Tips for 2018 Eastern Europe trip

Old Jul 24th, 2017, 02:41 AM
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Tips for 2018 Eastern Europe trip

Hello all. My wife and I are planning a trip next May-June visiting Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Russia. We are hoping for a few tips regarding the following:

Greece:
We are flying into Athens from Australia and staying for 3 nights.
We have then allowed 5 nights to have a taste of the Greek Islands with Santorini and Mykonos on our wish list. From what we have seen, the only other island close to these two is Naxos.
Our plan is to take a "Jet" boat from Athens to Mykonos and stay for 2 nights and then a ferry to Santorini for 2 or 3 nights and then hopefully get a flight from Santorini to Dubrovnik.

Questions: Is this a doable plan? Should we spend more or less nights on Mykonos and Santorini? Should we see Naxos as a day trip or stay there? Are there other islands close by we should not miss?

Because we plan to fly to Croatia from Santorini, we will have all of our luggage in two (2 medium suitcases and a smaller carry on case). Will this be a problem either on the boats or the fight to Dubrovnik?

Can you recommend reasonably-priced accommodation on the island?. Doesn't have to be fancy, but in a good location if possible.

Croatia and Slovenia:
We usually travel inter-city via rail, but our research has shown that this is not an option here. Is bus travel OK for our planned itinerary here? We will be staying in Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar and Ljubljana.

We will then be taking a train to Budapest.

Budapest:
Any suggestions for "must-sees" and any "gotchas" please?

Russia:
We are also travelling independently to Russia for 8 nights. Flying into St Petersburg from Budapest and spending 4 nights there before catching the Sapsan train to Moscow where we will also spend 4 nights.

We have heard the language barrier is decidedly difficult in Moscow, but we are not sure about SP. We intend seeing a lot of Moscow using English speaking walking tour guides, but again are not sure what we should plan in SP.

Also, can anyone shed any light on whether obtaining the necessary Russian Tourist Visa is something we could do ourselves (without requiring therapy) or would it be worth paying an agency to do it for us?

Sorry for the number of questions but, as always, there is simply no better resource than Fodorites.

Regards,

Steve
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 04:15 AM
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The Greece portion of your plan is workable, but be aware that two nights on an island means only one full day between two travel days. There are lots of other islands besides Naxos near to Santorini (e.g. Folegandros, Anafi, Ios, Paros/Antiparos) but you don't have time to stay on any of them. Naxos is too far for a day trip, but Ios is nearer to Santorini, and well connected by highspeed ferries.

I would avoid a "jet boat" from Athens to Mykonos, and instead opt for a conventional ferry, which is almost like a mini cruise. Jet boats are only a little faster than modern conventional ferries, and you sit inside a cabin with limited visibility.

Large ferries like Blue Star, which leaves from Piraeus, have restaurants, inside lounges, and an outside deck where you can sit or stand and enjoy the scenery. One of the best, Blue Star, sails along the Attica coast, and usually stops at Syros and Tinos for about 15 min each on the way to Mykonos. Stand at the stern, and you can watch the passengers and vehicles getting off and boarding the ferry.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 05:25 AM
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Bus travel is fine for your Croatia-Slovenia leg. The trains are only really useful if you take a bus from Zadar to Zagreb and then switch to a train to Ljubljana there, but with the time lost on the transfer itself you might as well just take the direct bus to Ljubljana and be done with it.

Take time while in Ljubljana to do some day trips as there are some truly wonderful places in the countryside. Go to lakes Bled and Bohinj and perhaps visit one of the caves, etc.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 05:42 AM
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Hungary is gorgeous and Budapest is worth 100%.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 07:09 AM
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Croatia and Slovenia:
We usually travel inter-city via rail, but our research has shown that this is not an option here. Is bus travel OK for our planned itinerary here? We will be staying in Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar and Ljubljana.

We will then be taking a train to Budapest.>

Yes, Buses go along the coast but seasonal boats also go along the coast and stop at neat islands like Hvar.

Ljuljana-Budapest by train (may also be an overnight train)- for train info check www.budgeteuropetravel.com (check Croatia section for possible info on boats); www.ricksteves.com and www.seat61.com.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 07:14 AM
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One direct train a day leave Ljuljana about 9 am ar Budapest about 5pm- other links seem to require change and take 3-5 hours longer. (see www.bahn.de/en -which I used). No direct overnight train it seems.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 09:20 AM
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I'd hold off on planning the exact rail connections until the 2018 timetables are released in December. Leave yourself some wiggle room in the itinerary should timetables change more dramatically. They usually don't, but I wouldn't want to be caught out if a train connection gets axed as the Ljubljana-Venice link did a few years ago or conversely if better connections are added.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 04:18 PM
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A few comments and answers:

- 3 nights is very little for Athens, particularly since you will be recovering from jet lag while there. If you don’t want to add time, be sure to think through your priorities in advance.

