The Romance of a Train Trip in 21 Days!
Day 1 – We left Weiden at 8:00 in the morning, and used up the entire first day just riding the rails! We traveled through Regensburg to Vienna, through the Czech Republic and finally arrived in Krakow, Poland about 9:30 PM. The first photo was taken within minutes of starting our journey, and the second is the gorgeous Polish sunset to finish off such a relaxing and fun day.
Day 2 – Krakow is a blast! To be honest, we knew we would love it because we visited it last fall with lots of family. Today we wore ourselves out touring the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine, as well as the Schindler Museum. We also ate lots of perogies, which I just love!
Day 3 – Okay! So, we rode the train the majority of the day. We totally scrubbed our plan to go to Warsaw and Zamosc and instead headed to a new country….Slovakia! First impressions? We love it. The train ride was beautiful with a view of the Tatras mountains, and our hotel is in the smack dab center of Levoča! The first photo is the town hall at sunset.
On the train, we met some folks that told us two dishes to try and can you believe both were on the menu. Yes, we did. We tried both…yum! They taste much better than they look! The black spots are poppy seeds, and the dumplings are filled with plum jam.
Day 4 – More rail time, all the way through Slovakia, and ending up in the beautiful city of Budapest. Another place that we’ve been before, but we came with a purpose. Last time it was in the cold of winter and we chickened out going to the famous baths. This time we booked our stay at the Gellert Hotel and Spa where we enjoyed a free entry into the baths. I can’t wait to write it up and tell you all about it.
Day 5 – As you probably noticed, we couldn’t post yesterday. That’s because we were exploring the gorgeous city of Budapest right up until we had to get ready and catch our overnight train. One of the greatest bargains is taking a water taxi on the Danube, and the first shot is of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
Since we weren’t taking an all night train, we decided this was also the perfect time to try out the dining car. Before this, even if the train ride was a little long, we had enough snacks to get us through, but since we were spending the night, we splurged. 18 Euros! Hmpf, you’re thinking frozen food heated up?! Nope, I ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu and a few minutes later, we heard the chef pounding out the meat. Surprisingly delicious.
Day 6 – Here are a couple of photos from today. Can you guess where we are? Romania! It’s a first for us, and I have to tell you getting off the train in Sibiu at 7:00 in the morning was not the best impression. Our smiles returned as soon as we walked to the Old Town and had a great cup of coffee and a couple of eggs. It’s amazing what breakfast will do for you! While here, we decided to rent a car. Serendipity was definitely on our side when at our very first start we ran into some Germans. Boy, did they have a story to tell us. (You’ll have to read that post later, though, because “mini-journal”). Tomorrow is a big day for us and the reason we sprung for a rental car. I can’t wait!
Day 7 – What an amazing ride we had today! Have you heard of the Transfăgărășan Road? It’s one of those drives that should be on everyone’s list. Curvy, steep, ups, downs, and lots of traffic we loved every minute of it. The mountains were stunning. We couldn’t get enough. At the top of the pass, we parked and walked around the gauntlet of vendors selling mostly homemade cheeses, sausages, hams, other foods, and of course, souvenirs. We had Bulz for lunch, a traditional dish made with polenta and lots of sheep cheese. Ours was grilled to perfection. Now off to bed!
Day 8 – Another full day. We started off in the town of Bran where Dracula’s Castle is located. I’ve never seen such an easy castle to access. It’s right in the center of town (with just a few steps to get up to it). Then we drove to what our Hotel owner, Nina, said was by far the prettiest city in Romania, Brașov and then on to Făgăraș. Tonight is our last night in the area, and tomorrow we’re on the train again, this time to the capital city of Bucharest.
Day 9 – First thing this morning we took our last short ride around the farms, because we love the neat courtyards, the haystacks, the animals, and usually there are people working, doing something all day long. Romanians are hard workers! The first shot would have made Van Gogh proud. We love those haystacks! Then, unfortunately we had to drop off our little rented VW Up and head to the train station to go to our last stop in Romania, the capital of Bucharest. We’ve heard various reviews on the sprawling city, but our first impressions were all positive. It’s got a great vibe, and we had a wonderful traditional meal in a hopping place. Caru’ cu bere’ brews its own beer, has a stunning interior, provided some touristy dancers, and even had a film crew shooting a period piece right out front. The second shot is the delectable stuffed peppers we ate, only one out of the four wonderful dishes we shared tonight! Yum.
Day 10 – Today was mainly a travel day. We had quite the experience on the train to Sofia, Bulgaria. I guess the two countries don’t mind sharing train cars, but they aren’t about to let those engines cross the border. We arrived at the Romanian side of the border, finished with passport control, and then we waited, and waited, and waited. The Bulgarian train was late and we needed that engine and driver. Two and a half hours later, in sweltering hot weather, the engine came and we finally were on our way. We didn’t arrive in Sofia until almost midnight. The good news is we made tons of new friends. Nothing like a little unexpected sweating to boost the camaraderie!
Day 11 – We have been to Bulgaria before and loved the countryside. We gawked at Rila, made friends in Melnik, and saw many of Bulgaria’s world heritage sites, so we decided to just keep going. We had to spend the night and a day in the capital city, and luckily the skies were beautiful for some of our iconic shots. We feasted on Shopska salads and lots of Bulgarian cheese, then we once again loaded up for a border crossing. Once again, we had a two hour stop at the border, but we finally arrived in Thessonalika again about midnight. We’ve got to stop doing this!
