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Trip Report: 2 Low Country Gals "Czeching" out Central Europe...

Trip Report: 2 Low Country Gals "Czeching" out Central Europe...

Nov 25th, 2006, 12:40 PM
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Day 23– September 24, 2006 – The weather Gods are shining down on us!

The weather Gods are really shining down upon us here in Dubrovnik! We woke up to another sunny, clear blue sky, to match the amazing blue color of the Adriatic Sea!

I got up at about 6:30am and got ready for the day. CL and I were ready to get moving by about 7:30am-ish. We decided to go to the café at the corner of our street and the Stradun that Petar recommended yesterday. They didn’t open until 8am so we sat outside a few minutes and just before 8am the waitress took our order.

We had omelets and coffee. It was a vegetarian omelet for me and it was great, filled with cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers. And the cappuccino was good too!

One of the nice things about this café is that being on the Stradun it has great people watching opportunities. Since we were there so early the Stradun was fairly empty and I was able to get some nice pictures.

As we sat having breakfast the groups of cruise ship passengers began to arrive and they were being led by different guides based on what language they were speaking. Luckily today there was only 1 cruise ship in the harbor. I can only imagine what it’s like when there are multiple ships in port. Petar told us in the summer months there can 12-15 ships will all their passengers descending upon Old Town! The ship here today had 3 tenders bringing people to Town at 8am.

After our very delicious breakfast we decided to walk the walls in the morning, for a few reasons: 1- the light would be good for picture taking opportunities, 2- it would be cooler than in the middle of the day, and 3- we hoped to miss the big crowds. And we accomplished all three!

We decided to enter the walls at the Ploce Gate because we were closer to it and felt fewer people would use it. We were right. There was no line at all. We just walked right up to the ticket booth, paid our 50 Kuna each and started the walk.

It was ABSOLUTELY one of the most amazing experiences, again, just breath-taking views. I can’t even describe the color blue of the water and the red tile roofs of the homes of Old Town. I am trying to sear these colors into my mind while walking.

It took CL and I about 1 and a half hours to walk the entire wall and that was with lots of picture taking. The walk isn’t too difficult, but lots of steps up and down along the wall itself.

After walking the walls we made a stop back at our sobe and then walked around a bit more and headed over to the Buža Bar by following the “Cold Drinks” sign. This bar entrance is literally in a hole in the city wall that leads to a Cliffside bar that sits above the Adriatic Sea and below the wall walkway. It was great to just sit there, have a drink and soak up some sun and the amazing view.

CL and I each had a drink and sat back and relaxed, seems to be what we are doing best on this portion of the trip! As we were leaving the bar at about 1:30-ish we hear this big horn sound and look up to see the giant cruise ship that had been anchored just off the Old Port area moving back out to sea. It was so close to us, it felt like we could reach out and touch it. I thought, “No wonder all the passengers were touring the Old Town at 8am, they left at 1pm, not much time to see Dubrovnik”!

After drinks we walked around some more and found a place for lunch, which we had our main meal at today. We ate at Spaghetteria Toni, since we both wanted something other than fish. The food was pretty good, but not spectacular.

After lunch we did a little shopping and then stopped for some gelato. By now it was about 4:30pm and I wanted to go back up on the walls to take more pictures in the afternoon light. While I did this CL went to rent a car for tomorrow. In our walking about today we found a local car rental agency that had a car available for tomorrow.

Instead of going to Montenegro on one of the “canned” tours with Atlas we decided to drive ourselves down to the Bay of Kotor, Budva, and Stveti Stefan. This way we can follow our own timetable and not a group tour. Plus to rent the car will cost less then what we would have to pay for the Atlas group tour.

I went back to the walls at 4:30pm and spent about another hour and a half up there taking pictures. After we got back to our rooms CL reported success completing all the rental car paperwork. All we have to do is pick up the car in the morning.

Since we weren’t hungry we decided to go for a walk and check out the Pile Gate side of town. We found the Orham Restaurant, another recommendation from Petar. At 8pm the place was packed both inside and out and people were waiting to be seated. There was no menu outside, but we decided this would be our Dubrovnik “splurge” restaurant.

