I’ve had to sleep on the streets in Europe a few times during my travels. Well, I say “had to”, sometimes I’ve had to, sometimes I’ve chosen to. The chosen times have always been regretted afterwards, curled up using my backpack as a pillow and shivering against the cold, but I’m sure I’ll do it again, it’s all part of the adventure!
I never learn my lessons . One of these instances was in Strasbourg, on the border of France and Germany, and just above Switzerland which is where I was headed.
We had decided to high-tail it out of France due to a lack of anything being affordable. At this point I was about a month into my InterRail trip around Europe. I’d purchased my ticket through STA Travel, a really brilliant way to travel especially for backpacking, once I’d bought the ticket its just a matter of jumping on and off trains traveling on any line through the majority of countries in western Europe, and many of Eastern as well.
I’d reached France (having been through Portugal and Spain) and was not exactly worried, but vaguely aware that my bank account was looking a bit dire. The Cannes film festival was on the week we arrived which basically meant that finding cheap accommodation throughout the South of France was a struggle, so we headed north only to find that there was a two day strike at Paris central station, which of course all major train lines were running through, making our life as InterRail backpackers rather difficult!
Waiting at the border
So after killing time in Paris while the train drivers sorted out their issues, we finally hopped on a train to Strasbourg, from which the next train to Basel, Switzerland, was in ten hours, leaving at about 6am the following morning. Being the poor backpackers that we were in this expensive land, we opted to sleep in the park rather than paying for accommodation for night.
“Let’s just sleep in the park next to the station”.
“Ugh…fine. But let’s buy some gin and get a bit tipsy to keep us warm”, proper homeless style, that was my grand idea.
Our logic was that by the time we had found anywhere and checked out early enough to make our train, we wouldn’t really get our money’s worth anyway so there was really no point. This logic in hindsight was ridiculous because any amount of sleep in a real bed would have been preferable.
About half an hour into this bright idea I needed the bathroom, so off we went, schlepping our backpacks to the closest bar at which we politely bought one drink in order to use their facilities. This of course escalated and one thing lead to another (thing being drink) and before we knew it we were in a lock-in with five french guys, some of whom worked at the bar, which lasted until about 2am, at which point we stumbled out of the back door of the bar into an alleyway and went in search of somewhere to sleep….well pass-out… for the next 3 hours.
This proved very difficult. At first it was back to the park, a lovely bench which seemed entirely appropriate. No, moved on by a local authority of some sort. The next attempt was in a car park, and again this did not last long as we were moved on.
Our last desperate attempt (at this point we were utterly exhausted) was under a staircase outside the train station, where we did in fact manage to get a solid hour in before I was abruptly awaken by a black boot “nudging” (more like kicking) me and I opened my eyes to the barrel of a gun, belonging to a policeman, who was demanding my passport which I struggled to find and nervously handed over.
We explained to him that we were backpacking through Europe and simply waiting for our next train. Eventually he seemed to accept that we weren’t refugees, or whatever he thought, which had deemed it necessary to point a gun at my face, and he finally let us go to the platform.
A very unpleasant way to wake up! It’s safe to say that being homeless is exhausting and I do not recommend it!