How to Road Trip 3 East European Countries with Girlfriends

Danube River travel

Danube on a Long Weekend– Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest

It was 3 a.m. after three full days of partying, sightseeing, and goulash in three different countries. We jammed to the YMCA in a Vienna taxi and slayed a dance-off in a Budapest nightclub. I photo-bombed a bride and groom on the cobblestone streets of Bratislava. Yes, Bratislava. We hadn’t heard of it either. And taste-tasting goulash in Hungary. We were finally feeling the effects of what will hereafter be referred to as the Rock Star Girls Trip on the Danube.

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planning-session How to Road Trip 3 East European Countries with Girlfriends

Girls Trip on the Danube
Three Black girls and Our Filipina Friend

Danica, riding shotgun, was doing her best to keep up her side of the conversation. She sang, danced in and. out of her seat, and she made me she mostly cracked on Rebecca and Jam, who were snoring loudly from the backseat. I don’t know which one was louder, but they practically drowned out the music together.

Three black girls and our token Filipino friend storming the former Soviet block capitals on the Danube over a long weekend without a real agenda, an itinerary, or even any real expectations–except to have fun. The US Army had brought us together, our husbands working together, and our mutual love of all things fermented—otherwise known as wine–cemented our friendships. It wasn’t uncommon to see or speak to one another every day.

We went to local wine festivals together, watched each other’s children, drank wine in the parks and parking lots together (that’s another story), spent our birthdays and special occasions together, cried when our husbands deployed, and cried together when our husbands returned. We started off as surrogates for the families we left behind and became the family we weren’t born into but chose. And now I was going on the road with my girls.

The Road Trip Itinerary
Girls Trip on the Danube

Our road trip to explore Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest was our first extended journey together. It promised to test our friendship, love, and patience. Each of us is strong-minded and outspoken, unafraid to share thoughts freely, whether asked for or not. Our sole plan was to drive between these captivating capitals, a trek of over 1,400 miles and nearly 23 hours. Yet, the magnitude of this journey barely crossed our minds. Our determination overshadowed any concerns. Nothing could hold us back from this adventure with my friends. This was our girls’ trip along the Danube.

Day 2

Vienna, Austria

Our first stop on this girl’s trip on the Danube was Vienna. By now, we were more than familiar with the severe temperament of most Germans; we were all pleasantly surprised that while the Viennese also spoke German, they were a little more playful and less abrupt in their demeanor, quickly distinguishing themselves from their Deutschland cousins.

Vienna is synonymous with the Imperialism of the Hapsburgs, Strauss’ waltz, and Sigmund Freud’s obsessive theories that every negative aspect of our personality is the direct product of our relationship with our mothers. With a dozen offspring between the four of us, Freud would have a hard time convincing us of anything, we would have just whooped his ass and moved on, but I digress…

Schonbrunn Palace’s Cafe Residenz

We heaved our bags onto the floor of our hotel room and walked the 3-4 blocks to Schonbrunn Palace’s Café Residenz for brunch.

With more than 1,400 rooms, the yellow brick facade makes a commanding statement against the late morning’s pale blue sky. We walked between the two giant obelisks into the cobbled courtyard lined with horse-drawn carriages, tourists trains, and an orchestra of various languages and map-toting tourists.

The entrance to the Rococo-inspired dining room is flanked by 4 white marble columns. The white-glove service fits the stately white lacquered walls and ceilings ornamented with gold leaf and stunning Bohemian crystal chandeliers. We chose a table that’s smack dab in the middle of the room, where we could see and be seen by everyone—setting the tone for the entire weekend.

Two chairs were on one side, and a cushioned settee flanked the white damask-covered table cloth. Rebecca ordered goulash, Danica flirted with the waiter to get something or other free while the waiter was repeatedly caught checking out Jam’s butt—three things that would play out over and over again during the next few days.

 

Taking Notes

I just sat back, trying to make mental notes for this story and getting my facts straight because these girls lean towards embellishment. That’s a nice way to say, they lie!!

Especially Danica, who told us all she slept naked and farted and in her sleep, so no one wanted to sleep next to her and she had a bed all to herself for the whole trip.