We decided to call it an early night and headed back to the sobe. What a great first full day in Dubrovnik!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 12:45 PM
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Day 24– September 25, 2006 – Montenegro…Here We Come!

Another gloriously sunny day! Today was our day to explore Montenegro. We were out the door just before 8am and had breakfast at “our” café on the corner. The only change I made was ordering a double cappuccino – it was Delish!

We headed over to pick up the rental car around 8:45am and we were on the road shortly after that. We had no trouble getting out of the city (the rental car agency was just outside the Ploce Gate) and we left Croatia without a hitch. Crossing into Montenegro took about 15 minutes. The guard wanted to see the rental car papers and it took me a few minutes to understand what he wanted. Once he reviewed all the papers he stamped our passports and gave us everything back we where on our way to the Bay of Kotor.

The rental car agent gave us terrific directions and we took the road along the coast and then up into the mountains going around the bay. The natural beauty was simply remarkable. We rode through Kotor and then we drove over the mountains and into the town of Budva.

Our ultimate goal was to go to Sveti Stefan, which is an island resort off the coast of Montenegro with a small causeway from the mainland to access the island. We parked our car in the parking lot on the mainland and walked over to the island. The island is pretty small, but it is a resort and we paid 7 Euro each to walk around.

We walked around a bit and took some pictures. We thought we would stop at the beach here, we even came prepared with our swimsuits, but by 1pm after being there about 45 minutes we were ready to head back to Dubrovnik.

It had taken us about 4 hours to get to this point by taking the road around the Bay of Kotor (to see the great views!). On the way back we took the ferry across the short portion of the bay (as suggested by the car rental agent) and it took off almost 2 hours of our trip! Going back through the border crossing was a snap. They looked at our passports in Montenegro but did not stamp them and at the Croatian border they didn’t even look at our passports.

After stopping to gas up the car, we used about half a tank of gas; we got back to Dubrovnik around 3:45pm. On the road back into town we stopped at a pull off that had astounding views of the Old Town and took some pictures.

We took the car back to the rental car lot and locked it up. The office didn’t open up again until 5pm, so we stopped back at our sobe and then headed out to get something to eat.

We decided to have our big meal of the day at Lokando. It’s a seafood place right in the Old Port. We ordered grilled squid, seafood risotto and salad. They also served great foccacia bread…the best bread of the trip! The grilled squid were EXCELLENT!!! The risotto was just so-so (Hvar risotto spoiled us!). We agreed we should have had 2 orders of the grilled squid!

After eating we went back to the car rental office to return the keys and settle the bill. The cost of the rental car for the day was 490 Kuna, about $85 and the gas was 150 Kuna, about $25. With the entrance to Sveti Stefan and some other expenses for the day our total for the day for both of us was about $110, so it was slightly less then what we would have paid for doing the Atlas tour to Montenegro.

After we returned the rental car we stopped for some gelato at Dolce Vita. I thought the gelato here was A LOT better then the gelato we’ve had the last 2 nights at another place. I had 1 scoop of chocolate and 1 scoop of tiramisu…hey, if the calories are going right to my thighs it is going to be with chocolate!

The rest of the evening we just spent strolling around and then called it an early night.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 12:51 PM
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Day 25– September 26, 2006 – Our First Bad Weather Day in Dubrovnik…

Since it appeared the chances of rain today were pretty good we decided not to go over to Lokrum Island today. It was cloudy most of the day and the sun was trying it’s hardest to peak through the clouds, but the rain won out around 3pm. Fortunately after about an hour of rain we did get a little sun in the late afternoon.

Today was definitely a “lazy day”. We had breakfast at our favorite café on the Stradun and sat there until about 10am. We walked around the town a bit more and checked at Mea Culpa. It’s the pizza place I had heard rave reviews about so we decided we would give a try tomorrow night. We also checked out the Orham Restaurant again and decided to have our “splurge dinner” here tonight. Then we walked up the Hotel Excelsior to check it out since I had heard rave reviews about this place too.

After all this walking around I really wanted a cold drink, so we stopped at the Grads Kavana Café and each had an iced coffee. It was more like a Starbucks frappuccino with ice cream, it wasn’t too bad.

