After 12,531 miles, 667 pictures, 9 cities, 4 hostels, about 10 pounds of cheese, 23 different beers, more chocolate than anyone should ever eat, 713 euros, and way too much fun, I am finally back stateside. I’m sitting in my little office, sorting through huge piles of paper, wondering if Eurotrip 2013 ever really happened. Did I dream it? Possibly. I’ll have to look back through my pictures for the hundredth time to remind myself that, hell yes, I just backpacked across Europe. Join me!
Disclaimer: I apologize for my over-use of the words ‘amazing,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘incredible.’ Also, you have my permission to skim this ridiculous novel of a post and just look at the pictures.
Philadelphia, PA -> New York, NY -> Helsinki, Finland -> Geneva, Switzerland
Good Lord. If you want to get to Switzerland on the cheap, the travel is going to suck. After a bus, a train, a tram, two flights, and 24+ hours of travel, I arrived in the Geneva airport to… nothing. I made a couple circles around the terminal, unsure if I would be greeted by Jasmine or her aunt, and instead found myself stranded. Realizing it was best to stay put, I tried to look nonchalant on a bench for about 20 minutes until I saw Jasmine’s worried face bobbing through the crowd. Thank goodness! It turned out that everyone’s arrival was a bit chaotic – both Natalie and Alex were late due to over-booked trains, and we had no way to communicate with each other about the delays. Nevertheless, we all arrived safely in Geneva to the open arms and amazing hospitality of Jasmine’s family. Seriously, Jasmine’s family is the bomb. Thanks to them, we enjoyed comfortable beds, endless amount of delicious Swiss food (and kir de cassis), horseback riding through the foothills of the Alps, a day trip to their historic family house in southern France, and wonderful stories about their heritage. We had such a great time in Geneva, that we decided to stay an extra night before heading off to the Jungfrau region.
Geneva, Switzerland -> Interlaken, Switzerland
We began the more adventurous leg of our trip at 6 am on Wednesday, and immediately ran into some obstacles. Apparently our Eurail passes didn’t cover the private mountain rails of the Jungfrau region. We hopped illegally from train to train, giving the same shocked expression and sob story every time we were forced off at the next stop. We finally made it to Grindelwald, the small city where our hike began, only to be told that the gondola ride to the trail-head cost a whopping 57 euro. I was a little upset about this since I put a lot of research into finding the best hike, and expected this to be my favorite part of the trip. But like the cheapskates that we are, we decided the gondola was 57 euros too much, and took a different trail from Grindelwald back down to Interlaken, walking at least 10 miles, carrying all of our stuff (and yall, my backpack is not made for hiking). Despite the heavy burden and the disappointment, the hike was just incredible. Around every corner was another field of wildflowers, another snow-capped peak, another majestic glacial waterfall. The hills were literally alive with the sound of music: all the goats and cows of the villages we passed wore different pitched bells whose tinkling chimes carried on the wind, giving the hike a surreal, other-worldly soundtrack.
Interlaken, Switzerland -> Vienna, Austria -> Salzburg, Austria
Is there any better way to end a long day of hiking than to sleep cramped in a train car to Austria? Yes, many – but unfortunately this was the way for us. Our journey to Salzburg was a little convoluted – the night train goes all the way to Vienna (much further east), but we figured we would lose less daytime by going there and then taking a shorter train back to Salzburg in the morning. Little did we know we would be taking an alternative route and riding for an extra 3 hours due to massive flooding. We made it to Salzburg in plenty of time, however, and we checked into our (very nice) hostel, freshened up, and began exploring the city. You guys, Salzburg is awesome. Not only does it have the Mirabell Gardens, Mozart’s birthplace, and the Sound of Music – it also has some amazing walking paths that give sweeping panoramic views, a man standing on a giant gold ball, a really cool fortress up on a mountain, and some stellar gnocchi. I definitely underestimated Salzburg, it was lovely lovely lovely.
Salzburg, Austria -> Munich, Germany
The next stop was Munich. Oh, Munich. To begin, we checked in at our hostel, which was less than lovely… it was disgusting. We stayed at Jaeger’s Munich (DO NOT STAY HERE) in a 40-bed dorm with a shared bathroom that had the most unGodly stench I have ever smelled. Hostel aside, Munich was bangin’. We did everything you need to do and more. We watched the little characters in the clock dance at noon in Marienplatz, we listened to a group of Germans boisterously singing classic Bavarian tunes, we ate giant pretzels and sausages at the market, we lounged in the English gardens with the nudists, watched someone surf the damned up stream that runs through the gardens, took a turn in a little rowboat, visited Hofbrau House and several other biergardens, and drank lots of beer. Good times were had by all.
