Tag Archives: backpacking Europe

Prague

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Prague was one of the places we were most excited to visit and while our time there wasn’t spent entirely as I anticipated, we had a really, really good time and thoroughly enjoyed the city!

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

The first night we arrived in Prague after a bit of a dinner disappointment, we decided to stay in, watch a movie, and go to bed early. Well we watched a few too many movies and an early start (not surprisingly) just didn’t happen. We spent the day at the Prague Castle, which was really very beautiful. We wandered through the exterior courtyards, visited the Basilica of St. George, the Powder Tower, and the Golden Lane. It is a very extensive and elaborate castle and while not the most impressive as in wow-factor, it was in my opinion the most informative and all-encompassing (although there were a few too many details about torture for my taste). After a few hours we exited through the back of the castle onto a terraced hillside overlooking the city. We stopped at a cafe to split a carafe of wine and to fully appreciate the view of the city.

Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

After our drink we made our way down the hill to “Lesser Town” the area across the river from the main city of Prague. We wandered through the streets for a while, went into a few shops, stumbled across a children’s dance group performing traditional dances in traditional dress, and then walked across the Charles Bridge to Old Town, the historic center. As it was approaching evening this area was a bit too touristy for Erik and I, so we sat in a park for a while and watched the loud American tourists that seemed to be everywhere! As soon as the crowds started to thin we went in search of dinner and had the worst meal of the trip! They clearly forgot about our food, we watch as people who arrived after us sat down, ordered, ate, and left, before finally receiving our dinner which was cold and had clearly been sitting under a heat lamp for the last 30 minutes. Erik was not happy and we decided that we needed to change the course of the night.

Excited in the Ice Bar

Excited in the Ice Bar

We had heard 2 things repeatedly about Prague–that we should go to an Ice Bar and on the Prague Pub Crawl. I was really excited about one and Erik the other, take a minute to guess . . . I bet you guessed correctly, Ice Bar was me and Pub Crawl Erik. Well I won out (mainly because it was too early for the Pub Crawl) and we went to the Ice Bar which was a lot colder than I thought it would be! We were given gloves, parkas, and vodka shots with flavored syrup in ice glasses when we walked in. It was still early so it wasn’t very busy but it was fun. We left there just before the Pub Crawl was supposed to start and decided on a whim to try to make it, and make it we did!

Dancing Building

Dancing Building

It was our last week in Europe and we decided that it was now or nothing, so we didn’t hold back. The deal with the Pub Crawl was the first hour you drink unlimited vodka shots, absinthe shots, beer, and wine, so we did. We met some Australian and Canadian friends and I won’t tell you all the details but to sum it up, we drank a lot, had a lot of fun, and Erik and I lost each other at the last stop which was a 5 story club with hidden rooms everywhere. We both made it back to the hostel safely at a ridiculous hour and we slept nice and late the next day.

Paddle Boating

Paddle Boating

Saturday with our late start we wandered around New Town, saw the dancing building which was cool but not worth all the hype, and then went paddle boating. I appreciate the gimmicky cheesy stuff every so often, but Erik is a no apple picking, no pumpkin picking, no touristy fun kind of guy so I was very pleasantly surprised when he say “Let’s rent a paddle boat,” and it was a lot of fun! It’s one of those things you always want to do but never get around to and Prague was a good place to finally get to it. We paddled around for an hour before taking a walk along the river, stopping for a much needed cup of coffee, wandering around a bit more, grabbing dinner, and then embarking on Prague Pub Crawl Part 2!

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

We knew what to expect this time and did it right! We made tons of friends from all over, had the correct ratio of absinthe to vodka shots to be drunk but not unhappy, did a bit of dancing, stuck together so we didn’t get lost, and ducked out of the club part early because it was too much to handle twice in a row.

The following day, our last in Prague, we explored another area of the city, ate some street food, saw too many tourists, found a cafe in a square for an afternoon drink, and then had to head back because I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t hungover, if this trip has taught me anything it is how to avoid a hangover, no I came down with something and spent our last afternoon in Prague in bed feeling like death. The following morning we said goodbye to Prague, hopped on our train to Berlin, and the count down to the end has unfortunately begun.

My next post will be from the States. All good things must come to an end I suppose. . .

Hungary

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My favorite thing about traveling is the unexpected surprises that you come across along the way. Everything about Hungary fell under that category.

