Monday, 5 January 2015

The party bus is coming: Eastern Europe Festive Party Trek - Part 1


I didn't want to spend Christmas and New Years alone. Simple as that. I had only just started to make friends in London when I had the brainwave to go on a tour over the silly season.

I researched high and low. I became obsessed with one tour, just to become obsessed with another tour a week later.

"I've found it," I'd say, sending the link to anyone who would listen, finally settling on the Busabout Eastern European Festive Party Trek from Prague to Krakow. Again, I sat on it for a few days before stumbling across a 15% online code and wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, I threw down my deposit and I was locked into the 11 day tour.

I am going to try to document everything I remember about the holiday (with appropriate censorships, of course - what happens on tour, stays on tour!). This will be my usual rambling account of events. I will probably break it up into countries which will result in roughly 5 posts depending on how much waffle I put in.

This was my very first tour, and joining me were an additional 39 individuals. By the end, I knew each person by name although I will admit I got everybody's story completely muddled, and hugged everyone countless times. A couple even got a sneaky smooch out of me. And so I will start at the beginning, and end at the end, and what happens in the middle - well, that's the good bit.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

I lost 5kg running through the streets of London with my new backpack firmly attached to my back. Casually talking to my housemate earlier that day, she look concerned at how much time (or lack there of) I had left to get to the airport. I'd forgotten to take into account traffic. Leaving work traffic. Just before Christmas traffic.

Shit shit fuck shit fuck, I thought to myself as I powered through the streets towards the coach station.
Fuck shit shit ball sack shit, I thought to myself as I sat on the coach, paused at a red light.
Seriously where did all these people come from, I thought as my foot tapped impatiently in line to check in my baggage.

I finally relaxed once I was in the queue to get onto my flight with almost an hour to spare. And in the queue I stood for almost 2 hours thanks to my plane being delayed, chowing down on a refreshing fruit salad and catching my breath.

Not the most relaxed beginning to my holiday, but when have I been one to do things the easy way? I fell into my seat on the plane and settled in to arrive in Prague.

Shazza joined me on the plane

A long 2 hours later after sitting in front of a very shout-y and kick-y young boy, we descended into the Czech Republic and my shuttle driver was standing waiting for me, "Mrs Sasha Oelsner" on his little sign.

The shuttle driver was darling, although I was mildly worried jumping in with an elderly man in Eastern Europe. He passed me an info book about Prague and pointed out the main sites to see as we drove our way through the city.

Shortly around 11.30pm, I arrived at the Plus Prague hostel and set myself up in my room. Facebook had indicated some drinks were happening in the bar, and I stood in the front room of the hostel looking perplexed. I happened to say to a girl, "Do you know where the bar is? I'm looking for the Busabout crew", to which another girl to my left exclaimed "You too! I'm trying to find them as well." And so I met Liz and we made our way to the Plus Prague bar across the courtyard.

Here we took a gamble on a group to sit with, meeting Jacob, Cara and Harry. We laughed and chatted and drank until about 1am, before promising to meet on the morrow to begin our crazy adventure.

Monday, 22 December 2014

This morning began as every morning would begin for the next two weeks: early, with a rushed shower and a communal breakfast. Liz and I marvelled over the quality of the breakfast here; delicious scrambled eggs, frankfurters and bread and cheese. Hopefully we weren't peaking too early with the good breakfasts! We rushed back to our room to repack our bags (oh god, how did I pack so much?) so that we could check out and meet the other people on the tour. Later that afternoon we would be able to check back in again when our rooms were ready, but in the meantime we were going on a walking tour of Prague followed by a bit of exploring by ourselves.

We met our charismatic tour guide, Carlos, who made us all feel very much at home and distributed our Secret Santas ("Do you even know who this person is??"). We arrived in the city centre and Carlos led us through the streets - it wasn't long before my good camera was whipped out. Looking around, there were plenty of decent cameras in the midst and thus I didn't feel so alone hanging back and taking pictures.

