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Trip report: Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, Poland, UK

Trip report: Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, Poland, UK

Mar 10th, 2007, 08:44 PM
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Trip report: Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, Poland, UK

On March 6 I said goodbye to my new girlfriend, my friends, my 2 cats and headed north to Tampa airport to begin my 3.5 weeks of travels. The itn is as follows:

March 7-9 Warsaw, Poland
March 9-13 Krakow, Poland (with a 1 day excursion to my birthplace of Krosno)
March 13-19 Prague, Czech Rep.
March 19-25 Budapest, Hungary
March 25-29 Warsaw, Poland
March 29-Apr 1 Manchester, UK

Upon arrival at TPA, I walked up to the first class check in at the AA desk. With the new luggage restrictions when traveling through London I needed to consolidate all my electronics, 2 SLR cameras, lenses, laptop and all the associated accesories that come with the above into 1 carry on and all my clothes into 1 bigger suitcase and check that one in.

This was an award ticket in business class and the itn was split between 2 separate tickets. There was a reason for it but it's not that important for this report and I won't get into it.

Here is the outbound itn:

1st ticket - revenue ticket:
TPA-MIA - AA First Class

2nd ticket - award ticket:
MIA-YYZ - AA Business Class
YYZ-LHR - BA Business Class
LHR-WAW - BA Business Class

The wonderful TA at TPA linked the 2 tickets together, checked my luggage all the way to WAW and issued all the boarding passes as well.

My first 2 flights were uneventful. AA was on time and delivered me and my 1 piece of checked in luggage to Toronto without a hitch. Canada has the same system as US, meaning that I had to go through immigration although I was just connecting, collect my luggage and go through customs, drop off the 1 piece of luggage outside the customs area, go through security and finally enjoy BA's Lounge before my flight to LHR. That's when I found out that BA was having a computer problem in YYZ and they had to check in all YYZ originating passengers manually. We were told that there will be about 30 minute delay . Sure enough about 30 minutes after the scheduled boarding time, an announcement was made to proceed to the gate. As a business class passenger I was allowed to board first together with first class. I had a seat on the upper deck. Got very comfortable and was offered a choice of drink by the attentive flight attendents. I was happy that although my WAW connection was also short I will still make it with time to spare.

It did not turn out that way. With the computer mess and manually written BPs boarding took about 1 hour longer than usual. And the final straw was the fact that 1 passenger went AWOL, so BA had to unload his bags, another 1/2 hour. We took off about 2 hours late. My connection looked impossible but that's life when one travels and I knew that BA had a late afternoon flight to WAW so I will just have to enjoy Heathrow for about 3-4 extra hours. To my surprise the captain turned on the turbos and combined with good tailwinds this 747 made up about an hour. My connection seemed doable once again. Unfortunately BA and LHR did not have a gate ready for this late arriving plane and we sat on the tarmac for about 45 minutes. There went my connection.....

Went to the Flight Connection desk and the wonderful BA agent gave me another choice, LOT, which was leaving in about 1.5 hours and he was able to secure a business seat. I grabbed it. After typing for what it seemed forever, he personally walked me over to the BMI desk (LOT's partner) who issued the LOT BP. He promised me that my luggage will be transfered to LOT and wished me a great trip.

He was the bright star of the day. OTOH the BA Lounge bi_ches at MIA and LHR were a nightmare but no need to get into this here. I wrote a complaint letter to BA, not that I expect any response. I did compliment their connection desk agent in the same letter.

Anyway, LOT flight was uneventful and on time. Unfortunately my luggage did not make it. Had to fill out a report with LOT. They told me that they have the luggage but it's still in London and they will get it on the evening flight and deliver it to my hotel. I called about 11 pm that evening (I arrived around 2pm) and surprisingly was told that my luggage is here but the delivery service is done for the evening and they will get it to me in the morning. Sure enough the luggage arrived around 8 am.

oh, the fun of traveling.....

Ok now for the fun part....

Originally I was suppose to stay at the brand new, shiny Warsaw Hilton, but the opening was delayed and I was informed that they can't honor my confirmed reservation at the moment but offered help in finding a comparable hotel in the vicinity for the same great rate.

