Why backpacking solo in Central Europe is not that bad!
Well, so many people have asked me why I travelled alone to Europe. I will list down some of my experiences here just to tell you how much fun it is to travel solo. I know 'travelling alone' phrase sounds very shocking for some people but it’s quite common abroad. Some of the interesting questions I faced a lot were 'Who accompanied you in travel?', 'Do you have a secret girlfriend in Europe whom you went to meet?', 'Did you go for business trip?’ They just can't digest the fact that Solo travellers exist in this world. You are even termed as mad if you are travelling alone.
One of the travel agents whom I approached here for Visa even told me that 'you will not get visa as you are travelling alone'. His eyes were wide open and his comment was ' who travels alone to Europe for a month!’. I just thanked him and left the place.
Even though I say it's alone, it's actually not as you would always be surrounded by interesting travellers from across the world.
Here is the short experience I took for 35 days: Mumbai – Colombo - Frankfurt - Berlin - Warsaw - Krakow - Zakopane - Bratislava - Vienna - Budapest - Ljubljana - Bled - Venice - Prague - Cesky Krumlov - Colombo - Mumbai
To start with, I purposely chose a return flight which had a 20 hour layover in Colombo so that I can do some sightseeing in Colombo. The other reason of choosing was price of the ticket! I guess Indian passport holders don't need a visa for 2 days transit stay in Sri Lanka (Although I had applied it online but no one really checked) and you are free to go outside the airport for 2 days. At Colombo airport, I met one German guy who was backpacking solo in South East Asia since last 3 months. He was returning back home and must be around 35 year old. We had some interesting conversations on the differences between Germans and Indians. His view was that Germans don't engage much in conversations with Foreigners. Also, I had this stereotype in my mind that Germans are rude. But at the end of my stay in Germany, I found the opposite to be true. All the German people that I met were very friendly and were quite curious to help and know more about me and India.
The immigration officer at Colombo Airport got very suspicious when he saw us talking like friends. May be he thought the German guy is trafficking me to his country for some cheap labour. He asked me lot of questions on where I am going to stay, how do I know the German guy, what do I do back in India, When am I returning back home? He did not let us pass and took passport of both of us and told us to wait till all the other passengers get immigration check. The German guy reaction was like ‘what the hell happened?'. Finally, at the end he stamped our passport and let us pass.
I met one more German guy who was sitting next to me in the flight. He must be around 40 year old although he looked quite young. He was in Sri Lanka for a month on some Ayurveda & yoga therapy. He had been travelling every year to Sri Lanka since last 15 years. We spoke a lot about family, job, culture and travel experiences. This guy was so kind that he offered to buy a ticket for me from Frankfurt Airport to Frankfurt Train station. The ticket was for 4.35 Euros. Seeing the amount and doing the INR conversions I thankfully refused. He then helped me in getting a 50 Euro change to small amounts and buying the ticket from Vending machine. Luckily, he too was heading to the Frankfurt train station. So, he guided me till Frankfurt station. When we departed at the station he bought 2 bottles of Lift(a soft drink of Coca cola brand) for me as a gift and he also escorted me to the bus stop outside the station as I had to catch a night bus to Berlin. He was working for 1 of the beer companies which manufactured beer brand 'Krombacher'. This was one of the best beer I drank in Europe.
I met one more interesting lady in the flight who was travelling solo and again doing some Ayurveda & yoga therapy for a month in Sri Lanka. This was her 3rd trip to Sri Lanka.
At the Frankfurt station, they had a free wifi hotspot. So, I just sat there for a while to check mails, have some snacks and observe people. I happened to see some very stylish people there –Girls with red and pink hair, guys on skating boards and people cycling inside the railway station. One homeless lady approached me for 50 cents. I did not had change so I refused, but she spoke good English and instead wished me a good weekend ahead.
When I reached Berlin, I was so amazed at the cleanliness the city possesses. Only litter you would see on the streets would be Cigarette butts. I wish people displayed the same responsibility towards cigarette butts that they show towards other litter.
In Berlin I stayed at Check-In hostel. This was my first ever stay in hostel. Hostel was very clean and I was put up in the 10 bed mix dorm. A Mix dorm means both men and women share the same room, sometimes common shower and toilets. In India, sometimes it's difficult for a guy and a girl if they are unmarried to get a single room booked in a hotel.
The hostel had some of the most amazing travellers from around the world. Unfortunately, I did not get much time to socialise and interact with the travellers at the hostel. For the first time in my life, I saw a naked guy here walking in the bathroom corridor.
Next day evening, I was at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin and there was a group of around 10-15 people who had bought an amazing vintage car and some sound equipment. They were building a tent like structure to perform some music. I just sat there for half an hour thinking it’s a live music performance but when I asked 1 of the lady there, she told me it’s a political demonstration and not a music concert. I was amazed by the calmness of the people and the role music played in the people’s demonstration.
On my last night at this hostel, I met a French guy who was living in Australia since last 20 years who had a South American girlfriend and they were travelling in Europe. The guy must be around 45 and the girl must be around 25. I liked this couple. I also met a bunch of travellers - an Australian guy whose parents lived in Poland, an American guy who had finished his studies, a Swedish girl who left her college course as she found it boring, a Russian guy who was studying German language, a British guy who was looking for a new job back home and a Chilean girl who loved taking pictures. All of these were solo travellers. We went outside the building at 1:00 AM in the night and then chatted and some smoked in the cold chilling weather. This is what I love most about travelling, meeting people.
