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Eastern Europe/Balkan states - independent, tour or river cruise?

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I am thinking of visiting Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary an neighbouring countries when I visit Europe next year.

I'm not sure I can travel independently in these places. I am reluctant to do so (especailly Bulgaria and Serbia). I have looked at tour itineraries, river cruises, etc.

I do realize that tourism to this part of Europe is fairly new and that there isnt' much to choose from (tours, packages, etc) when visiting these countries.

Please provide feedback on the tour and river cruise itineraries I have posted below.

The tour I am looking at is by Cosmos the price is $2600 Canadian dollars with a single supplement.

Here's the tour itinerary:-

Day 1

Overnight flight.


Day 2

. ARRIVE IN BUDAPEST Check into your hotel. The rest of the day is free. Tonight, meet your Tour Director and fellow travelers.

Day 3

BUDAPEST

Included sightseeing with a Local Guide features Buda Castle, which dominates the twin cities of Buda and Pest, separated by the broad ribbon of the Danube. Also see Heroes’ Square, which typifies the modern capital, as well as the old inns and wine cellars along the riverbank, the Royal Castle, Parliament, Margaret Island, Fishermen’s Bastion, and Matthias Coronation Church. (B)

Day 4

BUDAPEST–NOVI SAD, SERBIA–BELGRADE

This morning, travel southwards at first along the motorway to the border town of Szeged to cross into the province of Vojvodina in Serbia. Stop in Novi Sad, the capital of the province, situated on the River Danube and famous for its Petrovaradin Citadel, known in the west as the “Gibraltar of the Danube.” Drive along the motorway into Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. (B)

Day 5

BELGRADE–SOFIA, BULGARIA

A comfortable drive this morning southeast by way of Nis; then, across the border into Bulgaria. Arrive in Sofia, its capital, for sightseeing with a Local Guide, which will include such highlights as the Parliament building, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a memorial church dedicated to the Russian soldies who died during the Russo-Turkish War, the Boyana Church, the National Theater, and St. Sofia Church. The locals will tell you that Sofia is growing all the time, yet never aging. (B,D)

Day 6

SOFIA. EXCURSION TO RILA MONASTERY

This morning, drive to Rila to visit its Monastery the most famous in the country. It has a checkered history that goes way back to Ivan Rilski, a hermit who founded it in 927. During the very long Turkish rule over the country, the monastery became a beacon of Bulgarian culture. Return to Sofia. Tonight, maybe join an optional folklore dinner. (B)

Day 7

SOFIA–PLOVDIV–VELIKO TÂRNOVO

This morning, head eastwards to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city, located along the banks of the River Maritsa. Stop here to visit the charming Old Town and the Roman Amphitheater. Journey northwards through fine scenery over the Stara Planina Mountains to Veliko Târnovo. (B,D)

Day 8

VELIKO TÂRNOVO–BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

Today, time to see some of the highlights of Veliko Târnovo, located on the Yantra River. During the Middle Ages, it was Bulgaria’s capital and, although now a modern town, it still retains some of its most attractive medieval features. Later, drive to nearby Arbanassi, world famous for its type of house, which is a cross between a dwelling and a fortress. The village is known as an architectural and historic reserve and was at one time the summer residence of Bulgarian kings. One of the highlights of the visit is the Church of the Nativity, built in 1637. In the afternoon, journey north to Rousse and cross the Danube to reach Bucharest. (B,D)

Day 9

BUCHAREST

Flower-festooned parks, gardens, and wide boulevards shaded by century-old trees contribute to Bucharest’s beauty. The highlight of your sightseeing tour is a visit to the open-air Village Museum, a unique collection of traditional farmhouses, cottages, wind and watermills, and artisans’ workshops from all parts of the country. The Local Guide will also show you other places of interest, including the Government Victoria Palace, the Royal Palace, and the Savings Palace. There is also an afternoon optional visit to the Romanian Parliament, known as the House of the People. (B)

Day 10

BUCHAREST–SINAIA–BRASOV

Leave this morning for a stop in Sinaia in the Prahova Valley. This is a lovely ski resort, almost 3,300 feet above sea level. While in Sinaia there will be time to visit the Sinaia Monastery and Peles Castle, considered among the most romantic in the world. Only a few more miles and you reach Brasov, a lovely medieval town famous for its town square filled with baroque architecture and outdoor cafés. This evening, enjoy an optional folklore dinner in a typical Transylvanian restaurant. (B)

Day 11

BRASOV

This morning a walking orientation of the Old Town of Brasov will include a visit to the Black Church and leisure time. In the afternoon, leave for Bran and visit its castle, built in 1377 and inhabited by Vlad the Impaler—better known as Dracula. (B)

Day 12

BRASOV–SIGHISOARA–CLUJ-NAPOCA

Head northwards for a stop in Sighisoara, a medieval town with 11 towers within the city walls, which surround cobblestone streets, ancient houses, and churches—it is one of Romania’s prettiest towns. Legend has it that it is also the birthplace of the notorious Vlad (Dracula). Continue the journey north by way of Tirgu Mures on to Cluj-Napoca in the heart of Transylvania. (B,D)

Day 13

CLUJ-NAPOCA–BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Travel westwards today by way of Oradea into Hungary and return to Budapest. In the evening, enjoy an optional Danube dinner cruise. (B)

Day 14

End of tour.

