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European Cities Ranked

This is fairly arbitrary

So, as my last post and in continuing with the idea of giving advice to future backpackers (and hopefully in the process telling you all a little about my experiences) I’ve decided to rank the different cities I went to in a variety of categories. Please note that I am know Madrid much better than any other city, having lived there for a month and a half, and am thus biased towards it, so I’ve omitted it unless it wasn’t first.

1)Best Traditional food
Rome—There is nothing quite like Italian in Italy. I still maintain that members of my family can cook better than the food I had, but as far as my travels went.Yum.
Madrid—Cañas y tapas any day of the week for me.
Paris—Les Croques Madames were amazing, and while half the time I wasn’t sure what I was ordering, it was good all the time.
Budapest—Spicy sausage and strong cheese. It certainly had its pizzazz.
Berlin—I just wasn’t as taken with the sausage as I thought I would be
Vienna—The traditional beef patty tasted just a little too much like rubber for my liking

2)Best food on the run (Kebabs, and other quickies)
Vienna—The Bratswurst was amazing after at the end of a night of partying and great for lunch the next day.
Berlin—Damn good Doner, despite some political differences I may have had with the people making them.
Rome—Pizza on the go, spectacular
Budapest—An alright Kebab, it certainly got the job done when you were hungry
Venice—Reheated cruddy pizza that was overpriced. Not my cup of tea.
Paris—Stay far away from Parisian pizzas and kebabs. Far far away.

3)Best Metro/Public transportation system
Vienna—By far the easiest to navigate, cleanest and safest subway I was on in my travels. Before every stop a little cathedral bell sounds and they announce the station. Very cool
Venice—One of its bright spots was its boat public transportation. I mean come on, you are on a boat going around Venice, how could it not be in the top three.
Paris—Tough at first because the city is so large and they have a lot of lines, but once you get the hang of it, you can get where you need to go
Berlin—Fairly easy to navigate, but some of the stations were questionable. Some of them reminded me of old school east Germany, which was cool, but not the safest feeling in the world.
Budapest—Just really really hard for an Anglophone to get around. Not much help from the locals in finding your way. Once you get the hang for it, its alright, but not the safest feeling by any means.
Rome-Awful and atrocious. I was in the metro once before I decided I’d walk for 5 hours before I got in it again. It smelled, was overcrowded, pickpockets were everywhere. Reminded me of the NYC subway system in the 80s. Stick with the busses.

Most Historically Significant
Rome—Hands down, I’ve never been so overwhelmed by historic significance ever in my entire life. Just walking through the Imperial Forum was a dream come true.
Paris—Gotta give it up here, if only for the L’ouvre and L’orsay which house some amazing amazing works of art.
Madrid—Prado, El Escorial. It definitely has its charms.
Vienna—From gun towers to the Hapsburgs, Vienna is chockfull of history.
Budapest—The castle district is overwhelming and the view of their parliament is to die for. Castles along the Danube (historic in itself). It has a great history.
Venice—Traditional clothing and traditional music could be heard from time to time, free museums that helped to explain the history probably also pushed this one past Berlin
Berlin—Outside of the Berlin wall, Holocaust memorial and a couple of restored buildings, I think we’d all agree Germany has a brighter future rather than past.

Most backpacker friendly (Cheapest)
Budapest—With a conversion rate of 1 euro to 250 forrent (sp?) You can live like a king for fairly cheap. (I lived more like a Duke)
Berlin—I suppose it helps that I stayed with friends rather than paying for my own place, but even the metro was easy to jump without paying (bad, but entirely too easy not to). Very cheap beer also.
Vienna—Cheap, but once you start with the coffee, you can’t stop. Getting around on the metro (sin pagar) was a lot like Berlin, easy to do
Rome—Cheap is sort of the opposite of life in Rome, but compared to Venice and Paris, accommodations weren’t that bad.
Paris—1.40 for a metro pass and no way to jump. Very pricey food and an expensive lifestyle, not so good for the penny-pincher
Venice—Tourist Haven=Pay out the *ss. Yes it was probably as bad if not worse than Paris, I didn’t even have a good meal there.

Best Hostels—
Mellow Mood (Budapest)—awesome common room bar, great staff, centrally located. You really get good bang for your buck. Very Clean.
Hostel Circumnait (Paris)—see above, definitely would be a lot better if their common room was a little larger. Awesome neighborhood. Very Clean.
Freedom Traveler (Rome)—Again see above. People were actually a little more close minded here than the other too, but cheap and clean.
Wombats (Vienna)—Good environment. Very American.
Hotel Marte (Venice)—Eh…no common room and slow slow service.