Day 12 – It worked so well in Romania, that we decided to do it again. We rented another car, and today we drove to Vergina, which is Philip II’s tomb (Alexander the Great’s father), and now we are in the stunning town of Kalabaka. Kalabaka is the home of the famous Meteora monasteries and the views here are superb!
Day 13 – Not planning a big day, we lazed in this morning like true vacationers! Even though, we had already taken at least 100 photos of the gorgeous rocks and monasteries, we went up the mountain for even more. We just couldn’t get enough. Afterwards, we took a very leisurely drive to the coast and ended up in a town we’ve visited once before to have our favorite Greek dish, calamari. Don’t you just love the garlic truck?
Day 14 – Wow! Two weeks out of our three riding the rails, can you believe it? Today was just a fun day. We needed to get back to Thessonalika to return the rental car and catch our evening train. What is it with night trains anyway? It seems the further east we got the later the trains leave. I’m not sure I like it that way either.
At any rate, we had a wonderful breakfast and walked around the water’s edge near the White Tower. It’s a beautiful place, but it is hard to park. No need for a car there. Then we decided to go outside of the city, find a nice late lunch on a beach to do some wading. We found the perfect place in Peraia. There we had a leisurely afternoon, met some wonderful people, before dropping off the car. We made it to the train station (by bus) and took off for our next destination. Any guesses?
Day 15 – We’re in Skopje, Macedonia! We arrived late last night and took a bus to our hotel. The whole city seems to be under construction, but when we got to the main square it was hopping! The biggest attraction is a water fountain that plays with you and light. It’s a hit! We had a full day of touring today and visited the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Macedonia along with riding on a city tour and eating two great meals. All this in 90ish degree weather! Time to hit the showers and bed! Tomorrow we’re on to yet another brand new place for us. Where could we be going?
Day 16 – A hot day of riding the rails! We could have taken a night train out of Skopje to our next destination, but there were no sleeper cars. We opted for the day version, and even though we knew we would be melting most of the day in the humid heat we wanted to see some scenery. Of all our travel days thus far, I would say this was the most authentic, so much like what you expect when traveling in Eastern Europe. On this train, there were only two other small groups traveling and the rest were locals. We started out the day with a six-seat car all to ourselves and finished with it being full of new friends. Like most of the trains in the east, we started off on time and finished a good three hours late, but we had fun! Oh, and our new destination? Belgrade, Serbia. As soon as we crossed the border from Macedonia to Serbia the countryside was full of quaint farming villages. Unfortunately due to the lateness of our arrival, we also got to see the sunset from the train as well!
Day 17 – We are constantly surprised each time we see a new capital city. Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is spread out with hidden gems all over the city. The architecture is turn of the century gorgeous, the cafes are modern and comfortable, and the streets are packed with cute little shops. You have to look up, down, and all around to really get a good view of Belgrade. We had a great day exploring the city. Tomorrow we’re hitting the rails again. We’re heading northwest to a country we’ve visited before, but haven’t even begun to scratch the surface, and this time we’ll be exploring its capital city! Do you know where we’re headed?
Day 18 – We are in Ljubljana, Slovenia! We were riding the train the majority of the day, and we even rode quite some way through Croatia but didn’t stop. This time. We already know how much we love Croatia, and we know we’ll be back soon. The train ride was a little bit of everything today. No air conditioning in Serbia, but it miraculously came back on in Croatia…hmmm. It also rained a little today to help us escape from the oppressive heat we’ve been suffering from. Tomorrow we’ll be exploring this gorgeous city! (Note: Both photos were taken as we rode through Croatia.)
Day 19 – Ljubljana wins the prize for the most beautiful capital city in Eastern Europe. It is gorgeous, but the problem is the locals know it. It’s also one of the most expensive, and there were plenty of tour groups trying to get into my shots. We woke up early and hit the downtown, marveling at the stunning architecture. There were some outrageous designs and it was so much fun to see. We then played the real tourist and took the train up to the castle. This we were underwhelmed by, so we didn’t stay long and caught the funicular back down to the middle of town.
Late afternoon found us once again on the train, but this time for a short ride to Graz, Austria where we are spending the night. Graz, so far, is wet. We arrived just in time for the thunderstorm that is marching across Europe.
Day 20 – We woke up in Graz to more rain. Jim wanted to stay inside and let it just go away, but it never did. Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage city, and it is so pretty. The architecture was amazing, but I couldn’t get good photos. It’s a little difficult to juggle your camera, the umbrella, and try not to get rain drops on the lens. Argh! Later in the afternoon, we headed to the mountains and tomorrow we head home!
Day 21 – Well, this was it…our last day! Boo hoo! We have had so much fun riding the rails of Eastern Europe with a Eurail pass that we could go at least another 21 days! We’ve seen so much, met wonderful people, both locals and fellow travelers that it just fuels our desire to keep going! This last photo is a view from our hotel window in Austria. Stay tuned for further posts about our Eastern Europe adventures!
Have you taken an epic train trip in Europe? Any tips?