Central Europe travel advice

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by elka_sk8, Jun 14, 2010.

  1. elka_sk8

    elka_sk8 Well-Known Member

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    Hey FSUers,
    My SO and I are planning a European adventure next spring and I was hoping to get some advice! We'll have about 2 weeks (maybe 2.5 if I can swing the vacation time) in April/May. We'd both really like to visit Prague so have decided on the Czech Republic for the first week. Besides the typical tourist sights (castle, Jewish Quarter, etc.), are there any off-the-beaten-track must-sees? Any recommended day-trips? We were also thinking of going down to Cesky Krumlov for a night.

    Although I'm sure we could easily occupy ourselves in Czech for a second week, we'd like to hit a second country while we're there. Currently, we're torn between Budapest and Croatia. Has anyone been? Pros/cons of both?Budapest seems to be easier in terms of (economic) transport options from Prague and gives us more flexibility in when we go. I also didn't realize how long it takes to get from the northern part of Croatia down to southern Dalmatia- two of the places we want to see (Plitvice Lakes and Dubrovnik) are over 10 hours apart! The problem, of course, is that the Adriatic coast is a bit more appealing to me than a Hungarian bath....;)

    Regardless, this will be a first for both of us and I know we will have a good time wherever we go. Our interests are pretty diverse- we like history, architecture, the outdoors, good food/drinks, seeing beautiful places, and just experiencing new cultures. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks in advance! :)
  2. olympic

    olympic Well-Known Member

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    I visited Prague in '07. There is a cloister I visited near the Jewish Quarter that contained significant historical meaning, but the name escapes me. :( I will find out for you. Charles Bridge is still nice if over-touristed and don't miss St. Vitus Cathedral which is in the palace complex.

    I also visited Budapest in '08. Budapest is bigger and might hold more historical and cultural context if that's what you are looking for. If you go, my experience there is as follows - that the lines are long for the Parliament Building and I didn't feel like waiting, but it is popular. Other things to see are the Terror Museum, the Opera building, the Lizst museum [Lizst's apartment; not very substantive, but it's off the beaten path and I had the whole place to myself. The ladies that ran it only spoke Hungarian but were trying really hard to give me a tour :lol:], if you love architecture, visit the lobby of the 4 Seasons Hotel. Incredible! I spent more time on the Pest side than on the Buda side of the Danube. And, be aware that taxis you pick up on the street set their own fares, so you stand a good chance of getting ripped off. I used the subway system
  3. Jenya

    Jenya Well-Known Member

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    If you have access to the archives, here are some previous travel threads with lots of advice about Prague:

    http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/showthread.php?t=23307&highlight=Prague

    http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/showthread.php?t=55430&highlight=prague travel

    http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/showthread.php?t=62293&highlight=prague travel

    I personally like Croatia more than Budapest, and the Dalmatian Coast is not to be missed. Croatia Airlines has decently priced flights within Croatia itself, but I'm not sure what their international fares are like. Flying is definitely the easiest way to get to Dubrovnik if you're coming from the north. If you fly into Dubrovnik, getting to Plitvice shouldn't be too difficult. Budget airlines like SmartWings (http://www.smartwings.com/home.php?lang=en) and WizzAir (http://wizzair.com/) go from Prague to Croatia. For comparison, Budapest is about a 7 hour train ride from Prague.

    Here's a thread about Croatia from last year for more information: http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/showthread.php?t=57372&highlight=croatia travel

    I hope this helps. :) I've spent a lot of time in Prague and Budapest so I'm happy to help if you have questions, and Croatia is one of my favorite destinations.
  4. mikey

    mikey ...an acquired taste

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    I visited Croatia last summer, and as of then, the highway leading down to Dubrovnik was not yet completed- it stopped just after Split. If you go, I would seriously consider flying.
  5. elka_sk8

    elka_sk8 Well-Known Member

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    thank you! The previous threads had some great info. I had seen the SmartWings flight to Split but it appears to be a seasonal connection (June-Sept), at least this year anyway. We were hoping to go in May in the hopes Prague might not be as crowded, but I'm not sure how much truth there is to that anyway! I'll have to keep an eye on Wizzair as well.....

    I'm sure I'll have more specific questions as the trip gets closer, we're just trying to plan out a rough itinerary (trying to book our flight from the US using miles, so we need to plan further ahead than we might have).
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2010
  6. elka_sk8

    elka_sk8 Well-Known Member

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    Actually, I do have a question about train travel in Europe in general- I’ve heard that it’s easier and less expensive to buy train tickets once you arrive. But then I’ve also read that night trains can fill up weeks/months in advance. Can anyone advise? If we decide to take an overnight from Prague-Budapest or Prague-Zagreb, would there be a good chance we could get a ticket at the Prague station only a week before or is it better to book ahead? If booking ahead is the better option, what is the best way to do this from the U.S.? Rail Europe seems rather expensive (presumably due to the booking fees and the strange coincidence that most available tickets are first class :confused:) but the Czech railways site won't let you book online....is there somewhere else where you can?
  7. Jenya

    Jenya Well-Known Member

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    I've never had a problem buying a ticket in Prague, and a week in advance should be plenty of time, particularly if you're there in May which isn't heavy tourist season. I normally buy my tickets the day before or the day of travel and I've always gotten seats. If you're picky about which train you want to take or which kind of seat you want, you may want to try to book in advance, but if you're flexible, it shouldn't be a problem.

