Laura & Hjalte’s Interrail: Part 1 – Nice, Geneva, Lugano, Verona, Venice

Hello and welcome to this 4-part series about our recent trip around Europe last summer. We are a young Danish couple named Hjalte and Laura – aged 19 – who both graduated from high school last summer. Last December, we decided that we would take a gap year before starting university and we wanted this year to include lots and lots of traveling. And so, we began planning our first trip.

We both didn’t want to spend a crazy amount of money but still wanted to be able to see whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted – in short, we wanted to be spontaneous while on our trip without having to spend thousands on expensive flights bought at the last minute. After a lot of research, we came upon Interrail.

Both of us had heard about people who had been travelling by train but none of us were sure of how it all worked and to be honest; we were also a bit sceptical about the idea of only traveling in Europe – would it be exotic and exciting enough? The more research we did about interrailing the more interested we got. We loved the idea about being able to be spontaneous and also how taking the train meant that you would see much more of the different countries’ landscapes.

We wanted to lengthen our trip as much as possible, so instead of wasting time going all the way from Denmark to Nice by train, we decided to take a flight to the French Riviera. Here we stayed for 3 nights before our Interrail pass started.

Nice was a very great place to start our trip. We had rented a small studio apartment that had all we needed for a few days, including a small kitchen. Due to the location we were able to explore everything worth seeing by foot. The place was also close to the central station, which turned out to be a very good thing. When we arrived at the airport, Laura’s backpack didn’t show up, so we had to go pick it up later at 10pm. Especially when travelling on budget, it was rather tiresome that we had to spend “unnecessary” money on bus tickets. Luckily, the bus tickets are a lot cheaper in Nice than we are used to in Denmark.

In general, the prices in Nice are acceptable and not too high, even though there are a lot of tourists visiting the city and the famous promenade. Nice has a lot to offer aside from the promenade and the rocky beaches. On the first day, we went to the beautiful park Colline de Chateau from where you have a great view over the city, the promenade and the Mediterranean Sea. On a sunny day, it is very nice to have a walk through the old town Vieille Ville, to the park and visit the harbour Port de Nice on the other side.

During our stay we saw both sides of the city, which led us to places as St. Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Cathedral (very astonishing), the War Memorial, Parc d’Estienne d’Orves and Promenade du Paillon. If you are going to Nice, we’d recommend you try and have a walk in the less famous areas. Here you’ll find many charming places and romantic streets of different kinds. The historic square Place Messéna is a lovely place in the evening.

Of course, when going to a city like Nice, you must be careful with your belongings. One day on the beach, we had a pair of earrings and sunglasses stolen. Luckily, we left our wallets and mobile phones at home. But overall, Nice was a great kick-off to our Interrail trip.

Early in the morning on August 15th it was time to leave and go to Geneva. We got on the train to Lyon, where got a connecting train to Geneva. The trip was surprisingly beautiful, riding along the French coast to Marseille before going inland along the mountains. We had been a bit nervous whether or not we would get bored during the train ride, in which case it would be a long month of traveling by train. But suddenly, we were standing in Geneva.

Geneva is completely different compared to Nice. When we were there, the weather was summery, but it was not too hot. There were many tourists, but the city did not bear the marks of it the same way that Nice did. The cities do have some similarities as well. The water plays a big role when exploring Geneva. Walking along Geneva Lake is something you must do! We especially loved walking from the park Jardin Anglais crossing Mont-Blanc Bridge and continuing along the lake to the beautiful Parc Mon Repos and Parc de La Perle du Lac. From here, it’s only a short distance to the Broken Chair monument in front of the United Nations Office.

Another nice place to visit is Parc des Bastions where you find the locals enjoying the afternoon playing chess. Here you will also find the Reformation Wall and the University. Switzerland, and Geneva in particular, is rather expensive. Geneva seems to be the city of the rich.

If you have a good amount of cash (a lot), Geneva is paradise. You find all the big brands like Chanel, Gucci, Prada and Versace. Unfortunately, we had a budget… Still, we chose to go out and eat one night. It was actually our plan to eat at a small restaurant at the campsite we were staying. But when we saw the prices, we decided to take the next bus to the inner city. We found a very nice restaurant in the centre of old town Vieille-Ville. We gave about 60 euros for two delicious pasta dishes, two glasses of wine, and water with lemon. It was the most expensive meal on the entire trip, but it was still about 30 euros cheaper than the campsite. We did not regret our decision!

