InterRail (1)

I have just read that Britain is pulling out of the InterRail scheme which enables young people to travel round Europe in their gap year. A sign of the times. I bought an InterRail pass in 1972, its first year of operation, to travel round Eastern Europe, starting in Split in what was then Yugoslavia, travelling south to Dubrovnik, then on a single track train which took ten hours from Skopje to Lake Ochrid and on to Belgrade, Budapest, Prague, Warsaw and Berlin, often sleeping overnight on trains.

It was part of my education, learning about the culture of other countries and the kindness of strangers.

It was also part of the process of Europeanisation, breaking out from the narrow horizons of a childhood of almost no foreign travel.

I don’t know why it is being axed, but it is emblematic of the current retreat to neo-1950s insularity by those who have enjoyed, but not apparently learned from, decades of European travel.

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9 thoughts on “InterRail (1)

  1. joan says:

    I am now having flashbacks to 1984 when I interrailed – along with another three newly graduated young women. We were completely clueless (I think we were all the first generation in our families to attend university and certainly didn’t have much experience of foreign travel) and quickly became short of money. I remember taking very long journeys (Vienna to Venice sticks in my mind) in order to be on a train all night and so not have to pay for accommodation or a pitch for our tent. Shame that the younger generation won’t have this experience.

    On a related point my eldest son is off to Frankfurt this weekend to spend time with his German Iranian girlfriend. They met when she was an Erasmus student at Warwick where he is about to go into his fourth year of an M(Eng) in Computer Science. The closure of that scheme in the UK is another cause for sadness.

  2. I too greatly valued Interrail, travelling in the mid-80s between the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Itay, Spain and France. (Yesterday there was an amusing interview with Stephen Bayley on PM on BBC Radio 4 on train travel in Europe, which I shared: https://twitter.com/Nico_Macdonald/status/1159157824431300610)
    However, I believe the ‘insularity’ and nostalgic/backwards-looking view of current British society represents a misunderstanding, and a tendency to apply old ways of seeing to new phenomena.
    Most British people like to travel abroad, and as well as travelling all across Europe, on low-cost airlines, go to more far-flung places than anyone could have imagined in the 1950s. They have also embraced European cultures, not least culinary.
    My sense is that the Leave vote was not a rejection of Europe – a two-millennium-old social and cultural construct – but of a modern institution, the EU – a 40-year-old political construct – and the parallel attitudes of much of the British political class.
    If there is insularity in British society it could be argued that it is more pronounced among the cosmopolitan professionals who feel more at home in Boston, Mass., than Boston, Lincs.; or in Barcelona than Harwich; or in Sydney than Stoke-on-Trent; or in Berlin than Burnley. This insularity can be seen in less and less mixing between social groups – with said cosmopolitans living in very homogenous neighbourhoods – and a lack of interest in how our fellow Britons think and live – which results in a shock when via social media, or a referendum, we learn more of the truth.
    This social trend is described in a book you will know, David Goodhart’s ‘The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics’ (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32446555-the-road-to-somewhere) with its characterisation of ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’.
    Of course, this characterisation is a generalisation, and people such as you are deeply rooted in somewhere while also able to be anywhere. But it’s remarkable that even in Stepney and Bethnal Green this divide is very pronounced, albeit with peculiar nuances.
    So I would hesitate to accuse others of insularity before asking to what extent I, or we, have insulated ourselves from our own society.

  3. You are right that it’s a reaction from the EU rather than Europe. Delors’s expansion to include so many countries whose economies were unlike the UK’s. In 1997 when we had the Presidency, I was

  4. Chair of the Cultural Committee. With the Presidency and the Chairs changing every six months, it was impossible to change anything. The EU Civil Servants were excellent. They were happy to prepare well thought out papers that your successor proceeded to dump.

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