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Europe: Eastern From Russia to Croatia, the Danube, Iron Curtain era vestiges, Pilzner beer, Czech it out!

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Old 05-11-2007, 08:31 PM   #1
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I am headed to Europe for 90 days. I plan to hit Austria, Salzburg, Budapest, & Prague...I am hoping to see a bit more of Eastern Europe before moving into Italy. I have been doing a lot of reading lately about Croatia and Serbia and there are some great posts here on the site about them also. I guess I am trying to decide on whether I will get more out of a trip into Croatia & Serbia or if I should try to visit Poland (Krakow & Warsaw).
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Old 05-12-2007, 07:49 PM   #2
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Unfortunately I can only speak to Poland and not Croatia or Serbia, but I loved Krakow. I was only there for a couple days, too. If you're at all intrigued by WWII stuff, obviously Auschwitz is a day trip away from Krakow, and in my honest opinion, a site that every human being should experience. And the city itself is so fable-like and interesting. Poles are very cool people, very hip. I'll also be interested to see what people have to say about Croatia and Serbia, though...
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Old 05-12-2007, 09:31 PM   #3
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I second Krakow, the camps were incredibly moving and totally worth the visit. The Wieliczka Salt Mines are also really cool, I'm not sure how much the tour cost since I was on a study trip and everything was paid in advance.

Definitely one of the coolest cities I went to, I just wish I had been able to spend more time there. I'll never go on another study trip, we never got to spend more than a few hours exploring the different places we visited and the rest stuck in chateau after chateau after chateau

Also of interest: The Jewish Quarter and we visited a church that had bodies that were perfectly mummified... creeepy but very cool. http://www.krakow-info.com/mumie.htm
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Old 05-13-2007, 03:18 AM   #4
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I've liked every country I've been to in Eastern Europe. Check out my travelogs on my site in my signature...feel free to ask any questions that come up after reading them...

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Old 05-13-2007, 11:06 AM   #5
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I agree with the above, Krakow is amazing. I was there for 3 or 4 days only, but it was such a beautiful city, lots of interesting things to see, really nice people, cheap beer and food. it is so nice to just walk around the streets there, so different from the north american thing. and yes, Auschwitz is a must, something that you will be happy to have done, as grim as it is.

I'm also trying to decide about Croatia for this summer, I've heard some great things about it, not sure I'll have time, and i definitely do not want to rush through it.
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Old 05-13-2007, 08:31 PM   #6
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Thanks for all the replies...Is Warsaw worth a trip? Auschwitz is something I want to see. Have any of you been to the camps near Prague? How do they compare? I can probably free up 15 days...I might be able to fit Krakow in and also some cities in Croatia/Serbia...I don't want to be too rushed though.

Are there any Visa requirements for Poland/Serbia/Croatia?

I am going to take a look at your site Mike...I will let you know if I have any questions!
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Old 05-14-2007, 09:35 AM   #7
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I'm going to agree with everyone's opinion on Krakow, great city. If you decide you want to do the guided tour at Auschwitz, I would recommend taking the earlier one. The tour goes a bit fast, so you'll want to have time to go back and look at things more. I skipped the salt mines because according to their website, you are taken around in groups of 30+ people, so for the amount of money paid I didn't think it would be worth it. And my hostel recommendation - Nathan's Villa Krakow!

As far as Warsaw goes, I found it a little boring, so I would skip it if you feel pressed for time.

But the place I would recommend (if you don't need a visa, if you're from USA or Canada, and some other countries...you don't need one) is Ukraine! Lviv is only a night bus away from Krakow.
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Old 05-14-2007, 01:14 PM   #8
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Yes I am from the USA...So no visa is needed for Ukraine, that is good. I noticed in the other thread someone mentioned Moldovia as well...I will do some research and get back to you if I have any questions...Thanks for the tip Lizz.
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Old 05-16-2007, 07:52 AM   #9
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I have to weigh in in favour of Poland as well, Krakow is amazing (I second the vote for Nathan's Villa Hostel), but I think it's also interesting to see some of the other cities and towns in that country. One of the things that's amazing about Krakow is that by some miracle it was not destroyed during the bombings and invasions of WWII - really the only major centre in Poland to avoid that fate. It's absolutely fascinating to visit a city like Warsaw or Gdansk to see a city that had been razed, and is now bustling again. I'm not particularly fond of Warsaw, so my recommendation would be Gdansk - plus, it's one of my all time favourites.

