Sunday, June 10, 2007

Prague & Budapest

On April 22nd I met Will in Prague for a 5 week European adventure that we were going to do totally on the fly...we had found a tour we could have joined & used that as a guideline for where we wanted to go, but decided to trust our own abilities to negotiate logistics and did a fairly amazing job it...and probably had a much better time than if we'd been on a first off, after an exciting reunion with Will (who'd been travelling around for weeks before I even got there), we hit the city & walked til late in the evening. He had the bus & trains down already, so we used local transport & hoofed it all day exploring this amazing place. Prague was beautiful & ancient as I'd been told; and in April already packed to the gills with tourists - but it was so clean & perfect it almost had a Disneyland feel. I was expecting some former communist era grit, but that was to be found later...all in all, Prague is lovely, fairly cheap to eat in (train station hotdogs rock-but the squirt factor is really high: I ruined 3 garments with one bite), and is the perfect Old European City. I heard it referred to as the new Paris....the Communist Museum was especially great.... So after 5 great days in Prague we took an overnight sleeper train to Budapest. The private overnight sleeper train rocks! You get your travel & night's lodging at a reasonable price, and basically get a whole extra day in the town you're visiting. We'd arrive early in the morning, and the places we stayed at were kind enough to let us check in early, so sometimes we'd even get to check into our hotel at like 8:00am, take a nap, then toss back a steaming thimbleful of Nescafe, & hit the town! Yes, Europeans are obsessed with Nescafe (I was recently talking to someone under 30 who didn't know what Nescafe was so I had to describe the freeze dried "crystals" that were a big hit in the 70's, but I don't even know if you can buy it anymore in the states). Many weeks later, when I see my first Starbucks (in Greece), it was like seeing a giant icy glass of water in a desert & I sprinted towards the green logo with coddling modern couches as if my feet were on fire. Mainly, I wanted a large vessel of java..everywhere else in Europe had tiny, almost doll sized cups...and I don't care how strong the coffee might be in that Barbie Fun Mug, I need Large Quantities of coffee in the a.m. Excited to be in Turkey & try their famous coffee, imagine my dissapointment when the black sludgy liquid arrived in a one sip container...I had to race to the Starbucks in Istanbul to get my giant cup that I am apparently psychologically addicted to. The great thing about Nescafe is you get a good caffeine buzz, so that when we stayed at places that had the little individual serving "tubes", I'd have 4 or 5 & be set for the day...okay, enough about the coffee! I'll try to stay on topic with the Europe trip, as I'm writing this in July and there is much more ground to, Budapest was similar to Prague, but we lucked into a super groovy hostel I found on Hostelworld that was described as a "crumbling 500 year old building right on the Danube river.." I was in! It was a little pricey, but the Green Bridge Hostel was exactly what I needed to feel like I was in an ancient country. As in Prague, I was once again shocked by the clean grandeur of this large, formerly communist metropolis: where were the sooty stone block houses, the paint-huffing teens, the hunched over "bohemians" in rumpled dirty overcoats carrying tattered notebooks filled with depressing poetry?

After walking around & marvelling at the glitzy city we took a Danube River cruise on our last evening. We were excited to get onto our next adventure: further east on another overnight train to a location Will had picked: Brasov, Romania! That for sure sounded filled with ominous clouds, dark skies and gritty streets...