I glanced down at my phone and chuckled. There was a sarcastic text from my Grandpa Harry saying, “What part of the world are you in today?” To his defense, it was a valid question. After the group travel week in Greece, we had the next week and a half free for independent travel.
When we first learned we had a two week Easter Recess, we were all filled with excitement about the free time to travel. But reality hit when we realized that planning such an adventure was a bit more time consuming and challenging than we expected; I didn’t even know where to start. I had never planned a journey this length before, and this is my first time to Europe, so I had no prior knowledge of where to visit.
After many, many many days of attempting to brainstorm, Wyatt and I planned out our tentative itinerary. Our list included Switzerland, Brussels and Budapest. We ironed out the details and checked everything off our to do lists-- we were ready!
First step, Switzerland! From Athens, we flew into Milan, Italy for night before we caught a train to Switzerland. Our time in Milan consisted of overpriced and low quality pizza, being charged a seating fee for eating at a restaurant, our taxi driver not speaking any English, and the comforting smell of continental hotel breakfast only to find out it wasn’t complementary with our reservation. It’s safe to say, we were ready to board our train to Switzerland.
Our eyes were glued outside the train window as we carved our way through the Swiss Alps. Wyatt and I glanced at each other when we saw our first soaring mountain, and with each turn of the tracks the view was even more impressive than the last. We were giddy with excitement. We spent three days in Switzerland, and it was not enough time to see all of the beautiful countryside. Wyatt and I promised each other we would go back some day, but maybe when we are traveling on more than a college budget. We had been warned by fellow travelers about how expensive Switzerland was, but Switzerland was VERY EXPENSIVE. For reference, pizza and pasta entrees ranged from 30-50€!! How outrageous? Wyatt and I opted for buying groceries and making most of our meals. Although we did cave and buy traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue. Dipping our fluffy bread squares into the warm rich-aged Swiss Cheese which was quite the experience, but probably not worth 52€.
During our trip planning, we read about the benefits of purchasing a EUrail travel pass for travel in Europe. And thank goodness we bought that pass! We saved over 300€ with our 'first class' EUrail (Yes we were the only college students in first class, but it was only 15€ more and completely worth it).
With our EUrail pass we were able to take two day trips to explore Switzerland gems; Zermatt and Lauterbrunnen.
Zermatt is home of the famous Matterhorn peak, which is the inspiration for the Toblerone and Paramount Pictures logos. Picture the rustic character of a Colorado ski town and then amplify x10. Surrounded by mountain peaks on all sides, Zermatt is the cutest community only accessible by train and where cars are not allowed to be driven. The only form of transportation are mega golf carts and your two walking feet. One piece of advice we have from Switzerland is to double check what season it is! We had expectations to hike around the mountain and visit the picturesque sites we have seen on social media. Unfortunately, since it was still 'wintertime' there and snow was covering the hiking trails, the most famous lake portraying the reflection of the Matterhorn was iced over, and to top it all off, the tip of the Matterhorn was hidden behind the clouds all day. But regardless, Zermatt was an incredible ski town embraced by towering peaks. (P.S. we also learned that Zermatt ski resorts are famous because they are open 365/year)
The next day, we visited Lauterbrunnen,which had honestly the most postcard perfect views. Wyatt and I kept asking each other, "Is this actually real life?" Lauterbrunnen is the most genuinely beautiful places I have, and probably will ever visit. It is referred to as the 'most magical place in Switzerland'. Lauterbrunnen is the perfect combination of majestic waterfalls emerging from the sides of steep rock cliffs and the unique charm of Swiss character. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit such an unbelievable masterpiece, the country of Switzerland. We also got personalized engraved Swiss Army knives as souvenirs.
Sadly our time in Switzerland came to an end, and we started on our journey to Brussels, Belgium via train (thank you EUrail). The travel journey to Brussels was MUCH longer than expected. I will spare you all the nitty-gritty details. But it went something like this-- nine hours of trains, paying to get downgraded to second class, not eating a solid meal all day, sprinting through the streets of Paris as fast as the four baby wheels on our suitcase could move, cramming into crowded public metro in Paris with our turtle backpacks and luggage, waiting for a train to Brussels that never came (it got canceled), being stranded in Paris for the night, waiting for the train company to find us a hotel for the night, being sent to a hotel that had no rooms available, overstaying our welcome in the train company lounge, and finally resting our head at 4:30 in the train station hotel reserved for the conductors. And to top it all off, our train the next morning was also delayed an hour. We started to think, "Are we ever going to make it to Brussels?"
But Brussels was so worth the hassle! The food in Brussels is something to write home about-- I still dream about it every day since. Due to the Paris fiasco, our time in Brussels was trimmed short, but we squeezed everything we could and more.
Here is an overview of our time in Brussels through food. We ate like kings and queens. Naturally, we had to try the famous Belgian waffle, so we Googled and found the best place in town. Maison Dandoy had the waffles that were out-of-this-world. The batter was freshly poured into the warm griddle to produce the sweet delicacy- crispy on the outer edge and chewy dense inside. Topped with strawberries and cream- careful, you will want to buy ten more before you leave Brussels. Next we tried Brussels fries at Fritland, which were much bigger portions than we expected. We could have shared a batch, but hey when in Brussels, right? For breakfast, I am pretty sure we found the best cafe in Brussels, and I would recommend anyone who visits Brussels to visit. We liked it so much we went twice in our two days in Brussels. Hinterland Cafe had the most extravagant breakfast dishes. Here are some of our favorites; mango & pistachio pancakes served with mango coulis, whipped soy cream, crushed pistachios, coconut flakes, maple syrup, and bacon & banana french toast on brioche bread served with fresh banana, maple-fried bacon, toasted almonds, and maple syrup, and Golden Mylk, with coconut mylk, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon. Our favorite meal is breakfast, and it is safe to say we were in heaven. After breakfast, we took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium, famous for its medieval architecture, canals and cobbled streets. Fun fact- Bruges was one of the only towns that was not bombed in WWI! In Bruge, we visited The Chocolate Line, the world's smallest chocolate factory. They had the most exotic flavors; Bacon, Chili Pepper, Fried Onion, Wasabi, Matcha and the list goes on. We loved our sample pack of three so much we went back three times to try more chocolate flavors. We even bought chocolates for our family to bring our chocolate experience home with us. Our taste buds definitely enjoyed Brussels.
The final stop in our spring break journey was Budapest, Hungary. Yes Grandpa Harry, it is almost time to go back to 'reality'. Sadly, the original AirBnB home had a pipe burst and we HAD to be upgraded to a higher end and more centrally located apartment. Such a bummer. We had a quick day in Budapest, but hit all the popular sites; Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament Building, and Fisherman Bastion to name a few. We also caught an aerial view from the top of a Ferris Wheel, and sampled authentic kürtőskalács (chimney cakes) which are sweet dough is wrapped around a cylindrical baking spit roasted over charcoal and rolled in caramelized sugar and lángos which is Hungarian fried bread. We were also able to meet up with a fellow Luther Malta traveler, Evan Walker, who was visiting Budapest too! We loved our time in Budapest!
We had the most amazing time country hopping around Europe. At the end of our adventure, Wyatt admitted, "We just planned an entire week and half journey, and nothing went wrong. That is probably the most adult thing we have done." I couldn't agree more. Even though there were a few bumps in the road, we managed to learn and grow from them. We are so thankful for this opportunity!
But now it is time to get back to Malta and delve into our classes again. After our journey came to a close, I see another text from my Grandpa Harry, "So are you actually back in school yet or still traveling the world?"
Well Grandpa, I am actually doing both!