Vacation Bleg

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I’ve been meaning to take a real vacation for a couple years, and just haven’t gotten around to planning one. But I’m set now on taking one the first couple weeks in May. I’m also set on the general area — Central/Eastern Europe. I know I want to spend some time in Prague and Budapest, and then I’m thinking I may wind down the Dalmatian Coast, then possibly fly to Bucharest for a few days before flying back home.

Prague and Budapest are the only definite destinations in all of that. Not sure yet how doable the rest is. But if any Agitatortots familiar with that part of the world have advice, recommendations, ideas, suggestions, please feel free to send them my way. I don’t speak the language in any of those countries, so I can’t get too far off the beaten path. But in the past, many of your not-in-the-guidebooks reader suggestions have been pretty great.

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58 Responses to “Vacation Bleg”

  1. #1 |  SJE | 

    Slovenia might be good for a libertarian: small country that broke away from Yugoslavia and has prospered as an independent country within Europe. My room-mate used to go regularly.

    I have always heard great things about Dubrovnik, which was remarkably preserved until the Serbs decided to shell it in 1991. I keep meaning to go, but….

  2. #2 |  RomanCandle | 

    If you’re going to Eastern Europe, you have to get to Tallinn. Estonia has alot of great history and cultural artifacts, of course, but the women there are amazing. You’re a single man, Radley. Go for the gold.

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    Prague is a beautiful city for walking around. Lots of old buildings to see. (Prague is one of the few cities that was not fought over in the 20th century.)

    The best restaurants are in cellars, for some reason, but don’t go into the ones on Wenceslas Square – walking a block away will save you a bundle.

    Czech is very difficult. Other than, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘how much is it?’, don’t try to learn the language.

    On the weekends, Prague is overrun with German weekend trippers. Visit during the week if you can.

  4. #4 |  Sean D Sorrentino | 

    Slovenia is my favorite foreign country. Linoge, at just went there. I will recommend that wherever you go, get the latest copy of Lonely Planet for that country. They get run down a lot for catering to hipsters, but they are the only people who assume that you are traveling self-guided, and have enough sense to figure things out by yourself.

    Dubrovnik is the coolest place you’ve never been to. If you get close and don’t go, you’re a fool. I was there after the Serbs shelled the place and you’d never know it happened.

    Don’t worry about the language. enough people speak english that you’ll do fine. Smile a lot and remember that to say hello, it’s “dober dan”. The pronounciation is different with each language, but no one will care that you’re not exactly correct. They’ll just be happy you tried.

  5. #5 |  Peter | 

    Bucharest is nice, but given the choice I would just spend more time in Dalmatia. It’s a beautiful, interesting and (relatively) cheap place. And going at the beginning of May is all to the better, as the weather will be relatively nice, but you will still encounter relatively few tourists.
    Tip: If you’re coming from Budapest, make your way down to Split (an entire city built into a Diocletian palace), and from there go island hopping all the way down to Dubrovnik (stopping at islands like Hvar and Korcula, among others). If you have time, dip down into Montenegro take a day trip to Cetenje and Kotor.

  6. #6 |  Jozef | 

    I’m originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, so I’m always disappointed that people always plan to visit the big guys, Prague and Budapest, but skip Bratislava. My city is not a place where you need a full day, but still…

    Anyway, I always recommend people to take the train from Prague to Vienna and board a ship down the Danube, at least to Budapest. At least you pass Bratislava along the way, and it’s a nice, relaxing trip. May should be perfect for something like that, weather-wise.

  7. #7 |  André | 

    Budapest is delightful. You won’t be able to make heads or tails of the language. It’s pretty cheap to visit there.

    I gather you’re more of a fan of bourbon, but Hungary has terrific wine that seldom gets exported to the states; I went to a wine festival back in ’06 and had a great time. Try and find a bottle of Tokaji (excellent desert wine) while you’re there; 5 Puttonyos should cost you fifteen or twenty bucks or less; in the states it’s upwards of fifty. And delicious.

  8. #8 |  Nathan | 

    No location advice, but get the Google translate app. It’s free and does pretty much every European language. Almost like having the Star Trek universal translator on your phone.