In Berlin, I visited Charlie Check point, Berlin wall, Berlin Holocaust memorial, Alexanderplatz and Brandenburg gate. I got lost several times in Berlin. Sometimes on the streets, sometimes on subways, sometimes in metro stations. And all the people that I approached for directions or help were very kind and were interested to know more about me and India. I met 2 Pakistani middle aged men who were settled in Germany in one of the restaurants that served Jewish cuisine in Berlin. We had interesting conversations about the differences between Indian/Pakistani and German people. For some good reasons, they liked Germany a lot and the humbleness and down to earth even the most elite people show.
My next destination was Warsaw. I took a ‘Simple Express’ service bus from Berlin to Warsaw. Don’t go by the name. It’s not at all simple. The bus had a Wifi connection, a toilet on board, a magazine and a personal entertainment system that played amazing music, movies, documentaries, sitcoms as good as international flights. I reached Warsaw at 11:00 PM. There was a Scotland – Poland football match on that same night. So, the streets were full of Polish and Scottish supporters wearing Kilt and feather caps. I did not had local currency and since it was late night so I just went to one of the shops which accepted Euros and bought some chocolate to get local currency Zloty.
Walked around a kilometre, went to couple of wrong lanes just to find Hoza hostel which was on 4th floor in a building that would have been around 150 year old. I had booked the hostel just a night before. Hostel was located in a business district walkable from the old town and major tourist attractions. In the hostel, I had some good conversations with an American traveller, an Indian guy who was studying in Warsaw and a Sri Lankan guy who was studying in Warsaw.
I stayed in Warsaw for 3 nights and I just saw the old town and the football stadium. Old town was so picturesque that I just did not feel like going anywhere else. So, I visited old town every single day. Old town was destroyed in one of the uprising and the town we see now is replica of the original old town. I wonder how beautiful original town would have looked like. Old town is characterised by cobbled streets with colourful buildings everywhere having artistically and elegant designed restaurants and cafes serving amazing variety of beer, coffee, sushi and local delicacies. Old town aura emanates romance and love everywhere. You will see couples holding hands and kissing, old ladies taking a walk with cute puppies, young mothers taking a walk with their babies, small kids feeding and running around sparrows.
In the evening I was sitting in one of the benches at Old town Market square where I met a Ukrainian guy who was working on some agriculture farm around Warsaw. He was so fascinated about India that he asked me tons of questions on Indian Culture, people, places and gods and we ended up chatting for almost an hour. He had an impression that India has quite a few people who stand on 1 leg and have not eaten any food for years and are still alive. I am yet to meet such an Indian though. Meanwhile, in the background one guy was playing amazing Beethoven and Mozart classic on one of the Music box he held.
The next day evening I met one doctor from Greece at the same place. We had some interesting conversations on European women in general. Later, he concluded that Polish girls are one of the most beautiful girls in Europe.
On my last night in Warsaw, I met one Japanese traveller in the hostel at 11:00 PM. He had been travelling since last 8 months across different continents. He was living his dreams. At 12:00 in the night, we decided to hit a night club named Capitol which is open only on Friday and Saturday nights. I was carrying a map and looked like a lost tourist. One Polish guy approached us to offer help as we looked lost. He worked as a Customs officer and it was Friday night, so he was quite drunk. He even showed us his Id card just to make us believe that he is not a threat to us. We had good fun speaking to this guy. His biggest concern was our safety as we are tourists. Finally we found the place ourselves but he accompanied us till the club. We joined the queue at the entrance and this guy waited till we get inside. We invited him to the club but he thankfully refused saying he needs to sleep. I wondered if drunk people are so kind and helpful imagine how kind normal people would be in this country. Club played amazing music and was fully packed with people. We left the club at 3:30 AM as I had to catch a bus early morning to Krakow.
My next stop in Poland was Krakow which is one of the oldest cities in Poland. I stayed at Hostel Deco here. In the evening I went for a walk to the Old town area. Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode towards the city outskirts for around 10kms. Countryside was extremely beautiful set amidst green lush hills and farms. Countryside looked richer than the town area. In the evening, again visited old town area which was very picturesque. There was a free Mozart harmonica concert in the church at the old town area which I attended. Church was fully packed with locals and tourists. It was awesome as I had never seen Orchestra played by 100-125 people and I love Mozart’s work.
Next day, I visited Auschwitz Concentration camp. It was an hour bus ride from Krakow. Walking around concentration camp will make you feel quite sad. It reminds you of that dark era where innocents were mercilessly killed for some people’s selfish motives. Around 1.1 million prisoners died at the camp. I wonder what was God doing then! I did not get much time to visit Birkanau concentration camp which is close by. I left the place at 5:00 PM and waited for an hour just to get the bus. Meanwhile, I met one funny guy from Algeria who was working in France but was on a vacation in Poland. His French and Algerian mix accent sounded very interesting when we spoke in English. We sat in a bus next to each other. Then he showed me the picture of his girlfriend he made in Poland and shared the tips on how to woo a Polish girl. The people standing behind us had a good laugh and so did I. In the evening, I again went to the picturesque old town area for a walk. There was a live open music performance on the stage at the old town area. I joined the tourists sitting there with a glass of beer to kill the notorious chilly wind effects.
