Europe has its own unique charm – all the colonial wealth has gone into creating some of the most imposing architecture. There are tall standing chapels and massive castles on the banks of wide rivers. There is usually a cobbled stone old town lined with cafes and some tiny hole in the wall museums and gelato shops. Since all this was built in the just the medieval ages, the structures are pretty well maintained. To top it all off, outstanding European marketing has always meant that art was all priceless and so the museums flourished. A very low population density with a crowded downtown makes Europe the kind of places made for tourists. Which is the exact reason I had been avoiding it for a while – that and the cost of everything.
So finally it happened, a 11 day swing through the central Europe. Slightly more eclectic that the West and a little more organized than the East. We settled with 4 nights in Vienna, 5 in Prague, 2 in Budapest and then a fling with Bratislava, just because its name rolls off the tongue so well.
Vienna was lot more about enjoying a first world city where everything is in the right place (almost) with an unpredictable weather, varying from very cold to pleasantly warm. We didn’t get enough time at either Budapest or Bratislava, but Hungary was definitely a country I wanted to come back to. Prague was absolutely amazing with is old town, the castle, the late night drinking and mostly the day trips you can do.
We flew into Vienna, spent a good 4 days there in a tiny hotel that occupied a full floor of an office building but was right next to the St Stephan Cathedral. The architecture was all baroque and grand, with large complexes lined with gargoyles and knights on horses. The city soon started to seem a bit monotonous, so we took a day tour to Bratislava, which had a charming but touristy old town. We also spent a half day at a local amusement park, which was quite an interesting place with the smaller equivalent of the London eye, let us call it the Vienna eye. A short train ride from Vienna was Budapest. We didn’t have much time there – just 2 nights. We focused on walking around the city, took a quick hop-on hop off tour and got dropped at the Hero’s Square and then the Parliament. At night the boar tour on the Danube was quite memorable.
We took a long train ride into Prague that provided a good break from all the walking. The hotel right on old town square was quite interesting. Small rooms with a little musty smell but greal location and service. Most of my memories of Prague are of just walking around, especially across the Charles Bridge. We did take a day trip to the lovely town of Kutna Hora to see the famous bone church and a grand cathedral – totally worth it.
The guiding principles for the planning that made the trip so convenient and memorable? Firstly, book hotels as close to the downtown as possible and unless you plan to spend the day in the hotel, a small one works as well. Second , a train trip in the middle of the vacation makes for a relaxing break and the scenery is usually beautiful. Finally, use the Hop-on Hop-off bus as a quick way to orient yourself with the city on the first day in a new place. This works better in Europe than anywhere else.
We mostly spent the time walking around the cities and took tours only when we had to get out of the city. There is so much to see in small roads, local shops and undergrounds museums that being in a bus for hours with tourists is definitely a no-no. As far as possible, we tried local food and sipped local wine. The goulash in Hungary and even Vienna was the discovery of the trip and love at first bite. Sausages on the streets of Vienna were amazingly delicious and we spent an evening sitting in a park and munching of them. Prague won’t be remembered for the food as such but the Tardenik was such an amazing dessert and it seemed to be everywhere. The fresh cinnamon roll filled with ice cream is simple yet innovative and of course delicious.