Carendi’s Interrail Trip
This is our second trip by train in Europe during the summer. Like last year, everyone in the family is hopeful. Since last year’s trip was a success, expectations are high. This year we will also try to take a night train, which the children look forward to. After discussing going to the UK via Brussels, we decided to ask the kids where they wanted to go, and then asking ourselves what we wanted to see and experience. In other words, the strategy is for everyone in the family to be reasonably satisfied, which requires compromises when choosing destinations. For us, it is also important with a mix of big cities, countryside, museum and swimming. As with all travelers, there can be changes and delays, which can mean that someone in the family misses their desired destination. It may be good to talk about this before the trip so that the children are prepared to possibly have to skip certain parts of the trip
In the summer of 2018 we went to Spain. For two weeks we traveled south through Hamburg and various destinations in France, and then flew home after a week on the Spanish sun coast. We then had an Interrail card that included seven trips. This time we want to go by train all the way, without having to experience less during our three-week holiday. Therefore, we have chosen a 10-travel card as well as a rental car for a few days. When we traveled through Copenhagen and Hamburg last year, we are not so keen on doing the same route again. In addition, we would like to try night trains to get to the destination quickly. The children are very concerned about sleeping on trains, while we adults fear that Central Europe’s record heat will make the trains too hot (the Snail train lacks air conditioning) and that sleep will be suffering compared to sleeping in a still environment. However, we think it will be good and have booked a full compartment (6 people) which means we will have some extra space. As Sweden’s only night train that travels south is from Malmö, we start with a regular SJ train from Småland to Malmö, and then pick up the Interrail pass as we board the Snälltåget Malmö-Berlin ahead in the evening. Let’s go!
Name: The Carendi family
Since last year’s trip became a success, expectations are high. This year we will also try a night train which is something the children look forward to. For us it is important with a mix of big cities, countryside, museum and swimming.
Since the children wanted Croatia and Italy, we have put the emphasis on these countries. In order not to get too far down in Croatia and then back about the same way, the focus will be on sun and bathing in the part of Croatia that is closest to Italy. After a little research we found a night train to Rijeka (only during high season) from Munich, where we could get by express train from Berlin. The plan is therefore to take us down to Croatia as quickly as possible, but to see something along the way. A solution that we believe in is therefore to take a night train Malmö-Berlin, with a full day sightseeing in Berlin, and then take a new night train towards Rijeka in the evening and lay on the beach on arrival. We’ll see if the plan holds. On the way home we have also laid two night trains in a row, with another stop in Berlin. Ideally, we had discovered another city, but you can’t get everything when trying to get together a smooth travel route.
Berlin. Far too early to wake up after a trip that consisted of a lot of time on the boat during the evening. Hard sea made it impossible to be in the train during the boat crossing. Keep in mind that the food on the boat is not the best. We gazed enviously at the families who, for example, packed up dinner, while we ate fries and fried fish ourselves. At Snälltåget no breakfast is served either, so it’s good to have some fruit and biscuits if someone gets hungry. Water in tetra packs is what it is offered. Berlin is a fairly child-friendly and dynamic city with its history. However, the city is gigantic to the surface and you run the risk of going long distances, which may not be as child friendly.
If you arrive at Berlin Hbh then it is a good walk to go to the Parliament House, on to Brandenburger Tor and then stop at the, much appreciated, maze-like memorial of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
Then we had a well-deserved brunch at Little Green Rabbit (www.littlegreenrabbit.de) at Unter den Linden.
To get some of Berlin’s history, we chose the DDR Museum, which was just a short walk away, where the kids got to try driving Trabant and got an insight into what it was like to live when Berlin and Germany were divided into East and West. A little football playing on various squares and hanging in parks was enough for the day to end, and it was time to hop on the next train. When we summed up the day, we had walked significantly more than planned, so the kids fell asleep quickly on the night train.
The fast train between Berlin and Munich is brilliant and the night train to Croatia is surprisingly nice. It was fresh and also bedded when we stepped on. In each compartment there was also a sink and air conditioning (which was missing on the Snälltåg). A minus because there were only three-bed compartments, which allowed one of us adults to sleep in another compartment. We have heard of families consisting of two adults and two children who are trapped in one but nothing we recommend as it is very crowded and little room for luggage.
So we finally arrived in Croatia for three lazy days of sun and bath. We had aimed at Mošćenička Draga just south of the town of Opatija and a family room in a hotel there. This part of Croatia’s coast has very high mountains by the sea, and crystal-clear water.