  9. #9 |  paul | 

    Dalmatian coast is a good idea. Hvar is not as nice as Korcula (more expensive, too many parties.) Dubrovnik is full of tourists, but still well worth it. If you really want to chill out, try a smaller village – for example Supetar on the island of Brac, a short boat ride out of Split – where there is nothing to do but eat, sleep, and swim in the adriatic. Sveti Stefan should also make the list.

    Take a side trip up to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Go further to Sarajevo if you’re feeling adventurous. [My wife is actually from ex-YU so I always have a local guide. She, however, recommends Rick Steve’s book for the those without a native guide.] Whatever you do, when in BiH be sure to have some Cevapi.

    Note that you can fly in to Split and easily get on ferries, or you can fly/train to Zagreb, which is a nice city for 2/3 of a day: arrive in the morning, tour around, and they exit on the night train to Split and get on the ferries from there. Don’t spend the night in Zagreb – too expensive. Better to spend the night on the train. (Get a bunk.)

    Finally, if you’re going to be in Prague you should know that the region between Prague and Dresden is very interesting (as are both cities). There’s a lot of casual “hiking” to be done along the Czech-German border just outside Dresden where the Elbe river flows through some interesting sandstone formations. For example, there are nice walks out of the villages of Hohnstein and Stadt Wehlen.

  10. #10 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    and then I’m thinking I may wind down the Dalmatian Coast

    *pictures a beach packed with cute spotted puppies*

  11. #11 |  j00bz | 

    I highly recommend Istria in Croatia – very Italian in feel because it’s a stone’s throw from Trieste – but also very economical. I had a great time in Rovinj.

  12. #12 |  Sean | 

    As an expat who’s been living in Prague for 15 years, I’d have to say it all depends on what you are looking for. The architecture in the center is really something to see, and still amazes me to this day, but can also be quite touristy. Ideally you’d probably want to maximize seeing the cool stuff with staying off the beaten path.

    When we go on vacation I’m more of the mind to spend the time in one place, get to know it, than to try and maximize places visited.

  13. #13 |  Ryan | 

    I highly recommend Bratislava on the grounds that I once got a pork filet stuffed with bacon there. The name of the restaurant, sadly, eludes me, but it was a dish worth hunting for.

    Also a great meal there costs the equivalent of about 90 cents.

  14. #14 |  bk | 

    Budapest is my favorite city to visit. I thought Prague was overrun with Western European tourists and was just ok. Former Yugoslavia is wonderful and I agree with everything Paul #9 said. I’ve heard that Bucharest is a bit too much “former Communist country” and not enough “charming former Communist country”. Sofia is supposed to be wonderful.

    Have a great time and know that, where ever you end up, you can do no wrong!

  15. #15 |  Jared | 

    This is about 1.5 hours outside of Prague and probably worth seeing:

  16. #16 |  TX Swede | 

    Spent the mid-80’s in the US Army in then-West Germany. The best beer, by far, was the Czech Budweiser Budvar. The brewery is in the Czech town of Budweis (get it?), and they offer a guided tour every day at 2.

  17. #17 |  not a viking | 

    If you like bacon/heavy food + best beer in the world then Slovakia/Czech republic is hard to beat, especially if you veer just slightly off the track, just walking distance of it is enough. Bulgaria by train is also quite cool in the sense in that the countryside still looks quite Warsaw pact era, had a blast doing that.

    And I wouldn’t worry too much about getting off the beaten track, most people are kind and only happy to help. Plus much more fun, and not like you are likely to get raped or killed, just scammed which isn’t too bad*.

    As for Budapest do try the lovely proper salamis, goulash and a nice Tokay to finish it off.

    Also, just a thought but aren’t there some libertarian student associations there who’d be willing to trade an inspiring lecture for food/beer/sightseeing/night on the town with the locals?

    * Dodgy taxis around the airport being the most hard to avoid. Also helps being a man/shaved/not too small/aware of your basic scams and dodgy people.

  18. #18 |  Stephen | 

    Budapest is nice. Driving is a little crazy. Tokaji wine is awesome. Lots of good looking women but it might be a little cold this time of year to really notice. They like to dance. Be careful with Palinka (fruit brandy), its like their version of Tequila. Their language is nuts, beyond a few basics, you just don’t have enough time to learn.

