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Question Eastern Europe: How long to stay?
Old 11-04-2011, 08:57 PM   #1
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Question Eastern Europe: How long to stay?

This question (I hope) pertains to visiting Asia and South American countries, also, but what I am wondering is how long to allow myself to travel to, say, for example:

Poland
Hungary
Croatia
Romania
Bulgaria
Czech Republic

I have a list of about the same length for countries in Asia I want to visit and South America, also.

Granted, you can whizz thru these countries the American way, but I'd like to really get into the country, language, foods, customs and so forth more than the traditional National Lampoon's European vacation way.

So, how long should this take? Is a month enough? Two months?

There are alot of world travelers on this site who have more recent travel experience than I, and I'd appreciate their wise suggestions.


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Old 11-04-2011, 11:50 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Orchidflower View Post
This question (I hope) pertains to visiting Asia and South American countries, also, but what I am wondering is how long to allow myself to travel to, say, for example:

Poland
Hungary
Croatia
Romania
Bulgaria
Czech Republic

I have a list of about the same length for countries in Asia I want to visit and South America, also.

Granted, you can whizz thru these countries the American way, but I'd like to really get into the country, language, foods, customs and so forth more than the traditional National Lampoon's European vacation way.
I would say that the average middle aged American who was not preparing for a CIA posting should allow at least 10 years each to learn Polish or Czech. Another 10 for Hungarian. Romanian should be a breeze, the others I know nothing about.

How about a tour?

Ha
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Old 11-05-2011, 12:59 AM   #3
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I do not think you'll know until you've been in each country for a few weeks. Do you have any foreign language skills?
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Old 11-05-2011, 02:54 AM   #4
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WOW, this is a big question with the inevitable "It Depends" as the answer. My wife and I have been traveling for a year and have been to 10 countries. We know others who visited over 40 countries in less time. I can speak to South America as well as Asia, but have yet to visit the countries you mention above.

Though I would argue you can spend as much time as possible in any country, depending on your goals. We love to get to know the people and spend time exploring more than the "tourist spots". With that in mind we spent over 2 months in Northern Peru alone. We could have easily spent another 2 months before we ever even considered heading south for Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and Lake Titicaca.

A different consideration is the visa situation in each country. For much of Europe we, as Americans, are limited to 90 days for every 180 by the Schengen Agreement. Note, this is not per country but for ALL the countries combined. Thus you will need to plan around this for the countries you list above.

Each country in South America is slightly different, but count on 90 day visa which are easy to renew just by leaving the country and re-entering. With the exception of Ecuador which was 90 days every year. I am sure there are ways around this, but just a heads up if you are considering the long-haul stays.

As for Asia, things get a bit more tricky with each country having very different rules and requirements. Thailand for example (where we are now) has several options. You can get 30 days upon arrival by plane. Otherwise you need to get a visa in advance and there are several options. Each other country is equally confusing, but knowing all the rules will help if you are trying to plan in advance.

My suggestion, for what it is worth, is do not try to plan a specific route or time in each country if you are flexible with time. Identify places you want to see and start your trip. Inevitably something exciting will come up and take you in directions you never expected. I am of course projecting a bit of our mantra here, but it is an addictive feeling.

Have an amazing time planning this adventure.
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Old 11-05-2011, 04:39 AM   #5
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I haven't been to those countries. But some of them are on our list.

The length of time depends. 6 countries... Are you really intending to visit a major city in each country or explore every corner of them?

Much of the answer depends on what you mean by travel and visit. Everybody seems to have slightly different ideas about what they want to see and how they want to go about it.

Since you are thinking of extended travel... assuming money is not a barrier (within reason)... You might consider an escorted tour of those countries to find out a little more about them and then figure out which ones you want to explore more in depth and what parts of the country you want to focus your visit.

There are several tour companies that offer escorted tours across several of those countries (major cities and site). They also have DIY tours where they just bundle the purchases of the hotels, air, transportation between cities (often by train). A few are Globus, Tafalgar, Gateone... there are many many others. We used Globus for a tour once. Our experience was good (no problems). Just keep in mind... escorted tours put one on a very specific schedule. The DIY tour looks to me like an in-between alternative. To see what that looks like check out Gateone. I have not used them so I cannot provide any information on it. But they show some itineraries and you can get some quotes for your unescorted tour.
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:29 AM   #6
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When I was younger I spent some time in Bulgaria and Croatia that are on your list as well as many other places.

My advice is to make a short visit of at most a day or two, then come back later if you wish on an extended trip. The first trip can even be on an organized tour. That way, you get comfortable with the airport, bus terminal, train station and know where to book your accommodations, etc. You may even make friends who you can visit the next time.
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Old 11-05-2011, 01:29 PM   #7
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No foreign language here, and really did just plan to hit the big cities.

I had no idea that the visa thang now cuts your time down to 90 days. Wow..things have changed alot in 20 years. Now I will study that as that can put a crimp in my visit.

