Relive our youth and go Interrailing? Maybe, but I’m bringing a butler this time – Nuala McCann

I can feel myself warming to the idea... the romance of trains, beautiful cities. What adventures await

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Girls looking at train station timetable with rucksack
Theme travel public transport. young woman standing with back in dress and hat behind backpack and camping equipment for sleeping, insulating mat looks schedule on scoreboard airport station Interrailing all very well, but no sleeping on train station floors for me (Yelizaveta Tomashevska/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

An old friend suggests we relive our youth and buy Interrail tickets.

Ah, the romance of Paris and Rome, Venice and Athens. I see a young Frenchman leaning out the half-window of a midnight train as the smoke from his Gauloise drifts into a clear sky. I see my dirty toenails – unwashed for three weeks; my jeans that could have walked home from Paris themselves.

True, Interrailing conjures up many beautiful things – the Eiffel Tower at sunrise, soaking our feet in a fountain in the pink-stoned city of Toulouse, ordering white Russians and dancing to Tainted Love on a small island in Greece.

The sun sets behind the Eiffel Tower and the skyscrapers of La Defense (John Walton/PA)
The beauty of the Eiffel Tower at sunset

That was Ios – short for Irish Overseas Students, we said. We all went there and after a summer slogging in the factories of northern Europe, we spent our hard-earned drachmas on ouzo and Metaxa brandy.

Of course we ran into each other... much like the current generation take the well-beaten route to South America and spend their time bumping into each other in Bolivia or up the Andes. “A funny thing happened on the way to the Galapagos,” they might well say.

Adults buying Interrail tickets has become a thing. Thing is, it would be a very different trip for me. They don’t call me “Strictly Four Star and above” for nothing.

Fifty years ago I slummed it. Been there, done that, got the vomity t-shirt and slept on dirty railway station floors, seedy ferry decks and even a certain square which was the ferry port from Athens... Syphillis Square, we called it.

Two Brighton and Hove Albion fans have been stabbed in Rome ahead of a Europa League match
We skipped the Colosseum and headed back on the train for more adventures (Anthony Devlin/PA)

But that was half a century ago. We were young, we were carefree – we arrived in a thunderstorm in Rome and decided the weather was rotten and we’d not stay the night. We skipped the Vatican and the Colosseum in favour of a train heading south with a couple of fellas from Portstewart, a bottle of vodka and a sneaking suspicion that we were lost, all lost, when somebody with a modicum of Italian said the train was splitting into two and we were in the wrong bit.

It always worked out. We saw Europe counting our coins and hopping on to trains to God knows where at night to save us paying for a bed.

We went boldly with a Thomas Cook timetable in one hand and a tight budget in the other. We waddled home after a whole month of living on baguettes, cheap brie and red wine that had clearly got into bed with paint stripper.

And on the final leg of one such trip, having shared the floor of an old, very bumpy ferry with a sick dog in a cage and countless other green but uncaged passengers, we arrived back in Dublin, bought a box of tea bags, a pound of butter and a big square pan loaf and devoured the lot. You do, in all honesty, tire of baguettes and brie.

A man has been taken to hospital after an incident at Dublin Airport (Niall Carson/PA)
Arriving back at Dublin airport and a proper cup of tea

Home is real tea you can stand up in and white toast with butter.

But still… when my old friend suggested buying Interrail tickets, I found myself strangely drawn to the idea.

Suddenly I was googling train journeys through the Netherlands and Italy, through Germany and Greece.

There would be caveats to this new adventure. I could never ever sleep in a dorm with 10 others including the snorter snorer of the year. The hotel rooms (four star and above) would be all ensuite. There would be no baguettes and Dairylea for dinner.

I could feel myself warming to the idea... the romance of trains, beautiful cities. What adventures await

I could feel myself warming to the idea... the romance of trains, beautiful cities. What adventures await.

My old orange rucksack covered in badges from countries all over Europe started singing to me from the attic.

It can sing away. If I’m going, it’s with a four-wheeled suitcase and a butler.