  19. #19 |  kriznol | 

    Croatia is amazing. They have better Italian food than the Italians. Very friendly. I recommend taking a couple days to explore Dubrovnik. If you want to do some incredible diving check out The dive center is run by some really great guys.

  20. #20 |  Juice | 

    I agree with the staying in one place for a while (like a week) as opposed to cramming as many sights into a trip as possible. What I’ve noticed about Eastern Europeans in general (Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, etc.) is that they are almost always really friendly and love to party (and really love alcohol, like they really really really love the stuff). And the girls are usually much friendlier and less inhibited than most American girls.

  21. #21 |  Max | 

    Cesky Krumlov. It’s a small, excruciatingly beautiful town a few hours south of Prague. Decent tourist infrastructure. So pretty you won’t believe it. Budvar is on the way. Don’t bother learning Czech – its basically impossible. You can hire a local guide for not too much. The Sedlec ossuary mentioned above is really cool, though the town’s not that great itself, as I recall. If you can, go to the opera in Prague. It’s cheap and super historic (I saw Don Giovanni in the theater where it premiered, the gorgeous Estates Theater!)

  22. #22 |  CG | 

    Vienna – brats and beer, but different from the German version. There is an area called The Bermuda Triangle that is full of bars and cafes.

    Budapest – awesome city. If you want pictures, go up Gellert Hill for the sunset. Great views of the river and bridges. There is a fort up there with an outside bar. They have these hidden bars called kerts that are in the courtyards of old abandoned Soviet-era apartment buildings. Ask the locals where they are. We were told to look for the building behind the yellow church. And we found it.

    Prague – like others mentioned, good if you get away from the tourists

    Bratislava – very small. When I went it (2006) was full of British stag parties.

    Croatia (from advice I got from an acquaintance before going – this is him speaking) -I have spent most of my time in Croatia on the islands. they are a bit more rugged, untamed, relaxed, less crowded, and better swimming. Almost all the beaches are rocky but there are loads of secluded coves and uninhabited islands that are very tranquil. However if you are looking for nightlife the mainland would probably be the place to go. The obvious exception is Hvar, which is relatively busy at nghts in Hvar city, but it is a bit touristy, expensive, and the beaches on Hvar are not great. My time in Hvar was excellent, was with a good group of people and had loads of wine and fresh fish and out until two in the morning every day. However it was also at the time I was working in Kosovo making a lot of money and was willing to pay anything to finally relax and enjoy a bit of nightlife. It is not the best place to maintain a budget.

    On Brac there is the only sandy beach called Bol. I have not been there but hear it is very nice with a nice old town. A lot of people from Split go there which is a good sign, if the locals bother to travel there then there must be something worth visiting.

    Korcula is my island and is probably the best balance of being a backwater and yet having an infrastructure. However it is pretty sleepy, I have been out in Korcula city and Vela Luka many times and never really had a great night out. It is more of a place to turn the volume down and chill on a beach and walk through the vineyards. If you are looking for a party, it will be tough to find. However the landscape is very beautiful and there are plenty of old villages and scenic swimming coves. If you are looking to relax, Korcula might be the best choice.

    Vis is a very scenic island with a nice little main town on it that I enjoy maybe more than Hvar. It is much less crowded so it depends on luck a bit as to who is on the island at the time. I think it has the highest potential for fun but if it is empty. . . it will be a bit sleepy. However it has good swimming, good food, and is a bit cheaper than Hvar.

    I have not been to the other islands so I do not have any comment different than what the guidebooks would say.

    The Mainland

    The mainland is CROWDED, beaches are packed from end to end with people, you have trouble finding a place to put your towel (particuarly Makarska). It depends what you are looking for, crowds mean a lively night scene, Makarska is noisy and full of parties. Anywhere in the “Makarska Riveria” will be geared toward tourists and be much more lively, and probably relatively expensive. I have not spent much time there so I cannot comment more, only that my friends that go to Makarska are younger and looking to pick up German tourists. I am too old for that so I head for the islands.

    Split is worth a night however. The bars around the Palace have a pretty good atmosphere and there is a good amount of people and nightlife. It is not too touristy, not euro nightclubs, just bars where the crowd spills outside. It is a cool old town and not too expensive.