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

We arrived in Budapest on the morning of the 8th and spent the day catching up on our lack of sleep from the night train. In the evening we met up with a friend of mine, Zora, who worked harvest with me at the winery in the Fall. Zora and her boyfriend Gabor met Erik and I for a beer and then we made our way over to a Portuguese bar to meet a few of their friends, for what we thought was a wine tasting and concert. After a while there we were rather hungry as Erik and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we went to a Turkish place for Gyros, at which point Zoras older sister Zille joined us. We decided to make one more stop for the night, and went to an outside park/bar in the city center where I tried a Hungarian orange cocktail which was really good and very girly!

Ruins in the English Park

Ruins in the English Park

It was really nice to see Zora and Zille again and we spent most of our week in Hungary with them. The following day we explored in the morning and then met up with Zora at her apartment where we left our bags and then took a walk through the park before getting on a train heading east to Tata–where her Mother and Stepfather, Dezso live. We spent the afternoon walking around the lake and an English park with Zora, Zille, their Stepfather, and their younger sister Gina before heading back to the house where their mother had dinner ready. We sat down and all had a shot of homemade Palinka, a traditional before dinner drink. I am not a big fan of shots but Palinka falls under a different category. It is made by distilling fermented fruit and is smooth and aromatic, particularly the homemade ones.

Zoras family in the cellar

Zoras family in the cellar

Dezso is a winemaker in his spare time and a very good one, so not only was the food amazing (and our first home cooked meal in a month) but the wine was fantastic as well and it just kept coming. After dinner Dejun brought us down to his cellar, which he built along with the whole house (which was beautiful) by himself, where he keeps small tanks of each of his wines. We tried a few of them again and had a nice end to our night, all talking and laughing in the cellar.

20130516-113228.jpgThe following morning we were up and back to Budapest early as everyone had to get to work. We spent the day doing laundry at Zoras apartment (a much needed activity) and wandering around the area that she lives in. We had lunch by the lake, took a look at a castle, explored the neighborhood, and a walk around the park before meeting up with Zora and Gabor who had rented a car for the 4 of us to head to the country for the weekend. We drove 3 hours to the far western side of Hungary, almost to the Slovakian border, to Zoras family’s vacation house. We arrived rather late and spent the first night drinking Palinka and a chili alcohol called Bull Killer. The Palinka was very nice but being the spicy food lover that I am, I really enjoyed the Bull Killer to everyone’s surprise.

The boys in front of the house

The boys in front of the house

Saturday morning Zora and Gabor made us a traditional breakfast. It was similar to scrambled eggs but with 2 types of sausage, tomatoes, onions, and white peppers cooked in. You eat it with a chili pepper paste that was amazing, as well as with bread and tea. It was a very nice breakfast to start our sightseeing filled day. We first went on a short hike up to a castle where we had magnificent panoramic views of the area. We spent a bit of time there laying in the sun and enjoying the view before making our way back down.

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

We then went for lunch in town before heading to a park with a villa. There was a bit of confusion on how to get into the grounds of the villa, so we hopped the fence and climbed the hill where to our surprise, a Polish hunting festival was taking place. Lucky for us there was a booth selling kurtoskalacs, traditional Hungarian dessert, similar to fried dough. It was a cylinder in shape, hollow in the middle, and coated in traditionally sugar in the outside. We had to try it and got one coated in coconut. We then sat down in the grass with our snack and watched the sun begin to set. Back at the house Erik and I set about making an apple pie while Zora and Gabor started on dinner. I am pretty good in the kitchen and I am definitely one who likes to experiment when cooking, but I always have a recipe for reference, except this time. Pies are pretty easy so it wasn’t too difficult but I don’t make pie crusts too often so that was a bit interesting. It turned out really well, the crust was just a bit bread-y. It was Gabors first American apple pie.

The cell at at the winery

The cell at at the winery

Dezso has his main cellar down the street from where we were staying and after we stuffed ourselves at dinner (both Zora and I made WAY too much food) we walked over to the cellar and I have never seen as many stars as I did on that walk. The town was very nice and quaint in the daytime, but nothing compared to the sky when the sun went down! We again tasted through the wines, although here there were about 3 times as many, as he had both tanks and barrels. Zora had a list of the ones we were to try and we didn’t waste any time. We were all a bit drunk and had an intense table tennis battle before calling it a night.

