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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Vienna Vegan Food Guide

Vegan and vegetarian food in Vienna is endless and wonderfully creative. Vegan or vegetarian options are often available where ever you go, which came as a pleasant surprise considering this is a meat and cheese loving city. As I similarly described in my Munich Vegan Food Guide, you won’t need my help scouting out delicious food at entirely vegan or vegetarian restaurants. But, I wanted to create a list of my favourite places, as well as places you wouldn’t expect to have great vegan or vegetarian food. Food in Vienna is highly affordable and you can score a falafel kebab (or ‘kebap’ as the Austrian’s say) for 3-5 euros, pretty much where ever you go. Let’s jump straight in, shall we?

Das Augustin Restaurant

All-time favourite restaurant, Märzstraße 67, 1150 Wien, Austria

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I just had to start my list off with Das Augustin as this wins the award for the all-time favourite restaurant for my entire Europe trip. If your someone who really appreciates warm ambience in a restaurant, you must make it to this restaurant. Vegans, they had a bio-vegan Wiener Schnitzel with vegan Austrian-style potato salad. Now, this is what I came here for, to try a traditional cultural dish but veganized. Just to top off the experience, there are cats who reside in the restaurant. And don’t worry, they aren’t interested in your food. Rather, they will literally sit on a comfy chair with you at your table if you are lucky. As you can see, I got to eat dinner with this beautiful tabby cat.

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They also have a wide selection of vegan starters. They were out of the vegan wurst (sausage) so we had the hummus and bread- highly, highly recommend if you are a fussy hummus lover like me. To top it off with, they have meat options for your omnivore friends or partners and a great selection of vegan and organic wines.

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Aida Cafe Vienna

Bakery cafe, Multiple Locations around Vienna

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In your time walking the beautiful streets of Vienna, you will probably see a few of these cafes. Typically, I stay away from chain cafes, at least back at home, but Aida Cafe Vienna will not disappoint. It is the perfect place for a small bite to eat or for an easy lunch. Austrian service is top notch and you will love sitting in this awesomely pink and cute bakery cafe. You are going to get hungry on your travels in Vienna, particularly in wintertime and simply due to the amount of walking you will find yourself doing. The first Aida Cafe I went to had a poster on the wall that said “Vegetarian-Friendly”, which was lovely to see.

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They had a range of small bowls of soup, served with a delicious Vienna-style bread role. Vegans, politely ask to hold the cream or if that isn’t possible for some reason, order the Pasta al Pomodoro, pasta with tomato sauce. It was actually some of the nicest Pomodoro sauce I had on my trip to Europe, who would have known! You can see in the picture I forgot to hold the cheese. Vegetarians, go ahead and enjoy that cheese. Aida Cafe Vienna also will have options for your schnitzel loving and omnivore friends. If you want a treat, indulge yourself in their pastries. Every product has allergy information marked, which was great to see.359278480_IMG_1579

Xu’s Cooking

Kaiserstraße 45, 1070 Wien, Austria

As you walk the streets of Vienna, you will quickly come to realize how international this city is and how welcoming it is to foreigners. Austria opened their borders to many displaced Vietnamese people after the Vietnam war, so Asian-fusion restaurants are abundant and they are extremely high quality. Xu’s Cooking has to be the best Asian fusion buffet I have ever eaten at. Everything is super fresh and almost entirely vegan, with the exception of a few clearly marked dishes that contain egg. Monday-Friday their lunch buffet is only 8.90 euros per head. Eat your heart out here, it is so worth it!

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Swing Kitchen

Vegan burger joint, Schottenfeldgasse 3, 1070 Wien, Austria

I would probably go as far to say that these are the cheapest but most scrumptious vegan burgers in the world. We got the ‘cheese’ burger and the vegan Wiener schnitzel burger. Less than 6 euros for a burger? I swear I was dreaming. They even track the amount of carbon emissions that Swing Kitchen saves everytime someone orders one of their burgers over a regular meat burger. Wonderful!

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Veggiezz

Vegan burger and comfort food joint, Salzgries 9Wien, 1010, Austria

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If you would like a bit of a fancier burger or vegan comfort food experience, Vegiezz has you covered. The decor is just beautiful and the wait-staff are just lovely, you can tell they enjoy their job. They have a wonderful selection of vegan-friendly alcohol and the experience really capped off our last night in Vienna. I forgot to note down specifically what I got but you really cannot go wrong here at all.

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Biosk

Bar and Cafe, Museum Quarter, Vienna

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There always seems to be one or two places that I am desperate to go to but either they are way too busy or they are closed. Biosk was one of them! I am unsure if it is open year round, but it is a permanent fixture in the Museum Quater. They have organic and vegan-friendly beers and wines and I am sure it is an awesome spot to sip on some cruelty-free alcohol, fair trade coffee and eat some organic snacks.

StrudelBox

Take away strudel kiosk, Schulhofpassage, 1060 Wien, Austria

Vegan Apple Strudel? Yes please! I just wish I got to try it… yes this was another one of thsoe places that I stupidly saved for my last day in Vienna and did not check when it was and was not open. Please, eat all the vegan strudel for me- do it for me.

Cafe Freud

Cafe and Restaurant, Berggasse 19, 1090 Wien, Austria

If I ever wanted good quality, museum cafe food at a reasonable price in Australia, I’d probably get told to bugger off. In Europe, however, this is actually a possibility. After a pilates workout in my pension room, a long walk and an amazing visit to the Sigmund Freud Museum, I was getting quite ‘hangry’. So, we hedged our bets and were pleasantly surprised by Cafe Freud. I got a fresh and homemade vegetable soup with a piece of sourdough bread and yet another Cafe Americano. The soup was 3.50 euros and it was the perfect warm and tasty snack I needed to continue with my day. Also, the cafe is full of Freud decor, as you’d expect and its really quite charming.

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Noodle King

Fast food Japanese/Chinese, Approximate address: Museumstraße 12, 1010 Wien, Austria, also multiple locations around Vienna

Fresh, cheap and high-quality sushi and Japanese food are surprisingly easy to come by in Vienna. Being one of my favourite cuisines, I often get hankerings for Japanese food. I apologise in advance as I could not find the exact address as for some reason they are not listed on the internet very well but there are multiple Noodle King and Mr.Noodle locations around. The one I went to was near the Museum Quater, so it should be easy to find. They have vegan maki rolls and avocado maki rolls (what I call inside-out sushi), as well as freshly cooked stir-fries. I had the Avacado Maki roll and got 12 pieces for less than 5 euros. Bargain!

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Nordsea

Fast food joint, Multiple locations around Vienna

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With the sheer amount of wonderful things to do in Vienna, you will often need a quick lunch to have on the go. I know back at home, the last thing I would expect to see at fast-food franchise selling fish and chips is an advertisement for a Vegan Avocado Wrap, but what do you know, Vienna is often full of pleasant surprises. So if you’re desperate, grab an avocado wrap to go or indulge in one of Vienna’s ‘kebap’ shops.

Wintertime Bonus: Christmas Markets

Multiple locations around Vienna

Whichever market you go to, you will always find candied almond, Austrian style hashbrowns and spiraled potatoes on a stick, chestnuts, mulled wine and perfectly salted pretzels. Explore the markets if you are lucky enough to be in Vienna in the wintertime. With this amount of treats. you won’t be jealous of the wurst stands!