Exploring central Europe

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In May 2018 I decided to go with my boyfriend on a real road trip around Europe. In 11 days we visited Munich (Germany), Füssen & Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria) and Budapest (Hungary). Amazing!

MUNICH (GERMANY)

Facts about the city:

Munich is the home of BMW – one of the best-known car manufacturers in the world. There’s even a BMW Museum. Munich’s tax authority is considered the boldest in the world – even Hitler was forced to declare his income.

This city is considered to be Germany’s beer capital: Munich and its suburbs are home to 21 brewery, 22 beer restaurants and 60 beer gardens.

The city is known for hosting the famous Oktoberfest. Despite its name, it actually starts in September. It draws up to six million visitors over its three-week run.

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Alejandro and I decided to travel for 11 days across central Europe. Our first destination was the south of Germany and the Bavaria area. We flew directly to Munich with Air Malta. Munich is Germany’s third largest city and has a population of about 1.4 million.

We stayed in Munich for 2 nights in a double room at Pension/Guesthouse am Hauptbahnhof, located in Schillerstraße 18.

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My favourite place in Munich was the English Garden. Munich’s English Garden is among Europe’s biggest city parks, even beating London’s Hyde Park – and New York’s Central Park, too. It is filled with sculptures and is heavily influenced by Asian architecture. It has a Chinese pagoda and a Japanese tea house, as well as a Greek temple.

We saw some nudists laid down in the sun, we saw young people drinking and playing sports… there was a lot going on in that park. Locals are mindful of the park’s popularity and tolerate the close quarters of cyclists, walkers and joggers. Street musicians dodge balls kicked by children and students sprawl on the grass to chat about missed lectures.

We sat down next to the river for a bit, just relaxing. In this park there’s a famous wave called Eisbach Wave.

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Some surfers try to go there and surf it, but we couldn’t spot them when we went there.

After visiting the park, we went to see the Residenz museum, which is the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. On our way to the center, we saw the Frauenkirche, one of Munich’s most famous landmarks. Then, we go to Marienplatz. This square is a popular gathering spot and packs a lot of personality into a compact frame. This is the busiest spot in all Munich.

The Neues Rathaus, in Marienplatz, is one of Germany’s most distinctive buildings. The neo-Gothic structure is decorated with gargoyles and statues and is home to the famous Munich glockenspiel. At the top of the 85m tower stands Münchner Kindl, the monk-child mascot of the city. Close to Marienplatz there’s St. Peter’s Church, which also deserves a visit.

To every sports enthusiast, the image of this city cannot be divorced from FC Bayern – the most famous football club in Germany. We went to visit the stadium – Allianz Arena.

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The Olympiapark  is an Olympic Park which was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics. Located in the Oberwiesenfeld neighborhood of Munich, the Park continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events, such as events of worship.

Next to the Olympiapark we went to see the BMW Welt, which is a multi-use exhibition center used for meetings and promotional events. Very interesting!

On our last day in Munich, we went to visit the famous Schloss Nymphenburg palace. This commanding palace and its lavish gardens were the royal family’s summer residence. Franz Duke of Bavaria, head of the once royal Wittelsbach family, still occupies an apartment here. The sprawling park behind Schloss Nymphenburg is a favourite spot with Münchners and visitors for strolling, jogging or whiling away a lazy afternoon.

We went to check the Hofbräuhaus. Every visitor to Munich should make a pilgrimage to this mothership of all beer halls, if only once. Next to it, we stopped by for a drink in HB beer garden.

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Another nice place to go for a beer is the Viktualienmarkt. Fresh fruit and vegetables, piles of artisan cheeses, tubs of exotic olives, hams and jams, chanterelles and truffles – Viktualienmarkt is a feast of flavours and one of central Europe’s finest gourmet markets. This market has it’s own beer garden.

While we were in Munich, there was a festival going on called Munich Spring Festival.  The Munich spring festival is Bavaria’s best kept secret. This smaller spring version of the Oktoberfest is just as fun and less crowded! There were beer tents, amusement rides, and the largest flea market in southern Europe. A lot of people attended the festival wearing the tradition bavarian clothes. Very nice!


NEUSCHEWANSTEIN CASTLE & FÜSSEN (GERMANY)

Facts about the city:

Neuschwanstein means “New Swan Stone”. The name derives from one of Wagner’s opera’s character, the Swan Knight. The Neuschwanstein castle was built for only one person – the King Ludwig II.

Neuschwanstein is so immense though, that in some days it is visited by up to 6000 tourists. The castle is one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle’s design in Disneyland was inspired by it.

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On our second day in Germany we decided to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. To get there, we took a train to Füssen and then a bus to the castle. The train ride was incredible, the best of my life. The landscape is nothing but amazing!

