The 4 month winter European loop: West to East & back again! PART 2

3 days in Brussels in search of mussels

(24/01/2017 – 27/01/2017)

After a very enjoyable month in the UK it was time to continue our self guided, whirlwind tour through Europe. The first stop on our Megabus/Flixbus tour was Brussels, Belgium (£15pp). In Brussels we stayed in a six bed dorm (€17pp) just outside the old city where we met a few nice randoms and one up-and-coming inventor who was definitely not shy about sharing his many fascinating ideas with us.

Once we’d escaped classic hostel antics, the old town of Brussels was quite a nice city to explore by foot, especially at night. Most notably, the 3 pissing statues are an essential find for any visitor meandering through the streets of Brussels. We also spent a lot of time sampling the food options available including the famous Belgian, not-French Fries and sandwiches at Fritzland (€5).

There were also plenty of cheap mussels being advertised in nearly every restaurant but unfortunately we were lured into one on a whim where they mandatorily served water that ended up costing more then the bucket of mussels (€12.50 total), despite the price this is a dish that might be worth skipping. A lesson learned the hard way, this was the last time we entered a restaurant at the beckoning of a waiter/salesman for the rest of our world trip. If the restaraunt can afford to pay somebody to stand out the front and herd people in then you will probably over pay for your meal.

Also available in Belgium is a wealth of unique beers and you can get a tour of the traditional Monk Brewery with 2 decent sized samples for only €7pp. The famous Delirium pub (there’s two sites in town) can also be found in Brussels old town where you can sample hundreds of flavours on multiple floors for as little as €3 per 1/2 pint, or spend a little more to indulge in the famous “Best Beer in the World”. After carb-loading on fries in Brussels we took a train all the way to Bruges (€7pp).

Romantic getaway to Bruges

(27/01/2017 – 29/01/2017)

Ahh Bruges, sometimes it feels like I’m in a fairytale… whether you’ve seen the flick or not, this is a European Old Town that sets a high standard. Visiting in Wintertime means the canals are frozen solid, in-navigable by boat. This may have hindered any plans of Venetian-style joy rides under stone archways, but did nothing to take away from the romantic atmosphere. Following conversations with other travellers who have experienced Bruges through summertime visits, it sounds like we were blessed with much fewer crowds than usual.

Our time in Bruges was spent walking the old cobbled streets, admiring the colourful buildings and not falling for the classic tourist trap of the horse drawn carriage through town which could set you back €50. There are plenty of other activities to enjoy, including the climbing of the clock tower (€12pp), visiting the Chapel of the Sangré de Christo and using the well made Use-it FREE tourist map to construct your own scavanger hunt (make sure to pick up maps for future cities you might be visiting or get your online version here). One day we also made the mistake of leaving the old town in search of museums, however this did not amount to much success. We found a couple of days in Bruges was a perfect way to enjoy the city before moving onto Amsterdam (€11pp with Flixbus).

Experimenting in Amsterdam

(29/01/2017 – 01/02/2017)

No tour of Europe would be complete without stopping in at this classic destination. Famous for its streets jammed full of commuting cyclists, picturesque canals framed by houses with shuttered windows and the occasional familiar fragrance of a plume of smoke here and there. Oh, and for those who’ve already visited the Anne Frank house (€10pp) and have some free time, I guess there’s also that red light district, just to fill your idle time. Honestly, there seems to be somebody to cater for just about anybody judging by the great variety we viewed through the windows. We also heard that you can see a live perforamance for as little as €30pp which includes a free drink and the famous banana show, audience participation is expected.

For us, Amsterdam delivered all we had expected… a bit of history, beautiful scenery, some scandal, and a lot of fun without too much drama. The city’s expenses on our budget was also significantly subsidised when we somehow found €70 without an owner in sight. Our luckiest city yet! This made a few of our splurges all that more enjoyable.

