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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 04-20-2006, 11:46 PM   #1
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Hey all,

first post. I'm planning up to Europe from latemay-july and wanna hit countries like prague and romania. is greece worht it?

I read the posts and it seems some of you manage to hook up with some of the locals there beforehand thru the net. how does one do that? i'd love to be able to go to a country and have a contact or two who can show me the 'inside scoop' of what their place is all about.

oh, one more thing- i gather the eurail pass is not worth it in eastern europe, but i will wanna hit some of the central countries like france. is it worth my while to get a pass for that country? and how does one get from amsterdam to berlin?

basically, how easy is it finding routes from place to place and how can i estimate the cost? should i just wing it or plan it? budgets a big issue cause i'm from asia and the exchange rate is KILLING ME!

i hope you'all can help me. this'll be my first time backpacking.

-lenn
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Old 04-21-2006, 01:26 AM   #2
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Hi Lenn - welcome aboard!

Let's see if we can get some of your questions answered...

Is Greece worth it? Sure! Any TravelPunk will tell you every country is worth visiting. As far as logistics go, there are dirt cheap flights to be found in Europe, so if Greece is out of your way and you REALLY want to see it, look up a site like WhichBudget.com to see what your cheap flight options are. No sense going overland if you're skipping all the countries in between.

Locals: Meet them right here on TP! Ok, so we may not have every country represented, but we've got many here and there, and even some American/Brit/Aussie expats living in various places around the world. Read their posts and let 'em know you're coming! Of course, part of the joy of traveling is meeting locals once you're there, and then getting the inside scoop. Don't be afraid to go into bars alone. Whip out your travel book or a map (unless you're in a place where tourists are pickpocket marks) and watch how quickly the locals will strike up a conversation with you.

Rail Passes: You should get one for France if you plan to travel extensively through the country, and on more than several days. Otherwise, individual train fares aren't too bad, especially at off-peak times. If you want to see timetables and routes, try a site like RailEurope.com.

Enjoy!
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Old 04-23-2006, 07:50 AM   #3
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For eastern Europe, another great resource is the "In Your Pocket" city guides. www.inyourpocket.com They're written in English, by locals and long term residents, and the info is updated frequently, usually about every two months. The reviews are generally accurate, though you may not share the authors' opinions, of course. We found the restaurant reviews generally spot on. And they're cheaper and more detailed than traditional guide books, though they don't have as much detailed info on attractions, generally. But they'll give you tips on places that are popular with locals, which is always the best way to learn about a country. One thing, in parts of eastern Europe, there is a bit of a holdover of suspicion of strangers (thanks to the USSR days), so it can sometimes be a bit tough to meet people, but once you breach that, people are really warm, friendly and helpful and fun.

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Old 04-23-2006, 08:28 AM   #4
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You can also look into joining a relevent yahoo list or newsgroup or discussion board that has participation from the locals. When you see someone posting that is from there, try to contact them directly. You'd be amazed how willing folks are to help when they know someone is seriously interested in their country...

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Old 04-26-2006, 03:47 AM   #5
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Hey all.

thanks for your replies! been a great help.
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Old 04-26-2006, 07:04 AM   #6
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Good luck with your planning, and if you have any other questions, ask away!

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Old 04-26-2006, 08:28 AM   #7
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Hi Lenn,

Quote:
Originally posted by Litmus@Apr 21 2006, 12:46 AM
I read the posts and it seems some of you manage to hook up with some of the locals there beforehand thru the net. how does one do that? i'd love to be able to go to a country and have a contact or two who can show me the 'inside scoop' of what their place is all about.
I had a few contacts made over the net when I left home for Asia. Getting to know their country through their eyes, was an incredible experience, better than the typical tourist one. What I did, is register on a penpal website and left a message asking people to write me tips and advices about their own country. I received about 100 answers ! After a few exchanges, three of them invited me to their home, or wanted to show my their city around. I didn't force anything, in fact I had no intention of asking people to "take care of me" while in their country. But the invitations were there, and I accepted.

Romanians are very open and easy to talk to. I spent three weeks there, and had several invitations for tea and cakes, sometimes just because I had asked for directions or the time ! Learn a few words in each country you'll go to, and see how people react.

Quote:
basically, how easy is it finding routes from place to place and how can i estimate the cost? should i just wing it or plan it? budgets a big issue cause i'm from asia and the exchange rate is KILLING ME!
Well Lenn, that takes a lot of research and time ! I always travel on a extremly tight budget, so every cent counts. You will have to get a hold of guide books, such as Lonely Planet, and read carefully the cost for lodging, food, transport by bus/train (local, intercity, international), visas, internet, activities you want to do. It is possible to established a pretty good average daily amount to spend in each country, and once you're on the road, you stick to what you had planned.