In short, not so much space for ball games and large pools, but a magically beautiful setting and fantastic salty dips. It is difficult to know what you get when the hotels are good at partially refurbishing the hotels and only put the goodies on websites and booking sites. Our hotel was an old retro hotel, where the pools were cleaned, and we were lucky enough to have one of the few newly renovated family rooms. For the sake of simplicity, there was a child-friendly buffet these days, but we started the stay with a plank of grilled freshly caught seafood at a beachfront restaurant. We had planned to stay in Opatija, but when the hotels that had pool were fully booked, it became Mošćenička Draga, which we really do not regret. It is convenient to have a short distance to everything and pool so close to the sea.
The hotel also had an indoor pool where the children took shelter when the sun became too strong and we adults could swim a few lengths. Along the beach there were some restaurants, bars and cafes. On the evening walk, ice cream is a must. The ice cream vendors are not dumb, they understand that we will return if they entertain with the kids and say a few words in Swedish, so we ended up eating ice cream at the same place three days in a row (Caffe Bar Magnolija).
So, with this knowledge, two night trains in a row with a full day sightseeing in a big city between the night trains is not a great idea. Especially not if it is in the middle of summer, very hot and it is difficult to sleep on hard surfaces and without air conditioning. But to start three nights early with a pool, sea and buffet was very relaxing and nothing we regret. Since there is no rail between Rijeka and Italy, we made it easy for us and took a bus (Flixbus) to the train station in Trieste.
This was a good decision, as we avoided the detour via Zagreb, and at the same time we got to see a bit more of this part of Croatia, after being in the beach environment throughout the stay. A bus is an environmental traveler that can be combined with Interrail, as the buses and trains usually go to the same station. However, this is important to check before booking, as dragging luggage is painful in the roasting Mediterranean heat. Next destination: Venice.
Venedig är en spännande stad och fantastiskt vacker och ”italiensk” trots sin massturism från framförallt kryssningsfartygen. Vi ville dit då tre Venice is an exciting city and amazingly beautiful and “Italian” despite its mass tourism from all cruise ships. We wanted to go there because three of us had not been there before and because it was a suitable stop on the way. From Trieste to Venice it was not possible to make room bookings on the trains, but departures are many, and despite the beginning of July there was plenty of room. If you choose the Santa Lucia station, you roll in straight to the island. Our planning to take a simple nearby hotel near the station was a very good idea. In this way we got rid of the bags immediately and did not have to carry large backpacks in the narrow alleys in the afternoon heat. Then we took a walk in the direction of Markusplatsen which according to the mobile map function would take 40 min. In practice, it took around 80 min. It is easy to go wrong in the alleys and in addition there is a lot to photograph. Around St. Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge, there are a lot of hysterical people in July, which is not very charming, but during the first half hour walk from the hotel there were surprisingly little people, and some streets and alleys we could walk in soothing silence without meeting anyone.
Venice is worth seeing and appreciated by big and small. However, not as affordable, in particular not gondola-loving, as we skipped. In the name of honesty, half a day in Venice is enough for children of this age, but a magically beautiful evening stroll with dinner means that we do not regret staying overnight. If it had been another season, the answer would probably have been different. Now we could then leisurely take a short walk after breakfast, and then take a morning train to Bologna.
We had only chosen Bologna for its location and our plan was to rent a car a few days to get out into the country and see parts of Tuscany and Liguria. However, we were surprised by Bologna’s beautiful and charming center, which in its red-shifting tones is very elegant to walk around in. For the children, the “oblique towers” (Le due Torri; Asinelli and Garisenda) were the highlight, in two ways. In the tallest of the towers you can go up the 498 steps and get a nice view of the city.
Reading on there were just over a hundred similar towers in Bologna around the Middle Ages. Building towers was this way of showing that you had money, which must have made it this time “Manhattan”. Bologna is today one of Italy’s most prosperous cities, as seen in boutiques, taverns and people in general. There are a number of small restaurants and bars around Piazza Maggiore. One tip is to order a tray of cheeses and meats from the area.
After a night in Bologna we chose to pass Pisa which is a beautiful and lovely Italian city, excluding its leaning tower which was really appreciated by all ages.
If you want to go into the tower and the beautiful cathedral you have to book time on website, but it seems we were all happy to view everything from the outside and take the “obligatory” pictures when trying to back up the tower with our hands. Pisa is excellent to reach by train. Furthermore, for three nights we had a campsite in Liguria as a base to take it easy by the pool, play football and to spend a day in beautiful Cinque Terre.