From Amsterdam we also visited the near by city of Haarlem as well as the coastal town of Zandvoort using the well established public transport system (€7pp for a full day bus ticket). Although winter is not the ideal time to be visiting the northern coast of Europe it was still a worthwhile trip.

Pub food and beer tasting in Germany

(01/02/2017 – 06/02/2017)

From Amsterdam we took our Flixbus to Cologne Germany (€19pp), or the small town of Leverkusen just on the outskirts where our bus station was located, it is also possible to depart the bus at Cologne Central Station. From Leverkusen there was a train that took us the rest of the way (€3.80pp). Cologne is famous for their huge cathederal, the Dom, located in amongst the modern city multistory buildings, our only disappointment was not being able to fit the whole building into our photos. A walk through this amazing building is worthwhile at only €2pp which included a climb to the top of the bell tower, a bargin when compared to €12 to do the same in Bruges, as long “you’s [ain’t] a bunch of f*#@$n elephants, I mean, it’s all winding stairs” (Ray, In Bruges).

In Cologne we stayed in our first Meininger hostel (€15pp/night we usually used booking.com), this is one that we highly recommend for cleanliness and quality, however this is not the best if all you want is the party atmosphere although we did meet a Russian rocket scientist and a Syrian dance enthusiast. It was also in Cologne that we sampled our first German pub food, Bonny and I shared a very generous pork knuckle (schweinshaxe) along with a few glasses of delicous beer for only €27.90 total. If self catering is more your style we recommend the Lidl or Aldi supermarkets for the best deals.

From Cologne we took the 10 hour Flixbus to Berlin (€9.90pp). Arriving late at night we checked into our hostel (€11.5pp/night) and went straight to bed. We chose Berlin over other big cities in Germany because of the history that it has to offer, visiting the Berlin Wall open art museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and the war museum were very informatative and eye opening experiences. We also took a day tour to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen for €14pp plus transport (€7pp), however the site was incredibly well set out with free audio guides provided that visiting independently is much more advisable and affordable.

Not all of our time in Berlin was filled with depressing histories and miserable weather, we also had plenty of time to fit in some delicious Schnity’s and beers (€27.30 total). Berlin is also the city famous for its crazy nightlife and very unique variety of clubs, a very reliable source told us that the secret to getting into one of these clubs is to look as unhappy as possible whilst waiting in line and make sure to wear your best undies.

Freezing in the Czech Republic

(06/02/2017 – 13/02/2017)

NOTE: The following prices are in Euros, however the official currency is the Czech Koruna.

Before arriving in Prague, we had thought Berlin was cold, but Czech Republic definitely takes the cake for the coldest place we experienced during our European tour. We even experienced our first snow fall whilst walking the streets of Prague on our first day, something that never happened during our “white Christmas” in Switzerland. The Czech Republic was one of our favourite countries in Europe and not only because it had Keiran’s favourite beer, the Pilsner, the cities are beautiful, easily navigable by foot with the use of your free Use-it Map, the cost of living is cheap and the snow was abundent!

During our time in the Czech Republic we predominately used Prague as our base to explore other parts of the country. Whilst in Prague we took advantage of the Castle self guided tour (€6.48pp), the warmth of the many pubs lining the river side (be aware smoking is permitted inside) and we even made a day trip to Kutna Hora (€6.8pp for a return train ticket) to see the Bone Church famous for the mass of graves that surround the building and its artifacts constructed entirely from human bones (a 3 site ticket cost us €2.6pp).

From Prague we also took a few days to explore the picturesque town of Cesky Krumlov in the south. Although more expensive then Prague it won’t break the bank, a private room with river views only set us back €11pp/night. Cesky Krumlov is a great place to relax and do nothing, enjoy cheap pastries, good coffee and even try some stewed rabbit along with a pint of Pilsner. After our weekend away we had to take the train back to Prague (€16pp for a return ticket) in order to catch our next Flixbus to Vienna, Austria (€15pp).

Join us for Part 3 of our European tour as we venture further south in hope of finding warmer weather.

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