Category Archives: Eastern Europe

Why My Favourite Way to See Europe is Cruising

When it comes to traveling Europe, it’s safe to say I’ve done it all. I’ve visited Europe with a large tour group and explored Italy on my own backpacking tour when I was 20. So when my parents suggested getting the family together on a river cruise through Europe I agreed without hesitation. Was I worried I was going to be the only person under 35 on this cruise? Yes, but there was no way I was going to pass up another opportunity to visit Europe.

Before the trip, my family wasn’t sure which cruise company to go with. We had a lot of options and it was overwhelming to decide! There are many different cruise companies that operate in Europe. My dad ended up making the final decision with his eyes closed. He chose a river cruise called Scenic Cruises. I’ve never heard of this cruise line before this trip so I was excited for the new experience.

Traveling across Europe on a river cruise was different in many ways. Everything from the pace of the trip to the people you traveled with varied from my past travel experiences. The luxury river cruise my family chose to go on was everything you’d expect it to be when you first hear the words “luxury river cruise”: lavish suites, five-star guest experience and elegant, world-class excursions. My last Euro trip consisted of cheap eats and a constant go-go-go vibe; this river cruise couldn’t have been more opposite.

The first thing I noticed when I boarded the ship was the size: this was no 1000 plus guests ocean cruiser. With only 85 suites and a maximum head count of 169 guests, the ship I traveled on was designed with comfort and luxury in mind. It was an all-inclusive travel experience which meant I not only had free reign of the mini bar in my cabin but  my own personal butler (you have to see it to believe it). 

As a (relatively) young woman who’s had to make her own bed since the age of 10, I was thrilled to discover that for one glorious week, I wouldn’t have to worry about fluffing my pillows or finding spare change for laundry. On top of having your own butler, the cruise line offered nightly turndown service, complimentary laundry concierge as well as 24 hour room service. There were numerous restaurants available for dining as well as unlimited access to a gym, wellness centre, pool, panoramic lounge and sun deck (which lead me to put my guard down for one afternoon and go easy on the sunscreen- big mistake. Huge).

Obviously, I was over the moon with these discoveries; as seasoned cruisers, even my hard-to-please parents were impressed by the attention-to-detail. With a 1:3 crew to guest ratio, however, I shouldn’t have expected anything less than first class.

Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed between traveling on your own and via boat cruise is the touring schedule. With a river cruise, your travel itinerary is already organized and laid out for you. The daily routine in place aboard a cruise is that the boat will move at night and dock by breakfast. The daily land excursions alternate between half and full day and allow for little independent sightseeing, which I guess is the point for the majority of travelers aboard the cruise.

There is little time to go off on your own since the ship has a set schedule to dock and depart every night. Knowing what I do now, I can say it’s smart to do your research before choosing a cruise line.

Each cruise line will vary in style, itinerary and destination. The river cruise I experienced had every day of the trip organized and planned for guests- while I’ll admit it took a huge weight off my shoulders in terms of pre-cruise organization, the pre-arranged schedule did limit my ability to explore a city independently without another 15 people tagging along.

The land excursions, I have to say, are in a league of their own. Curated by the cruise line’s very own “journey designers,” I saw a part of Europe I couldn’t have possibly experienced backpacking on my own. While the attractions were similar, it was the extra attention-to-detail that made me become fully immersed in the country’s culture.

As an example, on day four of my cruise, I got to taste my way around a local market in Vienna, Austria but with an added twist- a local private chef was there to accompany fellow guests and teach us about the delicacies known to the region (there is a half finished note on my Iphone dating back to this excursion that reads, “How to make Bratwurst from scratch”). One of the highlights of my cruise though took place In Freudenberg, Germany. I had the most amazing day celebrating Oktoberfest with guests and locals alike-there was food, there was dancing and yup, there was a staggering amount of beer (beer everywhere!).

