Roadtrips are great. They’re even better when in Europe. Instead of driving between states, you’re driving between countries. Instead of munching on fast food on the road, you nibble on some local delicacies. Which is why we decided to drive through Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria. Here is the route we took. It took a while to develop an itinerary and despite it being a little tight, I thought we did pretty well.
There are a couple things I would first like to mention about driving in Europe:
1. Yellow lines are nonexistent. All you will ever see are white lines (except for in construction zones). Therefore, you have no idea if you have two lanes or if the lane to the left of you is for incoming traffic. This is a huge nightmare in cities, as sometimes there are one way streets where you get multiple lanes but sometimes, the other lanes are for incoming traffic. We asked a couple locals about this; apparently, the advice was to stick to the right side when in doubt. Hmm. Sounds safe. Safe to say, I’ve never been more happy to see yellow road markings back in America.
2. Don’t forget to purchase a vignette before entering a country. When you know you’re getting close to the border, stop by a gas station and go purchase that vignette. There were a couple times I noticed where after you passed the border, there are no gas stations for miles. So, save yourself some grey hairs, and buy that vignette when possible.
3. Traffic jams and road closures are very very common. Too common. Invest in a GPS with live traffic updates (or rent a car with one) and even that sometimes fails. A very large, and unprecedented, highway closure in the Czech Republic led to us driving hours on winding “highways” without any lane markings where I almost had a heart attack, true story.
We flew into Berlin quite early in the morning where we picked up our rental car from Sixt. The car was larger than expected which was good and bad. Good because you won’t see me complaining about extra legroom and bad because our designated driver for the trip really isn’t very good at parallel parking, especially in tiny European spaces. But, as it turned out, parking wasn’t a huge problem so the large car was an absolute plus.
The drive to Dresden was unremarkable, and despite being impressed by Dresden, I’m not itching to go back. The fact that everything has been rebuilt from scratch is very impressive and the old town is quite nice, but that’s typical of Europe. There wasn’t much that was particularly memorable.
On the other hand, Prague was one of my favorite stops on the trip. The public transportation system is very sophisticated (with metros, buses, and trams); the metro stations were one of the nicest I’ve ever seen, unlike New York. The people, especially for a city so packed with tourists, were exceptionally nice and helpful; many went out of their way to help the utterly lost tourists (which would be us). The architecture is also gorgeous and the colors just pop at you.
First thing in the morning, we went to Prague Castle. You don’t really see much of the castle, as it is more like a castle complex surrounded by defensive walls. St. Vitus’s Cathedral was impressive with its arches and statues. The first part of the cathedral is free to enter, but you need to at least purchase the short visit ticket to enter the back. We got the short ticket, and thought it was a good idea.
After leaving the castle, we took a tram to head to Old Town where we grabbed some lunch at U Parlamentu. Everything was meat and sauce heavy but all the meats were well cooked. We had no idea what to get and our server was more than helpful. They have English menus, for those who aren’t fluent in Czech (I’m sorry, but all those dashes and whatnot just aren’t doing it for me). The Pilsner anywhere in the Czech Republic is phenomenal (not from personal experience) and that applies to U Parlamentu as well.
There are two beautiful cathedrals located on the square and when you’re hot and sweaty with achy feet, those things are a blessing (no, really). They are always cool, quiet, and give your aching feet a well deserved rest. Yes, I’m a girl who stops at every single church she passes just to sit on their benches and I’ve actually found quite a few hidden treasures along the way. It’s a tried and true method, that’s what it is.
For dinner, we wanted to eat at Mlejnice, but they were all full so we had to resort to a Rick Steves suggestion. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? And let me tell you, I think I would have been better off going into a random restaurant. The goulash was… not good. There were a couple chunks of bad quality sausage drowned in a mystery sauce. The pork knuckle was mostly dried out (and rock hard at some places) with minimal flavoring. The salad was normal, but how badly can you mess up a mixed salad?
It was, however, a good idea to stay near the old town square because that night, Czech Republic was in the semifinals for the Euro Cup and half the city was packed into the square to watch the game. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and you can’t help but get excited as well. Unfortunately, Czech Republic lost to Portugal. And when Spain went on to win the Euro Cup, beating Germany, I was in Germany when that happened. I’m starting to think maybe I’m bad luck…
To avoid the crowds and vendors, we woke up at 5 am the next day and headed out to Charles Bridge. While it was very serene and peaceful, it seemed like many of the local people were already going to work. Do the Czech people sleep? They stay out way late, and then get right back up at an ungodly hour. But because most tourists generally like sleep (jet lag, anyone?), there were only a few lone people with large cameras in hand, yawning. I was most definitely in good company.
Our next stop was the incredibly charming medieval town of Cesky Krumlov. It’s an UNESCO site and I can see why – everything is so perfectly preserved. On top of that, the town happened to be celebrating the Five-Petalled Rose Festival the day we were there, which was the best surprise for us.
All the locals donned their medieval clothing, selling local items in a medieval market, and doing whatever medieval people do. This kind of an event in that kind of a setting is just phenomenal. It’s not just some backdrop of a Shakespearean play; it’s so real (that is, if you can get over souvenir stores and the throngs of pushy tourists).
The street food is wonderful and incredibly cheap so it’s safe to say I pigged out. A lot. Oh and apparently, you have to buy a ticket to get into the town once it gets to late afternoon. So if you got in, stay in!
Part 2 coming soon!