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Sunday Erik and I made breakfast, french toast and eggs-in-a-hole with orange juice. It was our last day in the countryside, so we packed everything up and left the house on our way to the Tokaj Wine Region for a few tastings. Our first stop was a Palinka Distillery for a private tour of the facility and a tasting. The tour was all in Hungarian but I understood a surprisingly large amount of what was being said. We then sat down for our tasting and I cannot put into words how wonderful the Palinkas were. They were incredibly aromatic with strong, clear flavors, and were both smooth and warm all the way down. The two we tried were pear flavored, one a normal pear and the other a Hungarian pear that we didn’t recognize. After our tasting we made our way to the center of the Tokaj region and stopped at a winery, Chateau Dereszla. Here we also had a tour of their underground cellar, this time in English luckily. It was so cold in the cellar that we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm, even though it was practically summer outside. The man who showed us around was very nice and told us about the importance of cellar mold, the history of the winery and the region, how they age their wine, and gave us a bit of information about the different varietals grown in the area and the history of how winemaking in Hungary started. It was very informative and interesting and then we sat down for our tasting. The wine of the region tends to be more commonly sweet, which neither Erik nor I would say is our favorite, but every wine we tried we enjoyed and we decided to buy a bottle. We made one last stop for a late lunch before making the drive back to Budapest.

Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall

Our last two days in Budapest we spent sight seeing. On Monday we had lunch at a cafe in a small square where we tried Goulash, a traditional tomato based Hungarian stew. We then went to see the Grand Synagogue, St.Stephen Basilica, and the Parliament building before walking back down the Pest side of the city along the Duna, the river dividing the city into Buda and Pest. We stopped to have a beer at a cafe along the river and watched the sun begin to set before going in search of dinner. We weren’t finding anything that looked good, so we decided on an Italian restaurant that turned out to be filled almost exclusively with Americans. There was a couple in their 50s from Texas at the table next to us who started talking with Erik when I was in the bathroom, who we talked to for a bit while waiting for our food. When they finished their meal and got up to leave they told us to enjoy our trip and that they took care of paying for our dinner which was incredibly nice of them.

The Parliament Building

The Parliament Building

Tuesday, our last day in Budapest we went to Central Market Hall, a two story farmers market inside an old train station, where we tried Langos, the last traditional Hungarian food on our list of things to try. Langos is somewhere between fried dough and a giant savory pancake that you cover in sour cream, onions, and cheese, we added tomatoes and a meat. It was very good, but also incredibly greasy and left us both sleepy and saturated for the majority of the afternoon. From there we went to Gellert Park, a park on a cliff over looking Pest where we went into the Cave Church, and saw the Liberty Statue. We continued walking to see the Royal Palace, the Chain bridge, and the Fisherman’s Bastion before making our way back to Pest to meet up with Zora.

Zora & Gina

Zora & Gina

Zora and her younger sister Gina met us for a ferry ride along the Duna to Margaret Island, where we took a walk and then met up with Gabor and Zille at a beer garden on the island for a drink. We spent a few hours with then before saying goodbye and going our separate ways.

We enjoyed every moment of our time in Hungary and would greatly recommend visiting this beautiful and overlooked country. The people were really nice, the food very good, the exchange rate was fantastic, the countryside beautiful, the wine and Palinka delicious, and the city was unlike any other I have visited. Although after everyplace I seem to claim that that one was my favorite, I can honestly without a doubt say that Hungary was the highlight of our trip, in part because my friend Zora and her family spoiled us, but also because everything about our time in Hungary was a pleasant surprise. We are now in Prague for the beginning of the end of our Euro Trip.

Munich, Germany

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20130510-173411.jpgThis is the last back post and then I am all caught up from my week of no Internet. On May 4th we parted ways with Rachel as she went off to Pisa for a day before flying home to New York and we got on a train to Munich. While I very much enjoyed our time in Italy, the train ride made me realize how much of the country we missed in our short visit. The train wound through mountains, small towns, along rivers, and through vineyards confirming in my mind that another trip to Italy focusing on the countryside is a must-do in my future!

20130510-173419.jpgWe arrived in Munich rather late and after checking into our hotel decided to go down the street for a drink. Erik being ever friendly decided to find us some friends and sat down with a group of people who we wound up spending the rest of the evening with. They were 3 Germans, a sister, her brother, and his wife. They were very nice and after chatting for a while (and yes lederhosen came up in conversation at least once) they invited us to join them at a club, as the bar was closing. The music was. . . different but we had a nice time and enjoyed talking with our new friends. We finally had to bail as we were falling asleep, and made our way back to the hotel. We had a lazy day and didn’t do much as Erik had caught a virus and wasn’t feeling well. It wound up not being such a bad thing to catch up on our sleep as everything seemed to close down on Sundays.

