Sitting in my room at my grandparents house in Saltsjobaden, Sweden I knew I had a decision to make within the next couple of weeks. My grandmother was coming to the end of her radiation treatment and her immune system had taken a turn for the worst. She was to be hospitalized to help combat the side effects of her treatment. I knew that the best thing for her was to have a limited amount of people around her. With about four weeks also left until Noah was to arrive, now was my time to venture out to a part of Europe I had yet to discover during my travels over the last ten years. Central Europe and the Baltic States had always interested me. A week later I was on a cheap flight to Prague on a 16 day adventure that would take me to 5 countries and 6 cities.
Prague is a beautiful city which has been the center of the Czech Republic for over 1000 years. Constantly packed with tourists from around the world, the Old Town Square is filled with churches, food stalls, restaurants, the astronomical clock and a number of street performers. From the Old Town Square you can walk across the always bustling Charles Bridge to the historic Prague Castle. If you arrive in the early afternoon you will be able to catch the changing of the guard, which is always a site to see no matter what city you may be in. Prague has become a tourist haven for all travellers ranging from the broke backpacker to the elderly packaged bus tours. With prices still being relatively cheap, Prague is an amazing city to visit that won’t break your budget. Well, depending on how much you like to go out and drink that is, but you can still find beer for as cheap as $1 a pint. Prague is a must see city for anyone planning to make a trip to Central and Eastern Europe. The beauty of this city is overwhelming and deserves to be seen on any European itinerary.
Bratislava, Slovakia was a city that had no real attractions but interested me just to say that I have been. After the release of the movie ‘Hostel’, tourism to this small capital city dropped by an amazing 75%. After hearing several stories I decided that one night would be more than enough. After arriving, I was immediately surprised by the beauty and the numerous bars, shops and cafes that lined the streets. While not as interesting as most other European capitals, Bratislava was a nice break from the bustling major cities that surrounded the small nation. With the city being so small, it was easy to navigate and enjoy the small alleys and side streets without having to follow a guide. With the beautiful architecture and great nightlife, Bratislava was well worth the trip and would recommend a visit for anyone looking to get away for a night or two.
While in Poland I was able to enjoy 2 very different cities. There was Krakow, which was well preserved with its medieval style buildings, cobblestone streets and small town feel. Then there was Warsaw, a city that was decimated during WWII and is now the business center and capital of Poland. Krakow is original and offers beautiful architecture, lots of culture and history from many centuries. In addition, it’s very walkable as nearly all sights are located in the compact old town or nearby Jewish kazimierz district. One weekend is enough to explore the city, however if you also wish to visit some popular places in Kraków’s surroundings (e.g. Wieliczka salt mine, Zakopane in Tatra mountains, Auschwitz), you would need 2 or 3 days more. Warsaw is totally different from Krakow. The old town and other historical quarters are charming, whereas the rest of the city is more business-like with lots of shopping malls, offices and high rise buildings. The old town is a total reproduction from pre WWII but is amazingly done and is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. Both Krakow and Warsaw deserve a visit if you plan to go to Poland.
Vilnius, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia were very similar to me. But Riga seemed to be moving more into the future while Vilnius was kind of stuck in the past. Both cities are beautiful with large parks and open squares full of food, street performers and alcohol as far as they eye could see. I was lucky enough to be in Vilnius during the Vilnius City Fiesta celebrating the cities birthday. The streets and squares were full of concerts, food stands and stalls selling everything from beer to paintings. The Vilnius nightlife was quite the surprise though. On any given night the bars and clubs would be packed full of people of all ages drinking, listening to live music and trying their best to find someone to go home with at the end of the night. It was a city that never had a dull night, I quickly learned this after spending the first couple nights going out. Riga also had a great nightlife with free flowing beer, beautiful women all around and clubs that would not close until the sun came up. If time permits, both of these cities deserve a visit but can easily be seen in a two night stay a piece.
This 16 day adventure was just what I needed to help fill the time before Noah was to arrive and also the void of needing a cheap and quick journey. I was reminded that I am no longer 18 years old and that I now need more time to recover after a long night out or even after a full day of travel. But more importantly, I was reminded that my love of travel is stronger than ever. My sense of adventure and the feeling of getting lost in a new city was still alive and well and I am ready for the next 2 years of travel, wherever they may take me!