Europe,  Philippines,  Transportation,  Travel

25 Days in Central Europe: Hows and Whys

Igal and I gallivanted around parts of central Europe for 25 delightful, sometimes tiring, days. We started with GERMANY – going on a tour around Berlin and Potsdam. We flew to CROATIA and went around the country from Zagreb to Dubrovnik on a DIY motorcycle trip. We took a bus and headed to HUNGARY, where we tried our best to explore much of Budapest as we possibly can. We used a sleeper train to move on to CZECH REPUBLIC where we spent time walking around Prague and Kutna Hora, and hiking in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Our trip’s last stop was AUSTRIA where time was spent in Vienna, Hallstat, and the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.

 

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1BGv_3fkWAE8t3iZ7nr_bzhg2GK4&w=640&h=480]

 

Igal and I live in different countries so we just met-up in our hotel in Berlin. I flew from Manila to Bangkok via Cebu Pacific Air then Bangkok to Berlin through Cologne via Eurowings. He didn’t need a visa to visit any of the countries in our itinerary. I did. If you’d like to know about my Schengen visa application, you can find it here.

 

We get questions from our friends (mostly mine) regarding our trip to central Europe. Shown in the succeeding part of this post are these questions and our answers.

 

Why start with Berlin?

Simple reason – because I saw a cheap deal. It was a one-way flight from Bangkok on Eurowings which cost 9,529 Thai Baht (~271 USD that time). I thought it was a good deal and something that I can afford to lose in case my visa application gets denied. I booked this flight about a year ahead. Igal booked his flight when I got my visa.

 

Why not book a flight from Manila?

I could have if I needed a round trip flight. I saw a promotional round trip fare to Berlin from Manila via KLM Airlines for 711 USD. However, my plan was to fly to Europe then to Israel then back to Asia. I didn’t see any flight like that which was cheaper coming from Manila (even when including expenses during lay-over in Bangkok for the long way). Add to this the fact that I got an extremely cheap round trip flight to Bangkok because of my credit card, which is the reason why I used Bangkok as the gateway for my trip. Note that Philippine passport holders don’t need a visa for Thailand so that’s one less thing to worry about for me.

 

Why Central Europe?

Because I wanted to see Hallstatt (in Austria) and Croatia. From that, Igal and I picked the neighboring countries which are of interest. We worked together in building an itinerary for our trip.

 

Why include Croatia? Did you get a separate visa?

Because it seems like a pretty country to explore and no, I didn’t need a separate visa. Croatia is not YET part of the Schengen area but you can be granted entry using a dual or multiple entry Schengen visa. I’m writing this as of November 2017. If you are thinking of going to Croatia with a Schengen visa, do visit their official site for an up-to-date guideline.

 

How did you move around countries in central Europe?

The table below shows my movement from and to the Philippines. Our movement in central Europe can be seen in blue font.

 

FROM TO TRANSPORTATION
Manila, Philippines Bangkok, Thailand Airplane
Bangkok, Thailand Berlin, Germany Airplane
Berlin, Germany Zagreb, Croatia Airplane
Zagreb, Croatia Budapest, Hungary Flixbus
Budapest, Hungary Prague, Czech Republic Sleeper train
Prague, Czech Republic Vienna, Austria Day train
Vienna, Austria Tel Aviv, Israel Airplane
Tel Aviv, Israel Bangkok, Thailand Airplane
Bangkok, Thailand Manila, Philippines Airplane

 

I purchased the following flights before I applied for my visa

All other flights and transportations were booked after I got a positive result on my schengen visa application. In finalizing our movement across these countries, we brainstormed on all possible options on movement and transportation then picked the one that met our mixed needs for convenience, affordability, and time efficiency.

To know the other options for Zagreb to Budapest, check my post about it in here.

To read about the sleeper train we took, check my post here.

To learn how I booked our sleeper train, you can read it here.

 

How was the weather?

Our vacation was in September. Autumn season is supposed to be pleasant – not so cold, not so hot. However, we were chased by rains and winds from Germany to Croatia, to Budapest, and up to Czech Republic. All tour guides and some locals we’ve met from these 4 countries have said that September 2017 was bizarre. The only country where we had consistent sunny, pleasant days was Austria.

 

How was the motorcycle trip?

We did this in Croatia and it was great! Despite the occasional rains, we had fun and made the most out of it. Igal and I will work together on a write-up about our motorcycle trip in Croatia. We’ll share it with you once we’re done.

 

How did you stay connected during your trip?

