Wanderlust: 8 cities, 20 days, and a life-changing trip across Europe

Published: September 1, 2018
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For a Pakistani girl like me, travelling across Europe was a dream come true. PHOTO: SANA JUMMANI

The earth is like a book; if you spend your entire life in your own country, then you’ve only read one page. Humanity has concluded, almost unanimously, that freedom is the fundamental right of every individual, yet they have understood it conservatively. To be fully free, you must wander, travel, eat and live – as you like and deem fit.

However, given our cultural barriers, most of us are unable to realise or appreciate this freedom. Only exposure to and interaction with different people and cultures makes people tolerant and empathetic. To internalise and own the beauty you appreciate, you must witness it through your own eyes.

We Pakistanis are pretty much not the travel westward kind. We do love to travel, but because of certain visa limitations, we remain confined in our little region (which is incredibly beautiful). So for a Pakistani girl like me, travelling across Europe – an item that had always been on my bucket list – was a dream come true.

Everyone dreams of travelling to Europe, and there’s a reason why. Whether you’re taking your first solo trip, backpacking on a budget, looking for a ritzy getaway, or simply exploring new cities and cultures, Europe has something for everyone. In my opinion, it is one of the most diverse continents you can visit. It has deep-rooted history and is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world – not to mention the unique architecture and cuisines that vary from country to country. Plus, it’s one of the easiest regions to travel in terms of transportation between destinations.

My plan was to cover as much of Europe as I could in the least amount of time and budget! After getting my visa approved (it was surprisingly easy, but it took a month), I started thoroughly researching the places I wanted to visit. My plan was to visit eight countries (nine, if you count the Vatican) covering one city in each.

My first destination was Budapest, Hungary, because my Schengen visa was granted by the Hungarian Consulate. I’ll admit that Budapest wasn’t at the top of my travel list, mainly because I didn’t know much about the city. But it quickly became clear why it is an amazing destination. With stunning architecture, refreshing thermal baths and a unique culture, it was a perfect start to my European adventure.

Buda Castle

Parliament Building

I spent two days here trying to cover most of the city and photographing literally every street I entered. The architecture is at a level I still can’t wrap my head around, not to mention the food (Hungarians are definitely foodies), and the historic thermal baths. This city truly is every traveller’s dream, and it’s also super affordable! Trust me, if Budapest isn’t on your bucket list yet, it’s time to check your priorities!

Langos; local street food

Inner City Parish Church

Next up was Spain, which has many amazing cities one can visit, but I chose to go to Barcelona. This cosmopolitan city offers numerous attractive places for tourists, and I soothed myself with its beautiful art and architecture.

The post office

I spent two days here as well, and visited as much as I possibly could, including Mount Montserrat, which is famous for the Basilica (considered the location of the Holy Grail). It was twice as fun because of our local guide, whose humorous tour entertained us quite generously.

Park Guell

I visited and gazed at some of Antoni Gaudi’s works, and visited an iconic church that also happens to be a world famous architectural masterpiece. My second day at Barcelona was spent walking around the towns, seeing the Gothic Quarter, tasting local cuisines, and shopping for souvenirs at the La Rambla Street. After experiencing its novelties for myself, I was convinced that the fame and reputation this city holds is completely justified.

Gothic Quarter

The third destination on my list was Warsaw, Poland, which is one of the most exciting places in the world right now with its vibrant nightlife, off-the-wall treasures and overall aesthetic.

It’s rich and turbulent history, beautiful hidden corners, fine restaurants and cheap eateries are its main draws. It appears further from the beaten Central European track, and offers a perfect break to anyone who prefers some big city grit and glamour over Krakow’s quaint cobbles and cafes.

Potato pancakes

Warsaw’s main attraction is Old Town, which ironically is a brand new town! I spent most of my time exploring this area, which was reconstructed after World War II. Although you can tell by looking at the buildings that the exterior is painted on rather than having intricate carvings, it doesn’t detract from Old Town’s charm. It also has a gorgeous main square, which has a lively vibe and is where I spent most of my time. It was perfect for grabbing a drink, enjoying the weather, socialising with Poles, and just watching musicians play their instruments.

