Imagine a typical European sight with winding cobblestone streets, cosy candle lit ‘Trattorias’, metallic antique street lamps and of course, Mediterranean-style windows adorned with flowers. Now add budget constraints, places to visit, intra-and inter-city travel; and you would realise travelling in Europe needs a lot more planning than guides or tour packages can describe.
So how do you backpack across Europe, a not-so inexpensive continent, without burning a massive hole in your pocket?
Here’s one way to go about it:
Before you fly off into your European dream, make sure you choose the right cities – you don’t want to end up visiting similar places with few or little difference. Try permutations and combinations; take your pick with varying eras, architectures, topographies and histories for a unique experience. The biggest advantage about Europe is that you can hop from medieval Prague to the epitome of modern history – Berlin – in just about a few hours, with a glorious sunrise to keep you company during your train journey. Sigh!
It is quintessentially European to walk – not because it costs nothing, but because you can’t possibly get the gist of a city or bathe in its hues and map its contours without walking on the picturesque streets recognise their many idiosyncrasies. So tie up your shoelaces, wear your comfort clothes and gear up for walking more than you might have exercised in your entire life.
You also need a bed to sleep and a place to rest your heavy rucksack. Viola! Hostels are your answer. Pay just 15-25 Euros per bed every day, which includes WiFi, usually clean washrooms, a common room, a kitchen equipped with basic appliances and the opportunity to meet strangers/would-be friends.
Trust your instinct and don’t get too cosy – there’s no such thing as privacy when you’re sharing a bunk bed and staying with 2-8 strangers at a time.
First stop: Chic Vienna
What if your stacked itinerary allowed just one day in the Austrian capital? Don’t fret over it; you’ll love “Wien” by the end of the day.
Your first purchase in Vienna should be a 24-hour metro pass which will cost around 7 Euros, but will be your most-utilised and convenient mode of transport by the time you leave.
Situated 10 minutes from the city centre and approximately 500 metres from Hauptbahnhof subway station, Wombats Hostel may be your safest bet and possibly, one of the best in Europe -- also present in Berlin, London, Budapest and Munich. Rooms were tidy, the common room was warm and comfortable, sporting even a Christmas tree, book shelves and an old wooden radio just added to the charm. The hostel also houses a restaurant bar, meant to be a cheaper alternative and if you’re lucky, Wombats may gift a ‘Free-drink’ coupon while checking in.
Meanwhile, keep scouting through the pamphlets showcased in Wombats and don’t miss the notice board – you might discover some hidden jewels of the city.
Don’t forget to ask for a map of the city and the metro, and you can always bug the friendly staff to your heart’s content over suggestions on places to visit, routes and timings.
Make “ooh” and “ahh” sounds in an early morning stroll through the 16th century-origin Naschmarkt just opposite Wombats. Outdoor restaurants blanketed with twinkling fairy lights, a faint smell of coffee in the air, varieties of breads you can barely count and a plethora of food stalls with spices and fruits -- is what will greet you. A very perceptive vendor might even cheerfully shout “Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan” on noticing your nationality!
A 10-15 minute walk from Naschmarkt will take you to the posh city centre which has huge balls of red lights or giant chandeliers hung in the middle of streets during festive season. Feel free to gawk at the imposing gothic structure of St Stephens Cathedral which is juxtaposed with surrounding showrooms of famous brands, souvenir shops and occasional carriages with horses trotting by.
For a perfect respite from grumbling hunger pangs by then, savour an apple strudel with coffee -- definitely worth shelling out five Euros --from any of the numerous bakeries at the city centre.
By midday, catch a metro to Kaisermühlen station from the city centre and sit on the bank of Danube. You might witness people feeding pieces of bread to very insistent swans that float on the calm waters with sunlight glistening off their graceful white feathers. The United Nations office too is minutes away and definitely warrants a visit if you’re even a little bit curious about world politics.
It’s best to save the baroque Schonbrunn Palace for the evening, also connected via the extensive metro network. Its sprawling gardens host markets during festivals, where you can admire the tiny wooden stalls selling trinkets and crockery. Once the summer home of the royal Hapsburgs, there’s also a labyrinth inside the castle boundary and the oldest zoo in the world -- both are chargeable and open only on select days.
If it’s been a long day till then, just sit near the gorgeous white statue of Greek god Poseidon and walk up to the hill behind the palace just when the sun starts setting to be spellbound by the magnificent view of Vienna enveloped in hues of orange and golden.
Exhausted, you can crash in your bed at night dreaming of your next destination -- Prague, just a few hours train-ride away.
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