I’ve spent a lot of time on trains this past month… And I can’t even begin to describe to you how great it feels to be home writing this post in my bed!
That’s right, I’ve spent the last 20 days backpacking around Europe!
20 days, seven cities.
Berlin, Krakow, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Nuremberg, and Copenhagen.
I’ve been a very busy girl! But I’m here now, and I can’t wait to share with y’all what I’ve been up to!
For the month of March, I took a three week backpacking trip around central and eastern Europe. I only registered for one class this semester, so I was done with school by early March. I decided to use the opportunity to travel, and my parents were very supportive of the idea! However I didn’t go alone, my good friend Kira Collins, who is an exchange student from San Diego State University where she happens to study Anthropology, joined me! As you might suspect from her choice of major, she also really loves history, so our trip had an aim towards major historical sights.
We started in Copenhagen for one night as a layover, before having to take a horrendous 13 hour train to Berlin because the tracks were being repaired… However Berlin was great, but it wasn’t what I had expected it to be.. And I’m not quite sure what it was that I was expecting. It was very cool to see the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and of course the Berlin wall! The weather was not on our side though, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy the city as much as I thought I would.. I will have to return when it’s summer and sunny, and check out their nightlife – which I heard is fantastic!
After Berlin, we traveled to Krakow. I can’t pick a favourite city, but I can definitely say that Poland has the best food! If you haven’t tried pierogis, you are missing out and need to find the closest Polish restaurant ASAP! Krakow really surprised me, because I had expected Poland to be stereotypically Eastern European. The city was absolutely beautiful!! And all of the young people were so hip and trendy! Their Old Town really reminded me of Stockholm’s Old Town, and it was extremely beautiful to walk through. The city even had a castle with a ”Fire-breathing dragon” protecting it, which was funny to see!
After exploring the Old Town on the first day, we spent the second day exploring the Auschwitz-Birknau Camps… Such an incredible opportunity, to finally be able to see in real life what you have read about in books for years. Surprisingly, I saw nobody cry… But I think it’s because everyone has to build a little barrier in order to go in, because if you don’t you will be an emotional wreck the whole time – it’s extremely disturbing stuff and you have to detach yourself from it in order to get through the whole thing..
What struck me the most was all of the hair they cut off of the Jews, and kept in order to fill pillows and jackets with for the Nazis benefit. And to see the baby clothes… That part really had me teared up. There was another part where you are led down a narrow hallway filled with pictures of the Jews who lived there – it was very eerie and felt like all of the faces in the pictures were looking at you. They looked just like normal people…
The tour of Auschwitz finished off at the gas chambers… It was so scary to think about how many people had passed away in the room you were standing in.. Just pure evil.
After touring Aushwitz, we visited the Birkenau sight. This actually was were most of the Jews were kept, and it was a terribly depressing place. It actually started to hail while we were touring it, which I thought was fitting.
The third day, we went on another venture to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. It was an incredible place to see! Unfortunately we weren’t able to take pictures, but I highly recommend you google search it because it is no ordinary salt mine! It has a church and reception hall built all the way underground there, and it was so amazing to see! They even host weddings!
After Krakow, our next stop was Prague. The city was absolutely stunning, but the Czech countryside is even more stunning, as we were lucky to view it on our train ride there! The architecture and vibe of the city was incredible, and definitely worth the visit! I even found out that there is some Czech resentment towards the Swedes for stealing all of their artwork from their churches way back in the day, and they still haven’t returned it… Apparently it’s an expression to say ‘The Swedes probably stole it!’ when something goes missing! I thought it was humorous, escpecially since the Swedes pride themselves on being so just and peaceful.
Kira and I made some friends on one of the walking tours we took, and we all ended up signing up for an organized pub crawl. Best and worst decision of my life, hahaha. It was definitely something I’m glad I tried, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. Absinthe is really popular in Prague, and we didn’t get along too well. I think I’ll go back to being a grandma.
From Prague we traveled to Budapest, which I have to admit wasn’t my favorite. I have had a lot of people tell me it was their favorite, and how amazing of a city it is – but I wasn’t feeling it. Unfortunately, we stayed in a really grunge hostel and I think it kind of ruined the city for us(maybe just me). To give you an image, walking into the hostel you felt like you had already contracted an STD… Not our crowd at all and we couldn’t wait to leave.
