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Old 02-22-2006, 01:42 PM   #1
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Hey all,

I'm planning on spending ~3 weeks in May in Europe, roughly the 4th through the 28th or something. I'm on a somewhat limited budget but not horribly so. But I hope to take local trains and stay in hostels so it shouldn't matter anyways.

I'm trying to figure out how much I should squeeze in or how much I shouldn't. I would like to Poland, Czech, Croatia, and some of Germany as well such as Bavaria. I was also interested in places nowhere close like Amsterdam and Lisbon but that likely just isn't possible. My must see's are Krakow with a day trip to Auschwitz and Prague and I would like to see Zagreb as well.

I may or may not meet up with my current German teacher (a TA from Croatia) but haven't asked what dates she'd be there yet so that screws up my planning a bit. I also have family arriving in London on the 17th and would like to find a cheap plane ride over there for my last few days.

Basically I'm asking for advice on what transport to use (I'd like night trains if possible), how long to give each place, airline reccommendations, suggested order to go take and anything else that might be helpful. I'm doing tons of research on my own (and plowing through Rick Steves' Europe Through the Backdoor 2006) but I'd really like some advice/thoughts/suggestions from those that have already done it or are familiar with parts of it.

So... thanks , and if anyone will be around during that time, maybe we can grab a coffee or beer.
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Old 02-23-2006, 01:15 AM   #2
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In three weeks, the four main countries on your list would make a great itinerary - close together and lots of variety between them. Most of the more experienced travelers would probably concur that a minimum of three days is necessary to get the feel of a place, and 5-7 is preferable. Obviously some smaller places don't require as long, and there's no point in staying a week in someplace that you dislike from the start...so, on to specifics.

Krakow needs at least 4 days, that's still rushing things a bit, when you consider that one day will be dedicated to Auschwitz. In May there will likely be school tour groups moving around Poland, which will definitely slow you down because of crowds getting into the attractions. We stayed at Nathan's Villa hostel there, the location was great and the dorms comfy - and they do your laundry for you. If you book with them for more than 3 days, they give you a free copy of the Krakow "In Your Pocket", which anyone who's read any of my posts on eastern Europe will know I swear by. You can check them out online at www.inyourpocket.com, but the hard copy is much more extensive, pick it up in Krakow, whether you get a free copy from the hostel or not. A day a Wawel is really fascinating, and there's a way to avoid the ticket lines - instructions are in the In Your Pocket. Be sure to also give yourself time to stroll - there's a wonderful park by the river, and strangely, a Japanese Cultural Centre which is worth checking out. It's nice to get away from the tourist destinations a bit, though. Also in Krakow is a church unlike most you'll see in that part of the world - it is the main Franciscan church, and is famous for its windows, but the art deco painting on the walls was to me more spectacular. It's just a few minutes from the main square, and well worth the diversion, I think. We also enjoyed a daytrip to the salt mines, Wieleitska (sp) is the main one. I don't particularly enjoy being 1 + km underground, but there were some fascinating stories. If you buy the guide book first, you can read it along the way, then you can take the cheaper Polish tour.

Prague is also a place you'll want to spend more time than you have...no matter how long you have! Already in May it'll be crowded, so reckon in some time for standing in lines, once again. If you really want to get photos of sites like the Karlov Most without swarming hordes, you'll have to go at the crack of dawn - otherwise it's packed, rain or shine. There is so much to see here, you'll just have to decide for yourself, once again, the In Your Pocket is a terrific resource. (Incidentally, the restaurant reviews in our experience have been spot on - if they say the food is crummy, it really is. If they say the waiters are surly, they are! And they do say so.) You have to go to the Czartorevich Museum, because it's one of only 4 (I think) cities in Europe to boast a Da Vinci. It also has all kinds of other cool stuff, and it's not as crowded as some of the other attractions. Also, I can't think of the name of the museum (but I think it's the applied arts museum) has an amazing view over the neighbouring Jewish Cemetary from the bathrooms, believe it or not. I went and snuck a photo out the open window (well, I opened it) and then that night the host in our guest house told me the locals all know that's the best spot for photos. I wouldn't recommend where we stayed, simply because you can get a hostel closer in for cheaper. We have to buy 6 beds at hostels, so this place worked out cheaper for us, but it's quite out of the way, otherwise. You can also get up to a week long transit pass which works out great for transport in the city - I think there's also a three day version, but if you're staying for four or more days, I'm pretty sure the week long pass will still pay for itself, and it's oh, so convenient.

