September 14, 2004

Eastern Europe, It's a Wrap

Our last three days in Germany were very uneventful. We really took it easy. We mostly cooked for our wonderful hosts, Bjorn and Heike. We did spend one day in Cologne. Its cathedral is one of the largest that we had seen. It is also one of the oldest with construction starting in the late 1200's. We also visited the chocolate factory to watch them make it and to taste it.
Again we enjoyed these days immensely.

Our Summary of a Journey to Eastern Europe

Our trip to Eastern Europe was both more and less than we expected. Do not get me wrong, we had a wonderful time. Along the way, we learned a few lessons, met some wonderful and some not so wonderful people, ate great food and some not so great, drank mostly very good beer and both good and bad wine. And we did all this at a fairly reasonable price.

We can recommend traveling all these countries, except Bulgaria. We enjoyed the Czech Republic and Hungary the most. We also liked Romania a lot. It was wonderful to really get to know two Romanians, Mihael and Octavian. We were not in Poland or Turkey long enough to form strong opinions, except that we want to go back. Germany and Austria are Western European countries that we like a lot, but they are expensive. Having two wonderful friends, Bjorn and Heike, helped make Germany a great place to end our trip. We think that a person looking for an inexpensive European vacation, will find a trip to Eastern Europe very satisfying.

We traveled to Europe on Air Canada to England. This was probably a mistake. Yes, it was about the best price that we could get. We figured that we would take a budget airline from England. This does not really work well, unless you fly to a London airport other than Heathrow. To our knowledge, no budget airlines fly out of Heathrow. This means that if you fly to Heathrow, you have to take a bus or train to another airport, which will cost you $20 and take at least an hour-and-a-half. This can make connections a problem. There are a number of very good budget airlines that can carry you to dozens of European cities, and to name a few of them,, German Wings,,, and Fares usually run from $20 to $120. What we should have done was booked a ticket to say Gatwick or Frankfort. Things just would have gone better.

Another thing about Western Europe, the fast trains are more expensive than these budget airlines. That's not to say that trains are not a good way to get around, because they are - especially in the East where they are fairly inexpensive. While we did not take buses, they are not too bad of an alternative either. One final note on getting to your destination in Europe: stay out of Toronto. Our experience on the return trip at the Toronto airport was simply awful. The airport is gigantic, and not very well set up to move passengers around. We ended up taking three shuttle busses. We had to clear U.S. Customs in Canada. This could have been a real pain if we had missed our flight. From what we saw, many do miss their flights. Another thing was that we noted large numbers of flights being delayed, and ultimately so was ours. It was clear to me that Air Canada does not feel like a competitor out of that airport, because it felt like their domain - and it probably was.

Compared to Western Europe the cost in the East is less than half. Accommodations were our greatest expense. Most of the rooms that we took cost between $25 and $40 per night. Yes, we paid less as little as $20 without breakfast; and we paid as much as $100. Transportation was the second greatest expense, mainly because we rented a car for 73 of our 91 days traveling. It cost about $20 per day plus gas, which averaged about $7 per day. Food costs came next, running from $10 to $25 per day. It would have been much better for us to have flown to Germany and bought a used car, something we wanted to do in the Czech Republic, but could not. Some of the bureaucratic insanities of the old socialist days still hang on in many of the Eastern countries.

The water was good to drink everywhere except Istanbul, or so they told us. The food was good everywhere. When we got tired of eating local fare, we usually ate Italian, which was OK everywhere. The roads were good most places with the worst ones in Romania and Bulgaria. The accommodations were also good everywhere.

Country Days Cost Friendly Sites Food Beer Wine
Czech Republic 29 3 2 3 2 3 1
Hungary 13 2 3 3 3 1 3
Romania 12 3 3 2 1 2 2
Bulgaria 8 3 1 2 2 1 2
Slovakia 6 2 1 2 2 3 1
Turkey 4 1 3 3 2    
Poland 2 3 2 3 2 3  
Austria 5 1 3 1 2 3 3
Germany 12 1 2 2 3 3 3

We tried to rate the countries that we visited. The table shows our ratings. The first column contains the country's name; the next is the number of days that we were in the country. We rated the cost, friendliness, historical and other sites, food, beer and wine. Three is the best rating and one the lowest. That means a three is the cheapest under cost, and food the best.

We hope that our stories and pictures during the past three months have been enjoyable, because we certainly had a good time.

Be sure to check my BLOG from time to time. Entries will be fewer and farther between for the next two months. Hopefully we will be in Argentina by then.

Posted by bill at September 14, 2004 11:55 AM

B&B, Welcome back!! Thanks for taking us on another great journey. You two rock!! Mickie

Posted by: Mickie at September 20, 2004 04:32 AM

Hi guys! just got around to reading your summary, thanks for sharing another trip with us! Love your weblog, looking forward to Argentina.

Posted by: greg speltz at October 16, 2004 04:59 PM

Dear Bill and Betty,
Thanks for the blog. I got great vicarious thrills from so many of your photos. Hope all the family is well. I'm looking forward to photos and notes from Argentina.

Posted by: Judi Burle at November 6, 2004 09:14 PM