    Dubrovnik is beautiful as advertised. The nightlife there is pretty good because there are so many tourists but the food is no good, it is VERY expensive, and there are no beaches (though you can go to islands nearby for the day, Locrum I believe). When I have visitors I plan to go to Dubrovnik, wake up early, walk around the walls before it gets too hot, spend the afternoon in the city and have a decent dinner at a restaurant underneath the fort, just outside of the walled city (unfortunately I cannot remember its name). One day is usually enough for me.

    If you have the opportunity, check out Montenegro. It is not that far from Dubrovnik and their coast is beautiful as well, in a different way. Go through the bay of Kotor and stay a night or two in Budva, both places are at most three hours from Dubrovnik. Kotor is stunningly beautiful and Budva has sandy beaches and a very lively nightlife and prices in Montenegro are lower than Croatia. I like Croatia better, it is more varried and there is more to explore, but Montenegro really offers a lot for a small place.

  23. #23 |  PeeDub | 

    If you’re driving at all, the Plitvice Lakes are on the way from Zagreb to the coast. Brilliant!

  24. #24 |  jb | 

    I went to Hungary and the Czech Republic a few years ago. Some points:

    –Amazing hiking in the Sumava. It was part of the Iron Curtain and is now national parks, so it never featured modern development.
    –Beautiful towns in southern Bohemia.
    –Beer is cheaper than water. Soda, on the other hand, is very expensive (2.5 euros for what would cost you 1.5 dollars). However, it’s made with sugar instead of corn syrup, which really makes a huge difference.
    –Budapest was largely destroyed in WWII, Prague was not. Prague’s castle has some really amazing historical sites.
    –Both cities, as well as Bratislava, have great public transit systems. However, ticket systems work like commuter rail/amtrak–you don’t have to show a ticket to get on, but if you’re caught without one by a roving inspector you will be hit with a very expensive fine.

    In Budapest, you must go here: After the fall of communism, the Hungarians took all the huge ugly soviet-era statues and put them in this old industrial park as sort of a memorial/f*ck you to the communist government. It’s hard to get to, but totally worth it, and one of the best/subtlest statements of human freedom I have ever seen. Best to go on a grey cloudy day.

  25. #25 |  jb | 

    Also, if you like wine, Egri Bikaver (hungarian wine from Eger) can be amazing or awful.

  26. #26 |  jb | 

    Also, the intercity train system is great. You can buy a ticket between two cities, get off at an intermediate point, then get back on with the same ticket a week later.

  27. #27 |  CyniCAl | 

    There are ex-pats living in Central Europe. Anarchist Mike Gogulski is one, in Slovakia. You might look him up, he’s pretty well established there now.

  28. #28 |  Carl Drega | 

    FYI Gene Healy used to live in Prague.

  29. #29 |  Nicholas Weininger | 

    If you’re staying more than 2 nights in a row in Budapest or Prague, get an apartment rather than a hotel. There are lots of good apartment search websites, and you can get a comfortable place right in the middle of things for much less than an equally comfortable hotel room in the same neighborhood.

    In Prague stay in Stare Mesto or the Jewish quarter, and do not miss the synagogue/cemetery tour in the latter. Also don’t miss the Obecni dum, an extraordinary example of Art Nouveau architecture. Once you’re done with the central stuff, Vysehrad is lovely and less touristed than some of the other big-draw sites. It’s worth budgeting quite a bit of time to just walk the streets with no particular destination in mind: the streetscape is a large part of the draw and the city is compact. Do go to the opera and/or a classical concert but don’t expect the quality of the music to be that great; the pleasure is in hearing music in a hallowed space.

    In Budapest stay on the Pest side near the river, in or on the “Kis Korut”. I second the Szoborpark recommendation. Another out-of-the-way freedom memorial place worth visiting is the cemetery where Imre Nagy is buried.

    At Czech restaurants order the game: the wild boar or the rabbit or the venison. They do game really well, wild boar in particular. Beer is fantastic there, as you know. The local red wine is crap but they do a very nice white called Veltlinske zelene (the Czech equivalent of the Austrian varietal Gruner Veltliner). Also, be sure to have some medovnik for dessert where it’s available: it is the best honey cake you’ll ever taste.

