Where I’ve been for the past 2.5 months
Taking time off is something that I enjoy doing to help recharge batteries and evaluate what I want out of life. Each year I try to take at least 2-3 weeks for a long trip. I thank my parents for inspiring me to do what I enjoy and to take the time off to explore. My family took two long road trips across the US (7 weeks and 9 weeks respectfully) when I was a kid. Before I turned 25, I visited all 50 states with personal travel (no new states due to traveling for work). This was a goal of mine to visit all 50 states before traveling abroad. I hit the 50th state (Vermont) in the fall of 2016 and this left the door open for traveling abroad.
Over the last 2.5 months, I have been away from the computer and much of the internet. I recently returned from ~40 days in Europe hitting 12 countries. It has been refreshing to travel and I am getting back into the swing of things. I wanted to write up some of the places I visited and this blog will detail where I went.
Europe Trip Overview
- 12 countries
- United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy
- ~40 days
- Traveled by train for most of the transportation between cities
- Walked ~10 miles a day
- Record hot temperatures across most of Europe
- Only ~2 days of rain during the entire trip
Europe Trip Details
London, United Kingdom
London was a good start to the trip. It was a short 5-6 hour flight from Newark over to Heathrow. We stayed in a hotel on the east side of the city with about a 20 min train/subway ride in. We visited lots of interesting places including palaces, Big Ben, and more. We went on a Harry Potter walking tour (that my girlfriend really wanted to do) and it was cool to see real life places from the movies. We found out that lemonade in the UK (and rest of Europe) is actually just Sprite with a few lemons. The first night of the tour included a hostel that didn’t have AC with the near record temperatures so it was uncomfortable by US standards. We started the trip with 6 of us and a leader. Three were from Australia, one was from the UK, and we were from the US. The leader was from Spain.
We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris on the next day. The 300 km/hr was fun but too fast to actually look out the window. The chunnel was black like a tunnel so not much to see there. Paris looked very uniform with all the buildings approximately the same color and design. The courtyards inside the buildings must have been where all the grass was because there were really no parks or anything. It was hot walking around and we walked a lot on the first day we were there (almost 14 miles). We saw the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and other famous spots in Paris. The craziest thing was the Arch de Triumphe and the traffic around the circle. There are no lanes and cars just all over the place.
Brugge is a small city/town in Belgium that is extremely well preserved (except the walls that used to protect the city are gone). The train to Brugge went well and we got to stay close to the center of Brugge. The food in Brugge was really expensive but everything else seemed reasonable. On the second night, we went on a free walking tour which was awesome with tons of detail about the town. There were cool old windmills and city gates from when the city used to be walled. The ice cream and waffles here were fantastic and ate that a few times.
From Brugge we went up to Amsterdam with a train through Brussels. The train ride went well again and we had to take a ferry across the river to the hostel. The hostel had “AC” which was really just blowing air ventilation but they were able to give us a fan. The extreme heat was following us making it hard to sleep some nights. The free passenger ferry back and forth across the river was fun. We were able to go to see Anne Frank’s house, the botanic garden, science museum, and the zoo. The zoo didn’t have huge fences like US zoos so we could take pretty clear pictures.
The train to Berlin was really long and took us to the worst hostel of the trip. We walked around and saw the TV tower, checkpoint charlie, and other things downtown. We ate dinner in the TV tower the next night. It rotated around 1.5 times while we had dinner and gave us some amazing views. This is also where we found out that cheesecake is not that good in Europe. In the Mall of Berlin, we found a Toys R Us (Toys R Us is now closed in the US) and AC which really helped cool us down.
The hostel as mentioned was terrible. Moldy shower curtain the first night so we needed to change rooms and then on the second night someone came into our room at 11:30pm “looking for trousers”. This made us feel unsafe and we ended up moving to a Marriott down the street for the third night.
In Berlin, we added 4 more people to our group (one from New Zealand, one from California, two from Australia) for a total of 10 plus a new leader. The leader was from Czech Republic and knew a lot about the places we went.
We took an overnight train to Krakow after first stopping in Szczecin and grabbing dinner. The overnight train was the best we had slept in about a week. Although no AC, the window open with the train moving provided a nice breeze. Krakow was a nice small town. There was a cool stained glass museum/tour that we really enjoyed. The hostel was warm and didn’t have a breeze so that was another warm few nights.
