The Short Tour of Eastern Europe

I think it’s only apt that I write my holiday post from T2B in Budapest, given that I wrote my last post in Dublin airport. There is a significant lack of a sugar laden hot chocolate though, and I’ve had to settle for a coffee from none other than Costa. Yes, they have Costa here. Not the first brand you’d pray they’d have on holidays but at least it’s a familiarity. 

My first time in the east of the continent was Croatia two years ago. What struck me about it was how its cities such as Zadar and Split married its old Roman towns with the remnants of communist architecture. It had only just opened itself to tourism in the last fifteen years and was eager to show itself off. It was beautiful. So when the opportunity to explore more of Eastern Europe arose, I took it.

We visited four major cities. Berlin, Germany, Prague, Czech Republic, Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary. Each city gave me something new. Berlin taught me the devastation of division, Prague showed how detrimental selling your soul out for American brands is, and also how beautiful a city can be, Budapest showed how a city once racked by war and oppression could rise from the ashes, and Vienna, well Vienna took my camera.

Yes, my lovely little Lumix camera that I spent what felt like a lifetime eyeing up on Amazon is no more.

Of course, to add salt to the wound, and to complete a typical family holiday, one of us was ill. And this time, it was me. I spent most of the three weeks unable to eat much, sleeping a fair bit, and experiencing less than good mental health but in saying that, I didn’t feel it impacted the trip drastically. I still fulfilled everything I wished to do, and made a good stab at seeing as much as I could. Being occupied with new sights helped my mental health improve and whilst I couldn’t indulge in Viennese pastries as much as I would have liked, perhaps the lack of sugar overdose was a somewhat god-send.

Berlin

Hotel: Hotel Park Consul. Spacious rooms, not mad about the breakfast. Perfect location.

What got me most about Berlin was how much its recent history still shapes its tourist industry. Souvenirs and such are still available with a map of Berlin divvied up into four sections, American, British, French, and USSR. The city itself didn’t really appeal to me, and I think that’s because it’s such a product of its past. There was no ‘main’ area, no ‘old town’, due to the extensive bombings during WWII. Each area, such as Charlottenburg and Potsdamer Platz, had its own centre so whilst you felt as though you were in a busy hub, you never really felt as though you were in the heart of the city or the centre of the action.

Then again, the city is probably just too big to have a definitive centre like Prague. East Berlin is still quite run down but for the most part, I liked it. It had a Soviet charm with streets still named after Lenin, Marx, and Stalin, along with East German company headquarters lining the Karl Marx Allée. The various memorials to the Berlin wall were particularly moving and definitely something to visit if you want a proper grasp of what went on during the era of the Iron Curtain. The underground social scene is also something to experience, there is absolutely nothing like it, and I would go back purely to listen to German rock in an abandoned warehouse somewhere on the east side. 

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Prague

Hotel: Ibis Old Town. Always busy, good breakfast, bang in the centre of history.

Prague is beautiful for its architecture, and streets so clean you’d find it hard to get a good grip on them but it seems to be overrun by western corporations. There’s a Hamley’s, Tesco’s, Sephora, and several American brands that you only need to walk down Grafton St to find. So really, you feel as though you’re in any English-speaking city just with the good weather. Despite that, it is still incredibly beautiful, especially the old town on both sides of the river. The view from the palace is just spectacular, and on a really good day, you can see the wide stretch of Czech countryside that very few get to experience.

I mean, come on

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My highlight here was the Communist museum, a rather tongue-in-cheek recollection of history where you can buy postcards saying “You couldn’t get laundry detergent but you could get your brainwashed”. The museum did have its sobering side however, and demonstrated just how drastic the revolts in the late 1980s against the communist regime in Prague were. Also, I’d recommend the Apple Museum, a small collection of Apple products over the last 40 years, along with a history of Steve Job’s life and work.  Prague also has a fantastic nightlife so I’m not surprised why it’s favoured by hen and stag nights alike. There are pub crawls constantly on the prowl and the city is filled with young people. Definitely somewhere I’d consider if I wanted a weekend away with friends. 

Vienna

Hotel: Old fashioned hotel, excellent service, great breakfast. Felt like something out of the 1930s. Receptionist was second to none.

Many of my friends rave about Vienna but for the first few days, I was just not feeling it. It seemed as though it was impersonal, and lacked soul. But it was wealthy. So very, very wealthy. Its museums are laden with golden artefacts, its architecture second to none and it is incredibly clean-looking, like walking through an even more beautiful version of DC. But I still failed to grasp what so many people raved about. I just think I wasn’t there long enough (I may also be feeling burnt due to the fact I lost my camera there. RIP Lumix, you were much-loved).

Joooooohann Strauss

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I did nip into the Schönbrunn zoo and fulfilled a dream of mine of seeing a giant panda and turns out that same panda’s mate had twin cubs only yesterday.

Soulmate

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Budapest

Hotel: Roombach Hotel. If you want to be in the centre of the action, this is it. Really helpful staff, good breakfast, such gorgeous rooms.

Budapest was my favourite, hands down. There was nothing like walking down its major boulevards, sauntering over Freedom Bridge now that it’s closed to traffic, watching the sun set over the Danube. I loved it. We found a Jewish restaurant not far from our hotel that gave us two starters, three mains, and two desserts for twenty-three euro. They served everything from “Hungarian Noodles” ie, pasta, to Goulash, pizza, and everything in between. The staff had charisma and a good attitude, and were constantly turning people away. We visited the Freedom Bridge, which is currently closed to traffic at the moment, and came across what has to have been the world’s longest yoga class. It was incredible to watch, on such a sunny evening, hundreds of people on the bridge with their mats, taking part in a class. It looked so relaxing. You could sit on the suspensions of bridge too if you were daring enough. I tried and failed miserably to get a leg up there but the views were still beautiful from the ground.

Buda camp at sunset

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I visited a synagogue for the first time and was blown away by the attention to detail that decorated its walls and ceilings. The place gave a very detailed history on Budapest’s Jewish quarter and included many moving memorials to the Holocaust.

One thing I missed here due to illness was the Sziget festival in the north of the city. I think I was the only one in Budapest under 25 not going to it. This meant that there were people from all over the world hitting up the city, giving it a wonderful multicultural feel for the week. Might just go next year…

I didn’t go on this holiday with many expectations, I knew very little about these four cities before I went, unlike most holidays where I’ve grown up watching them on TV, such as New York or San Francisco. So I can’t say that I was disappointed in any way. Each city had something unique to it and I tried to grasp as much of the lifestyle of each as possible. But the one that surprised me the most was Budapest, and it’s definitely the one I’ll be returning to as soon as I can!

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin at sunset
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View of the Holocaust memorial, Berlin
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We stumbled across David Bowie’s guitar in the Hard Rock Café, Berlin
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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words at the Berlin Wall Memorial
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Section of the Berlin Wall
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Nám Republiky, Prague. Beware of the many Segway tourists
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View of Prague from its castle
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Prague’s own painted ladies
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Gold statue of Johann Strauss, Stadtpark, Vienna
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Parliament Building, Vienna
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Long Hui at Tiergarten Schöbrunn, Vienna. Turns out, Yang Yang was giving birth!
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Inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. I felt like a princess.
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Yoga on the Freedom Bridge, Budapest
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Budapest and the Danube
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Inside the second largest Synagogue in the world, Budapest
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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin at sunset
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‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, a memorial honouring Jews killed in WWII
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Buddy Holly’s Jacket, Hard Rock Café, Budapest. Tears may have been shed.

You can find more photos on my instagram!

Have you been anywhere recently?

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