Beyond Boundaries in Europe
Alessandro Gallenzi is a bit of a fan of InterRailing. In fact, he's such a fan he's written a book about it, aptly titled 'InterRail', which is out on the 25th July. It's all about living life to the max and seeing where our lives can take us, which, according to Allesandro, is actually quite far.
Born out of Alessandro's own InterRailing experience as a young backpacker, the book is a picaresque novel and a celebration of Europe. Alessandro had this to say: "InterRail is a metaphor of life, of constantly having to make choices and jump from one train onto another. I wanted to show how the InterRail experience shapes a young man, how it teaches him many different ways of life across the various countries, how he meets with love, danger and disappointment. Above all, it's a celebration of Europe - of a multicultural Europe without boundaries - and freedom."
We thought we'd catch up with Alessandro and grill him about InterRailing; it turns out he does know a lot about it! Enjoy!
Hi Alessandro, so lets get straight into it - How many countries have you travelled to?
I haven't kept an exact count, but I'd say a couple of dozen. I am a firm believer of quality over quantity, and to me travelling means not just passing by or hopping from airport to airport, but getting to know the people, as well as a bit of their mentality, culture and traditions.
Which is your favourite and why?
My favourite country - alongside my native Italy and my adopted country, Britain - has to be Germany. My first two girlfriends were German, and I have always been fascinated by the German language, literature, music and history. I feel a sort of kinship with Germans and their culture - perhaps the family story of a German ancestor on my paternal grandmother's side is true. It's a shame I am not too keen on their food and was never able to master their language!
What's the most inspiring?
Probably Jerusalem - it's so varied, multi-layered and rich in history and culture as to be almost a country in itself.
Which has the best food / cuisine? You know, for eating?
Italy, without a doubt. Every time I go back I discover entire new cuisines - foods, recipes and ingredients I had never heard of, let alone tasted. In particular, I like Tuscan, Roman and Apulian cuisines. Outside of my home country, I would say Japanese - but only as cooked in Japan.
What's the most fun thing you've done on the road?
Playing poker in a Segovia bar in Spain at two o'clock in the morning with a group of friends from all over Europe. And winning.
What's the worst problem you've encountered on the road / what's your scariest travel experience?
Being locked in a basement flat in North-East London without electricity, running water or a mobile phone. My jailer was a mad old Polish woman who had offered to give me shelter for the night for a fiver. The nightmarish experience is narrated in my novel InterRail.
Have you met anyone on the road that you've thought "yep, you're totally awesome. I love what you're doing..."?
Yes, many times. I am always very envious of people who can afford (either in terms of time or money) to travel more than me. In recent times: Manfred Weis, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having travelled 36,030 kilometres by train in 30 days; Danny Bent, who cycled 15,000 kilometres from the UK to India to raise money for ActionAid.
How does InterRailing compare to other gap year activities?
I suppose many young people use gap years to "find themselves" before embarking on study and beginning their adult life, whereas InterRailing is about finding out about other cultures, seeing how people live in other countries. And I think InterRailing is more fun because it's more sociable - trains being a good catalyst for conversations and for striking up friendships.
When is the best time of year to go InterRailing?
If you're travelling to Southern Europe, then the peak of summer should be avoided. I think that May, June and September are the best months overall.
How has InterRailing changed over the past 20 years?
It has improved: it's no longer limited to people under 26 years of age, it has become more flexible (various packages are available depending on your finances, your interests and the available time) and the number of countries that can be visited keeps expanding. Also, trains have got better, cleaner and faster.
Specifically, what is good about InterRailing?
What is good is the unpredictability, the sense of freedom, mystery and adventure, the constant unexpected discoveries, the people you bump into. Train journeys are great as their pace allows you to appreciate distance, see, think, talk to people and get to know them. I have been on three InterRail trips and have absolutely no complaints.
What are your 5 top tips for anyone attempting InterRailing?
- Always try to get on a sleeper train to make the most of your InterRail pass - there's plenty of time to make up for any lost sleep at home.
- Create a theme for your journey - literary, artistic, gastronomic or otherwise - this will make your trip more memorable.
- Be careful with your money - remember it has to last for thirty days.
- Try to stay long enough in a country to get the "spirit of the place" - don't rush about, or it will all be in vain.
- Try not to end up being locked in a dark basement flat by a mad Polish woman!
Are you planning any other adventures? If so, where?
I am working on two possible InterRail trips with my wife: 1) From Bari to Venice via Ravenna, then south through Croatia, Dalmatia, Greece (Athens), all the way to Istanbul, then back to Bari via the Corfu-Brindisi ferry. 2) St Petersburg via Finland - I am still trying to figure out what the best route is to get to Helsinki and back.
And to finish with, what's your best travel story?
The one about InterRailers being offered a meal by a former InterRail traveller, with the promise that one day they will do the same, so that there's an eternal chain of free meals available to the skint InterRail traveller. Obviously be careful with who's offering you a free meal!