    Prague-Budapest is not a bad day trip, by the way. You can get to Budapest by mid-afternoon and personally I prefer to avoid overnight trains.
  8. reckless

    reckless Well-Known Member

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    I started one of the earlier Croatia threads. We went to Venice, took the ferry to Pula, and traveled along the Istrian Peninsula before going inland to Plitvice Lakes and then down to visit some friends in Trogir before flying back to London from Split. I can't believe the trip between Plitvice and Dubrovnik takes 10 hours; I think it is more like 4-5 hours. We left Plitvice in the morning and drove to Sibenik, where we walked around and had lunch, before going to Trogir. That took just a few hours. (According to one site, it's about 100 miles, and I seem to recall there being tour buses that did day trips to Plitvice from Split.) Trogir to Dubrovnik is about 110 miles.

    I'm sorry we ran out of time before we could go to Dubrovnik. Plitvice is spectacular and highly recommended. However, I think May is a good idea; it was about 100 degrees when I was there in July, which made hiking difficult.

    For travel, one option you might consider is getting a one-way ticket to Croatia, flying into either Dubrovnik or Zagreb, driving through Plitvice, and flying out from the other airport. Plitvice is much closer to Zagreb than Dubrovnik.

    The trickiest thing about flying in and out of Croatia is figuring out which airlines fly through which airports, and when. For instance, originally, I was going to go to Prague after Trogir while my traveling companion was going to go to London. However, we could not find an airport that flew to both cities on the same day. Notice that SmartWings flies from Prague to Split, but not Dubrovnik or Zagreb. Wizzair flies into all three cities, but does not fly directly to them from Prague. Instead, you can only get to the Croatian cities from London-Luton. Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) has the same problem.

    What I might recommend is flying to London, flying WizzAir or EasyJet one-way to Prague, taking an overnight train or buying a plane ticket to Zagreb or Dubrovnik (which may be expensive because you may be stuck with major airlines), and then flying the cheap airline back to London before the return.

    One word of advice. Do not expect western-style hospitality in Croatia. I don't think we walked into a single place where we had a reservation and were not met with "I'm sorry, but______" (fill in the blank with your choice of: (1) "we do not actually have the room you reserved at this hotel, so you will have to move to the other side of town"; (2) "you reserved an air-conditioned room, but we actually do not have air conditioning"; or (3) "the automatic car you reserved is not here, and we cannot help you" (unless you pitch a fit, call the home offices in New York, and wait for three hours at the airport while they drive to a different city to pick up an automatic).) We got through it by treating it as part of the experience, but it did add a bit of stress to the trip.
  9. Jenya

    Jenya Well-Known Member

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    That's unfortunate, because I've been to Croatia twice and never experienced anything like that. I found Croatians in Zagreb and along the coast to be quite hospitable, polite (I've never been somewhere where so many guys offered to carry my bags and hold doors open for me) and helpful. I've stayed with friends, in hotels, and in smaller pensions and have been met with really friendly service every time. Sorry your experience wasn't the same, but I'm not sure it's fair to generalize in this case.

    To the original poster: what I would personally do in your case is fly from Prague to Split and then head down to Dubrovnik for a few days, if you have enough time. Both cities are incredible and worth visiting, and you can travel between them either by ferry or bus (which takes about 4 hours). If you choose to only go to Dubrovnik, depending on how much time you have there, you may want to do some day trips. There are lots of tour companies with options to go to Mostar, down to Montenegro, and even Albania. In my opinion, there isn't enough in Dubrovnik to merit more than two days or so.
  10. elka_sk8

    elka_sk8 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks you two! I appreciate the advice. I get the impression from searching for transportation connections that Prague-Croatia isn’t a typical itinerary but I think we’re going to try and make it work! It looks like we will be able to book an open jaw trip from the US (fly into Prague, back from Split), which should help. We may try to go the last week in May- first week in June to perhaps take advantage of the SmartWings flight to Split. Otherwise if we go earlier in May and can’t find a cheap flight from Prague, we could always try the overnight train to Zagreb, go to Plitvice for a day, and work our way down the coast.
    Would love to go to Mostar for a day if we have the time…..

    That said, we haven’t totally ruled out Budapest either. My middle name could be “Indecisive.” :p

    Having traveled to the US Caribbean quite a bit for work, I’m pretty adapt at going with the flow. :lol:
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2010
  11. deedeelocks

    deedeelocks xx

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    ah , Cesky Krumlov is really nice! I liked it a lot. I think you can walk it in a day though, it's not that big. However from Prague it does take 3 hours to get there.

    If you are tired of Prague :)P) and would let to get out some more, I suggest the Karlstejn castle. The trip from Prague is not that far and nearby the castle is this thing called "big America" (Velka Amerika) I don't know exactly where it is, I stumbled on it by surprise when I was walking around the area and got lost ;) Google maps tells me it's here

    A nice website btw for public transport in CZE is www.idos.cz , there's an English version too... and it can also tell you how to get to budapest and maybe even to Croatia... (by bus and train)