Old Town square

Another thing I loved about Warsaw was the famous Polish dumplings. Don’t go by their looks – try them!

Munich, Germany – the largest German city famous for the annual Oktoberfest – was my fourth destination. This city has an amazing City Centre, large parks and gardens, and delicious German food.

Nymphenburg Palace

I first went to the Marienplatz, the heart of the city, which hosts Mariensäule (Column of Saint Mary) and the Rathaus (German word for Town Hall) – an impressive 100-meter long Gothic building. The architecture and art in the city extends its beauty fourfold. Fortunately, Munich was not bombed like Berlin, therefore it retains much of its history and antiquity.

Rathaus-glockenspiel

Rathaus Munich

A little exhausted after covering four countries in a row, my fifth stop was Basel in Switzerland, which functioned as a retreat to rejuvenate myself.

I came with little to no expectations, but it turns out Basel is more than just an art base; it has quite a cute medieval town centre! I spent the day exploring this pastel-coloured old town, snapped endless photos of the quaint medieval buildings, visited the church, saw the Rhine River from above, and learned a bit about Basel’s history. A quick day trip was enough to make me fall in love with this city!

Tinguely Fountain

Next on the list was Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. This is a destination always greeted with a lot of hype, and my experience made me agree that the hype is totally justified. It is the host of history, the chair of charm, and the land of castles.

Powder tower

I reached Prague early in the afternoon and set out to explore the city. Within 10 minutes, I found myself standing in front of an astronomical clock with my mouth agape. This was built in 1400AD, and while I had no idea how to properly read the ‘time’, it was fascinating to gaze at it.

The astronomical clock

The wonderful buildings and castles, the street-performers, gypsies, and even the clowns, created an atmosphere that made me feel like I was standing within my own imagination.

Old Town square

I spent the next day checking another item off my bucket list – skydiving! It was an enthralling experience, one everyone should try at least once in their lives.

Overall, though short and a bit touristy, Prague was perfect!

Next up was Antwerp, a city I chose primarily to meet a friend from Belgium. Luckily, I was warmly welcomed by her family, who hail from Africa, giving me the chance to experience multiple cultures. I spent half my time relaxing at home after a super exhausting journey, while the other half was spent wandering around snapping pictures.

Grote Market

My last stop, Italy, was nothing less than a stop to eat (Eataly, anyone?) I chose Rome because not only is it one of the most iconic and most travelled cities, it also has a rich history to match.

The Colosseum

Whether you are visiting to enjoy the excellent food or to witness what is left of ancient Rome, you won’t be disappointed! With a mixture of cultures from around the world, Rome has it all. I spent a day wandering in the streets, gazing at the architecture, and enjoying the local roman cuisine, feeling as if I could spend my life there.

Vatican City

The biggest surprise throughout my trip was undoubtedly the food. Everything in Europe felt fresher and tastier, but much less seasoned than what I’m used to. Even though it was weird at first, I got used to eating with less seasoning pretty quickly, as I could actually enjoy the true flavours of the ingredients.

Thus came the time to end my 20-day trip, as I left with an expired visa and a heart longing to travel more. After all, travelling is contagious; you travel a little, and you want to travel more.

Before going to Europe, I thought countries in other continents were almost unreachable, and the idea of travelling there was far outside my comfort zone. To take that leap and experience the wonderful possibilities that exist once you jump outside your comfort zone not only checked off several items from my bucket list, it added a lot more!

Ultimately, I learned the true value of travel. None of the material items you purchase can compare to the experience of experiencing another city, another culture, and another cuisine. If you ever have the chance to fly out and see a country other than your homeland, don’t think twice, just do it! It’s an experience worth every penny you will spend.