However, I think your suggestions of a tour for the first trip are right on.
That does seem to be the smart way to go the first time I do this. I just hope I don't have problems booking my own flight there, cause I only want a land tour. American Airlines can let me use some of my free miles to go.
But what you say makes total sense to me now....and, on second consideration, probably the way to do it the first time. I was fighting the land tour thing before, frankly...now I see it was not a good decision.
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Old 11-05-2011, 10:12 PM   #8
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I am told that the Czech Republic, particularly in Prague, has many English speakers. No info on the rest.
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Old 11-06-2011, 12:18 AM   #9
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In my opinion you would tackle the tourist sits of Prague in 2-3 days - but its a pleasant city i never took the time to hang out in although have been through a few times. You can catch an overnight train from Praugue to Krakow Poland. From Krakow as a launch point i suggest visiting the salt mine (Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow | Ancient salt mine in Poland) and seeing Auschwitz.
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Old 11-08-2011, 10:10 AM   #10
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Orchidflower,
I would say few years
Tell us more what do you like to do in general, as I spent 25 years there and been to 5 out of six countries mentioned.
Also, if you are contemplating only one or two months - what time of year do you want to go?
For example summer is nice for seaside activities in Bulgaria on Black Sea coast and Croatia's Adriatic coast, excellent in Carpathian Mountains (Tatras on Polish/Slovakian/Czech border), lake Balaton in Hungary, but inland cities might be uncomfortably hot, if you want to see the cities.
If you go in the Fall, you can see excellent fall foliage, but a lot of the time it will be rainy.
In the Winter - decent skiing in Tatras and lower Carpathian mountains (and definitely a different feel from both East Coast skiing or Rockies or West Coast).
If I had only few months I would start in late Spring in the north (let's say Gdansk) and travel slowly south, eventually reaching Dubrovnik. Use trains or short haul flights - they are fairly cheap. On some routes bus will be an option. Renting a car is expensive and the countries listed have excellent (Czech/Poland/Hungary) or at least good (Romania,Bulgaria,Croatia) public transport
If you have more time, keep in mind that Poland, Czech and Hungary are part of Schengen Euro zone, so you have 90 days stay there.
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Old 11-08-2011, 11:31 AM   #11
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Orchidflower,
I would say few years
Tell us more what do you like to do in general, as I spent 25 years there and been to 5 out of six countries mentioned.
Also, if you are contemplating only one or two months - what time of year do you want to go?
For example summer is nice for seaside activities in Bulgaria on Black Sea coast and Croatia's Adriatic coast, excellent in Carpathian Mountains (Tatras on Polish/Slovakian/Czech border), lake Balaton in Hungary, but inland cities might be uncomfortably hot, if you want to see the cities.
If you go in the Fall, you can see excellent fall foliage, but a lot of the time it will be rainy.
In the Winter - decent skiing in Tatras and lower Carpathian mountains (and definitely a different feel from both East Coast skiing or Rockies or West Coast).
If I had only few months I would start in late Spring in the north (let's say Gdansk) and travel slowly south, eventually reaching Dubrovnik. Use trains or short haul flights - they are fairly cheap. On some routes bus will be an option. Renting a car is expensive and the countries listed have excellent (Czech/Poland/Hungary) or at least good (Romania,Bulgaria,Croatia) public transport
If you have more time, keep in mind that Poland, Czech and Hungary are part of Schengen Euro zone, so you have 90 days stay there.
Very helpful post!

Ha
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Old 11-08-2011, 01:38 PM   #12
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Each country in South America is slightly different, but count on 90 day visa which are easy to renew just by leaving the country and re-entering. With the exception of Ecuador which was 90 days every year. I am sure there are ways around this, but just a heads up if you are considering the long-haul stays.





Have an amazing time planning this adventure.
Colombia limits you to 6 months in any calendar year. After the initial 60 days you need to apply monthly for an additional 30 days. Peru is the easiest by far and why most people use it as their base of operations. It has gotten progressively more difficult the past few years. Currently, You can ask for up to 180 days and either border hop to get another 180 days (friends have done it for over 10 years) or just pay a $1 a day fine (when you leave) for any days over the 180. The fine can usually be negotiated if you have overstayed for years.
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Old 11-09-2011, 02:14 PM   #13
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Those countries in eastern Europe are all quite different - for example Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and has tight German ties (such that they get into German universities easily). Poland is very different - the language is difficult (seven declensions and lots of zhh sounds that sound different to them but not to us). Hungary has a language that is as unique as Finnish.... and not related to any language around it (Romantic, Germanic or Slavic).

Romania and Bulgaria are probably the most corrupt on your list....and when I was traveling in eastern Europe and beyond in the early 2000s, Romania had a wild dog pack problem. I've been Sofia, Bulgaria - very pretty city - you can see that they had a golden age once. Poland is nice in Krakow and the Tatras - although it does get very cold in the winter - plus skiing is very packed in the Tatras - it's cheaper than skiing in the Alps or so, although we did see lots of Polish in Austria and Switzerland.