The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace grounds are extensive. If the entrance is meant to impress, then the backyard is meant to dazzle. The formal French garden is an immaculate piece of living art. Larger than life mythological virtues in marble and wrought iron benches line the wide hard-packed dirt thoroughfare, disguising the entrance into the zoo and 16th-century hedge maze we didn’t have time to explore.

A beautiful Artesian well sits at the base of a 200ft hill crowned by the Gloriette, a war memorial accessed by a zigzagging path, offering a phenomenal view of the city. We scampered up the hill, some of us in heels (Jam) to see the marvelous view of the palace and to take some even more marvelous pictures of ourselves.

The Ring Tram

We caught Tram 1 in front of the palace and transferred to Tram 2 at the Opera House. Let me stop there. I was curious about the tour of the Opera House, so I tried to get some information from the doorman. He wouldn’t talk to me. I mean, he just ignored me, so I must have said a few choice words and kept it moving. I have no idea what his problem was and I’ve just decided he was the blind and deaf nephew of the owner who needed a job.

It costs €2 instead of the €7 it would have cost to take the Ring Tram which stays on the Ringstrasse and gives the visitor less opportunity to explore the popular landmarks of the city. The tram we initially caught was heated and we could all sit together. The 2 tram we caught was not; open to the cutting winds of the Danube–lesson learned.

Stephansplatz

No girl’s trip to Vienna is complete without a trip to Stephansplatz. Jam unwisely chose cuteness over practicality—a huge mistake when walking over cobblestone streets—and her feet were paying the price. Rebecca and Danica decided to go wine shopping while I tagged along with Jam to find a pair of comfortable shoes.

We didn’t find any—none that were cute, comfy, and cheap. Out of sympathy for Jam’s aching bunions, I hailed a taxi back to the hotel. Don’t tell her, I was tired too. I must have been channeling Rebecca and Danica because they showed up with a few crates full of wine—completely forgetting we were traveling on a packed tour bus. I’ll never forget the mama stance Danica gave me when she saw me in that taxi. I could hear her thinking. Is that bitch leaving us??

 

Y-M-C-A

After placing their wine crates in the trunk and settling down in the Mercedes Benz taxi, YMCA came on the radio. I don’t know how it all started, but soon we were all singing Y-M-C-A at the top of our lungs practically slapping one another in the face on every Y.

The driver, thoroughly amused, turned the radio up full blast and was swaying right along with us. It was hilarious. We were all sad when it ended, especially the driver who frantically searched the radio for another sing-along. The drive to Bratislava took less than 50 minutes the following morning.

Day 3

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava has been the capital since the country gained its independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993, making it one of the youngest capitals in Europe. The first thing I noticed on arrival is how colorful the building facades were; pops of bright pink, orange, green, and blue. Most of the buildings were an eclectic mix of 15th and 16th century Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. We drove directly to Bratislava Castle located in Old Town.

Bratislava Castle located in Old Town

Like most cities, Bratislava has been made pedestrian-only making it difficult to navigate by car. Bratislava Castle is an imposing fortress-like structure that sits on a rocky perch above the Danube. The Sienna red-capped towers are a stark contrast to the bright white façade, making it a popular wedding picture venue. We walked up to the steep steps with a lovely young couple who had married earlier in the day—and were invited into a few pictures with the happy couple. The bride gave us each a flower from her bouquet and the groom kissed us each gently on each the cheek. No, they didn’t, I just thought that sounded sweet!! In actuality, we photobombed a few of their photos. What we really wanted was an invitation to the reception, which we also didn’t get. They looked good together, we wished them lots of happiness and pushed up the hill.

Time to Reflect

Sitting on the castle walls, we noticed the expansion bridge and the UFO restaurant that sits awkwardly on top of it. A parade of ferries, barges, luxurious river cruise boats and hydro boats cruised beneath its outstretched wings. It was a stark realization that time never stands still, that at this very moment, as I stood completely still, time did not.