My next stop was Zakopane, a small town located in South of Poland. I took a bus from Krakow to Zakopane. The entire route was scenic. Several times I felt like jumping outside the window just to get some clicks. I was the only traveller in the bus who got down at Zakopane bus stop. Seeing an alien with 2 backpacks, a group of girls sitting nearby started giggling. I smiled back at them and went outside the bus stop, spoke to couple of guys to get the directions to reach the hostel. As expected, no one spoke English. Luckily, I found a bus driver who did not speak slightest English but who knew the place I was supposed to go. He then dropped me at a place nearby hostel Good bye Lenin where I had not booked the bed but somehow had a gut feeling that I will get a bed which turned real later. I had to walk a kilometre with my 14 kg backpacks(yes. that’s too much) to reach the hostel nestled amidst beautiful hills surrounded by smoky trees and the rushing water beneath. It was the most magical place that I visited in Europe. Hostel was a beautiful structure made of wood entirely. We had to wear their bear socks and shoes once inside. Hostel was run by 1 amazing lady who loved mountain hiking.
I spent 3 nights in Zakopane but the weather got so bad that it snowed for 1 day and rained for the other 2 days. In evening I went to 1 grocery store nearby to buy some raw chicken. For some reasons, raw cut pieces of beef, chicken and pork looked same there. Failure on my part to make the owner understand that I want only Chicken and no pork or beef made me buy Pork salami and French fries instead. I did not like the taste of Pork Salami so I left it at the hostel at the end of my stay.
Hostel had 4 volunteers working there on work away assignments. This is something I would love to do in future. There was a guy from Czech, a girl from Australia, a girl from Poland and a girl from Italy and 1 sweet cat. One evening, the Italian girl made some real good Italian pizzas for all of us. It was much better than the one I had later in a restaurant in Italy. As it was off season, so hostel had very few guests. There was a family of 4 from Russia who drove their car from Moscow to St. Petersburg and then to Zakopane via Lithuania. They had 1 small crazy kid who spoke to me in Russian which I did not understand at all. Every time he spoke I just used to tell him ‘da’(means ‘Yes’) and then he used to laugh and play. It was fun playing with him. Then I met a young girl from Netherland who had authored 5 books and was working with an organisation that helps homeless people. There was 1 old guy around 55 staying in the hostel who loved interacting with me in English and Polish. One evening he was drunk and spoke to me for good 15 minutes in Polish but unfortunately I could not understand a word. Finally, he realised I don’t understand Polish and then he let me go. He did speak couple of sentences in English though next morning which I understood.
In the afternoon later I went outside to buy a raincoat, a shoe and socks. It was great fun just to explain shop sellers that I want only Men’s shoe and socks. Once I found men’s shoes it was again a challenge to explain them that I want some cheap ones just for 2-3 days of my stay here. Finally I succeeded in buying a sneaker for 30 zloty(Around 600 INR), a pair of socks and a Poncho to protect from snow and rain.
It was already 1:00 AM and it was snowing and raining alternately. Unaffected by weather and totally ungeared, just like a fool I decided to go on a trail along the High Tatra mountain National park. I am not much into hiking as such. So, I loaded my bag with camera, apples, coke and chips. I walked around 2.5-3 kms just to reach the entrance of the park. Paid an entry fee of 5 zloty(Around 100 Rs.) and just followed the path. As I walked for 30 mins, it started to snow heavily and it had gone dark. This was the first time in my life I had seen a snow fall. There was no one in the park except me. That moment when I was alone and taking pictures in a lush green forest with the water gushing alongside surrounded by Spruce and Pine trees and couple of abandoned huts and the snow hitting my camera made my day. This was one of the best moments I have experienced in my life. As it got dark I decided to return back to the hostel. In the evening, I decided to lay my hands on untuned guitar the hostel had. While trying to tune the guitar, I broke high E string rendering guitar useless. It was nice of them, they did not charge me for the replacement.
Next day, I decide to go on Morsie oko trail which is further up on the smoky mountains. I stood at the bus stop but no bus arrived for good 90 minutes. Losing my patience I just decided to quit this plan and go somewhere else. It was raining lightly and sky was heavily fogged so I just randomly walked around the town clicking pictures.
As the weather was rainy, so I decided to leave the place on 4th day. Completely unplanned with no bus reservation, no train reservation, no hostel reservation I decided to go to Bratislava. The owner at the hostel recommended that I go to Poland-Slovakia border and catch a bus to Poprad and from there to Bratislava. Going by her plan, I took a bus to Morsie oko from Jaszczurowka bus stop. I was supposed to get down at 1 bus stop before Morsie oko. I got down as expected. There was not a single person on the road or even anywhere nearby. Luckily, there was 1 lady and her daughter who got down at the same bus stop I did. Only daughter could speak English. I spoke to them saying I want to cross the Poland border and go to Slovakia to reach Poprad. They were heading to Poprad. So, we walked together for 10 minutes and crossed the border to reach Slovakia at around 11:00 AM. I said good bye to Poland.
