Europe Behind Us, Africa Ahead

Well that’s a wrap on Europe.  We are now off to Africa to experience some of the most amazing wildlife on earth.  Camping on the vast Serengeti, scuba diving off the coast of Zanzibar, roaming Chobe Park, taking in Victoria Falls, and hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town to name a few.  If we are lucky, we may get to experience the great wildebeest migration on the way.  We spent the last fifty-two days exploring some of the known and unknown parts of Europe.  From Iceland to Romania, we visited six countries across the continent.  Below we discuss the best and worst parts of our travels in this continent, along with some of what we learned along the way.

Europe is a travel lovers haven.  It is fairly easy to navigate, has the amenities that come with a first world area, and includes incredible history, culture and culinary delights.  We had an amazing time in this continent, which represents the first of four on our current trip around the world.  We chose to start our adventure in Europe due to good internet and resource availability, allowing us to tweak our pack and plans before moving into more remote territory.IMG_6691Traveling is still a surreal experience.  Surprisingly, English is widely used as a secondary language in all of the countries we visited, whether intentionally or through cultural influences.  It was strange to be on English speaking tours with participants from dozens of countries around the world.  Of course there were some exceptions, but this has been one of the most unexpected things we’ve discovered during our travels.IMG_9163We have flown on seven planes between the US and Dubai and have yet to check any baggage.  Our 46L and 38L backpacks have fit in all overhead compartments with room to spare, even on the two seater budget airlines.  AirDubai and AirBerlin had the strictest weight and dimension rules for carry-on, but neither airline questioned our packs.  We make simple adjustments to our bags before flying to reduce their size and move weight into our personal items.  The key is to make them appear as light and compact as possible.  If you walk labored or your pack is bulging, the airlines will be more inclined to weigh it.IMG_6161Our packing list has well equipped us for both the low temperatures in Iceland and the heat in Zurich and Bucharest.  Here are a few nominal additions which we would have included from the start.

  • Small bag of powder laundry detergent, enough for a few loads.  We wash in the sink or tub when a washer isn’t available.  We have subsequently purchased a universal rubber drain stopper to hand wash our safari clothes.  We have been told that these are often missing or removed.
  • A fourth quick dry t-shirt to supplement our other shirts and allow for longer time between washes.
  • A super lightweight coffee filter.  Very few of the kitchens in Europe had usable coffee makers, so this addition would have saved a lot of hassle and money on coffee.  We recently bought a Primula.
  • A foldable hand fan.  We had some really hot experiences on public transportation in Eastern Europe and this would have been a life saver.

img_0859.jpgThis portion of our trip cost a total of $10,469.73, or $201.34 per day, which averaged down significantly from a high start.  The most expensive area we visited was Iceland, which cost over $409 a day for low to mid level travel.  The cheapest country was Hungary, where we lived very well on $92 per day.  While we could have spent significantly less on this part of the trip, we made a conscious decision to balance cost of travel with a proper level of comfort, culture and culinary experience.  We stayed exclusively in private rooms, but could have dropped our accommodation budget by staying in hostels or even camping.  We cooked one to two meals daily when possible, but made sure to mix in local restaurants as an important part of the travel experience.IMG_7012Our Europe trip route is shown below, and represents a total distance traveled of 8,514 miles.Screenshot 2017-06-25 09.19.01Europe actualIn retrospect, we would have changed our mainland Europe route slightly if we had not been meeting friends midway.  A better path would divert from Linz or Melk into the Czech Republic, and then complete that country prior to moving on to Vienna and then to Budapest for a path to Romania.  We would replace the in-continent flights with sleeper train travel.  This would have cut several hundred dollars from our total cost.Europe updatedWe had some incredible experiences over the last seven and a half weeks, along with some that were extremely frustrating or downright uncomfortable.

A few of the best parts:

  • The awe inspiring natural wonders of Iceland – mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanic remains
  • Bike riding up the Danube through the Wachau Valley in Austria
  • The wine caves in Eger, Hungary
  • Canoeing on the Vltava River through Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic
  • Hiking the Seven Ladders Canyon in Brașov, Romania
  • Staying with an amazing family in Sighișoara, Romania
  • Meeting up with family and friends along the way

Some the most frustrating:

  • Trying to figure out the various public transportation systems
  • Only being able to buy thimble sized coffee
  • Attempting to make our own food and coffee with poor kitchen equipment
  • Sleeping on stiff mattresses without A/C
  • Riding in hot and smelly buses and trains
  • Consistently having trouble locating our accommodations, even with a map
  • The limitation of no cell service and relying solely on wifi
  • Ordering new glasses in another country
  • Noisy drunks disrupting our sleep

And the downright uncomfortable:

  • Being interviewed by Romanian TV on our choice to visit the Medieval Festival
  • Getting bitched at in Romanian by a lady on a train after accidentally opening the door where her daughter was playing
  • Being pet by a toothless woman on the street
  • Getting spit on by a crazy lady in the park

(These ALL happened to Grant, and no we don’t have any pictures)

img_0463

Below are some things to remember when traveling in Eastern Europe:

  1. Credit cards are not widely accepted, so having some local cash is essential. 
  2. Many ATMs did not charge fees in the countries we visited and allowed withdrawal of much smaller denominations than in the US.  Therefore we made more frequent trips to avoid having leftover cash.
  3. Public transport is widely available, mostly reliable, and very cheap.
  4. Transportation ticket booths in Eastern Europe can be either very hard to find, broken, or accept only some forms of payments.
  5. Most trains in Europe allow e-ticket purchases visible from your smart phone.
  6. Sleeper trains are available for many longer highly traveled routes and can save you money by combining transport and accommodations.
  7. Restaurant food in Western Europe is expensive, but Eastern Europe is comparatively very cheap.  It is cheap to shop for food in grocery stores almost everywhere.
  8. TripAdvisor is a good tool, but not always reliable in Eastern Europe.  We found that it only lists a small number of the available restaurants.  Many of those end up being closed temporarily for holiday or permanently.  Sometimes, you need to look around and trust your instinct.
  9. Tipping customs vary significantly from country to country, make sure to research before ordering.  Most restaurants do not have an available tip line for credit card payments so you have to tip the waiters in cash or add tip before they process your payment.
  10. Public restrooms almost exclusively charge for entry.  It is good to keep a few coins handy.
  11. Maps.Me is a very useful tool for offline navigating.  It shows hiking trails, and allows for bike and foot routing, which is not always the case with Google map downloads.
  12. English is widely spoken, but having the Google Translate app handy was helpful.

img_0569-1Travel is frustrating, it is not always what it seems from social media.  The frustrations are part of the experience.  We are far better travelers now than 7 weeks ago, but will continue to learn as we go!  Make sure you check out all of our posts from our trip through Europe:

Iceland #1 Trip Overview and #2 Itinerary
Zürich and Austria
Hungary #1 Budapest, #2 Eger and #3 Pécs
Czech Republic #1 Český Krumlov and #2 Prague
Romania #1 Brașov and #2 Sighisoara and Bucharest

Thanks for reading!  Make sure you stay tuned for posts from our upcoming trip through seven countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.IMG_9335

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