Clocks, Popes and some smelly blokes!

We left Berlin on the morning of a public transport strike. This was announced only 2 days prior and we discovered it by chance and it was challenging trying to work out what was running and what wasn’t – god bless the U-Bahn!

We’ve been using Flixbus to travel around, we plotted out the initial three weeks so we were able to book these in advance for a good price. So far we’ve found them reliable, comfortable and the toilets haven’t been too questionable. We arrived into Prague mid-afternoon and we had booked an apartment outside the city centre but with good transport links so after a freshen up and costume change we headed onto a tram and into the main centre for our first explore. We were a little bit overwhelmed to be honest when we got back into the centre as the first thing we heard and saw was a bunch of very loud drunk British men on a stag do and it was very crowded. We arrived on a Friday afternoon which probably had something to do with it but we definitely needed to sit down with a Czech beer and mentally prepare ourselves!

Prague is a very pretty City with little cobbled streets and a very picturesque square that hosts the famous astronomical clock. We spent some time roaming around before figuring out the tram system and heading back to our apartment.

The next morning we got up really early and headed to catch a train back to the centre. We wanted to really explore the castle, the Charles Bridge and square before it got too busy. As it happened we arrived in the square just before 7am and there was a small crowd gathered round the clock waiting for the infamous chimes. If you don’t know then on the hour the twelve apostles appear through the wooden doors to a musical tune while a skeleton omnimously chimes a bell. We decided to stay and watch as you can’t not watch this when in Prague. Only the bell only produces this musical display between 9am and 11pm so there were quite a few disappointed people around! We really need to more research! We did make it back later in the day to watch it though and to be honest it was a little underwhelming.

We then headed to to the Charles bridge which even at 7am was busy with people trying to get an Instagram shot, it was very amusing to watch – there definitely were some very patient photographers on the bridge.

We headed to the castle and spent a couple of hours wondering around the grounds before we headed back to our apartment. As I mentioned we were staying a bit outside the centre but looking at the map there looked to be a park close by and the weather was finally sunny and 20 degrees so it was time to finally peel off the leggings and put some shorts on and head to the park for a spot of outdoor relaxing. Only what looked on the map to be park actually turned out to be beautiful countryside- an absolutely delightful surprise!

From Prague we were headed to Olomouc, in my research Olomouc was described as being much like Prague but without the tourists- this definitely sounded like our kind of place! We had to change buses in a place called Brno (pronounced Bruno), another place that I’d read about and sounded interesting so I suggested that we spend a few hours exploring and seeing some of the places I’d read about. Brno also has an astronomical clock, but it’s VERY different to the one in Prague. It is shaped like a large bullet (allegedly, but I’ll let you decide) and at 11am each day people gather round with their hands in various holes and try and grab a large marble that’s fired each day at that time. It’s unusual for 11am to be the time for this activity to happen, but it happens at this time thanks to an event during the Thirty Years War. During this time the city of Brno was under siege by the Swedes and a Swedish general promised to lift the siege if the city did not fall by noon, so the locals played a trick and changed the clocks to 11am meaning that the Swedes surrendered. A local girl caught the marble and promptly shoved it her mouth, which made us quickly back away lest she accidentally swallowed it and I was forced to use my ‘resus training for non clinical staff’ course that I’d completed at work!

There were two other things that we were interested in Brno, one was the labyrinth under the cabbage market, but being a Monday it was shut. Again our research failed us. The other was the Capuchin crypt which holds perfectly mummified remains consisting mainly of friars. Some of the remains are on display and it’s very tastefully displayed.

We then headed to Olomouc which was indeed as pretty as described without the crowds. We’ve been using the app GPS my city to do self guided walks around each place that we’ve been to but Olomouc didn’t have one, I had picked up a map from the hostel which had 30 places of interest marked on them and we did our own walk, and boy did we walk! We walked over 37,000 steps that day visiting churches, climbing their towers and seeing lots of fountains which seemed to form the crux of most of Olomouc’s sights. Olomouc also has an astronomical clock and this one did not disappoint – it chimes for a full five minutes and was utterly delightful. Olomouc is a beautiful city and the highlight was finding a little park with a rose garden where we sat for around an hour in the sun drinking some beer we’d picked up. One major motivation for doing so many steps was that we didn’t want to go back to our hostel! Yep, we had our first horror accommodation experience. On paper, and even in reality it looked to be a decent hostel, but as always, I was sharing with a bunch of men and these men smelt like they’d not seen a bar of soap for a while. We’ve stayed in dorms in South America, South East Asia and India and NEVER have we stayed anywhere that smelt as bad as this place. I was gagging everytime I went back into the room and it really made me question if I ever wanted to stay in a dorm again.

