Friday, December 20, 2013

Thanks to McDonald’s, you don’t need to pre-plan your accommodation in Europe

As a vegan, I don’t generally find my way into too many McDonald’s. However, in this post I’d like to point out a certain use I found for them on my recent trip backpacking across Europe.

This fall, an Argentinian and I took several long-distance trains in Europe. Each time we were ready to move on to our next destination by rail, we promised ourselves we’d take the day train so we could see the

countryside from the window, an opportunity that is wasted when one takes an overnight train. Yet somehow, the day train always seemed to leave at 7 in the morning… And each time we somehow found ourselves scrambling around our hostel dorm room at 6am, trying to avoid waking everyone up while frantically packing and looking for our passports and keys, something we had curiously always forgotten to accomplish the night before. About 20 minutes into this routine we would give up, go back to sleep, and decide to take the night train instead.

Overnight from Novi Sad, Serbia to Budapest - ready with the chocolate!

The night train, though lacking a pleasant view, was always safe and comfortable. But, despite having had an entire day to prepare, more often than not we would arrive in our next city at the crack of dawn without any plans or clue as to where the nearest hostel was.

Waiting for the train in Belgrade, Serbia. Nothing is posted in English here.
Luckily, every major train station we arrived at seemed to have a McDonald’s conveniently located directly across the street. And luckily, every single one had free internet, opened around 5 in the morning, and didn’t mind when we threw our several backpacks and guitars in the corner, sat at a table for 3 hours without ordering a single thing, and slowly prepared ourselves to take on a new city and country. Sitting at McDonald’s while reading Hostelworld reviews and figuring out directions out of the godforsaken train station neighborhood became a routine we grew to look forward to. And, comparing the prices and menus of McDonald’s in different countries, even when you don’t plan to order anything, is always fun. With the comforting knowledge that McD’s and its free wifi would always be waiting at the other end of the train line, we never pre-arranged hostel accommodation again!

Do you see it? McDonald's at the station in Budapest, without fail.

Note: Please be sure to find your accommodation in Prague in advance. McDonald’s CANNOT be relied on. Prague is The Land of No Wifi, and the wifi was terrible (usually completely nonfunctional) in every single hostel, public place, restaurant, bookstore, etc. that we went to.

On another note, you should also carry around a map in Prague. In addition to being The Land of No Wifi, Prague is also The Land of a Million Churches. We naively thought we could find our way back to the hostel based on a significant-looking church on the corner, until we quickly realized that EVERY corner had a significant-looking church on it!

I hope this didn’t discourage you from going to Prague. Prague is gorgeous and somehow looks like a postcard at all hours of the day. And the best part is that the river is full of swans! (And you can feed them!)

I wasn't kidding about the swans...