Friday, 23 May 2014

Spend Light, Travel Big: Germany and Czech Republic

Black Forest Panoramic 

a post by Alison Preiss

A European vacation has been on my wish list for a while. So last summer when my brother did an oversea’s study program in Germany, I jumped at the chance to tour around with him at the end of his stay. In 10 days and nine nights we saw over 2,000 kilometres of Germany and the Czech Republic, with stops in Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague, Stuttgart, and Freiburg. And we managed to do it for a reasonable price: Including flight, hotel, some nice meals and some VERY light shopping, the trip cost me less than $3,000. I left with some great memories shared with my brother, and didn’t go into debt doing it. Here’s how we pulled it off:

Ice cream
Das Brother
Getting around

Trains: We wanted to see as many cities as possible during my 10 day visit, while still allowing for some flexibility. We opted for a Eurail regional pass that was good throughout Germany and the Czech Republic. We bought two 2nd class super saver passes for about $350 Canadian each and allowed for 5 days of unlimited travel anywhere in these two countries. This got us easily to big cities, and also allowed us to a take ‘just cause’scenic ride up into the heart of the Black Forest and back (yes we bought cake).

Local Transit: Most of the local transit systems (light rail, tram and trains) we encountered were self serve (you buy your own ticket, there are no ticket collectors but there are occasional spot checks). I’d recommend just buying 24 hour passes, it was easier to manage since not all of the machines were easy to navigate in English.

Fish Donair in Frankfurt
Eating

Breakfast: We either scammed the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, or we picked up pastries the night before.
Lunch: Opt for street food. This is a cheap way to experience great food, and some local flavours. In Frankfurt we had fish donair from a food boat (!), Berlin was all about Currywurst (french frys with curry, sausage, ketchup and mayo - believe me it WORKS), and in Prague my go-to street food fried cheese sandwiches. There were good grab-and-go desserts aswell: We found really good, creamy ice cream in most german cities for about 1 euro. In Prague they wrapped leavened dough around a wooden spit, dipped it in sugar and then baked it over an open flame.

Schnitzel

Dinner: Dinner was where we splurged a little, or really planned out where we were going to eat. Things you should eat in Germany: Spaetzle, handkase, schnitzel, flammkuchen, beer cheese, apfelwein, and every different kind of sausage you come across.

Biergartens: I loved biergartens, and I don’t even really like beer. Imagine a really beautiful park, filled with long picnic tables and shaded by big sprawling trees. There are little play areas for kids, dogs are welcome, and if you want a cold beer and a sausage, you just head up to a cute little hut and order one. It’s seemed like the sort of place where you just run into your old friends of favourite neighbours. Seriously, it makes me really angry to think about our uppity liquor laws here in Canada. Try taking your dog into a patio in Toronto, let alone finding a place where kids can play while adults imbibe.
biergarten food
Biergarten food


In these glorious places, the food was cheap and delicious, and I discovered a beer that is suitable for my sweet-tooth palate - Radler (beer mixed with 7-up). We hit up Prater Garten in Berlin [http://www.pratergarten.de/e/index.php], and Augustiner Keller in Munich [http://www.augustinerkeller.de/en.htm].

Sleeping

Hotels: At first I liked the idea of not booking anything and then just seeing where we wanted to go, but when you only have 10 days, we decided it would be better to have a plan. To allow for some flexibility, we booked hotels for the first 6 days, and then left some flexibility open for the last three. After doing some comparisons on hostels, versus AirBnB, I actually found the best deals were hotels booked through Priceline. If you don’t know Priceline, it basically lets you bid for hotel rooms, you get a geographical area and a star rating, but once your bid is accepted, you’re locked in. We used the express deals functionality and got decent hotels for between $40-$70 a night. The app made it really easy to book places on the spur of the moment, and they kept sending me 10% off coupons with every room I booked. A word of warning, the Priceline star rating doesn’t hold up as well in Europe. After two nights in a Prague three-star, I insisted on a four-star in Germany complete with an indoor pool.

