This is my second proper holiday in 2 years (Turkey last year) having fallen into bad habits of not having regular holidays (those more than a few days and measured since 2002 eeks!) not only as a form of relaxation, but also as a way of enjoying this great planet and its many beauties and for me, opportunities of learning life first hand. I am fair of me to say, far better travelled in Asia and Africa and have missed out on nearly all of Europe’s attractions and distractions other than as a child in France with my parents, a school tour as a teenager and 2, 1980’s holidays in Greece and Switzerland. Am now, very much in catch up mode.
Was a 9 day 8 night package holiday from “National” offering pick up from Newcastle central early one recent morning, a long bus journey through Europe, followed by 2 nights and a full day in each of these 3 capital cities returning late on day 9. It was as advertised and ticked all the main boxes for personal expectations.
An excellent introduction to these 3 cities allowing an opportunity to compare and contrast, of understanding their considerable historical linkages but with recognition of their deep rooted national differences.
Inclusive advertised price of just under £500 from a starting point close to home, covering accommodation, transport, 8 breakfasts, 6 dinners, half day city tours plus a single supplement of £90. The last factor closed the deal as most single supplements can turn an attention grabbing headline price to an “ouch” on the purse.
I spent 20 hours door to door travelling on first day to Leverkusen in Germany plus 10 hours on 2nd day onwards towards Prague although the return equivalent was about 4 hours less from Leverkusen due to the way “National” works its feeder coaches into a central location at Woodall service station south of Leeds for various of its package holidays and then shuffles passengers onto the correct destination coaches for next leg. I had expected this aspect and not surprised by how much slicker on route home although we were the last coach back into Woodall on day 9.
Views from the motorway on European motorways even from high rise buses are increasingly restricted by sound barriers (high walls) along the route. This I had not expected and would deter me from travelling long distance motorways in future. I enjoy journeying but not with blinkers.
The hotels selected by “National” were on the outskirts of the 3 cities although 2 of the 3 hotels were closely adjacent to local trams. After the travelling I was not inclined to use the local transport. My decision at the time and a small regret now. In future would force myself out and away from the package offering of evening meal at hotel i.e. staying out till maybe even semi-exhausted and then back to hotel to rest. I am now very “rested”. Did hear that sometimes “National” have offered optional night time city tours on these 3 cities. That would have been good if it was available on other tours.
A day per capital was at least 3 days short of what the inquisitive traveller requires but this was a “taster” only. Now I know what I know it will be easier to decide which special offers to grab first when I see these 3 cities advertised in future.
In general all hotels met my expectations. The hotels in the 3 capitals were on the outskirts of each city although both Budapest and Vienna were close to tram lines / public transport. Prague was a bit more difficult by light rail and about £25 taxi fare from city centre.
Leverkusen was in many ways the best hotel of the 4, with spacious bedroom, modern bathroom with excellent shower, excellent breakfast (breads, meats even salmon) and a beverage bar in the UK style. Friendly staff.
Prague was a modern hotel with compact bedroom (that’s small if 2 people unless they small too), shower facility, an average only food experience, and a sports bar addendum type thingy and most strange drinks set up inside reception area. Friendly helpful staff throughout.
Budapest was from outside the hotel rather scarily depressing looking transposed from pukka communist era with nearly 400 rooms but internally was more than adequate although I’m not comfortable with how it would handle hot summers as air conditioning looked antiquated. Heating system was about 30 years old and a delight for those of you interested in historical plumbing designs although not required while I was there. A coffee shop area staffed by some of the slowest moving bar staff; glasses were individually transposed slow motion from washing trays to shelves in a way suitable if they were of the finest crystal but in fact were not, I have ever seen provided in house entertainment to the quirky of mind. Buffet meals were aimed at catering for the several hundred who dined in the large room but were surprisingly good and well topped up from the heart of the kitchen.
Wooden chairs on hard floors made it a non quiet eating experience although the myriad of cultures including visiting teams from a European Karate competition made it a people watchers delight. Friendly staff also.
Vienna was adjacent to a most pretty carefully designed park, had spacious bedrooms, an odd layout but modern bathroom, a lounge bar with hidden drinks (what is available was on a menu but not displayed) and friendly staff.
If I have a gripe from travelling it rests upon what is served as national cuisine. My gripe started to develop years ago in Thailand and similar areas in SE Asia where I found a style of cuisine orientated at the tourist but without the local flavours. If your family lineage is UK for several generations and you want to eat food the way your Grandmother cooked it then stay in flipping UK. Foreigners eat different foods and enjoy different flavours. Geddit!! That is the joy of travel. Or bring your own!!.
It was in Budapest that I became bothered about the absence of fish despite getting recommendations to try Catfish and I was continuously assailed with offers of meat dishes. Eventually but too late for me I found a restaurant where a conversation with staff revealed that they took the spices out of all the Hungarian dishes so as not to offend the taste buds of the tourists. They would on special request put the spices back in but that is not the way to prepare food.
The only options are to have a 2 tier menu or to seek out the genuine foods in genuine non tourist restaurants although language may be more difficult. The best schnitzel was in a motorway stop in southern Germany and the comparative Viennese offering were like Warburton’s white bread. I may exaggerate slightly but not substantially.
A high point was a one off local food producers market in Vienna where a range of produce was available for buying and tasting. Not aimed at the English speaking tourist but all were friendly and helpful to my pointing and smiles. The Budapest farmers market in the city centre had a vast range of produce aimed at the city population in a way that was enticing, fresh and attractive to the olfactory nerve. The same building had a quiet touristy trap on 2nd floor of a gloriously old building. I think real Hungarian food available here too.
The beers in Prague and Budapest were delightfully refreshing in taste and me no drinks beer here in England as taste is rather awful. The cocktails in Prague hotel were good but have enjoyed better variety in Newcastle. Vienna hotel white wine selected following discussion on the criteria of selection.
The cities all quite compact and easy to walk around were like three individual and very different sisters, all combining the ability to merge the history of the past with the modern, without the crass rude insulting skyscraper competing for height that will not last 50 years here in the UK and in too many modern cities. Shop frontages on the ground floor existed with respect for the styles on the floors above with individuality yes but still retaining the overall sense of harmony with the neighbouring buildings.
About 30 of us from UK including a few Australians, and ranging in age from 40 to 80 approx. An interest in travel from all and deep passion for travel from the older in age. Several were most ambitious in future plan and very worldly wise.
Yes yes yes to all three cities and in sequence Budapest, Prague and then Vienna. Vienna is last in my plans as it will change the least in the next decade whilst the other two may well play copy cat to it. I hope they retain their own uniqueness but fear they will simply replicate not only the high standard of Vienna but also the essence, and their cultures are at heart very different and individualistic. Three very proud nations. Cheers to a world of differences, not meek sameness.
5 continental languages; French, Flemish, German, Czech & Hungarian; badly for the most part, mind you. In Vienna I ordered a white wine spritzer (in German and did this once only mind you) and ended up with black coffee.
Any comments on the above that you would like me to share, please email me (Fiona@fionamaccarthy.com) and I will add. Otherwise happy to chat over whenever. Travel and talking about travel is good for the health, the mind and the body too.