The river cruise is operated by Viking, the cost varies throught the year, I will travel in the off season when prices are less. The river cruise costs more than the tour, but the river cruise includes all meals (except for lunch on one day) and sightseeing.

Here's the itinerary:_
Day 1

Oltenita
We meet you at the Bucharest airport and transfer you to Oltenita to board your ship.* Depart late this evening. (D)

Day 2

Constanta
Today, sail along the Danube to Constanta, Romania on the Black Sea coast. The oldest living city in Romania, Constanta was founded around 600 B.C. by Greek settlers, and is now a fashionable resort town. Arrive midmorning for a city tour featuring the iconic seaside casino and Art Nouveau architecture, and a stroll along Mamaia Beach, the “Palm Beach” of the Black Sea. Return aboard for dinner and evening cruising. (B, L, D)

Day 3

Russe
Sail into Russe, Bulgaria during breakfast, then embark on a full-day excursion to Bulgaria’s former capital, Veliko Tarnovo, where you see Tsaravets Hill and the ruins of the royal castle. During free time, shop for local crafts along Samovodska Charshia. Proceed to Arbanasi for lunch in a local restaurant and a guided tour of the Nativity Church with its intricate floor-to-ceiling murals and icons. Rejoin your ship at Nikopol/Svishtov and dine aboard. (B, L, D)

Day 4

Vidin & Belogradchik
Arrive in the picturesque Bulgarian port of Vidin during breakfast, then take an excursion to see Belogradchik Fortress, built right into the striking Belogradchik Rocks, and enjoy breathtaking views. Lunch aboard is followed by free time to explore Vidin’s city center, Baba Vida fortress, Orthodox churches and the ruins of the city’s once-grand synagogue. Depart during dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 5

Iron Gate & Kostolac
Cruise along one of the most scenic areas of the Lower Danube, flanked by enormous white chalk cliffs and spectacular scenery. The day’s journey is punctuated with an excursion to Kostolac, Serbia. See the archeological site at Viminacium, a former Roman capital with wide streets, luxurious baths and an amphitheater, recently opened to the public. (B, L, D)

Day 6

Belgrade
Wake up in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Take a guided walk through the grounds of Kalemegdan Fortress, now a beautiful park; also see the Orthodox cathedral and stop at the Square of the Republic. Lunch aboard, then free time to explore Belgrade’s gracious architecture or visit one of its many museums, like the Nikola Tesla Museum. Dine aboard or experience some of Belgrade’s nightlife—we depart very late this evening. (B, L, D)

Day 7

Osijek
Cruise along the Danube, arriving at Vukovar around noon. This afternoon’s excursion takes you to the Croatian city of Osijek. Inhabited by humans since Neolithic times, this area has had several heydays under the Romans, the Ottomans and the Habsburgs; now it is a pleasant town popular for its baroque buildings, parks and monuments. Return aboard for dinner. (B, L, D)


Day 8

Kalocsa
Sail into Hungary this morning, arriving in Kalocsa after lunch. Visit the House of Folk Arts, showcasing the area’s time-honored farming traditions. Then, you are treated to a performance of traditional Puszta horsemanship. Return to the ship and dine during departure. (B, L, D)

Day 9

Budapest
This morning’s city tour explores both sides of Hungary’s capital. Start in “Pest,” seeing Heroes’ Square, the Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica. Cross the river and tour the Castle District of older “Buda.” Walk to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Return to your ship for lunch; enjoy afternoon at leisure—as always your Program Director can help you plan your free time. Dine aboard and cruise through the night. (B, L, D)

Day 10

Bratislava
Cruise through the morning, arriving in Bratislava after lunch. Take a walking tour of Slovakia’s charming capital; see its medieval fortifications, Michael’s Tower, Trinity Church and St. Martin’s Cathedral. Pass several Habsburg-era palaces before returning aboard for dinner. You might like to take an evening stroll in Bratislava to see the castle lit up at night and the juxtaposition of medieval and modern structures. (B, L, D)

Day 11

Vienna
Today’s tour of Vienna takes you Opera House and Hofburg Palace. Have lunch aboard; your afternoon is free to explore the city’s gracious architecture and delightful cafés. Return to the ship for dinner followed by an optional evening concert of classical music. (B, L, D)

Day 12

Melk & Linz
Arrive in Melk during breakfast and tour the 900-year-old Benedictine abbey to see its collection of medieval manuscripts, ceiling paintings and frescoes. Return aboard for lunch and cruise through the famous Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this afternoon. After dinner, arrive in Linz; take a walk or sample local wines. (B, L, D)

Day 13

Budweis & Ceský Krumlov
Today we have a full-day excursion to two iconic Bohemian Czech cities: Budweis, with an impressive town square featuring Gothic, Renaissance and baroque buildings, and Ceský Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will have free time to explore and get some lunch at a local café. Rejoin your ship in Linz for dinner and late departure. (B, D)

Day 14

Passau
Enjoy a morning walking tour of this Bavarian town’s Italianate Old City, featuring views of the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress that served as a bishop’s stronghold for several centuries. Stop in to St. Stephan’s Cathedral and enjoy a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ there. Relax on board before dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 15.

Arrive Munich, end of river cruise.

Any suggestions fodorites can provide will be appreciated.

Thank you.

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