How To Take A European Vacation With Your Best Friend For Under $3,500

Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Julie and Lulu first met at a Brown University summer program in high school. They reconnected a few years later when they both ended up enrolling in the same liberal arts college in Philadelphia — it was fate that they were meant to be best friends. The two were inseparable in college, spending their time founding a musical-theater troupe, performing with a Motown band, strumming pink and blue ukuleles around campus, and wearing elaborate matching outfits when playing beer pong as “Team Dog” during basement parties.

Like so many best friends, they went their separate ways after college, Lulu to New York City and Julie to law school at University of Michigan. Busy lives keep them from seeing each other regularly, but this spring they managed to plan a 15-day Eurotrip, bouncing from Amsterdam to Prague to the coast of Spain.

They made a pact before they flew out of New York City in mid-May: They would wear matching outfits — Lulu in pink, Julie in blue — for the duration of their Eurotrip. They even went so far as to create a detailed spreadsheet to organize all pink and blue accessories and apparel for the vacation.

Ahead, follow the best friends on the trip of a lifetime. And then call your best friend. Aren’t you two overdue for an adventure?
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 1

We land in Amsterdam and hit the ground running. We check into our private double at Flying Pig Uptown Hostel (€100 a night) and change into new coordinating outfits. May in Amsterdam is herring season, and we are determined to find some for lunch, so we embark upon a herring-cart quest.

We immediately get distracted by a coffee shop that looks suspiciously familiar. We take a seat in the back and realize we were in the same coffee shop five years ago, when we visited Amsterdam for the first time while studying abroad (in the winter, in a blizzard, in matching outfits).

Back on the herring trail, after an hour and a half, we see success! We each order a herring sandwich (€2.50) and somehow find our way back to our hostel. We pass out.

We wake up just in time for our dinner reservation at De Kas, a restaurant in a repurposed greenhouse. We drink the house prosecco outdoors, overlooking a hedge maze and a pond, and then dine inside (€125). We are the epitome of sophistication, wearing our gemstone pink and blue clips from the 99-cent store.

By the time we get home, we’re exhausted (and elated). We change into our coordinating pajamas and head to bed.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 2

New day, new task: find the city’s petting zoo, hidden somewhere in Rembrandtpark. After an hourlong stroll, we see goats and horses in the distance and pick up speed. We’ve found it!

Unfortunately, the entrance to the park is blocked by two aggressive ducks and a hormonal turkey, so we longingly watch the animals from a relative distance, separated by a wire fence.

We hop in an Uber, which takes us to the bustling neighborhood Jordaan. There, more herring sandwiches. We visit Westerkerk Church and watch a free cello concert, and then head back to our hostel for a jet-lag-inspired siesta.

In the evening, we have an Indonesian feast at Kartika (€37). Back at the hostel, we befriend Ryan the bartender, who tests out a sour-apple Jager shot on us. It tastes like metal dipped in stevia. After taking advantage of a bar special — red vodka and Sprite for €2.25 — six times, we go to Sugarfactory for Beyoncé night (€12 entry). Despite the club photographer’s calculated avoidance of us (no matter how hard we try to get in his frame), we enjoy some stage dancing and playing with the club decor (pink and blue balloons).

At 2:30 a.m., we conclude our first full day in Amsterdam.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 3

The day’s first stop is set to be Upstairs Pannenkoeken, a four-table restaurant up stairs so steep they feel more like a ladder. On our way, we get distracted by matching pink and blue lipsticks. Our makeover results in a notable number of passersby directly pointing and laughing at us.

At Upstairs, we admire the mug-covered ceiling, wipe off our lipstick, split two delicious pancakes (€25), and exit by back-pedaling down the ladder steps (resulting in more public humiliation).

We take an Uber to De Pijp, a hip neighborhood in a part of the city we haven’t yet explored. There, we visit Gathershop and Hutspot, two beautiful concept stores featuring local brands. We are walking toward Rozengracht when we hear traditional Dutch music blasting from a tiny bar on the corner called Café Rooie Nelis.

Inside, we’re greeted by an old man in a red vest. We each order an Amstel (€2.50) and look around. The walls are plastered in pictures — almost every picture features a striking blonde woman. There are paintings of her, blown-up magazine articles, pins, and hundreds of photos.

Then our jaws drop when we see a much older version of the woman sitting in the corner. The man in the vest tells us she is the owner, and that the bar was founded in 1937. The owner is sipping on some brown liquor, and we ask to have the same drink (which turns out to be an obscure Dutch alcohol that shares its texture and taste with gasoline).

