Bernadett Szabo / Reuters
Three cities that really stood out for me are Prague, Budapest and Warsaw. Each offered a distinct take on the intersection between culture, cocktails and nightlife -- and each served a different kind of traveller.
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The countries of Central Europe -- especially the ones that were part of the Communist bloc -- don't attract the foodie kind as much. It's not surprising, since communism did serious damage to all kind of culture, including gastronomy. But Prague's culinary culture is just beginning to find its wheels again.
With a relocation to Sweden fast approaching, my partner and I were looking forward to wrapping up work (and packing) and living like it was our last chance to experience the Czech Republic. Who knows if we'll ever be back, and after 16 months in Prague, we wanted to take advantage of a bit more of the country.
I knew I'd like Prague as soon as our bike tour guide said, "Here, beer is cheaper than water." The birthplace of the Pilsner. The holy grail of all party opportunities. Apparently, in clubs, nobody shuts it down until the last person leaves. Thinking it was probably 3 a.m.-ish, I left the club and walked out into bright sunlight. Seriously. That was the first time it ever happened in my life.
What's going on with Prague fashion? Half the year hidden away in winter coats, the other half enduring jeers from their western neighbors for pairing sandals with socks. Now, however, the Czech Republic boasts one of the biggest-booming economies of the post-Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, consumerism is on the up-and-up (and up), and Prague shopping centres crop up like mushrooms after a rain.
So the thing about Budapest is that it just kinda takes you by surprise. Everyone raves about Vienna and Prague and all those neighboring cities (and rightly so), but Budapest is kinda lonely. Its streets aren't cluttered with hordes of tourists jockeying for the best camera space or picking their noses in public. So, why was I so surprised by Budapest? Something to do with its beautiful streets and fascinating history, I guess.