3.5 weeks and 7 countries later, I emerged from an intense and exhausting Eurotrip. I started in Istanbul, made my way through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and finally Austria before flying back to Istanbul. My overall impression was that it was crazy how different each country was from the other, even though they are so small and close together! I wish I had had more time, because I felt pretty rushed, stressed, and tired throughout– spending about 2 days, 1 night in each city before taking the train to the next was a challenge.
Train travel was a major feature of my experience. After this trip, I decided that I really hate trains. Before setting out, I had read some horror stories about European night trains– stuff such as thugs getting onto the train in the middle of the night, flooding the sleeper cars with noxious gas, and then robbing the unconscious passengers before hopping off at the next stop. I had quite a bit to lose (due to the time constraints of getting my Russian visa) so, even though I knew the rumors were probably false, I didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes at a time on any of the night trains. Any small noise or human motion in the corridors set me on edge. Unfortunate.
Another thing was that I couch surfed in a lot of the countries. I had some really great experiences, such as spending time with a Polish family with 2 cute little kids. But there were also some not so great experiences, such as the guy who clearly had some pretty desperate romantic intentions behind his invite. And another who stayed out drinking until 11 am the morning I was supposed to leave for the airport, and I couldn’t get back into his house to get my stuff after going out for breakfast– I ended up having to pay 230 euros for a new flight! Overall, I don’t think I will be keen on couch surfing again.
And one more thing that pervaded the trip was listening to composers hailing from the country I was currently in– e.g. Liszt in Hungary, Mozart in Austria, Smetana in Czech Republic. I feel that it really gave the music new meaning to be in the cities where it was composed. Plus, winter in Europe with classical music– it was a really beautiful touch.
So now for some bests and worsts awards (these are obviously just my opinion):
Most beautiful: Hands down, Prague was the most beautiful city I visited. The word I would use to describe it is “majestic”. My favorite part was sitting on the banks of the Vltava river, near the Charles bridge, and watching the swans float down the icy waters.
Best food: Romania. You wouldn’t think there would be good food in Transylvania, since there are so many vampires 😉 But everything there was so delicious and comforting. Things like pretzels filled with melted nutella, porridge with cheese and sour cream, and creamy mashed beans with sausage– I’ll be incorporating some of these recipes into my repertoire.
Worst food: Vienna. First of all, the food is super expensive. For a reasonable price, all you can get is a hot dog or breaded chicken. I tried one of the most popular fast foods– Bosna mit Kasekrainer– and it was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tried. Sausage hot dog stuffed with pockets of nacho-type cheese (almost like pimples bursting in your mouth), topped with raw onions, curry powder (yes, just in powder form!) and paprika and chili powders. All the powders just create a dry coating on your throat so that you can’t even swallow– the torture just goes on and on.
Best Value: Bratislava. For whatever price you pay, you will get more than you bargained for. This was my experience. For instance, huge food portions. Beers costing 30 cents. And the only hostel I’ve ever seen that offers free use laundry machines and hookah.
Worst Value: Krakow. This may be sort of a generalization, but I had a horrifying experience of purchasing train tickets. Though the trains to and from Poland were admittedly nicer than the others, they came at such a premium that you could have just flied for the same price.
Best nightlife: Sofia. Again, this is just my opinion, given my background of loving Bulgarian pop music. I was unaware that these famous singers regularly sang live in nightclubs throughout the country. It was awesome to see this.
Most interesting: Budapest. I think Budapest had the most atmosphere, and a lot of energy in the air. There are lots of statues with clever meanings throughout the city. The communist history is very interesting, and the mix of communist architecture and other styles is cool. Plenty of secrets to this city that you would never discover on your own.
Friendliest people: Hungary (all). All over Hungary, people were very helpful, smiling, and kind. I only met one unpleasant Hungarian the whole time I was there.
Overall Best: Prague. This is the place that really captured my heart, for its beauty and the immense history that you can feel while walking through the streets. It will be the first place that I will return to.