One of the most appealing parts of being in a degree program abroad is the travel, of course. When I was accepted into the EDPP, I envisioned myself as the ultimate world traveller. Every weekend would be spent in a new country. I would be fearless! I would be an adventurer!!!!!!
Then I got here.
This past term, I mostly spent the time from 10 p.m. every Friday to 8 a.m. Monday morning in hibernation with breaks to explore the city. It turns out that grad school is exhausting.
After the term ended, we had a three week break. Richie (my cohort bestie) and I decided to embrace the cold and searched for the five best cities to spend Christmas in central Europe. One thing I loved about the cities we visited were that they are only 4-5 hours from Berlin by train or 1-2 hours by plane, so any of these could make a great weekend trip. Why not combine them into one, though? Thus begins…
THE BRITCHIE WINTER ADVENTURE OF 2017
First stop: Budapest (3 days)
We knew that Budapest was going to be one of the cheapest cities on our tour, so upon arriving we made a beeline for a fancy Hungarian steakhouse and FEASTED. Then we lugged our full tummies around the city, where we encountered a Christmas market around every corner. It was at the one at the city center that we found the best dessert every created: chimney cakes.
And we feasted.
(You can see the pattern, right?)
Highlights included the Gellert thermal baths, hiking to the top of the Citadel, and dancing at ruin pubs. Budapest’s signature ruin pubs are abandoned buildings that have been converted into a bar or club. Instant (one of the biggest) is in a converted apartment complex. Here, there are eight clubs and a pizza joint all in one spot, each with a different decor and style of music.
The worst thing that happened to us is that we were fined for not having a train ticket. In Berlin, you will encounter a ticketing officer on occasion; in Budapest, they check every two or three stops. Word to the wise: if you don’t know the ins and outs of a city, obey the rules.
Second stop: Vienna (2 days)
Vienna is a gorgeous and extremely CLEAN city. Like, I felt borderline too dirty to be there.
The first and best thing we did here was taking a tip-based free walking tour, which I would highly recommend doing everywhere you go, especially if you’re only there for a short time. It added value to the rest of our trip since we were able to know a little something about each building we passed. I would also recommend doing this in your own city, seriously.
Some other gems in Vienna included Phil’s brunch restaurant and bookstore, the Shmetterlinghaus, a bar called Botanical Garden that has some of the best craft cocktails I’ve ever had, and the Albertina Art Museum, which had exhibits ranging from Raphael to Robert Frank photography to Picasso.
Oh, just in case you were wondering, Sachertorte was our dessert of choice here.
Third stop: Salzburg (3 days)
This small, gorgeous city nestled in the Bavarian Alps was where we spent Christmas. Due to the holiday, most places were closed, but we were content to spend most of our time walking around. We took the funicular tram up to the Fortress for a 360 degree view of the city, and on the way stumbled upon the enchanting St. Peter’s Cemetery. The Hop On, Hop Off bus tour was another great thing we did, as it covered public transit for the day and took us to Mozart’s birthplace, a few castles on the outskirts of the city, and locations where The Sound of Music was filmed.
My favorite part was when Richie and I realized we hadn’t bought each other gifts. We then had a 20 minute, 20 euro-limit dash through the giant Christmas market to buy something for each other. I love my mini flask and dreamcatcher, and I think he is happy with his eucalyptus bath salz.
Fourth stop: Munich (2 days)
There were certainly enjoyable things about Munich, like climbing to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral, eating pork knuckle at Augustiner Brauerei, and the toy museum. Most of our time was spent on our day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, mostly recognized as the Disney castle logo. The castle was created by Ludwig II, a child-like Bavarian king that didn’t really want to be king. He created the castle as a tribute to his favorite tales of chivalry and romance and his favorite composer, Richard Wagner. It was his intention that no outsiders ever see the castle, so naturally it’s now a museum.
The best view of the castle is from a small wooden bridge called Mary’s Bridge, which is between two mountains over a treacherous gorge. Sadly, the narrow, unpaved path to the bridge was covered in ice and totally blocked off to tourists. Obviously, Richie and I had to go. It was definitely the stupidest and most fun decision of our trip.
Final Stop: Prague (3 days)
This was my favorite city on the trip. The Czech Republic is a small and very old places, dating back to 800 A.D. Because of its size, it falls easily to foreign invaders and therefore has changed identities eight times in the last century alone. Every other building seemed to have a different style of architecture, showing how many influences the city has had over time. The history there felt alive. I could easily dedicate an entire blog entry to our time in Prague, but instead I’ll provide a list of our favorite attractions/experiences and just tell you simply: GO TO PRAGUE.
-Sandemann free walking tour
-Astronomical Clock dating back to the 15th century
–Galerie d’Art de Prague (Warhol, Mucha, and Dali were the exhibits)
-Prague Castle, especially St. Vitus Cathedral
-The Magical Cavern
-hiking through all the parks overlooking the river
-Franz Kafka museum
-seeing a show at Jatka78, especially the circus company Cirk La Putyka
What was so amazing to Richie and me was that we each spent less money than what a round trip ticket to the US would have cost. I missed seeing my family for the holidays, but I decided that I wanted to spend my year entirely abroad, as did about half of our cohort. So far, I believe I made the right decision. I feel incredibly grateful to have experienced these places and, of course, to have met my one true love.
Chimney Cakes and I will be planning our wedding for next Spring.