- For an idea of your flight (and other) options, consult rome2rio.com – just be sure to confirm anything you learn there, as it is not sensitive to seasonal variations.

- What Greek islands to see and for what length of time depends entirely on your interests. None of us can answer your question.

- As for your luggage, the ferries give VERY little time to debark, so be sure you have your luggage and be near the exit before docking. For your flights, make sure your carrier allows the weight and size of your luggage, and if it exceeds the limits, consider paying in advance.

- Buses in Croatia and Slovenia are convenient and comfortable, IME.

- I don’t speak Russian and had wonderful experiences in both St. Petersburg and Moscow as a solo independent female traveler in 1994. It will help you immensely to learn to transliterate from Cyrillic. Again, 4 nights, IMO, very little for either city – think through your priorities in advance.

- You don’t say who much time you have in total, but I must admit that I find your itinerary ambitious. Are you sure you will have time to see and experience the things that draw you to each of these wonderful destinations?

Good luck!
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 05:29 PM
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Thank you all for your thoughts and suggestions:

Heimdall:
I will research the closer islands you suggested and definitely look at using Blue Star ferries.

Rtt0921:
Thanks for confirming bus travel in Croatia. With regard to the rail connection, yes we have found that it is reasonably difficult to making a booking outside of 3 months anyway so this should work out.

PalenQ: Thanks for the rail info. I know 8 hours sounds a lot but we can always book 1st class if need be
Anyway, I guess it is easier than the flight from Oz!

Kja:
Thanks for your helpful suggestions and insights. We will definitely check into the luggage situation. With regard to weight, our cases are rarely much heavier than 17kg (38 Lbs if you use imperial units).

Our total time is just shy of 6 six weeks. Believe me, I am with you when it comes to more leisurely travel. In the past we have had 9 and 8 week trips to Europe simply because of the countries we visited (Spain, Italy - lots to see).

This time my wife has set a curfew due to grandchildren and dog-sitting commitments

The other issue we have – and this one is down to me – is that I like to compartmentalize a trip to a degree. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily want to visit Denmark in isolation. I would rather plan a trip that took in all of Scandinavia in one go.

This trip is designated our "Eastern Europe" trip. Although leaving Russia out this time would give us a more leisurely visit now, I am apprehensive because if we do that we may never be over that way again and miss out on ever visiting Russia and seeing a couple of remarkable cities.

With regard to planning ahead - I am a little fastidious when it comes to that. By the time we leave we usually have a very good idea of what we are going to see in and around every place we stay. Also, because we travel using Public Transport, I keep my eye out for half-day trips to hard-to-get-to places using Viator.com.

Thanks again to you all, and if you think of anything else please post - we still have 9 months to learn!
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 05:51 PM
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I fully appreciate the desire to see all these places and to plan a trip that includes the balance that YOU want for them, but now that I know your time frame, I must admit that I am even more concerned about your itinerary. And not because I'm thinking of a leisurely trip -- I'm thinking that you are contemplating a trip that could mean being on the move every minute of every day, except when you are in transit! Or to put it differently, to see even the highest of highlights of each of these places in the time you are allowing could easily mean that you would have no time to relax except when on a plane or train. But as with all things, it depends on what YOU want to see and experience, and I'm sure your willingness to be fastidious in planning will prove useful.

Two additional thoughts:

- You might want to consider whether St. Petersburg and Moscow might actually lend themselves more readily to a future trip to Scandinavia or some other parts of northern Europe. Or perhaps consider delaying Greece for a future trip that includes Turkey….

- And I just realized that you didn’t mention the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is, IMO, the single most un-missable of Croatia's many splendors. Not only are the lakes connected by travertine waterfall formations, each lake has unique microbiota, and as a result, the lakes are different colors. this park is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and well worth a night in the Plitvice Lakes area, as visiting the park can easily take 6 or more hours.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 08:57 PM
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Hi again Kja,

It's funny that you mentioned the Plitvice Lakes. This was the catalyst for the entire trip! I saw an article on the Lakes and have long wanted to visit Croatia and Budapest so decided to combine the two. My wife then added the Greek Islands and we went from there.

The reason I didn't mention the Lakes in my post was because although number one on the sightseeing list, it was never considered as an overnight stay. We plan to see it as a day trip from Zadar (we are staying there for 4 nights).

The other thing you mentioned is also right on the mark - time to relax - it's a funny thing, but we have always thought of our Europe trips as the most wonderful, interesting, fulfilling experience one could ever have. But, we never think of it as a "holiday". Our idea of a holiday is to be on a cruise for 10 nights and just "do nothing, but relax".

When in Europe, the rest we get is in transit and when we have finished sightseeing for the day (usually around 6pm) and have a shower and head off for a relaxing, nice dinner somewhere preferably with a view. We also take the opportunity to stop at a café, drink coffee and people watch whenever we can.

