After four months travelling through humid, tropical Asia, we had arrived back in Europe. Frankfurt was our first stop. Mainly because we had found such a cheap flight and it’s a city which has a good central location with great train connections further east into this vastly diverse continent, which is made up of fifty-one independent states. We had booked an Air BnB which was located thirty minutes away by metro from Frankfurt in a beautiful, small village called Niedernhausen.
Whenever Miz and I book a trip, whether it be a week long beach holiday, a city break or a tour of several different countries or continents, we pretty much have three or four staples we use for searching and booking accommodation.
Hostel World – great for cheap dorm rooms, more expensive for private rooms.
Booking.com – The go to site for budget private rooms in small homestays, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Many offers include free cancellation which is great if you are on a long trip and your plans change.
Air BnB – A relatively new concept in which local people offer a variety of accommodation options within their own properties. The site is based on reviews both of the host and the guest.
Air BnB in our opinion is such a great option as you get to meet local people with knowledge of a certain area. In many cases, you get to meet the hosts family and friends, go out and eat with them and pick their brains for recommendations. We have found that different sites are better for different parts of the world, and the Air BnB option is working a treat in Europe so far. The only downside, I would say, is you have to pay upfont for your stay and the host can cancel the trip out of the blue at short notice.
We arrived at Frankfurt airport late in the evening as our flight had been delayed by five hours, three of which we had to spend on the runway, cramped up inside the spacious, beautifully air-conditioned Ryanair cabin! The airport at Frankfurt was huge and we found it pretty confusing finding our way to a regional train which would whisk us off to Nierdernhausen, in fact, the whole place was run by machines and robots. After getting on the wrong train, a friendly local sorted us out and pointed us in the right direction. We arrived at 1.30am and our host greeted us. After a long sleep, we woke to heavy rain crashing onto our balcony, the view out across the lush green valley was lovely. The house was great and spotlessly clean. We had use of the kitchen and a great garden which backed onto a wild meadow.
Niedernhausen itself was a tiny village with a few small pubs, cafes and shops offering great transport links in every direction. Miz and I love finding smaller towns and villages which have a local feel and are off the beaten track when it comes to tourism. We walked to the station and took the next train to the small city of Weisbaden; a charming place, and one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. First stop was a local food market which was in full flow in the cities main square. As I’ve mentioned before, in previous blogs, Miz and I are full on foodies and will pretty much try anything when it comes to food and drink, so the minute we see a food market, we head straight over for a piece of the action. Local sausages filled with cheese and smothered in curry sauce and a bread roll was on the menu today, all washed down with a delicious German beer…heaven!!
We spent the day strolling around the streets of the Old Town and having naps in local parks and gardens. The Kurpark is an English style landscaped garden full of fountains, rose gardens, boating lakes and was our favourite. The weather was overcast and thundery, making a change from the relentless humidity of Asia. We returned to our house and Elke, our host, had made us a tasty chicken casserole which we ate in the garden listening to the birds and watching red squirrels playing in the trees. The next day at breakfast, we met a couple of Indian guys who were also staying in the house. They had been there for seven months and were studying at the local university. They came from Punjab, the same region of India my sister’s boyfriend, Kapil, is from so we had some interesting conversations with them. They still couldn’t get over the differences between India and Germany, even after spending the last seven months there.
We walked back down to the station as we wanted to visit a town called Limburg which was an hour long train journey away. We decided against it as the journey was twenty-five euros per person, the shock of public transport prices in Europe hit us as we were so used to paying peanuts for travel in Asia. Instead, we took a train and headed towards a town called Hoffheim. We had a stroll, ate ice cream for breakfast and then sat in the sun and sampled a refreshing local drink called Apfelwein.
Another couple of stops and we jumped off at a place called Eppstein, with it’s beautiful seven hundred year old castle. I climbed to the top of the tower whilst Miz fell asleep in the sun on a bench, something which she lists in ‘The top three things to do in the world’ list. Ambling around the village, we stopped at a bakery and ate a sort of crumbly, sweet, strudel type delight which was so tasty. Upon our return to the house, Elke had cooked us up yet another storm; this time a sausage and potato stew…delicious!
The next day as we boarded the first of three trains taking us to Prague, Czech Republic, my memory rewound fifteen years ago to the great time my best friend, Tom Boulton, and I had travelling around Europe with our £150 European rail passes, a tent and a football. A lot has changed since then with rail travel in Europe, it has become extremely expensive. One way around this is to book your journeys in advance online using the countries national rail website. Most tickets are available up to ninety days in advance. An example of the price difference would be: a single second class journey between Prague and Budapest on the day of travel would be 48 euros compared to 16 euros booked a couple of months in advance. A great tool for planning rail adventures anywhere in the world is Seat 61, a treasure trove of maps, schedules, prices and routes. The site also gives a step to step guide on how to book tickets and how to get the best deals.
Our journey to Prague was comfortable and once we passed through Nurenburg in Germany, pretty scenic. The last leg of the journey, between Cheb and Prague was particularly beautiful as we chatted to a couple of Czech students. Again, we had chosen Air BnB to book our accommodation and decided to stay in the suburbs in a small town called Melnik, a thirty kilometre bus journey from Prague. Our host, Janina, had a beautiful, detached house with a lovely garden which was a ten minute walk from a pine forest with great walking trails. It was a three kilometre walk to Melnik, I suppose it was good for the waistline after all of the rich, European food we had consumed. Janina and her friend drove us into Melnik which is an extremely picturesque town with a beautiful cobbled square and some great local bars and eateries. We sampled a few Czech beers and enjoyed our first evening in this beautiful country.