We go over to her to let her know how much we love the bar, and she embraces us both. She sits us down, orders us more gasoline, and gives us an oral tour of the place. The language barrier makes it difficult, but also more fun, to converse with her.

She is 88 and known as Blonde Sein by the bar’s tight-knit community. The bar has been graced with celebrities over the years, including Queen Beatrix and Amsterdam’s former president.

Blonde Sein then notices our matching outfits and points out identical 70-year-old twins in the corner, also in matching outfits. She repeats a word over and over again that we can’t understand. She calls over the man in the vest, who mimes some penis-in-vagina moves, and we make the connection: She’s been chanting “Whores! Whores! Whores!” As it turns out, the twins are aged prostitutes who solicit every single day at Café Rooie Nelis. Are we staring our futures in the face? Probably.

We photograph our new friends and leave the bar in a haze (due to the magical experience but also the gasoline shots).

After a long nap, we eat hostel pizza for dinner (€3). We then head out to Paradiso, an enormous three-story club in an old cathedral (€17.50 entry). After hours of dancing, we climb into our bunk beds and pass out.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 4

We grab a quick breakfast at Bagels & Beans (€17) and go to the Rijksmuseum (€17.50 each). We stumble into the Rembrandt room, where we discover the epic life-size painting "The Night Watch." After reading its accompanying highly informative brochure (the size of your average placemat), we become obsessed with it. We’re still obsessed with it. It’s the best painting. If you ever want to buy us a gift, we recommend this.

We spend our afternoon at Dampkring, a coffee shop near Haarlemmerstraat. The atmosphere is really peaceful, save for when we get scolded by our strict and bitter waitress for poor furniture etiquette (putting your feet on chairs is a no-no). Hours pass, and we finally walk back to the hostel, harmonizing to the American classic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” all the way home.

For dinner, we go to De Reiger (€61), a cozy bistro adorned with old paintings of half-naked women. Before going to sleep, we pack up and sing Ariana Grande songs at the top of our lungs until our hostel neighbors start audibly mocking us from outside our room.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 5

We take the bus to the airport (€5) and check in early for our flight to Prague. Having traveled abroad together in college, we’re already familiar with the chaos that comes with flying EasyJet and Ryanair. We calmly board and watch grown-up people have toddler-level tantrums while navigating the limited cabin space.

We arrive at Prague Square Hostel (€50 a night for a private double) and realize how hungry we are. Our clouded decision-making capabilities lead us to order “Steak Florida” at a local restaurant (chicken baked in cheese, stuffed with pineapple and peaches, covered in soy sauce).

Our coordinating sweaters have become caked with pork shoulder, spare rib, Indonesian chicken, and Steak Florida remnants; our undershirts have carried the smell of Dampkring into the Czech Republic. Plagued by “weather optimism,” we didn’t pack any other sweaters. We confront the issue head on and decide that we can’t return to our hostel until we buy a change of clothes.

This leads us into an epic and highly frustrating shopping mission, during which we spiral into delirious fits of laughter, constrained by the criteria of “matching pink and blue” (picture this, then picture it less than half as good and without the cool underwear — that’s us). After an hourlong hunt, we settle on some Czech-brand sequin cardigans and floor-length skirts (Kč 2100).

For dinner, we go to La Casa Argentina for its live salsa band and dancers. After six porrons, we take to the (entirely empty) dance floor. No one claps when we conclude our number.

As we’re leaving, an elderly woman named Elizabeth stops us to compliment us on our grace. We end up chatting with her for a while: an 80-year-old Brit, she is on a girls’ trip to Prague with six of her closest friends (including one of England’s best sheep breeders, Catherine). Elizabeth informs us that she’s very against fluoride in water, we nod in agreement, and then stroll home.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 6

After a quick (and free and gross) hostel breakfast, we embark on our uphill walk to Prague Castle. Once in the complex, our hearts are set on finding Golden Lane — a street that gets as narrow as one meter and features a series of tiny homes, including a famous marionette shop.

We can’t find it. We spend an hour looking. We ask everyone who looks like they have that Golden Lane vibe. (What’s a Golden Lane vibe? Huh, don’t know.) The more discouraged we get, the more determined we become. Finally, with the help of a policeman carrying an enormous machine gun, we discover the entrance.

We’re greeted with adjacent pink and blue houses (prime photo opp, given our corresponding pink and blue Czech cardigans); a bonus is that the blue house was Kafka’s home from 1916-17. Every building in the lane is a museum, a shop, or a model of what it may have looked like at another point in history.

