This is about to be a long one (but worth it, I promise). I semi recently (actually, not recently at all) returned to Copenhagen from a trip to Prague, Vienna, Rome, and Florence. This trip was my first chance to really explore Europe and compare the culture and atmosphere of four very different European cities. Each leg of the trip not only taught me about the city and country that I was in, but also about myself as I learned about the things I liked, didn’t like, and everything in between.
City Nightline Train
Here’s the idea: you get on a train in the evening, enjoy some scenery before it gets dark, go to sleep, and voila! You wake up in a new country before you even know it. On top of that, it’s much cheaper than a flight, so how could anything ever be better than this?
Those are the thoughts I had as I booked the first part of my trip: the train ride from Copenhagen to Prague. As two college students traveling, Connor and I were looking for inexpensive alternatives to flights. When I came across the overnight train option, I was smitten.
Unfortunately, my idealistic view of this train ride wasn’t identical to reality. Don’t get me wrong, this option is great and it is a cheap alternative. What it also is, is a 17 hour train ride from Copenhagen to Prague. Yes, I said 17 hours. So you can imagine that I had a lot more free time on this train than I had originally imagined.
We got on the train at 6:45 pm and did enjoy the view for a few hours. Since its getting later into fall, however, it got dark around 8:00 pm and at that point we really couldn’t see anything.
When we first got on the train there was another passenger in our cabin. He was a young man originally from Canada but working for Blackberry in Sweden. He was very nice and very enjoyable to talk to, so that made our trip much more tolerable. When it got later, however, we picked up a couple from Germany that didn’t speak a lick of English. They also were unable to climb to the top bunk that their tickets assigned them to, so the young man we were with packed up his things and went to the top bunk so they could have the two bottom bunks (Connor and I were in the middle, as I strategically booked).
The couple quickly got in bed and went to sleep. At this point I was watching a movie on the computer and Connor was reading, and we had more privacy than one would expect in this type of atmosphere. It was actually very pleasant.
When it got later, however, another German man got onto the train who was assigned to the lower bunk that the older woman was sleeping in. Rudely, he woke her up and told her that was his bed. Of course, this started an issue that was difficult to solve due to the language barrier between us and the three Germans. Long story short, Connor went to a top bunk and let the older woman have the middle bunk across from me. Not ideal, but I was ready for bed as it was.
The night was fine. I was woken up a few times here and there but that’s expected with a train. When we finally got up in the morning the 3 Germans were gone (they got off at earlier stops) and we freshened up in the tiny bathrooms provided on the train.
Then we waited. And we waited some more. After waking up after a long nights sleep, we still had two or three hours before we arrived in Prague (this is where 17 hours started to feel like a really long time). Eventually, we arrived in Prague and were more than happy to leave the train.
Don’t get me wrong, the overnight train is a great idea. I think, though, that it is much better for shorter train rides and better done with many friends. If I was in a cabin with 5 other friends, it would have been such a good time. Having random people I didn’t know in my room is what made it a little awkward. I know people who took an overnight train from Prague to Budapest and had the cabin full of friends and it was only 7 hours long so they had a blast. So, if you’re considering an overnight train, don’t completely count it out. Especially if you’re trying to save some money here and there.
Prague, Czech Republic
I’m just going to start out by saying I loved Prague. It was definitely one of my favorite cities on the trip and I will never get its beauty out of my head.
The first thing I noticed when I walked out of the train station is that there were no bikes. This may seem like a strange observation, but if you’ve ever been to Copenhagen you know what I’m talking about. There aren’t any bike lanes, traffic lights for bikes, or bike racks outside of any venues. I guess it didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to the Danish way of life.
The second thing I noticed is that there was much more diversity. People roaming the streets were of several different nationalities, had many different colors of hair, and were all different heights. Again, this may seem weird to mention but again, you need to travel to Copenhagen to understand what I’m talking about. Not necessarily everyone, but almost everyone in Denmark is blonde (whether it be natural or not), fit, and tall. This wasn’t quite the case in Prague. It was actually kind of nice to see a little diversity here and there.
Coming in on the train, I also noticed that the Czech Republic had a beautiful countryside. There were mountains and rivers and fog lifting up –it was absolutely beautiful. This definitely made me want to come back to the Czech Republic someday to explore other parts of the country.
Okay so let’s talk about what’s really important: the food. First off, beer is cheaper than water (beer isn’t technically food but this is an important part of any meal in Prague). A .33 liter beer was the equivalent of $1.17 whereas water costs about $2.00 (this is in a restaurant, I’m not quite sure what the prices in the store are).