Well, there’s WiFi in our accommodations and we bought a sim card for each of us a day after our arrival. To know more about this, you can read my post about it here. Each of us spent only 1 euro a day to stay connected!

 

How did you go from the airport to your hotel?

We both used public transportation. Both of us researched about our options prior to our trip. For myself, I researched about my transportation options, service schedules and my stops, and downloaded an offline map of a part of Berlin covering the airport and my hotel. I also find Google Street View helpful in familiarizing myself with a foreign place prior to going there.

 

How did you plan the trip?

Thanks to technology these days, various resources are available for us to use when researching and preparing for a trip. The following are what we utilized in preparing for our central Europe trip:

ACCOMMODATION

We used Booking.com, Agoda, and Airbnb for our accommodations. I usually compare the rates shown by Booking, Agoda, and the hotel’s website, then use whichever offers the cheapest rate. I made some bookings for us before my visa application. These bookings came with free cancellation in order to minimize expenses in case I don’t get a visa. Most of these were not used because we tweaked our itinerary after I got my visa. We were originally thinking of Romania for our motorcycle trip but eventually decided to just do it also in Croatia.

 

Just to illustrate how good it is to book your accommodation way ahead of time: I booked our hotel in Berlin using Agoda 10 months ahead and got it for 53 euro per night. After  getting my visa, the nightly rate for the same room was already 90 euros.

 

For Airbnb, I always check the reviews first before considering a listed space. No matter how awesome the amenities are and how pretty the photos of the place are, if the reviews are not good then it won’t end up on my list of choices. Newly listed space with zero reviews, also a big NO! Why? Because it can either be a hit or a miss. I’m not much of a risk-taker when it comes to accommodation. Being a guinea pig during a vacation is not a good idea.

 

NAVIGATION

Google Maps was such a big help! It usually is. It’s our go to tool in checking our options – whether walk or ride – to go from point A to point B, for looking at restaurants nearby, for locating our accommodations, and for navigating during a drive. We also used Waze a few times while driving in central Europe.

 

ATTRACTIONS

I usually use Visit a City to check attractions available in each city I’m visiting, if available in its database. Aside from having list of attractions, the platform also has suggested itineraries, which you can tweak, for certain number of days. Google Maps is also an option for checking nearby attractions. Google also has something that is somehow similar to Visit A City, which is called Google Trips.

 

TRANSPORTATION

I used Skyscanner and Google Flights to track the price of flights. I subscribed to fare price alerts from both of these platforms. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I try Google Flights’ Im Feeling Lucky to just see its suggested deal.

 

I read Seat61.com to learn about train transport in Europe. From what I learned in the said site, I used the website and/or app of the following to check for and/or book our tickets: OBB, Hungarian Railways, Czech Railways.

 

I used the Flixbus app for booking and storing our ticket for Zagreb-Budapest. No print-out is needed if you have the app, which is good. You save a small part of a tree!

 

OTHERS

For all those foreign texts that you want to understand, Google translate has your back! Best to install the app so you can take advantage of the option for real-time translation – just point and you’ll get your translation! You do need to download the language pack for this feature to work. You can also translate from an image you took. Image and real-time translation features are both accessed by clicking on the camera icon on the lower left area of the text box. Promise, it’s cool!

 

The backbone of all my research – Google search engine! I don’t really think this needs any explanation. Just google it 🙂

 

How did you survive without rice?

For those who are not aware, rice is a staple in the Philippines. It’s common to have it for all meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and sometimes even as snack. I usually eat rice just once a day, sometimes none at all. It’s quite rare for me to have it twice or more in a day. With that being said, I loved that I wasn’t stuck with rice meals in Europe. Although rice meals weren’t so common in places we visited, I enjoyed having numerous non-rice options.

 

How were your long-haul flights?

I understand that the level of comfortability varies for each person. If it helps – I’m 5’2″ (157 cm) tall, 110 lbs, and a small frame.

 

FLYING FROM BANGKOK

Going out of Asia, I took Eurowings from Bangkok to Berlin via Cologne. I booked this flight almost a year ahead and the original schedule departs Bangkok at 08:05 with connecting flight to Berlin from Cologne at 17:00, with an hour and 40 minutes of transit time. A month before the flight, I got an email changing the departure from Bangkok to 12:10 and from Cologne to 20:30, with 65 minutes transit time. On the day of my flight, I got another email saying that there were changes. When I saw the new schedule, I groaned and said “I’m fucked”. The new departure time from Bangkok was 13:15 arriving in Cologne at 20:30, while connecting flight’s departure from Cologne was still 20:30. I knew I was in for some adventure. Good thing that it was just one airline from Bangkok all the way to Berlin. Otherwise, it would have been a bad start for my trip. The captain explained that the original plane became unserviceable so they had to look for another available plane to use and the closest was 3 hours away. I was glad it didn’t come to flight cancellation. Eurowings delayed the connecting flight from Cologne to Berlin for an hour to wait for all the passengers who came from Bangkok. There was a little bit of running involved, and it was the first time that I heard my name being mentioned in an airport’s PA system. I suppose it’s their way of saying “run, Forrest, run!”