Around 6pm we headed off to the Orham Restaurant, since we were both hungry.

We ordered the fish platter for 2 and it came with 2 tuna steaks, a whole (small-ish) trout, 2 large grilled squids and a bunch of mussels and mangold, The best part of the dish was the grilled squid…another pattern forming here…we LOVE grilled squid! But this grilled squid still was not as good as the grilled squid at Lokando. We did not have dessert but we each had a drink and the bill came to 300 Kuna, a little bit less then our awesome meal in Hvar. We walked back to our sobe and called it another early night.

Day 26– September 27, 2006 – Our last full day in Dubrovnik!

Our last full day in Dubrovnik! I’m sad to see my vacation coming to and end. Yesterday during our wandering about we stumbled upon a terrific bakery on one of the narrow streets. The name of the bakery is Niko and the pastries there not only smell delicious, they are totally out of this world delicious!

So, we went to the bakery first this morning to buy our breakfast pastry and a spinach and cheese phyllo rectangle to take with us over to Lokrum Island for lunch and of course 2 cookies for dessert!

We spent about an hour at our favorite café having cappuccinos, after getting our pastries. After having our cappuccinos we went over to buy the boat tickets to Lokrum. The tickets were 35 Kuna each and we bought a map of the island for 5 Kuna. Lokrum Island is about a 15 minute boat ride from the Old Port in Dubrovnik and the island is a nature preserve. There is an old fort (in ruins) at the high point on the island with great views of the Old Town of Dubrovnik. While we were on the boat we enjoyed the short ride and our breakfast pastries!

We hiked around the whole island (the map came in very handy) and at the “Dead Sea” which is basically a swimming hole/spot that fills with sea water, we stopped and sat on a bench and had our lunch. We caught the 1:15pm boat back to the Old Port and ended our 3 hour morning outing.

Before leaving the sobe this morning I left a note for a fellow fodorite who we were supposed to meet up with tonight for dinner. When we got back this afternoon my note was gone, but the fodorite had left a note for me. Clearly my note never made it into the hands of my fellow fodorite. I called the number on the “new” note to leave a message but had difficulty communicating. I chalked it up to the planets not aligning to meet up with this fellow traveler…but that was not the case! But I am digressing here.

After getting back from Lokrum, I went down to our favorite café and had a cappuccino and wrote in my journal and people watched. So, I had a very pleasant afternoon just enjoying being in Dubrovnik.

I met CL back at our sobe around 6pm and then headed out to Mea Culpa for pizza. We ordered the Mea Culpa pizza which had tomato sauce, ham, gorgonzola cheese and bacon it was pretty good and after dinner we stopped at Dolce Vita for another gelato. As we walked back down the Stradun there was a lot of activity at the end of the street near the street our sobe was on. There was a concert going on in front of the St. Blaise Church so we stopped to check it out for a while.

As we turned to leave the concert I heard someone yell my name. Imagine my surprise when I turn around and it was the fodorite I had been trying to connect with and her husband! Thank goodness we had exchanged photos via email and she recognized me in the crowd…who would have thunk that!!!!

We sat down at “our favorite café” and had drinks and a really nice chat for about an hour. They had just arrived in Dubrovnik the day before.

It was a great way to end the evening! Having drinks with new friends!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 01:02 PM
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Day 27– September 28, 2006 – Good-bye Dubrovnik!

As usual we were up and at "our favorite Dubrovnik cafe" at about 8:30am-ish. We had our double cappuccinos and sat enjoying them immensely! After about 45 minutes we asked for our check and thanked the waitress who had waited on us all week. We told her good-bye and that we were leaving today to go back home. She was so nice and shook our hands.
When we left the cafe we headed to the best bakery to get our pastries for the morning and then went just outside the Ploce Gate and sat on a bench, enjoying the view and the pastries. We strolled around a bit more and then went back to the sobe to finish packing our bags. Once the bags were packed we took one last walk around the Old Town before it was time for us to go to lunch.

At about noon we went over to Lokando for our "squid fest" lunch. We had both grilled and fried squid. The grilled was much better than the fried.
After a leisurely lunch we went for our last gelato at Dolce Vita. I had one scoop chocolate and one scoop mint this time...a great combination by the way!

