Did you know Interrail is free for children under twelve if one parent has a ticket? Since my son celebrated his twelfth birthday this summer, we decided to take advantage of the Whitsun vacation to go on a big trip. The centerpiece was a route that is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe and had long been on my list: Stockholm-Narvik. 20 hours by night train far beyond the Arctic Circle through the endless expanses of the Scandinavian landscape.
Even the journey to Stockholm had some challenges in store.
When the Booked Train Does Not Exist…
Since Interrail allows only one day of travel in the own country, we wanted to do the route Peißenberg-Copenhagen “in one go”. However, when we changed trains in Hamburg, it turned out that the train we had booked didn’t exist at all…
Much to my disappointment, while the alternative route did lead across the famous „Vogelfluglinie“ (literally: bird flight line), we didn’t go by rail ferry. This was in fact discontinued in 2019. Today, you change at the station Puttgarden in a bus that takes passengers on the ferry to Denmark. Once there, there were also a few more kilometers of road ahead of us before we could change back to a train.
… the Ticket Does Not Survive the Bus Ride…
When traveling, you never know what’s coming. To be on the safe side, I always print out all the tickets twice and stow them in different pieces of luggage. I carry copies of IDs, and I have my health insurance card photographed so that the data is in my phone. The only thing without a backup was the Interrail ticket. It can only be activated in the app on one single device (understandably). Which was my smartphone. The display of which got so broken somewhere between Germany and Denmark that nothing worked anymore. Fortunately, the friendly train attendant believed that we were not fare evaders, and we did not even have to re-pay.
… and Everyone Wants to go to Sweden at the Same Time.
After the Whitsun weekend in Copenhagen, where we got to visit the oldest amusement park in the world, I was able to get my phone repaired. The next challenge was to book a train to Stockholm. Because even though you can theoretically get on any train with your Interrail ticket, many trains still require reservations. The connection from Copenhagen to Stockholm by high-speed train seems to be especially in demand. Whenever I found a train and tried to reserve seats through the Danish Rail website, it was suddenly fully booked. So in the end we decided to go the classic route: Go to the main station and ask at the ticket counter. We booked the afternoon connection early in the morning and spent one last day in Copenhagen.
The “Iron Ore Line” Stockholm-Narvik
The Overnight Train to Boden
The beauty of a summer night train trip in Scandinavia is that it hardly ever really gets dark. Even though it got pretty somber after the late departure in Stockholm; by the time I woke up around 3 a.m. we were well further north and the landscape was bathed in a milky, almost unreal light.
Normally I sleep excellently on the train, but on this stretch, I barely managed to close my eyes after waking up for the first time. I was just too fascinated by the scenery outside the windows. And honestly, of course, it’s just too tempting when you can take pictures while lying down in a cozy bed.
By the way, the night train not only impressed me with its comfortable beds but also with the great range of choices and fantastic view in the dining car. With vegan hot porridge and oat milk in my coffee, I sat in front of the panoramic windows early in the morning and watched as dusk turned into a (relatively grey) day.
Across the Arctic Circle to Narvik
After changing in Boden to a regular “day train”, we continued towards Kiruna – a town in the middle of nowhere, whose iron ore mine was the reason for the opening of this railroad line. The line was opened as early as 1903 to transport the rich ore deposits to the port of Narvik, from where they were shipped all over the world.
The further north we went, the more “arctic” the landscape became. Bogs with isolated trees alternated with flat, empty land, and the first snow-covered mountain ridges appeared. The last clouds disappeared, the sun shone, and the picturesque lakes shimmered in the most brilliant blue I have ever seen.
After two (daylight) nights and a radiantly beautiful day at the Ofotfjord, we were already on our way back – because to be quite honest, the train ride was the actual purpose of our trip. I could still tell a lot: about the difficulties to get to the hostel after the departure of the last bus, the glittering beaches of the fjord, the local specialties like potato pancakes, the friendly seagull on the balcony and so much more.
A Very Brief Excursion into Railway History
To avoid writing a novel where I actually wanted to report “only briefly” about a train journey, I will limit myself to one poetic railroad fact: The first steam locomotive that came to Narvik and was in use on the line was called “Bifrost” – after the burning rainbow bridge that connects our world (Midgard) with the world of the gods (Asgard). It still stands at Narvik station in all its glory, a reminder of how magical this invention was even at the beginning of the 20th century….
…OK, one more: The line was already completely electrified in 1922, so that the Bifrost was later only used as a shunting locomotive.
The Return Trip and the Freedom of Interrail
After the lesson learned on arrival, I knew how hard it is to get a seat on the coveted Stockholm-Copenhagen express train. So I started looking for available trains already from Norway. Easier said than done, because this connection was even more fully booked than the outward journey a few days ago. Because we didn’t feel like spending several more days in Stockholm or arriving in Copenhagen in the middle of the night, we decided to use the freedom of Interrail and started looking for alternatives.
To Gdansk by Ferry
The train connections from Sweden to Germany are relatively limited, and the route via Copenhagen was not bookable. Therefore we quickly decided that we would have to go by boat. We pretty much looked at all the ferry routes and chose the trip home via Poland mainly because the connection was a good fit, and the overnight trip saved us another night in Stockholm. Even though I knew beforehand that Scandinavia isn’t cheap, I was always surprised by how expensive even hostels and youth hostels can be – not to mention food and restaurant meals.
A cozy night in the cabin (without windows and therefore without the fear of missing anything), a mediocre breakfast on the ferry (a ferry under the Polish flag, which is used mainly by long-distance drivers apparently expects a much less vegan audience than the Swedish railroad) and we had already crossed the Baltic Sea.
Poland: Poppy, Poppies and More Poppies
We had fantastic timing for our journey from Gdansk to Berlin via Poznan. We crossed Poland in the middle of poppy season, and I could hardly put the camera down for a moment. Even though it almost drove me crazy at times, I brought back an incredible number of new favorite motifs.
We‘re going from Gdansk to Poznan by train, and it’s poppy flower season in Poland. They are my favourite splashes of colour in an agricultural landscape, but also tend to make me crazy. I cannot predict in which field they will show up, so I have to be on constant vigilance. It’s quite exhausting to stand between the compartments, balancing out the movement of the train and holding up the camera all the time. But whenever I go to sit down, the most beautiful field will show up, vanishing before I can make it to the window…Here’s how I described it on my Instagram account that day
A small cross-section of the “poppy yield” will follow shortly, and with that I will also end this post. It was an incredible trip, but by far not the only one this year – that’s why it took me 6 months to write about it.
Next up is the “rail cruise” through Slovakia that I took in July. And then, I’ll report on my Balkan adventure in August.
If you don’t want to miss any of it, feel free to sign up for my newsletter.
However, if you can’t wait to find out what the rail cruise is all about, check out the online journal of my favorite magazine. “Der Passagier” is the magazine for train travelers, and my report about the special train “Czechoslovakia” is the first of hopefully many contributions to this great publication. It’s in German, but you’ll be able to enjoy the photos (and maybe the funny results of Google translate)