Nicest People (locals)—
Vienna—People would approach you, speak to you in English and try to help you get to where you were going. Very amiable. People were very easy to talk to in Cafes.
Berlin—Again, maybe it was just that I was staying with friends, but they were awesome people and so were there friends. Good times.
Paris—Despite the stereotype I found that a good-faithed effort to speak French got you by perfectly well.
Rome—Outside of the pickpocketers on the metro, it wasn’t that bad. People were happy to talk to you, so long as it was in Italian. Also, good luck crossing the street.
Venice—I don’t even think there were natives there.
Budapest—Yikes, I dunno the people I met seemed uninterested and borderline rude, with the exception of the one man that helped on the Metro. Even he warned, however, people were mean.

Most aesthetically pleasing
Vienna—Hands down that city was BEAUTIFUL to look at. Definitely in a class of its own. Even the least touristy place and most urban area had a real beauty to it.
Paris—Monmartre. Le tour d’eiffel. Champs d’eleysee. Need I say more?
Venice—Unbelievable. The city built in the sea. The canals were great. The narrow walkways were awesome when they weren’t full of tourists.
Budapest—The castle district was in a class of its own. The view of Parliament was amazing. Really Budapest, Paris and Venice could go in any order from 2-4.
Rome—It always makes me think of Rome, when the sunset hits the buildings… I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace. Actually outside of the ruins I wasn’t quite as impressed.
Berlin—Modernly pretty, but not quite over the whole addition of Eastern Berlin yet.

Overall Favorites—A word here, this is very tough and I really enjoyed my time in EVERY city. This list is pretty much just if someone put a gun to my head and said I could only see one of these cities one more time; this is the order I’d rank ‘em in. That said the first two are pretty much a toss up Vienna is a really close third.
Paris—It’s a real close one here with Rome and Vienna, but I think I’d have to say Paris if I absolutely had to. Yeah the sites and the museums were great, but it really did have a certain je ne se qoui about it. Plus it was great to speak and understand French
Rome—The history here is amazing. I think that alone ranks it up near the top. Add in the food and hearing Italian all the time and you get another first place finisher.
Vienna—If only to sit on a hill and look at the city. That, the coffee, and the people and you have a great great city. I definitely want to go back.
Budapest—Maybe a surprise finisher here, but it was a really cool town on the Danube with a great night life. I had an amazing time here and the sights would be worth seeing again.
Berlin—I think about 20 years from now this will be a great city. It might just be a little soon since the combination. The lack of real historic sights to see, also hurt it in the rankings.
Venice—Poor city, came in dead last almost every time. It is a great city, but not somewhere I’d recommend going alone. That said I still had a great time there and wouldn’t trade in my time for there for the world.

So, C’est ca. Guys thanks so much for reading and emailing me. Special thanks to family, (especially, mom, dad, gran, UB, AB, and Katie) friends and of course to KB for supporting me in my travels and my time here in Europe. It was indeed a journey of a life time and I am very glad to have partaken in it. I could pull a Jshlo (lets see if she even sees this) and turn this into a live log journal, but I’m not traveling around anymore and if you wanna know how I’m doing, you all know where to find me in New York, my final destination.

If you’ve noticed, I published this in the good ol’ USA.

Back again.


Posted by JohnnyPing 04:37 Archived in USA

Advice to Backpackers

My two cents

Back in Madrid and headed back to the states tomorrow. And thus concludes my European Saga. I truely have been there and back again. A couple of words here. Thanks to my parents, UB, AB, and Granny for helping to make my trip to and around Europe possible. I'd have been very hungry come Venice if not for their help (or I wouldn't have been able to get around!)

To those of you planning to travel or starting to, I have a couple of words of advice:

1) Don't shave, no one does. Its a cultural thing, you are a backpacker, a poor traveler who barely has enough to make ends meet. You are lucky if your hostel has a toilet, much less a sink. And if you see someone who shaves, be suspicious of them. How does he have the time to shave? He's a fake back-packer.

2)Stay in Hostels and Be open-minded. I guess the latter is more for people who plan on travelling in groups. I travelled alone and somehow it never felt like I was ever actually alone. You will run into so many people from all over the world and get to know them all. Honestly, one of the pleasent surprises of my trips was discovering its as much fun meeting people as it is seeing the sights.

3)Have lots of money. That one is self-explanitory. Anything less then 1500 is pushing it for two weeks (believe me).

