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Our First Taste Of Europe

Budapest Castle

As the train pulls out of the Keleti station in Budapest and heads in the direction of Belgrade I realize that my excitement for the eight-hour journey is almost on par with that of seeing Prague castle or the Budapest parliament buildings. In part it’s because I love traveling by train but on this occasion, it’s even more so due to something far less romantic. Being trapped on a train for eight hours with no internet to distract me and no historic sights calling to be explored means I will be able to just sit still for a day and get some work done. It may not sound exciting but to me right now it’s perfection.

The past eighteen days have been a whirlwind filled with so many stimuli and constant movement that my head is spinning, my body is aching and I feel like I haven’t taken a deep breath in days. Small price to pay to be living my dream but it does reinforce the importance of maintaining that balance I am always harping about. This is why we have chosen to spend the next week in Belgrade, a city not usually on the top of most people’s ‘must see’ lists when visiting Europe but definitely an up and comer from what we hear. The plan is to rent an apartment through Airbnb where we can hole up and get some much overdue work done and prep for the upcoming TBEX Athens conference. We also want to take some downtime to exercise, rest, refocus and recharge. With just enough going on to occupy us when we take a break but not so much that we feel compelled to explore every day the Serbian capitol seems like a perfect option.

For now though I’m going to use this time on the train to recap in brief, for myself and for those of you who have been asking for it, the first chapter of our European story. I’ll be posting more detailed guides on each destination in the future but here is a taste of our journey so far. Of course I’m going to do this in between moments of staring out the window at the lovely Hungarian countryside and quaint towns that we pass while enjoying a picnic of chicken sandwiches, cookies and iced tea. Yup…balance

Our journey begins with a flight from Seattle to Frankfurt on Condor Air which I personally had never heard of but at a cost of $378. USD per person/one way it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. As with most airlines these days it was no frills. On the down side the leg room was very tight, the service was cold and uncaring and the food was barely edible. However on the up side there at least was food served, there were personal entertainment screens (but you had to pay 7 Euro to use it) and the safety video was hilarious. The flight was way overbooked and somehow they actually boarded these excess people which meant we were delayed departing for two hours while they sorted out who had to get off the plane. None of this was a big deal for us personally as we weren’t concerned about arriving late and our fare was too cheap to be fussed…one of the great benefits to slow travel with no set agenda. Had we been among the many on board with more set itineraries I’m sure we’d not have been so easy going about it.

Our arrival in Frankfurt was pretty uneventful with barely a question asked by German customs and an easy to navigate train from the airport to downtown Frankfurt. The 30 minute trek from the station to the A&O Hostel/Hotel with more than 60 lbs each of luggage on our backs was not so much fun however. After years of travel and a full eight months in Mexico and Guatemala last year you’d think we’d be better at traveling light. It’s certainly not for lack of reminders coming from Nathans corner. The next three days were spent trying to ignore the jet lag, and a head cold in my case, while exploring Frankfurt and Heidelberg. Frankfurt is a major hub of flights and finances and apparently a very liveable city but it’s not overly interesting for tourists. We enjoyed it none the less and with the addition of a day trip to Heidelberg or the Rhine Valley it can be a great first introduction to Europe.

When traveling through Europe by train many years ago in my 20’s I followed the advice of my all time favorite travel writer (and Seattle native) Rick Steves who suggested taking overnight trains for long hauls. It’s a great way to preserve time and money when one or the other is tight. Choosing to do this for our leg from Frankfurt to Prague was an opportunity for new experience for Nathan. It turns out I didn’t do a great job of describing the small, cramped quarters of a six bed couchette but being the easy going guy that he is we laughed and even slept our way through it.

Although I have traveled through Europe fairly extensively over the years I had never been to Prague other than an eight hour layover in the dead of winter. This meant that we could both explore the city together as newbies. I’m happy to say that the City Of A Hundred Spires lived up to expectations in beauty however the reputation of being a party town was less evident to us. It could be due to the fact that it was late September or maybe because we weren’t there on a weekend but whatever the reason it was unexpectedly quiet in the evenings. We’re not complaining, in fact it was pleasant to have the opportunity to pick and choose where to eat and drink without fighting crowds of drunken stag and hen nights.

Check back soon for a more detailed look at Prague through our eyes but for now I’ll note that for us the highlights were Prague castle, Chrles Bridge, the Old Town Hall, pork knuckle and cheap beer. Oh and on a social front the arrival of my good friend Catherine from London (formerly of Vancouver) who came to share Prague with us for three nights. It so happened to be Catherines Birthday and we were able to stand in front of the Astronomical Clock displaying the sign of her birthdate. Pretty cool.

After four inspiring days we moved on to beautiful Budapest. I was particularly excited to go to the capitol of Hungary as I had actually lived there for two years as a very young child while the country was still under communist rule (yes I’m that old). I think any ‘memories’ of my time there are actually more creations based on stories and photos shared by my parents. So for all intents and purposes this would again be a new experience for both Nathan and I. Budapest may not flaunt such a blatant fairytale-esque complexion as Prague but it carries an air of regality and a face of noble beauty that leaves you in awe. It is also in our opinion an incredibly liveable city. We actually extended our stay twice and had it not been for time constraints due to TBEX we would likely have found an apartment and stayed a good while longer…maybe we will return and do just that.

Expect a very in depth look at Budapest along with advice and information about all this city has to offer…which is a lot. If you’re interested in a destination that has a turbulent and sometimes tragic history to tell, stunning and varied architecture around every corner, exciting and unique nightlife, serene parks for time outs, a plethora of therapeutic and rejuvenating baths and fabulous tasty food all at bargain prices then you too will fall in love with Budapest. It really was hard to leave.

But here we are, on that aforementioned train to Belgrade with about two hours left in the journey. We have done very little planning as it was a last minute decision to go to Serbia and we mostly intend to work, although I’m sure we’ll find some fun in our off time. The only thing we do know is that we will be arriving late at night and will need to trudge with our overweight packs through the city streets in search of the Airbnb apartment we have booked. Wish us luck and stay tuned as we Live, Dream and Discover our next adventure!

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