Our First Europe Trip: The Route Overview and Sneaky Tips Part 2

Planning a Europe Trip? Unsure whether you should buy a Eurail pass or use EasyJet as much as you can? Well, you have come to the right place. I am a self-admitted travel-rookie who is just trying to learn about travel, take cool photos and then write about it. I have learnt A LOT by making a tonne of mistakes. But hey, I get to share what I learnt with you so I can make your trip easier! Bonus for you. Before continuing on, please read Part 1 of our trip overview so this post makes sense to you. This is the second piece in my mini-series (series I guess, why do I keep calling it “mini”?) of travel tips and tricks in Europe. Without further ado, continuing on from our last stop in Vienna, now we are off to Munich, Germany.

From Vienna, Austria to Munich, Germany

4 hour train trip with DB (main railway company in Germany), spent a total of 3 days

 

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Everyday Munich

 

Germany really does have everything sorted out in terms of their public transport system. We didn’t experience a single delay and arrived in Munich safely. I would highly recommend this particular train route.

Travel “disclaimer”

So, we were really looking forward to Munich as you hear so many great things about South Germany and the wonderful wonderland of Bavaria. However, I must warn you: if you are coming from Vienna, Munich can be quite anti-climactic. Why? Well, Vienna was lucky enough not to suffer any noticeable damage in World War 2 but Munich, unfortunately did. This is not to say we didn’t enjoy Munich. In fact, it was our favourite city in Germany. The way they have rebuilt is a testament to their strength to overcome their past. After some exploring, we did discover a more picturesque, really German feeling side to Munich, of which I will talk about bellow.

 

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The beautiful canal that runs through Englischer Garten

 

Accommodation Tip:

If you want to find quaint German buildings, beautiful canals and parklands, stay near the Englischer Garten. If you are visiting Munich in winter, walk through the park until you find the Chinese Beer Garden. Here you will find the most adorable and perhaps the best Christmas markets in Munich. This seems to be a market only the locals know about as it isn’t as accessible as other markets so narky tourists seem to stay away. Trust me, you will be able to bear the cold for the beautiful walk.

 

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Christmas Markets found in the Englischer Garten

 

From Munich to Prague, Czech Republic

5 hour Bus trip with DB, 3 days spent

 

 

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Prague through the bushes

 

 

We had the absolute pleasure of spending Christmas in Prague. We rented the most amazing AirBnB and cooked up our own little feast. We ventured out to the Christmas Markets on Christmas day and of course, spent hours walking around the beautiful city.

 

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On a cloudy winter day, the city is still beautiful.

 

Travel Tip: Use Czech Currency and always carry cash

While Euros are sometimes accepted, usually retailers mark up the price when you pay in Euros. Why? Because they know the conversion to Czech currency is confusing and they tend to take advantage of tourists because of this. Also, the Czech Republic is a very cash-based society and ticket machines for transport tend to  require exact change. We got caught out a few times for not having enough coins for our tickets.

Travel Tip: Use the trams

In Prague, when you purchase a public transport ticket, it will allow you to use all metro trains, trams and busses within the city. Coming from Melbourne where we have the second slowest tram system in the world, I wanted to avoid the trams like the plague. However, there were no metro stations near where our apartment was located so we had to use the dreaded tram. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised and we used trams throughout our entire stay. They are fast, rarely get stuck in traffic and easy to navigate.

From Prague back to Berlin, Germany

5 hour bus trip with Student Agency, 6 days spent

This is the part of the post that I have been dreading to write all week. Why? Well, I will be honest- I have very few pleasant things to say about Berlin. But, I take solace in my European friends that too affirm how I feel about my experience in Berlin and mu opinion is not unjust. For any Berliners reading this, I apologise. Please know, I come from a different walk of life and Berlin is just not my cup of tea. Since I will not likely be writing a piece, down the track, about Berlin, I have incorporated a few highlights below.

 

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The sun shining on a Berlin Wall sculpture memorial

 

Berlin Highlights:

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you will have an absolute ball in Berlin. In particular, there is a very culturally strong population of Vietnamese expats living in Berlin and vegan Vietnamese food appears to be trending. Need a food-guide? Check it out here!

 

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Find out more in my Berlin Food Guide!

 

If you are a bit of a nerd (like me), you absolutely must visit the Berlin Natural History Museum. My home country, Australia, is not a big fan of natural history museums and tends to amalgamate mini-displays into their state museums and it really doesn’t give natural history in Australia any justice. Hence, I adore going to places where I can find a natural history of science museum. Rest assured, there are English signs, guides and displays everywhere. It is a lot of fun on a cloudy, rainy Berlin day!

 

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I love museums. Sorry not sorry. 

 

Travel Tip: Do not go to Berlin on New Years

We were too scared to leave our apartment over New Years and so we spent our the night watching Spirited Away and eating chocolate. Why? Because fireworks that would typically be illegal in many countries are legal in Germany. People throw fireworks out of buildings, out of cars and it is not fun. Having a firework go off, without any warning, a few centimetres away from you is bloody frightening.

Berlin to Frankfurt: A Must Read!