After finishing our gelato we went back to the sobe and Petar came in shortly after. It was about 2pm and we told him if he wanted to take us to the airport a little earlier that would be ok with us. So we left for the airport at about 2:15pm.

We got to the airport at about 2:45pm-ish and I'm glad we did because there was a line for check-in at the British Airways desk that was fairly long. It took us about 25 minutes to make it through the line.

We stopped to get some water and looked through the duty free shop. Then we sat down to wait. Before we knew it at 3:45pm they were boarding our flight! We made a dash for the toilets and then boarded the plane.
We took off early! The flight was scheduled to depart at 4:35pm but we actually took off at 4:25pm. We landed at London Gatwick almost 30 minutes early at about 6pm. It took us about an hour to get through immigration, get our bags (which were already at baggage claim when we got to the carousel!) and navigate through Gatwick airport to the Hilton Hotel.

We checked in at about 7pm.
Once checked into the hotel and arrived at our room we decided to go back to the north terminal to see where the Delta check-in is and to see how long it will take us to walk there in preparation for tomorrow morning's flight. After we got through all that we ate "dinner" at the airport terminal...it wasn't anything great, just some appetizers. But by now it was almost 8pm and we hadn't had anything to eat since the squid at noon. After the unimpressive dinner we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before we had to be up at the crack of dawn to catch our flight back home in the morning.

Day 28– September 29, 2006 – Back in the USA…

At some point at the Gatwick Hilton, or at dinner I realized our flight home in the morning was at 9am and not at 9:30am. Not a huge issue, but since our room rate included breakfast, and we felt we would want a decent breakfast, it meant we had to get a 5:15am wake up call!

Even though the wake-up call was early I got up and was ready before 6am. I didn’t have the greatest night’s sleep, not because the room or bed were uncomfortable, quite the contrary. The Gatwick Hilton was tops. I just think I was anxious and didn’t want to oversleep and miss our flight.

So, the breakfast at the hotel was great! It was a buffet and had everything imaginable. We loaded up with eggs, sausage, bread, pastry, fruit, cheese, and my very first taste of Greek yogurt…Yummo! I may have to go to Greece now!

We finished breakfast just after 6:30am and headed over to the North terminal. The Hilton is at the South Terminal. It took about 15 minutes to get there, so we were looking good when we got to the check-in desk.

The line to check-in was not too long, maybe 8 people in front of us. We did have to get rid of a package of tums (CL) and some Tylenol and airborne that I forgot were in my carry-on bag. Oh, and only one carry-on bag was allowed.

Once we got our boarding passes we went straight to the line to go through security. It looked worse then it really was. There was one line that went back almost to the front doors of the terminal! But once in the line it was moving and further down it broke into 4 lines. So, maybe it took us 20-25 minutes to get through the security check. And yes, I got pulled to the side and frisked…first time that ever happened and it wouldn’t be the last!

We then walked through the huge duty free area with tons of shops and headed directly for our gate. Being Gatwick (as we learned the night before), it felt like we walked through miles of terminal hallways before getting to our boarding gate.

But we arrived at the gate just before 8am and had to go through a second security check. I got frisked for the second time in less then an hour!

Once we got through the second security check at the gate all the passengers were “corralled” in a waiting area. We finally started boarding the plane shortly before 9am.

To my surprise the plane seemed pretty roomy by coach standards, or maybe it was because the seats on the plane going over on Czech Airlines were so narrow! I was on the aisle and the person in front of me never once reclined his seat…bonus for me!

We ended up sitting at the gate for about half an hour, but took off around 9:45am. The flight was uneventful, but it truly felt like the longest flight ever! It was only 8 and a half hours, from London to Atlanta, and my flights from the west coast to Hong Kong and Australia felt shorter than this flight! I can’t figure out why!

I was also surprised at how much food was served on this Delta flight. We had lunch about 2 hours after take off, then 4 hours into the flight they served ice cream and then about 2 hours before landing they served another snack that was a piece of vegetable pizza that tasted pretty good!

We landed at about 1:45pm and had to go through immigration to our passports stamped. Then we went to get our luggage and ended up waiting at baggage claim for 45 minutes. Once we had our bags we went through customs without a hitch and re-checked our bags for the flight to Savannah.