I got on line and found this place: www.residencediana.com and decided to go that route. I was glad I did. Wonderful, quiet oasis in the midst of a very busy, loud, central Warsaw area. The studio apartment had all the luxury of home. A full kitchen, very modern, extremely clean. The only disappointment was the fact that for some reason and I couldn't get it out of the front desk clerks why, the bar/restaurant area was closed until further notice. Although my drinking has slowed down tramendously in the last few months (thanks to my new gf), I still like to have a glass of wine after a day of activity. What a better place than the hotel's lounge. Oh well, no biggie. I highly recommend this place for it's great roomy studios and 1 bedroom apartments with full kitchens and huge bathrooms, modern design, wonderful staff but most importantly, a great location!!!

I really did not do that much during the 1 full day I had in Warsaw. Walked around the neighborhood, bought a beautiful Amber bracelet for my gf, had a wonderful traditional Polish dinner of Sour Soup with an egg and Russian style dumplings and retired early as I had a train to catch a train to Krakow next morning. Besides, I will have 4 days in Warsaw later this month so I didn't have the need to do it all at once.

Next morning I took the express, non-stop train to Krakow (2:40 hours) in first class for about $40. In Krakow I made reservation for an apartment at the:

http://www.krakowlife.pl/362,Kazimie...Apartament.php

This is truly just an apartment and unlike the aparthotel in Warsaw, there are no hotel type services provided.

The apartment is wonderful. The location is outstanding and at 70E a night, the price can't be beat.

It's located in the Kazimierz neighborhood, an old Jewish area of Krakow. This area is quickly becoming the Soho of Krakow. Many wonderful restaurants, galleries, unique shops, great nightlife, but the best part that it's less than 10 minute walk to the Wawel Castle and another 10 minute walk to Old Town. There is also a tram line right in front that will take you anywhere in the city with trams running every few minutes.

Yesterday I did a tour of the castle. I remembered some of it from my childhood. I was born in Poland and lived here for the first 12 years of my life. I came to Krakow with my parents at the age of 9-10? and we did the same tour, but it was magical to see it again. I walked over to Old Town and as this was Saturday the main Square was full of tourists and locals enjoying a beautiful sunny (albeit somewhat cool) day. Ended the day having another traditional Polish dinner. This time it was Cucumber soup (Ogorkowa) and Veal cutlet with mashed potatoes and red beats salad. It's amazing how much the country has changed in the last 7 years. Last time I visited was in 2000 and the cities still had some of the old socialist system feel to it. Now the major cities are becoming very much westernized. The number of restaurants, boutique shops, renovated and very expensive buildings/condos, etc..., unfortunately the countryside has not been as much effected as far as I could tell from the train window. There were many, many old farm houses, some still with straw roofs and outhouses, just like my grandmas house back in the 60s.

Anyway, that's it for now. My cousin is coming from Krosno to pick me up for my day trip to my birthplace. It will be a loooong day but I'm excited to see all my cousins and their families, plus there is a business aspect of the excursion. My grandma's land was handed down to my sister and me, and since we live in US and don't plan on coming back we decided to sell it. I have a short appointment with a local real estate agent to see what's what. Upon my return to Warsaw later this month I will need to talk to a real estate lawyer as well to figure out the tax implications. I guess I could say it's partly a business trip

Tomorrow it's the sombering visit to the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) death camp. Since my cousin will be driving me around I may also take an afternoon trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.

Tuesday it's on to Prague for 6 nights.

Will continue this report as I go.....
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 10th, 2007, 09:55 PM
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Great start. Looking forward to more.

Woody
Woody is offline  
Mar 10th, 2007, 10:15 PM
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"Canada has the same system as US..., I had to...collect my luggage and go through customs"

How odd.

On a recent Air Canada US-YYZ-London flight, our checked baggage was transferred automatically at YYZ. As has always been the practice for the 20 years or so I've been doing this. You go through immigration in Canada of course, and go through both Canadian and US customs in Canada on a US-bound flight. But bags get transferred to non-North American destinations just as they do in the big wide world outside.

Does anyone know whether the system's changed, or whether this is just another BA innovation to keep us misereable?
flanneruk is offline  
Mar 10th, 2007, 10:59 PM
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Still waiting for my cousin.....

Anyways, a quick look here:

http://www.gtaa.com/en/travellers/co...nnection_tips/

revealed the following:

U.S. flight to International flight - Canada Border Services Agency

and the following explanation:

Canada Border Services Agency combines the processes of Canada Customs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Canada Food Inspection Services.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 12th, 2007, 05:33 PM
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Sunday morning my cousin picked me up and took me back to my birthplace. It was great seeing him and the rest of the family and it was exciting to see the beautiful little town of Krosno, called "the little Krakow":

http://www.krosno.pl/?node=127

Many memories growing up in this beautiful historic town.

