I’m back! My trip around Europe was a whirlwind and it will certainly take a long time to reflect over it and write about everything as I revise for some very daunting exams, but it will be perfect productive procrastination! So to start off, I began by thinking about the highs and lows I experienced during our adventure. As amazing as most of it was, it wasn’t always perfect and I definitely needed to remind myself of that before I become in denial about the negative aspects (which weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been!).
As amazing as most of it was, it wasn’t always perfect and I definitely needed to remind myself of that before I become in denial about the negative aspects (which weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been!).
Finally seeing places I’ve dreamt of seeing
I’ve always had dreams of seeing the world. Something about all the world has to offer: the history, the culture, the food, the people. It all appeals to me. I want to see it all. This trip was a great intro into just how great travel is. I crossed places off my bucket list, found cities I loved and interacted with some really cool people.
Something about Strasbourg just clicked with me. I absolutely loved it. It was incredibly cute and just had a certain je ne sais quoi. I could easily see myself living there. It wasn’t too big and wasn’t too small and all of the buildings are so cute! The food was fantastic, the locals were nice and there seemed to be a lot to do. Maybe one day I’ll just pick up and move there?
Speaking French in France and locals not switching to English (even though some switched to German)
Since I’m a French major, I wanted to take complete advantage of my time in Brussels and France to practice my French since I haven’t taken a class since last spring. One of the greatest things about going back to France (especially Paris) was that I spoke French and they didn’t switch to English. If you’ve ever been to Paris and tried speaking French there, you know that’s a huge deal! Just a self-confidence boost I needed before hopping into 3 French classes and writing a thesis!
I love trying new food (minus really weird stuff). I got to eat just about all my favorite foods in Paris, I fell in love with goulash and potato pancakes in Slovakia and Prague, I had the best Italian food since I left Italy in Berlin, and I got to eat delicious pastries for three weeks. Who could resist that?
The trip planning
Being able to afford things in Central Europe
London is crazy expensive! And Paris, Belgium and Switzerland were pretty crazy too. Arriving in Budapest and traveling through Prague, Krakow and even Berlin were fantastic on the budget. We could afford to buy water. SO great. Plus we could get 2 courses AND pay for water for less than $12 total. It was nice to not have to worry about money for once (relatively speaking).
The little daily challenges and figuring them out
Trying to figure out if a train that lists no calling stations stops in Budapest? You got it. Holding back rage when no one at the Budapest train station knows what to do when the change machine eats about $10 worth of money? Check. Having to evacuate a train station because of a fire drill when your bags are on the train that’s about to leave and then getting mad at the train guy in French who won’t let you walk the 50 feet to the train? Oh yes. Being verbally assaulted by strangers one afternoon in Brussels? Check. Trying to navigate incredibly confusing streets in a language you know nothing about? Yep. Telling people you don’t speak German and then having them continue speaking German to you? Story of my life.
Travel always comes with challenges—language barriers, cultural differences, rude people. You can either let them get to you (which, to be honest, sometimes I did) or you can learn to overcome them. Just take a deep breath and slow down.
As much as I loved the feeling of finishing the planning, it was sure a tough experience. Having to figure out the best and cheapest way to get from city to city, trying to find suitable accommodation, trying to book trains on websites that didn’t exist, deciphering the Eurail website, I feel like I’ve done it all! Anyone need me to plan their next trip to Europe? :)
No GPS in Bratislava
The great thing about smartphones is that, even on Airplane mode, they can determine your location on GoogleMaps as long as you have wifi turned on. So at least we could know where we were at any given time–it definitely saved us from getting lost! But apparently, Bratislava does not have this ability yet. It definitely made for an interesting and somewhat frustrating experience, especially since it was a day trip and we didn’t have access to the Internet or any resources. I definitely got better at my map reading abilities again in Bratislava!
Unfortunately, bad weather seemed to follow us just about everywhere on our trip (except for the last week). You know Marseille, one of the sunniest and warmest places in Europe? Well, it was cloudy and rainy almost the whole time we were there. Vienna? We got some lovely snow on April 1st. No joke. Those days were probably the most disappointing. The rest of the trip was just chilly and rainy. Thankfully we got a reprieve for the last week and when we had to spend the entire day outside at the tulip fields!!
As I said before, the weather in Marseille was less than ideal for about 80% of the time. The picture above was our only really nice morning there. Our Airbnb hosts said that the weather hadn’t been that bad in forever. Maybe it was this or a combo of the weather and a creepy old guy asking us to get in his car so he could “show us around the city” (don’t worry we said no), but I was disappointed with Marseille. It could be because it was off season as well. It was just one of those cities I didn’t get a great vibe from. Am I glad I went? Sure. Would I go back? Maybe during the summer when the weather is guaranteed to be good.
Being a girl and traveling
The prices in Switzerland
The prices in Switzerland were laughable. I think we spent more there in less than 48 hours than we spent in about 3 days in Budapest. Our cheapest meal? A sandwich from a hole in the wall bakery for about $8. Not cool! Although while we were there, I realised that it was basically London prices converted into USD, so that realisation, in turn, made me feel gross about buying things in London…
Language barriers just made me want to learn them all!
France and Brussels were great because I could converse with them pretty much fluently, but being in the other countries and having to revert to English was frustrating. Especially in Switzerland, Austria and Germany since everyone would speak German to me! I now have a pact to learn German (at least conversationally) before the next time I go to a German speaking country. Hungarian was the most confusing language. At least with German, I could pick stuff out. And with Polish, I could recognise some words for some reason. But there was nothing I recognised in Hungarian. Thankfully everyone spoke English (#snobbyamericanproblems).
Don’t get me wrong, night trains are a great way to save money on transport and accommodation. And they’re slightly better than sleeping on airplanes. But I get motion sick and anxious when I’m on transport long term so I had to load up on the Dramamine if I wanted any hope of sleeping. (For comparison: on normal trains, I usually take half a dose and am fine if it’s especially rocky. On the night trains I had to take 1.5 doses to both stop feeling sick and to drift off into a fitful sleep).
I do have to say I got pretty lucky with the night trains though. There was only one other guy in my compartment for my first night train who just went to sleep. It was just me and Siobhan on our second night train because we decided to upgrade since it was super cheap to do so and the cat lady left our compartment for another one. The only problem with that one was that the train was incredibly loud. We could hear it going over all the tracks. Just imagine your old fashioned steam engine and you have my night. On our last night train, we couldn’t book beds for some reason so we were stuck in the seated compartments. Luckily there were only 4 of us total so we could spread out a bit and besides some really loud and horrible singing from the compartment next door, we had a relatively quiet compartment.
Surprise security check by Czech police at 1AM
Refer to the last night train I mentioned. There’s nothing like being awoken from a drug-induced sleep by Czech police (only we didn’t know that at first) who demand to see your passport for examination. Not. fun. at. all. I am curious to know if anyone got kicked off though, especially after the hour stuck at the station listening to old Rihanna songs being horribly sung!
Sitting backward on trains
Back to my motion sickness…Sitting backward on trains is not ideal. Thankfully I could move seats on most trains if I was placed backward. But sometimes I couldn’t and it just plain sucked. All I can say is thank god for Dramamine and distracting audiobooks!!