By the time we got to the gate for our Savannah flight it was about 3:30pm. Just enough time for me to grab a Starbucks. And I have to say this…that Starbucks drink that I was so looking forward to tasted like garbage! Maybe it was the non-fat milk and I’d been having whole milk in my cappuccinos during the trip, but that drink was very disappointing.

We boarded the Savannah flight without any trouble and it was a quick 30 minute flight. Once we landed in Savannah we got our bags at the luggage claim…YIPEE…No lost luggage for us on the entire trip! And we got the shuttle home.

I finally got to sleep around 11pm Eastern time but my body clock was thinking it was 5am, which meant I had been up almost 24 hours! But I will take the jet lag anytime…What an amazing, incredible vacation! And now I am ready to plan the next adventure!

I know this was a very lengthy trip report, but I hope in some small way it has either entertained or informed you and maybe you will be able to use some of the information here for a trip of your own.

Thanks again to all the wonderful Fodorites who helped me make this a great trip.

Oh, and by the way...I'm planning a trip to Turkey for next September...I'm sure I will be asking lots more questions!

LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 02:07 PM
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Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed and delightful report! I enjoyed reading it so much. I've been fortunate to visit Prague, Budapest and Krakow each twice, and reading your report reminded me of the many reasons why I love these cities. We seemed to enjoy many of the same sites. Croatia has been on my short list of future destinations for a while, and now it has jumped up a notch or two thanks to your report. Thanks again in being so generous with your reporting.
lucy_d is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 02:13 PM
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A very entertaining report indeed LowCountryIslander. And how wonderful that you and your friend obviously travel so well together! Wishing you two many more trips. Thanks for sharing this one.
LoveItaly is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 04:11 PM
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Low CountryIslander:

Thank you for the marvelous report...covered many of my favorite places!
Your descriptions and humor made it all a delight. I was so pleased to see that you gave yourselves plenty of time to thorughly enjoy..four weeks. We usually go for a minimum of three and sometimes four to five weeks. You can really get a strong feel for a region or city that way.
When you're ready for Turkey information, fire away..been there and will be only to happy to share with you.

By the way, we Californians visited Savannah in 2000 and loved it! Mrs. Wilkes was still open then (heard she closed) and that was one of the many experiences. Stayed at the Savannah B and B...had their carriage house and it was very comfortable. Spent a glorious week soaking Southern hospitality as exemplified by your great city!

Stu T. (pix of your trip??)
tower is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 04:30 PM
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I've really enjoyed reading your trip report. Thanks so much for taking the time to share!
Toucan2 is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 05:09 PM
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Another thanks for your report Low Country. Your description of the Croatia part of the trip makes me think that perhaps we should be including this in our trip next May (we will be finishing in Hungary) but I suppose it gives us a new destination for next time. The CZ/Poland/Slovakia and Hungary parts of the trip simply make me wish that May would hurry up and come. Once again, thanks for taking the time.
shandy is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 05:33 PM
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What a grand adventure. Brava for putting together such a spledid report.
Catbert is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 05:36 PM
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Thank you for all the kind responses!

LucyD....Definitely consider moving Croatia to the top of your list...I loved it and would like to go back!

LoveItaly...Thank you for your kind comments. I see your posts frequently and you are always so pleasant. Yes, CL and I certainly did travel well togehter, it was a pleasure traveling with her.

Stu...Wow! Thanks for the compliment. I have read alot of your posts and replies and enjoy them immensely. We were lukcy getting 4 weeks to travel, it looks like the Turkey trip next year will only be for 3 weeks. Yes, Savannah is a terrific city! I took about 1500 pictures and when I can figure out how to post the link to my kodak gallery website I will.

Shandy...I know the feeling! This time last year I started doing research for this trip and couldn't wait to get the trip started. May will be here before you know it and you will be on your way!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 07:02 PM
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LCI - terrific report! You have been on my screen all day. We have been doing holiday decorating and I have snuck off to read a few days of your report each time I needed a break.
Thanks for being my entertainment!