We’re eventually forced to confront the fact that we chose to wear open-toed sandals on a 45-degree day (another classic case of “weather optimism”), and we start the trek home to warm up. As we near Charles Bridge, we stop to admire a vintage Mercedes. The owner approaches us. His name is Matteo, and he’s an exceptionally handsome tour guide; we quickly take him up on his offer of a 45-minute drive around Prague (Kč 1600).

We get cozy in the back of the 1939 car and zip around the city, with Matteo explaining its architecture and history along the way. He makes a habit of turning around to speak to us for prolonged periods while driving at full speed, which is a mix of terrifying and Czech-sexy. When the tour ends, we both have wrinkles on our faces from smiling so hard.

For dinner, we go to Nostalgie (Kč 1218), a traditional Czech restaurant. Elizabeth, from the night prior, had mentioned that she would be there with her squad, so we naturally make a reservation for the exact same time. She and Catherine the Sheep Breeder are delighted to see us, just as we are them. After we polish off our beef goulash, we join the ladies for a drink and a chat and Euro-kiss them goodbye.

On our way home, we buy two bottles of wine and get hammered in our room. One of us revisits the goulash in the early hours of the Prague morning.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 7

We take a seven-hour tour to Terezín, a World War II concentration camp near Prague (Kč 700). The tour is extremely meaningful and informative in a way that’s difficult to convey with words; we found that visiting and interacting with the historical spaces transcended any readings or films we’ve studied. We highly recommend doing it (via Discover Prague).

That evening, we have a hard time deciding what to do. We both want to go dancing, but for the duration of our stay in Prague, we’ve felt spooked walking around late at night. We go back and forth about heading to the five-story nightclub Karlovy Lazne (Kč 460 per person). Eventually, leveraging liquid courage (i.e., the remainder of our extremely cheap Czech white wine), we briskly walk to the club. There we are greeted by a myriad of 16-year-olds in body-con dresses. “Work” comes on, and after the DJ denies us stage rights, we take to the floor. Dancing among the prepubescents, we couldn’t be happier.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 8

We go to Petrin Hill, where we take the funicular to the top of the small mountain. There we stumble across a restaurant blasting Rod Stewart, where we enjoy Czech beer and ice cream (Kč 80), looking down at all of Prague.

After a brief walk around the Zizkov district, we siesta. At 8 p.m., we wake up and venture out to find Anonymous Bar (Kč 1082 for drinks), a speakeasy that’s hidden somewhere in old Prague’s many alleys. We finally come across its discreet entrance and take a seat inside.

The bar is full of mysteries. We order the “Key Shot” that comes with a small black light, which allows us to read the invisible ink on the cocktail menu. As we look around, we start noticing small clues that indicate additional hidden menus and drinks. We uncover Anonymous’s secret menu, which can only be read through a '90s viewfinder when pointed at direct light; we also notice recurring horse figurines around the bar. We inquire about them, and unlock the bar’s nationally recognized cocktail (a variation of a mint julep).

We leave at midnight, aware that we have to be up again at 3:30 a.m. to get to our next stop: Ronda, Spain.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 9

After a 30-minute cab ride, a two-hour flight, a four-hour layover, a three-hour flight, another 30-minute cab ride, a two-hour bus trip, and a 15-minute hike, we arrive at Hotel Enfrente Arte (€84 per night) in Ronda, in the south of Spain. We’re destroyed.

We leverage the hotel’s self-service open bar and feel human enough to hike up to the main street. We arrive just as the town’s once-a-year festival, Ronda Romántica, kicks off. The main square was filled with 300 people dressed in 19th-century garb, singing traditional songs and downing rum along the way. Some of the men, dressed as Spanish soldiers, clear the streets to fire a historical cannon. This apparently acts as a sign for all participants in the parade to begin firing off their old-school (non-loaded) guns. We’re suddenly standing on the sidelines of total open fire.

We both lose hearing in our right ears but eventually regain it over dinner and local wine at Casa Santa Pola (€90), a restaurant overhanging the Ronda cliffs.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 10
We are greeted by Pablo, the young hotel chef, who has crafted the most ornate breakfast either of us has ever come across: salmon tartare with mint from the hotel garden, local beef carpaccio, homemade yogurt parfait, Spanish cheese, fresh-baked chocolate bread, crepes, quail eggs, and chorizo made to order. We eat everything on matching pink and blue place settings and crawl up the steep hill to the main town. The combination of the breakfast and the views makes us feel like we’re living in a dream.

We discover the garden at Casa Don Bosco, which looks like the setting for a Taylor Swift music video on steroids. We run through hedges, admire the panoramic views, and befriend a group of French tourists.

