Nothing says good morning like a wake-up call at 5am for an early morning flight. It would be fine usually if I didn’t go out to 2am and wasn’t still in my clothes from the night before, but hey, that is travel!
Next stop was the beautiful Vienna – the most liveable city in the world (beaten by my home Melbourne this year). I do understand why, at least they have a train from the airport, which is SO easy to use and is very cheap.
Our new home for one night was A&O just on the edge of the city. When we discovered we couldn’t check in we headed into the city via Uber (which are also SUPER cheap).
Although our Uber driver was a bit of a maniac driver we made it safely. So we wandered the streets on Vienna, a little ill and very delirious, however, the city is stunning!! Definitely would LOVE more time here.
Once the heat got too much for us, we headed back to the Hostel to check-in and meet our new Contiki group, the whole 48 of them…
Nothing says welcome like a night on the town so we headed to a local bar for karaoke and loads of cheap drinks, that says good start.
I wish I had more to say about Vienna, but I don’t. Apart from the drinks and Ubers are cheap. I’ll be back because I LOVE the Sound of Music.
Auschwitz and Birkenau
It was an early start, even with a big night before, but we headed on the bus set for Czech Republic for lunch.
New country, new currency and new food. Most of us headed straight to the chemist after lunch to get rid of our “travel cough” from the big week in Croatia.
But then it was back to the bus headed for Poland and Auschwitz – the concentration camp in Poland and one of the largest and most brutal during the Nazi regime.
Having studied WWII in year 11 history, I was interested to learn more about these times from the first hand experience at Auschwitz and as our Contiki Leader, Sophie said: “Those who do not learn from the past are deemed to repeat it” – which also happened to be one of my high school essay topics.
There is no way I can describe to you the feelings while at Auschwitz and this is why we all need to go, we all need to learn and we all need to share what we learnt so this doesn’t happen again. So I want to share with you some of the notes I took (also important for those aspiring to be a writer, always take notes as you go).
During the Nazi regime, 1.3 million people were taken to Auschwitz, first, it was the educated and later a lot of the Jewish community, Soviet soldiers and homosexuals. Those who were enrolled in this camp all had different triangles on their suits which showcased what they were labelled as for the German soldiers.
Prisoners were kept in Auschwitz to work and the rest were never seen again. When you arrive in Auschwitz you will see the sign, which means “War makes you free”. From there we are guided through the blocks where we learnt about what happened in these blocks and on display is all the items found when Auschwitz was invaded.
In each of these blocks, around 700-1000 people slept. It was an eye-opener the whole time and so important for us to see what happened during this time. We also were taken through the last gas chamber that is still standing, the others in Birkenau were burnt down.
From 1940-1945, 1.1 million people were killed during the time Auschwitz was running. Although it was really heavy, it was all part of our history.
Once we left Auschwitz and Birkenau we set on for Krakow! What a city! The night was spent doing the Krakow club crawl, a lot of fun and a lot of vodkas involved and for 11 EURO you get a lot of free drinks.
Our full day in Krakow was spent exploring the city. Old Town is truly beautiful! Saint Mary’s Church is the highlight, while in Old Town get a Obwarzanek Krakowski (bread below) and go for a walk down to the Dragon’s Castle. For around $2 AUD you can go down into the dragon’s cave.
So what is the story with this? The Wawel Dragon is a famous dragon in Polish mythology who lived in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the banks of the Vistula River. One of the many popular stories about the dragon takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s mythical founder. In the legend, the dragon terrified local villagers by destroying their houses and eating up their young daughters (WIKI).
In the night we headed as a group for a pierogi dinner. The pierogi is a traditional Polish dumpling type dish, which was very interesting. Loved the savoury ones, but the sweet was a little bland.
What are the must do’s in Krakow? Go to Auschwitz, explore the Old Town, try a pierogi and try some cheap vodka! Krakow, I really am in love!!
Budapest – Slovakia
Bus day – had breakfast in Poland, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Hungary.
The restaurant in Slovakia, Klubovna was hilarious and quirky and the pork knuckle burger was delish – plus the deep-fried cheese, oh my!
We arrived in Budapest in the early evening and checked into our hostel Wombats, which was a lot of fun and in a great location!