If you go there, do give yourself a couple of days to take it in. The entire old town was destroyed and rebuilt - much of it during the communist era, which is rather interesting historically as well. The first time I was there, in 1991, the buildings had been restored, but there was still very much a pall from the Soviet presence - the last time we visited, in 2004, I barely recognized the place - so bright, lively and fun. It was astonishing, and wonderful to see the triumph of the Polish spirit over all their tragic history. Plus, in summer, it's not quite as crowded as everywhere else in Europe, though still pretty busy.

There are other cool places to see in Poland - near Gdansk is the site of the Battle of Grunwald, a major turning point in the history of Prussia, Poland and Lithuania, as well as Gdynia, a port with a surprising literary connection. At the westernmost tip of the Baltic coast, little Szczecin is just delightful, and surprisingly well adapted to tourists. You can stop by a small shrine to St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of another Auschwitz inmate who was to be put to death. That gentleman had a family, and Fr. Kolbe wanted to give them a chance to survive. For several days, he was starved, but his continuing survival began to boost the inmates morale, so eventually the camp authorities shot him. The man whose place Fr. Kolbe took was at the ceremony when Pope John Paul II named Fr. Kolbe a saint in the 1990s, so I guess Fr. Kolbe made a good decision. The altar is in St. James Basilica (Jacobo, in Polish), and is quite a moving memorial.

Near Szczecin, you can explore the coastal resort of Swinoujscie. Another cool stop is Wroclaw.

You can easily spend your two weeks exploring Poland, I've taken two 10-day trips and haven't seen nearly all I wanted, so this is more info than you probably want, but it's good to have some options.

All that said, I've never been to Croatia and would absolutely LOVE to go, so I totally support that option, too.

Helpful, eh?
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Old 05-16-2007, 11:46 AM   #10
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I don't know when you're leaving, but I'll be in Dubrovnik, Croatia near the end of June. After that I'll post what I can on the town. Have fun no matter where you end up...
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Old 05-16-2007, 02:48 PM   #11
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Very helpful! thanks. I am not leaving until August 2 so any info you have from your trip mbo would be great. I am finding the decision very difficult to make and I think I will just see where the road leads me on that part of the journey. Krakow really sounds like it should not be missed though.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I am visiting so many big cities and normal tourist spots. I really want to get off the beaten path. I am sure I won't have a chance to see everything I want this trip, so I think I might just have to plan a second trip at some point
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Old 05-17-2007, 03:22 AM   #12
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It's really worth planning to stop in a couple of out of the way places - near Krakow, you could easily get into the Tatra mountains for a bit of R&R. I've done the frantic see-everything-possible trip in the past, and now have mellowed enough to plan a couple of rest days along the way.

It doesn't have to be in the countryside, though, if you're worried about missing stuff - the last time we were in Krakow we spent three days really touring, visiting museums and landmarks and stuff, but the last day we just relaxed and hung out in the parks along the river. Worked out great, since it was the only sunny day, and we stumbled across the Japanese cultural centre, which was...unexpected, to say the least. But picnics in the park and lazing in the sun are just as much "experiencing" a place as making the rounds of attractions.

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Old 05-17-2007, 05:28 PM   #13
 
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Cesky Krumlov was beautiful, but boring while I was there. i heard the tourist season and fun=factor really pick up over the summer months, so hit that up if you get a chance. And while you're in that direction, Bratislava was BEAUTIFUL. It was so much more than I imagined and not scary at all like everyone made it up to be. I went there alone and it was amazing.
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Old 05-17-2007, 05:37 PM   #14
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Everyone I have spoke to so far has recomended leaving a rest day for myself. Spending a day relaxing in the parks, people watching, sounds ok to me. I am going to play around with my itinerary a bit and I will post it back up when I figure some stuff out.
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