Traditional Czech food was pretty good, however it was very dense. There are a lot of different kinds of dumplings. I expected these to be like Asian dumplings but they most definitely were not –they were very dense balls of a bread-like dough and usually contained some type of meat or dried fruit. All the restaurants I went to, however, had plenty of options that were less traditional so once I got my fill of dense food I was able to eat something a little lighter. Just like the beer, the food was so cheap –it was great. At almost every meal we got an appetizer, two main dishes, drinks, and an extra side and it usually cost about $20 or $25 for both of us together (and the food was always delicious).
While we were there we did mostly touristy things. After we first arrived and settled into our room, we walked about 5 minutes to the Old Town Square where there are three beautiful churches, including the Church of Tyn, and the astronomical clock. The square was also lined with beautiful buildings that serve as restaurants, residences, and most likely a few hotels. We were able to climb to the top of one of the church towers and enjoy the panoramic view. We went at the perfect time, as the sun was just beginning to set and it reflected beautifully off of all the buildings and painted them with a beautiful shade of orange (as you can see in the picture above).
After exploring the area for much of the afternoon, we went back to our room to get ready for our beer tour. Since Prague is so well known for its beer (they did, in fact, invent the pilsner), we couldn’t visit and not go on a tour. Done by Prague Speical Tours (http://www.prague-beer-tour.com/), this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Not only did we learn a little trivia about beer and the beer-making process while sipping on a few different kinds of beer, we also had the chance to meet people from all over the world. We met people from Australia, London, South Africa, and Denmark. Actually, meeting people from Denmark was comforting. The older couple also lived in Copenhagen and they loved talking to American students living who were living in their city as much as we loved talking to native Danes. When the tour was over Connor and I just hung out at the bar for a while and talked with four other people who decided to stay.
It is always so interesting to hear what people from other countries think about Americans. Some people have positive things to say and some people don’t, but I love to hear what they think. It was also interesting to learn about how different their lives are. One of the men worked at the same job in Australia for 7 years so his company allows him to travel for 5 months while getting paid. How awesome is that? He’s actually getting paid to travel Europe (am I living in the wrong country?).
We spent our second day touring the other side of the Vltava River. We started the day by crossing the famous Charles Bridge, walked up the hill to the Prague Castle where we spent our entire morning/early afternoon, enjoyed lunch at a restaurant with a beautiful view, and climbed the Petrin tower (modeled after the Eiffel Tower) to see the beautiful panoramic view of the whole city.
Overall, Prague was an overwhelmingly beautiful city. I didn’t walk down a single cobblestone street without admiring the beautiful colors and architecture. If it weren’t so expensive to travel I would definitely visit Prague again. So now when I see pictures of people in Prague I just get really jealous.
At 5:50 am, Connor and I boarded a train headed for Vienna. Unlike our last train ride, this one would only last a few hours. This ended up being really nice as we had the cabin to ourselves (the cabin typically seats 6 people). Because we had to be up so early I slept for a good portion of the ride but when I did wake up I just enjoyed the beautiful scenery as the train quickly approached our destination.
To be completely honest, Vienna was underwhelming (after Prague, at least). To be fair, the weather in Prague was absolutely perfect while the weather in Vienna was always cloudy and a bit chilly. We arrived in Vienna on Sunday, and apparently everything is closed on Sundays. As we walked from the metro stop to our hotel, we walked by countless stores and cafes that were completely empty. This, I’m sure, also contributed to my not-so-excited feelings about the city.
On the other hand, our hotel room was beautiful. We had a corner room on the fourth floor that overlooked the city in both directions and plenty of space to sprawl out. It was a nice change of pace from staying in an Airbnb residence (in Prague).
After settling into our room, we got ready and headed out to Kline’s Café, which is a well known café hidden in the center of the city. I borrowed a travel book from one of my friends at DIS and it explained that Vienna was the coffee capitol of the world, so it would be a shame to go there and not experience some hole-in-the-wall coffee shops. Therefore, Kline’s Café was the perfect way to start our time in Vienna.
After enjoying some coffee and a small lunch, we made our way to Schönbrunn Palacepalace. We spent our entire afternoon touring the palace and walking around the park that is attached.
We later walked down the long streets surrounding our hotel but, since everything is closed on Sundays, we couldn’t find a restaurants that could satisfy our taste buds. Finally we found a little Chinese place and had one of the best 20 euro meals in all of Vienna. For the rest of the night we just enjoyed ourselves and caught up on some much needed sleep.
