Our first trip to Europe in 2013, was planned WELL in advance. We had a tentative plan as early as two years before we went. We were on a reasonably strict budget for about a year before leaving to make sure we had enough money to cover a full month overseas.
Our Eastern Europe trip, in June-July 2015 was much different. We hadn’t really thought about an overseas trip that summer at all the previous October. Then we earned $900 in airline vouchers by getting bumped (voluntarily) off a flight on the way to a wedding AND on the way home!
With that much credit towards a flight, we knew we had to go somewhere good! We initially though of Hawaii, since $900 would cover the vast majority of the plane ticket. Since we hadn’t been budgeting for a major trip, however, that proved to be too expensive for the length of time we would be interested in being there.
So, we started looking at budget trips overseas. We wanted to spend at least $900 on the airfare, but not too much more which pretty much limited us to Europe rather than Asia. Traveling in Asia is, for the most part, extremely cheap; getting there, not so much.
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Enter Eastern Europe. After reading about some of the various countries and the expected prices there, we were sold! We ended up spending almost $600 additional each on the tickets, including an upgrade to Economy Comfort, which was slightly more than we were hoping for, but still not a bad deal.
In setting our itinerary, I used Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe Itinerary as a starting point, then customized it to our interests and timing. We flew into Prague, quite simply, because it was the cheapest flight. Due to the efficiency of the trains in Europe, we always suggest flying into the cheapest city in the vicinity of where you are going, then you can take a train if needed.
Prague, Czech Republic
We spent four nights at the Best Western Hotel Pav. It is about a 10-minute walk to the Charles Bridge and most of the attractions, which is generally perfect for us. There were a few restaurants nearby, but was not in an overly touristy area. The hotel was very comfortable and served a traditional European breakfast.
We got in late the first day, so did not do anything other than eat dinner at a nearby restaurant. We spent two days touring Prague. Because we really did a lot (maybe too much) those first two days, we decided to go to Kutna Hora on the third day. That was definitely an interesting side trip that we really enjoyed!
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Many people visit Cesky Krumlov as a day trip from Prague, which is not a bad idea. We decided to stay the night so that we could really enjoy the city. Admittedly, we had more time than we really needed, but sitting in the parks by the river was a nice break, especially after several very busy days in Prague.
We stayed Pension Zámecká Apartmá – Castle Apartments, which was about a two-three minute walk from the main part of town at the bend in the river. Our room was a standard studio apartment rental… very comfortable and included breakfast.
One note about Cesky Krumov – we took the bus because we heard that it was easier than taking the train. While we do not know what the train experience is like, our experience on the bus was not a pleasant one. Granted, we were in the very back seat both going there and back to Prague, but after both trips, we were hot, nauseous, and generally not in a great mood. If we had it to do over again, we would definitely take the train, even if it is a bit longer of a trip.
Night Train to Krakow
We returned to Prague and took the night train to Krakow. We had two bunks in a four-bunk cabin. There wasn’t much air flow unless the cabin door was open and the bunks felt like there was just a thin layer of fabric over metal… Very uncomfortable! The trip itself was ok, but not the best experience in the world.
The biggest downside of the night train is that we arrived in town at 6:00 a.m. and couldn’t check into our hotel until after 3:00 p.m. We were able to store our bags at the hotel office, but then we had to stay out and about all day.
We spent a full day touring Krakow and saw all the major sites, including Wawel Hill, Schindler’s Factory and the Jewish Quarter. Since we got such an early start, we actually had to hang out in a park for a while waiting on our room to be ready.
Once we finally got settled into the Krowoderska Apartments, we were very happy! This actually ended up being one of our favorite “hotels,” and was also the cheapest!
We had a king bed, small sitting area, small kitchenette and a full bathroom for less than $50 US a night! We were about a 15-minute walk from the main part of town, but we enjoy walking and experiencing the “everyday” part of a town, so that was not a problem for us.
Our second day we went to Auschwitz. It is a fairly easy train ride and a very easy day trip. While you can’t exactly describe it as a pleasant experience, it is definitely a worthwhile experience.
Night Train to Budapest
Our second night train experience was slightly better than the first, but really only because the beds were more comfortable. We again were sharing a four-bunk cabin.
Again, the worst part was that we had to be out of our hotel room at noon, but our train didn’t leave until about 10:00 p.m. that night. We spent much of the day hanging out in the park. Timing prevented us from going to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, but that is something we really wanted to do and have heard great things about.
We arrived in Budapest fairly early in the morning, but by the time we got cash from the ATM and found our way to the hotel to drop off our bags, we just barely made it to our walking tour at 10:00. While we are not generally “tour group” folks, we really enjoyed the tour with Discover Budapest, which gave us an overview of the city. It really was the best way we could have spent our first day!
We stayed at the Town Hall Apartments, which is in a great restaurant area and not far from the Opera House. A personal plus for us was that one of my friends lives in that building… Something I didn’t even know when we made the reservation. The apartment was a good size unit with a small kitchen, sitting area, bathroom, washing machine, and a balcony for a very reasonable price.
We spent two days touring Budapest and one day going to Eger, which was a very interesting town. We absolutely love getting out of the big cities and visiting the small towns.
