All throughout the year, one of the things that gave me hope and motivation to get through those long hours at work, was my plane ticket booked to Budapest on the 28th Dec.
Initially, in my naiivity I thought that over New Years I would comfortably travel for 2 months wherever I want in Europe before returning home. But after London sucked all the money from my savings for nights out, paying the rent and just living, I settled for a solid two weeks backpacking around Eastern Europe.
It isn’t a eurotrip without waking up at ghastly hours to catch a ryanair flight. Before the break of dawn, I was at the airport eagerly anticipating the following weeks. I was joining a topdeck tour (for those who don’t know, topdeck is a tour company where mostly Australians party around Europe) and I was looking forward to a week of late nights, cheap drinks in some culturally rich and vibrant places.
BUDAPEST - HUNGARY
After landing in Budapest, Hungary, so began the challenge of making my way to the hostel. Now, Hungarian really is a strange language, indecipherable to the girl who can only speak English. Thanks to precise directions and one too many glances at maps and street signs, I made it into the heart of the city. And wow, Budapest is beautiful! A mix of Euro-Asian archictecture with such recent history and bold culture, I was enthralled.
At the hostel, The Wombats (which I would highly recommend) I met two lovely Australians, who will feature in this blog a lot due to our shared love for adventure, and we joined the tour. It was slightly intimidating joining a group of 40+ who had already been traveling together for 2 weeks, however, everyone was so fun and welcoming. With our cute Polish tour guide, we did a driving tour of the city. Personally, you haven’t seen a city unless you’ve seen it under the cover of darkness. We drove up to the castle on the hill which overlooked the Danube and the entire city and I was swept away with its beauty. Church spires protruded from the sea of buildings reaching for the heavens and golden lights glimmered under the moonlight.
That night, we had traditional hearty Hungarian cuisine with amazing beer, whilst socializing with our group. Seriously, all Australians. We then went to a renowned ice bar which, yes you guessed right, is a bar entirely made from ice. The only problem was that my glass kept melting in my hand, resulting in sculling my drink. Afterwards, we went to probably one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to quite a few). In Budapest, there are a lot of ‘ruin bars’ which are converted bars which used to be either Nazi, Soviet or military buildings. With funky music, a vast selection of beer and cool vibes, I was in my element.
Hungarians are absolutely lovely people, but drunk, sleazy Hungarian men are not. At all. And the Hungarian accent really isn’t the sexiest out there either I’m afraid. With flirting being translated to a strange potential stalker relationship, I think it’s safe to say that my future husband will not be Hungarian. After fighting the leeches off, us girls were free to finally dance. And the music was amazing! We don’t know how this happened but suddenly it was 4:30am, and with our wake up calls being 8am every morning, it was time to call it a night.
The next day was a free day, starting a little slow and quiet after a big night, we headed to The House of Terror. Despite the touristy name, it was remarkable. This building which lies on one of the main streets of Budapest used to be the Soviet headquarters where prisoners were held and tortured until the 1970s-80s. Afterwards, I went on a free walking tour of the city by myself where I met these lovely Romanians. I absolutely love the free walking tours which are usually offered in all major cities across Europe. They’re run by local guides who are knowledgeable and passionate about their country and work off of tips, so if you’re on a super tight budget aka moi, it’s perfect.
After galavanting around the city all day, that night, I was joined by two others and we went to the thermal baths. The best money I’ve ever spent in my life! We arrived at 7pm and paid a discounted price (score) and stayed for nearly 3 hours. With the temperature lingering around 0degrees outside, words cannot describe the orgasmic feeling of diving into a pool which was 38degrees. The three of us found a corner or the pool, put our heads back, our feet up and just relaxed. We even bought champagne. That night I absolutely passed out after being nourished by the thermal waters cleansing my mind and body.
The next morning was a struggle, 3:30am wake up for a 4:15am departure. Those hours don’t even register to me. Luckily I was able to pass out on the bus for a few hours. This is what I absolutely love about Europe, there’s so many countries within such close proximity, that sometimes you don’t even realize when you enter a different one. Within one day we drove through Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland. I still can’t get my mind around it. Back home you can drive for 10 hours and still be in the same state.