Prague, Czech Republic
The train to Prague was ok. We did an orientation walk and got to walk around parts of the old town. On the second day, we went up to the Prague castle and up to the top of the hill. This was the first day of rain and we got rained on picking a place for dinner. We ended up at a really fancy seafood restaurant by mistake. We had octopus, scallops, clams, mussels, and more on a platter. On the next day, we had to stay in a bus stop for about 45 minutes to avoid a surprise downpour. Our accommodation was right above a nightclub which closed at 4am so we couldn’t really sleep at all the two nights we were here.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
We took a train to Cesky Krumlov, which is a small town with a castle at the top of the hill. The food here was terrible with first vegetarian and then tried carp for dinner (which is the Christmas dish of Czech Republic). For the record, do not eat carp unless you want to pick around little bones and try not to choke on them. We went rafting on the second day with a few others from the group and that was an adventure to say the least. The hostel was quirky (had to take shoes off when entering at reception), but luckily the night temperatures finally cooled down a bit.
We then took a train to Vienna. In Vienna, we went to the House of Music museum (interactive music exhibits like a playable stair keyboard) and explored the city. We walked by the river and went to some palace gardens when it was way too hot outside. We debated about going to see a classical concert but the ticket prices were too expensive. The hostel here had a fan but the window only opened a few inches so it was again extremely warm again.
The next day we took a train to Budapest and we went on another orientation walk to the top of the hill. My girlfriend had studied abroad in Budapest so we visited her old school and explored the area around it. We went to Heroes Square and around the baths to see if the lines were reasonable. The weather was hot again so there were long lines to get in the thermal baths. The zoo was also packed but we walked along Margaret Island and enjoyed a fountain synchronized to music. The hostel in Budapest had some AC which helped us relax. Since Budapest was another transition city, we changed leaders again and lost three people and gained two people (one from UK and one from Australia). We were down to 9 people (two UK, three Australian, one New Zealand, three USA) with a leader. This leader was from Slovenia and she liked to talk a lot about the places we were going.
Lake Balaton, Hungary
We took a train to Lake Balaton, which was a big lake not far from Budapest. The side we were on is apparently the party side and there were lots of bars. We went swimming for a bit, but since it was Sunday there were tons of people there. We went on a sunset cruise which was nice. We were only there a half day before heading to Zagreb, Croatia.
The train to Zagreb was pretty since it went past the rest of Lake Balaton. In Zagreb, we got in late so we didn’t do the orientation walk but instead explored on our own. We finally found food and then walked around the city. We went to an old bunker and on the next day went to an illusion museum, which had a bunch of interesting brain games. We also ventured to one of the nearby lakes and got to walk along it.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
From Zagreb, we took a bus to Lake Bled to avoid a hard train transition. There was traffic getting into Lake Bled with the backup for multiple miles. It was a decent walk from the hostel down to the lake which we did multiple times. One of the included activities was a bike ride which was an experience. Some people clearly hadn’t ridden much before. Combining the not riding with the hill and cars made it an interesting first ride down to lunch. After lunch, we decided to go ride on our own without the group to explore the rest of the lake. On the second day, we swam in the lake and we hiked up to the castle at the top of the hill. The views from the top of the castle were spectacular.
From Lake Bled, we took a train through the mountains to Venice changing in a town at the edge of Italy. After checking into the hostel in Venice, we took a short train over to the island of Venice for a walking tour and then dinner. This was the 3rd and final change in the trip so we changed trip leaders and ended up with just 4 total (one UK, one Australia, two USA). This trip leader was from the UK but had lived in Italy for a number of years. The small group was very nice compared to the larger groups. On our days in Venice, we took the water taxis around the island to visit different parks and avoid the crowded tourist areas. We also went to the island of Lido to explore the sandy beaches.
La Spezia (and Cinque Terre), Italy
We took a train (through Florence) to La Spezia and Cinque Terre. We took a bus the day we got there to Portovenere, which was down a fun winding road. We did dinner back in La Spezia. On the next day we took a train through the five cities of Cinque Terre that was right on the coast looking out over the water. The train was packed on the way up and we ate lunch in Monterosso before taking the train back. We tried to eat dinner along the water but most restaurants were closed for the week due to vacation or just closed on Monday/Tuesday. The accommodations in La Spezia were right next to the train station but it was pretty quiet and had AC which was a plus.
We took a train to Florence going through Pisa. We debated as a group if we should stop in Pisa or not. We decided not to stop because it would have been complicated with our bags and getting to/from the train. We arrived in Florence and went on an orientation walk where we had to avoid a few rain showers. After that we walked up to the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo which had an amazing view of the city (and rain showers).
We took a short (final) train to Rome and went on an orientation walk. We saw the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, and more. We did a final group dinner before saying final goodbyes to the group. The next day we took a train/subway to a bus to get to our hotel outside the city. We got a really nice upgraded room and wanted to try to go back to see the Vatican and a few other things. We tried to take the bus back before it broke down about a mile from the hotel. We decided this was a sign and went swimming for the afternoon instead. We relaxed for the next day and enjoyed the hotel restaurant and executive lounge. We then took the shuttle to the airport to fly back to the US.