We called this year’s summer trip the Donauwelle. Literally, it means Danube Wave, and it’s a traditional cake often found in Germany and Austria. The goal was to visit three major cities where Europe’s second-longest river flows through:
We’ve been extremely busy these past few months because of our move to Berlin last month and that’s why I had not even prepared half an itinerary for this trip. It’s the first time we’re traveling with no plans whatsoever, we just did some minor research on the best sights of each of these cities. This has proven to be a little chaotic but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be. I’m sure we’ve missed a few sights and some of our tours were badly timed but I am just glad we have survived it and we are back home with no regrets. 🙂
So here is an outline of our trip:
July 26-29, 2016 – left for Bratislava from Berlin SXF with Ryanair. Booked a studio apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 116 € for 3 nights / Ryanair flight 50,98 € for two – Berlin SXF to Bratislava
July 29 – August 1, 2016 – left for Vienna via Twin City Liner (ca. 1h 30m boat ride). Booked a whole apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 145 € for 3 nights / Twin City Liner boat ride 50 € for two – Bratislava to Vienna
August 1-4, 2016 – left for Budapest via Orange Ways (ca. 3h 15m bus ride). Booked a whole apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 78 € for 3 nights / Orangeways bus ride 20 € for two – Vienna to Budapest
August 4, 2016 – flight back to Berlin with Easyjet. Easyjet flight 132,82 € – Budapest to Berlin SXF
We were up for another bus ride and, this time, it was headed towards the nation’s capital, Mardrid!
Bus ride València – Madrid per person via Avanzabus: 29,75 €
We arrived at our Airbnb sometime in the afternoon and our host was nice and friendly. Her name is Pilar, and she just set the bar so high! We booked another private room but she actually made sure we had everything we needed, and more!
We were just really tired from not getting enough sleep the nights before so we just rested and called it a day.
Airbnb private room 10 mins away from Palacio Real for three nights: 68,- €
July 24, 2015
We didn’t have anything special planned for this day so we just walked around a little bit and bought some stuff that we needed. In the afternoon we decided to see a movie because I guess we were just tired of being tourists for the past week and a half so we did something locals would do on a day like this.
July 25, 2015
I guess we just felt so at home in Madrid that we even forgot that we were to leave the next day! Pilar had to remind us that our booking had only one night left so we rushed to do something out of our stay. And, quite obviously, we had to hit the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). We had hoped to come here on Monday afternoon for free entrance but since we will be gone by then, we were forced to pay for the entrance fee.
Entrance fee per person: 10,- €
Check out free rate conditions on their website.
Walking around town, you will find many a souvenir shops selling fans much like this one for 4 € to 6 € a piece. But, if you look long and hard enough, you will find some vendors selling them for 2 € each! Just try to explore around and do take your time. I easily took ten of them home. They also come in many different colours and designs.
July 26, 2015
We said our goodbyes to our lovely Airbnb host and went ahead to Chamartin train station to leave our luggage in a locker. We still had the whole day to stroll around because our train wasn’t leaving until 10PM and we just didn’t want to take so much stuff with us. Pilar has told us about the Teleférico so we checked that one out. It’s basically just a cable car that takes you from the city to Casa de Campo Park in a ten-minute ride. The view, of course, is amazing. They let you out at the park where you can stay for a picnic or just some siesta time before heading back.
Teleférico ride (per person): 5,60 €
We finally went back to Chamartin station and just had dinner there and waited for our train. Just around 45 minutes before our train was scheduled to leave, Joan sent me to the ATM to withdraw some cash but the machine asked for some six-digit pin from me which I didn’t have because I was only familiar with the four-digit pin (it’s still a mystery to us what the machine even wanted from me) so, unsure, I canceled the transaction but the machine refused to give me the card back! Which is bad enough if it happens to you in your own city, but how much more in a strange city you were supposed to be leaving in less than an hour! So we had to make do with the cash we still had left and withdrew some cash from another card in another city. All that stress, though!
Taking the night train was something we had yet to try. We were placed in a room for four females to sleep on our bunk beds and to wake up in a different city. It was a fun experience and we met this girl who was in the cabin with us whose name we’ve never gotten but she was very friendly and we got to talk a lot about politics and history and life. Now, the great thing about taking this train was the combination of transportation and a night’s accommodation. It’s something we would love to do again if it’s available in any of our next travels.
Renfe Trenhotel tourist bed for one night per person: 37,80 €
Madrid to Lisbon
Our planned last stop was Lisbon. We had a bit of trouble finding an Airbnb here because we have mistakenly booked one early on including the one night we were to sleep in the night train. We, of course, refused to pay double for that one night so we asked to move our check in date to the next day. The host didn’t agree, though, so we just canceled the whole deal (with free cancellation) and tried to look for another place. By this time, our trip was only two months away and all the cheap apartments with good reviews were gone. So we bit our tongues and booked a hotel room.