Came back to Krakow late yesterday.

This morning we set out to Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps. Once again it was a very moving experience. For some reason I forgot how big the death camp of Birkenau was. That's the camp with the infamous train gate house. Spielberg used it in his movie. The barracks were evenly spaced for about 1.5 mile deep and about 2.5 mile wide. That's pretty much the entire camp. There really was nothing else, just barracks and barracks and barracks. The camp was specifically designed to work/starve people to death, and if that didn't work, then just gas the stubborn ones. Also the Nazis at some point just gave up and didn't even register the hundreds of thousands of Jews and many of them were send to the gas chambers upon arrival in the camp, mostly children, women and elderly.

Auschwitz was more of a work camp but thousands of Christian people (Poles, political prisoners, as well as more Jews were dying there a day as well. The medical experiments, the torture chambers, hangings, executions, etc...were a daily occurance there.

The exhibitions are just horrific. Tons of hair, piles and piles of shoes, eye glasses, luggage, bags, children's clothes, etc.....

Every building contained walls and walls of pictures of prisoners that died in this place.

At the end the most moving experience for me was a special display in a building in Birkenau. It was just walls and walls of the victims personal pictures that the Nazis confiscated before gassing them. Pictures of beautiful young people showing their best Sunday wear, pictures of families, pictures of young couples in love, pictures of people like you and me.....I lost it there.

Got back to Krakow about 6pm yesterday. Hung out some more with my cousin and his wife. They just left.

It's already Tuesday morning here. I need to get some sleep and then it's on to Prague this afternoon. I'm flying on a separate ticket bought from Czech Airlines.

more to come..........

Good night!




AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 12th, 2007, 06:12 PM
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Very interesting report AA, looking forward to more.
laartista is offline  
Mar 13th, 2007, 01:13 PM
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Thank you for sharing your story AAFF. Looking forward to more!
canterbury is offline  
Mar 13th, 2007, 11:01 PM
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Good morning boys and girls...

At noon I had a taxi pick me up at the apartment (check out time) and take me to the airport. Fortunately or unfortunately, this driver is in a hurry to die and he delivered me at the airport in ~20 minutes. Krakow airport is an international airport but until it expends with the new terminal it has a feel of a regional. Walked in at ~12:20 and my flight was not until 2:30. The 18 check in desks DO NOT display the airline(s) until it's time to check in and only then will couple of the monitors above the stations indicate where you should check in. Unfortunately, the queues for the other flights were so long that it was impossible to walk around freely and see what's what. Having 2 pieces of luggage and being alone it made it even more difficult. The stations are divided into 2 separate areas and so I just had to take a lucky guess where Czech Airlines will be. I lucked out. They opened the stations at about 12:45 and I was the first one to check in. Actually got a very nice agent and she gave me a very nice exit row aisle seat on this little prop job ATR 42-500. There was nobody sitting in the seat next to me, another plus. My small carry on luggage which passed the very strict size controls about 2-3 different times did not pass the ultimate test, the overhead bins would not play along, and I had to gate check. This is the first time I allowed that case to leave me. Inside there were 2 very expensive SLR camers, lenses, etc, etc. I was able to keep my laptop and headphones which I utilized during the flight to block out the prop noise and listen to music.

The flight was uneventful and on time. I arranged a car pick up so I had a young man waiting for me as I emerged from the customs area. I highly recommend this service:

www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk

R/T is $55, somewhat more than a shuttle (not by much) and/or what a bus/train would cost, but about as much as a regular taxi costs. Besides, having 2 cases and being alone took out the bus/train possibility. Just didn't wanted to deal with it.

1/2 hour later I was delivered to the Prague Hilton. Staying here on an award for 6 nights. As soon as I gave the desk clerk my name, she led me to the elevator and told me to go up to 8th floor. There I was met by a wonderful Executive Lounge agent who proceeded to check me in. Within a minute there was a glass of champagne in front of me and another minute later the manager of guest service came up to introduce herself and give me her personal business card in case I need ANYTHING. 24 hours, 7....

That's what I call a wonderful treatment of the HHonors Diamond members. I was upgraded to the Executive Level room which of course includes access to what I now consider one of the BEST lounges in the Hilton hotel family. The bar is not limited to few bottles, but it's a full service, top of the line alcohol, with about 50 bottles of different stuff. There are about 10 different bottles of wines and I didn't check the beers but I imagine this being Czech Rep., there are countless choices there as well. Food that could feed hundreds and all this is available from 6 am to 11 pm, all day and all free. No need to spend money in the restaurants. With cook to order breakfast and the buffet stuff available all day one can practically put the wallet away as far as food is concerned. Not that I will, but it's possible.

