After I gave you the outline and route of our trip in my previous post, let me give you some more info on three topics that seem quite important to me: trains, hostels, and food.
First of all, I have to say the Interrail ticket really paid out for us. Although we hardly got on any train entirely free of charge, we saved a lot of money for just having to pay the price for reserving a seat (which was usually 6 to 7 euros for one trip).
Booking the trains itself was also quite easy. Whereas we could still book the trains in France using French, neither of us knew enough Spanish to do the same in Spain. But it all worked out surprisingly well. Partly with our rudimentary Spanish skills, partly in English, partly just by writing down times and names of train stations. (I mostly blame ourselves for messing up the reservation to Bilbao. I think we were just not paying attention well enough.) Still, for us it was really helpful to check online for available connections at the Deutsche Bahn site before actually going to book something at the station. It turned out that the website of the German railway could often recommend better connections than any of the local staff at the stations was able to find. I also thought it was really comfortable travelling by train so much. You can sleep very well while in the train and (compared to a plane) there is lots of space to stretch out. When you’re ready to pay the extra charge for the reservations, the high speed trains running through France and Spain (and Germany, for that matter) are an excellent option to quickly travel between large cities while still being able to see the country by looking at the landscape passing by. Finally, and this is the only thing that bothered me a little in Spain, I found it a bit annoying that you often have to put all of your bags through an X-ray machine before boarding a train in Spain. I feel it costs a lot of time but doesn’t really serve a real purpose, as they only have these machines at the largest train stations. The luggage goes into the train unchecked everywhere else.
All in all I can say we were mostly happy with the hostels. The biggest surprise actually was our very first room in Paris. As mentioned, I had been to Paris before and expected very bad rooms (and bedbugs) at an extremely high price, as was the case last time. I admit, our first room in Paris was tiny, but it was clean and everything seemed new and well-maintained. For the second night, we even got a larger room for a lower price. The hostel staff was really nice and helpful and the atmosphere in the common room and linked bar was nice, too. Also, the place was in a great location right next to an excellent bakery and not far from Sacre Coeur.
What was also a great place to stay at was my hostel in Girona. The staff was nice and could recommend great places (especially for Tapas) to go to in the city. My room was okay as well and even had a balcony going out to the Plaça Catalunya. The best thing, though, was the roof terrace, from where you had a fantastic view over the city and could watch the sun set over the roofs of the city. Also, as indicated before, it was a great place to meet new people.
I can also recommend two other hostels we stayed at in Madrid and Barcelona. The one in Barcelona was huge and there were lots of school classes from the UK and Germany, but it still had a nice atmosphere. The one in Madrid was smaller and for some reason our room smelled really humid, a bit like clay. Still, they offered lots of events you could join, there was a great atmosphere in the common room and they were playing really good music there.
Finally, we also had one hostel which was really, really bad for European standards: the one in Marseille. It consisted only of a few rooms with bunk beds in some guy’s apartment (who couldn’t really speak English or even French, but kept answering in Italian). We had to make our payment in his private bedroom, our bed sheets were really dirty, there were no curtains and the whole place seemed filthy. The whole bathroom was full of mold. Also, we didn’t get a key for the front door, so we had to ring the bell every time we wanted in. For that reason, we were also woken in the middle of the night because of some people returning from partying and ringing until somebody had mercy and opened the door. We didn’t have much other choice because we booked so late, but I will never again stay at this filthy place. I guess you have to make bad experiences on such a trip as well.
Food is something that is always really important to me when I travel. But we were on a budget on this trip, so we skipped the fancy restaurants for some street food more often than not. Especially in France, we often bought some baguette from a bakery in the evening, added some dips and a drink from the supermarket and ate in some nice park or at some other nice spot we found nearby. I also loved the fact that we could have fresh croissant and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) for breakfast every single morning while we were in France. In Barcelona, we went shopping in the supermarket and fixed us some sandwiches back in the hostel instead (Spanish baguette is just something I didn’t want to eat after all the great stuff we had in France). In Marseille, we took advantage of the local offer of three pizzas for 10 euros (close to every food shop was offering this). Surprisingly, we managed to finish all three of them!
The few times we did go to restaurants including once on our first evening in Paris, where we had a carafe of wine and some okay-tasting pasta dish, while we watched people passing us on their way up or down the Montmartre hill. In Spain (Madrid as well as Girona), we also had some very nice Tapas along with our cervezas.
All in all, I would’ve liked to eat some more actually local food, but with us being on a budget, I think it turned out pretty well nonetheless.
As a conclusion, this trip was exhausting, but it was also really fun. I liked our route, although next time I’d probably try to find one that brings me right back to my home country – without using an extra plane for that. We could’ve gone back by train, too, but that would’ve meant around 24 hours in total on various trains. I couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong with the return trip (I had to work the next day), so we decided to book some cheap flights instead. I might actually do this kind of trip again in some other region of Europe.