This adventure has been a long time in the making and it’s nearly polar opposite from what I usually do or how I normally travel.
More than a year ago, my work mate DJ said “I want to go to Europe with you” and like everyone who says that I say OK and figure absolutely nothing will happen. Because nothing ever does. So I was somewhat surprised when she brought it up again, and this time my response was ‘where do you want to go?’ because if someone only wants to go to Rome or Paris, I’m not the person they should go with.
Her response “I don’t know… I’ve never been to Europe…” Great… I have got a geographically challenged person with no idea of what they might like to do. Europe is pretty big, I say. It include Istanbul, Greece, London, Moscow, Stockholm, Barcelona, and many places in between. I begin to think that this may not be happening.
Over time, DJ and I become good friends. She cons me into running a 5k at home and a 10K in Charleston; I conned her into staying in a hostel while running said 10K. And driving. It was a wash. Eventually we decide on summer 2015 as when we should go. My vote was May or September (shoulder season and not 1000 degrees); her vote was July or August, based on kid’s school schedules (hers, obvs). We finally decide on last week of August and first week of September. I should mention that I’ve never been to Europe in the summer and what I know I know from reading and talking to others.
We probably did about 50 trip combinations before settling on out actual route. She wanted to go to the beach; I wanted to go somewhere I haven’t been before. Croatia, Italy, and Spain were some of the finalists, but in the end, the planes, trains, and boats just wouldn’t work out financially. DJ really wanted to go to Barcelona, Paris, and London; I explained that those cities were probably the most expensive and with the budget we were working with, we could do one, maybe two, but not all three.
I got an email alert for a really good price on a flight to Budapest. Normally, I fly into one city and out of another, but this time, we did a round trip for <$700 in August/September. I call that a win.
Now from Budapest, we could go south, or north. I was pushing for South… Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece. DJ was deterred by the lack of tourist infrastructure and the Cyrillic alphabet so we went North. We eventually settled on Budapest–>Vienna–>Prague–>Berlin–>Copenhagen–>London–>Budapest circuit over three weeks.
I was a little bummed to be missing out on Spain… yet again, but London for the 5th time was an acceptable substitute.
Because London is awesome, and no matter how many visits I have, there will always be more things to do. And Berlin is awesome too. So I knew that at least those two cities were going to be OK. The other cities were a toss-up. Even more interesting would be the accommodations. I’ve always stayed in hostels and if I am really feeling flush, I’ll get a private room. DJ was a hotel girl. We settled on guesthouses and apartments plus a hostel in London with two beds and a bathroom.
Different styles… different expectations… let’s hope the friendship survives.
Parts 2 and 3
Three flight delays from Greenville, a close call in Washington DC, an uneventful overnight flight to Munich, a much-loved [and craved] pretzel during the Munich layover, a short flight to Budapest, a visit to passport control, and DJ has her first ever passport stamp. Currency exchanged [dollars to fornits], train tickets purchased, subway passes bought, and a 15-minute walk while carrying our luggage in the 100 degree [no exaggeration] heat, we’ve arrived at our first stop.
I’m always nervous booking places on-line. Now for me, my expectations are low, and whatever the place looks like, as long as there are no visible bugs or drug needles, I am generally OK with it. DJ’s standards were a bit higher. Luckily, my first guest house was a winner… two beds, and in-room bathroom, and a central location. What’s missing is air-condition. Now, while I expected this, I did not expect it to be 100 degrees. DJ is dying; I’m surviving but only barely. Thank God for the small, but powerful fan inside our room.
For our first meal in Budapest, DJ wants to go to… McDonald’s. For a cheeseburger. No street food for that girl. No sidewalk pizza will do. A plain cheeseburger. We traveled 6000 miles for McDonald’s. [me… shaking head in disbelief] Luckily, I have been here before. I know there are multiple McDonald’s in Budapest, including one just a five minutes walk away, but that’s not the one I suggest we go to. Budapest has quite possible the world’s nicest McDonald’s [or at least the nicest one I’ve ever seen] inside the Nyugati train station. I discovered this gem when I was in Budapest in January 2013 freezing my ass off. [Irony upon irony: first visit to Budapest I nearly froze to death; this visit I may die of heat stroke] I was just looking for some heat when I happened upon this mirage inside the train station.
DJ agrees. And it has air condition. I am a hero… At least for a little while.