I had 2 more hours till my flight back to Japan so I was chilling and plugged in at the Helsinki airport facing the adorable Moomin shop and reflected on the entire two weeks I spent in Europe. I know many Singaporeans before me have traversed Europe and covered many countries on a tight budget but I wanted to take things slower and have more time to breathe. Also, it was my chance to meet up and reunite with friends in Europe. I do plan to get individual posts out about the different places I visited but for now, this overview or tl;dr version of the trip will have to do.
Singapore → Paris → Berlin (→Poland) → Prague → Berlin → Osaka
4 nights in Paris→ 6 nights in Berlin (→Daytrip to Szczecin, Poland) →3 days, 2 nights in Prague → 1 night in Berlin
I flew Finnair, with transits in Helsinki both ways. They’re not bad, the seats were comfy enough for me and I had enough leg room (though I’m really short so I don’t need much anyhow) and the entertainment system wasn’t great but good enough that I could enjoy watching The Fault In Our Stars and bawling my eyes out. The entertainment system on the flight to Osaka was markedly better than Singapore -> Helsinki with a much wider range of movies. I caught X-men: Days of Future Past and The Veronica Mars movie as well as 2 Broke Girls and Don’t Trust The B In Apartment 23.
Leg 1: PARIS, FRANCE
Paris is frightfully expensive. I spent 1/3 of my budget in Paris, and that was already me being rather frugal (aka not eating out every single meal of every single day etc). I did splurge about 30€ on souvenirs (sweets, chocs, post cards etc) and 13.10€ went to transport tickets.
To be honest, Paris is overrated. It’s still a nice place to visit but far from the splendour you may believe it to be. The first thing my friends asked me when I arrived in Paris was “Do the roads smell of pee?” and the answer is yes. Paris is unbelievably dirty and not the most cost efficient if you’re on a tight budget.
Paris → Berlin via easyJet ~110€
Yeah, it was pricey but the other options weren’t exactly the cheapest and it was the fastest. Getting to Paris Orly airport was fairly easy, the only problem was that escalators or elevators are non existent in Paris metro/subway and the turnstiles/ticket gates are a pain in the butt to get your luggage through.
It’s fairly painless to navigate, I only had to change lines once to get to Antony where the shuttle to Orly is. The flight itself was also pretty good, just something to take note of when flying via budget airlines: Make sure you know what you paid for and just stick to it. I bought 26kg of baggage to be safe, and didn’t have any hand carry except my laptop/electronics. Also: CHECK THE AIRPORTS THE AIRLINES FLY OUT OF AND INTO. Ryanair only flies out of some weird far out airports in Paris which are a pain to get to.
Leg 2: BERLIN, GERMANY
Berlin is cheap; “Cheap but sexy”, or so the locals say and I agree. It’s really different from other parts of Germany and a friend who went to Munich returned completely mindblown. One word: Beer. Oh, the beer. You can get it for as low as 0.19€ (but don’t) and even the ones priced about 1€ at the supermarket are pretty good. Get home brews at 0.5L for 3€ (We went to Hops & Barley; try home brewed Cider too! Worlds better than Somersby) and wonder where German beer has been all your life. Cocktails are also really good (and much stronger too)!
We visited a farm outside of Berlin which thanks to Pumpkin season had heaps of all kinds of pumpkin everywhere and all sorts of pumpkin produce! I also fell in love with currywurst, much to my friend’s amusement. And, and, and, try to find as many Berlin bears as you can!
Berlin → Poland via Train ~15€ (two-way)
Leg 3: SZCZECIN, POLAND
It took about 2.5 to 3 hours to get to Szczecin, Poland and in total we only spent 20€ (including indulging in a pricey lunch at an upscale restaurant) there which was more than enough. Transport within the city was included in our train tickets so we could hop on and off the tram anytime, but it’s pretty small and most attractions are within walking distance of each other.
Do grab a map from the tourist information booth at the train station to map your away around. Lots of churches and memorials but also shopping centers to check out if that’s what you’re into. The harbour is pretty – grab some snacks and take a breather there.
