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Planning a trip to Eastern Europe, could use your help.

Planning a trip to Eastern Europe, could use your help.

Old Jan 10th, 2014, 08:32 PM
  #21  
Les
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Wow, a lot to respond to here.

First, kja, I apologize. I only responded to your last post because I didn't catch your earlier one (this thread is getting long!).

Both you and Russ have suggested that 5 days in Warsaw might be too long, but we were only planning on spending 4 NIGHTS there. That amounts to 3 full days and 2 half-days (travel days with very limited time for city touring). However, we will consider shortening that stay, based on your comments. Since we will be renting a car from Warsaw, we'll certainly leave earlier if we find that we don't need that much time there. But this is the kind of practical information that we're looking for. Thank you.

The night in Split on the way to Dubrovnik was added simply to break up the long drive into two days. My planning map doesn't have much detail, so I had no visibility of other towns along the route, but it could just as easily be Trogir. Well certainly look into that. We did not intend for sightseeing in Split on the southbound leg, since we will spend two nights there on the way back from Dubrovnik.

The same applies to Ljubljana on the northbound leg. Since we will have spent two nights there on the southbound leg, we can certainly break up the northbound leg at Lake Bled or Zagreb, or wherever seems interesting as we're driving. Again, this stop is simply meant to break up the long drive to Budapest.

As for not taking this particular trip because of the places that I've omitted, if that were indeed what was driving me, I probably could pick any single country (including the United States) and never run out of wonderful things to see. In fact, when we find a really wonderful place, where time does not permit seeing everything on the first trip, we return and "fill in" the blanks. For example, we did this with our Turkey/Greece trips, one in 2010 for 6 weeks, and again in 2013 for 7 weeks.

The genesis of this trip was that, although we lived in Europe for almost 5 years (not taking into account that I went to high school in Frankfurt for a year, my wife toured Europe while in college, and we made a return trip in 92, and the two trips to Greece and Turkey in the past 3 years), we have never seen Prague and Budapest. So using that as the prime reason for this trip, we added other places that we'd always wanted to see, and that made geographical and financial sense (it's definitely NOT cost effective to travel half way around the word for a 2 week trip, especially when we're retired and have the time).

Now let's address the car.
thursdaysd, you make some good points here. Having a car in a city sucks, there's no getting around it. But renting cars separately in each country and finding other means of transportation between countries is not much better (and means a LOT more looping to return the car to where we picked it up in each country. Also, (addressing Russ' comments), returning the car to Warsaw (some backtracking, but by a different route, so not a lot of duplication) saves us a significant amount of money because of the drop-off charges the car rental companies impose, and reasonably cheap airfare from Warsaw.

As for seeing more of Russia, since we prefer to limit our trips to 6 or so weeks, why should we opt for that over the itinerary that hits the things we prefer (can't do both on this trip)?

And while we certainly would like to see all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites (and we will certainly try to see Plitvice Lakes National Park), and cities like Sarajevo and Mostar, as was pointed out earlier, this is already an ambitious schedule, and at least two of the major car rental companies that I prefer to use will not allow the car to be driven in Bosnia or Serbia (among others), which rules out Sarajevo and Mostar In fact, this is the reason that we're not driving the shortest route from Dubrovnik to Budapest.

thursdaysd, you indicated that there is not a lot of time for "wandering" built in to this itinerary. I should point out that we've tried to keep the driving time each day to under 6 hours (and in many cases, between 3 and five hours). So a full day's drive can certainly include a lot of wandering.

Well, lots to think about. Back to the drawing board to start fine-tuning this trip. Thanks, all.
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Old Jan 10th, 2014, 08:43 PM
  #22  
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"But renting cars separately in each country and finding other means of transportation between countries is not much better (and means a LOT more looping to return the car to where we picked it up in each country. "