The room has all the usual amenities. It's good size and includes a mini-bar a flat screen TV with multi-languages channels. There are about 10 English language channels. A very comfy king size bed, a huge work desk, a bar table , good size closets with a safe. The bathroom is on a small side, but it does have a separate walk in shower and a tub. The bathroom amenities are plenty and top of the line La Source toiletries. Executive level rooms also include a robe and slippers. Everything is in top shape.

1/2 hour after checking in I also received a fruit plate and a bottle of white wine delivered to the room. Nice touch.

This is my first full day in Prague. Time to shower, get some breakfast and start exploring...

See YA!
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 12:14 PM
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Dontcha love the Executive Level?

Can't wait to hear about Prague!
canterbury is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 07:54 PM
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Terrific detailed reports! Looking forward to reading more.

Woody
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Mar 15th, 2007, 07:45 AM
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Me too! Waiting for more.
laartista is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 08:26 AM
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I'm so glad to see a good report on the Prague Hilton as we will be staying there for 5 nights in October. I'm sure we wont be on the executive level, using just ordinary points not Diamond.

I can't wait to hear about Prague and Budapest, both of which are on my Oct. itinerary. Please let us know how you get from the Hilton to the various sights as some have said the Hilton is not very conveniently located.
LynnieD is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 06:35 PM
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Just a quick report tonight....more details coming in few days

The Prague Hilton is not exactly in the middle of action but it's an easy 10-15 minute walk to Old Town and another 5 minute walk to Charles Bridge. I have not been to the Castle yet, but it seems like an easy 3-4 underground stop ride or the tram (have not figured that one jest yet).

Don't worry about the location of the Hilton. It's not the best, but very much ok.

Tomorrow (today) I'm taking the train to Nizbor to see the Karlstejn Castle. Organized tours charge ~1200 (~$60). The train is ~$5 and whatever the entrance fee may be, but I'm pretty sure at the end of the day the total will be a lot less.

Detailed report about Prague will be posted at the end of the visit.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 08:03 PM
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Hi AA-

Hope this isn't too late for you...
I was at Karlstejn last Sunday. Took the train from the central station and it was 61 kr r/t (about $3). The station was confusing and we made it to our train with only about 30 seconds to spare.
The castle entrance fee is 220 kr and you are required to be on an organized tour (in English) in order to see the inside-takes about an hour.
Be prepared for a long walk uphill to get there.
We found the best apple strudel in 3 countries (Hungary, Austria and Czech Rep) in Karlstejn- and the cheapest at 9 kr per slice- at a little cafe about midway up the hill on the left. It's called Cukrarna Kavarna and they have good coffee too.
Budapest was interesting. I have it and Vienna on my blog (still working on writing about Prague) if you are interested. I highly recommend the restaurant Carne de Hall.
http://www.wired2theworld/blogspot.com
Kristina is offline  
Mar 17th, 2007, 12:01 AM
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Prague - what can be said that already hasn't been said?

Beautiful, historic, charming, friendly, very much walkable city.

I bought a 24 hour transit pass and so far I used it on 1 tram.... It's no big deal as the pass is only ~$4.00.

Yesterday I have walked all the way from the Hilton to the castle. On the way back I stopped in the Old Town for late lunch.

Today it's the television tower with the observatory. I'm getting a haircut in few minutes in the Hilton Spa (Cybex Spa).

Tonight it's the BlackLight show at the Image Theater.

Tomorrow I will finally take the train to Nizbor from a train station that's only few minutes walk from the hotel. Upon my return I will get a Thai full body massage, pack and hit the bed early as I need to be up around 5am Monday morning.

I thought I could do a better, detailed post about Prague but I saw so much and ate in so many places, that it's not possible.

Believe me, once you arrive you will know what I'm talking about. Everything is easy to find.

If anybody has any specific questions, please ask.

I bought and shipped small crystal pieces. All gifts for my gf. The glasswork is amazing, but don't get fooled by the first shop you see. They all have pretty much the same inventory, but not all have the same prices. Shop around. I saw the same flower vase in all the shops and every one had it priced differently. The hotel shop was the most expensive for obvious reasons, but some of the street shops had the same prices, although they were willing to discount after the sales clerk felt I was very much interested, so it's very much possible to bargain in the shops.