If we stay somewhere for 4 nights and find that we are happy with what we have seen and done and still have a day left, then we will spend that next day relaxing and doing nothing (or the laundry). But, yes other than that we tend to be busy on our little "adventure". Time for holidays when we are less fit.
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Old Jul 24th, 2017, 09:23 PM
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I'm glad to hear that you plan to include the Plitvice Lakes! I think you'll find them very special.

I, too, travel hard -- on the go from breakfast to well after sunset pretty much every day, and then a bit of relaxation over dinner and while in transit. I would find this trip incredibly frustrating, as it would feel to me like I was skimming every destination and missing out on way too many of the things that would have inspired me to visit them in the first place. But again, YMMV, and I do understand that the distance to Australia probably leads to a different sense of priorities than mine (coming from the US). Nonetheless, I would encourage you to explore your timing a bit more before locking in your flights, as it will be much more difficult to adjust your itinerary once you do that.
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 03:08 AM
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One thing I have come across while looking into the flight situation - we need to fly from Santorini to Dubrovnik and then from Budapest to St Petersburg - is that there are next to no direct flights.

Can someone enlighten me as to whether more flights will be available as we get closer to next May/June? I searched for a mock flight from Santorini to Dubrovnik for May 24 next year and the best available flight was for a duration of 19 hours with 2 stops!!
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 06:20 AM
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Yes first class for such a trip is a no-brainer. Too bad there seems to be no overnight train.
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 08:47 AM
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<<Can someone enlighten me as to whether more flights will be available as we get closer to next May/June? I searched for a mock flight from Santorini to Dubrovnik for May 24 next year and the best available flight was for a duration of 19 hours with 2 stops!!>>

No.

First, you should be mocking up flight plans based on the next couple of weeks to a month because that could tell you what routes are used. The airport websites for Dubrovnik and Santorini may also tell you where the various departing flights go to. Currently, there are various airlines that fly with one stop in about 4.5 hours or so (usually through Athens).

Fact is, you're hoping for a direct flight between two entirely separate countries from two specialized destinations. Dubrovnik is a small town. Santorini is a tiny island. Neither has enough people and connected commerce to justify a direct flight between the two.
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 08:49 AM
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PS - there are Budapest-St Pete direct flights. You just may need to wait a bit longer for them to open up. Some airlines only book 6 months out.
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 03:38 PM
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Hi BigRuss - thanks for the update. I actually did run a few mockup flights for September this year after posting and the results were better - still about 4.5 hours for a 1.5 hour flight but waaaayy better than 19 hours.

BTW, has anyone got any idea about the Russian Visa application question? I have heard that it is a nightmare but would rather do it myself than through a costly agent.

Thanks again!
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Old Jul 26th, 2017, 06:30 AM
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Hi,
Re: Russian visa question
I tend to think the difficulties involved are largely overblown, but also country-specific (Russians stick to reciprocity, so the set of requirements for Aussies is different from that for, say, Canadians).
Apart from the fact that there is just a handful of locations that would take your application in person (which means that you might have to pay rather exhorbitant mail-in fees), the application itself is rather straightforward once you throw together all the info. An agency will still require all the information from you, so I don't really see much value in their proposition.
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Old Jul 26th, 2017, 08:30 AM
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Hi, another comment re obtaining a Russian visa yourself.

We visited Moscow earlier this month and completed the application ourselves and submitted it in person to the Consul in Sydney. We also decided to collect our passports in person when they were ready some two weeks later.

All in all it was a very easy and straightforward process. We obtained our letter of invitation once we booked our accommodation in Moscow although there are a couple of agencies I understand you can get the letter from.

We used th following source to help us - the information regarding the visa process for Australians is comprehensive.

https://russiau.com/getting-russian-visa-australia/

Hope this helps.
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Old Jul 26th, 2017, 04:46 PM
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Hi Napoxoguk, thanks for the update. It makes sense to do it ourselves.

four_maccas - couldn't be anything but Aussies with a profile name like yours

Thanks very much for the link - it is definitely comprehensive and will help immensely.

I noticed on your profile that your next trip was to visit:

Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Mittenwald and Munich.

I'm not sure whether that is old information or current, but we my wife and I did a trip in 2013 visiting Germany, Austria and Prague - and we stayed in the all the places you mentioned. You will absolutely love it!

All the places you mentioned are wonderful. The big surprise for us though, was Dresden. We really only stayed there for 3 nights because it was halfway between Prague and Berlin, but it was one of the highlights of our trip. A lovely Old City!

I'm not sure how long you are staying in Salzburg, but if you can get to St Gilgen or Hallstatt in the Austrian Lake District (Salzkammergut), you will be amazed. We based in St Gilgen and took day trips to Hallstatt, Bad Ischl and St Wolfgang. If you can, take the steam cog railway to the top of Mount Schafberg - amazing views of ALL 12 lakes below.

Thanks again for the info.
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