I wrote this while I had a little down time in the Pisa International Airport in Italia and decided to (finally!) post it now that I’m back in the groove at Oxford for third term (AHH!) So here goes part one of euro travels. Where to begin?!? I want to do justice to each of the nine cities I visited so I’ll break this into threeposts. I’ll cover Budapest, Vienna, and Prague for now.
We left for Budapest the morning of March 9th. Sophia, her boyfriend Will, and Kelly had to leave at 1 am to make an 8 am flight out of London Stansted airport- the farthest London airport no less. Be weary of early AM flights- they’re the cheapest but deceiving little bastards. Luckily, Ashley, Kar, and I got a 2 o’clock flight out of London Luton and it all went smoothly! Especially for me since I can apparently sleep on anything that moves. Despite a rowdy group of British guys wearing t-shirts with “I love bacon rolls” on them (what the hell, right??) who were hooting and hollering the whole flight, I was out like a light. And it was only 2.5 hours long or so- flying in Europe is unbelievable. Everything is so close! That would get me to North Carolina in the states. No thanks. I’ll take Hungary.
The apartment we rented was adorable and for 3 nights, I only had to fork over 20 euros. Talk about dirt cheap. We ended up going to a delicious pizza joint our first night there- and let’s just say that will remain as our last good meal in Budapest. the Hungarians are definitely not known for their cuisine. Exploring Budapest was a lot of fun- and a lot of walking. It’s actually a pretty big city. Our first day we walked to the most incredible indoor market that was housed in an old train station. It was gorgeous. It had everything- rows of fruits and vegetables, jewelry, leather, handbags, traditional Hungarian clothing, scarves, and restaurants. I think it was my favorite market in the whole trip.
I attempted to haggle when buying a scarf and failed abysmally and it became a running joke the rest of the trip. I picked out a gorgeous gold and purple big scarf and went up to the (unfriendly) old lady at the till and meekly asked her if it was on sale… She responded no, to which I said “Ok, I’ll just get it anyway.” Fail. But I love that scarf so I’m pleased. I also got two pairs of earrings (my obsession with jewelry is borderline unhealthy). That day we also explored the Danube River- which my mom informed me I swam in when I was 11 in Austria! I had forgotten. Too cool. It was beautiful. We also saw the parliament building (including a big protest right near by- apparently the Hungarians feel as though the government is getting too autocratic. And their economy is failing. It’s a sad situation but it was interesting to witness) and St. Stephen’s Basilica. After dinner, we went to a ruin pub, something Budapest is famous for. They’re these pubs housed in dilapidated, old buildings and decorated with… Garbage, basically. But it’s really funky and eclectic. The one we went to has a cracked bath tub as a sofa, graffiti on the wall, tattered lamps, an old motorcycle hanging from the ceiling, etc. It was SO awesome and very unique.
The next day we went to the Castle and to the famous Szechenyi baths. The castle was absolutely stunning. The views were truly gorgeous and it legitimately looked like a castle out of Cinderella, so my inner kid was thrilled. We walked basically the entire length of the city to get to the thermal spring baths but it was worth it. Kelly and I didn’t bring bathing suits so we had to rent bikinis which was… Interesting. And freaking hilarious. And possibly unhygienic? God I hope not. There were indoor and outdoor baths of varying temperatures and it was really relaxing, even if we had to dry ourselves off with a blow-dryer since we also forgot towels. So prepared, right?!
Later that night at dinner I tried to be adventurous and got the Hungarian poppy seed pudding for dessert imagining it to be like a yummy lemon poppy seed muffin. FALSE. It was doused in poppy seeds, resembling an ant pile and turned into mush it was so soggy. Points for trying traditional cuisine though, right? Check out the slop to the right… I still cringe looking at it. Blegh.
Overall Budapest was really cool. Not somewhere I’d necessarily go again and visibly declining but VERY beautiful and unique. Onto Vienna. March 12th 2012 marks the day I was in three countries in one day. UNREAL. To get to Prague our train would pass through Austria which would count as one of the five counties on our eurail pass so we opted to get our money’s worth and basically did Vienna in a whirlwind 4 hours. It was hectic but well worth. We explored the ‘Old City’, saw the Albertina (a beautiful museum but no time/ too expensive to go in), a palace, and St. Steven’s Cathedral. And got wiener dogs. Yum. It was hard traveling around a city with luggage all day but out of the entire trip, it was the time I felt like a backpacking student the most and I loved the authenticity of the experience. And what also made the experience authentic was going to the wrong train station and realizing we had 15 minutes to get to the other station and catch our train. We RACED. And made it. Fewf.
We arrived in Prague around 10 o’clock that night and the receptionist to our hostel was the most adorable old Czech man who showed us around the hostel (which resembled an old apartment) and gave us free towels. He was so friendly (and exuberantly pointed out ‘the biggest dancing club in Europe’ on the map hahaha too bad we never made it!) Our room- which housed all 6 of us- was actually really spacious and overlooked the river. Kelly and I pushed our beds together which was fun 🙂
Let me just say- Prague is without-a-doubt STUNNING. If only we could’ve seen it in the sun. It was cloudy and chilly each day we were there- but it’s an excuse to go back later in life when the weather is good! Our first full day there, we explored the Charles Bridge, the Castle district, and the Old Town area. I had been told the Charles Bridge is iconic and it definitely is. It’s gorgeous and lively, lined with statues on both sides and filled with musicians and jewelry stands. Loved it! The other side of the river is so quaint and authentic too. We loved going through all the little shops, stopping in a cafe, and getting cinnamon dough things off a stand. Mmmm.
We expected to discover a castle similar to the one in Budapest but their ‘castle district’ was more of a random collection of palaces and monuments than a castle. I was also told this by one particularly grumpy Czech man working at the cathedral. When I asked where the castle is he responded- after sighing heavily- “everything is castle”, which sounded more like ‘ev-ry-sing is kestle.’ hahaha it was pretty hilarious. My favorite part of the their castle district was the Golden Lane- it’s like Disney World for adults. It’s a row of colored, small houses that are kept in original condition. It was like Minnie’s house in Disney World, aka adorable. My favorite was seeing Franz Kafka’s house- he’s one of my favorite authors of all time so it was really exciting 🙂
The Old Town of Prague is also an amazing area to explore- we climbed the astronomical clock tower and got to witness a man in costume play the trumpets on the hour from the top. The views of the city were unbelievable. And the main square is really lively with music and food stands. On our second night there we decided to go for a night out after dinner. My guide book suggested a jazz bar- apparently Prague is famous for them. We went to the Jazz Dock, a little place right by the river. It had super cool lighting and a trio of Czech guys improvised jazz all night. So cool. The one downside? When Kar ordered a mango chili cocktail and it was pure chili… But the reaction on everyone’s faces after taking a sip was PRICELESS.
Prague was gorgeous and I really enjoyed it. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high so I might have been a bit underwhelmed- especially because people claim it’s a mini-Paris and I’m not quite sure if it can reach that title (probably because I think nothing beats Paris) but I do think Prague is beautiful and magical its own way.
NEXT POST: Munich, Brussels/Bruges, and Amsterdam! In the meanwhile, I’m beginning my third and final term at Oxford which is absolutely crazy. This year has flown by and I can’t believe it’s two-thirds finished. So much to look forward to this term- specifically warm weather and PUNTING!
Here a few of my favorite pictures from Budapest, Vienna, and Prague!