Hmm... When I've tried it -- including in Croatia and Slovenia -- I found it very easy to drop off a car, spend however long I wanted in the last city I plan to visit in that country, take public transportation to the next city (in the next country), visit it, and pick up a different car when I leave it. And I haven't faced huge drop-off fees as long as I drop off within the same country -- I have NOT needed to return to the city in which I rented the car. But I'm sure it varies from country to country and across rental car companies.
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Old Jan 10th, 2014, 08:46 PM
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Hi
It is an ambitious itinerary. We spend 4 weeks and covered only 4 countries. You forgot Romania! (That is part of Eastern Europe whereas Croatia and Slovenia are not.)
We spent one week in each country -- Romania is really worth seeing and Hungary, Slovakia and Southern Poland have just too much to experience to limit your time to so few days.
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Old Jan 10th, 2014, 09:59 PM
  #24  
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kja,
OK I'll research that. I guess just assumed that there would be drop-off charges, even within the same country (as there are in the U.S.). It seems that doing what you did would mean seeing most of the country from public transportation, with no chance to divert to places along the way that catch our interest. That's one of the main reasons we like driving.

What car companies did you use? I've been dealing with Hertz (have used them before in Europe, and was very satisfied). Also, I've found that some European car companies will not let you rent a car if you are above a certain age (we are in our early 70's).

springstraveler, we didn't forget Romania (or the rest of Russia, or Serbia, or Bulgaria, or any of the other Eastern European countries that have been mentioned). But with the limited time we've allocated for this trip, we've prioritized the cities and countries that we want to visit. I also don't understand why you think 6-7 weeks is too short for this a trip. You spent one week in each of 4 countries, we're spending at least 50% more time than that, but we're only concentrating on those few cities that hold an immediate interest for us.
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Old Jan 11th, 2014, 07:32 AM
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We will have to add a recommendation for Plitvice Lakes. Instead on staying in Split on the way down, stop there for the night. Two days coming back in Split is plenty and you can drive over to Trogir for a half day visit if you wish.
Just a warning about driving on major highways. At least a couple of the countries you will be driving in require a sticker on your car windshield to use the "toll" road. You may not know you are on such a road until pulled over and find yourself paying a 150E fine (which we did in Slovenia, weren't on the road for more than 10 minutes, rented the car in Italy and hadn't done our homework.)
We would vote a day in Lake Bled (the gorge walk was great and nearby) and a day and night in Ljubljana is plenty (very nice). We didn't love Zagreb.
Dubrovnik is small and doesn't take more than a day and night. Do go for a drink at the "Hole in the Wall", the one closest to Lokrum island (which we enjoyed exploring, half a day.)
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Old Jan 11th, 2014, 10:14 AM
  #26  
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Teresa,

Thanks for the advice. I'll certainly see about getting the necessary stickers when I talk with the rental company. When we rented the car in Switzerland on our last trip, they provided the necessary sticker, so I'm hoping they'll do that again.

Based on other recommendations, we were planning to stop somewhere other than Split on the way down (we were considering Trogir), but Plitvice Lakes appears to be a favorite on this thread, so I think we'll take your advice and stay there. We still need to get a detailed map of the countries we'll be visiting, because the map we have shows neither Plitvice Lakes nor Trogir. Split was just a place-holder for an overnight stop. Also, based upon the recommendations on this thread, we'll probably drop a day from Warsaw, which would allow us some time to linger at Plitvice Lakes or elsewhere.

Another iteration of our itinerary is in the works.

Thanks again.
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Old Jan 12th, 2014, 09:38 PM
  #27  
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Hi, again.

After considering your comments (and others), and doing additional research, I think we've decided on an itinerary that we can live with.

Here is what we propose for our trip:

Fly from Denver to Helsinki
(3 nights in Helsinki);
Travel to St. Petersburg (Plane, Bus, train?)
(7 nights in St.Petersburg);
Travel to Tallinn (Plane, Bus, train, ferry?)
(2 nights in Tallinn);
Travel to Riga (Business Bus)
(2 nights in Riga);
Travel to Vilnius (Business Bus)
(2 nights in Vilnius);
Travel to Warsaw (Plane, Bus, train?)
(3 nights in Warsaw);
Drive to Wroclaw
(1 night in Wroclaw);
Drive to Prague
(4 nights in Prague);
Drive to Linz
(1 night in Linz);
Drive to Ljubljana
(2 nights in Ljubljana);
Drive to Trogir
(1 night in Trogir);
Drive to Dubrovnik
(3 nights in Dubrovnik - includes day trip to Kotor);
Drive to Split
(2 nights in Split);
Drive to Plitvice Lakes
(2 nights in Plitvice Lakes);
Drive to Budapest
(4 nights in Budapest);
Drive to Bratislava
(2 nights in Bratislava);
Drive to Krakow
(3 nights in Krakow)
Drive to Warsaw
(1 night in Warsaw)
Fly from Warsaw to Denver