Once we got to Füssen, we took another bus to go up the hill. If you prefer to walk, it takes about 30-40 minutes to walk from the ticket center to the castle (around 1.5 km on a steep uphill road).

Few places on Earth look more like storybook illustrations that Neuschwanstein Castle. With its towers, turrets, frescoes, and throne hall, Neuschwanstein looks like it was plucked straight from your favorite fairy tale.

After visiting the castle, we stopped in Füssen to visit the town. The town is super cute! Before going to the train station, we bought some beers and laid down in a nice grass field with an amazing view to the mountains.


PRAGUE (CZECH REPUBLIC)

Facts about the city:

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest castle in the world is in Prague, with the incredible area of 18 acres.

The narrowest street in Prague is barely 50 cm wide, yet it has deserved the right to have its own traffic light.

After the murder of John Lennon in 1980, a portrait of the rock star was drawn on the wall opposite the French Embassy in Prague. This wall is covered in quotes, images, and lyrics from his songs.

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After Munich, we took a bus from Flixbus during the night to Prague, in the Czech Republic. We stayed in an apartment for two nights at Retro Style Studio Sokolovská, in Sokolovská 43.

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We arrived in Prague at 5.30 am and we didn’t get enough sleep on the bus, so we were super tired. We had to wait for our check in time, so we decided to go for a walk around Prague’s city center.

Perhaps Prague’s most famous landmark, the Astronomical clock stands regally in front of the Old Town Hall and gathers hundreds of tourists from around the world. Every hour a procession of 12 apostles appear from the sides of the clock as well as the ominous figure of death striking the time. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see this symbol of Prague because it was covered up, going under some renovation.

Next to it is the Old Town Square. The square features various architectural styles including the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church’s towers are 80 m high.

During that morning we also went to see the Prague Jewish Quarter. Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto, is dotted with somber reminders of its past. These include the weathered tombstones of the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Pinkas Synagogue, now a Holocaust memorial with exhibits focusing on Jewish children. The Jewish Museum houses a huge collection of cultural artifacts.

Then we went to the Wenceslas Square, one of the main city squares and the center of the business and cultural communities of Prague. There we met my friend Vojtech! I met him in Malta, we worked together at EC. He’s Czech. We became good friends so it was super nice to see him again 🙂

He took us to see the famous Charles Bridge. This is a historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841, Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas.

The bridge is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town Bridge Tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil Gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.

After crossing the bridge, we went all the way up to Prague Castle. It is a castle complex dating from the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square meters. Close to the Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral.

After this, we walked through the castle gardens until we reached Letná Park. Letná’s elevation and location afford commanding views of the Prague Old Town. We were super tired after visiting all these places so we stopped with Vojtech at Kantyna to eat something. The food was delicious! After that, we finally went to our apartment to have some rest.

The next day we went for a walk along the riverside. We saw the famous Dancing House. This building has a very non-traditional design, very interesting. On our way there, we also saw a vegan market where they were selling vegan products and giving out some samples. We stopped there for a while.

Then we walked back and crossed the bridge again to the other side. We saw the John Lennon Wall. After John Lennon’s murder in 1980 an image was painted on the wall opposite the French Embassy in Mala Strana. Despite repeated coats of whitewash, the wall has become covered in John Lennon-inspired graffiti and lyrics from Beatles songs. The site is seen as a memorial to John Lennon but also as a symbol of free speech and non-violent rebellion.


VIENNA (AUSTRIA)

Facts about the city:

After WWII Vienna was divided into four occupation zones. Russia, France, Britain and the United States took control over different parts of the city.

Vienna is the only capital in the World with a major wine production within the limits of the city. Every year in Vienna over 600 wine framers produce 2.5 million liters of wine.

More famous composers have lived here than anywhere else in the world, including Mozart, Beethoven, Joseph Haydn and Johann Strauss.

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After Prague, we took a train to Vienna, in Austria. We stayed for 2 nights in an apartment at Royal Living Apartments Vienna, in Knöllgasse 30.

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On our first day in Vienna we visited the famous Schönbrunn Palace. The Palace consists of 1441 rooms and one of the most historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

On our second day we started by visiting the Hofburg. The Hofburg is the former principal imperial palace. Built in the 13th century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has been the seat of power of the Habsburg dynasty rulers, and today the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.

Since 1279 the Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government. The Hofburg has been expanded over the centuries to include various residences, the imperial chapel, the imperial library, the treasury, the Burgtheater, the Spanish Riding School and the imperial mews. The palace faces the Heldenplatz (Heroes Square).

Close to it is the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts). Housed in its festive palatial building on Ringstraße, it is crowned with an octagonal dome. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Natural History Museum. The two museums have similar exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz.

After this square you can find the Museumsquartier. The MQ is home to a range of installations from large art museums like the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna).

