It’s been a little over a year and a half since I couchsurfed Europe with one of my best lovely ladies, Ms. Erin Callahan of Austin, Texas. We’d both never been, we both wanted to go, so we both did. Easy enough. I was working as a Social Media Specialist for the largest private owner of bingo halls in the U.S. at the time (see my bingo rap video for proof) and Erin was working as a bartender at the restaurant where I met most of my friends to this day, good ole Z’ Tejas in downtown Austin.
After taking scattered suggestions from bar guests and bingo experts and all sorts of whatever-experts on the interwebs, we finally chose our European destinations – Amsterdam, Prague, Venice, Florence, Amalfi, and Barcelona. Originally we had also chosen Ibiza, but we would have gotten there right as the parties were ending for the year, and since you can pretty much take $20 shots of tequila in an empty bar anywhere in Europe, we skipped the crazy rave island and moved on.
We both saved up about $5,000 for the 22 day trip, figuring (and secretly hoping) that that would be enough to ball out in Europe and still come back with a few bucks to spare. To keep our costs to a minimum, our goal was to couchsurf the entire way through Europe. If you’re unfamiliar with Couchsurfing, it’s a website where you create a profile, inform people about where you’re planning on traveling and ask people to stay in their mansions/apartments/shacks/homes/vans/boats/whatever in exchange for the pleasure of your company. It’s a great way to meet locals, fellow travelers and perhaps the best perk, it’s completely FREE. That’s the requirement. And why might total strangers invite other total strangers into their private abodes to stay on their couches and spare rooms for free, might you ask? Because traveling is a funny thing, and once you start doing it more, you understand why it’s interesting, great and sometimes even necessary to meet other people like you. And not like you.
So on we went.
Couchsurfing Europe: Amsterdam & Prague
Day 1-3: Amsterdam
After a very restless 10 hour flight from Houston to Amsterdam, the first thing I did upon landing was puke. Actually we hadn’t even landed yet. And actually the beverage cart was blocking my way to the bathroom, so I had to puke in one of those flimsy paper bags and then run to the bathroom as the plane was landing. Welcome to Europe.
An hour and one wrong train later, we made it to Grand Central Station in Amsterdam. Game on. We did the usual Amsterdam stuff the first day, eating at charming cafes, drinking wine by the canal, walking through the Red Light District, smoking
giant spli cigarettes. It was glorious. I even got so confused for a moment that I honestly thought I was walking around a very realistic Amsterdam-themed hotel in Las Vegas. Those are some strong cigarettes, my friends.
After hours of wandering around and seeing all the gorgeous places, buildings and people, we headed to our first couchsurfing house. Our cabbie dropped us off on the wrong street, so after a few minutes of wandering around wondering what the hell to do, we ran into a normal lookin’ dude to ask for help.
“Hey, can you help us find this address? I think we’re in the wrong place.”
“What do I look like, some tall Dutch guy?”
Turns out the normal lookin’ dude was Brian from Austin, Texas. It’s a small world.
He helped us find our new home for the next couple days, a very nice apartment within walking distance to just about everything in Amsterdam, for which we were thankful after a long day of craziness. We met our first host, Melahn, a Miami-born, strange but nice guy who gave us his museum passes, told us to check out Anne Frank’s house and even made us dinner. Rad first day complete.
The next day, we woke up super early and headed to Anne Frank’s house, which I highly recommend, and then onto more cafes, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, book stores, coffee shops and so on. I really, really loved it here. Everyone looks like a damn fashion model, rides their bike everywhere and is awesomely friendly, even to two small white chicks who don’t speak a lick of Dutch. They also live on houseboats and have their small children stand on the back of their bike seats and hang on for dear life while they cruise the crowded streets. It’s a strange, refreshing and slightly terrifying thing to see parents trust their kids so much. And see so many people successfully riding bikes. Ahem.
After two days of walking miles upon miles around Amsterdam, we decided we were ready to make our next move to Prague. We hadn’t booked any sort of train or transit tickets from one city to the next before the trip, figuring it would be better to leave it open-ended in case we wanted to leave a place early or stay somewhere longer, so we headed to the train station and booked the next available overnight train to the Czech Republic.
Melahn was a great first host and gave us a very accurate reading after two days of knowing us… “you consistently punch bigger than your size.” We’ll take it. We made him a list of new music to check out, exchanged hugs and left for the next adventure.
Day 3: The Train to the Czech Republic
Imagine 6 beds (3-level bunk beds on each side) in a room slightly roomier than the average walk-in closet. That was our home for the next 14 hours.
With little to no room to do anything besides lay down, we quickly made friends with our bunkies, including a lady from San Antonio who smoked weed out the window, a young girl named Sarah traveling solo from Australia (who we later found out made it to Paris to live for a bit) and a 2 other people who did not want to be our friends. The train ride went off without a hitch, stopping several times throughout the night to drop people off in Germany, and we arrived in Prague the next afternoon, sleep deprived but ready to rumble. Wow, I haven’t said that since 1997.
Day 4-7: Prague
If you ever have the chance to go to Prague, do it. Don’t think twice. This place rocks and is one of the most beautiful, weird, interesting places I’ve ever been.
We initially got lost and walked through the abandoned, slightly ghetto part of the city close to the train station, but finally found our way to Charles Bridge, the most touristy and awesome bridge in all the land. We rented a paddle boat (is that what those are called?) and paddled our happy asses around in small circles, looking at all the crazy architecture and swans and generally having an amazing time being somewhere new and unfamiliar with no chance of speaking the language. Czech be crazy, y’all.
After having probably the best pizza on our whole trip (sorry, Italy) and a couple glasses of celebratory wine, we found a policeman to ask for directions to our next couchsurfing host house, who quickly and dismissively pointed in a random direction and then said “okay bye”, leaving no more opportunity for tourist question time. Fair enough.
One thing we did not know is that Prague is big. And when you have no idea where you’re at in a big city and only an address that looks like it was thrown up by consonants, it’s not that easy to find said address, especially when no one or their mom speaks your language. We took a cab to our next couchsurfing house, where we met Michelle, who treated us to homemade strudel, kisses from her dog Simba, her lovely company and a nice foldout futon. Our only directions were “not to wake up before 11:00am”. Done.
The next morning we took the train to the stunning Prague Castle, where we saw this famous dude wandering around with his family. We ordered triple cappuccinos and had ourselves a morning tobacco treat. When in Europe, right? After enjoying a delicious sauerkraut and bread bowl soup lunch, we walked across Charles Bridge to the top of the viewing tower, through the Jewish area of Prague and headed to Old Towne Square to watch the sunset and enjoy dessert. Since it was a little chilly outside, every single outdoor bar and restaurant offered you a blanket and heaters. How sweet. We accidentally sat down at Coyote Ugly, of all un-charming places, and met some Italian guys that invited us to tag along to a local underground jazz club. And by underground I mean it was down some stairs in a carved-out cave literally under the ground. Sweet.
The next day we left our second couchsurfing host and moved onto the 3rd, a funny Nigerian guy named Gody who stayed up late, laughed, danced and drank wine with us till the early hours of the morning before he had to go to work. We spent the rest of our time in Prague wandering through the Old Town Square and drinking beers in the park before our next overnight train to Venice. Having spent a relatively large amount of money the first couple days in Amsterdam, we hardly spent anything in Prague and lived like less flashy versions of Jay Z the entire time… appetizers, desserts, bottles of wine, you name it. If you’re looking to save some cash and still have a ballin’ time, Prague’s the place to do it.
…Italy, Spain and France, to be continued.