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European Railways: Why interrailing as an adult is the best way to explore Europe - by Chris Beanland

Interrailing should be a compulsory teenage rite of passage – no wonder the EU recently floated the idea of giving out free passes to all 18-year-olds. What better way to protect this beautiful, but fragile union than by showing the next generation what they have in common with each other and how many hi-jinks they can get up to in neighbouring European countries?

It was my first taste of independent travel too – 17 summers ago, though it seems like yesterday. Back then it was a Karrimor loaded with band T shirts, Lonely Planet Europe On A Shoestring and bank robber sacks of change for telephone boxes. This time, instead of sleeping cars, hostels and that tangy scent of socks, there were nice hotels and the scent of understated luxury. Three’s Feel At Home free roaming contract and my iPhone brought the whole experience into the 21st century, and meant home was only the touch of a button away.

It was a cultural whip round the first time, but it was also a piss up – getting out of your tree being the sine qua non of teenage travelling – that resulted in lost cash cards, nearly getting into fights on night trains and passing out on deck chairs on Positano Beach. And I met so many people – this was social networking avant la lettre, coming across fellow flaneurs from Australia, Canada, Finland, and making firm friends, if not for life then at least for a night.

Interrailing as an adult was much more relaxed and even more cultured, with less boozing and earlier mornings. I sped through Rotterdam’s Docklands on a watertaxi, climbed all over Tomas Saraceno’s incredible spiderweb netting art installation five floors above the ground of Dusseldorf’s Modern Art Gallery, had a sneak preview of some of the exhibits at Kassel’s famous art festival, Documenta (, saw Eileen Gray furniture at Munich’s Design Museum, drank at Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce in Milan’s Fondazione Prada, and explored Novi Belgrade’s mind-blowing brutalist architecture.

The food was better this time around too. Back in 2000 I had inadvertently explored the premise “how can a human function on pizza alone for three weeks?” shortly after enduring the very worst meal of my entire life (do not ever accidentally order the minced heart and lung soup at Worgl station buffet).

This time I ate mushroom arancini with a vegetable mayonnaise in an old swimming pool in Rotterdam ( and fresh white asparagus at the BMW Welt’s restaurant. Even the train food was good – on Deutsche Bahn’s ICE I chowed down on lamb kofte with yoghurt and mashed carrots in the Bordrestaurant.

Read more: Why interrailing as an adult is the best way to explore Europe | The Independent

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