Before coming to Poland, I had this notion in my mind that Poland is a poor country. But when I visited Poland, it completely contradicted the assumption I had in my mind.
If you are coming from an Indian subcontinent, you would never feel even 1% poorness even in the remotest part of the country. The country is astonishingly clean and very beautiful.
Surprisingly, there was no one at the border. I was so happy to see such a beautiful border with no people around. We reached a bus stop from where the bus leaves for Poprad. We soon realised that the last bus left just 20 mins back and the next bus was expected to leave at 02:20PM.
It was freaking cold outside so we just went inside a store located close by. I used their washroom and then bought some chips. The lady asked me if we can share and go in a taxi instead of waiting. I said yes, so the shop owner then called one of the taxi driver and arranged a taxi for us to go to Poprad. Poprad is a small city 60 kms away from the border. On the way we stopped at a restaurant in Zdiar village to get a 50 Euro change. Zdiar is one of the most beautiful villages I have seen and I have added it on my ‘xxx places to see before I die’ list. I will definitely go there in future. Lady was so nice that she asked me to pay only 10 Euros of the 35 Euros in total.
I got down at the Poprad railway station at around 1:00PM and went around the counter to find if there is any train to Bratislava. Luckily, they had a train to Bratislava at 1:30PM which would reach Bratislava at 06:30PM. Without thinking further I bought a 15 Euro ZSSK train ticket to Bratislava. This was my first long train journey in Europe. In the train, I met a beautiful Slovak girl who was doing her PHD in media studies in Slovakia. She had been to India earlier as a backpacker. So, we had enough interesting topics to share. She later offered me some cookies to eat.
In the same compartment, there was a man and his son-in-law who were travelling to London to watch a football match. The duo did not speak English, so the young lady acted as a translator between me and them. They looked quite amazed to see an Indian travelling solo in Slovakia. They offered me a Chicken Schnitzel, a loaf of bread and small sweet cucumber like vegetable which accidently slipped from my hand. So, he gave me 2 more of these 2 eat. They recommended me a local alcoholic drink Slivovica to try. We got down at Bratislava. They then offered me a lift in his friend’s BMW and dropped me near the hostel I had planned to visit. Their friend had bought a home made Slivovica (Strong Alcoholic beverage) which they offered me to drink saying it’s water. I took 1 sip of it and could not take it further. It was so strong that the smell and the taste of it lasted for an hour in my tongue. It was an excellent hospitality from their end. I loved the food and their kindness.
I had heard pretty good reviews about Wild Elephants hostel so I just walked to the hostel without any prior booking at 08:00PM. This time again luck favored me and I got a bed for couple of nights. The hostel had some real wild travellers as the name said. They had some amazing volunteers from Latvia, UK, Italy, Australia and Spain. Owner looked amazed to had me there without a prior booking. They had an amazing drink party going on in the kitchen area with travellers and volunteers playing Kings cup game. I joined them too with traditional Polish vodka and a beer I was carrying in my bag. After hostel party, we went for a pub crawl. Pub crawls are one of the best things you experience as a traveller in Europe. I joined the group which had Scottish, Australians, British and Spanish guys and gals and we went to couple of clubs in the town. Bratislava has an amazing night life. We went to a club named Subclub in the end which played mind blowing underground music. We partied till wee hours in the morning. Next day, I slept till 12:00 with heavy hangover. Luckily, hangover was over by evening. The owner was quite fond of Hindi song – Mundiya tu bach ke rahi. So, he played and we danced on it. Again, we partied till 1:00 in night in different clubs with same set of people along with some new travellers. Volunteers had organised a hand football tournament. So, we went to one of the pubs to play. Of course I lost against the experienced players there.
Third night again we partied with some Mexicans, British and Australians. I loved the city and the hostel so much that I extended my stay for 2 more nights. Once I accidentally spilled around 200 ml of Coca cola on my bed. They were very sweet and did not go mad at me, instead changed the bed for me with the smile.
City looks as beautiful in day as it is during night. I found this small city to be very beautiful with so less people and has an amazing old architecture. I met an interesting American guy who was very fond of Coffee and the art. He took me to some of the best coffee houses in Bratislava. He was living in Europe for quite a long time learning different European languages and studying health science. I also met a group of Mongolian students who were studying in Prague and had come to enjoy a weekend in Bratislava. They asked me a lot many questions on India which I happily answered.
Vienna is 1 hour bus ride from Bratislava. There is a 12 Euro return bus ticket that you can buy online or at the bus stop. I reached Vienna Erdberg Strasse at 11:00 AM. It took me 15 minutes just to find a person on street who speaks English and can guide me to reach Ring road area. Luckily I met 1 Pakistani guy who then guided me on how to reach ring area. I visited couple of free museums and tourist attractions in the Ring road area. I could not go to Mozart concert because of the ticket being very expensive. I did not stay in Vienna instead I visited city for a day as it’s an expensive place to eat and travel but beautiful.
