For us who where young in the 1970s, Interrail opened if not the World, so at least Europe to us. Among us young norwegians, some had been visiting Sweden or Denmark (there has for a long time been many ferry-connections between Norway and Denmark). A very few had visited other countries. Cheap flights did not exist at these times. The only alternative was hitch-hiking.
With Interrail we could visit Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, London and other cities and places we had read and heard about, that had been way out of our reach. I spent three summers travelling Europe by train. We pretended to be travellers, not tourists. But we were of course uninformed and ill prepared amateur tourists. We should go out and discover the world, not go on sight seeing or rely on guide books, like the tourists. If we saw something that looked interesting, we often did not know what is was. And we missed a lot because we were not prepared and did not have good guide books. But we got to see many countries and famous places. We wanted to see as many countries and famous cities as we could, to tick them off on our list of “been there”. It is not a good way to travel.
I have been using bicycle for transport for many years. But I did not go on any long cycling tour before I turned 60. It is one of the things I should have stated to do many years ago. But we cannot rewind the time an live it all over again.
This year I had decided to combine Interrail and cycling. The combination of train and bicycle is one of the best ways to travel, at least when you want to travel, not just have efficient transport. When I was young, Interrail was for the young people, younger than 26 years, and it was for a month. Now there are Interrail passes for all age groups, including seniors like me. We can get passes for various periods, some them for a number of train days within a specified period, which I find ideal for combining with cycling. If you buy a pass with five days on the train within a 15 days period, you can cycle for 10 days, and go som of the longer streches on train. Or you can have a few rest days on the train, between cycling stages.
We can distinguish between basically two types of travel: Point to point travels, and travels where the travelling between the stops is the important part of the journey. Hiking is a clear example. People who are hiking in the forest or the mountains do not do that to come from one place to the other. Cycling is usually the same. The typical point to point travel is by air, or high speed trains. The two can of course be combined, for instance by using the train to get to where the other journey begins, or to get home after the journey. Train and cycling can give the best of the two worlds.
I will make two bilkerail trips this summer. One was from Oslo to La Grande Motte (near Montpellier) in Southern France, where we have an apartment. I have just finished this trip. When I return to Oslo, I will go with train to where the Moselle/Mosel river starts in the Vosges mountains (Jura) in France, cycle to where it flows into the Rhine river in Koblenz, and go by train from Koblenz via Bremen and Hamburg to Kiel, from where I will go with boat to Oslo. This is a summary of the first og these two trips.
I have only used regular day time trains. I have not used long distance, high speed trains or night trains.
This is an outline of my first journey this summer:
- Oslo — Copenhagen by boat.
- Copenhagen to Køge, and then to Rødby on bicycle
- Rødby to Puttgarden by boat.
- Puttgarden to Groeningen by train.
- Groeningen to Heerenveen on bicycle.
- Heerenveen to Bergen-op-Zoom by train.
- Bergen-op-Zoom to Antwerpen on bicycle.
- Antwerpen to Calais by train and on bicyle. (Due to railway strike in France, my train to Calais was cancelled. I ended up on a train to Dunkerque, and cycled from Dunkerque to Calais).
- Calais to Amiens by train.
- Amienes to Rouen on bicycle.
- Rouen to Honfleur on bicycle.
- Honfleur to ¨Trouville-sur-Mer on bicycle, and on train to Rouen and Caen (I had to pick up something I had forgotten at my hotel in Rouen)
- Train from Caen to Tours.
- Train from Tours to Clermont Ferrand.
- Train from Clermong Ferrand to Le Grau du Roi, via Nîmes.
I had a ticket for 7 days on the train within a 30 days period. One day, after having completed the train travelling, I discovered that I had forgotten to fill in the travelling day. So I actually ended up travelling eight days on the train. Please don’t tell anyone.
This will not be very much about where I travelled, but the experiences of having a bicycle when travelling with an interrail ticket. An interrail ticket is a train ticket, and a very flexible one. As long as there are no special requirements to get the bicycle on the train, it works well with an interrail ticket.
I found the Interrail app very usefull, but the information was not always compete and correct, After a while, I learned that I could search only trains that carry bicyles.
I made one short train trip in Denmark. I did not use one day of my interrail ticket just for a local train ride. There is no problem taking a bicycle on Danish trains. You need to have a ticket for your bicycle, which I did not have. The guard asked for it, and I said that I did not know that it was needed. Being a stupid foreigner sometimes help. I asked how much this ticked cost, and the guard said she did not know. “You will remember this the next time”, she said, and the matter was settled. This was the way I learned, some years ago, that one must have an extra ticket for the bike in Netherlands.
In Germany, you can usually bring the bike on the train for free. I used the ferry form Rødby to Puttgarden, and jumped on the first train in direction Hamburg. These ferry ports are boring places anyway, and I wanted to get on with my journey. There was a huge bicycle sign on one of the railcars, and I entered this with my bicycle.
There was plenty of room for me and my bicycle. Then the guard said that I could not bring bicycles on this train. I pointed at the bicycle sign, but no. Despite the large bicycle sign and the space available, the description for the train, not saying that it carried bicycles was obviously more improtant to the guard.
I had to get off at the next station and take another train. I think she could have been a bit more flexible in this situation.
I learned that you have to look for the bicycle symbol at the poster timetables at the stations, and in the app. On German trains, there are often separate bicycle cars on the trains. They can be crowded.