4)Don't plan too much detail. Your plans are going to change. Accept it. As a matter of fact, what really makes an adventure is showing up in a city without any idea where you are going to stay, buying a map, finding an internet, and finding a place to stay, all in another language. You'll learn the city in the process. Don't do this if you get in after dark though, thats overwhelming and irritating. You might end up at a Korean Youth Hostel where Italian with a strong Korean accent is the lingua franca.

5)Spend more time then I did in each city. I know its tempting, but dont bite off more than you can chew. Its tiring to always be on the move and to run through the sites day in and day out gets old. If you do go for the whirlwind like I did, make sure you give yourself one day every 4ish to do NOTHING but read or relax or meet people. You'll be refreshed the next day.

6)Don't forget.. you are in EUROPE. Its easy to lose sight of that when running around from place to place. Step back and take it all in at some point

7)Learn basic manners in every country you go to. I don't speak more than one word of hungarian, but the one word I do know (phonetically spelt here) is gusanum, which means thank you. It goes a long way to atleast make a small effort in every country you go to, and its a pleasent surprise to the person you are talking to if at the end of the conversation you throw in a word in their native language.

8) Don't judge sketchy people too harshly, remember you look just as sketchy with your ugly beard.

So there are a couple of tidbids. I think I have one more post left in me where I will rank in order the diferent cities I went to in a number of diferent categories.

Saludos y Hasta Mañana

Posted by JohnnyPing 12:27 Archived in Spain

Paris- Day 2, the museums


So as I’m sure some of you may have noticed (actually probably not) my last post was posted at 11 AM. I had set my alarm to get up yesterday (9/28) at 8 AM. But after the fiasco of the night before I suppose I was just exhausted and don’t even remember turning my alarm off. In any event I was out of the hostel by 11:30 and off to the museums

There were two that I really wanted to go to and I knew I was in trouble with timing, because whichever I went to first I’d spend a lot of time at and the second one would be rushed. I had to choose between L’Orsay and the L’Ouvre. Those of you who don’t know what Orsay is, it’s pretty much the Mecca of Impressionism, which also happens to be my favorite period in art history. I figured if I went to the L’Ouvre first, I’d never make it to Orsay so I went there first.

It was, of course, unbelievable. Renoir, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Gaughin, Seraut and Segnac. The list goes on, of course, but those are a just a couple of big names to mention a few. I only went to the impressionist (and post-impressionism, it was right there) part of the museum, they had pre-impressionism as well, but I figured I’d never get out of there if I stopped there. I will say, seeing Van Gogh’s artwork up close… it’s just hard to into words. Renoir remains my favorite painter, but Monet was also unbelievable up close. It was just amazing.

Of course that was like 3 hours right there, so I made my way over to L’Ouvre and it’s HUGE. They give you a fairly useless map right at the beginning and I felt like I was lost from the get-go. I was going to wonder aimlessly, but I would probably still be there if I had, so I gave myself a target…the Mona Lisa. Walking there was tough, I mean you pass these great pieces of art and you just don’t have time to look at all of them. It’s really tough.

Now a word about the Mona Lisa, it’s a great piece of art, but to get to see it you pretty much have to elbow your way through rows of tourists about 15 lines deep. I stayed, but not for long. My logic was, yeah it’s beautiful, but there is SO much art here and so little time, I’m not going to arm wrestle 1500 tourists crowding around it when I can see great pieces of art made by the other Ninja turtles. I don’t think I looked at it for more than 3 minutes.

One of my favorite paintings that sticks out in my mind right now was by David (I think). It was a picture of the coronation of Napoleon. The story goes that he was kneeling before the pope to receive the crown when he stood up, took it from the pope’s hand, held it for everyone to see and then placed it on his own head. Cocky sun of a gun, wasn’t he? But the painting is of him holding up the crown for all to see. It was huge and really captured the moment, especially the Pope standing there looking like he had just swallowed a lemon. It was great.
After walking through the renaissance area and seeing all the greats, I meandered on down to the antiquity area and saw the Venus of Milo. Very cool. From the Greek area I went to the Roman area where I think they had a statue of every single emperor. It was awe inspiring; to look at the same statue Augustus and every other emperor looked at and gave his approval to. It was great.

So that was my day yesterday. I was back to the hostel by about 6. I came back with a bottle of cheap (it’s all cheap in France) wine and a loaf of bread and sat in the common area. People would come by, I’d offer some wine and bread and the next thing you know there are five of us, everyone went and bought a bottle of wine and we shared it all. It was pretty cool just chatting with random people from all over the world. Once other people realized we weren’t a group traveling together, but random people, lots of people came by and we pretty much sipped wine from about 6 till 1. By the end, I think everyone was fairly done. Myself included. 7:30 came very very early this morning.

