- In Prague, be prepared to be somewhat unconvinced that you are in an actual city and not a European Fairytale Theme Park.
- Avoid large groups of British men with ‘lads on the lash’ t-shirts and freshly made tattoos.
- Do NOT avoid the communism museum, amusingly situated behind a MacDonald’s. Please also go to the Sex Toy Museum and the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, both of whoch I was devastated to miss.
- The castle is overrated.
- Cesky Krumlov is not. In fact, shorten your stay in Prague and lengthen your stay in Cesky. Camp by the river, drink absinthe, go to the Two Marys to eat a massive feast and admire the gorgeous waitress. Travel with people who would rather call the town Crusty Demons than Cesky Krumlov. Continually wonder why.
- The drive to Budapest from the Czech Republic is long, especially if your are in a car with 4 other people. You will drive through Austria so attempt to find at least one companion (thanks Liz!) who will continue singing Sound of Music ditties with you even when others turn up the radio.
- DO NOT DRIVE IN BUDAPEST. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PARK IN BUDAPEST. If you do attempt these things, have some cash handy to pay off various people who promise to ensure you do not get a fine. When you do get a fine (and you will), it can be paid at a local post office.
- Go to Gellert Furdo. Bathe. Relax. When sitting underneath the strongest spa jet in the world, do not attempt to tell a friend that it ‘makes the other spa jet feel like an old man pissing on your neck.’ You will think you are whispering. You will not be. Everyone in the bath will hear you.
- Budapest has good bars. Find them.
- Continue your exploration of Eastern European communism at the Socialist Statue Park. It is weird, and very entertaining to hear Western tourists too stingy to buy the brochure speculate on the significance of the statues.*
* The Western tourists I refer to may or may not include myself and Stanley…
Slovenia is above bulleted points. Slovenia is European heaven. Slovenia deserves prose. Sandwiched between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia makes Slovenia, first and foremost, a haven for good food. On top of that it is spectacularly beautiful, with mountains, lakes, 47km of stunning, albeit stunted coastline (though I like short things!) and a charming capital with an excellent name (I recommend travelling with people who suffer in silence at your habit of saying Ljubljana over and over again like you have capital city tourettes.) Slovenia has conveniently located and wonderfully situated campsites in all towns and, when unable to provide, you can always pop over to a neighbouring country (see below: Italy.) Its countryside is clean and picturesque (see excessive number of photo albums) and it has all number of fun activities for the adventurous tourist. Its people tend to speak at least German or English so, travelling with people who speak at least one of those languages will mean success. Said people can also be extremely generous. One man, on hearing the average wage in Australia, bought us a round of beers. Others cheerily took us home to Grandma’s house but that’s another story. Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia and it makes good cheese. It has one island, in a lake in Bled, and you can ski in Triglavski National Park in Winter. Hitch hiking is common, and generally safe. It even has a cow festival which, in this humble author’s opinion, shits all over Spain’s ˝running˝of the ˝bulls.˝
Get thee to Slovenia. Now.*
* Your love of Slovenia will be especially heightened if you spend a long time there, having only found out days before heading to Croatia that your German hire car is not actually insured for Croatia. If you then focus all of your energies on getting excited about Slovenia, and sing songs about its marvels before even setting foot on its shore, you will definitely love it. Slovenia. Fuck Yeah.
- You will only need to go to Italy if Slovenia does not provide a sufficiently wonderful campsite. (NB: As Slovenia is perfect, it is likely your fault that the campsite is shit and small, not Slovenia’s.)
- You may find yourself in a campsite 100m from the Slovenian border, near a town called Muggia. When going out for dinner in Muggia, do ensure that you know what you are ordering and how much it will cost, or you may find yourself spending a day’s budget at what must be the most expensive restaurant in town. Make yourself feel better with millefeuille flavoured gelato. MILLEFEUILLE FLAVOURED GELATO!*
* For those not in the know, mille feuille, or 1000 layers, is a French pastry made with layers of vanilla custard and pastry. It is heavenly. My mother, Louise, once decided to quickly illegally park to pop into a cafe and get a mille feuille, such was her craving. She got a $150 fine. I think she still believes it was worth it. They are kind of a family obsession. Anywaaay…
- Muggia’s taxi service stops at 8. Once stranded, I recommend befriending a gang of feckless youth (Liz would make an excellent Australian ambassador) and allowing them to drive you home. The singular experience of careening down the coastal road while your possibly 14yr old driver blares AC/DC’s Highway to Hell is one you shan’t forget. People of Muggia: You are welcome in Sydney.
- Slovenia (yes Slovenia) is good for many things. Namely, meeting friendly Germans named Diemut and Max who offer to let you stay with them in Noerdlingen, a small town north of Munich (who needs Munich anyway?)
- Noerdlingen is the sister town of Wagga Wagga. SERIOUSLY. Apparently, it is also the only town in Europe with a complete city wall and the meteor that hit the region creating the crater in which the town sits led to a particular type of unique rock. Astronauts were sent to train in Noerdlingen. Seriously. Who knew?
- In Noerdlingen, you may also be subjected to the most amazing display of German hospitality ever known to a troupe of travelling, smelly, dirty, post-campsite Australians. How’s 5 beds, in a nice house, with massive traditional dinner and breakfast (both accompanied by a variety of beers and some lessons in local history)? Good yes.
- Stay in Dresden for longer than we did.
- Berlin is awesome. Do not go there for four days or you will spend the whole time wishing you were staying longer. I think that, like Slovenia, my Berlin rant could get…well…ranty. Here goes…
Berlin makes the rest of Europe (well, what I’ve seen of it) look somewhat unlived in. Berlin is lively and messy (Budapest is also like this and is thus also recommended.) Where the rest of Europe has monuments that advertise a country’s virtues, Berlin shows its shame, almost grotesquely so. From the Topographie of Terrors, to the Jewish Museum, to the East Side Gallery and other Berlin Walls monuments, the city’s ugly past is almost flaunted. Fast food from Snackpoint Charlie anyone? But amongst all this is a massive queer scene (they have a gay museum!), Kreuzberg, which is like Newtown’s cooler older sister, buildings covered with amazing street art, an excellent public transport system, great food and shopping…the list goes on. And the historical horrors, while at times presented cheesily (care for a souvenir piece of the wall?), are at least honest. At least we don’t get the shiny version of history, packaged in statues of knights and kings and presidents. It feels more real, even when it is tacky. I stayed with two couch hosts and had a wonderful time. I did not want to leave and, when I found out that there was a Leonard Cohen concert on the next week, it is possible I cried. For some time… But Croatia called, and I had already booked my ticket, as had Kamilla. So off I went, to the next chapter.