Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Zermatt Backpacking trip….alone…..for 10 days….can I really do this???

Prague at night looking at Charles bridge which is over 400 years old.
Prague at night looking at Charles bridge which is over 400 years old.
Brandenburger Gate in Berlin
Brandenburger Gate in Berlin
Zermatt Switzerland, the real Matterhorn
Zermatt Switzerland, the real Matterhorn
Vienna Austria
Vienna Austria
Kunta Hora in teh Czech Republic, the Cathedral of Bones
Kunta Hora in teh Czech Republic, the Cathedral of Bones

My friends in college always talked about backpacking through Europe, and every time I heard of someone actually doing it, I would swear to myself every time that I would do that someday and it would more firmly be implanted on my official Bucket list items.

Planning a trip can be VERY overwhelming, especially when you take into account how much information is out there, what information is correct, what is not, if someone reviews a certain site-is it the same view you would take, how much does it cost, how much is the entry, what are your physical capabilities of making it to that site? Lots and lots of questions can overwhelm you in this process, especially if you are traveling somewhere alone. So let me take you through my steps of planning to help you out. As the trip gets closer I will give you more updates about snags or gaps I come across, and once arriving will post videos (if able) to let you know how it actually is once I get there. Here goes nothing……

So I have been day dreaming about Prague for awhile now, its such a nebulous concept, and Eastern Europe Czech Republic has been fought over so many times over the centuries, I didn’t really know much about it. I actually saw it on my shower curtain map I have and started wondering what was actually there. I went to Professor Google and found some things that us as Americans could relate to: some scenes of Mission Impossible were filmed here, and is actually called the Hollywood of Europe because of how well preserved the buildings are, and how beautiful they are. Well that peaked my interest, plus the Musical background and history that is here. Note: its been a long time since I took World History in Junior High, so if I get something incorrect let me know in the comments below.

Well I had already had my sights set on Morocco for the year 2017, but then Delta had that wonderful flash sale where flights to Europe were as little as $400……so I made an impulse buy and decided to check Prague out. A little advice, don’t buy anything late at night on your phone, it is just never a good idea, and the other problem is, I have my debit card and all associated numbers needed memorized (inadvertently), which creates some issues sometimes with my morning buyers remorse. Lest I digress about that issue, so now I had a ticket to Prague and apparently wanted to stay for a week. So this is where the digging came in.

I always start with Trip advisor and Booking.com, here I found out that a few days in Prague was sufficient for the historical sites and such that I wanted to see. Then found a 1/2 day trip to Kunta Hora (the skeleton cathedral) which is super creepy, and ghost stories freak me out, but I just couldn’t resist seeing a cathedral made of bones — reminded me of the gypsies in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. So now I had a few places I wanted to see there, I started reading all the reviews about people who have done the private tours vs walking tours vs group tours. I decided that I wanted to see more of Europe, so booked a private tour by Car, because you are always jet lagged the first few days & wanted to save my feet (I have problems with the nerves in my feet) for the walking I knew I was going to be doing in the other cities. I didn’t book these quite yet, I needed to make sure my flight would arrive on time, that I would have at least 2-4 hours to make it through customs, get lost trying to find a way out of the airport, traffic time to the city, and transit time from the airport to the city. Depending on the city, it may take up to 1/2 the day to do this. Luckily, there was a handy little airport transfer cab for $9 that was a shared ride from the Prague Airport to the center of Prague and would drop me off right at my Hostel I was staying at. I ended up booking the private car tour, and now almost wish I had just done the much cheaper walking tours instead to be honest. But at least with the car, I know we can zip around and make better use of the time & there is somewhere safe to store my things, and I can ask loads of questions about the city that I don’t know much about other than the fact that it looked pretty in pictures.

