This month Edward Genochio shares the story of his epic three-month bike and rail trip around Europe, visiting every one of the 33 countries on the Interrail network.
The adventure was called 33 Rides, and you can find out more about it on Twitter here and the 33 Rides website here.
Over to Edward:
An advert popped up for Interrail’s 50th anniversary with a special offer of 50% off Interrail passes. I thought this was too good an offer to refuse so I bought a couple of tickets for me and my partner Aina, not knowing where or what or even when we’d be able to go.
I like a challenge so I started thinking that we could go to all 33 countries on the Interrail network. I’ve always loved bicycles as well, so I thought could we combine bikes and trains. We set ourselves the challenge of riding at least one train and doing at least one bike rides in each of the countries, and to add to the challenge we also decided to visit the northernmost, easternmost, southernmost and westernmost rail stations on the Interrail network.
Tralee was our first cardinal point, and it was relatively easy, just across the water. On our first night we caught the ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast, then got the train to Dublin and out west to Tralee, which we reached 48 hours after leaving.
We spent a couple of days cycling around Ireland then took a ferry from Cork to Roscoff. We zoomed through France and across the border into Spain, aiming for Algeciras in the south, which was our southernmost cardinal point.
It was a good time of year: if anyone’s planning a similar adventure, if you start in the springtime as we did, you get southern Europe out of the way before it gets too hot, then head up into the cooler parts for the summer. That way we were at comfortable temperatures for pretty much the whole journey.
One of the reasons why I love to travel overland and not by plane is that the culture shift becomes much more gradual, and you see one region merging into the next. When you fly, you seal yourself into a tube and emerge in a completely different world. One of the delights of the journey was that we could get a sense of how the cultures are connected.
Interrail is a European railway project but it does extend as far as Turkey, which means a lot of going east! The easternmost station that currently serves passenger trains is Akyaka, near the Armenian border. On arrival we were promptly arrested! Not a lot of lost-looking bicycle tourists arrive in this slightly sensitive area and people wanted to know what the heck we were doing. It was all friendly though and we were soon free to take our selfies on the platform.
It was a long, long ride to our next cardinal point, so after going all the way back through Turkey it was into the Balkans: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia – we had a wonderful time in Bosnia, as it was totally unexpected and one of our favourite countries on the trip. Then we headed north to the Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, then on a ferry to Helsinki and a sleeper train in Finland.
The northernmost point was the town of Narvik in Norway, where you have the interesting experience of having the midnight sun, which is perpetual daylight for a month or two in the summer as the sun doesn’t set. I’d never been above the arctic circle before and it was a lovely place to be.
By that stage we were running out of time and had to go quite quickly home, scooping off the last few countries: Germany, Czechia, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, then on our last day, we decided to make the most out of our 3-month ticket and our ‘home country' allowance, so we zoomed up to Scotland for lunch then came back down again.
We are now having to adjust to life where sometimes we stay in the same place for more than one day.
Quick fire questions:
What was your favourite part?
There were so many highlights, but the Finland train, the train that goes on the ferry going to Sicily, trains in Scandinavia, having the Brompton bikes, cycling in Turkey, in Galicia in Spain, and along the Bosphorus in Istanbul where we saw dolphins.
How many trains did you take in total?
About 176! It was quite a lot. Our most trains in a day was 18 or something like that.
What was your longest stint on a train?
The longest single journey was across Turkey from Ankara to Kars and was 27 hours.
And the bike?
About 80 or 90 km which was decent for us. We deliberately set out for this to be a fair balance between the trains and the bicycles – obviously we did many more kms overall on the trains but time-wise we aimed for it to be 50:50.
For the ‘most memorable’ train story, about a train that almost didn’t exist, you’ll have to tune in to the podcast! You can do that here.
And you can follow Edward and Aina and 33 rides on Twitter (or whatever it's now called) and the website here.