“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” - Mark Twain
Europe, the smallest of all the continents, yet the most dynamic of them all. Opinions will differ as to where Europe begins and where it ends. Some will exclude Russia and Turkey from the European map while others will include Israel and Iceland. The reason why it is so complicated to map Europe is because of its complex history. Europe has seen the fiercest of wars, the largest of empires and the most controversial of ideologies yet since the end of the cold war no continent has been showing such unity as Europe. My two weeks trip to Central Europe took me to the core of one of the most dominant dynasty in history, to the birthplace of some of the greatest minds in history, to the "most unlucky" country in history and to the place where history was made live on world televisions two decades ago.
Any international trip from Russia will likely include going to Moscow first where most of the international airports are found. I left home Monday the 31st of July 2017 boarding a train to the Russian capital. I got the opportunity to spend some time there and to savour my favourite ice cream since my flight was scheduled for the next day. Going through the customs at the Moscow Domodedovo airport is a slow tiring process and you'll be able to relax only once you're on your plane.
I reached the Vienna International Airport on Tuesday evening and took a train to the city centre. Vienna has a very effective mass transit system which includes busses ,trains, metro and tram and you can travel in comfort to any parts of the city but there is nothing better than walking in a new city.
The next day, I went to the Schonbrunn Palace first thing in the morning. The palace has been the summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty for over 300 years before the fall of the monarchy in 1918. With nearly 1500 rooms the palace is now a museum surrounded by a vast park which can be clearly seen from an aeroplane.
If you are interested in arts and history then then visiting the palace with a guide is a must otherwise you can just stroll around the rooms. There are various statues and fountains in the park and even two mazes in which I got lost. The park also has a zoo and a palm house. If you're too tired to walk then you can even book a horse-drawn carriage. I visited only the zoo since it was highly rated as one of the best zoos around the world and had baby pandas.
My next destination was the Belvedere palace, another residence of the imperial dynasty. It is smaller and less impressive than the Schonbrunn but deserves a visit nevertheless. I left Belvedere at nearly 5pm and headed to the Sigmund Freud museum which used to be the house of the father of psychoanalysis. Apart from Freud, Vienna has been the residence of numerous great historical figures including Beethoven, Mozart, Schrodinger and a certain failed artist who wanted to take over the world. Before going back to the hotel, I visited the city centre. It was already dark but it was still lively. One thing that surprised me in Vienna was the lack of police. Vienna seemed so peaceful that the police was unnecessary. I only saw one policeman guarding the parliament. Vienna is a friendly city with happy people. This is the happiest city I ever visited and I will agree with the World Economic Forum that Vienna is the best city in the world. I walked 29.2 kms on that day.
The next day, I went for a cruise on the Danube. I learnt there that I could take a trip to Bratislava, Slovakia and back via the Danube. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time for such a trip but I'll surely do it some day. The cruise lasted nearly two hours and after that I went back to the city centre for another walk. It was a very hot day and there was a large fountain in the city centre where people were playing with the water. It was not something that I normally do but I removed my shoes in public and walked in the fountain. I was enjoying myself until I saw a crazy woman(she was talking to herself and throwing things in the water) approaching my shoes then I realised that I had to get out of the fountain. After two days in Austrian capital, I was then taking a bus to the capital of Czechia, Prague.
Prague was not as clean as Vienna but it had a unique beauty. Since I reached the city late at night, I could only visit it on the following day. On Friday, I walked around the city centre first and then went to the Old Town square. The town square was not that big and that was the secret of its charm. bigger is not always better in city buildings. Prague had that sense of belonging when I walked down the streets. Unlike Vienna where the people were friendly, Prague's architecture was the source of its friendliness. And unlike Vienna where all the action happened on one bank of the river, Prague was active on both banks. There must be at least four bridges around Prague and I crossed three of them and I had a cruise on the Vltava river.
After a tiring first day in Prague, nothing was better than sleeping in a hotel room with such a magnificent view:
Instead of taking the metro to go to the city centre on the next day, I walked through a park then went to the Franz Kafka museum. In front of the museum there is a statue the shape of Czechia with two men urinating respectively on Prague and Brno, the two largest cities in the country. I don't know what the artist wanted to say when he made this but it certainly gained the attention of tourists. In the afternoon, I went to the Prague castle located on a hill. From there, one can see the whole city and the emblematic orange buildings.
The bus leaving Prague for Dresden in Germany was scheduled at 1 am but did not arrived until 2 am. I was unsure if I was going to sleep that night but I eventually slept in the bus until we reached the German border where there was a passport control. I reached Dresden at 4 am but could only remain in the bus station since it was still dark and I had to take another bus for Breslau, Poland. I didn't know what to expect about Breslau. I didn't even know the existence of that city until I planned my trip. I wanted to go to Warsaw but it was too far and I didn't want to spend much time in the bus to Berlin. The nearest big city on the map in Poland was Breslau.
I reached Breslau early morning on Sunday and first went to the hotel to leave my luggage but could not check in yet since it was too early. I went for a walk in the city. Breslau was small with a population of only 600 000 people and I didn't see the need to use public transportation. I had no plans to visit any museum in that city but only wanted to see life in Poland. Breslau turned out to be better than I expected. It does not have many tourists and that makes it a great place to relax and to be able to walk freely and actually visit. I walked the whole day, went to the malls(which were surprisingly bigger than those in Voronezh) and bought myself a watch for my birthday which was in a month. There is a river in Breslau but I didn't want to go on cruise since I was already enjoying myself walking.
There has been only two negative incidents during my trip in Central Europe. The first one happened over numerous days. I was walking so much (about 20 kms per day) that I injured a nerve ending in my right foot. I could still walk and it didn't cause me pain but whenever I touched my big toe I felt some numbness. I knew that there was nothing to worry about and everything was back to normal after a few weeks. The second bad incident took place in Breslau. When I was walking around the city centre, a little Romani boy shook my hand and then asked me for money. I don't usually give alms to beggars especially to children but this one was being persistent and was following me and asking for Euros in a mixed German-English language. I gave him some Polish Zloty and he kept asking for Euros. when I refused to give him, he pushed me and said, "f&*k off!" I didn't react and walked away. Finally on my second day in Breslau, I took the tramway and went to a Japanese garden then went back to the hotel and to the bus station to take the bus for Berlin. Since the trip was during the day, I could not sleep and I find it hard to read in a moving bus, therefore, I listened to an audiobook about the history of the Ancient world. I reached Berlin in the evening.
Berlin, the capital of the world's fourth economy, had another history to tell and that history was recent. Berlin saw the rise of that failed Viennese artist, Soviet occupation, division during the cold war, revolution, the fall of communism and eventually the headquarters of one of the most respected democracies in the world.
The next day, that is, on Tuesday I went to first to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Europe then to the Republic square and walked in the city centre. I had the third and final cruise of these holidays on the Spree. In the afternoon, I went to the Museum of Natural History. It was the first time that I was actually seeing real dinosaur bones and various other fossils. The last and most important thing to do in Berlin was to go and commemorate the Berlin Wall. The Fall of the Berlin Wall along with the French and American revolutions is one of my favourite historical events. The Wall not only divided a city but it divided the world.
The following day, I had a walk near the hotel in the morning namely in the Tiergarten and then checked out and took the metro to the airport. I had to take a bus to go from the metro station to the airport but I wanted to walk and Google maps helped me by making me walk through a forest. I didn't get lost but it was hard actually finding the entrance to the airport. I went quickly through the customs at the airport and had a good flight. I spent two more days in moscow before returning home.