Anyway I’m completing the last leg of my trip here, a cheap flight from Paris to Madrid. I land in the states tomorrow at 1 PM and should be pretty jet-lagged and tired. But I’m looking forward to going back.

In any event, I think I have one more post in me, so don’t unsubscribe yet. I miss you all and can’t wait to see you.


Posted by JohnnyPing 12:25 Archived in France

Paris Day 1



Hello from Paris everyone. Let me just say that after Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy; French feels like English. I understand a good deal of it and when I put my mind to it can speak Spanish really well with a french accent. Actually Its unbelievable, French had been burried with like 4 years of Spanish and Spanish exposure, but after just one night and one day here I feel practically fluent in it. Everything is coming back to me. I Dont know what this means for my spanish, but I did run into a guy from venezuela and it seemed like it was still around, it could finally be that I speak three languages.... naaahhh...

So my last day in Venice was kind of lame. I went to the beach early and spent the rest of the day travelling or getting ready to travel to Paris. I got in super late and stayed with my former flatmate Nadia in the suburbs of Paris. Unfortunatley she failed to tell me that staying with her meant that I would have to be up and out by 7:15 in the morning. Those of you who know me best know that before 10:30 I'm not that pleasent and that before 8...its really bad. So there I was, 7:45 sitting outside notre dame with my backpack and my laptop bag cursing up a storm at anyone who would listen. I ended up walking around a lot of paris with the pack until I Found an internet cafe and by noon had found a hostel. Once I got rid of that pack I did some exploring again and I really really really like this city. Its one of my favorites here, it definitley has that je ne se quoi that everyone talks about. My hostel is in a great part of town, right by monmartre and yesterday I went up the eifel tower, took a stroll by the l'arc de triumph, down the champs eleysee and past the l'ouvre. Its a gorgeous city and despite peoples comments about the French being rude, Ive found that as long as you make a good effort in French, they are perfectly civil. (Interestingly enough they wont speak english to you, even if its clear you are struggling with French, it wasnt that way in any other country)

The view from the tower was pretty amazing, despite the rainyness and walking down the champs d'eleysee, I couldnt help but have flash backs to Madame D's class where she'd play that song over and over again in the language lab (for all you from pelham who took french). Last night it was to a french restuarant where I ordered from the menu expecting one thing and getting something else entirelly. It was still good though. Today its off to the l'ouvre and the mussee d'orlay. I don't know how I'll fit both of these museums in one day, but I'm gonna give it my best shot.

Tomorrow I head back to Madrid and the following day back to the states. Unbelievable.

Look for a posting later tonight.

Miss you all very much

Posted by JohnnyPing 01:59 Archived in France


My Italian is improving!

Though I suppose it had no where to go but up in the first place...

So once again it was up well before it was light out. Unfortunatley sleep didn't come well to me last night. I had ajita about being overbooked again the following morning and I didnt fall asleep until about 12:30. From there it was two txt messages from vodafone at 1:30 and 1:45 respectively about not having money on my cell (which I already knew) and then one of my roomates going to the bathroom at 2:30 and next thing you know its 3:55 and Im up. Tragic.

So Im in downtown venice by 8 AM and, similar to Rome, its sort of wonder around until you happen upon a place to stay (otherwise, where is the adventure). After swimming across a couple of canals, I finally found a place (joke). I was completely exhausted and was soon informed I couldnt check in until las dua, which was 12 or 2, I wasn't sure which. In either event I had a lot of time to kill so I explored Venice. It is ALSO unbelievable. The canals are great and trying to navigate your way aroudn on foot is hillarious. There are so many dead ends and random canals that get in your way.

Anyway I saw a lot of sights, most of which I know little about. St. Marks bascillica was awesome, and they had a giant tower of the Plaza of St. Marks from which the view of Venice, Id imagine, was amazing. Seeing as the line was 4325436534534 people long and stretched around the plaza, I wasnt about to bum around and find out.

Moving quickly in Venice is impossible. Narrow streets and thousands of tourists, and it pretty much took 5 hours to get there and back again, by which poin my room was ready and I promptly slept for three hours.

I continued my tour, this time via public transportation which was a boat that went through the canals. I got some awesome pics on an overpriced disposable camera that I will share as soon as I get back to the states. Thats about all for the day. Just a real lot of walking .

And a word to those who are thinking about coming to Venice. its EXPENSIVE. Dont say I didn't warn you.

Tomorrow I'm up early and going to the beach before I head off to Paris, my final stop before returning to Spain. I miss you all very much and am thinking about you all.


Posted by JohnnyPing 12:04 Archived in Italy

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