From our hostel, we headed straight to the river for our dinner river cruise and it was beautiful. The food was traditional Hungarian Goulash, Paprika chicken, little potato dumplings and loads of salami and cheese – delish.
The highlight of the trip was seeing the sights and also seeing the Parliament building, at night it is stunning!! Definitely a great way to see the city down the Danube river.
After that, it was straight to the bar! In Budapest, they have a lot of amazing ruin bars in the Palace District, which are incredible. It was here we tried the traditional Unicum shot and it nearly killed us.
But it was time to ramp it up, so the next stop was probably one of the best clubs I’ve been to in a long time, Instant! So many different rooms playing a huge range of music, this place was huge!
We very much saw in day 2 in Budapest and ended our night with a bike tuk-tuk home, which was an experience and a half.
Day two started off a little slow but considering the 5am finish, we weren’t in too hard form. So up and at them and off to explore.
For one of the best views in the city, head up to Citadella. It is busy but my god the view is stunning and very much worth the sweatiness!
If you’re hungry and want a traditional feed, head to name Central Market for a Langos. This is deep fried bread with sour cream, cheese and other toppings – I chose the Hungarian salami and it was delish!!
After that, it was off to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, which meant we had to navigate the public transport. Not to worry it is easy! The trams are free and the metro staff are extremely helpful and will help with your directions.
The thermal baths are very touristy but a must-do in Budapest, especially if you are carrying a hangover! It is around $20AUD with a locker, but you also have access to the saunas, which go to 100 degrees, so it will help sweat all those toxins out for sure.
We had a free night to explore and just close to Wombats is a laneway full of different restaurants, which is a really cool area and so much to choose from!
If you’re looking to see Budapest at night, another great option is one of the rooftop bars! Air 360, although may not have the cheapest drinks in the city, gives you an incredible peaceful view of the city – plus you get blankets!
Then just like us, head back to Instant because it is THAT good!
Budapest was my favourite city so far on my European journey. The people are nice, the nightlife is crazy, the monuments are truly beautiful and the atmosphere is incredible! You will NOT be disappointed.
I would be lying if I said the bus ride to Slovenia was easy because it wasn’t. Budapest nearly killed me – one thing you remember with travelling is it is tiring!!
Before we got to Ljubljana, we made a stop at Lake Bled! I feel like every time I see photos of Europe, Lake Bled is always in the mix, so I was super excited to see it in the flesh. Lake Bled is only a small town and is famous for the Bled Cream Cake (which I did not try).
Once we arrived at Lake Bled it was straight to the designated swimming area, which was STUNNING!! For 8 EURO you can enter, which has different pools as well as a sectioned off area of the lake. Also featuring is a diving board and WATERSLIDE! How amazing!
The backdrop of the swim is the beautiful island Bled, which features the church Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. If a bride or groom is married at this church, the groom has to carry the bride to the top – which is 100 steps (well that was what I was told).
The swim was exactly what I needed, then it was off to the town of Ljubljana for the night. We were taken straight to town for dinner, where we discovered this town is the home to horse meat – yep no thanks.
The town is very pretty, really you just need to stick to the lake area for food. We headed to a little Italian place called Ljubljanski Dvor and the food was good, I recommend the lasagne for sure!
Once you have had a meal, the real place for gelato is Cocoa, so many great flavours. A recommendation of mine is white chocolate piossatio or cheesecake.
For the night we stayed at Ljubljana Resort and Camp (not the resort you think), which gave us a MUCH needed sleep. Slovenia is a beautiful mountain country with quiet cities and a lot of beautiful scenery.
Next time… ITALY.
Overall thoughts on Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is stunning!! So much to see, so much to do and all countries are so different and beautiful in their own way.
If I had to give a 100% answer, Budapest was my favourite, but they all had their own charm. Whilst travelling between destinations via bus I had the chance to get a lot of work done. However, what was difficult was the no real stable wifi and downtime to get loads uploaded or finalised.
I did manage to post a blog, get a podcast out and finish a video. But with the times and the rushed travelling, I didn’t get to give them the love I would have back home. My advice for someone travelling and writing or travelling and working, stay in a city for more than 3 nights, that way you have a downtime night to get things finalised and give them more attention.
But, I’m learning as I go and sometimes things are delayed, but that is okay! All I can do is get the content created and delivered – timings aren’t always everything!