We didn't make it to Croatia on our last trip in that area, though it's still high on the list. I think transport to Zagreb is fairly straightforward, but getting to Dubrovnik requires a little more planning because it appears that there are no train links. You should have no difficulty getting overnight trains between your chosen destinations, although you'll probably have to change somewhere along the way, so keep that in mind. Google die bahn for a great German website (you can click a flag icon for English, or just practice your German!) that has train schedule information throughout Europe. It doesn't usually have the prices for trips outside Germany, but you can get an idea from any travel guide, and it gives you a complete list of all the stops, with transfers noted, which makes it really helpful.

Oddly, though we currently live in Germany, I can't help you much there, since we haven't done a lot of exploring within the country yet. You should miss all the World Cup uproar, but prices may already be up by May. There are lots of places in Germany from which you can hop on a cheap flight to the UK, check www.attitudetravel.com for an overview of the myriad of European low-cost carriers. I'd definitely fly to London, much better use of your time, and cheaper than trains!

As for Lisbon and Amsterdam, I'd save them for another time, since they are so far away from the bulk of what you want to see. If you want to add in another centre, I'd recommend Gdansk, Poland, Vilnius, Lithuania, Bratislava, Slovakia or Budapest, Hungary - which offer a different experience but in the same region. But I think with the time you have, limiting yourself to Krakow, Prague, Zagreb and Somewhere, Germany before heading to London will give you a lot of variety at a reasonable pace.

Happy planning!



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Old 02-23-2006, 02:38 AM   #3
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Prague and Amsterdam also have quite a bit in common, so don't feel to bad if you can't see Amsterdam.
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Old 02-24-2006, 01:37 PM   #4
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Wow, what an in-depth reply, thanks tw.

More questions from that. Will I be able to take trains within these areas that are local or should I plan on getting a Eurail pass? (Cept the transit pass in Prague that you mentioned, of course).

For hostels, is it worth staying in different ones while you're in the same city or not? I was thinking it might be a way to stay in different parts of the city and meet new people. From TravelPunk, there's so many hostels and I've only checked out Prague so far. Apple Hostel looks good, Golden Sickle looks just about ideal but I still haven't finished going through the multitudes. I did check out Nathan's Villa from the list for Krakow and you were spot on, it looks really great.

The locations you talked about in Prague and Krakow both sound really awesome. Do people usually plan ahead even like what they want to see by day or is it best to play it by ear like I'm thinking?

Also, I got that general book about Europe but do you think it's worth the money to get more specific books on Prague/Krakow/whatever? If so? Who do you reccommend? It seems to me like Rick Steves and Let's Go are the best but I really wouldn't know.

I will also check out attitudetravel.com, I'd never even heard of them.

Thanks again for that long response and the help!
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Old 02-24-2006, 01:39 PM   #5
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Oh and I was wondering what you guys about "Servas" http://www.usservas.org orthe similar http://www.couchsurfing.com?

Maybe it'd be best to ask that in another forum tho, I dunno.
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Old 02-24-2006, 05:59 PM   #6
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This thread can help you out a bit : couchsurfing. Try reposting your question also, if you want.

From Central Europe to Zagreb could be a bit complicated of a journey, and with a 3 week time allowance, I think you'll be happy to stick to Southern Poland-Prague and around-Munich and around-long journey-Zagreb. It has been said and I agree, Amsterdam and Lisbon will make a great travel... next time !

There are 3 daily direct trains from Munich to Zagreb (9 hours); one from Vienna (6,5 hous); 4 from Budapest (6,5 hours). I think that's all from around the area you'll be in. Those datas come from the Lonely Planet, edition 2001.

The lowfare airlines (like RyanAir et EasyJet) have Prague and Munich among their destinations. You might want to build your itinerary around one of those cities as end of your trip before London.

If you decide to skip Zagreb, Vienna and Budapest make great alternatives. Or have a deeper look into Czech or Poland, and visit the countryside (so niiiiiice !).

I would have an advice to give for Auschwitz (that I would have have liked to hear before I went) : keep a good 2 to 3 hours for Birkenau II, if you want to have time to sense the place, collect yourself, or pray. Birkenau I is very interesting, but it is a museum now. The "spirit" of the place is gone. Plus there are so many tourists groups, talking loud, cell phones ringing, etc, you can hardly concentrate on what it used to be. You say you've learned german ? You'll be so happy to understand the historical documents from the nazis. Most of them weren't translated for the museum. You'll read "fines" given to the prisonners for not having accomplished their tasks, and other papers.