I did not travel with any of the German trains where it is said that you must make a reservation for the bicycle. At the booking system from Deutsche Bahn (DB), you can specify that you will only have trains taht carry bicycles, and reserve when yuo buy the ticket. How to do this when having an interrail ticket, I never found out.
In the Netherlands you can bring bicycles on most (all?) trains. A ticket is needed for the bicycle. It costed 6,10€ for a day ticket. I learned that you cannot bring a bicycle on the trains during the rush hours, defined as 06.30-09.00 and 16.00-18.30. I of couse learned this by taking my bike on the train at such a time. The guard told me I was not allowed to bring a bicycle on the train at that time. But the time was only 15.45, and I should get off at a station where the train should be 15.58 (but the train should continue for some other hours). It is printed on the bicycle ticket. But who reds the small print on a rail ticket, particurlarly when it is in a language you do not read?
The short time memory may slip when people are getting older. When I returned with the train about an hour later, I had already forgotten abaout the rush hour restrictions, and took my bicycle on the train.
On some stations in the Netherlands they have set up automated barriers where you have to scan your ticket when you get to or from the platform, just as we know from many subway systems. The first time I met such a barrier, I tried to scan the QR-code on my ticket, but it was not accepted. I pushed the help-button, explained the situation. The person said that it should work, but opened the barrier for me.
I told this to a person at an information counter. She explained. There are two QR codes on the internet ticket. One one the actual ticket, and one on the cover. I should use the one on the cover, not the one on the ticket. Then it worked. But it is not very logic to me that it is the QR-code on the cover and not the ticket that shall be scanned.
Always carry a luggage strap or two. On some trains there are straps so you can strap your bicycle, On others there are hooks, but no straps.
The website of the Belgian railway says that you can bring any kind of bicycle, including tandems and trailers. It also says that it is more comfortable if you travel outside of the rush hours, but there are no restrictions. You have to have a ticket for your bicycle. It costs 8€ for a day.
I think that some of the high speed trains in Belgium do not carry bicycles.
I thought we could bring bicylcle for free on all TER and InterCity trains in France. Some, but not all TGVs will take bikes, but you have to make a reservation and pay a fee, I think it is 10€. It turned out not to be exacly like that, which I will come back to.
On the newer train sets in France, you han you bicycle in a hook, by the front wheel. It is the most place efficient way to carry bikes. But you have to remove the luggage, and I have seen some people having problems lifting the bike and attach it to the hook. In this car, there was 6 hooks for bicycles. When there were 9 bicycle and a baby carriage, it started to become difficult to pass.
A train from Nevers (aktually comming from Paris) to Clermont Ferrand was about 50 minutes delayed, and they tried to make the stops at the station as short as possible. I did not see a bicycle sign on any of the cars, and liftet my bike into another car, and tried to find a place for it there. “No, no”, said the guard. I had to bring my bicycle to the car that had space for bicycle, car 3 (I was in no 5). And he asked if I had a reservation, which I had not, and told me that I had to pay. I asked if I could pay for the reservarion to him, and he said yes, or rather oui. At the next station, he assisted me getting my bicycle and my luggage out for the car, and move it to the car with room for bicycle. He never asked for payment, and I saw no reason to bother him with the issue. I later found out that I should have paid 10€. On some IC-trains you have to make a reservation and pay, on other IC trains you can take your bicyce for free, without reservation. But I do not know how to find on which IC-trains you have to reserve, and on which reservation is not necessarry. Maybe you have to reserve place for you bicycle, if you have to reserve seats on the train. I do not know.
According to the Interrail app, this train did not carry bicycles, which was obvously wrong. I tried to find out if I could make a reservation for the same train I was on, some days later. But the reservation app only said that I could not make reservation for this train on line.
I am going by train, bicyle and ferry when returning home to Oslo. I will start by travelling on TGV from Montpellier to Lyon. I checked the app, but I got no TGVs that carry bicycles. I do not think this is correct. I have had bicycle on TGV from Montpellier to Lyon before, and I will rather do as I did then: Go to the ticket office at the railway station in Montpellier, well in advance, and ask them to help. This is bicycles on a TGV, aktually form Montpellier to Mulhouse, on a train that continued to Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Amsterdam, but it stopped in Lyon on the way.
I have had bicycle on trains in Switzerland a few times. Not with interrail ticket, but that should not make any difference. Switzerland has a very good railway network. You have to pay to have the bicycle on the train. If my memory is correct, it is rather expensive. I think it was 18 SFR for a day two years ago, and the same price for the bicycle as for the person, for a single ticket. One IC trains you have to make a reservation, at least on some of them. One time when I tried to make a reservation, the system said that I could not reserve on this train. This could mean either that the train was fully booked, or that one could not reserve on this train. I actually bought a ticket for another, not so good connetion, as a back up, and went to my preferred train with my bicycle. There was plenty of room for bicycles, and no one asked for reservation.
Some trains have separate bicycle cars. This one, on a local, narrow gague train in the mountai area, could take 24 bicycles.
You can get to many places, also rather remote places by train in Switzerland. But if the place cannot be reaced by train, there are busses, operated by the Postal service. They carry bicycles. But I do not know if they are included in the interrail ticket.
I will probably go on more bikerail trips in the future. I may do the types of journeys I am doing this year. But I may also bring my foldable Brompton. Travel by train from place to place, and the Brompton to get around at the places I visit.