An absolute mess of a journey…

First things first- I would like to raise a few points. These points are what I learnt from the many mistakes I made in planning the leg of this journey.

  • There are two airports in Berlin. Berlin Tegal Airport and Berlin Schoenefeld Airport.
  • Use FlixBus bus lines when in Germany or DB busses, not City Bus Express.
  • If you need to get from Berlin to Frankfurt, just fly. Don’t bother with bus or train- trust me.

Addressing the first point- we flew from Berlin-Tegal airport to Dusseldorf because for some strange reason (well, my own error actually), I could not find any cheap direct flights to Frankfurt from Berlin. The few flights I did find were with Lufthansa, and being a university student, I was not willing to fork out a few hundred for this flight. In hind sight, I really should have just paid for that flight due to what unravels next. But rest assured, I have an even better solution to this problem later on.

From Dusseldorf, we were to get a bus with City Bus Express. However, the unfriendly bus terminal staff had not heard or ever seen any of these busses. And, it simply just did not show up in the bus terminal. So, we paid a bit extra to get on the next FlixBus bus and after a horrid day, we eventually got to Frankfurt.

The solution? EasyJet! They now have flights from Berlin-Tegal Airport and the ticket prices usually range from $60-90 AUD. This is the most cost-effective means and the most efficient way. Busses and trains are much too expensive and time consuming to outweigh flying to Frankfurt from Berlin. Save yourself the heartache, trust me.

Frankfurt back to Melbourne, Australia- Home

23 hour flight journey with Qatar.

Frankfurt is one of the cheapest places to fly out of back to Australia. But, that is if your journey makes sense and has a clear, cost-effective route. From the blunders we made, we have learnt to be much more flexible with our travels and have many tips and tricks to try next time we go to Europe. This is something I will be talking about down the track.

Please stay tuned for more to come with my series of posts about Our First Europe Trip. I am here to both inspire your travels, and make them easier!

 

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Melbourne, I love you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our First Europe Trip: The Route Overview and Sneaky Tips Part 1

First ever time travelling to Europe? Are you a travel rookie? Rest assured, you have come to the right place. I am a travel rookie too and I have made many mistakes, particularly in Europe. In attempt to kick myself into gear again and stop making excuses that I am too busy with university and my job, I am bringing you a mini-series: Our First Europe Trip. Today, we are starting off with a route overview- briefly touching  where we went, a few travel tips and a brief opinion of a few places. Later on in this series, I will be giving you all sorts of travel tips about your first time in Europe and I will be sharing you intimate details of every mistake we (I really) made. Stay tuned for plenty more to come!

Melbourne to Rome

Qatar airways, 26 hour trip. Time in Rome: 48 hours

 

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A view of Rome from Palatine Hill

 

One of the cheapest places to land in Europe (at least in Italy) from Australia appears to be Rome. We got a fairly good price on a multi-stop ticket with Qatar airways. NOTE: if you are not departing from Europe back home from another airport than you arrived in, than there is something wrong with your itinerary. There are many travel airlines that will give you this freedom without charging an arm and a leg. I will give you more advice about this soon. Even the great man, Rick Steves, says this himself.

Travel Tip: Get the airport train to Rome city

I cannot stress this enough- just keep walking past those scammer taxi drivers. When you exit customs, follow the signs to the trains and do not talk to anyone. They will say to you a taxi is cheaper than the train. Let me tell you, no, it isn’t. We jumped on a ‘first class’ train for 14 euros each to get into Rome main station. Second class will be even cheaper, we were just impatient. Do not forget to validate your ticket either! Don’t let the QR codes and dates on your ticket fool you as the ticketing system is very… strange in Italy.

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Image source: Loco2

The Verdict:

48 hours is not enough. Not when you are jet-lagged. Also, do yourself a favour: get a nice hotel with a 24 hour desk. Why? Stay tuned! Anyhow, we need to return to Rome. Our time there did not do it justice.

Rome to Naples

Time in Naples: 4-5 days. Train trip with Trenitalia regionale train

 

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Napoli- some say its an eyesore. The locals think their home is beautiful. I grew to love it!

 

Travel Tip: Get the IC Train

Splurge a little bit extra and get the InterCity or the IC  train from Rome to Naples. Do not get the Regional or the Regionale no matter how much (well it really isn’t that much) cheaper it is. Penny pinching can fail you massively and this is a key thing I learnt. Why? The regional train I was on broke down and we were stranded for 4 hours while all the locals around us argued with train staff. The staff would not tell anyone what was happening and frankly, I don’t think they are paid enough to care. According to our AirBnB host, this happens regularly. But, if you get the IC, you are well looked after and you get to travel express. You really do get what you pay for.

The Verdict: Naples

4-5 days in Naples suited us because we needed a chance to chill out and get over jet-lag. Obviously, this is not the most glamourous place to do this. Be prepared for the shock of your life when you exit Napoli Centrale station- Naples is dirty. But, it has a steep learning curve. Give it time, talk to the locals and eat some of the world’s best traditional pizza and you will develop a love for Naples. For well rested travellers, you will only need 3 days in Naples, inclusive of a trip to Pompeii, maybe 4 days if you want to see Mt Vesuvius and hike for the day. Of course, this is all depending on if Naples is your home base. Final verdict? Do not skip Naples. Find your reason to love it- it is perhaps the heart of Italy, particularly the heart of rough and tumble Italy.