Other than the hostel we loved Olomouc but we were so happy to arrive in Krakow knowing that we had a little studio apartment booked. Krakow was again absolutely stunning city, the square was probably the best one we’ve seen- it was so spacious and utterly charming. We spent some time exploring the Jewish quarter and learning more about some of the horrors that took place there. We walked a lot that day, another 27,000 steps – over three days we walked 90,000 steps and my feet were throbbing and the only solution was to sit them in a saucepan and let them soak- its all glamour!

The next day it was time to do probably the hardest thing that we will do on this trip, and that was to visit Auschwitz. I found the whole experience very moving, walking the same path that hundreds of thousands of people had walked to their deaths. The whole thing was done in a very respectful manner but Joey and I both agreed that the thing that moved us the most was the huge pile of hair that had been shaved from victims. It’s important to do this type of thing to remember and try and stop these things happening again. However as our guide said, these things have happened since and are happening now, only a couple of hundred kilometres from where Auschwitz is in Ukraine. I find that very difficult to swallow.

After Krakow we definitely needed something to cheer us up and we headed to Budapest for a couple of days. We’ve been to Budapest before and had planned this stop to be a rest point after three weeks of being constantly on the move and planned to do nothing other than go to a ruin pub and the thermal baths. Only the day before we arrived in Budapest we found out that The Pope was also in town. If you don’t know my maiden name was Pope and Joey’s catholic, so when I turned to him, gave him a look and said ‘the Pope’s in Budapest the same time as us’ there was only one response ‘we should go see him’!

So our weekend of taking it easy actually meant getting up at 6am with a hangover after drinking more aperol spritz than I had intended, and heading to Mass. We queued for about 45 minutes to get through security and into the square. The square was more spacious than I thought it might be and we were actually in a good spot to see his convoy speed past (which we’d also managed to do from the balcony in our hostel!). We stayed for the first 30 minutes of mass which was in mainly Hungarian with a little bit of Latin thrown in. The first time we were in Budapest we accidentally saw the Brazilian president and his huge convoy and now we’ve seen the Pope here – we’ll definitely return and see who we can see the next time!

After this we headed off to the thermal baths for a few hours, making sure we visited every bath and we both agreed that we’d had one of the best days of the trip so far.

From now on we’re leaving the Schengen zone (although we do pop back briefly for a quick stop in Dubrovnik) which means hard border crossings- we’ve done a few land border crossings before so we’re excited to get back to these, sometimes they’re easy, sometimes they’re laborious and sometimes we do them whilst being really sick! Bring it on!

And we’re off!

There has to be some irony, or maybe completeness, when your last travels were cut short due to covid, and then 10 days before you’re due to leave for the next lot Joey gets struck down with it. It was a relief when I then caught it knowing that we stood a chance then of getting over it and getting back on the road.

Obligatory departure photo

We did get away as planned and caught the Eurostar to Bruges, arriving in the early evening, this gave us chance to acclimatise, get over the shock of seeing bunk beds (in our private room- what the heck?!) again and have an evening stroll. Bruges is such a pretty city, I must have used the word pretty about 50 times over our two days there. The cobbled streets and the buildings were just so quaint and the perfect place to just walk and admire the scenery.

We’ve become huge fans of getting up and hitting the streets early before any one else and most of the time it works. We can appreciate the true tranquility of a place before everyone else arrives to get their Instagram shot. Joey has coined a phrase ‘we shall have the morning and the fools can have the day’ and this is just how we started off in Bruges.

We shall have the morning and the fools shall have the day

After two days in Bruges we were ready to hit the next country. It was two short bus journeys to Luxembourg and we had a couple of spare hours in Brussels; plenty of time for a waffle and to check on our favourite pissing statue, Zinneke Pis. Brussels most famous statue of course is the Manneken Pis, but did you know there’s also a woman and a dog?!