20130510-173427.jpgThe following day we wandered around and saw a bit of the city, ate a lot of pretzels, bratwurst, and beer. We went out again that night to the same bar and wound up sitting next to a large group of people who were speaking in English and talking about the US. Erik once again made friends and we spent the next few hours talking to 2 Germans, and an Irishman. They all worked together at a company down the street and went out for a few drinks and those 3 wound up spending the rest of their night with us. They were a lot of fun and when it was time to leave, one of them, Lars, who also was the boss of the company paid our tab which was very nice of him! He went home and we went around the corner to another bar with the remaining German and the Irishman whose names I cannot remember. We again had a great night and met some wonderful people.

20130510-173437.jpgOur last day in Munich we spent exploring parks, seeing the remaining landmarks that we hadn’t gotten too, and enjoying the beer gardens before our night train to Budapest, Hungary. It was a really lovely day, one that we both agreed might be our favorite so far. The weather was beautiful and all in all everything was very relaxing. At 11:40pm we got on our night train, a night train that we believed we had a sleeper reservation for only to discover that no we did not! Luckily Erik went to explore and found us an empty cabin. We moved out of our fluorescent light normal seat car into this cabin, pulled the shades down over the window, closed the door, turned off the lights, spread out each over 3 seats, and attempted to sleep for the 9-hour trip to Budapest.

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London Escapades (Part 2)

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Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

We settled back into London (in a new part of town) at the Astor Quest Hostel. Our first day was quite lazy as we had already seen what we wanted to in the area, so we relaxed. We went out to dinner at a local Indian restaurant-Masala Zone-and the food was utterly amazing! I had been craving Indian since we arrived and it exceeded my expectations. After dinner we went back to the room, watched a movie, and went to sleep so we would be good and rested for the morning!

Warwick Castle grounds

Warwick Castle grounds

The following day was hands down our worst day so far. I really wanted to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon as I had a good recommendation that it was some place I wouldn’t want to miss. However to get there by train was going to be more expensive than we could swing so we decided to do a day tour from London because it was cheaper. We picked a tour that went to Warwick Castle, Stratford, through the Cotswolds, and to Oxford. As Erik really wanted to go to Oxford it was a good compromise, or so we thought. Now neither of us are really the “organized tour” type so we knew this was going to be an experience, but we were not prepared for just how bad it really was.

Our tour guide

Our tour guide

We got on the bus at 8am and were the youngest people by about 20 years, red flag number one. We set off and the guide talked nonstop literally about nothing for the first hour of our 2 hour drive from London to Warwick, red flag number two. The guide then comes to tell us that the wonderfully cheap tickets I bought online do not include admission and that we can upgrade for the small amount of another £25 each, that flag was up and waving hard but given that we were an hour out of London our choices were limited–the guide messed it up and only charged us £18 each so that was a slight plus. We arrived at Warwick Castle to discover a small Disney tucked into the English countryside. While the castle was gimmicky, tacky, and all together terrible the grounds were very nice and as it was a beautiful day we didn’t mind sitting outside and got quite a few nice photos.

Oxford

Oxford

Next stop Stratford-Upon-Avon. Unfortunately it was tourist central and Shakespeare’s birthplace museum/visitors center/thing was another huge let down. The town itself was in a very pretty spot and I can best compare it to a Hampton. It was the kind of place that if I lived in the UK I would like to go to for a weekend and rent a place outside the town center, but unfortunately in our case it was another tourist trap. We had lunch and then hopped back on the bus to drive through the Cotswolds (supposedly the most beautiful countryside in England) before arriving in Oxford. Now in the Cotswolds defense it was a very nice area, but was the kind of drive that you wanted to be in your own car for so you could stop and walk around the little towns and really appreciate the landscape, as opposed to speeding through on a coach bus.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

The final stop at Oxford was the cherry on top of the shit sundae that was our day. It was here that we discovered that a bus from London round trip would have cost us £11. I couldn’t stop laughing upon hearing that and Erik, well he was mad. We would gladly have gone to just Oxford instead of paying quite a bit for a wasted day. Travelers Note: don’t make travel decisions late at night when you’re sleep deprived We followed our tour guide with her ridiculous yellow umbrella around Oxford and saw the dinning room that was used to film the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

When we finally got back to London we went in search of dinner, and to sum that one up quick for you, the hostel had a weird oven without temperatures and I accidentally set our dinner on fire and ruined it. So after drinking our bottle of wine we set out in search of a pub for dinner where we met a few Germans, a few Brits, and a couple beyond drunk Scott’s. It was an all around ridiculously entertaining night and made up for our terrible day.