The Czech Republic is the most like western Europe and Prague is a jewel of a town. Another very nice, small country, that I loved was Slovenia - Ljubljana is nice and the mountains around there (the Julian Alps - named after Julius Caesar) are gorgeous. The water that flows in the rivers is some of the most gorgeous clear turquoise blue I've ever seen - plus, these are the mountains that were featured in Hemingway's novels about WWI.

Croatia is another secret - the lifestyle of the Adriatic (like the Miediterranean) but at much lower prices - wonderful fresh food (fish, vegetable, great wines) - gorgeous coastlines, neat Roman and other ruins - we've been to Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Split and the Istrian coast - love it, love it. And Italy is right nearby (Trieste - another very pretty town right on the border and coast).
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Old 11-11-2011, 07:46 PM   #14
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Thanks, deserat! Very good post. Since we are based in Azerbaijan these days, we are looking for places to take holidays.
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Old 11-14-2011, 02:18 PM   #15
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I was fighting the land tour thing before, frankly...now I see it was not a good decision.
To offer an opposing view, I'd rethink the tour idea. I'd suggest getting Rick Steves's book "Europe Through the Back Door" (your library probably has it) and checking out either his book or the Lonely Planet book (or both!) for the countries you want to visit. Both companies also have websites. Spend some time researching where you want to go/what you want to do. The Lonely Planet guides have really good introductions where they discuss the culture/history/etc., and make film and book recommendations for further learning.

When we travel, we always take the Lonely Planet guidebook for the country, and will frequently take another one as well (i.e. Rick Steves, Time Out.)

It can sound really intimidating to go on your own, but that's the best way to get into the culture, as you said you wanted in the OP. It's surprisingly easy to travel using public transportation and get a better feel for the country. When we were in Turkey, we were sitting outside the Hagia Sophia and marveling at the large buses dropping people off to quickly tour the church and then get back on the bus that would take them to the next destination. We took the ferry (we seemed to be the only Americans) and then dolmuses (basically shared vans) into the countryside and had a most memorable day.

You can definitely go on one-day tours when you get to your destinations (Rick especially lists trusted guides in his books) but it would drive me batty to do a big bus tour. My mom went on one a few years ago and was disappointed -- much of the day was structured and they were forced to spend time, for example, at glass factories (Venice) and pressured to buy as the tour guide got a commission. She said she got to see the big sights, but didn't feel like she'd really seen Italy. Plus, she was stuck socializing with some extremely irritating people (according to her, and she's a people-loving extrovert!) When she returned to Rome a few years later without a tour, she said it was so much more enjoyable and she really felt like she was in Italy.

Of the countries on your list, I've only been to Czech Republic (a week in Prague, with a one-day trip to Terezin concentration camp.) A week wasn't enough in Prague. We're planning on spending more time in Eastern Europe in the next few years -- we loved it!

Anyway, don't be intimidated by going on your own. Even without the language skills (I only speak English and French), you can get around -- that's part of the fun! People genuinely want to help, and you'll get more out of the experience if you're interacting with locals instead of other Americans on the tour group.

Have fun planning your trip! I can't wait to get back!
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Old 11-14-2011, 02:53 PM   #16
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In regards to Poland: Poles over 60 speak German, Poles from 40-60 speak Russian, and Poles under 40 speak English. So find a young Pole and your problems are solved.
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Old 11-20-2011, 09:14 AM   #17
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Some good information here...thanks!
I am calling the airlines in the hopes of using some of my free American Airlines miles on Monday. Wish me luck!
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One at a time . . . .
Old 11-24-2011, 02:25 PM   #18
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One at a time . . . .

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Originally Posted by justplainbll View Post
I do not think you'll know until you've been in each country for a few weeks. Do you have any foreign language skills?
I agree totally with justplain; It is better to visit one country at a tiime. Europe is not a theme park with various rides. One should take time to get to know each place. Having studied some basic greetings and polite expressions, is a good idea. I stayed several months in Budapest. I learned how to order coffee & sandwiches at the local shop. The old man had had the shop since the 1950s. The coffee & food was the best I ever tasted and the prices were rediculously cheap. I learned a great deal about the history and the culture by visiting famous museums and talking with locals who spoke English. It was a wonderful and enriching experience, but it required time.
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Old 11-24-2011, 10:04 PM   #19
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My first trip to Europe was a guided tour, to find out what cities we liked enough to plan another trip to, and which cities we didn't need to bother going back to.
You could probably do a similar thing on one airline ticket if you do a week or two on a tour, then figure out what cities you want to go back to.
If you book your return and can change it later, you'll have even more options.
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Old 11-29-2011, 01:41 PM   #20
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In regards to Poland: Poles over 60 speak German, Poles from 40-60 speak Russian, and Poles under 40 speak English. So find a young Pole and your problems are solved.
We found a similar effect in Germany when we went this year...talk to the young ones.
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