We then hit the town’s main church, just in time to see a group of teens performing traditional flamenco on the outdoor stage. As we watch, it feels like their dancing conjures up some magic from the past.

A few purchases later (traditional flamenco shawls and brooches, totaling €23 per set), we take a seat at Don Miguel, a restaurant nestled in the side of Ronda’s steep cliffs. After lunch and drinks (€22), we head home to the hotel pool, which we monopolize while staging an elaborate photo shoot.

After a paella dinner (€38), we begin our search for the town’s main nightclub. We aren’t sure where to start: There are so many side streets, and there’s very little information available online. So we follow a group of high school boys carrying a large bottle of Beefeater. They end up in a park packed with teens swigging hard liquor. We approach them and ask where we go to dance. They recommend Bambora (albeit hesitantly, after they learn how old we are) and tell us how to get there.

Bambora is so local that ordering a shot of vodka gets lost in translation. Instead, we are handed two large glasses of it and two bottles of Sprite (€10 for the “four” drinks). You could say we make #lemonade out of lemons, though it would be more accurate to say we crash a bachelorette party in the VIP area and dance the night away to Spanish hits.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 11
After a brief visit to the 12th-century Arab baths (classic us!), we overlook Ronda’s cliff formation from the New Bridge and study the various homes and balconies across the way. We spot a sign for pizza, which inspires a quest to find the mysterious pizza shop. This proves to be difficult, given Ronda’s labyrinth-like layout. Two hours later, we discover the entrance; much to our disappointment, it looks like the shop has been closed since 1981. We settle for pizzas (one each) at a more current restaurant and follow our feast with a nap and some pool time.

In the evening, we go back to the main town to watch a horse show in Ronda’s historic bull-fighting ring. We wear our shawls and imagine that Hemingway is sitting next to us. We watch three sets of horse-and-jockey do identical dance routines and compare their gaits, enjoying how the traditionally dressed riders spank their horses at the end of each routine. On our way out, we spot a group of policemen and tour guides — all on horses — laughing and trotting (and drinking and smoking) down the street. By now, we are really obsessed with horses.

We have our final meal in Ronda at another cliffside restaurant, Del Torero, and spend the rest of our evening perfecting this dance.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 12
We arrive in Ibiza mid-afternoon and are immediately blown away by the aesthetic of Ushuaïa Beach Hotel (€145 per night). Unfortunately, the facilities’ caliber is not matched by the hotel’s customer service. No one seems to know where our room is in the enormous resort, and we end up parading around with our suitcases in our unacceptably filthy travel clothes for too long.

Once we finally settle in and arrange our closet with care, we head out to our balcony, which overlooks the main pool. One of our neighbors, also on his balcony, greets us. We start chatting and discover that the room next to ours is an enormous suite. We barter our cream-cheese-flavored Doritos (yes, that was the flavor) for a drink in their room.

Our balcony neighbor introduces us to his two companions: “That’s Marcus, I’m Bradley, and that guy over there? He’s Zebra. Just kidding, he’s Jerry.” They’re all from Johannesburg, South Africa, and after winning Grand Prix tickets they decided to extend their trip, putting Ibiza in the mix.

The group splits up for dinner; we have sushi (€60). The boys suggest we join them at an opening-night party — a season kickoff for one of the institutional nightclubs on the island. We hesitantly purchase entry tickets to the party “DC-10” (€55), thinking that we should try to experience at least one of these notoriously insane parties while in Ibiza. We join the boys on the roof of the hotel for some champagne and then head out together.

The five of us arrive at the venue at around 1 a.m. and are immediately put off. There are thousands of people waiting to get into the main stage, and absolutely everyone around us is a total zombie — full pupils, limp limbs, no hand-eye coordination, unable to speak. Security doesn’t quite have a grip on the number of attendees, and just as we get sucked into the packed club, we realize we’re about to get trapped.

We have trouble getting out of the space and start to panic. The two of us are spit out after just a few minutes and are so relieved to see Marcus and Jerry; they’re equally frightened. But we’ve lost Bradley. We wait for 15 minutes, worried. We finally see his bobbing head as he makes his way over. “It was a nightmare in there. A girl shoved a pill in my mouth. But I spat it out.”

We wait in a chaotic taxi line, trying to avoid eye contact with some of the more aggressive zombies, and arrive at the hotel 20 minutes later, at 4 a.m. We’re all totally rattled by the experience and head to the beach to unwind.

