My time in Italy ended roughly one week ago, but damn does it feel like so much more time has gone by since then. In these past eight/nine days, my route took me through Vienna, then I hit the non-Western cities of Budapest and Prague, and am currently stationed in Berlin (just arrived). Kind of a whirlwind tour, but luckily I (so far) have lived to tell the tale.
[Oh, and if you happen to remember back to my possible list of cities to visit and their order... yeah, it's safe to say that has COMPLETELY changed. Like, everything after Italy. So get ready for some surprises :)]
Out of Italy #1~ Vienna, Austria
First on the trajectory was Vienna- a city that managed to secure a place on my list of favorite spots by the time I had to say goodbye (three days after getting in).
If I had to describe the vibe present in Vienna in one word, it would have to be "artsy." Everything had a creative bend: murals on the walls lining the river banks, art-nouveau architecture, random decorations on buildings... not to mention the hundreds of art museums all over the city. <- all the prettiness within Vienna made it so much fun to walk around and just marvel at the various types of public artwork.
I was mostly on my own in Vienna, but the city was so full of things to do and see, it didn't matter. To be honest, I generally prefer exploring cities on my own. I have gone out wandering with others, which is certainly fun, but I like to walk... like, a lot, and so when I'm going solo I can move around as much/little as I want. Also, I've devised the perfect method to get the most out of sightseeing in a city: grab a map from the hostel and figure out where that is located, then pick a direction that heads toward the main tourist attractions and put my map away until the evening when I realize I should start heading back to cook some dinner. Using that way of exploring, I invariably end up seeing more of the city than I otherwise would have, as I rely on my sub-par sense of direction (and which streets look coolest) to determine where I end up walking. Trying to make it back to the hostel with the map always turns into an adventure, as well....
So yeah, at this point I think Vienna would be one of the few cities I've visited which I could see myself returning to to live for a more extended period of time. Highly recommended.
Out of Italy #2~ Budapest, Hungary
Umm, it had never even crossed my mind to venture into Budapest, even briefly, until people I'd met in Europe (from Athens on) began mentioning the city as a cool place to go check out. But as I began rethinking my route- due to finanicial as well as interest reasons- I started to formulate a plan to hit a few more eastern cities (namely Split, Croatia; Budapest, Hungary, and Prague, Czech Republic) before stepping into Berlin....
Which happened to worked out perfectly when I met Alec (my travel buddy basically beginning in Budapest) in Rome, and it turned out he was planning on doing a similar thing at basically the same time (only he wanted to hit Vienna instead of Croatia). So we decided to keep in touch on our separate trips through Italy, and then just see if it would work out to meet up and travel together through Vienna [though we only arrived there together- he was staying with family friends, so we didn't see each other much in Austria], Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. And it did. By the time we split (at end of our visit to Berlin), we'll have traveled together for about a week.
Anyway, back to Budapest. My first real venture into "Eastern Europe." So cool.
Budapest the city, if taken solely at face-value, has little to offer tourists. You can see the monuments in a day, there are few museums, and it takes maybe 45 minutes to walk from one side to the other. But if you delve a bit deeper, there's a lot of cool things to DO. In my one and a half days in Budapest I: saw a $5 opera, went to a cheap Hungarian buffet, got caught in a torrential downpour, and visited "the 3rd best pub in the world" (according to Lonely Planet) in a cool ruins bar- building blasted in WWII and kept in its damaged condition. I had a lot of fun, and the vibe in the city (and among the travelers who pass through) is extremely relaxed and into having a good time. The atmosphere felt a lot more sunny than the majority of other European cities I've been to; it reminded me of Central America a bit, actually. Extremely comfortable and easy to immediately feel at home. Had I not already planned to go to Prague, I most likely would have stayed in Budapest longer. It was nice and cheap, too :)
[Also, Budapest reminded me that, though in Europe there are tons of possible routes to take/places to visit, the traveling community is weirdly small. I ran into not one but two different people I'd hung out with in my earlier travels (one in Israel, one in Athens) in the same day while walking through Budapest. Forces of the universe at work, I tell ya....]
Out of Italy #3: Prague, Czech Republic
Second (and final?) stop in the east was Prague- a city I'd heard a lot about, beginning in Costa Rica. It had the reputation of not only being extremely gorgeous, but also possessing a pretty active nightlife. Best of both worlds, right?
I really did enjoy Prague, no doubt. But maybe if I hadn't already seen Vienna, I would've been more amazed by its Victorian beauty. And maybe if I wasn't coming from Budapest, I'd have been overwhelmed by the nightlife experience....
That being said, I still had a great time in Prague. The walking tour I took was my favorite of the five or so I've been on so far. Seeing the astronomical clock "performance" was pretty cool. I came across free-ranging peacocks one morning, which definitely made my day. The city was full of scenic views and elegant architecture. And trying authentic absinthe had been on my To Do list... ;)
Plus, met some cool people and had a good Prague-after-dark experience. A fun, beautiful, and cheap city.
Loving All the Moving, But...
To those of you who don't know much about backpacking, it may sound like one big vacation. And while it is most likely on average more enjoyable than a routine of studying/working day after day, let me tell you: straight traveling is exhausting. Most cities are a three or four day stop, and in that short amount of time you try and fit in EVERY single "touristy" thing to do. Plus activities you hear recommended by other travelers. Plus going out at night. And if you're me, you walk everywhere. Because you're cheap. And wandering around is fun, anyway. But put it all together and it's a lot.
No, I am in no way complaining. Honestly, the backpacker life is pretty stress-free :) However, I am quite looking forward to spending at least a week in southern France. I'm planning on beach-bumming it for a while, coupled with some daytrips to the Cannes film fest. Sounds like a good life, no?
Two more big cities and then the beach. Hope y'all are enjoying finals....