    In Hungary go to the pastry cafes and eat lots of strudel. They do strudel better than anybody else, including the Austrians who invented it. Try the poppyseed (“makos retes”) in particular. For real, cheap, down-to-earth Hungarian food go to Szent Jupat on the Buda side. When you are tired of heavy Central Euro cuisine go to Govinda on Vigyazo Ferenc utca for their quirky vegetarian buffet.

    Tokaji aszu is a lovely dessert wine but very sweet; for the full effect get the 6 puttonyos or, if you want to splurge, the Eszencia. Tokaji szamorodni is a nice reliable drier white. Hungarian reds can be good but are hit-or-miss– the best ones, and a lot of good whites too, are from a town called Etyek and will usually say “Etyek” or “Etyeki” in their names. I have never had a really good Egri bikaver.

  30. #30 |  André | 

    jb: I’ve consumed my fair share of cheap, cheap Egri Bikavér. One of my favorite memories of Budapest involves buying two bottles for 500 Forint (2.50 USD) and sitting with a girlfriend in the foundations of a long-destroyed church. Also, an important life lesson from that evening: if you don’t have a corkscrew, you can push the cork into the bottle.

  31. #31 |  Jonah Keri | 

    Echo all the comments about Slovenia. Do the capital, Ljubljana. Then go to Bled, which is absolutely picturesque. There’s a chapel in the middle of Lake Bled. Short boat ride and you’re there. Magical.

    Budapest is fantastic. One must-do: Gerbeaud. My favorite dessert place in the world, great view of the river to boot:

    Have fun!

  32. #32 |  InsantiyRules | 

    I was in Kotor and Dubrovnik in 2008. Both are beautiful and well worth the visit. In Dubrovnik be sure to check out the two “Buza” bars, which are at the top of the cliff overlooking the sea through a hole along the top of the wall. We were having beers in one enjoying the atmosphere and the amazing view when two of the Playmates from “Girls Next Door” came in with a film crew to shoot footage for the show. Marginally ok eye candy but girls who would wear impossible high heels in that rocky place don’t rate too high on the IQ scale! I thought the guys diving off the cliffs ala Acapulco were more interesting.

    In Kotor make the trip up the 1400 steps to the old fort, then walk the Roman-era switchbacks on the way down. Amazingly beautiful area in a rustic Yugoslavian way with cheap food, drinks and friendly people. Most everyone speaks English – I learned a little Croatian and almost never used it.

    I was in Prague and Budapest in 2000 and both were cheap back then. Prague was beautiful and well-preserved as the Czechs just rolled over in WWII. Budapest had a very cool Communist chic meets western capitalism vibe in 2K that’s probably gone by now, but try the smaller cities like Gyor that are off the beaten track. Beautiful and friendly country but forget Hungarian unless you can speak Finnish. A little German may help here.

    Dream trip now would be Turkey through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits to the Black Sea. I’m dying to check out Romania and Bulgaria. It sounds like a great plan for a trip – enjoy!

  33. #33 |  kishnevi | 

    In Prague itself during May:, the high point of which is the performance of the Symphony of a Thousand on the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death (May 18), and for which it sounds like they are actually going to have a thousand performers onstage, what with two orchestras, three adult choruses and two boy’s choirs involved; although I suspect what’s left of the tickets will be long gone if you wait until you get to Prague to buy them. The other concerts, less so.

    One of my MDs is from Romania. He once told me there is nothing worth seeing there. And just including Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and the various states of ex-Yugoslavia, you probably have more than enough for a trip of two or three weeks.

  34. #34 |  Z | 

    I was born and raised in Budapest so I’m biased. :) Budapest, Eger and Pecs are beautiful. Gyor and Bratislava are good for that Detroit 1972 vibe. Miskolc, Salgotarjan and Ozd are excellent places to get stabbed by roving drunks at 2 AM while staring at ruined post-industrial, countryside hell. Further north, Trencin Slovakia makes for a pretty daytrip.

  35. #35 |  Sandy | 

    I love me some Budapest, and Eger is fun. Prague is beautiful, but I’ve always had a more lively time in Budapest for some reason.