Unhappy Erik

Unhappy Erik

The next morning we almost missed our train to Brussels because we mixed up the stations but we made it. There will be a recap of our time in Belgium soon.

Edinburgh, Leeds, & Cardiff

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English Breakfast

English Breakfast

Our last morning in Scotland we got up an out relatively early and went to have a true English breakfast, that we decided to do this while in Scotland makes no sense I know but that’s what happened and it was really good. After breakfasting we went back to the hostel and joined the walking tour that was going out from the hostel and learned a lot about the history of the city. A few facts: Edinburgh is the most haunted city in the world, the expression “shitfaced” originated here because before indoor plumbing you threw your chamber pot into the street a 7am and 10pm daily and if you were too drunk to remember the time and were out on the street you got covered in human waste, and J. K. Rowling got a lot of her inspiration and wrote the first book in Old Town Edinburgh.

Matching curtains & sheets

Matching curtains & sheets

Both of us a bit sleepy (one of the guys in our room at the hostel sounded like a fog horn all night snoring!) we hopped on a train and a few hours of rolling hills, sheep, and small towns later, arrived in Leeds. I have been priding myself on my excellent hostel choices up until now. I don’t know what happened but I wound up booking us a hostel in a suburb of Leeds rather than in the city and it was in the middle of nowhere! We had really bad directions and barely a map, got lost I can’t tell you how many times, got lost in not so nice areas, and walked several miles with our backpacks to our hotel, all of the cheap places were already booked including all of the hostels, so this was our only affordable choice but still. Now this wasn’t just any hotel this hotel was ancient! Please see the photo of the curtains that match the bedspread for proof. I must say the place was kind of hilarious and we laughed for quite a while about the whole ordeal.

Europeanized Chili Dog

Europeanized Chili Dog

Since this was one of the few times we had a room to ourselves with no random strangers snoring in the bunk over or waking up at 4am we slept in before heading into Leeds to go to the Royal Armory which I had heard was a must see and free, which is always nice. It was a very impressive museum and we had a good time although as hour 3 of looking at guns came and went my attention span began to wane but that’s what I get for going to an armory with a guy.

Erik with his Robot picture

Erik with his Robot picture

When the museum closed we went into Leeds to explore the Arcades and grab some dinner. Now I have not touched on food too much thus far, but today’s eating deserves mentioning. I had a very American day food wise. I had essentially a chili cheese dog (with a European twist) for lunch and Gumbo for dinner. Both of these are American foods I had never tried before and I must say I REALLY liked them! So my European twist was a bratwurst with chili, monetary jack cheese, jalapeños, and bacon. Also on the food note I tried grape/edelberry sparkling water today, another major success.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

We almost had a big problem on Saturday as we were about 3 minutes away from missing our train to Cardiff and we would have missed it if the train hadn’t been late which luckily it was. After several hours on the train during which we entertained ourselves with an INTENSE game of Dots, several heated rounds of Hang Man, before finally resorting to doodling we finally arrived in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales and fun fact the birthplace of Roald Dahl. We arrived in the late afternoon and after checking into our hostel (I only saw one other female in the place the two days we were there, weird) went out to explore in the first truly warm day we have seen. We wound up hanging out in a park enjoying the sun for quite a while before looking for a supermarket to buy dinner and had a nice lazy night of chess and board games.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

Sunday morning we set out for the Cardiff Castle where we took a guided tour, explored the original keep, and the grounds. We spent the morning and early afternoon there before taking a boat down the river to Cardiff Bay. While I am glad we came to Wales I must admit (much like Leeds) there is not much to do here.

Now we are back in London for 2 nights before heading out of the UK.

Cardiff Castle library

Cardiff Castle library

The original Cardiff Castle

The original Cardiff Castle

Drinking tea in the park and looking smug

Drinking tea in the park and looking smug