My next destination was Budapest. I took a bus from Bratislava to Budapest. There were 2 other travellers – a French guy who liked Rum and a Spanish girl. Both stayed at the same hostel in Bratislava and were going to Budapest in the same Student Agency bus. Student Agency is one of the best bus services in Central Europe. They serve free coffee, tea, returnable headphones, magazines, newspapers and an amazing personal entertainment system and even toilet on board. Entertainment system had Hollywood flicks, lot of music and sitcoms like Friends and Big Bang Theory enough to cover your entire journey. When I reached Budapest I realised that I don’t have Hungarian currency Forint to buy a metro ticket. So the French guy accompanying me gave me 350 forints to buy the ticket. I wish we cross the path again and I can give him something back on his favour.
In Budapest, I had booked a bed in Hi5 hostel. After asking multiple people on the streets I managed to reach the hostel. First trouble I faced was they did not allow me to enter the room until the remaining amount was paid in local currency in cash. So, I went out to get some Euros exchanged for Forints. I was given a bed in one of the 4 bed dorm room they had. They had one of the best common area among all the hostels I lived with Pool table, a big TV, 2 computers and music system where travellers can play their own stuff, relax and meet others. In the evening, I played few games of Billiards with 1 of the British guy and I won 1 game out of the 3 we played. I felt so good. That was my first time ever I won a pool game. We then played a Beer pong game which my team lost so 2 of us had to drink beer with a bong. That was outrageous and something I did first time in my life. I puked 5 minutes later.
Next night was a Halloween night. So, everyone was made up in the wackiest way except me and couple of guys. We went out to couple of clubs to party. We partied till 05:00 in the morning. That was one of the best party nights I had. 1 of the cute American girl in our group lost her iPhone during party. So, we all went in search of that but could not find unfortunately. One of the members in our group was sold salt in lieu of Cocaine. So keep away from all such stuff. I had to catch a bus at 07:00 in the morning to next destination Ljubljana. So I took a shower quickly and reached the bus stop just 10 minutes early and later slept the whole journey in bus. Due to Passport checking at the border, sleep got distracted though.
In Budapest, I saw Chain bridge, Parliament, Shoes on the Danube bank, Buda Castle and City park. I could not take the famous thermal baths there because my skin was windburned in cold temperatures.
Slovenia is one of the least populated and a very beautiful country in Central Europe. I reached Ljubljana at around 12:30PM. The streets were all deserted. Population of Ljubljana is around 1.4% of Mumbai city which I later found out could be the reason for no people around. Even the Parliament building did not had a security guard on couple of days I went there. Structure is so simple and environment so calm. I fell in love with this capital city instantly. As a guy living in Mumbai I am so much used to have at least hundred thousand people breathing around me.
Luckily I met 1 Singaporean guy on the street who had left from the same hostel where I was planning to go. So, he gave me the directions to Hostel Vila Veselova. After banging the doorbell for 15 minutes, a receptionist came in and apologised that she could not hear the bell due to cleaning activities. The Slovenian ladies running the hostel were very sweet though and the hostel served amazing free breakfast. Again, luck favoured and I got a bed without prior booking. They gave me a room instantly and a city map. I was surprised to see an Idol of Hindu God Ganesha at the reception with lots of coins from across the world which travellers had left as a souvenir.
In the evening I went out for a walk and to have dinner. Next day, I climbed up on the city Castle to get good views of the city and later walked around the old town. Old town has beautiful cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops surrounding the river which adorn the city. I met one interesting friendly guy on the street who approached me for some casual talks. Later as the talks progressed he started discussing on religions. I got puzzled. Being an Atheist, he started questioning me further. I then happily asked him couple of questions on why the God is not doing anything to stop merciless innocent people getting killed by dumb powerful people, people dying of hunger in Africa and natural disasters killing small babies. He then showed me couple of videos he was carrying on his iPad portraying that Satan is causing all these and not the God. I then thanked him saying I am not convinced and will read Bible someday to get the answers.
Next day, I took a day trip to visit Lake Bled which is 1 hour bus ride from Ljubljana. Lake is very beautiful set amidst green mountains and a Castle sitting amidst the lake. It took me 3 hours to walk around the lake and climb up the castle. In between, I hopped on to couple of impressive still villages, went to a supermarket to buy some cakes and chips to feed myself and to the colourful birds on the lake. Serene blue water, cloudy sky, lush green mountains and no people around made the whole area looked idyllic. It’s the best place to relax. Visiting Slovenia again is now added on to my To-do things before you die list.
Next day I decided to leave for Venice, a city of canals. Hostel owner at Villa Veselova arranged to get the last minute ticket booked for me. I reached Ljubljana bus stop just 10 minutes before the bus was scheduled to departure. After running here and there for 10 minutes, I met 1 driver on the street who said there is no bus but instead a taxi service that runs to Venice. 1 of their taxi got filled, so he arranged another taxi for rest of us. At the bus stop, I met a Canadian girl who was working in USA as a software programmer but had quit her job to travel. She was an avid mountain hiker and backpacking since last 6 months. She was going back home. We sat on Taxi. After some 2 hours of beautiful scenic drive, taxi stopped at one of the petrol pumps to refill the gas. The girl went out to the store and gifted me a flavoured water bottle which she said could be found only in Slovenia. Thanks to her I got to taste that water. It was amazing. Taxi dropped us at Mestre from where I caught a bus to Venice historic center. Unfortunately, all the Italians I spoke to for directions could not understand English. Somehow, I managed to find Venice Fish hostel where I had booked a bed.