Next I looked at a map, and started picking out some cities nearby that I have remembered hearing about, or knew had some interesting sites I wanted to see. Those cities were Berlin (for WWII history, and Berlin Wall), Vienna (Mozart, shopping, refined beautiful architechture), and Zermatt (the Matterhorn, because I love Disneyland). Well I have no clue in how to navigate the train system in Europe, but found this great little piece of information on actually using the EUrail as your hotel in a sense, and taking the night train between your destinations. There are a lot more transfers than I thought there would be, but I’m sure I will figure it out, and if not, well……it will just be one more story to add to my adventure, lol. That’s another reason I asked for the private guide in Prague, I’m going to have her take me to the train station and teach me how to not miss the trains that I need to go on & how the trains work in Europe. Europeans travel a lot and I’m sure that the train system is pretty much similar in each town (at least that’s what I’m banking on). So because I discovered there were a lot of transfers (2-3) to get to Berlin from Prague on the EN (the letters indicative that it is a night train) and didn’t want to stay overnight in Berlin, I will have to pack in a backpack, everything I want to bring with me to make it easier to board and un-board trains. Once in Berlin, I will take a free walking tour through the city, which I found on Trip Advisor/Viator – which will give me my bearings in the city. I still have to figure out if I can store my backpack in lockers at the train station or not. Hoping that I can so I don’t have to lug around my backpack all over Europe. Pretty much this is going to have to be a week long camping trip (2 outfits the whole trip and only the essentials in the bag). I will spend most the day with the walking tour, then the walking tour ends at museum island, which has a train station right near it. When I get nervous about if I’m going to be able to figure the transportation stuff out, I always tell myself that, “you will have your emergency taxi money to use if you get short on time or get too lost, so don’t stress yourself out, just take a deep breath and realize your going to be fine”. Then I’m back on my game and go to the next step of, once I get to correct station, I will need to figure out how to get on the right train to the next stop….. Zermatt.

Switzerland is great, until you want to get there by train, then it becomes a pain. I talked to the EU rail people via internet, and asked if there was a shorter way to get to Zermatt, the answer in short was “no”. Why? Because most of the trains that run through Switzerland are privately owned, and bottom line, no one really knows what they are doing from the rest of Europe apparently. The cost of the trains through there in the daytime is expensive unless you buy a EUrail, and even then, on the fancier ones with more history, they can slap you with an extra fee (#nothanks). Here is what I have planned for this leg of the trip, just to give you an idea.

    • Head to Train Station at 10pm in Berlin
      • Take Train EN 471 at 2307 to Berlin Suedkreuz (Germany) overnight to Basel SBB Switzerland arriving at 0720am
      • Transfer to Train IC 1063 at 0831am from Basel SBB Switzerland to VISP Switzerland & arrive at 1030am
      • Take Train RE 327 at 10:41am from VISP (Switzerland) to ZERMATT (Switzerland)

So obviously after the few days I will have been in Europe by this point, I need to remind myself of what my “realistic expectations” aka will need to pace myself at this point. This is where I splurged a little and got an overnight stay at the Christiania Mountain Spa, check in isn’t until 3pm, but I checked before I booked to make sure I could store my bag here before check-in and they allow this (#hugerelief). Here is what I have planned for this day and the day after when I check out, now this is not set in stone, but I researched some ideas of what I think I would like to do, and will just see how I’m feeling. If I do nothing else but wander the town, shop and take the tour up the mountain on the train and admire the Alps then I think I will be set. The pool at this hotel looks directly at the Matterhorn apparently, and that’s all I really cared about. But also have this grand idea of skiing down the Alps, just to say I did, it may end up that I scoot down on my butt the whole way, but that’s the beauty of traveling alone, no one has to know, and its the ultimate “what happens there, stays there” lol. So here is the rough itinerary…