Geneva is not just expensive brands, cars and restaurants near a beautiful lake. It has a lot more to offer. One day we went to Carouge, which is a very cosy town with small houses and a Southern European atmosphere.

Another day we challenged our fitness. Early morning, we took the bus the French border. We walked for about 10 minutes before we reached the bottom of Mont Saléve. We did not really know what to expect, but when we passed a couple of elderly women, we thought that this was going to be a short and easy way up. Suddenly, the path went very steep and rugged, but when we reached a small town on the top of the hill, we thought that we were almost there. More than an hour later, we reached the top.  Even though the way up was a bit longer and more demanding than we expected, it was all totally worth it. The view was stunning, and we could see all of Geneva and a great part of the lake. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm was coming towards us, so we could not stay very long before we had to go down.

The next day, we packed our bags and took the train to Lugano near the Italian border. We had seen so many wonderful pictures from this place, so we really wanted to have enough time to explore it all. We stayed at a private home owned by woman named Carola and her 10-year-old son. We have never experienced hospitality like that. It seemed as the culture was completely different compared to Geneva. Carola was very talkative, friendly and helpful. One day, we actually drove with Carola, her son and her son’s friend to a place called Maldive di Milano. It was a very beautiful place. The water of the river was crystal clear, and even though it was freezing cold, you could not help but going for a dive!

The water temperature of Lake Lugano was a bit more enjoyable. Standing by the lake you see that Lugano is actually surrounded by several small mountains covered with trees, making the landscape look like something from a fairy tale. By following a path along the lake, you can actually walk all the way from Lugano to a small town called Gandria. Unfortunately, we were a bit late that day, so we did not have the time to reach Gandria that day.

The centre of Lugano is not very big, but consists of several small streets and squares. Lugano is also a rich and expensive city, where you can find many high-end fashion brands. But this contributes to the charm of the small city. Everything is well-kept. The Swiss professionalism and finances mixed with the Italian charm and atmosphere located in the middle of a magnificent landscape makes Lugano a place to remember.

Verona in Italy was the next stop on our trip. On the way there, we found out that in Italy you really have to know the ticket rules. On the train from Lugano to Milano, we had a ticket equalling the double price of a seat reservation. We had to pay 42 euro because we were not aware of the Italian rules regarding the EuroCity Trains.

Verona is a very charming and romantic city. We had rented an apartment on Airbnb, which was located just a few minutes from the Stone Bridge (Ponte Pietra) and the old town. If you are quick, you can see a great part of Verona in just one day. But we decided to stay for a little longer. We tried to live a bit like the locals and rushing is not really a part of the culture. Instead, the opposite seems as a better characteristic of the Italians. Our time there was very relaxing. We were just strolling around most of the time, passing many different churches, squares, and historic buildings.

As in any other big city, Verona has some must-see attractions: the amphitheatre (Arena di Verona), Torre dei Lamberti, the market at Piazza Bra, and Juliet’s balcony (Casa di Guilietta). When you visit the balcony, you have to be there early in the morning before all the tourists from outside the town arrives. Otherwise, you have to wait for a long time if you want a picture with the statue of Juliet.

To our big surprise, Verona actually has a lot of different places worth visiting. If you really want to experience the life in Verona, we think that you should stay for at least 3 nights. A part of it is of course a stop-by on a café for a cup of very strong espresso in the morning. Another Italian custom is the late dinner. Obviously, we ate pizza and lots of pasta.

If you want to visit Venice, Verona is a great place to stay. The train from Verona to Venice only lasts about one hour, so we did it as a one-day trip. What to say about Venice? Venice is just Venice. A very beautiful city with narrow streets, squares in all shapes behind every corner, and cosy shops. It is clear to see that Venice is a very famous place: everything is expensive. If you want to try the gondolas, you have to pay 80 euros for 30 minutes only. It may be a fantastic experience, but we were not convinced that it was worth it.

St. Mark’s Square may be the most astonishing place in Venice. The square is enormous, and it contains many different aspects of the city: the gondolas (that you can see from the square), cosy restaurants, small and expensive shops, historic sights, and an abundance of tourists. St. Mark’s Basilica decorates the square, from where you only have to walk two minutes to get to the Bridge of Sighs. Venice is a must-see!

Stay tuned for the next parts in this series!

Part 2 – Lago di Braies, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Brno

Part 3 – Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana

Part 4 – Split, Mostar og Kotor