City is too compact and crowded with tourists and locals. Venice is very picturesque and most unique in its own way with no motor vehicles allowed inside the city. Only way to commute is by walk or boat. They even have Taxi boat service. It rained heavily both the days I stayed there. So, I could not enjoy much. Despite it raining, I went to see Piazza San Marco and Grand Canal. I could not visit Murano and Burano islands though which I wanted to visit. It rained so heavily that water had entered the basement area of the hostel where I was staying. I decide to go out to have a pizza. Unaware of the rain consequences, I accidently stepped both my feet in 1 feet of water spoiling my shoes and socks. I then removed my shoes and socks and put flip flops instead. I pulled my jeans up, held flip flops in my hand, stepped outside and roamed around the town in flip flops. Venice was the only place where I felt language barrier.
Second night I decided to leave for Prague due to bad weather. There was no direct connection that night or next day from Venice to Prague. So, I booked an OEBB train to Vienna for 69Euros.This was the most expensive journey I took in Europe. I booked the train ticket online at 08:30PM for the train scheduled to leave at 11:50 PM. Later, I came to know that it’s mandatory to have a ticket copy printed otherwise you will not be allowed to board the train. I rushed to the Venezia station to get my ticket printed as most of the shops were flooded and shut by 09:00 PM. All manual counters at the station were closed. Unfortunately, text on the ticket did not get render on my cellphone PDF app. So, I did not knew the Coach and the seat number. I was able to see only the QR code. So, I took some screenshots of QR code on my mobile thinking this would help the train conductor.
I left the hostel at 09:30 and reached Mestre station via bus. When train arrived at the station, train officer asked me in Italian to show the ticket. I told him that I don’t have the ticket printout but only the QR code. He did not let me go inside the train. After giving some panic looks for 5 minutes, I convinced him to get the QR reader to validate the ticket. He bought the QR reader which failed to read the QR code 4 times consecutively. Now, I looked more tense and was sure that he won’t let me board the train. Luckily, he said he will try 1 last time and thankfully QR code got read by the device and I came to know about my coach and seat number. Ordeal did not end there. As I reached my Coach which was at the extreme end, another Train officer approached and asked me for a ticket copy. Again, I had to convince him but he did not budge. So, I took him to the Train officer which had earlier validated my ticket. They spoke something in Italian and then finally they let me in. Again, Ordeal did not end there. In my compartment there were 6 seats out of which 4 were occupied by 2 men - 1 Romanian and 1 African. They were sleeping very comfortably. I asked the African guy to vacate my seat but he instead insisted me to have other 2 seats just next to his. I obliged and somehow managed to sleep in between the 2 guys. After some time, a train officer came and found out that the Romanian guy was travelling without a ticket. So, he had to leave the compartment and I slept comfortably thereafter. Later, I don’t know what happened to him.
After reaching Vienna station, I had to catch a bus 112 B to reach Vienna Stadion. I waited at the bus stop and caught the bus 112B. Later, after 15 minutes, I reached last stop where I figured out I took the correct bus number but unfortunately in the wrong direction. So, I sat in the same bus again and then travelled till the last stop Stadion and found out that I missed 11:40 AM bus to Prague. Luckily, they had another bus leaving for Prague at 1:30PM which I booked. They gave me a discount on the ticket as it was last minute booking. I got the Student Agency ticket to Prague for only 10 Euros. I spent 2 hours in the neighbouring mall to pass the time.
I reached Prague in the evening where I had a prior booking at Czech Inn hostel. Hostel was located bit far from the old town area but had a nice live music bar in the basement. They had a pub crawl that night for 500 korunas. You get to drink unlimited beer and wine for 45 mins and then crawl to couple of pubs. I joined them. There was an Irish couple, couple of guys from Britain, an Aussie guy, a Canadian guy and Slovakian and Mongolian volunteers leading the group. We played Kings cup while sipping beers. I was the unlucky one who drew the last king and was expected to finish the holy kings cup holding wierd beer and wine mixture. I could do it only half.
I spent 5 nights in Prague most of which partying late nights with amazing British, Argentinian and Brazilian travellers. Brazilian guy was working in Warsaw as an IT Engineer for an Indian firm. So, he knew lot of Indian names. We even travelled ticketless late night couple of times and met few British girls who invited us for breakfast. We could not catch up though as we had to leave the city the next day. Old town in Prague is very beautiful but crowded with tourists most of the times. Amazed by its beauty, I visited old town all the 5 days. To get the best view of the city, I climbed Petrin tower located near the castle.
There was a small Chinese restaurant named Cinska Restaurace very close to Czech Inn hostel which was run by a Chinese family mostly frequented by construction labourers and travellers. The food they served was so delicious that I ended up eating lunch there all the 5 days.
