Last Friday, I left Rome with four friends, one backpack, and an itinerary that would take me to five European cities. A week later, I returned to Rome with 5 different currencies in my wallet, a tremendous desire to do laundry, and countless memories that will last me a lifetime. My Spring Break journey was a roller coaster of a ride, to say the least; I went from being freezing in Helsinki one day to sweating buckets in Dubrovnik the next, I fell asleep in every city I visited (in bars, airports, and every possible form of public transportation), I experienced my strongest desire to eat meat, after two years of being vegetarian, in the markets of Budapest and Prague (I survived, meat free!), and I finally had a feel of what it’s like to not be in the minority hair group in Stockholm. If that introduction intrigued you (or maybe just confused you about how the heck I spent the past week), read on to learn more about my Spring Break travels!
Budapest doesn’t attract tourists like Paris or London, but it is definitely an up-and-coming travel destination. I was interested to see what this city, that received raving reviews from my friends who had visited and that earned the title of the popular George Ezra song, was all about. Fortunately, our 2-day stay in Budapest was the perfect amount of time to accomplish this!
First things first, Budapest was not always one and used to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Now, the two cities are one, connected by bridges such as the Chain Bridge, but are still referred to as their respective names. On Day 1, we explored Buda. The Buda Castle and the Fishermen’s Bastion, the major attractions in this section, are both up on a hill, so we saw amazing views as we made our way down this side of the river.
The wind that day was strong and relentless so after a few hours in it, we decided to retreat to an underground, wind-free tourist attraction: the Labyrinth. This was one of the more interesting parts of our journey, although, we’re still not sure if this Labyrinth was an opera museum (complete with music and wax figures in costumes), a ghost chasing adventure, or a historical tour of where Dracula was imprisoned. Our conclusion was that it was a mix of all three, plus a perfect way to spend an hour before dinner at Pest Buda.
The highlight of Day 2, which is also a highlight of the entire week, was our time spent in the natural thermal baths, made possible by the thermal springs Budapest sits on top of. The baths were unreal: the only way I can describe them is as a pool-sized hot tub full of old men playing chess, bachelor parties in matching swimming trunks, and my friends and I having the time of our lives.
Our last day in Budapest couldn’t have ended on a better note. We found an authentic Hungarian restaurant where we dined like kings on the budget of peasants. If you are ever in Budapest, I recommend Pipa Etterem for an authentic meal at an awesome price!
Prague, Czech Republic
I traveled with four other friends and we went to five cities, so we decided to each become an “expert” of one of the cities. We were in charge of researching sights to see, restaurants to go to, traditional food to try, and even some of the city’s history. Prague was my city, so by Day 3, I was in tour guide mode! It was a rainy day, but even through the clouds and rain, I found Prague absolutely adorable and charming; it was love at first sight! We arrived in early evening, so we had time to explore Old Town Square before heading to dinner. I had read great reviews about an authentic Czech restaurant with great prices and amazing food that was full of locals: U Rudolfina. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to have our first dining experience in Prague! The beer (Pilsner Urquell, of course) was the perfect pair to my Czech potato pancake and my friends’ Prague Feasts. We were all so full that it hurt to take another bite, but we couldn’t leave even a bite on our plates because the food was so good.
Day 4 was absolutely gorgeous! We went to the John Lennon Wall for countless photo ops, read thousands of messages from past visitors, and left our own mark. We then went to the Prague Castle and toured its most famous sites, including the St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Royal Palace. After touring the castle, we took time to just stop and appreciate the beauty of the city. I think finding the balance between hitting as many tourist attractions as possible and taking time to just “take in” your surroundings is such an important part of traveling.
Our morning and afternoon adventures involved a lot of stairs, so needless to say, we had worked up an appetite. Enter…the most amazing thing I have ever eaten in my entire life: “grill cheese” from Old Town Square. This heavenly treat is literally a grilled piece of cheese on top of bread and topped with jam. Whoever invented it should be sainted.
Of course, our last day in Prague wouldn’t be complete without a stop to the Prague Beer Museum. A “museum” that involves sitting with friends and trying tasters of the pub’s 30 beers on tap is my kind of museum 😉 As if this day could get any better, I ended it by discovering my new favorite bar in the world. Hemingway Bar is had an incredible, sophisticated atmosphere, servers that made us feel like princesses, and drinks that topped anything I have ever had.
For one glorious day in Stockholm, I was finally not part of a hair minority group! I actually have zero Swedish blood in me, but as I walked around and saw blondes everywhere, I felt that I belonged! We only had a day in the city (Day 5), so we set out to explore as much as we could. Stockholm is not very touristy like the previous cities we visited, so the experience was much different than the first several days of our Spring Break. We climbed up to a lookout that gave us incredible views of the city, went to one of the world’s most famous hot chocolate cafes, Chokladkoppen, awed over the artwork that decorates many of the metro stations, and had an amazing dinner at a trendy restaurant, Nytorget 6. I loved our time in Stockholm, because without a long list of tourist attractions to see, we were able to focus on experiencing and observing the hip and trendy capital of Sweden.
During the 6 hours of Day 6 we spent in Helsinki, I may or may not have said: “If someone hated me, they would send me to Helsinki and never let me leave.” Okay, so maybe that was a tad too dramatic, but I am not the biggest fan of the cold and this city puts the C in COLD. The temperature aside, I thought Helsinki was a pretty cool city. We ate in one of the cutest cafes I have ever been too, Café Engel, and we popped in and out of adorable shops. I probably won’t make a huge effort to ever return to Helsinki, but I did enjoy my time there…well, I enjoyed my time spent indoors 😉
Breathtaking is the best way to describe this city. The water is piercing blue and crystal clear and the views are absolutely stunning. On Day 7, we walked along the walls that surround Dubrovnik’s Old Town and had to stop every five seconds to stare at the beauty that was around us. We were blessed with an absolutely beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky, which we very warmly welcomed after freezing our booties off in Helsinki. From going on a run alongside the water, to sweating as we climbed up and down hundreds of stairs trying to find the best beach, to finally lying on the sand in my swimsuit, this was the perfect ending to my Spring Break adventure.
Never did I imagine I would have the opportunity to travel to these places. I am so thankful for this experience, the amazing friends I traveled with, and my family back at home whose love and support is the only way this trip was able to happen. I officially have caught the travel bug, and I love it.
Peace and love,