You can use the Interrail ticket on the trains between the colorful villages, and you can get there via La Spezia or from elsewhere via Levanto. We had done research and decided to visit 3 of 5 villages, but our ten-year-old definitely wanted to see a fourth, where he would take pictures from a certain angle. Great when you get to see more thanks to the kids, but our eight-year-old didn’t appreciate it as much. In addition to the bath and the deep-fried seafood you buy in strut, he gave the destination the worst rating on the entire trip. We adults thought it was fun to see but would have liked to walk on the trails between some of the villages. And of course, there are too many people in the area on a day in July, but if you go there early in the morning you can manage well from the worst congestion, which occurs around lunchtime and onwards.
Staying at camping is really something we recommend. The accommodation is simple (we lived in a “cabin”) but the facilities all the better. Two swimming pools, football pitch, playground, restaurant and possibility to wash clothes. From Liguria we had planned to visit Florence but realized that the children would not appreciate another cultural city in the heat. Therefore, we spent an overnight south of Florence in an old olive grove with fantastic food and pool and then stop in the mountains and continue on to San Marino and then back to Bologna to return the car.
San Marino är väldigt turistigt, men med en vidunderlig utsikt, välpolerade hus, och riddarliknande fästningar som attraherar barn. Barn San Marino is very touristy, but with wonderful views, well-polished houses, and knight-like fortresses that attract children. Children also seem to like micro lands, and it is interesting to see the whole country from the same lookout tower. Generally, well maintained and easy to park, it was fun to get there, but it will be enough before we return, and there is no railway to San Marino.
The stop we then made in Verghereto among the mountains at just over 1000 meters altitude was a real hit for big and small, for a very modest cost. We had heard about green igloos up in the mountains (Astrocamp), and well there we were met by a couple who were tired of the stressful everyday life, and instead run this campsite, where they also breed dogs.
The surroundings are both pristine and fantastically beautiful, and each igloo (6 with names after the planets), was spacious, renovated with shower and toilet. Despite a hot day it got pretty cold during dinner as the situation is high among the mountains. And what a starry sky!!! The couple who ran the plant then cooked pasta and vegetarian dishes, but before that they thought we would swim in a waterfall about 20 minutes’ drive away. We thought it sounded exciting but did not know that we really needed to cross a mountain to get there, which meant just over 500 meters upwards and just as much down. The waterfall was a hit. About 20 degrees of spring water to which some individuals had gone to bathe. You do not get the chance so often to bathe in a real waterfall.
We would have liked to have spent some days in the mountains, as it was lovely atmosphere and good sleep in the igloo, but it was time to return to Bologna and hand in the car. It was so nice! Train and bus are undoubtedly more convenient options. It is difficult to find parking in many Italian cities during the peak season and it became a bit more car driving than we thought when planning the trip. In retrospect, we realize that we might have rented a car in another city and thus taken some trains.
The Bologna-Turin train route is a fast train, where real relaxation is found. 250 km / h, straight rail and arrival time 11.40 after having slept enough is absolutely brilliant.
If you have booked accommodation near the station, like us, it will be really good. If Bologna was Italian elegant, then Turin is more French / Spanish and a bit messier in terms of traffic, but the powerful Italian squares exist, and the children were equally fond of the evening stroll here. It is the children who have chosen the destination, as a visit to the Juventus Museum is the highlight of the oldest trip.
If you have children who have been promised something, it is good to check opening hours. Museums may have closed some days, often Mondays or Tuesdays. We therefore did the car museum Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile day one and football stadium day two. The little obligatory city center walk had to be laid during the cooler early evenings, when many Italians are out, and most shops are open. In Turin we chose to stay in an apartment hotel which was spacious and very affordable, five minutes from the train station. Turin is easy to get to by metro and easy to walk. The car museum is very pedagogically structured, from the first cars to today’s modern cars, of course focusing on Italian brands. The kids thought it was fun, and it’s always a bit exciting to see what’s outside the city center in tourist cities. Juventus football stadium is a good way out, and is reached by metro and bus, which takes about 30 min. The arena is relatively new (from 2011) and exudes Italian elegance in every corridor as well as marquee decoration.
We adults are clueless as to whether it is worth the admission ticket, but the children were very satisfied after visiting both the museum, dressing room and press room. One minus was that we were forced into an Italian tour, which we did not expect when we saw that the major clubs in Spain allow visitors to go more freely on the arena. The children then wanted to find Cristiano Ronaldo’s house, which is actually possible after some research on the internet. It took 45 minutes to find, which meant we got a nice walk without a whine from the kids, and the opportunity to take a picture at the house across the river.
