee (depending on your accommodation choice).
Paris is known as the City of Lights (and love), so enjoy both and spend time with the locals on the wide stone walkways that make up the Seine river docks. Every night couples and teens alike gather along the water’s edge to share in the true Parisian experience. Afterwards, walk across one of the main bridges with your mate and add a lock to the thousands already placed there to signify your love. Don’t forget to throw away the key.
Next stop: Marseille, France. Catch the high-speed train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Marseille St Charles. (3.5hrs; reservation: €15)
A city famous for its Bouillabaisse seafood stew and beautiful coastline, don’t leave Marseille without connecting with the sea. Take a ferry across the bay to see the castle featured in the Count of Monte Cristo and hike the picturesque Calanques.
Next stop: Carcassonne, France. Board your next train at Marseille St Charles and take this route: Marseille St Charles-Montpellier-Carcassonne. (3hrs; reservation: €4.50)
With a castle so inspiring it was turned into a board game, Carcassonne offers unforgettable sights that bring you back to the medieval age. Walk the path between the inner and outer walls to fully experience what it might have felt like to guard a castle. Take a peek out of one of the towers to catch a glimpse of Southern France’s rolling hills.
Next stop: Barcelona, Spain. Take the train from Carcassonne back to Montpellier, then to Figueres Vilafant, and on to Barcelona Sants (6hrs; reservation: €6)
Do not leave Barcelona without going on a Gaudi tour, or seeking out what I would describe as the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen. Antoni Gaudí was an architect who combined his love for nature, religion, and Catalonia in every building he built. A creative master, a total of seven of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Next stop: Málaga, Spain. Jump on the train at Barcelona Sants and make your way to Madrid -- hopping off for a detour if you please -- and on to Málaga María Zambrano. (5.5hrs; reservation: €12)
A tribute to past conflicts, Málaga hosts both a mini-Great Wall built by Muslim rulers and a Roman theater built by Catholics. Hike to the top of the great fortification and you can bear witness to the Alboran Sea that separates Spain from Morocco. And don’t forget to try their almonds and olives, which are piled in plentiful heaps at the market.
Finding affordable travel through Spain, Italy and most of Europe by high-speed rail was much easier to accomplish then choosing which places I would miss. (Tangent: I’m not quite sure why the U.S. doesn’t have the same train options when you can travel scenic routes at speeds between 124 and 361 mph.) My Eurail pass even allowed us to travel to multiple places in one day. Spending about 3-4 days in each city, we took advantage of this feature when we paused for a few hours in the majestic castle-topped city of Carcassonne -- one of my favorite stops on the trip -- on our way to Barcelona from Marseille. The almonds and olives of Málaga, and Barcelona’s Gaudi architecture are not to be missed, but my overall favorite place I experienced was Berlin. From the modernist buildings to the underground electronic music clubs to the plentiful street art, I fell in love with the open-minded and creative culture that defines the City of Stones.
My advice for your future Eurotrip is to pick a sight or scene and build your trip around it. Want to see some of Europe’s best castles? Start there. Want to experience a music and art festival like no other? Check out Tomorrowland in Belgium or BOOM in Portugal and travel before or after. No matter what your interests are, you’ll be sure to find a European centerpoint for your trip and build out from there.
This post was originally published by Tristan Pollock on Blogger.