Budapest is HUGE, so you could easily spend more time there! We enjoyed our visit, but definitely have much more we’d like to see. It was extremely hot when we were there (over 100 degree Fahrenheit), so we didn’t do as much as we wanted to.
Ljubljana was a real treat for us! We stayed at the Best Western Premier Hotel Slon. We probably splurged a little when we chose this hotel because we were there on our anniversary.
The town is fairly small, but full of charm. A day or two is really all you need to see everything, but you could easily spend more time here just enjoying the city and the surrounding mountains.
We rented a car in Ljubljana and drove into Triglav National Park, stopping in Bovec for the night. There was nothing very interesting about this town, but it was a good place to stop.
We stayed at the Apartments and Rooms Skok. Basic, but comfortable and reasonably priced.
Tip: We stopped in Kobarid to visit the museum on our way to Bovec. The historical museum is small, but interesting. We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently one restaurant in Kobarid, Hisa Franko, is generally regarded as one of the best in the world. Had we known that at the time, we probably would have made a point to stay in Kobarid and visit that restaurant.
We spent three nights in the resort town at Lake Bled at the Best Western Premier Hotel Lovec. We spent a couple of days visiting the castle, walking around the lake and taking a Pletna to the Bled Island. A quick side trip out to Vintgar Gorge, just about a 20-30 minute drive from Bled made for some amazing views.
This was a great place to relax and recharge after several long, stressful days driving through the mountains of Slovenia.
After returning the rental car to Ljubljana, we took a train to Rijeka. There is not much train service through Croatia, so we really just stopped here to pick up another car (taking car across country borders can be very expensive).
We spent one night at the Hotel Jadan, which is RIGHT on the Adriatic Sea (Kvarner Bay).
Once we had the rental car, we drove around the Istrian Peninsula, stopping in Pula, before arriving in Rovinj. We stayed at the Pansion Comfort Exclusive, a nice apartment/guest-house about 10-15 minutes (walking) outside of town.
The main town is right on the water and has lots of interesting shops and restaurants. The views are amazing just about everywhere you go!
From the Istrian Peninsula, we backtracked a little, heading back east. We stopped for a very quick visit in Motovun, which is very reminiscent of an Italian hill town. After driving through several other small, rural towns, we arrived in Grabovac for the night.
We stayed at the Guest House Korita, which was very comfortable and well-appointed.
The next day, we got up early for a visit to Plitvice National Park, a definite highlight of our visit to Croatia. You can read about our visit to Croatia’s first and most popular national park here.
After returning our rental car at the airport in Split, we took the bus into town. We stayed at the Fabio Residence, which was a nice, small apartment building about 5-10 minutes from the main part of the old town.
We did enjoy the main promenade, The Riva, which runs the length of the old town, and is filled with restaurants and shops. Walking around The Riva or any of the streets was very enjoyable for us.
The biggest “attraction” is the Diocletian Palace, a former vacation home of a Roman emperor. While interesting, it only took us a couple of hours to feel like we had seen everything.
While we enjoyed Split, if we had it to do over again, we would probably not stop here.
We took a ferry from Split to Dubrovik, which was a nice change of transportation. When we were there, they had just started a “fast ferry” for passengers only, so it only took a couple of hours, even with stops along the way. There are several ferries that can accommodate cars if you have one.
We stayed at the Peric Room Dubrovnik, which is at the top of the town, overlooking the ocean and the rest of the city. Old Town Dubrovnik, which is the real attraction, is located right on the coast, with the “new town” spreading up the hill.
Grant had his heart attack not long after we arrived in Dubrovnik. We got off the ferry, stopped for lunch, and as we started walking to the hotel Grant had to stop. After getting some water and stopping to rest, he struggled up the steps to the hotel. It was a VERY long process getting there. Of course, we didn’t know he was in the middle of a heart attack at the time, but now it explains how difficult that trek was! Needless to say, we took a taxi the next time we had to get “up” to the hotel.
Due to the heart attack and extreme temperatures, we didn’t do a lot in Dubrovnik. We spent a couple hours walking the Old Town Walls early in the morning. We also took the cable car up to the top of Mount Srd for dinner and sunset views. That really was a great way to end the main part of our trip to Eastern Europe!
After enjoying all these countries and cities, we did have to return to Prague for our return flight home. It was cheaper, even with having to get a local flight back to Prague (via Rome) than to do an open-jaw ticket, flying into Prague and out of Dubrovnik, or anywhere else in Croatia.
We spent our final night at Courtyard by Marriott Prague Airport, which was right at the airport. Seriously, for us to pass up a Hilton property, you know it must be a lot more convenient and/or a lot cheaper. This was both. The hotel was nice and certainly was convenient!
If you want to know more details about our trip, you can read our daily blogs from the trip starting here.
Overall, we really enjoyed Eastern Europe. Czech Republic and Poland were certainly cheap, with Hungary and Croatia being a little more expensive, but still reasonable. Everything was very safe, which was a big concern for some of our family and friends.
We would love to go back and visit northern Poland, Slovakia and even spend more time in Slovenia… It really is one of the prettiest counties we’ve been to!
While our itinerary might not have been perfect, it allowed us to see the highlights and enjoy a lot of different countries and cities. Changing currency and language every few days was not easy, but that is one part of the adventure that we really enjoy!