Travel arrangement for the Baltic part of our trip still haven't been decided, but we've been in contact with a knowledgeable forum member (not on this thread) who suggested
that we travel between the Baltic countries by Business Bus, and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we've initiated contact with a travel agency based in Vilnius to discuss options (including requirements for visiting Russia).

As I think I've mentioned, everything from Warsaw on is flexible, and I welcome any comments/suggestions/recommendations from you up to and during the trip.

Our next step will be to firm up the start and end dates for the trip (currently we're thinking Sept. 1 through October 17), and to reserve flights.

Looking forward to your continued comments.
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Old Jan 13th, 2014, 06:29 PM
  #28  
kja
 
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I'm glad you found a way to fit the Plitvice Lakes into your plan. For Helsinki to St. Petersburg, I thought the train a good option. Let us know how the trip works out for you.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 07:02 PM
  #29  
Les
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Hi, back again.
Plans are progressing well for this trip.
Currently finalizing arrangements for the Baltic countries and St. Petersburg, and I have a question about the best location for a hotel in St. Pete.
In my research for hotels, it seems that there's always a District associated with them. I'm unfamiliar with the layout of the city, so I need some advice. We'd like a hotel close to the "center of things" (wherever that is), so that we'd be within walking distance of restaurants and some interesting sites that we can safely walk to in the evenings (we'd plan on public transportation or day tours for our main daytime exploration).
Any preferred districts or locales?
Thanks.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 07:24 PM
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Hi Les, I can not help on St. Pete... But as a fellow Coloradoan living in Budapest, I know both Budapest and Bratislava very we'll. I will watch for those questions, should you have any.

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Enjoy.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 07:45 PM
  #31  
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I'm really surprised that that information isn't covered by your guide book and suggest that you might want to invest in at least one other.

That said, the area of St. Petersburg (St. Pete is in Florida) that I would have liked to stay in when I visited in 1994 was by the Grand Hotel Europe on Nevskiy Prospekt. Please note that I'm not recommending that hotel in particular -- I didn't stay there and my information is clearly out of date. I trust that people with more current information will chime in.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 08:39 PM
  #32  
Les
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Thanks for the quick responses.

Julie, thanks for your generous offer. You can count on additional questions re. Budapest and Bratislava (particularly for hotel recommendations and how best to fill our time there).
Right now I need to work on the "front end" of the trip (Baltics and St. Petersburg), because this needs to be more structured than the rest of the trip. From Warsaw,
the trip will be loosely choreographed, with plenty of opportunity to make changes along the way. However, if you have any critique of my itinerary, particularly pertaining to the time allotted for Budapest and Bratislava, I could use that info now. I can't make my flight reservations until I determine how long the trip will be.

kja (are those your initials, or your name?), thanks for that suggesting Nevskiy Prospect - I'll research the area. The only tour book we looked at for St. Petersburg (sorry about St. Pete - I was thinking about using the full name when I typed it, then decided that fewer letters meant fewer mistakes) we got at the library. Haven't decided on which one to get yet.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 09:16 PM
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When I visited Russia, residents of St. Petersburg had only recently been given the opportunity to call their beloved city by its original name, rather than calling it Leningrad. It was something that meant a great deal to them. Maybe that has changed.

kja is my screen name.
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 09:19 AM
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Two nights, one day, in Bratislava is good. If you are bikers, Bratislava has fantastic biking trails into Austria. It is my single favorite thing to do in this region.

You can easily fill 4 days in Budapest....
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 11:09 AM
  #35  
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Julie,

We've already planned 4 days in Budapest (actually 4 nights, which will give us 3 full days and approximately 2 half-days).
Do you think we need to extend this by one night?

We're also in contact with a travel agent to help with the Baltic part of the trip (particularly with the paperwork required to enter Russia, transportation recommendations between cities, and hotel recommendations). She's suggested that we might consider adding a day each to Tallinn, Riga, and Latvia. We'll look at her suggestions for what these cities have to offer, and then make a decision on that.

