[Note I have posted a new European Adventure Round-Up after my trips to Greece, Sweden and Denmark - see here]
Well, I’m finally back. 20 days, 5 countries, 12 cities. It was pretty hectic, but also one of the best vacations of all time! I’ve also finally brought the Travel Diary up to date, and I’m glad I did because it’s an experience I don’t ever want to forget. On the other hand, we’ve taken well over a thousand photos, so it’s going to take a while to sort through them all…
Just to recap, the places visited (in order) were: Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome (Italy); Basel and Lucerne (Switzerland); Freiburg, Munich, Fussen, Berlin (Germany); Prague (Czech Republic) and Vienna (Austria). Yes, if you think about it the order was kind of weird, but there were a few unexpected things that happened with the original plans and we had to fudge it a little.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the trip:
Looking at everything from an overall perspective, the best city I visited would have to be Rome. There’s just no other place like it. The amazing history, the plethora of attractions and sights, the pizzas and gelato – and you’d be surprised how close everything is and how you can walk from one place to another in just minutes. Oh, and who can forget Vatican City? You don’t have to be religious to enjoy one of the most amazing places on Earth, even if it’s just for the paintings and the architecture. We spent roughly four days in Rome but we were gunning it all the way. If we had the time and money we would have spent at least a week there.
We got to witness some amazing views throughout the trip, but the most beautiful city must be Venice, with its clean, turqoise waters and canals, bridges, pretty buildings and narrow alleys. There is something relaxing and soothing about the place, and of course it is very romantic. St Mark’s Square is also a delight.
No surprises here because I just posted a rant about Prague (which has turned out to be one of my all-time most popular posts!). It’s probably the only place out of all the places we went to that I found disappointing. Maybe it was because my expectations were not met in the short time we were there, or perhaps the unfriendly people we encountered. Or perhaps it just wasn’t my type of place. I wouldn’t go as far as advising people against going, but expectations need to be kept in check and awareness needs to be high.
Without a doubt it has to be Munich. It’s a place with a lot of history, some interesting attractions, and if you are a beer lover (I’m not), it can be heavenly. But there’s also plenty of shops for those who are less into history. We only took the local city tour but there are other ones such as the Third Reich Tour which seemed quite interesting. Another great thing about Munich is its proximity to other places. Neuschwanstein Castle is only a 2 hour train ride away (an easy day trip) and the former concentration camp site of Dachau can be reached by subway (then short bus ride). A lot of people also take day trips to Nuremberg and Salzburg (in Austria). One place I would have liked to visit but didn’t have enough time was the Olympic site. Maybe next time.
That title would have to go to Berlin, simply because of all the free information available along the sidewalks (especially near Checkpoint Charlie). In other places you may have to do your own research beforehand, or buy a guide book, or join a tour, or pay to enter a museum – you can still do all these things in Berlin but you don’t have to spend a dime to learn a great deal about the city.
Hands down the prize goes to Dachau (near Munich). The former concentration camp site has turned into a giant memorial and museum. It’s hard to keep the eyes dry and you won’t be doing any star jumps there but it’s such an important place to visit. Be sure to catch the 22 minute documentary film that shows throughout the day (remember to check what time the screening is for your preferred language).
Be warned: Switzerland costs money. One of the dumbest things we did the entire trip was only allocating 100 Swiss Francs for our 2-day stay in Basel/Lucerne. We ended up putting at least double that on the credit card, and that was just for food and transport. When a medium McDonald’s value meal costs in the vicinity of 12 Swiss Francs (to put that in perspective, that’s roughly 10.50 US Dollars, 7.15 Pounds, 7.85 Euros and 14.80 Australian Dollars) you know your wallet is in for a rough time. Note we found Italy and Germany and Austria to be quite even in terms of prices and the Czech Republic to be slightly cheaper.
Top 5 Attractions
This is a tough one, but off the top of my head right now, the 5 attractions I liked the most were:
5. The Munich Royal Residence (Residenz) (Munich, Germany) - the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs, and naturally, full of amazing treasures, artworks and countless rooms to explore. Free audio guide too.
4. Dachau Concentration Camp (Dachau, near Munich, Germany)- depressing as hell but plenty to see and absorb, and ultimately a tremendously insightful and rewarding experience.
3. Vatican City (Rome, Italy)- regardless of what you think about religion and/or Catholics, just go and have a look. It’s worth it. Just make sure you buy tickets in advance for the Vatican Museum if you don’t want to wait forever like we did.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle (near Fussen, Germany) - I didn’t expect it to be so awesome but it was. The Castle was beautiful, and the tour inside was funny (because of the robot tour guides), and the hike up the hill to get there was simply magical. We went when there was still snow lying around, and I think that made it even more spectacular. Weather is pretty important – I heard that it can be quite miserable when it rains and when the visibility is low.
1. Palatine Hill (Rome, Italy) - just go and see it.
- We were pretty blessed the entire trip. It was tiring and we got ill a couple of times, but it came and went quickly, usually overnight. The weather was also super. Even when it was forecasted to rain we still got sunny skies. The only time we were bothered by the rain was in Dachau, but as I said it suited the gloomy atmosphere there anyway.
- Join local tour groups only if you like to listen to a lot of stuff, like history and explanations on how things became the way they are. Or if you just don’t like the hassle of organising and figuring things out for yourself. Otherwise you can save heaps of money doing things on your own, and there’s a lot more freedom too.
- Expensive food does not always mean the most tasty. Some of the best pizzas we had in Italy were from small vendors wedged in a corner somewhere and the same could be said for the ham and sausages we had in Germany. That said, we did enjoy some spectacular meals that were pretty pricey too.
Now, I probably should start studying…