  • Stop at Fuchs Bistro and Bakery (hot coco and pastries)
  • Go on the Gornergrat Bahn (see 29 peaks including matterhorn) – $40 one way $90 both ways
    • Go to the Glacier Palace Paradise, open 8-430pm – $100 CHF or $100 USD
    • Back down from the peak of the Gomergrat, take two stops and go to the Riffelhaus 1853 which has the best Fondue around. Good pit stop.
      • 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. must call to make reservation: +41 27 966 65 00
    • If you ski back down, it has some of the best skiing around – go ahead and ski on the matterhorn/glacier – get ski rental and drop off online – make sure to shop around for the best price and for the ones that wont sell out.
      • Skiset was just about the cheapest we could find. You can book online in advance. They have a few partner shops around town (“Matterhorn Sport”), so you may be able to choose one near your accommodation. You can get further discounts off their prices using a referral, like J2Ski; http://www.skiset.co.uk/j2ski/
      • Flexrent, who have a website, and you can email in advance to reserve, although I don’t think you really need to. They are located opposite the Sunnega funicular entrance and have a depot downstairs so you can walk in your shoes, and leave them there during the day so no need to walk around town in ski boots or to carry ski gear which stays at the shop
      • Ask the Hotel if they have any discounts with any of the ski shops in town, they may have an “in” with them. Also Julen Sport across from the Hockey Rink is where we get ours.

 

    • Stop at the Matterhorn Museum (see how the place converted to a tourist town)
      • $10 entry; open 3p-7pm
    • Have dinner at Du Pont (fondue and rosti potatoes) Menu price $7-$24
    • Go to the Loft Lounge Club, specifically for those over 28 y/o ; or Jazz at the Pink Live Music Barà these are all over by the Unique Hotel Post
    • Or just go and enjoy the swimming pool and steam room

It all sounds so relaxing doesn’t it? I planned this specifically for that reason. I’m actually really excited to see the Matterhorn. In my research I also saw a day trip that you can hike up the Alps and go fishing with the Matterhorn in your foreground that looked really fun, and got some good reviews. But I will be going in September and don’t know how that is going to go. There is also the super expensive helicopter rides, and glacier hiking you can do as well. But my main focus was the Matterhorn and seeing the Alps for myself, there are a lot of other beautiful places to visit in Switzerland as well, so I can always return here.

On planning my next step in the trip, this is where I run into the painful train transfers, but after a relaxing 1.5 days in Zermatt, I feel like I will be more up to the challenge for this. Here is what the itinerary looks like as I make my way towards my hostel in Vienna.

  • Check out of Christiania Mountain Spa 11am (store bags)
    • See if have time for Glacier Palace – or shopping
    • Make way to train (possible reschedule???) = painful train transfers…….
      • 1813pm from Zermatt on train RE 264 to VISP Switzerland and arrive at 1912pm
      • At 1928pm from VISP (Switzerland) take train IC 1084 to BERN (Switzerland ) and arrive at 20:23pm
      • At 20:32pm from BERN (Switzerland) on train IC 733 to Zuerich HB (Switzerland) arriving at 21:28
      • At 21:40pm from Zuerich HB on train EN 467 to Salzburg HBF (Austria) arriving Sept 28th at 0328am (sooo early, but if you look at the train from Zuerich to Salzburg you get a good amount of sleep continually)
  • Sept 28th — Thursday ****painful train transfers continue…….
    • Continue on Train
      • Arrive in Salzburg HBF at 0328am
        • At 0350am take Train EN 463 to Wien Meidling (Austria) arriving at 0627am (this is where if I’m too exhausted I cough up money for a taxi or try and get a internet connection to see if the country has Lyft or Uber)

 

  • Make way to Wombats City Hostel Vienna at Naschmarkt, Vien — first time using ‘Hostelworld.com’ to book this reservation, but will let you know how it goes.

I will not typically put the directions or names of towns or connecting trains down, but in this instance, I have such a hard time trying to even think about how to pronounce these names/words that I wrote them down on my travel document (like the outline I am inserting here) but I will put all my booking confirmation numbers, pin numbers, addresses to hotels/sites I want to see, so if I do end up taking a taxi, I take out a pen and pad of paper, write it down in their language and then give it to them so they know exactly where I’m going, or I can plug the location into Uber/Lyft directly to get there and not need my internet connection for long. (NOTE: AT&T lets you buy a certain amount of data when you are overseas which I usually do, its only about $30 and has saved me on multiple occasions)

