To reflect the way I rushed through these cities, I’m squeezing them all into a single post (secondary motive: to finish writing about my prior travels a bit faster; there are still a number of countries to get through).
Prague, Czech Republic
A friend from law school, let’s call him Mr. Sarcastic, let me stay at his family’s place in a quiet part of the city. He picked me up at the train station and we took some sort of public transit to their family’s apartment where we kicked his younger sister out of her bedroom. I took my Mr. Sarcastic’s crappy bed, he took his sister’s considerably fluffier bed, and she was banished to the couch in the living room. Not my idea.
After leaving my bags at the apartment and before going out for the night, I ate some random food Mr. Sarcastic’s mom set out for me (ham cold cuts, I think). My friend’s mom, through my friend as a translator, gave me advice not to drink any liquor due to recent incidents of counterfeit stuff in the region causing people to go blind.
So, Mr. Sarcastic gave me on a night tour of some areas of the city. It was getting close to Christmas so there wasn’t much partying going on; but there were holiday decorations and a Christmas market. We finished the night by drinking a bit at some club called Karlovy Lazne.
The next morning, Mr. Sarcastic brought me to see Prague Castle and its hodgepodge of architectural forms. If I recall correctly, the variations are due to the fact that Prague was a major seat of power for a long period of time, which brought a broad range of intellectuals there, including architects.
While I did some touristy stuff at St. Vitus Cathedral, Mr. Sarcastic ran off to the post office (I think). It began snowing while I waited for the dingus to comeback (actually, it was nice).
We ate at the Staropramen Brewery Restaurant (I had the beef goulash for no good reason) and stopped by the book tower in the Prague Municipal Library. Then, I had some fried dough covered in sugar at the Christmas market and more Staropramen lager at the train station before Mr. Sarcastic abandoned me.
First thing I did after checking into my hotel was find a bar where I stayed for most of the night. I don’t remember which bar, but it was crowded. Being immature, I took a photo of the front of Hotel Lamee because it looked like Hotel Lame.
The next day, I walked around and took in the snow and architecture. Overall, Vienna was just okay. Of all European cities I’ve seen to date, it’s my least favorite; I’ll have to go back and stay a bit longer to reassess the place.
My favorite experience in the city was walking through a little snow-covered park with no one else around.
Sadly, I didn’t drink much in the party capital of Europe. I jumped off the train, took some photos, ate and had only a drink or two, and then booked it on an overnight train to Romania.
Highlight of my time in Bucharest: seeing a pack of stray (and tagged) dogs. Bucharest has a big pest problem with their canines. Like Budapest, I had only a bit to eat and drink in Bucharest, spending my time there taking photos with my phone and people-watching (in a non-creepy way, of course). I also made a pit stop at a McDonald’s to ward off my homesickness.
Second coolest thing in Bucharest: a vending machine on the street which sold actual books.
Train from Hell on Christmas Eve
I took another overnight train from Bucharest to Sofia and it was easily the worst train ride of my life. First of all, it was Christmas Eve, cold enough for snow outside, and the train car had no heater; it was literally freezing in there for the whole ride. The toilet had no septic tank, just a big open hole at the bottom of the toilet through which we could see the tracks fly by beneath us.
In my train car there was only one other passenger: a Japanese man in his late forties. He came to Europe primarily to visit his son who was studying in Bucharest (or was it Budapest?), and decided he’d do some midlife backpacking. With the whole car to ourselves, rather than freezing our asses off in separate compartments, we sat across from each other in hopes that our proximity would make us slightly warmer. It probably didn’t.
Eventually, I decided we should try to move to the next car to see if it had heat. That was wishful thinking. There was no heat, but at least that car was built after World War II and had lights (oh, right, my first car had no lights). In addition to the lights were two other passengers: two guys who looked to be somewhat local (Mediterranean/Eastern European).
With our theory that being in a car with more people would be better for heat, the Japanese guy and I stayed there. The other men said nothing, glancing at us for a second before trying to get some sleep. So, we were four men, each taking up four seats to ourselves and trying not to freeze our asses off on Christmas Eve.
I actually fell asleep for a bit before the train suddenly stopped. Looking out the window, on one side of the train car there was only darkness. On the other side, there was a dimly lit train station:
After a few minutes of wondering what the hell was going on, a police officer-looking guy came into the train car, collected our passports and disappeared. I assumed it was normal protocol, but I still entertained the possibility that I was screwed. After what felt like a really long time, the police-looking guy came back with our passports and the train started moving again.
I only stopped in Sofia so I could take a bus into Greece; I stayed at the bus station the entire time, probably for an hour or two. Hungry, I exchanged five British pounds for the local currency which bought me a lot more than expected: two sandwiches, two drinks (bottled soda), and a considerably large assortment of snacks.
My assumption as to why I had to take a bus into Greece was that, in the wake of the economic crash, Greece’s train system wasn’t running (having had an experience with Italy’s transportation strikes, I wasn’t phased by it). As the bus wound through the hills, my first white Christmas gradually became rather green (that’s right, I’ve never spent Christmas in a place with snow).
Oh, and I saw some more dogs.