Have a good idea of which cities or villages you would like to see, what kind of activities also. Make an itinerary about it, but keep it mind you will probably not stick to it. It's better to have too much to do and see, and skip things, or change because locals gave you better ideas, or you've met travellers with whom to continue for a while..., than being in a country and do not know where to go !

If you are travelling not in the high tourist season, you will be able to bargain your room, in hotels and private rooms (not hostels but they sometimes offer a lower rate in the low season).

Romania and Bulgaria are cheaper than Czech and Poland, you can stay longer there to save bucks. Which wouldn't be a waste, since they are such wonderful places to discover. If you'd like to spend time exploring Romania, I could send you addresses for lodging by personal message.

Anything else we can help with ?
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Old 04-26-2006, 01:03 PM   #8
 
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Couchsurfing.com is an invaluable resource. With the proper planning, you could go months without having to pay for a place to sleep. It's quite an amazing community.
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Old 05-11-2006, 04:09 PM   #9
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I would also recommend trying to find a language school that offers host family stays in addition to the classes. You only have to do it for a week and from what I've found it's about the same price, sometimes even cheaper, than a hotel or even a hostel.
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Old 05-12-2006, 08:38 AM   #10
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That's a good point, Jake, but sometimes things don't work out as you expect...

My husband took a two week language class in Vilnius before we moved there, and opted for the homestay option so he could interact with the family and have a chance to practise a bit. Unfortunately, the wonderful woman who took him in felt it necessary to give him the best room (complete with separate entrance and private bath) in her flat and wheeled in a tray heaped with a delicious breakfast every day, then scurried out and left him alone with enough food to feed a large family. He talked to her more the night before he left, than in the rest of the trip combined, and that was just because I'd shown up and she wanted to greet me.

Most of the time, a homestay is a great way to go, but sometimes it doesn't work out quite as planned!

However, she did give us the name of a fellow from whom we later rented our flat, so I guess the local knowledge side of things did still work out.

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Old 05-12-2006, 11:30 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by tumblezweedz@May 12 2006, 08:38 AM

Most of the time, a homestay is a great way to go, but sometimes it doesn't work out quite as planned!

[snapback]120219[/snapback]
hehe, yeahhh. sometimes hostfamilies just turn out to be weird. not in their-from-a-different-country-weird. just for real in-their-culture weird. my first homestay in belgium was in a family that most of the locals thought were bizarre.it was fun all the same... while i was there, they bought a picture of their house from a guy that had taken pics of all the towns' houses from his helicopter...
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Old 05-12-2006, 03:13 PM   #12
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Quote:
Unfortunately, the wonderful woman who took him in felt it necessary to give him the best room (complete with separate entrance and private bath) in her flat and wheeled in a tray heaped with a delicious breakfast every day, then scurried out and left him alone with enough food to feed a large family.
Goodness, that is AWFUL! How did he ever put up with it???
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Old 05-12-2006, 03:24 PM   #13
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...and dont forget that weirdo little kid I could always hear on the phone when I called.. heh..

I find that the more I travel, the more contacts I make in other countries. I've good close friends in cities all over europe, morocco, north america and australia. You plan to meet up with them, poke around their city, go to the places they go to, etc. Think about it- if one of your traveling mates were to come to your city, wouldnt it be great fun to put them up and show them around? I think so... One of the most intimate experiences I've had with another country was my recent trip to Oz. I stayed with my boyfriend, lived in a house, had meals with a real family, went to local sorts of hangouts, etc. Im sure my experience was vastly different from that of other travellers who have been there and done the hostel thing.
Tpunk is also an amazing resource... Jeanie showed me seattle, and next month Im connecting with Devon in Tel Aviv.
The thing to remember is that you probably won't meet many nationals while you're staying in a hostel. In london I met people from every corner of the world, but the brits I met could be counted on one hand. I think perhaps its because they're all hanging out in Spanish hostels looking for spainards...
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Old 05-14-2006, 07:06 AM   #14
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Quote:
Unfortunately, the wonderful woman who took him in felt it necessary to give him the best room (complete with separate entrance and private bath) in her flat and wheeled in a tray heaped with a delicious breakfast every day, then scurried out and left him alone with enough food to feed a large family.

Goodness, that is AWFUL! How did he ever put up with it???


I know, what a tragedy, eh? Well, but he didn't get a chance to practice his Lithuanian...

And the other awkward thing was, on the first day, she brought such a huge tray of food, he knew he could never eat even half of it, but he didn't want to waste it, so he made sandwiches to take for lunch and dinner. Still left a huge mound, but he was trying not to let it go to waste. So then the next day, she figured he had a huge appetite, and brought in twice as much! He felt terrible because she spent so much time and money cooking for him, but he never saw her long enough to explain.
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