Also, we're still researching whether 7 nights in St. Petersburg is the right amount of time. I'd like some advice on that.

So, as you can see, the end date for our trip is still a moving target. Our itinerary is already longer that we'd prefer, but we want to get it right, and we'll extend the trip as necessary, or break it into two separate trips (not my preference).
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 11:42 AM
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OK, starting at the top and revisiting the itinerary:

-- Definitely train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg.

-- I don't know that you need seven nights in St. Petersburg - maybe an overnight trip to Novgorod?

-- If you take the train from St. P. to Tallinn you have a choice of leaving early or arriving late, any chance of a cheap flight?

-- I would definitely add time to Riga, maybe not to Tallinn.

-- I would add time to Budapest if possible, maybe drop a night in Bratislava, although I'm no fan of one night stops.

-- If you're headed to Krakow from Bratislava I would highly recommend trying to spend some time in the mountains - I also enjoyed Levoca - see http://wilhelmswords.com/eur2006/index.html - Slovakia

-- In Budapest I recommend staying in one of these apartments: http://budapestvacationrentals.com/S...n_Rentals.html

For more on the apartment I stayed in, and some things to do in Budapest, start here (links at the top of the page): http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...g-in-budapest/
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 12:49 PM
  #37  
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thursdaysd,
thanks for your thoughtful reply.

Let me address each of your suggestions:

-- Definitely train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg.: I agree, and I think the travel agent is planning that (we haven't seen her proposal yet);

-- I don't know that you need seven nights in St. Petersburg - maybe an overnight trip to Novgorod?: Probably not - if it makes sense to trim some time off St. Petersburg, that will compensate for some of the time we might have to add later in the trip;

-- If you take the train from St. P. to Tallinn you have a choice of leaving early or arriving late, any chance of a cheap flight?: Travel agent is looking into this;

-- I would definitely add time to Riga, maybe not to Tallinn.: I'll see what the TA suggests, but I believe you're correct about adding a day to Riga. Don't know yet about Tallinn or Vilnius;

-- I would add time to Budapest if possible, maybe drop a night in Bratislava, although I'm no fan of one night stops.: Will probably add a night to Budapest, as you (and Julie) suggest, but I won't drop the extra night in Bratislava (unless it's to break up a long drive, I also am not in favor of one night stops);

-- If you're headed to Krakow from Bratislava I would highly recommend trying to spend some time in the mountains - I also enjoyed Levoca - see http://wilhelmswords.com/eur2006/index.html - Slovakia: I need to research this. We've built in some outdoor stays earlier in the trip (Plitvice Lakes), and generally planned for short driving days to allow for exploration along the way. I like mountain driving, but at more than 6 weeks into our trip, it would really have to pique our interest to warrant adding an extra day.

-- In Budapest I recommend staying in one of these apartments: http://budapestvacationrentals.com/S..._Rentals.html: Does it make sense to rent an apartment for only 4 days? I'm thinking a nice hotel with a concierge who knows the city would be more practical. In any case, I'll take a look at the links you provided.

Again, thanks very much for your suggestions.
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 01:42 PM
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The people who rent the apartments I'm recommending in Budapest are big fans of the city and provide all the info you could possibly want/need for tackling the city, both on their website and on paper in the apartment. I can't think what more a concierge could do for you. Plus they provide some food, wine and Nespresso, bags for going to the baths, wifi, phones for calling the US....
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 04:06 PM
  #39  
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I thought St. Petersburg deserved at least 5 - 6 days. I'm sure traveling there has become easier since I was there, so maybe you won't need that 6th day, but there's certainly enough to do even if it ends up feeling like an "extra" day -- spend another day at the Hermitage, visit another of the imperial villas outside of town.... Depends on what you want to see and experience and at what pace.
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 04:43 PM
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I'm not a fan of baroque, which is probably why I didn't appreciate St. Petersburg as much as others. Plus the weather was bad and I had problems getting my visa registered. Also, I had seen a great deal of European art on my way to Russia, and really wanted to see Russian art - the Hermitage is not the place for that.
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