My next destination was Cesky Krumlov, a small town in south bohemian region of Czech Republic. The pictures of the town speak for itself. I found this town more fascinating than Prague. Old town area is very small and you can feel the local Czech culture here – whether it’s food or souvenir shops or locals. I spent 4 nights at the club Havana hostel located next to river. Owner of the hostel was a young lady who was very friendly and ensured that travellers had a wonderful time there. I met some interesting travellers here – A Chinese student who was on a short solo vacation to Europe, a south Korean guy working in London as a Vet, an American girl working in South Korea as an English teacher and some amazing kiwi guys who were working back home as Musician, bartender and hair stylist. All of these were travelling solo. On my last night in town, I went out with Kiwi guys at 10:00 in the night up on the castle to have a beer. We went to couple of good pubs in the old town area, drank beer and later ended up eating cookies and eating amazing Nachos. Next day I left for Prague to do some last minute shopping and took a bus to Frankfurt in the evening. I had a flight to catch for Mumbai via Colombo with a 20 hour layover in Colombo.
On reaching Colombo airport, I met one Sri Lankan Airways executive to ask her if I can go outside the airport. She then asked me whether I had a hotel booking. I said no. She then immediately booked a sea facing room in one of the good hotels in Negombo beach. They even arranged pick and drop car facility to the hotel and buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel. All this free of cost. This was something I had never expected and was a complete pleasure to ease my tiredness and jet lag. I loved the blue water sunny beach. The town reminded me so much of Goa with amazing tall Coconut trees, restaurants and beach sand encompassing narrow streets with colorful dresses clad tourists riding bicycles and bikes. In the afternoon, I decided to go to Colombo city for some shopping and sightseeing. Once you are on street, every 10 minutes auto rickshaw would stop to convince you to sit in his rickshaw for sight-seeing and private massages. I bought some Ceylon tea, Sri Lankan spices and one piece of souvenir.
I visited a total of 9 countries and 13 cities for 2500 USD or 1900 Euros. This includes International tickets (470 Euros), visa fees (60 Euros approx), local transportation, bus and train journeys in Europe, accommodation in cheap and top rated hostels(Ranged between 4 Euros to 18 Euros a night), food and alcohol. I am not much into Museums. The Old towns in all the cities are so beautiful that the whole town itself looks like an open museum. I mostly went to those museums which had free entry except in Prague where I paid to enter Grand Synagogue. I used to have food outside most of the time. Occasionally I used to prepare food in hostel kitchen. I ate local delicacies in most of the cities and took 6000+ pictures. You always have Mac Donalds and Burger king options where you can eat at low price.
Here are my personal views on the hostels where l stayed:
Berlin – Hostel Check In (3 nights)
They have a nice common room with TV, lockers in the room, separate sitting area at reception with TV, well equipped kitchen, clean bathrooms, 2 computers, nearby major tourist attractions and nice beds. All this at a very reasonable price.
Warsaw – Hostel Hoza(2 nights) and Hostel Mermaid (1 night)
Hoza hostel has a common sitting area at reception, well equipped kitchen, clean bathrooms, a laptop, nearby tourist attractions and good beds. They did not had private lockers though. They have a locker at the reception where you can keep your expensive stuff. It’s reasonably priced.
Hostel Mermaid has a common sitting area with TV, well equipped kitchen, private locker, clean bathrooms, a laptop, nearby tourist attractions and good beds. It’s reasonably priced.
Krakow - Hostel Deco (3 nights)
It’s more like a hotel, very well designed. I hired a bike from them for 30 zloty a day. They have a big common room with TV, books, movie DVDs, well equipped kitchen, private lockers, Free Towel, Free 1 time Laundry service, clean bathrooms, nearby tourist attractions. Beds made squeaky sounds though when u move. It’s reasonably priced.
Zakopane – Hostel Good bye Lenin (3 nights)
It’s a very beautiful structure made of wood, more like a house set amidst lush green hills and flowing water. They have a common room with TV, a guitar, books, laptop, well equipped kitchen, private lockers, good beds and clean bathrooms. They have a free breakfast. It’s very reasonably priced.
Bratislava – Wild Elephants Hostel (5 nights)
They have a common sitting area, well equipped kitchen, clean bathroom and nice beds. All my stuff lied open in the room. I never found the need for private lockers here. Best part is the location of this hostel. It’s centrally located in the old town area. They have amazing volunteers and do Pub Crawls on most of the nights. It’s reasonably priced.
Budapest – Hostel Hi5 (3 nights)
They have a huge common sitting area with Smart TV, well equipped kitchen, clean bathroom, 2 computers, private lockers, books, free Pool table, nearby tourist attractions and nice beds. They have amazing volunteers and do Pub Crawls on most of the nights. It’s very reasonably priced.
Ljubjana – Hostel Vila Veselova (3 nights)
They have a common sitting area with Radio, well equipped kitchen, clean bathroom, 2 computers, private lockers, nearby tourist attractions, nice beds and always ready to help Owner and volunteers. Best part is they serve free breakfast which includes juice(2-3 flavors), tea, coffee, apples, bread, jam, butter, corn flakes, cheese and nutella. It’s reasonably priced.
Venice – Hostel Venice Fish (2 nights)
They have a common sitting area, clean bathroom, guitar, private lockers, nearby tourist attractions and nice beds. They just had a microwave and tea/coffee making machine . When it rained, water 1 feet height got logged in their basement. I paid 14+ 3 Euros (Venice Tourist tax)per night here. It’s the cheapest I got in Venice.
