September 16, 2016
It was 8:30am and we were sitting on a train in Budapest bound for Slovenia. If all went accordingly, we would arrive in about 8 hours. The train was very old, with no power outlets or Wifi to distract me, so I thought why not use this time to reflect on our travels and experiences thus far?
We’ve been traveling for exactly 74 days since landing in Iceland on July 4, 2016. In that time, we’ve been to 14 countries (including the tiny principalities of Monaco and Vatican City), traveling by air, train and bus. Amazingly, we’ve only needed to have our passports stamped twice (Iceland and London), and to my surprise, it’s been relatively easy to move from country to country throughout Europe without much documentation at all. I think this is likely due to the fact that most countries we have visited are members of the Schengen Agreement. Anyway, I thought the best way to compile our experiences would be to make a list. Boring, I know. But I love a good list! So here it is, our top travel moments, our biggest surprises, and of course our biggest mishaps (so far). Enjoy!
Top 10 Travel Moments
(check out our latest blog posts for details on each of these adventures – we’re a little behind, so if you don’t see it posted yet, it should be published very soon!)
1. Interlaken: Hike from Schynige Platte to Grindelwald First
2. Iceland: All of it! Road trip, waterfalls, glacier trek, blue lagoon
3. Cinque Terre: Hike through the five fishing villages
4. Naples: The food…all of it (pizza, pasta, seafood, pastries)
5. Paris: Versailles
6. Prague: Opera/Dinner on water
7. Vienna: Wachau Valley river cruise/bike ride through vineyards
8. Krakow: Auschwitz/Birkenau
9. Krakow: All of the walking tours provided by FreeWalkingTours.com
10. Amsterdam: Houseboat rental
Top 5 Biggest Surprises
- No Passport/ID Needed: So far, in most of our train and bus travels across Europe, no passports or ID have been needed when moving from country to country…and if you’re in Italy, you don’t even need a train ticket. I was shocked that we could enter and leave Italy by train without anyone checking our ID, passport or even to see if we purchased a train ticket (we did of course, but not sure if we really needed to).
- Switzerland: I know, I know…everyone always says how expensive Switzerland is, but I really didn’t understand just how fast money seemed to fly out the window until we got there. After all, we lived in Manhattan for 7 years, and have visited other expensive cities like Reykjavik, London and Paris, but Switzerland takes the cake. The up side is that it’s worth every damn penny. So save up and enjoy!
- Hostels: This trip was the first time both Jeremy and I ever stayed in hostels. And after my first biggest fear, which was visiting Paris and not knowing how to speak French and locals turning their noses up at me, this was my second biggest fear. I love my privacy and I like having my own space. I consider myself a social person, but usually it’s within the social circles of people I already know. So this was a big fear of mine, and surprisingly it all turned out okay! Especially in Switzerland…we met some of the nicest, most fun loving, and downright funny people. I was also surprised to see people from so many walks of life staying in hostels. There weren’t just the college-aged partyers, but entire families with small children. There was even this one Spanish family with 3 generations (the grandparents must have been in their 70s or 80s) staying in our hostel and they would share a family dinner together every night after cooking in the communal kitchen.
- Exercise: Most people who know me, know that I love to workout, stay active and maintain a somewhat healthy lifestyle. Before I left for this trip, I easily spent 4-5 days a week going to the gym, going on runs in Central Park, taking hot yoga, spin classes, etc. So naturally I was concerned about not being able to fit my normal exercise routines into my new lifestyle. Surprisingly, since we left, I haven’t felt compelled to go on a single run. Instead, I’ve been keeping active by incorporating activities into my daily routine such as walking everywhere instead of taking public transportation, going on hikes and renting bikes whenever possible, and I’ve even started doing some at home yoga classes using a few apps. Compared to spending 8-10 hours a day at a desk 5 days a week, I am literally on the move 8-10 hours a day, so with the exception of yoga (for peace of mind and to stretch my muscles after those long days of walking) I don’t feel the need to incorporate any outside exercise.