All photos: Sana Jummani

Sana Jummani

Sana Jummani

The author graduated from LUMS in 2016, and currently works for a Turkish MNC in Karachi. She can be found on Instagram @tales.1001 (www.instagram.com/tales.1001)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Amin Ul Haque

    I wonder how you managed to visit all these places in just 20 days. I took a EuroRail trip with my wife in 2009 for 15 days and visited 4 cities in Italy, then Zurich, France and Germany and it was very tiring. However, it was worth the trip and wish to visit some other European cities again.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nice write up and lovely pictures ….. the only thing I found a little odd was the sequence or rotation of your trip Hungary in the east to Spain in the west then to Poland in the north…..etc.Recommend

  • Hasan

    How did you get a visa?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Wow ! What a magnificent trip. All done in 20 days to boot.
    A little surprised Paris was not on your itinerary. Neither was
    Ye Merri Olde England. Perhaps you have already been there.
    Oh well.
    Barcelona, Spain, is THE city to visit. Very popular with tourists.
    The tapas there are out of this world, delicious.
    And yes, you were definitely off the beaten path, you were partly
    in Eastern Europe.
    There is another part of Europe, the Dalmatian Coast very much
    off the radar, the former Yugoslav Republic, Serbia, Croatia, cheap
    and beautiful.Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    Thankyouu! i am glad you liked it. Yes, i was waiting for someone to point this; basically i did Spain and Hungary in the winters of 2017 while the rest of them starting from Poland in the other months of summer. Plus, my route was more dependent of my global friend’s availability so i had to compromise on the routing. However, taking flights within Europe was cheap so it didn’t really affect me in terms of travel time :)Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    It sure was really tiring and thatswhy i would suggest people to spend more days in one place rather than covering entire city in one or 2 days. It sure is possible to cover it but it does get hectic. Its only advisable for youngsters who are keen to cover many places and can do non stop travelling :)Recommend

  • Christian Koncz

    I’m guessing it has a lot to do with the availability of budget flights between these cities. They are all major hubs for budget airlines, particularly Budapest, Warsaw, Brussels and Barcelona. You wouldn’t believe how cheap and easy it is to fly between major cities in the EU and it rarely takes more than one or two hours.Recommend

  • Patwari

    So, you did not do 8 cities in 20 days, in one stretch.
    You had a break, in between.Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    Yes Christian you guessed it right; budget airlines were a huge surprise for me because here in Pakistan even local flying is expensive and in Europe the flights costed me almost half that money between different countries. It saved me so much time and also allowed me to cover these countries on the odd routing :DRecommend

  • Sana Jummani

    Paris and England is next up on my list. I wanted to cover that together. Hopefully this year end!
    Oh yes the best part about Spain was tapas. They were amazingly scrumptious and were good as little snacks to munch while on the long walks around the city :D
    Dalmatian Coast is also something i have been researching on lately especially Croatia. have put that on my list. Can’t wait to visit that part of Europe also :)Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    I applied for it :D
    It’s simple if you have strong ties to your country of residence and from where you are applying. Just apply with all documents and be clear about your visit plan and they will grant you the visa.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Thank you that was logical reasoning …… and airline fares and their application are a mystery, at least to me.Recommend

  • Parvez

    If you really, really want to enjoy Europe do it by river on the luxury or smaller boats. You get to see and taste the food of the smaller towns and get a feel of the people ….. just a thought. I always wanted to do that but never got around to it.Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    yes, that’s right!Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    That’s a nice thought!
    Although i did visit small towns but didn’t do it by boats.
    i did only a small boat ride on Rhine river in Basel :)
    But i will for sure keep it in mind on my next trip to Europe.Recommend

  • Patwari

    These, are huge, river going cruise boats, that ply some of the main rivers
    of Europe. Maybe a 100 or 150 cabins at the most. With all the amenities.
    4 to 5 days long. Stopping at small historic towns with a castle perched on a hilltop, belonging to the local baron. Who would charge taxes on the river traffic/trade passing thru his section, in his days.
    There are land itineraries connected to these cruises too. To vineyards and cheese making farms, processes and such, etc.
    Actually there are like hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of cheeses’ in Europe. Like every town invented it’s own. And gave it a name.
    Oh well.Recommend

  • Sana Jummani

    Ohh i see; you are talking about cruise ships like Explorer of the seas right? oh yes, that’s definitely on my list.
    I took an imaginary stroll down while reading ur comment above; it sure seems interesting :) Hope to cross it off my bucket soon!!
    Cheese is one thing i also adore about Europe; love the variety and unique taste of each one.Recommend