Hotel Macedo for three nights: 120,- €
While we were walking to our hotel that morning, I suddenly felt a burn on my bare shoulder. At first I thought it was a cigarette thrown from one of the balconies above that so happened to land on my bare skin. So when I looked, I was surprised to see a wasp! I had never been stung by a wasp before so I didn’t know what would happen next but soon after, I felt my throat closing up and I was short of breath. Good thing I’ve got some AH with me because of an unrelated incident that happened a few weeks prior where I also reacted badly to something I still haven’t figured out yet so I made sure to always keep some AH handy especially while traveling. I started breathing again almost immediately after taking the pill. The swelling on my shoulder was still there but it was gone completely by afternoon.
After we got checked in, we started to explore the old town. I did not do much research about Lisbon so I did not know what to expect. Oh, but it was gorgeous! The town’s aesthetic, the water, and the cool wind from the atlantic have made it easier to walk around. We decided to check out the Elevador de Sta. Justa. It’s an old urban lift completed in 1902 that takes you from the lower streets of Baixa to a higher part of town. We rode the lift for free because we had a public transportation ticket but you might want to check out the view up stairs for a small fee.
Entrance fee for viewing platform (per person): 1,50 €
July 28, 2015
We took a long walk up (more like, a hike) to Castelo São Jorge on this day only to find out on the way down that there is an elevator. The walk was uneventful but the view from up there, again, was magnificent.
Entrance fee at Castelo São Jorge per person: 8,50 €
View from one of their telescopes. Cristo Rei
Finally, we’ve had enough of our city tours. We had never done anything like this before and we had no idea how exhausting it could be. At this point we just wanted to relax and unwind before finally going back home and, with just two nights left, we decided to ditch our hotel and go to a relaxing place called Sintra. It’s just outside of the city and it’s famous for its castles and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So after we booked our Airbnb, we had to rent a car to get there because it was otherwise not possible to get to the house.
Rental car for three days: 165,- € Airbnb private room for two nights with breakfast: 112,- €
July 29, 2015
We got to our Airbnb rather late the night before so all we could do was rest. In the morning, breakfast was served in the garden. The place was so lovely and it had a swimming pool and our room had its own bathroom so it was more like a suite. One of our hosts then gave us a map and some tips for places we could go to. We chose three destinations out of seven, and we got a combination ticket for it. On this day, we only visited one of them, which was Palácio de Monserrate or Palace of Monserrate.
Combination tickets for three out of seven destinations (per person): 26,78 €
We went back to our Airbnb for a short swim then we went out to look for a grocery store. I guess we drove a bit too far out because, at the end of the road, we found a beach!
Praia do Magoito is a small surfer beach on the Atlantic coast. The waves are pretty strong here and the water is really cold even in the afternoon! It took me a lot of courage to take a dip because I couldn’t feel my toes anymore but when I did, it was the most liberating experience! There is no entrance fee to the beach but there are also no lockers so we went in individually. There’s also a small bistro so you don’t go hungry.
July 30, 2015
It was our last full day in Portugal and we said our goodbyes to our hosts and headed to our two remaining castles namely Palácio Nacional da Pena or National Palace of Pena and Castelo dos Mouros or Moorish Castle, respectively. Palace of Pena is a Romanticist palace and probably the most popular one in the area because of its colourful front.
Moorish Castle, on the other hand, is a medieval castle that has more of an eerie feel to it.
We went back to the city after our tours and just looked around for souvenirs and to see other places we have missed out.
At around 10:00PM that night, it was finally time to return our car but our flight wasn’t until the next morning. We did not book a room for the night because we were to take the first flight back home at around 6:00AM and we thought we could spare ourselves the trouble of finding a place for the few hours, not to mention finding a way to get to the airport that early. The plan was to sit around inside the airport but we found out there was a shopping mall nearby (Centro Colombo) that was open until midnight so we went there and had dinner and bought some snacks for the road. We also found out that the Portuguese liked watching Hollywood movies undubbed or in their original versions (that just isn’t the case back here in Germany) so we watched Paper Towns (the movie just came out at the time) which started after midnight and we were out at around 3:00AM. And with that, we only had a few hours to kill off at the airport and that’s how we saved one night of hotel costs. 🙂
July 31, 2015
I am just so glad everything worked out the way it did. This whole vacation had been such a great learning experience for us especially when it comes to planning our next travels. We’ve learned how it’s alright to make mistakes, be spontaneous, and to spend a little more than what we’re comfortable with if it meant a better experience. I remember getting back home and we were still in such a haze and we just sat in the park across the street (which we’d never done before) at night talking about the past two weeks we’ve just had. Coincidentally, there was also a Blue Moon that night.