    The Dalmatian coast is lovely, and Slovenian wine is excellent. Do not miss Dubrovnik–photographer’s wet dream. I’ve not yet been to Romania or Bulgaria, but Bulgaria has good food (there used to be a Bulgarian/European restaurant on 23rd street in Crystal City when you were here, dunno if you ever went).

    Lonely Planet guides are musts. Let’s Go is awful, and full of lies (near as I can tell, many authors don’t visit the places but crib stuff from a local tour guide in a rush before the deadline).

    Sadly, most of my contacts are in Poland, and my Budapest contacts have left. Then again, you know Matt Welsh, so he can probably hook you up in that area.

    Ping me if you want some specifics, but sadly it’s been 10 years since I’ve been there.

  36. #36 |  Aaron H | 

    Prague: Bukowski’s Bar. Pretty cool little spot. Eat at Radost, right off the IP Pavlova tram/metro stop. Being a libertarian, you may want to check out the Museum of Communism, a great place to spend a few hours. Finally, not sure when you’re planning on going, but try to check out a Sparta Praha soccer or hockey game. Schedules online, cheap tickets at the gate, they basically give away delicious beer, and also I believe they play sports during the entire thing.

    Shoot me an email with questions.

  37. #37 |  KBCraig | 

    Lots of good tips have me wanting to go! When I left the Army (stationed in Germany) in 1989, the Wall was still a couple of months from coming down. I always wanted to go to Prague and Budapest, but couldn’t.

    East Berlin wasn’t nearly the same. :/

    My best advice? Catch some episodes of “Three Sheets”, starring Zane Lamprey.

    s2e1: Croata
    s2e3: Czech Republic
    s4e13: Lesbos (Yeah, it’s a bit far off your track, but wouldn’t you love to write up a travelogue about your wild night with a bunch of Lesbians?)

    I’m looking forward to lots of your great photos, video interviews with local liberty movement folks, and future columns. You know — all that stuff that makes the trip tax deductible!

  38. #38 |  Greg N. | 

    Here’s Rhys’ blog about his trip to Prague:

  39. #39 |  DC | 

    Innsbruck, Austria…there’s a free hiking club for local hotel guests that will take you on (not too strenuous) hikes with some fantastic Tyrolean views. Stay in Muhlau at the Hotel Koreth, a 20 minute walk from downtown. Say hi to Frau Kuhn, the owner, for me!

  40. #40 |  Chirol | 

    Croatia is beautiful but very touristy. There are tons of Western European tourists to annoy you. I recommend Bosnia which is not only a small piece of the orient but incredibly beautiful, overlooked and cheap. Same goes for Macedonia. Kosovo is also fun and as an American you’ll be very very welcome.

    If you do decide to go to Croatia, head to Split for the day to see Diocletian’s palace and then take a ferry out to one of the island (the furtehr out the better) for beautiful coast, good food and better wine.

    Prague is also too touristy. It’s good for 2 days tops.

  41. #41 |  Jeff Smith | 

    Most commenters have focused on the transition countries. Let me put in a pitch for Germany and Denmark. In particular, in Germany, you might check out Bonn, which has a lot of uncrowded, high quality museums due to its status as the former capitol of West Germany, and Copenhagen, which is lots of fun. Plus (approximately) everyone in Denmark speaks English well. If you like rough scenery, go up to Skagen at the northern tip of Denmark, and stop by Aarhus on the way.

  42. #42 |  Thomas | 

    As a beergeek I’ll suggest you check out U Fleku in Prague

    It’s the Czech version of a German beerhall, a bit touristy, but the black lager they make is unlike anything you have had. It’s rich like dark bread and I still try to perfect my homebrew version of this style beer. A great place to spend a Spring afternoon.

  43. #43 |  André | 

    Responding to Jeff’s suggestion, if you go to Copenhagen, visit Freetown Christiania, an anarchist enclave in the middle of the city. (Hash was openly sold on the streets there until 2004. Take that, drug warriors!)

  44. #44 |  Sandy | 

    I second the U Fleku recommendation. Also, Hungarian food is awesome.

  45. #45 |  SamChevre | 

    If you go to Vienna, do not miss the Military History Museum (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum). It has, among a vast array of interesting things (a medieval manual of arms, the car in which Archduke Ferdinand was killed), the most chilling exhibit I’ve ever seen on the street fighting leading up to the Anschluss.

