Revisiting: Eurotrip from 2010
A Change in Plans
My father and I planned to travel to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2010. Though, about a week prior to the event, several people were trampled trying to enter a stadium before a friendly match. With the incident in mind and with “terrorist” threats looming around the games, my father was worried that the trip would be unsafe.
I dined with a few of my fraternity brothers one the following nights. One of them mentioned he and a friend were departing in a few days to backpack across Europe for a couple of weeks. I had been to Europe just once previously, in which my father and I traveled to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and then to Italy. Towards the end of dinner, they half-jokingly suggested that I travel with them. With the trip to South Africa still in the air, I told them I couldn’t.
When I got home, my dad and I talked more about the trip. It was obvious to me that something was bothering him. He mentioned he was worried about the potential dangers, although I figured that wasn’t the main reason. My dad, at his age now, tends to get stressed while traveling, especially trips that require long flights and to places that he thinks aren’t safe. I believed he knew how much the trip meant to me; he just didn’t want to be the one to let me down. On our last trip to Europe, my father once suggested that I should return with my friends instead, as he felt he made the trip slow and boring due to his age. (To which I disagreed; I love spending time with my dad.)
So, with all of that in mind, I suggested the trip my friend had mentioned. Upon hearing the suggestion, my father quickly agreed and even offered to pay for my plane ticket. I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I wanted to spend quality time with my father, but on the other, it was too good of an offer to refuse. I reluctantly agreed. I immediately called my friend, booked my flight, and packed the next day. I felt bad not being able to travel with my father, but I truly believe he was happy to just stay home.
Day 1-2: London, England
Early in the A.M. at the airport, I met up with my fraternity brother, Phil, and his friend from high-school, Brandon. As part of our first leg, we traveled together to Newark, NJ, however, I was unable to book the same flight from Newark to London. Fortunately for us, my arrival time was only about an hour difference, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle. Once we all arrived, we took the subway to a tourist information center within the city where we used the public computers to book a hostel nearby and picked up our Eurail Global Passes. I purchased mine on the spot, but I was lucky to get a discount due to being considered a youth at the time.
We decided to walk to our hostel (YHA London St. Paul), despite a slight drizzle and it being some distance away. We wanted to sight-see and discover any areas of interests along the way to possibly explore later. We passed by the Big Ben and the Eye of London and then continued our walk along a street by the Thames river.
The only time I’ve heard or seen a ‘hostel’ was from the horror movie, Hostel, so I was a tad nervous. We walked on narrow, cobblestone streets, where the buildings looked quite old, and were required to sound a buzzer for someone to unlock and open two large, rustic doors. Upon entrance however, we were greeted by the staff and other young guests were present. The nerves eventually went away. Once we arrived to our room, we all had a good laugh. There were three bunk-style beds in one corner with a small sink in another. Though, being our first stay at a hostel, none of us really had high expectations nor cared; we were pleased to save money and too excited about the trip.
After a much needed shower using the hostel’s public baths, we secured our backpacks in our room and hit the streets. We had built up an appetite, so we stopped by a nearby pub. We were in London after all, so we decided to get the stereotypical fish & chips accompanied by a cold beer. By this time, it was around 3PM. We toured the city a bit more, made a few phone calls back home to notify our safe arrival, and then visited some more pubs before hitting the sack around midnight. We wanted to rest well for the day ahead.
After a good night’s rest, we ate a hearty breakfast at a cafe across the street from the hostel before making our first stop of the day, the Buckingham Palace. We strolled through St. James Park where the gardens were lively green and maintained. Ducks, pigeons, and even pelicans camped near the fences and benches, baiting tourist to feed them. When we got to the Victoria Memorial in front of the palace, the music of a band was heard in the distance. As we realized the streets were blocked off, the guards marched their way to and through the front gates of the palace. Crowds quickly began to form as the ‘Changing of the Guard‘ ceremony was about to commence.
After the ceremony, it started to drizzle, but we continued our way to Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. Here, we met up with another fraternity brother, Rudy, who had moved to London about a year prior; he was accompanied by his roommate. From there, he gave us a small tour of what he knew about central London and eventually took us to several interesting pubs/bars/clubs where we socialized with locals and drank some more until late night.
Day 3-4: Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Netherlands
The following morning, we took a train to Brussels in Belgium. None of us were familiar with the city’s attractions, but we managed to visit the Grand Place along with a few other points of interests. We got slightly lost as we made our way around due to the poor visibility of the street signs; I eventually had to ask a local for directions. After about a few more hours of wandering the streets of Brussels, we made it back to the station and boarded the next train to Amsterdam.
We got into Amsterdam pretty late into the evening. Public transportation appeared to have had stopped running for the day, and we realized the hostel we booked (The Flying Pig – Uptown) was too far to walk from the station. Also not wanting to travel the streets late at night with our backpacks, we decided to flag down a cab. Once we got to the hostel, we settled in and made it out to Rembrandt Square the rest of the night for a couple of beers.
The next morning we visited a small restaurant that served a large variety of stuffed pancakes; selections included anything from fruits to chocolate to bacon. It was very delicious. We toured the Museum Square, or the Museumplein, where we paid admission to the Van Gogh Museum. It was quite interesting, despite not being well versed in art history. We also paid admission to the Heineken Experience. The red-light district a little surprising; seeing nude women behind large windows out in public was pretty “weird”, but apparently, De Wallen is a popular attraction for tourists. It wasn’t just a bunch of creepy old men gawking at women like I expected. We visited a “coffee shop” and despite not being smokers, we decided to give it a try. While we were there, another tourist entered and sat near us. He offered us to try a “hallucinate”, which we all declined. The guy was very strange; he showed us a fresh “Amsterdam” tattoo on his forearm, claiming how much he loved the city. As the sun went down, we visited and gambled at the Holland Casino, which probably profited about a couple of hundred euros from us total. Slightly exhausted, we went back to the hostel and drank a bit more at the bar downstairs before crashing out.