 

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Naples is a great base to get yourself to Mt Vesuvius so you can see views like this!

 

Naples to Cinque Terre

Time spent: 2 weeks, studying with Monash University. Train trip on an IC train to La Spezia, regionale train to Riomaggiore

 

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A view from the heights of Monterosso

 

So you are probably wondering why we landed in Rome, headed south and then travelled 7 hours back north. We just really wanted Naples Pizza and didn’t want to go after I finished my study in the Cinque Terre. Want to know why I was there? You can read it here!

Travel tip: Travel in March

The Cinque Terre is an interesting place. It is suffocated by mass tourism in the summer but very little is open in the winter. March is usually when the retailers and restaurant owners return from their holidays and re-open and is the month before the massive tour groups start to hit. You can even try April, October and November. December to February there really is not much going on but May-September, prepare to get trampled on.

Cinque Terre to Genova*

Time spent: 2 days. Train trip with Trenitalia 

*This is where everything went wrong…

Well, after an anxiety filled research presentation, my last day in the Cinque Terre could not have possibly gotten any worse. There were ‘code red’ weather alerts and a massive storm resulted in all trains to Milan being cancelled. We waited 4 hours just to get any train possible and we ended in up in Genova. I would like to mention that for those 4 hours, we drank beer and laughed everything off as much as we could. Why? My partner and I are so highly strung that when things go wrong that bad, usually we would most likely have a break down. This will happen if you travel in Europe and you have to embrace it.

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The Verdict: Genova

My, oh my. Genova is so underrated. Eventually we got ourselves to Milan as our train to Switzerland was from there. Honestly speaking, I would take Genova over Milan any day. And I am not sorry for saying that. Genova has so much heritage and was one of Italy’s pioneer industrial cities. The vibe, the architecture and the people there are just lovely. It is also the birth place of pesto, so why else wouldn’t you go there?

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Milan to Bellinzona, Switzerland

Time spent in Bellinzona: 2 days. Train trip with Swiss Federal Railways

Thankfully, from Genova we could get a train directly to Milan where we got our train to Switzerland. A brief point about Milan: Milan is flashy, and that is it. Moving on, our train trip to Bellinzona was absolutely stunning and Switzerland’s train system was a breath of fresh air after being in Italy for close to a month.

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Travel Itinerary Tip

If you know me personally, you know that I love trying obscure craft beers, drinking wine and spending evenings in cosy bars. There is a bar called literally called Folk Bar, full of folk décor and it is the cutest dive bar in the world. I really mean that; I have never been to a bar like it. Though Switzerland’s beer is pricy (and Switzerland is pricy in general), if you hit up Folk Bar at apertivo time, after 5-6pm, you will get a glorious amount of free bar snacks with your drinks. Oh, and plenty of snack refills.

The Verdict: Bellinzona

Bellinzona was absolutely breath taking. If you love mountains, snow and cute folk bars please get yourself here. Swiss-Italy is extremely refreshing after you have spent a bit of time in busy Italian cities. I also highly recommend staying at the ‘budget’ style hotel, Osteria Leon D’or. The breakfast is great, the staff will bend over backwards for you and it is right across from Bellinzona station.

Bellinzona to Zurich

Time spent in Zurich: 2 days. Train Trip with Swiss Federal Railways

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Travel Tip: Be prepared to spend

We knew right off the bat that Switzerland was an expensive place to be. But, nothing could prepare us for how expensive it truly was. Because we had to budget for the rest of the trip, we couldn’t do all that much in Zurich except for walk around, occasionally have a small treat. For two university students, it was a waste of time and money for us to go to Zurich. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city. But for us it was impossible to enjoy Zurich on the cheap. But I got a few cool photos… that’s all that really matters right?

Zurich to Vienna, Austria

Time spent in Vienna: 3 days, flight with Austrian Airlines

Traveling to Vienna from Zurich was one of those instances where it was genuinely cheaper to fly with not just a budget airline, but a premium carrier, than the train. Let me just say this: Austrian Airlines were absolutely fantastic. Great flight, lovely staff and everything inside the plane is red and white and its just so cute. Also, Zurich and Vienna’s airports are also very easy to navigate and get to and from- all you need to do is jump on the airport train.

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Sneaky Accommodation Tip:

Stay at Pension Neuer Markt. There are numerous pensions in Austria. Basically, they are a form of budget hotel but the staff look after you as if you are family. Also, the breakfast was magical and the whole place was so vintage and chic. I would stay here again when we return to Vienna.

The Verdict:

Spoiler alert! Well, I won’t say too much more than this: Vienna was one of the absolute highlights of the trip and has to be one of my favourite cities in Europe. Stay tuned for why it was our favourite but for now, enjoy some of my Vienna photography. And now before this blog post gets too long, this will be the end of part 1 of our route overview. Stay tuned for part 2!

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