Bikes, Ghosts & Bunkers — What I Learned from Berlin to Budapest

Rachel here, back with more tales from my European adventure last month. For those of you who don’t know, I spent 11 days on assignment on the Berlin to Budapest tour with Contiki, a tour group for people ages 18-35. In my last post, I briefly mentioned the ME Time optional excursions I did with my group. Though I only planned on signing up for a few, I wound up doing all of them and was so glad I did. I found the extra experiences took my trip to a whole new level.

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Contiki time!

While the tours are pretty inexpensive, if you’re working with a tight budget, you might have to pick and choose. I’ve narrowed down my top 5 favorite excursions from Berlin to Budapest.

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Berlin – Walking Tour

On our first full day in Berlin, we met our tiny tour guide Lorna for a 3-hour walking tour. Lorna lead us to Museum Island, which of course is full of gorgeous historic buildings and memorials, but we were also treated to a naked old man sunbathing in the park. The man bits didn’t stop on Museum Island though.

Just take a look at the latest graffiti to cover the portrait of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker on the Berlin Wall.

Well gosh.

Male anatomy aside, I also learned so much about East and West Germany during the tour, visiting Fredrick’s Forum and Checkpoint Charlie. We actually stood on top of the place where Hitler killed himself. Without Lorna, we never would’ve known that we were standing over his bunker. Today, it is nothing more than a nondescript parking lot.

The most powerful memorial I saw that day was Neue Wache, which depicts a mother holding her dead son who was taken from her by war. I always loved learning about history in school, but there’s nothing like being there where it happened to drive it all home.

Prague – Nuclear Bunker Tour

In Prague, we had the option to take a Nuclear Bunker tour and I really didn’t know what to expect. It was eerie walking down the narrow spiral staircase into the underground chamber filled with gas masks for adults and kids.

This particular place was about the size of a bedroom and would’ve been where people hid during a nuclear attack. Imagine living in a tiny space with your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Not fun, right? That’s how people would have lived for a few weeks if there had been a nuclear attack, until they ran out of food and starved.

WWII-era nuclear bunkers are just as eerie as you might expect.

WWII-era nuclear bunkers are just as eerie as you might expect.

At the end of the tour, we were able to try on some of the communist attire from WWII. It felt super creepy to be in a real bunker dressed like a communist.

What would my history teacher think if he saw me now?

Berlin – Bike Ride and Progressive Dinner

If you are just a mediocre bike rider (or a terrible one, like Angie Away), this tour is not for you. Narrow streets, angry drivers and the occasional beer stop made for quite the adventure. After walking around town with Lorna, it was fun to experience Berlin on two wheels.

Warning: don't overeat on this tour or you will be the slowest one!

Warning: don’t overeat on this tour or you will be the slowest one!

What would have taken us several hours to walk took only about two by bike. My advice for this tour — be careful how much you eat during the food stops. You get so full, it actually makes biking more difficult!

Prague – Ghost Walk

I hate scary movies, but for some reason I have loved ghost tours since my school accidentally booked us one on a school trip in 7th grade. We all remember it fondly because one of our most serious teachers kept sneaking up and scaring us. Ever since then, I have been trying to find the best ghost tours everywhere I go.

Creepy ghost tour guide - we never saw his face!

Creepy ghost tour guide – we never saw his face!

In Prague, we met our guide who was dressed in a black cloak. He never showed his face from behind his dark hood. As he told us scary stories, we discovered that he had a heap of props stored in his robe, like a man’s bloody face, a knife, a hanging noose and a stepping stool. He was like the Mary Poppins of ghost tours.

Every ghost tour needs a light saber

Every ghost tour needs a light saber

As we walked down the dark and empty streets of Prague, he shared some not-so-scary stories about the city, too. It was a great way to sightsee as there were no tourists around. Each time we would move to the next location, the guide would run ahead of us and hide in an alleyway to scare someone. I’m proud to say he only scared me once.

Vienna – Classical Concert & Dinner

My favorite ME time tour of the whole trip – and it was NOT easy choosing a favorite! — was the dinner and classical music concert. We arrived at the Hapsburg Winter Palace to eat schnitzel and listen to some wonderful Mozart and Strauss performances. It felt like stepping back into the 1700s and attending a party with my good friends, the Hapsburgs.

Mozart in a palace? Don't mind if I do.

Mozart in a palace? Don’t mind if I do.

Of course I loved every ME time optional tour I did – and I did them all! I’m glad I changed plans and did so many instead of sticking with a select few. They really made my experience that much richer and a more enlightening.

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So, have you done a bike tour in Berlin? Or a ghost tour in Prague? Which of these stands out most to you?  

COME AWAY WITH ME!
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  • May 24, 2015
    Lauren

    Looks like you had a great time. I’m doing this trip with my brother next month. Did you check out any of the museums in Berlin? I really want to go to the old masters museum (gemaldagalerie) but since most museums are closed on Monday I really only have the time between the walking tour and concentration camp. How much time did you have after the walking tour and where did it finish? Thanks again for the great info on this trip

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