InterRail, Summer 1989
|Tor Lillqvist (tml)||
Here is a log of the Inter-Rail journey me and my wife-to-be made
in the summer of 1989. The text that follows was written that year, so
it should be read in that context (the Eastern Europe still being
I travelled with my wife on InterRail+26 tickets. This is a European railpass valid in 26 European countries including Morocco and Turkey. For persons 27 years of age or older the price is about $360. It is currently [1989, that is] sold only in the Nordic countries. The ordinary InterRail ticket, sold in all the 26 countries, is for persons under 26 years. New for this year  is that the ticket is valid in the Asian part of Turkey, too.
Format of entries:
City names are in local languages, as is the custom in railway timetables: København = Copenhagen, Bruxelles = Brussels, Beograd = Belgrade, Köln = Cologne.
The ships (car ferries) between Finland and Sweden are among the most modern and best equipped in the world. We didn't have cabin reservations, but there is a sleep-in compartment with bunks for people without cabins.
We had reservations for these trains. The couchette compartment was a four-bed one, which is a bit higher priced than the normal 6-bed ones. (Actually, the compartments are identical, but with four passengers only, the price is higher.)
We had an extra passenger with us in the couchette compartment, a Dutchman who had missed his bus to Amsterdam and didn't have enough money to buy a train ticket. After some discussion we decided that it was OK for him to hide under the seats for the night. A very interesting start of the journey...
We stayed in Amsterdam for two nights. It rained. We did some sightseeing. The Rijksmuseum was nice, and the canal cruise. I had expected to see lots of drug addicts in Amsterdam, but didn't notice any. Maybe we didn't visit the right parts of the town. I knew there would be lots of bikes, but I didn't know what kind. All bikes were black, very ugly, heavy looking, and generally in a bad condition. I didn't see a single mountain bike, or even "normal" ten-speed bike. I guess a better bike would be stolen immediately, so nobody wants one.
We got tired of the rain, and decided to go south of the Alps. A nice fast train took us to Brussels. The train went via the large Schiphol airport, where the station was located underground. In Brussels I stepped into dogshit outside the station. We took the night train to Basel (Switzerland). At first we had the compartment to ourselves (we used the old trick--pull he blinds close, few dare to enter), but in Luxembourg a French conductor got very angry at us and showed more pasengers in. He didn't like us having put up wet clothes (washed at the hotel in Amsterdam) to dry from the luggage shelves...
We arrived early in the morning at the French part of the Basel station. Walked through customs, and got on the first train to Chur. The train was very empty at first, so we slept on the seats. However, when we woke up we were approaching Zurich, and the train was more crowded.
We wanted to go to Italy through the beautiful Bernina Pass, with the metre-gauge Rhaetian Railways, which btw celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. We didn't go through St Moritz, so we had to change in Samedan and Pontresina.
We made a stop for some hours in Ospizio Bernina, at about 2200 metres above sea level. It was cold, but no snow at this time of the year. I wanted to change some money so we could eat at a restaurant. Apparently the clerk had never seen Finnish money before, and refused to accept them, although the exchange rates on display included Finnish marks. Well, I had some French money and exchanged it.
After getting into Italy we took a train to Colico at the Lake Como, where we stayed at a hotel for three nights. We did some walking in the mountains, and my wife swam in a clear, cold, stream. (It was a very hot day.)
The only thing we had decided before the trip was that we wanted to go to Turkey. From Colico we started going eastward by taking the train to Milano. The Milano Central station is really huge. I guess it was built during the Mussolini era. We continued to Venice, and from there with the night train to Zagreb in Yugoslavia. We were 3 in the compartment, it was not crowded and we slept well.
Well, we didn't want to wait long for the Istanbul Express, afer all, so we took the train to Budapest. The line from the Hungarian border to Budapest follows the shore of the large Lake Balaton, and we decided to get off at a small station (whose name I cannot remember). We tried to find a hotel, but the whole place was full of small houses that tourists rent for a week or two, or at least so it seemed. No hotel. We spent the day at the beach.
The Lake Balaton is very shallow, you would have to walk for a kilometer at least before the water would get over your head. The water is very muddy, but is said to be healthy.
All the way along the shore, which the railway line follows, there are summer houses and lots of tourists. Most from Hungary and West Germany, but many from East Germany, too, probably many of which later were allowed by Hungary to escape to West Germany as you may have heard or read.
In the evening we continued to Budapest.
We decided to go to Romania, to look ourselves how bad it is there. Finns (and other Scandnavian citizens) don't need a visa. We had happened to bring a little Hungarian money (a few dollars worth, from another trip some years ago), so we could take the metro from the Deli to the Keleti station.
The Orient Express left at 2100, and was not crowded. That is understandable, why would anybody in Hungary want to go to Romania :-) The relations between these two socialist countries are not very good. Hungary is rapidly democratizing, but Romania has this old-style stalinist leader, Ceausescu.
The border formalities were very strict and slow. You must exchange currency at the border to the equivalent of $10 for each day of expected stay, to the official rate. The black-market rate is much lower, of course.
Bucharest was so depressing that we left after one night. We took the night train to Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. We had some local currency left, and as you aren't allowed to take it out of the country, and even if you do, you cannot do anything with it, we gave it away to some people at a station.
The police and customs inspection at the border was again very strict. They looked under all seats, opened all possible hatches in the ceiling and looked inside, etc. All the time while the train stood at the border station there were armed guards outside.
