LAST TIME ON THE TRIP:
Alex “Dash” Spencer and Dominic “Party Pants” Parsons began their sweep across South-East Europe, encountering artery-killing food, wrestling Russians, and Western European Guilt. But with three destinations down, there were still eight countries to visit, drain dry of their chocolatiest resources, and write about at length. Their adventures continue in this, the second thrilling installment of The Trip.
Because what more magical time is there than 5am? The walk from the station, as the sun began to happen, took us past what would remain my favourite sight in all of Zagreb: the long wall of graffiti. It was (officially-sanctioned) street art at its finest, blank stretch of urban space and transforming it into something playful. To be honest, it’s something Zagreb could have done with more of. It’s handsome city, well-kept and just the right size, but it felt a little like a blank slate. In the blistering heat of first day, heavily punctuated by naps, putting our own stamp on it just felt like far too much effort.
Train 4: Zagreb –> Budapest
By now, we’d settled into a rhythm. Not full-on ADVENTURE!, not the mind-losing boredom of Train 2. Just a peaceful seven hours spent keeping to ourselves, until the train was invaded by a load of post-festival local tweens with no respect for personal space. Never have I become so quickly acquainted with a young lady’s feet! And without socks! I say!
For our shortest stay of the trip (approximately 18 hours, including a lengthy and much-needed sleep), I felt strangely done with Budapest by the time we left. We were masters of time and our own fate… or just lucked out a bit. Picking a route to and from dinner (Trofea Grill, uncontested king of surprisingly classy all-u-can-eat-and-drink meat and wine) through the Városliget park is probably the reason for this. Coming back along its north edge at twilight exposed us to Vajdahunyad Castle, beautifully lit, and along the Andrássy Út boulevard. Delightful!
Train 5: Budapest –> Prague
Two trains in two days. 14 hours out of 48. Travelling shouldn’t have been this much of a pleasure. But the novelty of modern, air conditioned trains, plenty of food and drink, and a cabin to ourselves? This was the Interrail experience we’d dreamed of.
The first stop I – in fact, both of us – had visited before, three years earlier, on the holiday that served as a blueprint for this journey. The entire city was overlaid with half-memories – is this where…? didn’t we…? – and expectations. And of course we landed, completely by accident, in the same cocktail bar we’d behaved disgracefully in three years prior (Harley’s, Dlouhá 18, complete with slightly dodgy Jack Daniels rock theme, graffitied walls and inexplicably ice-filled urinals). One reasonably priced Long Island Iced Tea later, and it wasn’t hard to remember why. Many cocktails later, it was hard to remember how we’d even gotten there. In the meantime, the city had hit that weird hour where bars were just getting lively, but all the restaurants were closing. And so we ended up in La Casa Blů (Kozí 857/15), a tapas bar, eating a Czech interpretation of everyone’s favourite pick-&-mix Spanish food.
Cue the next morning, more half-memories and a day of wandering the city feeling hazy and homeless. The hangover landed us in some tourist trap restaurant (Hotel Prague Inn, 28. října 378/15), looking to repent for the tapas and get a solid, honest, ‘Polish’. On this front it delivered: well-cooked meat, slightly sweet cabbage and dumplings galore (my moravský vrabec) and a touch of the strange in Dom’s svíčková na smetaně, beef served with whipped cream. But then the accumulated hidden/semi-hidden charges and apparently compulsory tip kicked in, as is a tourist trap tradition.
The feeling of disparity and being cheated (and homeless) knocked us off balance for a few hours until we found another centre in Petrin Hill. We were chasing an ambiguous road sign promising a possibly non-existent maze, but a steep climb to the top yielded great, if tree-obscured, views and a sense of smug self-satisfaction from watching people get on and off the funicular. Homeless or not, we were empirically better than them, and what greater holiday feeling is there?
(Additional photos over on the Dirty Mistress Tumblr)