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kja Feb 11th, 2014 04:52 PM

I was so lucky! I had gorgeous weather when there, during the White Nights, no less! :-)

And I was able to spend a half day in the Russian Museum, with its wonderful collection of icons and other Russian art. WELL worth seeing.

JulieCallahan Feb 11th, 2014 07:55 PM

If you can afford a day in Budapest.... Add it. When friends visit, three full days covers the city. There are also some nice trips out of the city.

The city is torn apart right now, but the construction will be done soon, and it is going to be fantastic. The area near ferenciek ter is very nice and is one of the most renovated ( that seems to be the area of the above apartment). I am not sure how price sensitive you are, but Budapest can be very inexpensive with a wide range of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and apartments. It is an opulent city though quite poor.

I like Bratislava. And if you do bike, that is how I would spend the day. This is Denver style biking.... Long, flat, dedicated trails that go forever (unlike Denver, dotted with little beer huts). If that isn't your thing, we will come up with something else. When you get to that part of the trip, just tell me your interests and I will make some suggestions.

JulieCallahan Feb 11th, 2014 08:11 PM

Les, I will weigh in on the exit strategy. My daughter is in Boulder at the University of Colorado so we fly to Denver quite a bit ( we decided to sell our home a year ago, but lived ourselves in Evergreen). We tend to take the BA flight thru Heathrow. From where you end, the option of going back to Venice is perfect, and Venice to Denver is easy. Or you could ferry straight across from Dubrovnik and train to Rome. In either scenario, Denver is one hop away.

Dubrovnik to Denver is not clean, and quite expensive.

For parts of this trip (including around Bratislava and Budapest), you could easily drop the car and use trains. Your choice. We have lived here 2 1/2 years and never used a car. ( though for the Slovenia and Croatia parts of the trip, a car is nice).

Les Feb 13th, 2014 06:30 PM


Please refer to my last itinerary (several posts earlier, on Jan 12):

For Budapest, you said 3 full days covers the city. We've currently allotted 4 nights, which gives us 3 full days, plus half days on arrival and departure.
When you said "If you can afford a day in Budapest.... Add it.", did you mean in addition to the 3 full days?

As for Bratislava, we are interested in exploring the city rather than the environs (other than what we might see and explore on the drive to and from the city). We aren't bikers, although we do own 4 scooters with which we explore the mountains around are home - including Evergreen (we live against the foothills near Chatfield Reservoir, so 5 minutes puts us into the mountains).

I think we'll stick to our current exit strategy - drive back to Warsaw (via a slightly different route to avoid too much retracing of our steps) and leave from there. This has a couple of major financial benefits - we avoid the significant rental car drop-off fee, and the Icelandic flights (which we can get from Warsaw) are generally cheaper than those of the other major airlines. Flying back from Venice as you suggest would add thousands to the cost of the trip, and provide nothing in the way of a new experience (been there, done that).

We've almost finalized planning the Baltic/Russian part of our trip. We're in the process of modifying the agenda proposed by our travel agent, and have only to agree on hotels and means of transportation between the cities, which we should be able to do when we speak with him tomorrow. We will be allowing 6 full days (7 nights) to see St. Petersburg, and I think our time will be well spent.

JulieCallahan Feb 13th, 2014 07:35 PM

Good deal on the exit strategy. If you found one that works, go for it. The Icelandic Air flight started since I moved. Note to self to look at an Iceland layover when we go to Denver in August!

Four full days in Budapest can be easily consumed. We just cover the city in 3 full days. Four will let you slow the pace and work in a spot outside the city.

I like Bratislava. We lived there for over a year when we left Colorado. The old town is fairly small, charming. It has a wonderful classical music hall, The Reduta. The larger city has a bit to see (just around Old Town). It erodes to a dreary communist style city quickly. You have a long trip. Bratislava will be a nice spot to regroup.

I will wait patiently while you plan the start of the trip (I keep interrupting).

Les Feb 14th, 2014 05:25 PM

If I didn't want to be "interrupted" by knowledgeable forum members, I wouldn't have posted here. Thank you for contributing.

kovsie Feb 14th, 2014 10:13 PM

Hi Les, I do not know if you are a reader, but I cannot help recommending a book I just bought 2nd hand:
'Montenegro' by Starling Lawrence, 1997, Penguin.
It is beautifully written and describes that area so well.
Happy planning!

Les Feb 15th, 2014 08:04 AM

Thanks for the recommendation, Kovsie. I'll see if I can get it at the library.
We've only allowed for a day trip to Kotor from Dubrovnik, so we won't actually get to see much of Montenegro. It would be nice if the rental company would allow us to drive their car to Montenegro, but that's not the case.

thursdaysd Feb 15th, 2014 08:09 AM

My reading recs for the Balkans:

Robert Kaplan: "Balkan Ghosts"
Rebecca West: "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon"

The bus ride between Kotor and Dubrovnik is quite scenic.