Celebrating a classic Bavarian tradition with a crowd that traveled from all over the world to experience it firsthand took a seemingly simple excursion to the next level. While we all took part in the excursion for different reasons- I came for the beer, my parents came for the bratwurst and Andrew from Australia simply wanted to get acquainted with his German roots- we all left with the same awesome memory.

After 15 days floating down the Rhine and Danube rivers, I have to say there’s something to putting your feet up and shelling out some extra cash (okay, a lot of cash) for someone else to do the hard work of planning a trip for you. That was my favourite part of taking the scenic route; if you ask my parents, they’ll reference “wine night” in Budapest, Hungary.

I personally think traveling around on a cruise is one of the best ways to go on a multi-country trip. Why? It’s easy, it’s relaxing and they make it oh-so-convenient. I will say that it’s not for everyone: if you’re an independent traveler or a club-goer, a luxury river cruise won’t give you what you’re looking for.

At 33, I was easily one of the youngest people aboard the ship; however, I wouldn’t write off a river cruise for that reason alone. I found the crowd to be interesting, educated and well traveled. Many were entrepreneurs with their own successful businesses (which would explain how they could afford the price tag). Again, this too, will vary from cruise to cruise.

In light of my early travel hesitations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the river cruise. I am so grateful! I met some amazing people and I got to experience Budapest to Amsterdam all in one shot (thanks mom and dad!)

Lauren Martineau

Professional freelance blogger & writer, storyteller & adventuress. When Lauren's not typing 80 wpm, she's travelling and staying fit.

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My Life-Changing Trip to Kazantip

party_at_nightWhen I told my friends in Ukraine that I wanted to come see them next summer, they suggested going to Kazantip along with them. That wasn’t the first time when I heard about this strange festival, the so-called “Republic of Kazantip”. Since I’m a big fan of techno music and love pretty girls in bikinis, I agreed without hesitation. I arrived in Ukraine at the beginning of August and soon my friends and I headed to Popovka, a sleepy resort town on the Black Sea coast where Kazantip is held. Once arrived, we first got settled in a small hostel, bought our tickets for the festival that are called “viZas” and went to look around the town. Although I came there for the first time, my Ukrainian friends had showered me with stories about wild parties on the beach, non-stop music played by the world’s best DJs and of course hundreds of beautiful girls in bikinis (and without).

on_the_beachThe next day, when we were hanging out on the Kazantip beach lined with dozens of bars and dance floors, I noticed that some girls had their viZas of different colors. Unlike most visitors like me who had the red cards, there were girls with green and white passes. My friends told me that the green viZas are given to the girls who are specially hired to promote various parties and events during the festival. It’s no problem if you approach, talk and drink with them. However I was warned to stay away from the girls with white passes, not even try talking to them. Those were the most beautiful girls, true super models. They came along with VIP guests, the richest Russian oligarchs, who have their own private, strictly guarded areas at Kazantip with own bars, swimming pools and other facilities. In short, if I dared to bother one of those goddesses, I could have been immediately kicked out of the festival.

Kazantip really turned out to be a paradise for open minded people like me. I enjoyed in full all the opportunities the festival had to offer: amazing music, swimming, dancing and sun bathing on the beach, drinking beer and Russian vodka with my friends and, of course, lovely evenings spent in the company of cute girls. That was the time to relax and not think, even for a second, about work and problems left at home. Just like for most other people at Kazantip, our day began late in the afternoon. Then we went to the beach and stayed there till sunset. And as the time got closer to midnight, the most interesting part began. There were different parties every night. We wandered from bar to bar, and from one dance floor to another one. When we felt totally exhausted, we just sat down on the sand and looked up at the night sky lit up with eye-popping fireworks, lasers and searchlights. Regardless of how tired you are, you never feel bored at Kazantip!

I’ve been to many festivals, but I have never experienced anything similar to Kazantip. I never thought I would see so many naked bodies, alcohol, wealth, sociability, neon, thunderous sounds of music and happy faces all at one place. While at Kazantip I totally forgot about the normal life. This is one of the main reasons why you will want to return here again and again after having visited it once. To tell the truth, it is much different from a typical festival and it is not for everybody. The Republic of Kazantip “gives shelter” only to the most open minded people without any complexes and taboo. I am proud to say I am one of those freaks!