But to be fair to Budapest, the architecture and views were stunning! A lot of people don’t know that Buda and Pest used to be two separate cities until a bridge was built to unite them. There was also a very charming medieval castle, and we passed by the famous Baths, but unfortunately didn’t have time to visit them. Kira had been to Budapest before, so we only spent two days there and had to cut out a lot of stuff. I would definitely go back, but choose a much better place to stay at instead of the hostel we ended up with. Feel like I owe Budapest a second shot.
After Budapest, we took a short train ride to Vienna. Such a beautiful city, but prepare to empty your wallet fast! Our hostel was located across the street from the Naschmarkt – a huge food market with some amazing stuff! Our health took a turn for the worse though, Kira got really sick with food poisoning and I got hit with a cold (which has now led to me getting the flu). We were so bummed because we really wanted to go out and explore, and we managed to rally for a little bit and hop on a tour bus for a few hours. It was a good choice because we didn’t have to do any moving around. The second day we were feeling a little better, and we set out on foot to explore. Kira is really into to classical music so she was interested in the Strauss statue and seeing where Mozart lived. I don’t think most young people would appreciate the city, and it is much more appealing to an older set – but we loved it regardless of being sick. It’s a must see, and it’s now high up on my dad’s list as he is a big fan of Opera!
Our second to last stop was Nuremberg, Germany. Originally we were supposed to go to Zurich, but it was too expensive so we switched to Nuremberg which happened to split up our train ride. It’s considered to be part of Bavarian Germany, and oh my goodness was this town the cutest! The castle was amazing to visit, and the buildings were so charming. Our only surprise was when we got lost trying to find the way to our hostel, and ended up walking through the Red Light District. Neither of us had known that prostitution was legal in Germany, and I’m sure the women in the windows thought it was humorous to see us wide-eyed girls fast walking trying to avoid any eye contact but trying to get a glimpse at the same time. Kira has been to Amsterdam, so she wasn’t too traumatized… On the other hand, I was extremely traumatized and had to call my parents to describe what I just witnessed. Like the hostel in Budapest, that’s something I won’t be doing again, haha!
Outside of the old town in Nuremberg, we took the trolley to where the Nuremberg Trials were held. As history nerds, Kira and I were so excited to see this! It was a really well set up museum, and to be lucky enough to have the court room open that day was fantastic! Afterwards, we went nearby to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. This museum was even more fantastic, and really covered everything – from Hitler’s rise to power all the way to after the Nuremberg Trials. At the end of the exhibit, we got to walk out on the balcony to see the Rally Grounds. Unfortunately, there was a big fair in town so they were using the space as excess parking (kind of twisted if you ask me), so the picture is filled with cars below. Out of all the sights on this trip, including Auschwitz, this museum really hit us the hardest. It really put into perspective how many people supported the Nazis, it was insane to see how many people showed up to the rally events… Which might I add lasted for several days!
Finally, our last stop was Copenhagen – yet again. This time however, we got to stick around and explore. It’s a beautiful city, but very similar to Stockholm except for that it was a little more expensive! It had it’s uniqueness though, and we went to all of the major sights such as The Little Mermaid Statue and Nyhavn (with all the colourful houses). We even took a quick stroll through Christiania, which if you haven’t heard of it, is about a few neighbourhood blocks in size and is a hippie commune. Entering it you see a sign telling you that you are leaving the EU, which was totally crazy to see! Because they are not technically a part of Denmark or the EU, they are able to sell marijuana in there. The place totally sketched me out, and I really didn’t like seeing fifteen year old kids walking in there after school…. I can see the appeal, but I’m personally not a fan of the substance – so we saw what we intended to see and then left – entering the safe EU again!
Arriving back in Stockholm was bittersweet. It was really great to be back home in our own beds, but we were also pretty bummed that the trip was over. Fortunately the weather has started behaving, and we are enjoying warm and sunny days! Definitely don’t mind Swedish summers!
In May, I’m spending a week in Norway! I still have the travel bug, so I’ll be visiting Oslo and then Bergen – where we will be hiking the fjords! It was a trip sponsored by our student union, and for a good price, so I really couldn’t resist the opportunity! Kira will also be joining, and I can’t wait for us to take on another adventure!
This trip has really been the experience of a lifetime, and I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity! Getting out there and traveling and actually seeing the world really makes all of the highschool textbooks come alive!
I really hope everyone is doing well, y’all are the best family and friends there is!
Until next time – hej då!