Travel: Five go off the rails in Europe: 'We were nose to rucksack. Until I started being sick': The pounds 180 InterRail card is a passport to young adventure, a training for life. Our travellers give us the benefit of their hindsight

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The Independent Travel
Travelled in 1980

'OPEN up her money bag,' the man said. I was prostrate - not on the floor of some ill-lit alley, but in the reception of a sterile white hospital in Basle, Switzerland. This was a legal mugging.

It was carried out by a doctor, anxious that before he rolled up his costly sleeves, I would be able to pay for any treatment. He was not disappointed. Only 24 hours into my holiday, the money bag was stuffed with my hard-earned pounds 200. They wheeled me in.

How different it all was from the previous day when Kate and I, friends at university, had been sitting hopefully in a London park contemplating The Great Adventure. In two days we would be in Florence, we thought. We had not counted on a French rail dispute or a serious gastric illness.

You expect discomfort on this kind of holiday. After all, you are doing it partly to win your roughened spurs. But we hadn't quite imagined how many people you can fit into the corridors of a train.

At Victoria there was chaos. Would there be any trains at all? Where would they be going? Could they fit all the people who wanted to go to France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland into one train? You bet.

We were nose to rucksack. Until I started being sick.

It was fairly awful for me, but probably equally bad for the people with me, all 12 of them in a space the size of a small bathroom - but without the facilities. I will spare you the worst.

By the time we reached Basle, popular demand forced us to leave the train. I had hoped to hang on until we got to Italy where our insurance cover would have been reactivated. Unfortunately, I collapsed on a platform in the most expensive place in Europe.

And some kind soul sent me to hospital.

It's funny the way your brain works in a crisis. My only saving grace was that I spoke German, and as I listened half-conscious to the doctors and nurses I suddenly realised they were planning to rip out my appendix. 'I haven't got an appendix,' I groaned. It was the first thing I had uttered in hours. 'I can show you the scar,' I offered. They seemed unconvinced.

Even more worryingly, every extra minute spent thinking about it was clocking up an extra pound on the bill. Couldn't I go to the youth hostel and be sick on the cheap?

To be fair, they were concerned for my health. They strongly recommended that we fly straight home. They would provide a certificate for Swissair (Swissair] I had never been on a scheduled flight of any description, never mind a Swiss one) and I was to go to my doctor immediately.

I checked out. The hospital bill came to something approaching pounds 190, leaving enough money to get the bus to the airport.

I hadn't seen Florence. I hadn't seen anywhere much. But that wasn't the worst part. It was the shame of it - returning home, on a ticket guaranteed by my mother's bank and with Swissair, of all people.

(Photograph omitted)

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