We lived in a word of steel, glass, and plastic and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at that moment, I felt content sitting on the cool stone beneath me, listening to the steady clack of shoes on the cobblestones behind me and imagining the life of the castle ghosts above me.

Sadly, we only spent a few hours walking the fable-like streets of Bratislava, long enough to try the goulash (of course), taste some wine, and pick up a few souvenirs.

Day 4

Budapest, Hungary

Less than 2 hours later and we were in the beautiful city of Budapest, our final city on the Danube. Budapest is an Architectural goldmine with a blend of Roman ruins, Gothic Cathedrals, and Turkish baths. But we were ready to party. We stood in the longest, slowest line around the corner from the club. Thankfully the wind had died down and none of had on high heeled shoes.

Dance Battle

Unfortunately, there was a little blond girl, looking for trouble, who kept blowing smoke in Danica’s face, the lit end of her cigarette getting dangerously close to her weave. I’ll just say she was lucky we were all in a great mood and none of us were channeling Uma Thurman or Lucy Liu that night. Tired of standing in line outside the club, however, and used to flirting her way into what she wanted, Danica tried, unsuccessfully, to get us into the club without waiting. Next time we will send Jam!

We stood in that long line contemplating kicking this little Russian girl’s ass. However, we didn’t know enough about the Hungarian prison system. So we didn’t.

We ended up dancing continuously with an array of European metrosexual guys. They can’t all be gay!! You just don’t know. They look gay, but they are just into wearing their pants way too tight, into eyeliner and an exorbitant amount of gel.

That’s Awkward

At one point, this one particular guy, on a date no less, kept making his way across the club behind Danica, so she pulled a quick reverse on him–surprising the hell out of him and started a spontaneous freak session on him. He had been hit by the Danica train. He also didn’t come back that way again. We battled up on the stage until 2 am and caught a taxi back to the hotel. Yes, I danced on stage with a few guys. Danica yelled across the floor, stop writing your story and dance. She knows me well!!

Boscolo-Stairs-Jam How to Road Trip 3 East European Countries with Girlfriends
A beautiful staircase in the 5 star Boscolo hotel in Budapest Hungary. The hotel is gorgeous! It sits on a beautiful corner of the city and from the moment you walk through the doors, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There are huge TVs in the elevators and the lobby. There are beautiful details, fresh flowers, and lovely finishes. The concierge (Grego) was friendly and helpful. The staff placed an extra bed in the room before we arrived. There’s a tub and a separate shower in the room which is nice and it was very large.

Where we stayed: The Boscolo Budapest, Autograph Collection, 1073 Budapest, Erzsébet körút 9-11., Hungary

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Parliament Hill & more goulash

The next morning, we caught the hop on hop off bus to tour the city. The bus tour is pretty expensive at $20 pp, but with so much to see and such little time, it was worth it. The tour included stops at Heroes Square, the Funicular, the Castle District, and the Parliament building—the largest Parliament in Europe. We exited the tour bus at every stop, walking hand in hand, laughing furiously, and taking way more pictures than we needed to.

The tour also included a free glass of wine or coffee and none other than a bowl of, wait for it… goulash. We enjoyed the soup and coffee so much we ended up missing two rotations of the bus tour.
The hotel staff packed the trunk of my car for the last time with the crates of wine, suitcases, and souvenirs we collected over the weekend and we headed home.

Not ready to go Home

We realized we left Jam’s bag behind a few hours later. We all stood by the side of the car in contemplative silence. Each one of us, for a split second, wondered whether we should just turn around and extend our weekend.

The hotel returned the bag a couple of weeks later.

We still talk about that trip often. The wine we purchased is all gone now and all but one of us has returned to the United States. Jam is still in Germany but will be relocating to North Carolina later this year. Rebecca is in Hawaii, Danica is in the California desert and I am in Virginia.

Update: We still talk about that trip often. Danica and I are in South Korea, Rebecca is in South Carolina and Jam is still inNorth Carolina. We are still great friends and are looking forward to being on the road with my girls again.

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I originally printed this in the Fall 2011 issue of the Stars and Stripes Welcome to Europe Guide.

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