As we fall asleep, we reflect on how lucky we were to have come across such incredibly nice, kindhearted guys. The three of them will always have a special place in our hearts.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 13
We are greeted with more bad customer service the next morning when the hotel concierge gives us terrible directions to Marina Ibiza. An hour later, we’re totally lost and frustrated in a weird part of Ibiza, and end up hopping in a cab.

We arrive at the marina and cool off with some cocktails at Mariner Ibiza (€30). There’s excellent shopping in the area, and after we make some pink-and-blue purchases (matching velvet necklaces and beach cover-ups, at €40 per set), we head home to the pool, where we make homemade cocktails and compose this little number.

For dinner, we go one hotel over to the Hard Rock’s restaurant, Estado Puro (€80). The food is incredible, the service is significantly better than at our hotel, and the view of the sunset more than makes up for our misadventure that afternoon.

Still tired from the night before, content with our shopping finds, and full from a great meal, we go to sleep early.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 14
We kick off the day with our hotel’s famous beachside breakfast feast. For €40, you get an open Champagne bar and literally every type of food you can imagine. There’s a kebab station, an omelette station, a smoked-fish station, a sushi station, a pastry station, a juice station, a cheese station, a charcuterie station, a fruit station, so many stations. Too many stations.

We’re determined to get our money’s worth, which results in hefty food comas. We recover in the lounge chairs by the smaller pool behind our room.

Once human again, we head to Marina Botafoch, a small shopping area on the other side of the marina. We close out our outing with some great homemade pasta at Super Tuscan Restaurant and Cafe (€40).

We want to end our stay, and our trip, with a bang. After some research, we discover Bambuddha, one of the hottest restaurants on the island, hidden at the top of a windy mountain. We’re only able to get a reservation for 10:30 p.m., which we book, determined to blow out our trip.

The concierge is unable to call us a cab (once again, the hotel disappoints), so we hail one on our own nearby. The ride becomes totally frightening once we’re up on the unlit mountain roads. But we’re safely dropped off at the restaurant, which is more than just an eating venue. It’s a destination.

Bambuddha is composed of a number of open-air rooms, with decor inspired by the Middle East and Japan. The main dining room is an enormous bamboo ballroom, with an epic crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Rainbow twinkle lights are hung around the walls, vintage Oriental chairs are peppered throughout the space, and the clientele matches the atmosphere.

We wait an additional hour and a half before getting seated, which causes no frustration; just being in the space is fun. Our meal (€120) is incredible, as is our waiter, Sergio. He talks us through the exclusive dishes at the restaurant and brings us a special dessert (a cheesecake-inspired foam stuffed with cherries, housed in a beautiful white-chocolate structure and spritzed with additional cherry sauce).

We’ve been at Bambuddha for over three hours when we finally hop into a cab and head back to the hotel.
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Photos courtesy of Lulu Krause and Julie Singer.
Day 15 and Onward
The mood is heavy as we finish packing, check out, and arrive at the airport. We can’t believe our trip is over — we’re almost devastated. We begin our 18-hour travel day home, and over the course of the journey we’re able to lighten up.

When we get home, we go to our separate apartments (Julie’s living in NYC for the summer) and spend the first night apart from each other in 15 days. We reunite two days later to look through our photos (all of which were taken on a vintage automatic Contax film camera), and the disappointment that came with the trip ending fades away.

The photos are magical: All of the stories that we’d written about are brought to life again. Looking through our pictures, we relive our trip and realize that we have both the memories that accompany our many adventures and the images.

Julie: A phrase the Johannesburg boys kept repeating sticks with me — “It’s once in a lifetime.” My favorite memories from the trip are of the times when we went for it: when we approached people like Blonde Sein, whom we found interesting, when we wandered lackluster alleyways in search of hidden gems, and when we committed to climbing mountains uncertain about what we’d find at the top. My hope for us is that we continue to treat moments as once in a lifetime, that we continue to find magic in the unexpected. (Also, I’d really like to keep matching.)

Lulu: When we were first chatting with Elizabeth in Prague, she shared that she had recently turned 80. She also told us that all of the women she was with were either widowed or divorced. So here were a group of single women in their 70s and 80s, living it up on a ladies’ trip. It was a simple reminder of the power of friendships. A good friendship transcends time and change; it’s a museum of important memories, jokes, hard times, and great times.

Even though memories from this trip will eventually fade, Julie is my museum and I am hers. I’ve known her for almost 10 years, and I’d like to imagine that in about 55 years we’ll head back to Prague and chat up two 25-year-old besties making fools of themselves in public, the way Elizabeth did with us.