The next morning we got lost roaming around in the empty forest before wandering into the town centre for a picnic we had picked up from Tesco, yes they have Tesco in Czech Republic! Melnik is full of wonderful views, especially from behind St.Peter’s Church or up the clock tower from which you can see for miles in all directions over endless farmland and out to three beautiful rivers. Miz and I always look for local festivals when we travel and we have a running joke that we never seem to catch one when we are in town. Finally, our luck had changed as the second annual beer festival was in full swing. The square was packed with people sampling beers from all over Czech Republic. We tried a whole host of beers as the party went on into the night. They had a stage and a local band wearing kilts and the crowd was going wild.
The following morning with sore heads, we headed by bus to the capital city, Prague. I had last visited here with Boulton ten years ago and my only real memories were of drinking beers in the old town square watching England play Sweden on a huge outdoor screen. I have to say Prague is simply beautiful. It’s a walkable city and it has a surprise around every corner. From quaint squares, cobbled old town streets, castles, churches and endless places to eat and drink, it really is one of Europe’s great cities to visit. It was late May and the city seemed to be getting really busy with tourists. I would definitely recommend a visit in the shoulder seasons of March/April or September/October. Charles bridge is spectacular with it’s gothic statues and the walk up to Prague Castle is full of breath taking city vistas. The shady palace gardens are a good place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle. Although, don’t sit on the grass. We were told in no uncertain terms to, “get up!”…haha! Again, as seems to be the norm in Europe, we finished the day with a couple of cold beers. One of which bought from a shop and drank sat on the floor along the Charles Bridge chatting and people watching, a perfect travel moment! A great tip when travelling through Europe is to buy your beers in a shop or supermarket as it’s completely acceptable to drink in the streets, parks or on public transport. I’m not promoting alcoholism in any way, shape or form, but this is much better than paying treble the price in a touristy bar. Plus, you get to have a cold beer at the end of the day sat on a bench, people watching in the sunshine. Prague had exceeded our expectations…we will be back!
Back at Prague’s central station, we caught the seven hour inter-city express to Budapest, capital of Hungary. The train from Prague on the slick inter-city express was a pleasant experience and extremely comfortable. It cost fifteen Euros, two weeks in advance. We headed to the buffet car and ordered some Goulash Soup which was delicious. We met a lovely girl in our compartment who turned out to be an airline pilot and a couple of Czech guys who spent the entire journey drinking beers. We passed through Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, then onwards along the river Danube into Budapest Nygati train station. We jumped on a tram outside the station and found our Air BnB which was a spacious apartment with a private lounge and bathroom in a residential block. We headed out into the maze of streets and had a couple of drinks at a local bar. In the morning, we rose early to explore the city which I had last visited six months ago with the lads. It was totally different in the summer and was pretty busy. Budapest is a pretty walkable city and when you cross the chain bridge, has amazing vantage points to have a birds-eye view of the surrounding area. We visited the Central Food Market and ate a huge meal of fried potatoes, onion, sausage and bread for breakfast, along with a cherry and cheese curd and apricot strudel. Miz absolutely hated the strudel’s, so it was down to me to polish them off…easy!
Budapest, in my opinion, is one of Europe’s greatest cities. It has everything to offer for a great city break. Inexpensive, tasty food, cheap beer, river cruises along the Danube, excellent museums, views to die for and a great nightlife, and that’s before we even mention the baths! We took the walk up to Gelert Hill, then right along the river to the Royal Palace Gardens. It was a lovely, warm day as we chilled with a cold beer in a quiet cobbled square. On our way back to our apartment, we stumbled across the cities ruin bars. The ruin bars are all the rage and are basically a series of pubs and bars in abandoned buildings. These buildings had been left to decay after World War II and it was the perfect place to develop an underground bar scene. Each bar has it’s own unique personality, nothing matches, everything’s old, it’s eclectic and really does feel like they have just ransacked your great grandmother’s house along with a load of antique/charity shops! They are awesome! Our favourite is Szimpla Kert, it simply has to be seen to be believed. It was a quick and tasty Gyros for for tea before we headed back to our palace of an Air BnB for some sleep.
In the morning, we headed to Keleti train station to store our rucksacks as we were heading to the famous Szechenyi baths. Train station luggage lockers are one of my pet hates whilst travelling. Instead of the simple service offered in Asia where a guy takes your money and gives you a ticket for collection; the European system is totally automated. It can be a real nightmare as you feed your cash into a slot then, yes, you’ve guessed it, the key doesn’t come out. After this, you spend half an hour looking for an attendant only to be told such a person doesn’t exist and so you give up and pay again! The joys of the European locker! We walked to Heroes Square, home to Europe’s largest medicinal baths, Szechenyi thermal bath is a labyrinth of eighteen pools, besides the outdoor and indoor geothermal pools, you can get massage treatments, enjoy a sauna and a steam or relax in the fun pools with an ice cold beer. The pools are one hundred years old and are a great and affordable way to spend a day when visiting the city. It costs from 14 Euros which includes locker hire. I’ve visited in both summer and winter; both seasons are completely different experiences. I would highly recommend heading to Szechenyi whilst in Budapest. On the way back to Keleti train station, we stopped in the park and grabbed a bite to eat in the late afternoon sun…perfect! At the station, we waited in anticipation for the 19.10 intercity overnight train to a country that has been on our radar for a long, long time…Romania!!