  46. #46 |  Tom Barkwell | 

    Prague is a beautiful city. As a tourist, I didn’t mind the other tourists. Be sure to plan lots of time wandering the streets at night. There are really good groups of musicians all over the place. As music lover, you’ll love it (a reason to consider Vienna as well – a short train trip away).

  47. #47 |  Andy C | 

    Budapest is a wonderful city to visit. 1) The other guys are right about the local wines. They’re great. 2) Visit the touristy stuff at least once. There are great photo ops all around, and a neat cave system under the city that you can explore. 3) Visit the Baths. 4) I can’t remember the actual name of it (someone may have mentioned it already) but there is a ‘theme park” outside of the city where they put all the old soviet era statues and such. They actually charge money for you to go in and see the old commie propaganda. It’s beautiful. So is the “south park” shirt I got with the kids all done up as Mau, Lenin, Marx, and someone else I can’t remember.

  48. #48 |  Andy C | 

    Yup. Just read through some more of the comments….JB already mentioned the statue park thing.

  49. #49 |  JWeidner | 

    I spent a week in Belgrade at the start of the year for a recent job. I couldn’t tell you much about the city, as the majority of my time was spent in a studio working with some animators. But I can say that the people were super nice, the food was excellent, and what little I did see (pretty much just the walk between my hotel and the studio) seemed really nice. I wouldn’t hesitate to go again and check it out.

  50. #50 |  Linoge | 

    As Sean mentioned, I thoroughly loved the week I spent in Slovenia… Being able to drive across the country in about three hours, spanning geography from port towns to alpine mountains to vinery hills to farmland and everything inbetween was amazing, the people were awesome, and the costs were not really all that bad (as long as you did not pay too close attention at the gas pump). And the gorges and waterfalls in that country are not to be believed…

  51. #51 |  matt | 

    +1 on Bratislava, but the deal with it is they (random thieves) may want your car unless it’s a Lada. Food is all strangely gray like the Soviet-inspired architecture, yet surprisingly delicious (unlike the Soviet anything). People (ok, the women, yeah, I was single when i was there) are beautiful and friendly. It’s considered the red-headed stepchild of the more prosperous Czech Republic, but overall a neat experience. When I first went (by car, with Austrians, in the 90’s), the border guards obviously hadn’t seen many USA passports and one by one came and looked in the window to get a peek at me. Interesting.

    Go to Vienna. I know it’s a “been there done that” kind of city for lots, but it’s just got lots of character. Good beer a SiebenSternBrau. Plus there’s the Wiener Riesenrad (big ferris wheel in a Six-Flags-esque park where they play weird french hip-hop and serve beer).

  52. #52 |  Kevin |

    In Prague, have a beer in a place serving beer since the 1400s (well 1500), but still pretty old. And old clock in the town square is cool too.

    U Fleku.

  53. #53 |  Robert S. Porter | 

    I’m going to make an argument for Bucharest. In my opinion it is the second best city in Europe (after Berlin). It could possibly be because of my personal background and interests, but Bucharest is simply fascinating. It isn’t the most beautiful city by conventional standards (though it has some stunning buildings like the Creţulescu Palace and Romanian Athenaeum), but the interplay between pre-war and Ceaușescu eras make for some very, very interesting walks. Likewise the sheer scale of the communist planning is something to behold (see, for example the Piața Victoriei or, most famousy, the Palace of the Parliament).

    In general, though I’m a huge fan of Eastern Europe and you can’t really go wrong there.

    The Dalmation coast is simply stunning and Dubrovnik is not to be missed. But it must be noted that the central, walled city, while beautiful, is one of the worst tourist ghettos around. Totally worth seeing, but incredibly busy. I found the old walled city in Kotor, Montenegro almost as nice and not as busy. As others have said a trip to Mostar, in BiH, is recommended as is Sarajevo which has a great nightlife if you’re into that kind of thing.

    I will also agree with the people recommending Bratislava. It’s a great little city that you should visit, especially if you’re going to be in Budapest, which I found only moderately interesting.

    Personally, I would leave Prague for a different trip, or connect it with other places in Central Europe (Germany, Poland) and focus on the Balkans/Eastern Europe exclusively.