You did such a great job with your first report. Of course that is good news/bad news for you - now we won't let you off the hook for Turkey

HappyCheesehead is offline  
Nov 26th, 2006, 05:48 AM
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Thanks HappyCheesehead...I'm glad I could provide a break from your holiday decorating!

LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 26th, 2006, 08:52 AM
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>>>Turkey trip next year will only be for 3 weeks.<<<

For Turkey this is very adequate...you can do more than just the highlights in that time. Keep in touch and I will send you pix and itinerary suggestions when you're ready.
Stu T.
[email protected]
tower is offline  
Nov 26th, 2006, 09:47 AM
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So appreciated your great report. You had a nice balance of travel opportunities (and many food and drink ones, as well!) Hey, that's what makes it fun . I'm glad you enjoyed the Rick Steves tour, and then did some independent touring. I always felt to just fly in for a tour, then leave immediately after, really misses the mark. Keep traveling, and please, keep sharing with your detailed and friendly reports.
Andeesue is offline  
Nov 26th, 2006, 10:55 AM
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Loved your trip report! I know you enjoyed the Rick Steve's tour but did you think it was a good value? I always been curious about his tours.
clueless is offline  
Nov 26th, 2006, 01:14 PM
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Stu...Thanks for the offering itinerary advice/suggestions for Turkey. I'll be in touch when I really start to "get on the band wagon" with the Turkey trip planning.

Andeesue...Thanks for the nice comment. I really liked combining the group tour with independent travel. It worked out really well.

Clueless...I may get "bashed" here because I know there are many posters here who do not particularly like Rick Steves. But for this tour I thought I really go my monies worth. All the breakfasts and half the lunches or dinners were included in the price and it seemed to me that we had more then half the lunches and dinners...maybe our guide was just really good with the finances Rick Steves does give his guides alot of leeway when it comes to the tours and once the guide has a feel for the group things can be arranged accordingly. As for the guides I thought they were superior. Both the local guides we had in each city and the tour guide and assistant guide. These people really knew their stuff and the whole trip went very smoothly. Now, that was just my experience on this trip. I did a Rick Steves Ireland trip last year and the guide was terrific, but slightly less organized then the Central Europe guides. The hotels were not the "major chains", but they were always clean and very convenient when we stayed in larger cities...they were always right in the middle of everything...which made it convenient when seeing the sites...we didn't have to be bussed into the center of town from an "airport" hotel. So, my very long-winded response, is yes, I felt the group tour was a good value.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Nov 27th, 2006, 12:18 AM
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Thanks for a great report LowCountry. I have wanted to go to both Prague and Krakow for a long time now.... someday.

I have always liked Rick Steves books and also his shows on PBS. Good to hear his hotel selections are in the middle of town because in his books that's what he often urges travelers to choose!
5alive is offline  
Nov 28th, 2006, 12:25 PM
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LowCountry Gal,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip. Your writing style is down to earth, informative with good tips, and a little humor thrown in to keep the reader hoooked! I found myself relating to you on several different aspects. The trip planner in you, for one thing. Sounds like you have found a perfect travel companion in CL. I'm envious and wish I had a friend like that who was adventerous and laid back at the same time.

I was smiling as you described getting out early for the sake of photos without crowds, planning ahead of time to take advantage of the best light for the photos, or climbing those 200+ steps just for the view. I'm a bit obsessed at trying to capture the postcard-perfect photos on vacation.

And I like Rick Steves, too. I haven't been on one of his group tours, but enjoy his books and PBS programs.

Of the places you mentioned, I'm planning to visit Krakow and Prague almost exactly a year from now, before continuing on to Vienna/Salzburg and southern Germany for the Christmas markets.

Croatia has been in my distant sights for a while, but your description of the area has really moved it to the forefront. Thanks for that! Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip.

Idnas71 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2006, 03:09 PM
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5alive and Sandi...

Thanks for taking the time to read my report! When I started I wasn't sure if anyone would read it!

Sandi...I hope you enjoy Prague and Krakow as much as I did. In the last 2 years I have just started "getting into" photography...I am still a novice, and if I can figure out how to post a link to my online photo album of this trip I will.

Thanks again to all for reading my report!
LowCountryIslander is offline  

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