Guest Wanderer: John ‘Phampants’ Pham and an Eastern European Escapade

I met John almost four years ago through YouTube when I was gearing up for my first solo trip overseas. Having announced in a video that I would be jumping on a plane to Munich in a few short months, a YouTube user by the name ‘Phampants’ contacted me to offer any friendly advice he might give on backpacking Europe. John was both a fellow YouTuber and travel junkie – and this turned out to be the moment my first real YouTube friendship began.

Despite him being a resident Chicagoan, our worldly wanderings have meant that John and I have  had the opportunity to meet in person a couple of times whilst traveling:


John and I having a quiet catch-up on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disneyland – Anaheim, California 

John recently shouldered his backpack for another overseas escape, returning once again to ever-enchanting Europe. I got in touch to chat about his latest adventures:

So, John. You’re a pretty prolific traveler, having set foot on European soil a couple of times already. What inspired this recent adventure?

J: When I first backpacked Europe in 2009, I loved it so much that I knew I wanted to do it again –  but instead of Western Europe, I wanted to do Eastern Europe. So this trip was a balance of visiting friends (Rome, Frankfurt and Krakow) and exploring the Eastern European countries.

Euro Tour 2013 map 1

John’s three-week Europe trip, Nov-Dec 2013

Truthfully, I just travel where my stomach wants to go.  The world is filled with too much delicious food to eat and alcohol to drink. Follow your stomach and you’ll never be disappointed.

Did this trip reveal any special places you hope to return one day?

J: I’ve been to Rome twice before. After studying the classics for so long and having a friend there now, it’s hard not to return. As for new cities, I definitely want to return to Berlin again when it’s warmer. Plus, I had the best ramen outside of Japan and best Korean food outside of Korea. Vienna needs a return visit because 2 days were not enough. Finally, I would return to Krakow in a heartbeat. It was definitely my favourite city on this trip.

House of Parliament in Budapest copyCharles Bridge in Prague copy

Hosue of Parliament, Budapest | Charles Bridge, Prague

The all-important question – what was the food like? Favourite dish? Anything you’re craving, now home?

J: Where do I even start?

Rome: For traditional Roman fare that is Anthony Bourdain approved, go to Roma Sparita in St. Cecilia Piazza in Trastevere. The cacio e pepe is phenomenal. But if you’re craving something different, is a gastropub that’s perfect for beer lovers and foodies. Craft Italian beers meets food designed for your palate. For an aperitivo, go to Chiostro del Bramante. Drinks and snacks in an old monastery with an open courtyard in the middle of Rome.

cacio e pepe copyWienerschnitzel Frankfurt style copy

A Roman cheese and pepper pasta dish, cacio e pepe, at Roma Sparita – Rome | Wiener schnitzel with potatoes and green sauce – Frankfurt

Frankfurt: Wiener schnitzel Frankfurt-style is your typical fare, but with Frankfurt’s green sauce. While in Germany everyone must have a doner. I highly recommend one at Doy Doy’s off Konstablerwache.

Budapest: Szimpla is a ruin bar found in the old Jewish ghetto. I won’t say much lest I spoil the place.

Vienna: Julius Meinl on Kohlmarkt is a great place for coffee and lunch. If you’re here during the Christmas season, go to the Rathausplatz for some Glühwein, wurst and Leberkäse.

Prague: Old Prague Ham. Just have it. It changed my life. Beer lovers must visit Klášterní pivovar Strahov on the hills of Prague. It’s a great craft brewery in an old monastery with a great outdoor dining area.

Old Prague Ham copyKlasterni pivovar Strahov Courtyard copy

Old Prague Ham – Prague | The courtyard at Klášterní pivovar Strahov, a hilltop craft brewery situated in an old monastery – Prague

Berlin: When in Berlin, one must always have currywurst. But for something different, I highly recommend Kimchi Princess near Kottbusser Tor. The bibimbap is fantastic and  the kimchi jjigae fills you up perfectly. If you’re in Hackesher Markt, check out Cocolo Ramen for amazing ramen. Craft beer lovers – go to Hops & Barley on Wühlischstraße. For the adventurous type, go to labyrinth bar Peristal Singum.

Krakow: When in Poland, one must eat pierogies, black pudding & potato pancakes. Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa is a 1950s-themed bar that has a few locations in Krakow. Great place to hang out, have a few beers or shots of vodka.  Speaking of vodka, if you love Nutella or hazelnut, order some hazelnut vodka here.  You’ll thank me.

What would you recommend to anyone travelling to this part of the world?

J: Explore the Jewish history in Eastern Europe. From the free walking tours to Holocaust memorials or a trip Auschwitz, the history of the Jews in  Eastern Europe is something all should experience.

How has overseas travel changed for you over the years?

J: There’s always more to see, learn, eat and drink. The friends you make abroad are real. It’s okay to change plans halfway through your travels. Sometimes it’s worth blitzing an area and sometimes it’s okay stay in one place for awhile. And it’s possible to fall in love with more than one place.

And the question on every traveler’s mind upon returning home – where next?

J: South America is calling my name. Buenos Aires is on the top of my list. Cape Town, South Africa and Thailand are climbing up the list quickly. But Puerto Rico will happen this spring. ;)

Pham in Zakopane copy

Zakopane, Poland

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