Day 5-6: Prague, Czech Republic
The train ride to Prague was long, but the scenery was nice and we also managed to catch up on sleep. We were pretty happy with our choice in hostel as the hostel manager was around our age. He was helpful in assisting us on locations around town that our age group would find entertaining. It begun to rain, so we quickly ran down a couple of blocks to find an open restaurant suggested by the manager. The guys and I were amazed how inexpensive the food and beer was. Once the rain died down, we roamed the streets of Prague to see what we could discover. From what we saw at night, we knew the following day was going to be great for sight-seeing.
The architecture of the buildings in Prague are quite amazing. The St. Vitus Cathedral is unbelievable; the amount of details on the building and its enormous size left me in awe. The interior is even more impressive. We passed over the Charles Bridge, which is full of tourist, merchants and street entertainers. The Prague Castle have guards on duty; many tourist posed next to them and sometimes try to make them lose their concentration. We took a break in Old Town where a FIFA World Cup fan festival was being hosted, serving food and beer and broadcasting the group stage matches that day. As darkness approached, we headed back toward our hostel to shower and get ready to experience Prague’s nightlife.
The hostel had a bar downstairs; sort of like a basement, but it was decorated nicely. There we met another group of American tourists, in which Phil and Brandon took shots of Absinthe with. After about an hour of pre-drinking, we all traveled together to various bars/clubs which were quite entertaining. The walk back to our hostel around 4am in the rain was a blur.
Day 7: Munich, Germany
The last time I was in Munich was in 2006 with my father during the World Cup in Germany. The guys and I booked beds in a large multistory hostel (Wombat’s – Munich), where all I remember were dozens of young tourists scattered throughout the multiple lobbies on their laptops or watching the games on the big projection screens. We visited the city center where there were multiple stores and vendors on the street. We visited the beer gardens, including the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl; a beer hall that had huge beer mugs, played Bavarian music, and the waitresses wore those traditional “German” dresses. It was interesting and the food was good. We ended the day watching one of the football matches outdoors along with a few more beers. I was so exhausted and drunk, I ended up falling asleep on a couch while doing laundry back at the hostel.
Day 8-9: Interlaken, Switzerland
I had never heard of the town of Interlaken before, but the guys were excited about visiting. I got excited myself when I saw the Swiss Alps and its surrounding blue lakes and rivers on the train ride there. The town was quite small compared to the previous cities we had previously visited. After we checked into our hostel, the guys browsed brochures, looking for outdoor activities to sign up for. They had wanted to go skydiving, though the weather was too cloudy. As an alternative, we all agreed to go canyoning, which was a blast. We had a group of young women and a married couple join us. The river we went to was gorgeous. The water was cold, but our wet suits kept us warm.
The next day we rented scooters to travel outside of Interlaken and visit the parks around the Swiss Alps. This was possibly one of the craziest (and stupidest) things I’ve done. I have never ridden a two-wheeled motored vehicle in my life (except in video games), and here we were, about to travel 40+mph on wet, cold two-way roads along the mountain side. My heart was pounding, but about a couple miles in, I was able to get the hang of things. It was definitely a thrill. We hiked some of the parks, viewed waterfalls and traversed tunnels through the mountains. One trail had us climb various step ladders, literally a 1000+ steps total, and cross bridges up into the Alps. After the hikes, there was a tropical theme party hosted by the bar at our hostel. I just remember taking tequila shots with the guys and random guests.
Day 10-12: Rome, Italy
In another return to Italy, we took the train through Milan and on to Rome. I revisited some of the sites the guys haven’t seen yet, like the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Victor Emmanuel II monument, the Piazza della Repubblica, the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basillica along with the Vatican museums. We also visited the Trevi Fountain in which we witnessed a girl running away from the police after she had jumped in. She was caught, though we don’t know what happened to her after. We also visited another FIFA Fan Zone where we watched the US Men’s National Team play against Slovenia.
Day 13-14: Nice; Cannes; Marseilles, France
As I only planned to travel for two weeks, I had to make my way to London in order to catch my return flight back into the States. I said my goodbyes to the fellas and made my way to the station. The train ride to Nice was very relaxing; the route was along the southern coast of France and passed through Monte Carlo, Monaco. Upon arriving to Nice, I checked into my hostel (Hostel Baccarat), which was just a couple of blocks from the train station. The hostel had a lounge containing a bar/kitchen right by the lobby, but alcohol had to be purchased at a liquor store a couple of buildings down from the hostel. I bought a small bottle of whiskey, with some bottles of cola as mixers. As the evening progressed, a large group formed at the bar. I shared my bottle with other guests and traveled together to the beach. The ocean breeze felt great, and the scenery of the coast at night was beautiful. The group spent most of the night drinking and discussing about ourselves, our travels and future plans.
The following day I wandered around Nice, just enjoying the cool weather and people watching as I ate breakfast from a restaurant on the street. With half the day to spare, I boarded the next train to Cannes. I stored my backpack in a locker at the station and made my way to the beach. The weather was good; it wasn’t too hot as it is in Texas. I took off my shoes and walked along the waves, just thinking about my trip and preparing to return home. I made my last train ride to Marseilles, where I took a bus to the airport and checked into my flight for London. In London, I spent the night at the airport, like a bum, and boarded my flight back to Houston.
Overall, the trip was unforgettable. I am glad I got to travel Europe this way as it was a great learning experience. The trip was exhausting; we spanned eight countries in just two weeks. It was worth it, though. Obviously a lot better than staying home for the summer.