5 years ago, I was a sophomore in high school, a volunteer working with exchange students studying abroad in Hawaii, and a dreamer yearning to see all of the places that the people I met had traveled from. Among the friends I had made, there was Rostislav, a cheerful 17 year-old from the Czech Republic that I hadn’t had the opportunity to really meet until shortly before he left the islands. I promised to visit him the next time I ventured to Europe, and 5 years later, I found myself booking an overnight train to Vienna to see my old friend.
I will never recommend an overnight train, as it was quite probably the worst experience of my life. What I will recommend is where that nasty train took me–the medieval and Baroque city of Vienna, Austria. Rosti and I spent the morning wandering the streets of the city center, buying street food (the most amazing cinnamon hazelnut croissant of my life), and immersing ourselves in the “park-” and “coffee-culture” of this quiet but entrancing city.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
But we didn’t linger for too long, and three hours later we were on our way to Brno, the lesser-known but second-largest city in the Czech Republic. Unlike Prague, Brno is off the beaten path in terms of tourism, and its charms aren’t as readily apparent. But after a few hours and a warm welcome from Rosti’s family and friends, the undoubtedly Czech ambiance and authentic, tourist-free atmosphere won me over. Bustling with university students, conventions, traditional Czech restaurants, and of course beer pubs (the country’s national beverage–cheaper than water, might I add), this college town has a lot to offer if you know where to look! Head into any bakery for some apfelstrudel, and into any pub for some really good and really cheap pints of beer!
The view from Rosti’s house overlooking Brno
Villa Tugendhat, a UNESCO site in Brno
Sleep obviously wasn’t a priority this weekend, because early the next day we found ourselves on yet another bus to Prague, the city I’d dreamed of seeing for so, so long. As charming and revealing of typical Czech life as Brno is, Prague is teeming with rich culture in such a different sense of the word as we know it in Western Europe. Prague is the historical capital of Bohemia, and has been the political, cultural, and economic hub for central Europe. That being said, Prague is a visual symphony of sights, and a historical mecca of architectural styles and buildings. From Romanesque, to Gothic, to Cubism and everything in between, I was completely blown away by it all. We sat down for coffee in a Cubist masterpiece of a building, and then slowly made our way to the Prague Castle after that, stopping along the way at the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and a Gingerbread Museum of all things. Apparently, gingerbread is a thing in Prague all year-long, not just at Christmas. I’m decidedly going to move here one day for this reason.
Prague, Czech Republic
Me and my hot wine
Rosti and me!
The famous Dancing House in Prague
Of course it’s not a real cultural experience unless you try the local food. The entire day in Prague was therefore spent sampling fried cheese (not a huge fan but it had to be done), schnitzel, potato dumplings, hot wine (SO good), gingerbread, and trdelník (a type of cake cooked around a wooden rod that is spun over an open flame. My FAVORITE, even though I could not pronounce it for the life of me). Overall, the day in Prague was a huge success and the city lived up to my highest expectations! We went back to Brno that night to experience some Brno nightlife by heading to the Aloha Bar and Metro nightclub.
A night out in Brno!
The next morning, my last day with Rosti, we discovered that trains back to Vienna from Brno were pretty pricey. Before I knew it we were on our way to Bratislava, Slovakia instead for the morning, since tickets to Vienna from Bratislava were much cheaper. I mean, new country for breakfast… why the heck not!?!? Bratislava was surprisingly charming, albeit lacking in extensive tourism and things to see. We wandered around the streets and made our way up to the Bratislava Castle, where we got a lovely view of the quaint city. I was pleasantly surprised, and how many times can you actually say you decided last minute to have breakfast in another country!?
Some interesting statues in downtown Bratislava
The view of Bratislava, Slovakia from the Castle
Downtown Bratislava, Slovakia
My time in these amazing countries had to eventually come to an end. But, as I found with Croatia, I really fell in love with and was pleasantly amazed with these countries that I had never previously known anything about. The beautiful simplicity of Vienna, the Bohemian charm and bustling nature of Prague, the authenticity of Brno, and the charming ambiance of Bratislava really made for an amazing weekend, and I owe it all to my long-distance study abroad friend Rosti for making it happen! I promised to visit again in the future to learn how to ski, and I fully intend to make that promise a reality.