Next stop: Basel. The longest day trip on the trip with change after an hour in Milan. After Milan it was not directly straight track for the remaining 4 hours. A very slow speed, tough passport control in Switzerland but incredibly beautiful outside the train window.
By far, the most beautiful route we traveled, between high, sometimes white-clad mountains and turquoise waterways. It was most beautiful at Baveno on the west of Lake Maggiore. We would like to get there sometime, but it may be another train journey.
But why spend a night in Basel? It is certainly not an obvious choice among more given alternatives in Central Europe, but for several years we have been thinking about visiting the Vitra Design Museum, located in Weil am Rhein, a suburb of Basel on the German side of the border. We thus took a regular tram (approx. 15 min) and went across the border where France, Switzerland and Germany meet in a “three-seater”. At the stop, the walkway waited along the rails for another 15 minutes.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! Vitra Campus is big and so much more than just a museum with excellent furniture design, where the Eames chairs are crowded with other classics around the park. The views here in the countryside are unbelievably beautiful and even the children were overjoyed to visit this design mecca. Those who created the area were also smart, as they designed an extremely long slide. An appreciated initiative that pleased both children and adults. Basel, by the way, is a small nice town where we were struck by how helpful and nice people are, and how well preserved the historic center is next to the Rhine River. When we got out of the train station and wanted to find our hotel and did not have access to “free” internet, it was just to ask a local guide (they have pins where it says Ask me, I’m a local) who showed us the road to the hotel which turned out to be close from the train station. The hotel was an unmanned hotel (b_smart hotel) but it worked well anyway. However, it was very hot as there was no air conditioning but only a fan. However, the breakfast, which was also unmanned, was very good and proximity to the station is preferred.
The next night had been booked at a hotel in central Zurich, an hour from Basel by comfortable train.
We had booked seat tickets between Basel and Zurich but nothing seems to be needed as the trains depart frequently. We had no expectations for a summer-hot financial metropolis without a sea, but booked one night there and then could easily take a night train to Berlin. This was probably the most positive surprise of the trip, although the price level definitely deterred.
When it was warm, we found out if there were any bathing places in Lake Zurich and the river, which there is.
Lovely 28 degrees in the air made 23 degrees in the water quite cool, and although the extremely exclusive city center frames the lake in a delicious way, we preferred the slightly more rugged graffiti painted river bath.
In the central part, part of the river is closed to traffic other than bathing Zurich residents and tourists can therefore slide with the current several hundred meters. Beer and wine are served in plastic mugs or taken with them, the grills are smoked, someone has a guitar, while a “sweet” smoke smell is noted in their quarters. We had not expected this from the well-polished city, but the water is crystal clear, and both we adults and the children were overjoyed. Time and time again you are eager to get up, go back 100 meters and start again in the stream. We saw a similar phenomenon in Basel where it was bathed in the river Rehn in the same way, but it did not feel as inviting as this, as the water is of inferior quality.
Since both our children are football-crazy, we also took the opportunity to visit the FIFA Museum in Zurich. There they got the opportunity to see the real World Cup trophy for ladies and gentlemen respectively. The museum was both factual and interactive, and there was also a technology room where you had to test a number of challenges, such as dribbling through a track on time and getting points for most shots in the goal.
After walking in the super-yellow old part of the city center, we immediately felt that we wanted to return to Zurich another summer, preferably when the exchange rate is better.
The night train Zurich – Berlin went painless but like previous trips the children sleep better than the parents when it shakes the most.
To end the trip with two night trains and another full day in Berlin we saw as something strenuous for the children, especially because they had experienced so much along the way. But if you do a little research, you can of course get a lot out of another day in Berlin. In the morning we saw that Greta Thunberg would speak in a centrally located park, which was exciting to see. Thousands of people are interested in listening to Greta, this Swedish climate fighter.
We had also received tips on a tree parkour park that would be a sensible place to go for both children and adults.
When summarizing everything we did, it turned out that the park in Berlin was what the kids appreciated the most. It will not always be as expected.
The train to Malmö felt more relaxing than the corresponding trip to Berlin, as we slept the whole boat trip, and although we were not directly rested, it is a sensible alternative for those travelers who have easier to sleep.
During the journey we had only one delay (the Berlin-Malmö express train), but there they managed to make the ferry wait, which meant that there was no delay in the end. We came home satisfied and will definitely be out on the rails again.
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