Koruny(obviously) and Euro are the accepted currency in most shops. US$ is not, but once again, if really, really needed to make a sale, the shops will accept US$.

That's it for now, got to get my haircut......

See YA!
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 18th, 2007, 07:34 AM
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<< Koruny(obviously) and Euro are the accepted currency in most shops. >>

Which currency offers the best value, or are they equal? Are both currencies also accepted in restaurants and cafes as well? Thanks.

Woody
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Mar 18th, 2007, 09:54 AM
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Did some last minute shopping. Got an hour long Thai full body massage (~$30).

Bought some very nice and EXPENSIVE lingerie for my gf. (I know, a typical male thing to do.....).

This beats Victoria's Secret every which way, fashion wise and cost....

www.argentovivofashion.it

Anyway, I can't really answer the question about currency. I didn't have any Euro, so I really didn't pay attention at the exchange rates in the shops. I can tell you that many of the souvenir shops have prices in Koruny and Euro on the items, so one can make the decision on how to pay for it before the sale.

AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 19th, 2007, 09:02 PM
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AA-

Thanks for the advice. It's good to know I can spend all my koruna and still use Euros.

Woody
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Mar 19th, 2007, 09:21 PM
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The private car pick up service was right on time and thus began my short trip day to Budapest. We arrived at the Prague airport at ~7:20am for my 8:50am flight. There was a medium size queue for the Czech Airlines economy check in desk. If I just got there few minutes ealier I would have been ahead of about 30 Japaneses paxs traveling as a group. No biggie. It took about 15 minutes for me to finally get to the desk. Once again I asked for the possibility to purchase an upgrade, and once again I was told that unless I have status with the airline it's not possible, but also once again the nice agent assigned a very nice bulkhead/aisle seat right in front of the plane. Being friendly, and asking, not demanding has it's rewards.

The flight was right on time. There was some major turbulance for about 10 minutes right in the middle of this one hour flight and the FAs were told to stop service. Everybody had to stay in their seat and buckle up.

Arrived in Budapest at the scheduled time and it took about 10 minutes total to get through passport control, collect my luggage and walk out to the landside area to meet with the prearranged driver to take me to the Budapest Hilton Castle Hotel. The drive took about 40 minutes. Heavy traffic but the driver took a lot of "side street" shortcuts and cut into lanes at the last moment, etc. I'm sure he saved about 20 minutes of the driving time. It didn't matter to me, but I'm sure it means more money for him. So be it.

http://www.logoi.com/budapest/budapest_taxi.html

Walked into the Hilton around 10:40am and within minutes I was walking to my upgraded Executive Level PLUS room on the third floor. The PLUS stands for a wonderful view of Danube river, the Parliament building across the river and parts of the Castle to the side of the hotel.

It was rainy and cold yesterday so I just decided to have a day off and stick around the hotel. This hotel is in the Castle area and it's actually connected to some of the old Castle buildings, a church, etc. I have not figured it all out just yet. There is also a wonderful Wine Cellar, deep in a basement that's part of the old Castle cellar system. The Executive Lounge is nowhere near the great Prague Hilton Lounge, but it will do. Very limited afternoon food and limited liquor and only served by the lounge attendant.

Internet expensive - as always with Hiltons except for the free desktop station in the lounge.

I had a dinner at one of the hotels restaurants last night and only after, I took a short walk around the hotel area to discover what a rip-off the restaurant was. For the same exact dinner at 2 nearby restaurants the Hilton restaurant charged me TRIPLE for what the others have listed in their menus.

Stay away from the hotel restaurants at this Hilton as nice as they may look. Just not worth it.

It looks like another dreary day but not much I can do about it. My time is limited so I will just have to bundle up and head out to explore the city.

It's ironic that I decided to ship my winter jacket back home together with some gifts that I bought, from Prague. The weather was so nice in Warsaw, Krakow and Prague that I decided to get rid of the heavy jacket and also make some more room in my suitcase for more gifts.

Now it appears that this was possibly a mistake. Winter is back. Not really freezing and snow, but predictions of only 40-50 deg. or so during the days with rain. The rain makes it feel a lot colder. oh well.....

See Ya!
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Mar 20th, 2007, 05:39 AM
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AA-The restaurant I recommended in my previous post (Carne de Hall) is directly downhill from where you are. It's really good New Hungarian cuisine with excellent service.
Kristina is offline  

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