In Belgrade we didn't arrive in time for the train to Istanbul, so we had to stay one night. The inflation rate in Yugoslavia is sky high, we got a few millions of dinars when we exchanged about $100. We noticed that this hadn't been a very clever move, most people expected tourists to have dollars or German marks, and were amused when we wanted to pay in the local currency. Oh well. Of course we couldn't spend so much in one day, but we knew that we would come back via Yugoslavia, too.
The Istanbul Express left the next morning. We were in a great hurry from our bed-and-breakfast style private accomodation, and had to take a taxi. We got to the station just in time. The train left exactly on time, which was rather unexpected, as (some cars of) it had come all the way from Munich.
We travelled in a Yugoslav car that had been added to the train in Belgrade, because it wasn't so crowded as the cars from Germany and Austria. We had the compartment all to ourselves all the way to Istanbul, some 26 hours.
The passenger cars in Eastern Europe are much dirtier that the Western European ones. There is never any toilet paper or paper towels in the toilets. The train goes through Bulgaria, which isn't part of the InterRail ticket. We were a bit nervous about how much it would cost to cross Bulgaria, but it was only maybe $17 for one person. You could pay with any (Western) currency, I happened to have some French money, and the conductor gladly accepted a 200 francs note. Maybe it was too much, maybe not. Who cares, we are rich capitalists :-)
At the Turkish border station Kapiküle the train was much delayed. The passengers had to go to the passport check in the station building. At the station were lots of Bulgarian Turk refugees that have recently been deported from Bulgaria, you have probably seen them in the news. The Turkish Red Halfmoon (Red Cross equivalent) had tent camps for them. We arrived in Istanbul three hours late.
In Istanbul we crossed the straits that divide Europe from Asia, and in the evening we left for the Turkish capital, Ankara. At this point we still thought we would go as far East as possible. The train was very crowded, no chance of being able to lie down. At first there were three armed soldiers (military police) in our compartment, with two prisoners that they were taking to prison. The prisoners were chained to the heating system, but didn't seem dangerous...
When the soldiers left six men joined us. It was a bit uneasy for my wife, who wore shorts and a t-shirt. In Turkey that is probably comparable to wearing a bikini here in the West. But after I shouted loud a few times they stopped trying to touch her legs...
In Ankara we finally stayed at a hotel again, we sure needed a shower and a chance to wash some clothes.
From Ankara we went to the Black Sea coast, to a town called Zonguldak. A relatively small coal-mining town, no tourists. We stayed one night at a hotel, and one night at a family's house kind-of like bed-and-breakfast. The Turkish train toilets (which are of the hole-in-the-floor variety) almost always had toilet paper. The trains were of varying quality. There are many trains with relatively new, clean, first class cars. The train between Ankara and Zonguldak only had cars marked as first class, but we didn't have to pay any surcharge.
We returned to Ankara with the night train. We had understood the huge distances in Turkey, and the night train from Haydarpasa to Ankara had been such a bad experience that we decided to skip Eastern Turkey after all. There was also this news about Kurd terrorist activity. We went back to Istanbul.
This train was first-class only, but the extra charge was very reasonable. There was a free airplane-style meal on the train. It was even served in packages with the local airline's markings, by an air hostess.
After a night at a hotel, and some sightseeing, we borded the Istanbul Express back to Belgrade. This time we were not so lucky. There were five Russians in our compartment that seemed to have been shopping in Istanbul. They left in Sofia (Bulgaria) to change train to the USSR, but when we entered Yugoslavia it got crowded again. I had some more French notes, with which I payed for the crossing of Bulgaria again (200 francs again).
We arrived in Belgrade much late, and tried to find a hotel. The first one seemed a bit expensive, and while looking for the next one, we got picked up by an old man offering private accomodation. It wasn't so good as the previous one in Belgrade (no breakfast included this time), but it was near the station and the bath worked...
From Belgrade we went to Switzerland. Again, a very crowded train, mostly Yugoslav guest workers going to Switzerland. We could manage to sleep, but not comfortably.
We got off the train at the Swiss border, in Buchs, and went to visit Liechtenstein, the small principality located betwen Switzerland and Austria. Switzerland (and Liechtenstein) was, of course, very nice, extremely clean, and well organized. Just what we needed after Eastern Europe and Turkey. Expensive, of course, but after all these "cheap" countries we could afford it... We stayed two nights in Vaduz, the capital.
After three refreshing days in Liechtenstein we continued to Paris.
In Paris we only went by metro from the Est to the Nord station. We have been in Paris before, and our time was running out. We went to Boulogne where we wanted to visit some friends who live nearby, by the English Channel coast.
After three days at the friend's house we had to start the homebound journey. We made it in several pieces, we didn't even want to try to take a direct car from Paris to Copenhagen, as they are crowded and usually completely pre-booked. On the EuroCity train from paris to Brussels we had dinner in the restaurant, very nice smoked Norwegian salmon.
In Brussels we walked around a bit, and again I stepped into dogshit.
The night train from Hamburg to Copenhagen was not crowded, we had the compartment to ourselves. On the other hand, a few people slept in the corridor, so maybe nobody had the courage to come into our compartment... We were very clever, and borded the train in Hamburg-Altona, so that when it stopped at the main station (Hauptbahnhof = Hbf), we were (pretending to be) asleep, with the blinds pulled close...
At the train ferry from Puttgarden to Rödby I did some tax-free shopping. The prices there are much lower than on the Sweden-Finland boats.
The rest of the journey went without anything special happening. It sure felt nice to come home.
Total distance covered: 13595 km (excluding the sea journey Helsinki- Stockholm and back). I know many probably think we are crazy when we stay so short times at many places, but what the heck, I love trains.
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