Birkenau II is an empty devasted concentration camp. Nothing to read or learn, but it remains intact, as it was the day the Germans left. It is a huge place to walk and discover. And it's the most moving camp between the two of them.

My two cents.
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Old 02-24-2006, 11:34 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by JustinDT@Feb 24 2006, 09:37 PM
For hostels, is it worth staying in different ones while you're in the same city or not? I was thinking it might be a way to stay in different parts of the city and meet new people.
I would not recommend this. I think having to repack, get on transport, find the next hostel and check in (which you can't really do before a certain time in the afternoon) would not be good use of time. This is time you could be out sightseeing. You'll find having to do this between different cities every few days enough.

ev
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Old 02-25-2006, 10:17 AM   #8
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Thanks atchoum, I asked questions about those two in the right forum so thanks for the redirect.

I often hear not to bother with Croatia but it does look quite nice despite the mild inconvenience of getting there and my TA as a native says it's really a place more people should go (she's biased, but still). So if possible I'm going to try. If it falls through, well, more time in Poland/Czech/Germany for me Or maybe Budapest, beats me. But I'd like to try for Zagreb or maybe a lazy stroll down the Dalmation Coast.

Thanks for the heads up about Auschwitz, too. I don't speak fluent German by any means but when I leave I'll have gone through a year of courses and be entertering the intermediate level and I try to speak German with people I know who can so I should be better off then most but not great. Hopefully I can have a more personal connection there (and other places) because of it though.

And ev, thanks for letting me know about that, I'm real going into all this blind (trying not to!) and I appreciate letting me know about that.

Thanks guys, this board is great.
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Old 02-25-2006, 01:43 PM   #9
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As uroz mentioned, I wouldn't waste the time and effort moving from one hostel to another in the same town (unless the one you're in is an absolute dive), you can check out most parts of town on transit, and you'll be meeting new people every day anyway, as people will be constantly coming and going at whatever hostel you're at.

Within specific cities (and on daytrips from them) it would be a bit of a waste to use your Eurail Pass for daily sightseeing unless you're going a long, long way or you have days that you otherwise wouldn't be able to use (I've seldom heard of this happening!) - especially in eastern Europe, public transit is relatively efficient and soooooo cheap. Example, in Vilnius one trip on the bus (anywhere in town) costs 80 centu, or about $0.28. That's perhaps a bit lower than in Poland or Czech, but not a heck of a lot.

As for planning ahead vs. playing by ear, I'd say a combination of the two is probably your best bet - read up enough to have an idea of what you'd like to see and do in each place (and especially, pay attention to the days when things are closed! We quickly learned to do most of our long-haul travel on Mondays, because that's the day most museums and such are closed) so that you don't arrive in a place completely unaware that there is a museum dedicated to your favourite artist and you only discover it on the in-flight mag as you're leaving . Having an idea about what you'd like to see will help you make the most of your time and will also help you avoid trying to cram too much in on one day (ie, you simply cannot go to Auschwitz and Wawel on the same day and do either of them justice). But at the same time, I don't think it's necessary to write out an itinerary - "Wednesday - Auschwitz, Thursday - Wawel, Friday - guild hall, etc." You will want to be flexible to deal with weather, (do you really want to spend an entire day outside when it is pouring rain?) and to leave you open to spontaneously joining in with some of the other travellers that you meet along the way. I once dropped two weeks in France for a chance to go to Spain and Morocco. I was sorry to miss seeing most of that country, but it was totally worthwhile, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Because you don't have a whole lot of time to spend in any particular city, I don't know that it would be a worthwhile investment to buy comprehensive guide books to the city. We usually consult our Lonely Planet/Let's Go general books (eastern/western Europe) for general details, and then, as I mentioned, picked up the "In Your Pocket" as soon as we arrived in a place. They generally cover all the main tourist spots, tons of restaurants, clubs and bars, usually they have a good transit map, listings of current cultural events/festivals, galleries and exhibits and they are more up to date than guide books, because they're published every couple of months. They also have special interest features and usually have a "wacky" or "oddball" section which lists some off the wall stuff that you wouldn't likely come across in a published book. We certainly used them as our main resource in several of the places we visited on our last trip, and they're small and manageable enough to keep with you during the day - another big plus.