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Anthony

Anthony Freeman is a travel enthusiast who loves to explore new places and always looks forward to his next adventure.

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Living and studying in the Czech Republic

It was back in fall of 2011 when a good friend of mine had just returned from a semester abroad studying in Los Angeles, California. Apparently he had the time of his life there and wouldn’t get tired of telling me about his exploits, student life and several side trips to sin city Las Vegas and Mexico. I know several of his peers who got tired of hearing his tales over time (maybe it reminded them too much about how boring their own lives were?) but not me! I couldn’t get enough from his stories and eventually I came to a decision. I had to study abroad for a semester as well!

I had never really considered studying abroad and knew virtually nothing about it, except from what my friend had told me. So I rushed off to university and stormed into the ERASMUS office. For those who don’t know – ERASMUS is the European unions organization which goal is to promote student exchange in European countries. It’s a network connecting universities to each other and as a student you can even get a little stipend if you want to study abroad.

The nice woman in the office asked me where I wanted to go and of course I had no clue. The only things I wanted from a guest university I wanted were a) a big city with interesting nightlife b) lots of sun and c) pretty girls!

prague

Since my timing was pretty bad and I was showing interest at a late time, most slots were already full! But there were still three partner universities available which came close to my wishes: Milan in Italy, Cyprus and Prague, Czech Republic.

I had already been in Prague 10 years ago on a field trip organized by my school and connected great memories with the beautiful city. So my choice was clear: I’m going to study in the Czech Republic!

Armed with some clothes and some basic sentences in Czech I hopped on a night train from Germany to the Czech Republic in February 2012. I arrived on a freezing cold morning the next day. How beautiful this city is!

My contact from Charles University picked me up at the train station and showed me the way to my hostel, which was located right off Václavské náměstí or Wenceslas Square. Talk about a central location! Of course I couldn’t wait to explore the city and spent all day and most of the night just wandering around Prague, getting lost in old town and of course sampling lots of the delicious Czech beer that flows like water in this city.

Soon after my arrival in Prague the semester started and I was introduced to my fellow students. I met great people from all over Europe and also the United States. Right from the beginning my exchange semester was a non-stop blur of various activities. There were pub crawls, ERASMUS parties, field trips to neighbouring countries like Austria and Hungary, visits to sport events like an ice hockey game of Prague’s own team Sparta Praha and of course gallons of Czech beer. Of course sometimes I had to attend university as well!

I could go on and on about my experiences in Prague, how I got a gorgeous girlfriend with blue eyes from Slovakia, how I rented an awesome and ridiculously cheap apartment from a French professor who needed a housesitter and how I found a gym where Jean Claude van Damme had trained in his heyday. But to be honest, I had so many great experiences and met so many awesome people that there is no way to cover even a fraction of it in this short article.

So instead I will just focus on what the experience did for me and how it made me grow as a person.

Pascal studying abroad

What I learned in my semester studying abroad was going with the flow and just throwing myself into unknown situations. Back home I would often stick to my usual routine and meet the same people in the same places. Living in Prague, I would just go out at night, hit a random bar and start talking to all kinds of people. This led to some amazing nights out and often times I wouldn’t get home before dawn and had made a lot of new friendships along the way. One night I would get drunk with Finnish film students until the break of dawn and the next I was hanging out with students from Vysoká škola ekonomická v Praze (Prague’s university of economy). Every day was like a new adventure.

I carried this attitude home with me and back in my hometown I still go out at night just, going with the flow, meeting random people and seeing where the night takes me. So if you have the opportunity to study abroad, go ahead and take it! It’s an amazing opportunity for students and you really don’t want to miss out on it.

Pascal

Pascal is a university student from Germany and spent 5 months living and studying in the Czech Republic's capital Prague. He loves to travel and is the founder of Travel Income Blueprint.

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Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow.com from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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