This journey was undertaken, courtesy of Silver Travel Advisor. At the beginning of the year they advertised one of their super prizes for a first class Inter rail pass and accommodation for a 10 day excursion. I recently reviewed the comments of some of the other entries and I have to say that the grand children made all the difference. The trip had real purpose. First class travel is just that. However, on some of the newer trains, it is hard to tell the difference. If anyone has any doubts about taking children, you are missing a lot. It was rather prejudiced by our choice of target visits. The Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Hamelyn, of pied piper fame and two primary schools. Copenhagen and Hans Christian Anderson was a last minute change in schedule. That is the joy of a travel pass, it is possible to make the last minute changes. A tip here, if you are able to get roaming on your mobile for the period of your journey, it’s simple. If you have the right APP, it’s also easy to locate other hotels and cancel original ones. We did most of ours through booking.com, who nearly always offer free last minute cancellations. Oh, the age of electronics, I love it.
So first leg, Eurostar to Lille. This is a necessary pre-requisite for travel passes as they may not be used in the country of residence. There are a few exceptions that involve ferries.
The real real first day of travel pass was Kortrijk (near Lille) to Amsterdam. It was necessary to change at Antwerp. A truly amazing station on five levels, it would be worth going there just for that. Amsterdam is very expensive to stay and if your trip involves a few days stop over, it is worth finding a good hotel a little way out and getting the Amsterday pass for public transport. It’s amazing how much it is possible to see as one rattles round the streets, oblivious of all other traffic.It’s worth taking the number 10 all the way to Azartplein. This is a fairly modern suburb but with an unusual view of Amsterdam.
Next step was to Hamburg with a change at Osnabreuk. Really fast, comfortable train whatever class, except when German efficiency encounters a hitch. We were delayed 2 hours, but fortunately there was space on the next available train. It really is as well to have a plan B, or at least some idea of replanning.
I have been to Hamburg before and the grown up lads who created miniature wonderland have been busy adding to the spectacular model. It’s not necessary to be enthusiastic for there is plenty to see. Health warning, there are a lot of steps to the top floor of the old warehouse where the models are housed. There is plenty of other things to see in Hamburg, but my wife did not like the hotel or the city. She was nearly won over by the metro ride that as it nears the docks becomes elevated. We had a Hamburg ticket, so needless to say, we went back and forth a few times. The joy of taking children is that it is possible to do silly things like that and pretend it was for the children!
Thus we left Hamburg a day early as a last minute change of plan and decided to go to Copenhagen. The train was very comfortable and we had the best seats in the house, right behind the driver. His glass partition turns opaque when the train sets off. Then there is the amazing spectacle of staying on the train as it gets swallowed by the ferry for the second part of the journey. There is just time during the 45 minute crossing to indulge in a smorgasbord lunch. Be hungry as it is eat as much as you like.The second part of the journey in Denmark there is remarkable for a lot of water.
Back to Hamburg next morning for the overnight train to Munich. This was a first big mistake. The plan was to give the children an idea of night train travel. Well, they loved it as we knew they would but we didn’t. We had to travel second class as we paid for this leg ourselves so as not to contravene the terms of the Inter Rail Pass. It was like camping with less space. A queue for the only bathroom in the carriage did not help. Whilst waiting for the overnight train in Hamburg station, as we had a first class travel pass we were allowed to use the first class lounge. If there are any long waits at stations, this is very convenient. Not all stations allow Travel Passers this privilege.
Munich was, well Munich. With plain clothed ticket inspectors, claiming unfamiliarity with the system will cut no ice. We were lucky to stay with friend as Munich is very expensive. There are some very nice, reasonable places to eat. Unfortunately, the one we chose only accepted one kind of card. A pity, for it was by a lovely lake with ducks and swans. We understand that this may be the case in other restaurants.
Munich should have been a warning. The next stage from Munich to Brussels Midi is possible in a few hours, normally. Change at Frankfurt and into Brussels in time for tea. We were unlucky enough to have that troublesome train that seems to bedevil all railways. After starting out very late from Frankfurt it finally arrived at Liege too late to proceed to Brussels. This is where I totally lost faith in the German railways. We were given a highly suspect reason and told to evacuate the train. We had to find our own alternative to carry on to Brussels. Liege is a truly magnificent station, all architecture and no logic. We finally made an empty IC going to Brussels. We saw many of our fellow travellers boarding another train, which we understood from an official who finally knew what was going on, that it took twice as long to get to Brussels. We arrived on the last night of our wanderings at Brussels to give the children a treat in a five star hotel with slap up meal. Well, the lateness of the day precluded that and that brings me to the hotels.
I have left hotels to last as they are so unpredictable. Even more than German high speed trains on a bad day. Most of them were what would be expected, fairly comfortable and clean.
The Novotel in Brussels was five star, but had no restaurant and our slap up meal was a hastily snatched burger in the station. Still, the children enjoyed it. It was also on the wrong side of the tracks. We had found this also to be the case with the Novum style in Hamburg. Fair enough place to lay a weary head, but rather difficult to explain exactly what they sell in a sex shop.
Best Western Blue Square in Amsterdam suffered from looking as though it was made from shipping containers and then painted blue to disguise the fact. Inside, of course, was comfortable and reasonable. It probably had a fair share of students and we had wondered whether the student hostel down the road was better. This is an occasion where the pass for trams was invaluable and they also provided a good view of some of the attractions as the hotel is some way out of Amsterdam.
Best Western Hotel Hebron in Copenhagen was good, but when booking hotels, breakfast is not always included. As prices can be as much a 19 euros, multiplied by four (if there no concessions are made for children) this can make a significant difference to the price. You may find that you will need all you booking documentations, for some hotels will claim that breakfast is not included when the booking site clearly states that it is. It is worth arguing.
The best until last. We stayed first at the Park Hotel opposite Kortrijk station. How I wish it had been our last as well. All the accolades that exist on the websites are justified. The most comfortable beds I have ever experienced in any hotel. Best of all, breakfast was included and will be one that the children will forever remember. Chocolate featured, as this is in Belgium, in practically everything. There was even lumps of chocolate if there wasn’t enough in the croissants and muesli. Kortrijk does not really feature on many itineraries. We were there to visit a school and will certainly try to include it on any further visits. The market’s pretty good too.
Would we do it again. A resounding yes. With grand children. Yes, they made it so much more relevant.
But, we would not try to see the whole of Europe in one go and be much more careful about hotels. We had sometimes a family room and sometimes two twin rooms. If the children are old enough, the second option is good, but a family room does ensure that you can check whether they have brushed their teeth. The cost is not always an issue.
“InterRail”:http://www.myinterrail.co.uk/. Fantastic team and helpful people, but do have a clear idea of exactly what you want.
Finally, thank you Silver Travel Advisor for offering this opportunity.