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Old 02-26-2006, 02:48 AM   #10
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I've only ever hostel-hopped once, and that was in Brisbane, Australlia - I simply couldn't find one that I actually liked. It was a royal pain in the ass and I probably should've stuck with the first one, so overall I'd say it's a bad idea unless you really don't like where you are.
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Old 03-22-2006, 07:19 AM   #11
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Finally settled.

-I'll be leaving the States on the May 3rd

-Staying in Prague from May 4th - May 12th/13th

-Staying in Krakow from May 12th/13th - May 21st

-Staying in London from May 21st - May 27th

-Arriving home late on the 27th May.

Decided at more time in one place/area then little time in many. After all, I'll be going back plenty of times I'm sure.

Thinking of Nathan's Villa in Krakow and Clown & Bard in Prague with maybe some CouchSurfing.com mixed in.

Can't wait!~!~!~!
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Old 03-22-2006, 07:25 AM   #12
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Oh and anyone know how much I should plan per day for these places? I'm assuming not much but I hear like $60/day and that seems ridiculous to me for E. Europe.

Weedz? Anyone?
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Old 03-22-2006, 08:37 AM   #13
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Great idea to limit yourself to just a few spots - you can also make daytrips from both Prague and Krakow (though both cities have enough to keep you busy for a week or more!) - with the bonus of not having to pack and move every couple of days.

I think you'll find Nathan's in Krakow a good base - the staff are so friendly and Nathan's girlfriend is American, so no language issues! You could ask her if she remembers the family with all the kids -- they were a little surprised when we showed up! She got a kick out of washing all the baby clothes...

$60/day in Krakow seems WAY over the minimum - discounting your hostel costs, food is cheap - you should be able to find a great meal for under 25 zls ($7), and if you prepare your own meals or buy off the street vendors, WAY less. Entrance fees will also be minimal, and transportation costs negligible. I'm afraid I can't find my Krakow or Prague In Your Pockets, so I can't give you specifics, I'm going off the one for Gdansk. Remember to get your copy at the hostel! I'd almost suggest that our family of 6 could get by on $60/day in Poland, except we've gotta pay for all those dang beds!

And May should be a great time to visit - hopefully it'll finally be warming up by then (when I was in Poland in April several years back, the falling apple blossoms were accompanied by snow, and it snowed here in Germany last night!) and people are so cheerful in northern Europe in the spring - so absolutely thrilled that winter is finally over! But before the worst of the tourist season. Nice choice.


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Old 03-22-2006, 12:53 PM   #14
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With $60 in Krakow you'll get fat in no time my friend ! Half of it is more realistic. You shouldn't have budget problems there. As for Prague, it's probably more, but I haven't been there yet.

Around Krakow, there is the unmissible Auschwitz, and then the mines and Wroclaw also as day trips.

Another idea : On your way to Prague, you can stop in the Carpatians (High Tatras) for one or two days, and do some hicking in the mountains. It's gorgeous !

You WILL have an awesome time in E.E. !
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Old 03-26-2006, 06:30 AM   #15
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Thanks, I thought that was way too much for EE. I can't wait, sounds really fun. One tour I'm going to make sure to take in Krakow are the Communist tours http://crazyguides.com/ . They look so fun.

I might have to check out those Tatras Mtns. too.

Thanks guys, I thought that was too much. I'll prolly budget more in the $30-40 range at most.
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Old 03-26-2006, 07:30 AM   #16
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i stayed in nathans villa in Krakow, great little hostel. Has a kitchen as well not that you need it the food is uber cheap in Krakow, i payed less then a pound for the biggest kebab i have seen in my life!
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Old 03-26-2006, 09:29 AM   #17
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I just checked your link, it looks fantastic ! That I would have liked to do to better know and understand Poland. The only thing from the ex-communist era I did, was to eat in a "milk bar" in Warshaw, the communist restaurants mentioned in the tour. But your budget in Krakow will increase by $30 dollars.

If you do try the guided tour, would you tell tpunks about it, if it was indeed worth it ?
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Old 03-26-2006, 10:06 AM   #18
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I'll definitely give a report on it when I get back home, no problem. If it's as great as it looks, I'd love others to take advantage of it when there.
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Old 04-29-2006, 05:45 AM   #19
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Got the hostels straight. Golden Sickle in Prague, and the Ace Hostel in London. The rest is CouchSurfing.

Leave Wednesday! Whoo!
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Old 04-30-2006, 12:38 AM   #20
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Have a great time, we're all looking forward to updates when you get back!



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