    • ++ From BAHNHOF WIEN MEIDLING ++ Take the U6 direction Floridsdorf to ‘Laengenfeldgasse’. From here, take the U4 (direction Heiligenstadt) and get off at ‘Kettenbrueckengasse’. Take exit ‘Kettenbrueckengasse’. Cross Kettenbrueckengasse and Rechte Wienzeile. Turn left and walk the last 100 meters to Wombats City Hostel Vienna at ‘The Naschmarkt’ (next to Hofer supermarket). Travel time approximately 15 minutes.
        • Phone: +43 1 8972336
        • Cost: 19.95 euros = $21.42 in USD

After arriving in Vienna, I have planned a 1/2 day biking tour of Vienna that starts around 2pm (see below), so I researched some of the best things to see in Vienna and a few that I knew I probably couldn’t do without and how much time I should plan on each, when they are open and how much each will cost me. Sometimes you can get the fast passes, or city passes so its cheaper, but I have found that usually if you are only going to one or two sites its not really worth it (just my opinion).  So here are some places I wanted to visit while in Vienna.

  • Schoenbrann Palace & Gardens – opens at 830am-530pm (about 3 hours) – Grand tour @ $18.77
  • Kunsthistorisches Museum/imperial treasury (Audio Guide is typically cheaper and has a lot more info, this way you can skip to the next item, or only hear about the ones that are interesting to you in particular) (about 3 hours)- open 10am-6pm; Combined ticket with guide $21.45 – buy ticket online before you go.

Vienna Highlights Bike Tour (Need voucher) – leaves at 2:30pm

  • Located @ Franz-Josefs-Kai 45 1010 Vienna – departure point is at the Vienna Explorer tour office.
  • Tube to Schottenring (U2/U4) or Schwedenplatz (U1/U4)

After bike tour options (just in case it ends early)

  • Imperial Palace (Hofburg)** get Sisi ticket to Hofburg $30.89, will give you fast track ticket.
  • https://www.imperial-austria.at/hofburg-vienna.html
    • 930am-530pm
  • St Peter’s church – 7am-8pm
  • Rathausplatz (X-mas market) – free and beautiful at night
  • Stadtpark – has a memorial to Mozart & beautiful area….maybe do a very early morning stroll, no fee, no particular hours noted either.
      • Kursalon Vienna: Johann Strauss and Mozart Concert including 4-course dinner
        • Don’t forget your voucher (booked through TripAdvisor, who uses Viator)
        • Program starts at 6pm , located @ Johannesgasse 33 1010 Vienna (closest underground station is Stadtpark) -program is done at 10pm

Sept 29th – Friday

At 0710 take train RJ 70 to Prague HLAVNI NADRAZI (Czech Republic) arriving at 1106am

  • Make way to Jungmann Hotel (booking.com)
  • Check in @ 2pm

½ day trip to Kunta Hora via Viator (Don’t forget your voucher) — this is so far out of the way, its likely better to do it in a group, so you can see as much as possible in the least amount of time as possible, and then you know you won’t get lost or not make all your sites on time. Just keep in mind that these trips are typically rushed, and won’t allow you a lot of time to peruse, or take it at your own pace, keep a watch on you so you can keep track of the time, and allot time for each activity you want to do at the certain areas. I am not one for big crowds so I picked a tour specifically that is a smaller coach and look at the number of people that it mentions can come.

Sept 30th – Saturday

    • Check on airport transfer from Hotel at 7:30am
    • Check out at 11am, but will likely check out sooner because of airport security and if I purchased anything that I could claim VAT taxes on I could submit the form for that. But in my experience, I never usually get the money back for all the headache they put you through to submit the dog gone form for it.

Make way to Airport for Delta Flight, arrives in SLC at 1054pm take Lyft home for $20 🙂 sweet peaceful evening with 1 day before I return to work to get acclimated to the timezone again. I have started arriving home on Sunday mornings or Sat evenings because it will take you at least the rest of the day to re-assimilate into reality again after the grand adventures.

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