 

I booked the SMART fare which came with the following: preferred seating (standard seat), ​two meals (one hot, one cold), ​drinks (soft drinks, coffee, tea), one item of luggage up to 23 kg.

 

From Bangkok to Cologne – the leg room and seat’s width were comfortable for me. There’s a USB outlet under the seat which can be used to charge devices. Each passenger was provided with a liter of bottled water and, every now and then,  the crew walked along the aisle offering a glass of water to everyone. Hot meal and snack were provided. The seat had adjustable side panel headrest which provided a little bit of added comfort. The entertainment system was available in-seat and can be used for an additional cost (free for BEST fare). I can’t comment on this since I came prepared with my phone and some videos. I never spend extra on in-flight entertainment, anyway. Also available but costs extra is WiFi connection. I hope they can improve on keeping the lavatories tidy. The used tissues in the bin were overflowing after a little more than halfway through the flight. The flight’s scheduled duration was 12 hours and 15 minutes.

 

From Cologne to Berlin – the first thought I had when my butt touched my seat was “I’m so glad they waited for us”. Next one was “I’m seeing Igal tonight!” I didn’t have any problem with the seat nor the service provided by the crew. It was a short flight anyway – just 70 minutes. Snack was provided – a sandwich, water and juice, and some Haribo candies. I did make this leg of the flight a little less boring by leaving behind my first boarding pass (Bangkok-Cologne) which had my luggage sticker ID at this flight’s boarding gate when I swapped my second boarding pass (Cologne-Berlin) with the updated one. So there was some chanting of “please let my bag be here” in my mind for a while on this flight. Thankfully, I found out soon enough after landing that my chant worked. My luggage was one of the first bags out on the carousel.

 

FLYING TO BANGKOK

This flight departed from Tel Aviv, Israel with transit in Kiev, Ukraine. I was coming from Israel because that was my next stop after the central Europe trip. I’m including it here since this flight’s connection was in eastern Europe which also served passengers from other parts of Europe who were going to Bangkok. In case you’d like to know about my trip to Israel, you can read it here.

 

This flight was with Ukraine International Airlines, on an economy class. I book the economy fare which came with free hot and cold meals for the long-haul flight and one item of luggage up to 23 kg. The airline has a mobile app which can be used for electronic boarding passes. Another part of a tree saved!

 

From Tel Aviv to Kiev – I didn’t have any problem. Everything was okay. The crew were nice, leg room and seat width were okay. The seats actually made me hopeful that the long-haul will be okay. This flight was for 3 hours and 25 minutes.  Snacks were available at an extra cost. There was no delay with the flight. Transit time in Kiev was about 2 hours.

 

From Kiev to Bangkok – I didn’t have any problem with the leg room, but the seat’s width was uncomfortable. It was narrow. I already read from reviews that it is narrow but, being a short girl with a small frame, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be too bad for me. I was wrong. I kinda wished they swapped the seats from the short haul flight to this one. A good hotel bed is a nice thing to look forward to if you’re in this flight. For the entertainment system, there were no in-seat screens but there were old screens by each partition walls located in the middle column. The crew went around to provide earphones that can be plugged into the seat in order to hear whatever is playing. I came prepared with my own entertainment so I’m cool with whatever they have. There were no USB outlets for charging so a powerbank was nice to have. Positive points for keeping the lavatories clean all throughout the flight – no overflowing bins! This flight was scheduled to take 10 hours and 10 minutes. My fare included a hot meal and a snack. They also provided passengers with 500 ml of bottled water.

 

Again, my experience was on an economy seat. Not sure how it goes with premium economy and business classes.

 


 

If you have other things in mind, just put it in the comment section and we’ll try to give an answer. I plan to create a post (with the help of Igal) for each of the countries we visited. Crossing fingers that it’ll happen! I won’t be creating any list of must-see places or must-do activities because I believe that people have different preferences. All I plan to do is share with you what we did during our trip and, hopefully, you’ll find interesting bits and pieces there.

 

Will you be travelling to Europe anytime soon? Would you consider central Europe too? 🙂

 

 

 

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