For the next part of my trip, I made good use of ride sharing programs, couch-surfing, train tickets, plane tickets, hostels, and hotels. Having solid internet access at Garrin’s was helpful to make bookings and come up with a bit of a game-plan.
I left Geneva at 4 am with a driver I contacted through a carpooling website. At €0.06/km this was likely one of the world’s cheapest taxis. Along with a continuous rotation of other travelers, I made my way east, zig-zagging to random places to drop-off/pick-up more passengers. The hefty luggage load we were hauling spilled into the back seat and made me thankful to be riding shotgun for the duration of the drive, which despite reaching speeds of 200 km/h on the Autobahn, took 17 hours.
Along the way we made brief stops in Austria (Vienna), Germany (Munich), and Slovakia (Bratislava). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the driver on that trip was a language professor who speaks over 20 languages and talked to me for roughly 16.5 hours of the 17 hour trip. As an introvert it was a bit much, but I learnt a lot about all the places we were driving through.
A Few Days is Budapest
My time in Budapest was absolutely amazing; I would definitly go back. During my 3 days there, I went to Gellert Hill to get a panorama of the city, to the Kiraly Baths for a soak in some thermal pools, to St. Stephen’s Basilica, to the Holocaust Memorial Center, to the Hungarian Parliament Building, to the Museum of Applied Arts, to The House of Terror (a building of torture and murder during fascist and communist dictatorial regimes), the Dohány Street Synagogue (the largest synagogue in Europe), to the Great Market Hall to sample local food, to Heroes’ Square and to many other places.
A Local Connection in Prague
After my first relatively positive experience with a car-pooling website, I had a string of bad luck with three drivers cancelling a trip at the last minute, and several others who failed to respond to my requests. After a few unsuccessful attempts hitch-hiking (which can be hard as a 6’6″ 200 lb man), I finally caved and bought a train ticket to Prague where I met up with my friend Jakub at the main railway station.
Jakub and I became friends while he was on exchange at my high school back in 2004-2005. I stayed with him for the two nights I visited Prague, and during the day, I got a very, very thorough history lesson of the city. Some of the highlights included visiting the Prague Castle, the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Prague Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, the Old New Synagogue, Charles Bridge, Vyšehrad Cemetery, the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul and numerous local pubs and restaurants. I also went to a Salvador Dali exhibition which turned out to be pretty disappointing since there was no original art and it sort of felt like attending a university poster sale.
On the last night of my stay in Prague, I had dinner with Jakub’s parents who were extraordinary hosts. They even invited me (and Curniss) to one day come back and stay in their chalet in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia.
Sick in Bed in Berlin
During the train ride from Prague to Berlin, I began feeling extremely tired and my stomach started to ache. Once I arrived in Berlin, I went straight to my hostel and stayed there for almost the entire two days I visited the city. My liberal sampling of market foods in Budapest had finally caught up with me at a most unfortunate time. Suffice it to say, sharing a room with 11 party-goers who took turns vomiting in the bathroom next to my bed while I dealt with a fever and severe stomach issues is not what I had envisioned for my time in this historic capital. You would have thought I’d have learned my lesson with regards to eating market foods in Thailand, but apparently not. I did force myself out of bed long enough to make it to two attractions: Checkpoint Charlie, the most well known east-west crossing of the Wall during the cold war, and the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall that serves as the canvas for 105 paintings by artist from around the world.
Visiting Relatives in Denmark
From Berlin, I rode the train to Copenhagen, then to Roskilde, where I met my second cousin, Nina. The two of us went to the viking museum located on Roskile’s waterfront before I was given a family history lesson in the countryside, 30km outside town. We visited Vintre Moller, where my family once owned and operated a mill, the cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried and the castle stables where my grandparents met before immigrating to Canada when my Dad was six. I spent the night at Nina’s place and got to listen to her practice her compositions on the piano (she is a professional piano/organ player/composer).
The next day, I returned to Copenhagen, where I counted 116 cyclists waiting at a red light! Some of the places I visited include the free National Museum, the Little Mermaid, Nyhavn (a 17th century canal/waterfront), Stroget (a downtown car-free zone), Amalienborg (the royal palace), and the opera house. I also checked out the community of Christiania and figured if Rick Steves could take a stroll down Pusher Street in the “Green Light District”, why not me?
Scandinavia in November
From Copenhagen, I caught a flight to Stockholm. The sun sets at about 3:30 pm at this time of year (the city has a latitude of about 60 degrees), so I made the most out of the daylight hours by getting up early. I checked out a number of attractions in passing, including the Stockholm Palace, Old Town, the Opera House, various canals, and Riddarholm Church. I also went to the Museum of Modern Art where there were original works by Picasso, Dali, and others on display. From Sweden I took the train to Oslo where I spend the next few days exploring a bit of Norway.