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  • Writer's pictureRichard Hammond

Green Traveller's Great InterRail Adventure

Here's the blog of my week-long Interrail adventure around Europe with RailEurope.

The route was via Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.

The trip was filmed (see below) and as I travelled around Europe I blogged, tweeted and updated the photo status on our Green Traveller's Facebook page (using an i-phone). Each morning, I found out where I was going next by opening a sealed envelope for my seat reservations. Rail Europe also gave me a mission to track down a particular tourist souvenir from each city (these goodies have since been donated as a prize).

>> Watch the video of my Great InterRail Adventure:

The Route: Click on the Google Map below for a larger interactive version of the route I took:

Here are my updates from the trip (nb. all timings were local):

Day 7, Monday 9 May

9.45pm The End! Arrived back on London St Pancras Station after 7 days of InterRailing via Utrecht > Antwerp > Cologne > Basel >Valence. Thanks to everyone who suggested tips for where I should eat, drink, visit at each destination either on the greentraveller facebook page or those who sent us a Direct Message on twitter: @greentraveller.

It has been a terrific week, fabulously well organised by Rail Europe in collaboration with all the various local tourist boards. Please see the individual blog posts for our green guides to each city: Utrecht | Antwerp | Cologne | Basel | Valence. Plus the entire trip was filmed so please keep an eye out for the video in the next week or so.

3.44pm Caught the TGV from Valence TGV train station to Lille to catch the 19.35 Eurostar back to London.

>> Read about my visit to Valence in my blog post: Green Traveller Guide to Valence, France

1.30pm Lunch at the organic restaurant 'Un tablier pour deux' which specialises in organic food from local producers.

Bike parked in Le Parc Jouvet, Valence
Le Parc Jouvet in Valence. Photo Richard Hammond

10am Cycled over to Le Parc Jouvert then on to L'Eperviere - the first river Marina in France - from where it's a day's sailing to the Med. Has had the Blue Flag eco certification since 2005.

8am Breakfast at Hotel de France then picked up bikes from one of the nearby cycle share stations for a guided tour of the old town with local guide Stefan who works for the Valence Tourist Office.

Day 6, Sunday 8 May

A beret from Valence.
Souvenir number 5: a beret from Valence.

8pm Dinner at Bistro des Clercs in the old quarter of Valence. The tourist office of Valence La Drome gets the prize for the most web2-savvy of all the tourist boards we've met this week - when Bruno Domenach, MD, posted a pic of us eating at the restaurant on La Drome facebook page, it got over 50 likes and 15 comments within a couple of hours. Looking forward to seeing more of the town tomorrow. Definitely going to visit La Maison des Tetes and the Jouvet Park.

6pm Checked into Hotel de France.

5.15pm Arrived Valence TGV station and caught the local train to Valence Ville.

11.03am Caught the local ICN (tilting) train to Geneva to change to the high speed TGV to Valence. Had lunch in the excellent restaurant carriage.

9am Opened the last envelope and our final mystery destination is Valence in the south of France. Any recommendations for where to go?

>> Read about my 2 days in and around Basel in my blog post: Green Traveller Guide to Basel, Switzerland

Basel's tram network has been operating since the 1920s.
Basel's tram network has been operating since the 1920s.

Day 5, Saturday 7 May

10.30pm Back in Basel - the train station is packed with students using the cute trams that date back to the 1920s. Heading back to the hotel for an early boat trip tomorrow on the Rhine.

7.30pm After-swim dinner by the small lakeside harbour in Spiez.

6.30pm The water at Lake Spiez looks clean and pretty tempting. A local women recommends heading round the bay down to secluded spot on the waterfront for a dip. It's about 18-20 degrees, perfect swimming temperature.

12.30pm Train to Bern to catch the over the mountains of the Swiss Alps from Bern-Brig via Lake Spiez. This is rated one of the best train journeys in the world... gorgeous bright blue skies, seeing this trip at its best. Temperature in the mid to late 20s, yet still plenty of snow/ice on the majestic mountain peaks. Had lunch at a lovely little auberge in the mountains.

10am Heading out to explore Basel using the city's new 'mobility' ticket, which allows you to use any public transport in the city - the trams, trains and buses.

The Swiss Alps from on board the RegioExpress Lötschberger en route to Brig.
The Swiss Alps from on board the RegioExpress Lötschberger en route to Brig. Photo Richard Hammond

Day 4, Friday 6 May

Souvenir number 4: a miniature cow bell from Basel
Souvenir number 4: a miniature cow bell from Basel

9pm Dinner in the old town at Rubino, which specialises in local, seasonal dishes. Not given a menu, in the evenings it's a 'menu surprise'... simply asked if I want meat, fish or vegetarian. I get crab for starter, pork (and nettle!) for main and a whopping 5 platter dessert, including basil and pineapple ice-cream and chocolate fondant.

8.15pm Walk over to the Munsterplatz for wonderful views of the Rhine. My local guide - Dr Rose Schulz-Rehberg - tells me there are over 40 museums in the city. She's writing a book on the architecture of the city. First impressions of Basel is that it's much more cosmopolitan than Zurich, not as spick and span yet more laid back.

7.30pm Arrived in Basel (train was delayed), feels 5 degrees warmer here, apparently it's a balmy 27 degrees. Checking in to the Basel Hilton just a few minutes from the station.

