I wasn’t sure of exactly why I was there. But I was there regardless. Graz railway station, Austria. I was tired and miles away from where I was supposed to be. Like a shining beacon the train I now had to catch appeared on the horizon, brakes working as it slowed to a halt next to the bustling platform. I steeled myself. I was to be on this train for a few hours yet. It was imperative I acted swiftly and efficiently.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst. I won’t disguise the fact that I picked this little gem up from a Jack Reacher book but in certain situations it has served me well as a mantra. It was one that I had been using for much of the day. By the time I managed to board the Graz to Vienna train ahead of my competitors on the platform I should have already been in Vienna. In the small hours of the morning I had boarded a train at Zagreb railway station, only to find that rail replacement busses are not unique to Britain. Deposited in Maribor, Slovenia, I hopped on to a bus not completely sure where it was taking me. All I knew for certain was that I had chosen the wrong seat, in front of a pair of loud crisp munching fiends. Driven to the point of wanting to Lays them out, we finally arrived in Graz. After briefly thinking of Sturm Graz legend Ivica Vastic, my mind reconnected with the issue that was facing me. Another lengthy train journey. One for which I didn’t have a reserved seat. Not ideal. Hope for the best. A seat becomes available. Plan for the worst. Sitting on my suitcase in the doorway from here to Vienna.
Mantras are on two for one today, as they were in Graz. They say the harder you work, the luckier you get. Once I knew what platform my chariot was due to arrive at I did some scouting. Where were the doors stopping? After a few trains did their business I had a rough idea and this is where I stationed myself. Result. Like a Roman soldier I used my suitcase as a shield to fend off fellow embarkers while the disembarkers did their disembarking. Woof woof. Etiquette still counts. I then dragged said suitcase in my wake as I bounded on to the train. My eyes darted left to right, the seat notices were along the rim of the luggage rack. Reserved. Reserved. Reserved. Damn. Reserved. Reserved. Reserved. No Reservation. I looked up. In a mirror image an elderly woman with a walking stick and her heavily pregnant travelling companion were undertaking the same process as I was having entered from the opposite end of the carriage. I kicked the walking stick out rendering the old lady useless, threw my suitcase in to the luggage rack and the seat had my name written on the reservation all the way to Vienna. Good. Night. For the record, no elderly, disabled or pregnant women were harmed in this embellished part of the story. I just hot footed it to the free seat quicker than another traveller. Fair game. Even fairer when you are victorious. The guy kept looking aggressively at me and saying something about wiener. I assured him that yes, the train was bound for Vienna.
While on the subject of wiener, it’s time for today’s Interrail tip, number one. Book your train seats in advance. It will cost a little extra but, take a leaf out of L’Oreal’s book and do it. Because you’re worth it. Sometimes incidents like the one above will befall you even if you have made the best laid plans. It isn’t ideal to be getting on to every train with the uncertainty of finding a seat though. Bear in mind that some of these train journeys are as long as a working day.
I didn’t book my seat for every journey on the trip. A dollop of common sense was applied to the process and surprisingly considering it was my common sense, I think I pretty much nailed it. Hold that thought while I pat myself on the back. Regardless of location, if you are travelling at the weekend (Friday-Sunday) book your seat. Obvious perhaps but it bears spelling out. Less people work at weekends, which means more travelling is done. My trip kicked off in Ljubljana and worked roughly from East to West. The further west you travel, the more important it is to have your seat reservation nailed down, even if you are travelling on a Tuesday afternoon. Ultimately, if your budget allows, book your seats.
I was most thankful for spending that little extra when travelling from Warsaw to Berlin as it turned out to be a Polish national holiday and the carriages resembled Piccadilly Circus. While this created other issues for me which will be delved in to in a future edition of Interrail tips, I had 99 problems but a seat wasn’t one. If you’re having seat problems I feel bad for you son. Booking in advance is Interrail tip one.