To begin the second day we went to another café in the center of the city called Café Central. I say with confidence that this was the best breakfast I’ve ever had. It was absolutely beautiful on the inside –it made me feel like I was sipping coffee in an upscale coffee house in the Upper East Side (so Gossip Girl). I got this thing called “white coffee.” Apparently it means something different in a lot of different places but whatever it was in Vienna was delicious.
Following breakfast we went to the Hofburg palace and toured some sites for the rest of the day. Vienna has about a million different museums, so its perfect if you’re into that kinda thing. Connor and I went into the treasury, which has a lot of really cool things –so I’m glad we did that. No other museums for us though –we chose to spend our time going to a few different churches, visiting a few random sites, and doing a little bit shopping.
On our last evening, we went to a typical Viennese restaurant to have some traditional Viennese cuisine. The infamous “Weiner schnitzel” comes from Vienna so I had to get that (although its usually made with veal and I’m against that so I got the chicken version). It was delicious as expected and I was very pleased.
After dinner we ventured out to an Austrian wine tavern on the outskirts of town. The travel book I borrowed also mentioned that Vienna is known for its wine taverns, so going here was an absolute must (even though we had a 5:55 am flight the next morning). Even though timing was a little bit off I am so glad we decided to go. This was our most authentic Austrian experience. So much so that there weren’t any tourists around and many of the people could barely speak any English. Our time there was a lot of fun. Connor and I shared a bottle of wine and I got an apple dessert –what could be better than that? (The answer is nothing).
Although Vienna wasn’t overwhelmingly beautiful in the way that Prague was, it was definitely a beautiful city. I didn’t realize how much I liked it until I left, which is unfortunate but that’s okay.
My flight to Rome was one the most pleasant flying experiences I’ve ever had. Not only was the plane itself extremely comfortable, but the process was quick and easy. The seats were lined with soft leather and we were offered pillows and blankets. Security took less than 15 minutes, which is absolutely unheard of in the US. I could not be happier with Nikki airlines and if I could I would absolutely book all my future flights with them.
Even though Rome itself is a beautiful city and has such a rich history, my experience was so clouded by all the tourism and the people that take advantage of it. I couldn’t walk for 10 minutes without someone coming up to me offering their pointless product or giving me something I don’t want and then asking me to pay for it. Even when we were sitting outside a restaurant for dinner, two different people came up to us –one with a loud toy and one playing an instrument –directly asking for money. It got to the point where I was annoyed all the time and couldn’t fully enjoy the sites.
Aside from the tourist traps all around the city, the transportation was awful. There are only 2 metro lines for the entire city and the bus drivers were constantly on strike. At one point we were stranded 2 or 3 miles away from our room at midnight. We waited for a bus for 45 minutes and eventually had to walk all the way home. Something like this would never happen in Denmark, so that definitely made me miss Copenhagen.
Okay, enough about the negatives. Rome has a history unlike any other city, and fortunately a lot of the historical buildings are still standing. We spent our time roaming the city and gawking at some of the things we grew up reading about in text books. At the moment, it all seemed unreal –I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
Florence was a much more enjoyable experience. It is a much less touristy city than Rome, so we weren’t bothered nearly as much. We were able to actually enjoy walking down the street and looking at the beauty of our surroundings.
Our first stop was, of course, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the Duomo). This is one of the most historical cathedrals as it had the largest dome at the time.
As Florence is the place for Italian leather, we naturally had to explore the leather markets scattered throughout the city. It was fun to walk up and down the lines of leather vendors and try our hand at bargaining. We both got a few things for ourselves and maybe a gift or two for our friends at home.
We also really enjoyed just walking along the water. It was an absolutely beautiful sight to see, no matter where you were on the river.
To end our trip, we climbed up a hill on the outskirts of the city to see the view from the top. This was one of my favorite moments in Florence, as we really got to admire the beauty of this Italian city. I enjoyed just standing and looking at the view, really soaking it all in. It was then that I had the chance to reflect on our trip and really realize how lucky I am to be able to experience it all.
As I said in the beginning, this whole thing was a great learning experience for me. I learned so much about each and every city I went to –its history, its culture, and of course, its food. I also learned so much about myself as I reflected on my experiences. Even though the whole trip was one big whirlwind, I enjoyed every minute of it. This really was the trip of a lifetime and, as I already said, I am so lucky to have had the change to live it.