Interrail 1988: Paris to Athens

In June 1988, I had finished my final exams at Glasgow College and was offski. Overnight bus Dunblane to London, train to Dover then hovercraft to Calais and viola, je suis en France. Haud me back!

Got a bus (not train) to Paris by mistake but I remember being in awe at the sights. I bought a baguette and walked for miles on a hot sunny day. For a 20 year old from Dunblane it was amazing. The Eiffel Tower and later watching the sunset looking down the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe. My diary notes I then caught the 2310 overnight train to Amsterdam : the first use of my Interrail card.

It was a crazy start to my tour of Europe and 24 hours after leaving Dunblane, I was whizzing through French, then Belgian, countryside towards Amsterdam. I met Swedes and Canadians on the train,too excited to sleep, Brussels at 0400, then into sunny Amsterdam very early. We ate salami pieces beside a canal then did the first Heineken tour of the day. Again I was in awe. Amsterdam was beautiful although busy. I also got a close cropped haircut to celebrate my freedom then walked around the city, looking out for trams. I got a train to Haarlem too for some strange reason.

Overnight train again, this time to Basel. I had a couchette to myself but slept badly. Trains have a romantic image but when the loudspeakers announce your trains arrival at each station in the middle of the night and the guard is shouting at folk to hurry up…well, not so romantic!

Arrived Basel at 0700 then caught train to Luzern and climbed onto the city walls then had lunch by the river. Onto Zurich then, on a beautiful day, got the train to Chur then St Moritz through stunning Alpine scenery. I walked up into the mountains and took photos in the snow. St Moritz was/is? a famous ski resort but it was dead in the middle of June.

Couldn’t find a pub for the football and watched Holland beat England 3-1 in a shop window (Van Basten 3). Had beer in railway station bar and slept in a phone box it wiz freezin’. Looking back, St Moritz is 6000 feet above sea level so was going to be a tad chilly. Caught the 0600 train to Sargans (on border with Liechtenstein) on a cloudless morning and had breakfast on the platform surrounded by amazing scenery. Onto Bregenz and finally, finally I stayed in a hostel. After one night on a bus, two on a train and one in a phone box I was going to sleep in a bed!

Next day, after 8 hours sleep (noted in my diary) I took the train to a rainy Innsbruck where I stocked up for my marathon trip to Athens. I then started the 2000km journey with the train across the Austrian/Yugoslavia border to Ljubljana (now capital of Slovenia). Ljubljana station was mobbed with young Yugoslavs going to serve their one year national service in the army. They were all drinking outside the two bars on the platform. When they found out I was Scottish we had good craic.

A train came in around 2300 but it was so busy we never got on. More drink and merriment. We crammed onto a train at 0045 and the party continued on board with my new pal,a huge guy who looked like Mick Jagger, shouting ‘Slovenia’ out the window. He told me he considered himself more Italian than Yugoslav and resented the national service duty. Almost exactly three years later,on 25 June 1991, Slovenia declared independence.

The train continued through Yugoslavia all night and all the next day, going via Belgrade where I managed to squeeze into a 6 seat compartment. Onwards into the night through Macedonia then into Greece and Thessaloniki. I remember seeing fireflies out the window in the trees it was magical. Almost 48 hours after leaving Innsbruck, we arrived in Athens early in the morning. It was a helluva journey and many folks seem to have had money/luggage stolen or been fined by the guards for some obscure reason.

And that, incredibly, was my first week of Interrailing around Europe. A very hot and dusty Athens awaited !

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