Zinneke Pis

We arrived in Luxembourg City in the afternoon, if you didn’t know Luxembourg introduced free public transport in February 2020, which is a godsend for any backpacker! We headed to our hostel and our first dorm of this trip. In absolute classic Becca style I (allegedly) spent a good portion of the night snoring really loudly. I never do this anywhere else other than in dorms so personally I blame the altitude of the top bunk! Most people prefer bottom bunk but in India I got into the habit of bagging the top bunk when I would find myself sharing a dorm with Joey and 6 other men.

We had the next day to really explore the city and I wanted to go to the American military cemetery. Google maps suggested that we take a bus and then walk for about 20 minutes, it looked straight forward enough but Google maps basically set us off walking along the hard shoulder of a motorway with no pavement. It was pretty scary and something we did not want to repeat on the way back. I’m not sure what we were more scared of, getting run over or stopped by the police. The cemetery was absolutely worth it, it was beautifully kept and houses over 5000 graves. We arrived at the same time as three bus loads but they stayed a really short period of time and once they’d gone we had the place to ourselves. There is only one woman buried there, who died shortly after the war in a car accident on her way to be reunited with her sister in Paris. The information contained some deeply moving stories about some of those buried there. After 10am though there’s a shuttle bus back to the city which we hopped on rather than risking our lives again.

The road Google maps sent us down — it doesn’t look too bad here!
Luxembourg American Military Cemetery

We walked around the city again and again we were pleasantly surprised by what a pretty place it was. We would definitely recommend Luxembourg for a weekend break.

Luxembourg City

Next up was a short train ride over the border to Germany, we stopped in Trier which is Germany’s oldest city, the birthplace of Karl Marx and nestled in the Mosel wine region. Trier again was full of attractive buildings and so many Roman ruins, the Porta Nigra is definitely the most famous of these, but there’s also an amphitheatre and the largest Roman baths outside of Rome. All of these are surrounded by nearby vineyards that you can stroll through. In the town square there’s a wine stand open every day that you can buy glasses and bottles of local Riesling so of course we were happy to spend 6 euros on a couple of glasses to sample the local produce.

Roman Baths, Trier
Joey enjoying his Riesling at the wine stand in Trier

Monday was our first ‘homeless’ day. This is the term we use when we’re either catching some form of transport overnight or we’re arriving in somewhere really early and have nowhere to go. Some homeless days are better than others, we had a really challenging one in Hampi, India where we had 13.5 hours to kill. This time we were catching a bus at 10pm to Berlin and checked out of our Air BnB (boujee backpacker alert) at 10am so we set off on an adventure to the fairytale castle of Eltz. This involved a 90 minute train and then a 20 minute bus. The Germans, being as efficient as ever, had aligned these and it was straight off the train onto the bus. The castle dates from medieval times and is one of only a handful in Germany still intact. It’s set on top of a 70 metre high rock spur deep in the German forest. This, alongside its round turrets really add to its fairytale appearance. We took the English guided tour (just ask when the next one is) and then spent about 3 hours exploring the treasury and surrounding forest. We headed back to the station and had a wander round the wine village of Hazenport, a tiny place with nothing much other than some quintessential German churches and a wine bottle vending machine.

Eltz Burg
Eltz Burg
Eltz Burg

We had a couple of hours to kill when we arrived back in Trier so wandered the streets before doing what every homeless backpacker does – hang out in Burger King!

Porta Nigra by night

The night bus wasn’t too bad, we managed to bag two seats each so we could spread out a bit and actually get some sleep. We arrived into Berlin around 9am, left our bags and set off to explore the city, we walked around visiting all the famous sights including the Reichstag, the Bradenburg gate and Bebelplatz which was where, in May 1933, students burnt over 20,000 ‘un-German books’. Over the course of the next few days we also spent time exploring the Tiergarten, a beautiful park, the East side gallery, which is one of the longest remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the Topography of Terror. Berlin is a city that has gone through so many different things in very recent history and it’s sometimes a lot to digest and comprehend. We’re not ones to shy away from hard history though.

East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery
Brandenburg Gate
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

We were lucky enough to catch up with an old colleague of Joey’s in Berlin who was in town for work and contacted Joey a couple of days beforehand to see if we were heading that way and we were! It’s always lovely to see people while we are away so do hit us up if you think our paths might cross at any stage!

Meeting up with Karen in Berlin

Berlin was our last stop in what we’re defining as Western Europe so now it’s to the east – to Prague and beyond!

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