Les Feb 25th, 2014 02:07 PM

Hello, again.

Well, much progress has been made.
Most importantly, we decided to shorten the trip slightly, in part because of logistics, but mostly because a 7 week trip is longer than we'd prefer. We felt that the southern part of the itinerary was best left for another trip. We did, however, add Dresden to our itinerary. And we've booked our flights (from Denver to Helsinki, and return from Warsaw).

So the latest, greatest,and FINAL (because the flights are already booked) itinerary is as follows:

Fly from Denver to Helsinki
(3 nights in Helsinki);
Travel to St. Petersburg (Allegro Train)
(7 nights in St.Petersburg);
Travel to Tallinn (Russian Railways Train)
(2 nights in Tallinn);
Travel to Riga (Luxury Bus)
(2 nights in Riga);
Travel to Vilnius (Luxury Bus)
(2 nights in Vilnius);
Travel to Warsaw (Plane)
(3 nights in Warsaw);
Drive to Wroclaw
(1 night in Wroclaw);
Drive to Dresden
(2 nights in Dresden);
Drive to Prague
(4 nights in Prague);
Drive to Bratislava
(2 nights in Bratislava);
Drive to Budapest
(4 nights in Budapest);
Drive to Zilina
(1 night in Zilina);
Drive to Krakow
(3 nights in Krakow);
Drive to Warsaw
(1 night in Warsaw)
Fly from Warsaw to Denver

Everything on the first part of the trip (Helsinki to Warsaw) is already booked. Because of the difficulty of driving between Russia and the Baltic countries (which would have entailed switching cars multiple times), we enlisted the help of a travel agent to book our hotels (we chose the hotels) and transportation between cities.

Once in Warsaw, we'll pick up a car and complete the itinerary on our own. Aside from the return flight to Denver, and the car reservation (yet to be made), nothing else will be pre-determined. We'll see how it goes.

I have one other question (and who knows how many more to come?):
We added one night in Zilina. Zilina was chosen because it was conveniently located to break up the long drive between Budapest and Krakow. I know little about the town, or if there might be someplace more interesting to stop enroute, and would like your advice on this point.

Now that we're beyond the initial planning stage, hopefully it'll all be downhill from here (I mean that in a GOOD way).

kja Feb 25th, 2014 04:05 PM

Should be interesting! Any chance of shifting one night in Warsaw to Krakow?

thursdaysd Feb 25th, 2014 05:32 PM

I think you are way short-changing Riga, but too late now, I guess.

Between Budapest and Krakow I would recommend Levoca but it may be a bit out of the way. Or Stary Smokovec, but that's really only worthwhile if you have time to hike a bit.

JulieCallahan Feb 25th, 2014 07:59 PM

I have a girlfriend from Zilina... She always describes it as quite lovely (in a Slovak way, no doubt). I think you are going the Bratislava way... Which I think may be more highway. On that route you could look at Trencin or Piestany (a famous spa town, nice if you have time to do a spa thing).

I also think you could go right up the center... Without looking at a map, we did consider Levoca when we went from Budapest to Krakow. At the time we did this, I could not find a hotel which would respond to my email. I now realize eastern Slovakia is not a haven for English speakers. If you need help on Slovak, please come back to me.

We hiked above Stary Smokovec. The Tatras are lovely... A thimble vs. Colorado, and the hiking not nearly as nice. Poprad has some nice areas, but is likely too big and a pain to deal with.

JulieCallahan Feb 25th, 2014 08:34 PM

Ok ... I broke down and looked at a map (Gesh, that would have helped sooner)... I also think Banska Bystrica is a nice option. This route is much more scenic than the west. The roads are a snap vs. mountain roads in Colorado.

Les Feb 25th, 2014 09:03 PM

Glad to see you guys (generic, no gender implied) are still with me.

kja, are you suggesting that I limit Warsaw to 2 nights and Krakow to 4 nights? I still have the freedom to make that change, but only until I reserve my car (which will be for the day I leave Warsaw). However, only 2 days in Warsaw doesn't sound like enough time for a major city. We have a guide book for Poland, and we'll re-think that plan. But my gut tells me that we should keep the 3 days in Warsaw. Since the remainder of the trip is loose, we'll always have the option option of re-arranging the schedule to add a day to Krakow if we find that we can shave a day off one of the other cities (we'll know when we get there if we can or want to do that), or extend the driving time on one day to eliminate an overnight.

thursdaysd, alas, that part of the trip is locked in, so adding time in Riga won't be possible. For what it's worth, we did solicit opinions from our travel agent (actual, from several travel agents within the agency), and look through the guide books for Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius, and the consensus was to split the time evenly between the three.
An initial check of driving times shows that Levoca would be just as convenient for an overnight as Zilina. We'll have to do a little homework to see which town would be more interesting.

