It’s been less than two weeks since we left Europe for Asia, and yet it feels like a lifetime ago. That could possibly be because we’re in Varanasi, India which is a whole world different than Europe. Having had enough of the sensory overload from the city, we’re hiding in a café drinking coffee (made with filtered water) and reflecting on our 100 days in Europe.
Our journey in Europe took us through Iceland, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and we entered Asia via Turkey. Our route involved a bit of back and forth due to wanting to hit certain places at certain times – such as: Iceland in the summer, Greece before the islands completely closed but after peak season, Oktoberfest in Germany, and a wedding in Poland.
Preferred method of travel: TRAINS, TRAINS, TRAINS. Yes, budget airlines are arguably dirt cheap but when you work in the price of taxis and waiting time at either end of the airport you often don’t save that much money or time. Especially since many budget airlines fly at awful times of the morning/night when the local transportation isn’t running. And the train is just a nicer overall experience. We looked into buying a Eurorail pass and are glad we didn’t – it ended up being way cheaper booking trains as we went (a few days to a couple weeks in advance will save you more money) and gave us the flexibility to rent a car when the opportunity presented itself (Iceland, Croatia, Poland) or hop on a bus when it made sense. The Man in Seat 61 is the best resource you will ever find for trains, check him out here.
An unlimited 3 month Eurorail pass costs €1,355 per person (at a 10% discount given we would always be travelling together). Overall, we spent €554 per person on trains with an additional €389 on flights; €317 on car rental & gas; €98 on ferries in Greece; and €58 on buses, totaling to €1,417. Keep in mind we would have needed to take the Iceland-England flight, find transportation in Iceland (where Eurorail doesn’t cover) and pay for the Greek Ferries no matter what. The freedom to save money on trains let us fly from Greece to Germany in time for the last weekend of Oktoberfest and rent a car in Croatia.
Cash vs Card: Cash is king in much of Europe. Most countries had a minimum amount for credit card purchases and in Germany, most major supermarkets didn’t accept any form of credit card! Luckily, most ATM’s in Europe don’t charge a fee, even with a foreign card and they’re located conveniently and everywhere.
Pro tip: To avoid fees from your home bank use your VISA for ATM withdrawals. If you keep your VISA at a negative balance at all times (must be negative even after the withdrawal amount) then you don’t get any interest charges or withdrawal fees. For some reason this trick doesn’t work with our MasterCard.
Where to stay: We stayed in Airbnb rentals almost 100% of the time we were in Europe (other than when we were staying with friends or family). Europe’s latest thing in accommodation seems to be “boutique hostels” which look amazing and yet are priced higher than a mid-range hotel. With Airbnb we usually rented a private room in someone’s house or apartment, but in a couple cheaper cities we let ourselves spend a bit more to rent an entire apartment to ourselves. Not only did we always get access to a kitchen – usually much better equipped and stocked than at a hostel – we also got access to a comfy living room, a local host and usually got to do free laundry. And for anyone who’s travelled Europe, you can attest to the fact that laundry is ridiculously priced and this alone saved us a ton of money.
Now to the part you’ve all been waiting for and the oh-too-often question we get: “What was your favourite part of the trip?” The question is literally impossible to answer but here are a few highlights:
Most beautiful landscapes: Iceland is covered with breathtaking landscapes and our road-trip along the south coast was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done.
The City That Has it All: Budapest
UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited: Too many to count…
Beer: Over 100 days Dan managed to try over 100 beers, tracked through a cool app called ‘Untappd’.
Wine: Europe is full of amazing and cheap wines (especially compared to prices in Canada). In Italy, I loved being able to fill up our water bottle straight from the barrel. When it comes to red wines, I didn’t find anything that beat the Malbec’s of South America but Europe had some outstanding sparking white wines in both Italy and (surprisingly) Slovenia. I was shocked to find out both how many different grapes exist and how many countries produce wine.
Highlights: Checking out the Ruin Bars in Budapest, riding in a horse-drawn cart up to Morskie Oko Lake in Poland (in the snow), drinking too much at Oktoberfest, visiting the Athenian Acropolis in Athens, renting a rowboat and spending the afternoon on Lake Bled just north of Ljubljana, sipping wine next to the canals of Venice, watching the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza, hiking in the Swiss Alps, going through the Eurotunnel, having lunch at the Duck & Waffle with fantastic views of London, watching hundreds of hot air balloons take off at the Bristol International Balloon Festival.
Our most memorable moments in Europe were when we had the opportunity to visit family and friends living abroad! Highlights include (in the order they occurred):
1. Staying with overly hospitable distant family I had never previously met in Iceland.
2. Staying with my second cousin, her husband and three young kids (including new born twins) in Worcester, England.
3. Getting hosted by family friends in Brussels and doing a day trip to the Netherlands.
4. Staying with a friend from New Zealand living in Zurich.
5. Visiting a Swiss home-stay student who stayed with my family in Vancouver almost 15 years ago in Zug, Switzerland.
6. Spending Thanksgiving with Dan’s lifelong friend living in Witten, Germany with his girlfriend.
7. Staying with my grandmother’s friends from her hometown Lubeck, Germany.
9. Randomly meeting up with my aunt’s long-time ex whose living in Prague who I haven’t seen since I was a little kid.
10. Last but not least, having my friend living in Norway fly down to meet us in Istanbul.
One regret: not spending more time in Eastern Europe. I loved Eastern Europe, but by the time we made it there winter was coming and we wanted to get to Asia so we skipped a lot of cities and countries that deserve to be visited!