- Alcohol: Maybe this shouldn’t have been such a big surprise, but throughout most of Europe, alcohol is cheaper than non-alcoholic drinks. I can’t tell you how many times I went to a grocery store and browsed the wine aisle to find a bottle of wine for only 1-5 euros. And good wine! I literally bought a bottle of wine in La Spezia, Italy for 1 euro. And many restaurants offer a glass of wine for much less than a glass of Coke. And in Germany, beer is cheaper than water! Jeremy chiming in, “my coke is always more than your wine!”
Top 5 Biggest Mishaps:
- Overnight train from Paris to Nice: I don’t know if this is a mishap, but it was certainly one of the more “traumatic” experiences I had on this trip. I use quotes because Jeremy always laughs at me when I say that. This was my first overnight train ever. Jeremy took the same train “back in ’98” and recalls it as a great travel experience. I, however, was shocked at the conditions. I know this sounds dramatic. I guess I just reacted the way any normal American would who’s never experienced something like this. The train was very old, had no air conditioning or fans (it was 90 degrees outside), barely any lights, and it was super crowded. Six people along with their luggage were assigned to each “cabin” where there were six bunk beds (stacked three high on each side) and the entire cabin was about 6 ft x 6 ft. I think this was the first time in my life I felt claustrophobic. On top of that, we didn’t bring any food or drinks with us, which was a huge mistake for an 11 hour train ride. We assumed the train would offer food and beverages for purchase. Wrong. Apparently the train only offered items for purchase to First Class passengers (not us) so Jeremy had to track down a couple of the train staff members before persuading one to sell us some sandwiches. Disaster avoided. And from now on, we always board buses and trains with drinks and snacks in tow. Jeremy won’t let me enter the station without mentioning, “ We need to get some sandwiches!”
- Lost Wallet: I lost my wallet somewhere in the beginning of our drive along the Romantic Road in Germany. This could have been disastrous, but luckily I didn’t keep much in it except for my US driver’s license, 2 credit cards and little bit of cash (Jeremy holds on to our most important documents and keeps the majority of the cash). Luckily, about 2 weeks later, I received an email from the US Embassy in Berlin stating my wallet had been turned in to them. This was nothing short of a miracle and we just happened to be on our way to Berlin within a couple of days so thankfully I was able to pick it up in person. Seriously, this might be my luckiest moment ever.
- Missed bus from Berlin to Krakow: We left our Berlin apartment about 45 mins before our scheduled bus departure to Poland, but unfortunately did not take into account that some of the subway lines were under construction and not running. We ended up missing our bus by about 10 mins. There weren’t that many buses/trains running this route and we had already scheduled our visit to Auschwitz for the following day so we couldn’t afford to stay another night in Berlin. We scrambled as we tried to find WiFi in the bus station looking for any other options going to Krakow that day. It was a very stressful moment to say the least, but we ended up finding tickets at the last minute for the only other bus leaving that day. And the lesson we learned here is to always leave with plenty of time to spare in order to avoid these future headaches. Plus we should then have time to buy drinks and snacks!
- Didn’t print the train tickets: Jeremy purchased our train tickets from Vienna to Budapest online well in advance of our scheduled departure. Up to this point, we hadn’t had any trouble displaying our online tickets on our phones, which the train agent usually scanned and we would be off on our merry way. Well this time, the train agent wouldn’t accept our tickets. Apparently the voucher said (in Hungarian) that the tickets must be printed. So we were forced to buy another round of tickets on board. Ouch. So now, we always make sure our tickets are printed before we board the train!
- Bugs: For some reason, bugs just love me. I basically feel like a walking sugar cube anywhere I go. And so far I’ve had at least two bad rounds of some serious bug bites so I’ve loaded up on some good bug spray and itching cream. What else can I do? The only thing I’m concerned about now is how I will handle Southeast Asia. Does anyone have any tips?
I can comfortably say at this point, we have fully adjusted to life on the road. Sure, we have some tired days and will bicker with one another when we realize just how tired we are and that we haven’t eaten in 9 hours, but we learn from each experience and we wouldn’t trade this journey for the world. The ups most definitely outweigh the downs and we will continue traveling with open minds, challenging ourselves each day and soaking up every moment.
Stay tuned as we head into Asia in October!