Prague – Hostel Czech Inn (4 nights)
It’s more like a hotel. They have a common sitting area, clean bathroom, bar in the basement where live music performances happen, paid breakfast, private lockers, books, Computer and nice beds. They don’t have a kitchen. It’s a 50-55 minute walkable distance from Old town area though 5-10 minutes reachable by trams/bus. One of the staff members there got quite rude with me because I had accidentally booked the hostel online twice for each of the 2 nights I had extended my stay.
Cesky Krumlov – Hostel Club Havana(4 nights)
They have a sitting area in the kitchen, clean bathroom, well equipped kitchen, private lockers, books, barbeque and wood fire and nice beds. It’s located just next to river and is at 5-7 minutes walkable distance from the castle.
Negombo Beach – Hotel sunrise (1 day)
They have all sea facing rooms. They served amazing continental buffet dinner. I stayed in a Private double bed room which had AC, security locker and balcony with chairs.
All the hostels had free WIFI and most of them served free tea/coffee.
What I learned in this short trip:
- My name in British accent sounds so funny. It’s pronounced as ‘You Day’
- Always and always stay in hostels if you are travelling solo or with friends if you like to meet interesting people.
- I initially thought purpose of travelling would be to know myself better but it later turned out that it was actually more about knowing others and the similarities & interesting differences that we all humans share. I really don't understand why humans get influenced by fools and kill each other over border disputes, religion, oil, races and dirty politics.
- Europe is very beautiful. All the European cities I have been to were charmed with cleanliness, stylish people, fairy tale like architecture, amazing driving sense, love and respect for music and art, old towns resonating with sound of church bells, cheap and good beer, cheap apple and kiwis, red and yellow maple leaves lying on the streets and amazing friendly people.
- I had my travel itinerary fully charted on paper well in advance but I hardly followed it. A couple of times I had to pay the price for not following the plan like I once ended up buying expensive train and bus ticket for a short journey. My advice is to book your hostels, train reservations well in advance if you are a budget traveller to save money. Compare prices of bus, train and flights. Sometimes, flight turns out to be least expensive among the 3 modes. I travelled mostly in bus. Only twice I took the train journey.
- My advice to fellow travellers would be to throw away any stereotype about the culture or people that you have in your mind. The World is a lot different than the stereotype that's grounded in your mind by crap people. You got to experience it yourself with a clean mind.
- One interesting thing I liked about European countries I had been to is the comfort and freedom that women in public places enjoy. People don't ogle at women no matter how she is dressed or which brand of cigarette she is smoking.
- All the touristy areas I have been to in European cities were very safe. Couple of times I have been alone on streets between 1:00 to 4:00 AM in the night in the most deserted touristy areas and I never felt a pinch of danger. I have seen many girls walking alone or with friends at that time and I never found anyone bothering them. I carried Pepper spray though when I left from India but I never carried it in the daily backpack I used to carry with me during sightseeing.
- None of the shop owners even the ones on streets ever cheated me despite me being a Foreigner. There was only one instance in 1 of the restaurants in Prague where price of a particular meal mentioned was 179 CZK on the banner outside however I was later charged extra 15 CZK for bread pieces and 15 CZK as the service charge. May be they might have mentioned this on banner but I could not understand it as it was written in Czech language.
- Even taxi drivers never over charged me on the taxi ride I took twice, once in Poland and once in Prague. There was only 1 instance where I was overcharged by a Rickshaw driver in Colombo.
- Don't throw waste on the streets especially Cigarette butts. Believe me it looks very beautiful without litter.
- Most of the travellers I met found me to be aged between 24 and 26. That feels so good.
- I discovered that I love hiking especially on the green mountains and remote deserted villages.
- Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish and capital of Brazil is Brasilia and not Rio De Janeiro or Sao Paulo which I thought earlier.
- Majority of the People are not racist as the foreigners think they are.
- At some places, beer is cheap than water and I can easily live couple of days without drinking water by just drinking coca cola and beer.
- Venice is called Venezia in Italy. A mini Pizza that you get in Venice or Venezia is 2 times the size of a mini pizza that you get in India.
- I can’t understand Scottish accent a bit and Welsh accent is one of the best English accent that I have listened to.
- New Zealand is not just 1 piece of island. They have no. of islands forming the country.
- Capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar.
- Hash can be smoked in a water glass in an interesting way. You could be sold salt in lieu of Cocaine.
- I prefer eating like local, drink like local and party like local.
- Travel is not just hopping from one place to another and clicking pictures. It's a lot more than that. It’s about knowing the world, learning new things, meeting interesting people, giving another perspective on the way you look at life, reinventing yourself, broadening your horizon and relaxing your mind and to just have fun.
- Lastly, Live in love, music, peace and harmony. It helps.
What I lost in this trip:
In Hoza hostel in Warsaw, a box of Mac Donalds fries and 2 apples disappeared from the hostel fridge. I can’t blame hostel owners for this though. At the same hostel, I forgot my shaving kit in the bathroom there which I did not get back the next day when I understood I forgot my kit. I did not lose anything else other than this in the whole trip.
Note: All these are my personal experiences and opinions. Any similarity with regard to opinion/s of any other person/s is purely coincidental. I have purposely not mentioned the names of all the amazing people I met. Sorry, if it sounds racist of me referring to people with their nationalities.