14.55 Caught the ultra modern high speed Intercity (ICE) train to Basel where I'll be spending two nights and heading into the mountains using the very useful Swiss Rail Pass.

>> Read about my 36 hours in Cologne in this blog post: Green Traveller Guide to Cologne.

The Cathedral in the background is German's most visited tourist attraction.1pm Lunch by the station: Schweineschnitzel mit frischem Standgenspargel sauce Hollandaise und Salzkartoffeln.

Souvenir number 3: Beer Stein from Cologne11.45pm Off to Cologne's Chocolate Museum.

8.30am Breakfast at Souppresso organic café.

The ultra modern German high speed intercity (ICE) train emerging from Cologne's train station.
The ultra modern German high speed intercity (ICE) train emerging from Cologne's train station.

Souvenir number 3: Beer Stein from Cologne
Souvenir number 3: Beer Stein from Cologne

Day 3, Thursday 5 May

9pm Dinner at Früh am Dom, which specialises in Sour roasts. I went for the pickled herring and potatoes, washed down with the local Früh beer.

7.30pm Headed over to see Cologne's magnificent Dom cathedral at sunset, now at the Riesling Lounge. 5.30pm Off to Hernando Cortez - a coffee/chocolate shop on Gertrudenstrasse. Just like Utrecht and Antwerp, the public transport networks are impressive... cyclists and trams everywhere. 4.30pm Arrived in Cologne and there are free hugs on offer from students outside the station.

Free Hugs outside Cologne Train Station.
Free Hugs outside Cologne Train Station. Photo Richard Hammond.

Midday: Arrived back at Antwerp Centraal train station to catch the 12.06 train from Antwerp to Cologne via Brussels (the leg Brussels to Cologne is a high speed line, and as per the rules of InterRailing, I had to reserve a seat on the train). >> Read about my 36 hours in Antwerp in this blog post: Green Travel Guide to Antwerp.

Souvenir Number 2: Belgian chocolates from Antwerp
Souvenir Number 2: Belgian chocolates from Antwerp

11.30am Picked up today's souvenir - Belgian Chocolates.

10am Met with the owner of a fair trade shop 'Today is a good day', great to see so many other fair trade shops, such as Rewind and Hadhi 9.30am Heading to the fashion district of the city

8am The breakfast room at Radisson Blu Astrid Hotel has wonderful views of Astrid Sqaure & the magnificent 19th-century Antwerp train station.

Day 2, Wednesday 4 May

11.30pm: Blimey, Belgian beers are strong, 12% proof, rich and dark, brooding beverages. The beer menu ran to over 30 pages. Thanks for the tip Robin. Now heading back to the hotel to get some sleep before tomorrow's jaunt over to Germany. 10pm: Stopped off en route back to the hotel at Kulminator - according to Robin Felton who commented on Rail Europe's facebook page, it has the best selection of Belgian beers in Antwerp. 7pm: Off for dinner at the handsome and other-worldly Zuiderterras riverside restaurant in the west of the city 13.45 Heading back to Utrecht train station to catch the 14.02 train from Utrecht to Antwerp via Rotterdam. NB the train from Rotterdam to Antwerp is a high speed train so - as per the rules of Interrailing - I had to reserve my seat on the train. We've arrived into Antwerp at 15.35 (slight delay due to faulty engine) in glorious sunshine. Off to check in to our hotel for the night - Radisson Blu.

Souvenir Number 1: Miniature Clogs from Utrecht, Holland
Souvenir Number 1: Miniature Clogs from Utrecht, Holland

13.00 Picked up today's souvenir - Miniature Clogs.

10.30am: Suggestions are already rolling in on twitter for where to go in Antwerp... but that's for later today, right now I'm heading out to the centre of Utrecht by bike from Hotel Mitland to go canoeing along one of the main canal systems that bisect the city. Glorious morning on the suburban waterways - canoeing is a really great way to experience the city's canals. We'd hope to visit the renowned Botanical Gardens, but we ran out of time.

>> Read about my 24 hours in Utrecht in this blog post: Green Guide to Utrecht.

Canoeing along the canals of Utrecht.
Canoeing along the canals of Utrecht. Photo: Richard Hammond

9.30am Having a guided tour of Hotel Mitland with the hotel manager, she explains they're applying for eco certification with the Green Key scheme 8am: Just opened the envelope and today's destination is... Antwerp!

Breakfast overlooking the water at Hotel Mitland, Utrecht.
Breakfast overlooking the water at Hotel Mitland, Utrecht. Photo Richard Hammond

Day 1, Tuesday 3 May:

8pm Off to have dinner at Restaurant deeg. 4pm Spent the afternoon on a guided tour of the city with local guide Edwin van den Berg, who works for Toerisme Utrecht.

14.58 Arrived in to Utrecht and caught bus out to Hotel Mitland, about 15 minutes from the train station. 12.18 At Brussels I caught the local train to Rotterdam where I'll changed to another local train to Utrecht. 8.45am Have just opened the first envelope which has revealed that the first destination is Utrecht... The Netherlands here I come!

7.30am Left home to get to London St Pancras International Train station to catch the 08.27 Eurostar to Brussels Midi station

The Adventure Begins...


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