We strolled down the commercial streets of Vienna and went inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365). St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

We also visited the Rathaus (City Hall) and the famous Vienna State Opera. We wanted to have a typical Viennese experience and book tickets for a Vienna Mozart Concert at the Vienna State Opera but we ended up not doing it. Built between 1861 and 1869, the Staatsoper was the house for some of the most iconic directors in history, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Herbert van Karajan. Close to this central area, we also visited a couple of nice parks.

On our last day in Vienna we visited another palace: Schloss Belvedere. Before going in there, we saw a Venezuelan embassy and we decided to go inside. I always wanted to step on Venezuelan soil so this was my chance, since I cannot visit the country now due to the fact that it is so dangerous nowadays. It was cool, we talked for a bit with the guy that works there.

The Belvedere is a historic building complex, consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. It houses the Belvedere museum. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates.

Finally, before leaving Vienna, we went to a park close to the Danube river – a travel tip from the guy we met at the Embassy. We loved it! It was actually one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We had lunch there and stayed there lying on the grass for hours, listening to music, talking and kissing. It was amazing 🙂

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BUDAPEST (HUNGARY)

Facts about the city:

Budapest has more thermal springs than any other capital city in the world. An amazing 70 million liters of thermal water rises to the surface daily. The hot springs have given birth to dozens of medicinal baths.

Budapest was created when three cities joined together: Óbuda, Buda and Pest. While Buda is usually associated with stately quarters and high class, Pest is where you will find the largest part of the population and so-called urban living.

The holocaust had a big effect on Hungary. Next to the parliament, by the edge of the river Danube, you can find lots of shoes made of bronze fixed to the ground. These are a tribute to all the Jews that were killed.

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Our forth and last destination was Budapest in Hungary. We took a bus from Flixbus. We stayed for 3 nights in an apartment at La Stella di Budapest, at Csengery u. 6.

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In Budapest we started off by visiting the Hungarian Parliament Building. It is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary. It lies in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the bank of the Danube. It is currently the largest building in Hungary and it is still the tallest building in Budapest.

Then we crossed the river and went to see the Buda Castle. It was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. Buda Castle sits on the south tip of Castle Hill, bounded on the north by what is known as the Castle District (Várnegyed), which is famous for medieval, Baroque and 19th-century houses, churches and public buildings. The hill is linked to Clark Ádám Square and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge by the Castle Hill Funicular.

Close to the castle, we went to see the Fisherman’s Bastion & Mathias Church. The first one is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902. Regarding the church, the current building was constructed in the florid late Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda.

On that side of the river we also went to the House of Houdini and saw a magic show. It was on my bucket list, so that’s why we did it 😉 Alejandro didn’t really like the magic show, claiming that he has seen better. For me it was nice. If you want to book, you can do it here.

On the first night we went to Stifler Bar to meet Marcia, a Brazilian friend of ours that used to live in Malta and work with Alejandro but has recently moved to Budapest. It was cool to see her there. She had some German friends that also came to visit her on the same dates, so we all stayed in that bar for a bit drinking beers and chatting.

On our second day in Budapest we passed in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is the third largest church building in present-day Hungary. Then we went to check the famous Széchenyi thermal bath. This is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Its water is supplied by two thermal springs, their temperature is 74 °C and 77 °C, respectively. We wanted to go inside but the prices were too high and we ended up not going. Also, it was too crowded.

Closed to it, we visited a park and Heroes Square. This is one of the major squares in Budapest, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We decided to cross the bridge and go to the Citadella, a nice place on top of a hill. It was hard to climb but once we got there, it was totally worth it. From there you have the most amazing view of Pest.

After the hill, we went to see the Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube. Leafy Margaret Island is neither Buda nor Pest, but its shaded walkways, large swimming complexes, thermal spa and gardens offer refuge to the denizens of both sides of the river. There were a lot of people there. I like the fountain at the entrance of the island, with color & music shows.

In Budapest you can find the second biggest synagogue in the world, after the one in New York – Dohány Street Synagogue. We went there but we didn’t go inside because it was too expensive. We also didn’t have time to visit the Great Market Hall, but if you have time, visit it.

Alejandro and I celebrated our first anniversary together in Budapest on our last day there. He was super sweet and bought me some flowers 🙂 Later on that day we went to have dinner in a nice restaurant called Zeller Bistro. I loved the decoration of the place, with an internal garden. The next day we had to fly back to Malta. I loved this trip!

 

 

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 38€ + 66€ = 104€
  • Accommodation Munich: 144€ (72€ per person)
  • Accommodation Prague: 87€ (43,50€ per person)
  • Accommodation Vienna: 128€ (64€ per person)
  • Accommodation Budapest: 135€ (67,50€ per person)
  • Bus to Prague: 23€
  • Train to Vienna: 14€
  • Bus to Budapest: 9€
  • Train to the castle: 14€
  • Buses to the castle: 1,50€

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