Julie, we're going to Bratislava on the way to Budapest, not on the way to Krakow. So on the way to Krakow, we will basically head north through Slovakia, with the option to overnight in Zilina or Levoca (or any other town that looks interesting); we're just trying to split the trip to limit our driving time each day.
As for the scarcity of English speakers, if we find a place we'd like to stay, we've generally had success with face-to-face communication (which trumps written communication every time), even when we don't speak the language. I hope that will also be the case on this trip.
Thank you for your offer to help; don't be surprised if we take you up on that during the trip. We got a lot of good advice real-time on this forum during our Greece/Turkey trip, and hope to do the same this time.

kja Feb 25th, 2014 10:00 PM

"kja, are you suggesting that I limit Warsaw to 2 nights and Krakow to 4 nights?"

Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting. You keep telling us that your time in any given city includes time to either side of the nights you specify, and I am suggesting that 2 days (even if that means one full day and two half days) is probably sufficient for Warsaw if it gives you an extra day in Krakow. You might even be able to see the best of what Warsaw offers in a day or day-and-a-half.

Warsaw was almost completely destroyed during WWII, so IMO, there just aren't that many things worth seeing, at least in comparison to what you would have to skip elsewhere to make the time to see them. The "Old Town" was reconstructed to match what it was during its height, and I commend the efforts of the city's residents to make that happen, but it doesn't take long to see. The old Jewish quarter might be worth a visit, but it is now essentially a residential area with just a few scattered (if nonetheless moving) testaments to the Jewish Ghetto Uprising, some of which you might not even recognize unless you have a very good guide book with you. The John Paul II Collection (aka Carroll-Porczyński Collection) is also well worth seeing, but it's small and won't take that much time, particularly because so many of its pieces are in desperate need of restoration. I found other enjoyable things to see in the free time I had before/after some business obligations -- some gardens, parks, a market area, another museum, a few churches -- but not that much and most of these things took very little time. In fairness, I haven't been there since 1995, so maybe things have changed....

In contrast, Krakow was not damaged during WWII and has an extraordinary wealth of sites worthy of exploration. Although it depends on what you want to see and experience, I think 3 days is close to a minimum for Krakow, particularly if you are considering a visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau.

Just my opinion....

JulieCallahan Feb 26th, 2014 01:53 AM

OK Les.. I will trust you... I thought the fastest way to drive to Zilina was to go up thru Bratislava (more highways).. But I might be wrong. I haven't driven here in over 2 years.

Acting works OK in Slovakia... sometimes. People most always try to hang me, so not to worry.

thursdaysd Feb 26th, 2014 04:39 AM

I am in entire agreement with kja about Warsaw - big disappointment (and I was there in 2004). The "old town" is not just small, but the no-doubt-praiseworthy reconstruction has left every building looking the same age. To my (European) eyes it looks totally fake. Think Epcot.

WRT sleeping in Levoca, I highly recommend - bearing in mnd I was there in 2006 and it has since upgraded from a pension to a hotel by adding a restaurant. See my website linked above for more.

Les Feb 26th, 2014 08:17 PM

kja and thursdaysd,

You're very persuasive. As you suggest, we have taken a night from Warsaw and added it to Krakow. That way, if it turns out that we find Warsaw to be more interesting than you think we will, we'll have the option to go back a day earlier at the end of the trip to see it more thoroughly.

thursdaysd, if it turns out that we overnight in Levoca (a decision that has yet to be made), the hotel that you recommend looks very nice. Thank you.

Julie, you are not wrong; the fastest way to Zilina from Budapest is back through Bratislava. However, the driving time is only marginally faster than heading straight north, which has the advantage of allowing us to see a new part of the country, and enabling us to opt for Levoca (as I said above, a decision that has yet to be made) without adding a lot of time to the trip.

FYI, here are the driving times to Zilina from Budapest (from the Michelin site):

Via Bratislava: 4 hours 04 minutes
Via E571: 4 hours 27 minutes
Via E77, 65: 4 hours 25 minutes.

So any route we choose will allow for a leisurely driving day.

kja Feb 26th, 2014 10:27 PM

I don't think you'll regret shifting a day from Warsaw to Krakow, and as you say, you will have the opportunity to add it back in if you think it worth doing. Let us know how it works out for you!

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