Oh and, SZCZECIN SMELLS LIKE CHOCOLATE. We walked all around and the smell of chocolate/brownies being baked kept following us everywhere we went. Maybe it’s just us though but it was heavenly except when we were ravenous.
Berlin → Prague via Eurolines Bus 69€ (two-way)
Leg 4: PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Bus tickets are usually around 23€ one way if booked early but we didn’t have that luxury. Still, it wasn’t too pricey and the 4 hour ride was comfy, ample leg room, free bottle of water and snack given and there was a toilet in the bus. There’s also wifi but it’s quite bad.
Prague is STUNNING. Please, please, please try to include it in your itinerary if you can. And if you can’t afford Paris, go to Prague instead. We changed 60€ for the trip which is enough (I spent about 70€ in total, though), given we ate at slightly pricey places. 120kc on 5 tram passes were enough to last the entire trip and most sightseeing can be done on foot. We walked an entire day (~17km!!) and then a good 10km or so exploring the other two days. My legs are aching but it’s worth it. And once again, Beer. Czech beer is also good!!
I might be a bit biased in saying I enjoyed Prague the most because the company also made a big difference. In Prague I reunited with the best group of friends I made in university and we had a ball of a time catching up and exploring the cobbled streets, chasing swans and pigeons and finding the perfect angle for the perfect group selfie. We were all laughing more than half the time we were there and these friends were also the main reason why I went to Europe in the first place.
But seriously, Prague is STUNNINGGGGGG. I found the St Vitus Cathedral in Prague more beautiful than the Notre Dame in Paris which probably says quite a lot. I’m glad Paris was the first leg of my trip if not I would have probably regretted going and not enjoyed myself.
Overall cost (excluding travel costs between countries):
Paris: 200€ (excluding 120€ for accommodation)
Berlin: 150€ (Half of which was shopping and souvenirs)
I stayed with friends in Prague and Berlin which helped me save on accommodation. However, it’s still cheaper to stay in Berlin and Prague than Paris which will average about 50€ a night for a hotel. I did most of my non-souvenir related shopping in Berlin (clothes etc) but most of my expenditure probably went to food and drinks.
Poland (Szczecin): 3/5
Tips/Things I Learnt:
1. You will be walking a lot (the walking app on my phone said I averaged about 6 to 10km almost everyday). There are hills and stairs and cobbled streets which your legs and feet will not appreciate. Wear comfortable and good shoes with thick soles.
2. The food is heavy and rich. And the portions bigger. Probably not so gigantic that you can’t finish your food but because it’s richer, you feel full much faster.
3. You have to pay for toilets. In most places it costs about 0.50€ to use the toilet, even in shopping malls.
4. The wifi situation varies but it was the most difficult to get free wifi in Berlin. Prague had wifi almost everywhere (pretty much every restaurant/eatery will have free wifi).
5. Tipping is still something I don’t get. You will probably have to tip in most places and while it is not compulsory, it is frowned upon not to. That said, I have no idea what the set tipping policy is so I just followed what my friends paid.
6. You’ll realise that many locals don’t pay for or buy tickets to take the bus/tram etc. You will get a nasty fine if you’re caught, though, so you might not want to risk it. Do buy 3-day passes or day passes/week passes etc when it is the most cost efficient option. Most of the passes allow you to take all/most of the forms of transport.
7. Stay safe. Pickpocketing etc does happen but as long as you take precautionary measures like not leaving your belongings unattended and being careful, you should be fine. Don’t bring large amounts of cash with you in case you lose your wallet. Avoid buying from souvenir sellers without a stall (their stuff is usually bootleg anyway) because there have been cases where they grab your wallet when you take it out and run away.
8. Obviously don’t fall into “tourist traps” of eating and buying souvenirs in the main tourist areas. Prices are jacked up many, many times higher and you can usually find better for cheaper not too far away.
9. Find a good money changer without commission or withdraw money from an ATM. Check the charges with your bank first, though. Poland and Prague do accept Euro if you don’t have the local currency but it’s more expensive.
10. Some attractions have free entry at certain times/dates so check before hand. Some museums etc in Paris are free admission on the first Sunday of the month, for example.