Munich, Germany -> Rotterdam, Netherlands -> Amsterdam, Netherlands
Am I the only one who had no idea how amazing Amsterdam is? Yall. This is the chillest city. The houses are adorable, the canals are gorgeous, it’s huge into biking, and it’s just awesome. Plus the people are so nice – our hostel was right on the edge of a park, where I went for a run one morning and met some very friendly folks. Yes, marijuana and prostitution are legal in Amsterdam, but there is so much more to this city! We did a walking tour and learned a lot of the history, which is super cool. They put up some serious resistance to Nazi occupancy, and hosted some pretty famous folks (Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, and Multatuli, to name a few). Other things done in Amsterdam: enjoyed a crazy delicious quiche and traditional stampot dish, biked around the parks and canals, went to the tulip and flea markets, drank more beer, got seriously lost, played cards in the park after dark, found the “I amsterdam” sign, and enjoyed free breakfast at our baller hostel. Next stop, a day trip to Brussels on the way to Paris!
Amsterdam, Netherlands -> Brussels, Belgium
I can sum up our time in Brussels with these brief instructions: Waffles. Chocolate. Beer. Repeat. Brussels is delicious. It was a little bit drizzly and chilly when we arrived, which provided the perfect atmosphere for a warm waffle covered in chocolate and strawberries. I have no regrets. The touristy parts of the city are pretty small and we covered some serious ground amidst our indulging. My favorite site was the Cathedral of St. Michael. The stained glass was gorgeous, and since it was still pretty early and gray when we arrived, we nearly had the church to ourselves. The sun came up later in the afternoon, and we took our time wandering from place to place. It was quite nice, until we missed our train to Paris. The lady that sold us our tickets just, you know, forgot to mention that the train left from a different train station, on the opposite side of town. We spent about an hour in a panic, negotiating with someone at the other station, and eventually got settled with a ticket to Lille, and a refund for our ticket to Paris (since the lady could not confirm or purchase tickets for any more trains to Paris after this, on account of a worker strike). So we knew we would make it at least partly there… thus, we decided to eat our picnic and drink more beer outside of the train station. I have no regrets. When we arrived in Lille, we waited in another line to be told that no, we could not buy tickets to Paris from here. More panic. And then we were saved by Mormons. Seriously. They were saints (of the latter-day variety). They walked us to another station in Lille, stood in line with us, argued with the ticket counter lady, and got us on a train to Paris. Thank you, Jesus.
Brussels, Belgium -> Lille, France -> Paris, France
I didn’t want to love Paris, but I couldn’t help it. Yes, it’s cliche. It rained on our first day, so we went to the Louvre. Wow. Just wow. The collection is astounding. I could have spent days in there, but alas, we got hungry. After lunch we spent some time browsing the shelves at Shakespeare and Company, then tip-toeing through the magical nave of the Notre Dame. By that point the sun had come out, so we traipsed back through the streets, stopping for crepes and souvenirs along the way. For dinner we got wine, a baguette, some cheese, found a bench on the Seine, and watched the sun set over the Notre Dame. That night we stayed out dancing in a wine cellar-turned-dance hall until 3 or 4. Despite the late night, we set out early the next day. We got more crepes for breakfast and climbed the steps to La Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. We rode the carousel, checked out the little shops, and then made our way to the Eiffel Tower for one last picnic (complete with two bottles of champagne and our handy deck of cards). After a lazy afternoon on the lawn in front of the tower, we strolled back along the Champs Elysees and got ready for dinner. We ate at the most delicious fondue place. It was tiny, hot, and crowded. They asked: meat or cheese? red or white? Then they brought out glasses of kir, appetizers, baby bottles of wine, a huge pot of bubbly cheese fondue, and endless bread. After dinner, we ran to see the Moulin Rouge with some new friends, and then raced back up the hill in Montmartre in time to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight. It was perfect in every way.
Paris, France -> Lyon, France -> Geneva, Switzerland -> Helsinki, Finland
Given that I had insanely long layovers in Helsinki for both my arrival and return trip, I think I spent enough time there to include it in this write-up. So what can I say about Finland? Well, the airport is very nice, they won’t let you through security with a yogurt, they grow lots of berries (including ones you’ve never heard of – like lingonberry and cloudberry), and they have very clean and expensive hotel rooms. Yes, I broke down and got a hotel room. Despite the fact that this cost half as much as all the hostels combined, I was so exhausted by the time I got to Helsinki that the idea of spending 15 hours in the airport overnight nearly brought me to tears. I just wanted a private space where I could stretch, get naked, and not have to worry about my stuff. Once I got in the room, I realized this was an A+ good decision. I slept like a baby. So much so, that I almost missed check out. Drama, drama.
Heslinki, Finland -> New York, NY
Trams, trains, buses, and really long, dirty walks. I do not love New York. (That is all).
New York, NY -> Philadelphiaaaaaaaaaa!
In conclusion, though this is the longest post I’ve ever written, it does the trip no justice whatsoever. I should have broken it down into a post for each city, but alas I am lazy, still exhausted, and attempting to conquer all of the work I left behind… before I leave again. This time I’m headed to the beach for five days. I know, you hate me, I would too. Less reason to hate me: I am currently rocking the opposite of a beach bod due to extreme over-indulgence for the past month, so look forward to a healthy recipe post or two! :)
Lastly, if you have any questions about our itinerary, or are attempting to plan a Eurotrip yourself, feel free to ask! I put a good amount of effort into the planning, and would love to help out fellow travelers.