    And ignore those recommending Scandinavia. While there are a number of good things about places like Copenhagen, they are dreadfully bland and remarkably boring for the tourist.

  54. #54 |  T. Reed | 

    If you can’t get laid in Prague, you should kill yourself.

  55. #55 |  Jeremy | 

    I have kicked around quite a bit of Eastern Europe.

    Budapest was amazing. I agree with staying on the Pest side of the river. Make sure you visit the Cave Monastery, pretty amazing place.

    Bucharest was nice, but I must admit that I had a much better time in Budapest. If you make to Bucharest, there is an amazing tourist area that is original village houses and buildings brought from all over Romania and placed together to make replica villages.

    Sofia was the same as Bucharest. Great place, but still not as beautiful as Budapest.

    If you get a chance, L’vov in Ukraine has some beautiful building and is a great place to relax. Kiev is another place I highly recommend. I lived there for a while between contracts in Iraq. If you make it to Kiev, make sure to try the borsht and visit the WWII museum. Also, the most beautiful women in the world can be found walking down Kreshatik Street in Kiev.

  56. #56 |  Joe Vladeck | 

    I’ve spent a lot of time as a solo traveler in many of the places you mentioned.

    First, skip Bucharest. Truly a depressing city — your heart will be smashed to smithereens by the packs of stray dogs roaming the city. The only nice thing I have to say about Bucharest is that it made me truly understand the horrors of totalitarianism; the city is like a crumbling museum about the old regime, with huge blocs of identical apartment buildings and pathetic monuments to greatness. (The mock arc d’triumph is so depressing…)

    However, your other ideas are great and I second all the positive comments about Budapest, Prague, and Croatia. If you go to Budapest, make sure to visit the baths — I can’t think of the name of the big one, but it’s worth a visit as you can’t find anything remotely analogous in the US. The islands off the Dalmation coast are phenomenal, Dubrovnik is ridiculously beautiful (though it gets a little dull after a day or two), and Istria is springtime is amazing.

    Vienna’s boring, though the architecture is remarkable. And there are the most remarkable statues of war heroes, which makes sense. I actually think of Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest as a spectrum — I found Vienna too western-ized and well put together, Bucharest too Soviet-bloc and depressing, and I thought Budapest was the perfect balance.

    Finally, I’ve never made it to Kosovo or Bosnia, but I’ve heard from a number of friends that they’re phenomenal places to visit. You can day-trip to Bosnia (Mostar?) from Dubrovnik. I think there must be something about cities and small countries that are recently recovering from war and calamity that translates to an insistence on enjoying life.

    Hope this helps.

  57. #57 |  Graham J. | 

    I’m coming late to your post, but I wanted to let you know that I went to Budapest last March with my girlfriend (as part of a two-week Budapest-Vienna-Salzburg-Munich-Berlin-Warsaw odyssey), and it was literally the best time of my life. Budapest was such an incredible city to explore, and in the spring parts of it can seem almost deserted (but I mean this in a good way).

    I don’t know if you already have a hotel booked, but if not, I highly recommend Le Meridien. It’s right on one of the main squares, and if you book it through the right source (read: Kayak), you can get a really incredible deal on what is truly a five-star hotel.

    Make sure to visit the Karpatia restaurant. We found it only by accident, though it turned out later that it is in fact in some of the guidebooks. It was definitely one of the best meals of our lives. Make sure to sit at the cafe in the square by St. Isztvan’s Cathedral and order the Dreher on tap. Dreher’s available everywhere there, and it’s the only beer you’ll ever need to order. And Budapest in general is pretty cheap. A pack of real Camel cigarettes was 250 Forints – roughly $1.26.

    Eastern Europe may very well be one of the last real gems of European travel. I would also recommend Berlin, if you get a chance. The only way I can describe it is that they have their shit together – both in the political and cultural sense – and to me it felt like kind of the perfect city.

    Also, Warsaw was pretty cool. The Old Town, destroyed during World War II, was completely rebuilt to the original medieval specifications, and it feels hundreds of years old. Communists were shitty designers, but they could certainly build.

  58. #58 |  Another Vacation Bleg | The Agitator | 

    […] all were so helpful with ideas last time, I figure I’ll see if you have any suggestions about a little planning quandary I’ve […]