Prague is no doubt the heart of continental Europe. It is situated right in the center. For this reason one should never make the mistake of classifying Prague as an Eastern European city, especially not in earshot of a Czech. If Prague is the heart than, while you are here, you will find how effortless it is to be carried by the veins of busses and trains that branch out from the city center and take you to all the other organs of the body that is Europe. Here are some of the places I’ve traveled so far and information on the train station and bus services to help you plan your study abroad weekend getaways.
The first place I traveled was Berlin. The city is a mere six-hour bus ride away. I booked with Student Agency, which is essentially the Mega Bus or Bolt Bus of Europe. They offer services to almost every major city for a very cheap price.
The city itself is a stark contrast from Prague in size and style. It is an enormous city by comparison yet everywhere is extremely accessible through its advanced system of trams, buses and subways.
Where Prague is very medieval and aged, Berlin is the very definition of modern. Since the bulk of the city was destroyed during World War II, the Germans had to completely rebuild and start over. When you visit Berlin you are visiting a city rebuilt from scratch sixty-seven years ago.
Explore the whole city, but definitely spend more time on the east side. You will find less touristy, cheaper, and tastier establishments and a more hip and vibrant culture. You must see the East Side Gallery, a free, outdoor collection of paintings with what remains of the Berlin Wall as its canvass. Definitely indulge in the Berlin street food. Have the currywurst and the best doner kebab outside Istanbul.
Amsterdam’s reputation precedes it. By day, the city is charming and relatively quiet. Filled with art museums, cafes, and cheese shops along side a maze of peaceful canals. By night, Amsterdam is the greatest party in Europe. Having a vibrant nightlife in one of the most relaxed and least judgmental places on Earth. It is a land where sin is legal and celebrated.
Amsterdam is also an amazingly energy efficient city. Everyone has a bike and is the preferred method of travel. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of bikes left about on main streets and dining areas. Bikes accompanied with a great metro and tram system make driving an automobile a pointless endeavor that will result in just getting in people’s way while trying to navigate around the canals and through the tiny side streets. Holland in general sets a great example for sustainability and green energy. As you enter the country, look out the window and take in the sights of rows of modern windmills.
While you are in town, definitely have French fries with peanut sauce. You’ll never want to have it with ketchup again. Amsterdam also has exceptionally good chocolate and cheeses. You will not go hungry.
Istanbul is only a two-hour flight from Prague and well worth your time if you want to see a European city that is completely out of the norm. It is technically in the Middle East and is the crossroads between Europe and Asia. In fact you can even take a ferry between the European and Asian side of the city.
The city is filled with magnificent sites such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Spice Bazaar, and stunning views of the sea. It is a fun walking city, filled with delicious food and the best coffee and tea you will ever have.
Since the flights and sightseeing were rather pricey, I tried couch surfing for the first time on this trip. I encourage all of you to join the network. Even if you have a hostel, you’ll never be alone in a foreign country, will all the surfers willing to help show you around. Mine was no different, she was really sweet and accommodating the entire time I was in town and even showed me around the nightlife area. I can say that I certainly made a new friend in Istanbul.
If you ever have a burning desire to feel like royalty, take a trip to Zatín, Slovakia. Zatín is a tiny town in the Hungarian speaking section of the Slovak countryside. My ancestors hail from that part of the world and my dad wanted to make a trip out there.
The town never gets American tourists thus we were quite the spectacle. The townspeople brought us to the mayor’s office where he insisted on serving drinks. Lots of photos were taken of us shaking hands and he handed us all the gifts he could muster. Mugs, tote bags, postcards and the like.
A reception in the mayor’s office was not enough. The man insisted he take us to the local pub. All drinks were on the house. My dad made a remark about the glasses the beer was served in and the bar gave us a set to take home. Everyone in the town wanted to put us up for the night but we had to move on.
I have just returned from Vienna a couple days ago. If you are a shopper, Vienna is the place for you. It is essentially New York’s Fifth Avenue converted into a city.
Sparsely placed among the rows of shops and boutiques are art museums of all kinds and little European coffee shops. One of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had was in Vienna.
If you are a film major or into movies, definitely check out the Jewish Museum. Most of the museum is devoted to a Jews of cinema exhibit that goes through the history of Hollywood. It is complete with clips from all of the best films of the last century. At the end of the exhibit you can see the actual baseball bat used by “The Bear Jew” in Inglorious Bastards.
Unfortunately we did not get to see a show at their renowned opera house but we did walk around the building several times. One thing that certainly goes for the city is the impressive architecture. It is definitely worth spending a day or two there.