A grim start to the day as we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camp. The whole day I just felt sick. And not because of the cough I had picked up from all the sick people on tour, but this intrinsic feeling deep within me, knowing that horrendous acts occurred on the very ground I was walking on. In November whislt in Munich, I went to Dachau, which was such a moving experience, I didn’t know how I would handle the most infamous camp that was responsible for millions of deaths. There were two particular accounts where I broke down. The first was seeing the room full of hair they cut from the prisoners. And the second, was a story that our guide told us of the first Christmas in Auschwitz. In the main square they put up a huge Christmas tree in the main square. Prisoners hopes and spirits were slightly raised before being crushed on Christmas morning to find corpses of their loved ones under the tree. The whole experience of being there left me feeling empty and numb, something I’ve never felt before. It made me realize just how important history is and how we shall never forget, but learn from the past in the hope of living peacefully in the future.
KRAKOW – POLAND
Ah Poland, the land of vodka. I absolutely loved Krakow. I may be a little biased in saying this because of my thing for Polish boys, but the architecture, history and culture is truly unique. That night we hit the town, of course, and ended up consuming way too much vodka. For the equivalent for 80p shots and drinks, how could we resist? And vodka is my drink of choice so I felt completely in my element!
The next day we went on a walking tour throughout the old streets of Krakow. My friends and I ventured up to the castle which was pretty incredible. We ventured through the Christmas markets buying bits and pieces here and there. Then we stumbled across the magic of Pierogis, traditional Polish cuisine which is like a little dumpling stuffed with various ingredients like beef, potatoes, spinach, cottage cheese and even strawberries. So good. We headed back to the hotel for a quick nanna nap in preparation of the nights festivities for New Years Eve!
We picked up a bottle of Zubrowka vodka for 3pounds and drank it with apple juice, creating the goodness of apple pie in our mouths. At 10 we headed into the main square where all the celebrations were occurring, after consuming vodka, wine and more vodka. With the temperature between -2 – 0 it was very different to the summer evening 28-30degree New Years I’m used to. All rugged up, we welcomed the New Year dancing, singing and drinking some more. 2014… WOW.
Thankfully we had a late departure the next day to compensate with the hangovers. So it was goodbye Poland and hello Czech Republic.
PRAGUE – CZECH REPUBLIC
With everyone settling down with a quiet night, my friend and I decided to go out. And it turned into one of the wildest nights on the tour. We started off at an amazing lounge drinking cocktails and being all ladylike. We then headed towards a club we were told about before stumbling upon this wicked underground bar with amazing music. We got some drinks and became acquainted with everyone in the bar. We ended up hanging out with this group of gay French guys who were absolutely hilarious and the best dancers ever. Then met this group of German guys and ended up doing shot of tequila with them and suddenly it was 5am. How does that keep happening? Regardless, it was such a good night!
After 2 hours sleep, we went on a walking tour of Prague. Easily one of the coolest cities I’ve been to. The Astronomical Clock, main square, hundreds of churches and atmosphere of the city is so incredible! We ventured through the Jewish Ghetto, getting some awesome Czech food and walking along the river, soaking up all that Prague had to offer.
That night, surprise surprise, we went out. Prague is home to Central Europe’s biggest nightclub, with 5 storeys of pumping music, filled with tourists, it’s pretty insane. By night 7, my liver had pretty much committed suicide, so I was on the water. In the Czech Republic it is legal to smoke inside restaurants and clubs, so my head was spinning from the smoke. I called it a night at 3am and crawled into bed smothered in other peoples smoke and sweat.
The next morning we said goodbye to the tour as we finished up in Prague. My two Ozzies and I had a chilled day exploring the other side of the river, and ventured up to the castle. Such a magnificent view of the city. Feeling a bit worse for wear after a week of partying I went back to my hostel to have one of the best sleeps of my life.
The following night I went into the city to meet up with my friends to have one final night out to say a proper farewell to Prague. Unfortunately this is where my story becomes less than legendary because I became very sick. I don’t know if I ate something bad, or it was the alcohol pumping through my veins, but I was throwing up all night. So unfortunately, I had to cut my eurotrip short, as I flew back to London as soon as I could manage to get out of bed, meaning Vienna and Berlin… you’re still on my list, but I’m coming for you.
I had such an incredible time galavanting across Eastern Europe, meeting some wicked people and having some pretty (un)memorable nights. For anyone considering Eastern Europe, don’t think, just do it. There seems to be many stereotypes out there about the dangers of the east, but bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere. Not to scare you off but it’s true. I think as long as you maintain common sense and don’t let the alcohol control your decision process then you’ll be sweet. So that’s how I spent my New Years, drinking all around Eastern Europe for a fraction of the price you’d pay back in the UK.
So Happy New Year to you all, I hope 2014 brings health, good times and happiness.