Couchsurfing: Okay, so my brother kind of tricked me into my first Couchsurfing stay. He had visited Freiburg earlier in his trip and fell in love with it. Freiburg is close to the French border and right on the edge of the Black Forest, and basically looks like a village out of a fairytale. He arranged a Couchsurfing stay with a friend of the person he originally surfed with. He told me we were staying with a friend of a friend. This was technically true.

The best part of Couchsurfing is that you truly get to experience local culture (have you seen a complete stranger kick a one-night-stand out of his house in another language? I have). The downside is that you don’t really get your own space and you have to adapt to your host’s schedule. It gave my brother the university style party he was craving, and I am not above sleeping on a mattress on the floor (which I did, going to bed hours before everyone else).

Doing Stuff

Tours: I have mixed feelings on tours: On one hand they can be cheesy and something deep inside me really hates proffering that I’m a tourist. BUT when you are only in a city for a day or two, tours are a really good way to see the basics and orient yourself with a new city. In Berlin we took a bus tour (Sample dialogue: “This is a vacant lot, I think this is a very beautiful site because the building that used to be here was ugly”). In Prague we took a ‘tip tour,’basically you go around with a guide on foot for a few hours, and then you pay what you can. We chose a nice lady named Jana and we wound up being the only people on her tour that afternoon. She showed us the sites and explained some of the major historical events. On any Prague tour you’re probably going to hear a lot about Kafka and bridges.

Fun in the Streets: Some of the best events we attended were the cheapest. In Stuttgart we attended a street festival called Sommerfest. We were wandering through old town in Prague when we came across a street performer’s show. ChickenJoe contorted his body, laid down on broken glass and did all sort of other entertaining things. At the end he asked us to chip in the cost of a beer.

Explore: Most nights, we would just wander. It’s perfectly legal to drink in public, so we would grab a beer at a bodega and then just walk and talk, following the streets that seemed interesting, We found beautiful little parks, old churches, and had some great conversations along the way.

Travel Tips

Starbucks: I didn’t buy an international phone plan, and my european SIM card was pretty flaky, but Starbucks always offered free wifi, clean bathrooms and familiar coffee. I tried to drag my brother into one once a day to check my email and grab a coffee. Finding free hotel wifi was hit or miss.

Bathrooms: Be prepared to pay to pee, most public washrooms cost about 1 euro, but the upside is that they are convenient and clean. At the Berlin Aquarium you can pay an attendant 50 cents and she will disinfect the toilet seat in front of you. I daydream about this service at most public washrooms I encounter in North America.

Highlights:

Frankfurt Germany
Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt:

Movenpick Hotel Frankfurt City:

http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com/en/europe/germany/frankfurt/hotel-frankfurt-city/overview/

Palmengarten - Botanical garden

http://www.palmengarten.de/#/de_DE/index/index

Berlin

KaDeWe Department Store - Go to the grocery floors!

http://www.kadewe.de

Berlin Aquarium - Perfect for a rainy day

http://www.aquarium-berlin.de

Burgermeister - Grab a burger then head down to walk along the Spree and the remainders of the Berlin Wall.

http://www.burger-meister.de

Topography of Terror - documentation centre on the Nazi party

http://www.topographie.de/en/

Prague

Prague


Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock

http://www.praguewelcome.cz/en/visit/monuments/top-monuments/58-old-town-hall-with-the-astronomical-clock.shtml

Rent a paddle boat

Paddleboat in Prague


http://www.prague.net/blog/article/20/rent-a-paddle-boat-on-the-vltava-river

Freiburg

Frieburg


The whole city is just wonderful

http://www.freiburg.de/pb/,Len/225797.html

Packing - with all this travelling I wanted to pack light. Read more about how I fit 10 days into one backpack on scribbled-down.com

Alison Priess
Alison Priess
About Alison:  Alison is a former reality TV personality, craft wizard, foodie, and long time friend of the guys over at Real Man Travels, because lets face it, every group needs a sassy red head. Alison also a has her own blog www.scribbled-down.com where she writes about crafting, eating, and living. You should check it out!

About the Author

Sam Williams is a content creator for Real Man Travels. He is also the site's dedicated sales and sponsorship man. Connect with Sam on Twitter or Instagram.

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