The colours and rooftops of beautiful Prague

We saw the Lennon Wall, the Prague Castle, the chapel, the astronomical clock. Prague is a beautiful city. We found ourselves in the town square with the Christmas markets, horse drawn carts and mulled wine cheaper than soft drink. At the conclusion of the tour, a group of us decided it was time for food and we each bought a different kind of Czech food (namely meat and potatoes!) and pooled our dishes in the middle of the table.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets and the markets, and realising that I need more time in this city to truly appreciate it. In the markets, we had our first taste of the Trdelnik, or as I called it, the donut bangle. Deliciousness in the cold chill air of Prague.

Peering through pure deliciousness

About half of the group returned to the hostel with the early bus. Here, Carlos introduced us to home made palinka (a drink that will rear its ugly head more than once on this trip) which I nicknamed the Death Juice. In a word, it was brutal. One sniff was enough to make the mouth water and the shuddering begin. All together, we shouted Na Zdravi (cheers!) and attempted to down the liquid. The bus was a unified chorus of "Ergh!" and "Blergh!". I had drunk about half of mine in one go - and when I went for the second sip, almost lost my lunch.
That's enough for now, I decided.

It knocked me for six, so I returned to my room for a short nap before gathering with the rest of the troupe for dinner and to line our bellies ready for the Welcome Party and our 5 free drink vouchers. At the Welcome Party we introduced ourselves to those we hadn't spoken to yet, immediately forgot their names, grabbed our free wine or beer and danced the night away. A bunch went to a nearby club, but my elderly self wasn't ready to go so hard so early on, and so I made my way to bed around 1am.

It was a great and exhausting first day, filled with happy people, cold air and names I was struggling to remember. I crept into my already sleeping room and settled down for a couple of hours sleep. We had an early start the next morning, like many mornings would be to follow.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Not only did I get back to the room after my other bunk mates, but I got up before all of them and had a shower. Then I hopped back into bed for a little bit longer before making my way down to another amazing breakfast at Plus Prague. At breakfast, I realised I had made a little bit of a mistake with my booking as I thought the tour ended on the 2 January. Oops - it ended on the 1st. This meant that I had to find accommodation for that final night. I put this dilemma on the backburner and dealt with it at a later date.

Today's stop: Cesky Krumlov, a small city on the edge of the Czech Republic and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way, we paused at a Tesco to purchase snacks, last minute Secret Santa gifts and a hat or costume for the Christmas days for those who hadn't yet. I boarded the bus again afterwards, realising something was missing. My phone! My life is on that phone. Breathless, I pushed my way off the almost full bus and sprinted back inside. I ran up to the lady at the checkout, who, seeing me coming, reached behind a stand and handed me my phone. I was beside myself with relief. This is why the phone never leaves my hand - but I had put it down to figure out my change.

Back on the bus, it took me some time to gather myself. Thankfully it wasn't long before we were in Cesky Krumlov and checking into our rather amazing hotel. The city centre was picturesque and we were left to our own devices to explore the tiny town.

Beautiful day for an adventure

Cara and I, cameras at the ready, explored the castle, tried to look for the bears and then made our way back to the centre for some local fare. Delicious potato pancake, sausage and mulled wine. Yum! Along with Courtney, we bought some sweets (which..seem to have gone missing along the way, oh well!)

Fud! Eat all the sausage and potato pancake and drink
all the mulled wine!

We decided to go sans on the Torture Museum as it looked rather kitsch, so we wandered back to our hotel to await dinner that evening. For dinner we walked as a group back through the city centre to the Eggenberg Brewery. For me, it was the traditional pork neck with sauerkraut and potato dumplings for dinner. From here, we made our way to a local pub where the poor bartender was clearly overwhelmed by so many orders and serving slowly. I ordered two drinks so I didn't have to go back to the bar, had another drink bought for me by a strange Czech man and chatted the night away.

Beautiful by day, stunning by night.

This was the only time we were going to spend in the quaint little town so it was back to packing and getting ready to set off early in the morning again, this time for Vienna.

That's the end of the Czech Republic and takes us a couple of days into the tour.

Next up: Vienna.


My family for the next 11 days