Fringe Europe: 2004
Everybody does Paris, Amsterdam, and the Cinque Terre these days. But what about fringe Europe: Norway's Spitzbergen, Portugal's Azores, the Ukraine, Albania? If you're gone to the edge - and lived - here's your chance to talk about it. Thanks for the inspiration!
I spent a couple of nights in Vilnius between Warsaw and St. Petersburg (two good night trains) and found it totally charming. Wide, clean streets. Plenty of photogenic buildings, and crazy sculptures (I think the Lithuanians must have a sense of humor). Cosy cafes and good food. Baroque cathedral. Steep hill crowned by a castle. I rented a room from Litinterp (http://www.litinterp.com/indexEN.html) - big room with lots of pale wood, private bath down the hall, good breakfast and small English-language library, central location. Maybe it's time to reissue "Russia and the Baltics"? Or at least add the Baltics to "Eastern Europe" - I hope to go back and visit Estonia, Latvia and maybe Finland as well.
Cary, NC USA Thu 11/11/2004
Poland is THE place to visit today in Europe. Prague is great, but Gdansk may even be better--far fewer tourists, cheaper, and a diversity of surrounding sites and things to do made this my favorite stop this summer as I backpacked through Eastern Europe. A wonderful Medieval town, interesting canals and shipyards, street performances, beaches (on the Baltic--who knew!?!), site of the beginning of WWII, and the beginning of the end of the Cold War (Shipyards), Teutonic castles, and people who LOVE Americans!
Krakow is also great--the largest town square in Europe, unique cathedrals, home to the Pope, Salt Mines, and Auschwitz.
Warsaw isn't as pretty, but it brings alive WWII and Cold War history--with great night life. I highly recommend visiting Poland before it's discovered!
Sturgis, SD USA Tue 10/19/2004
Beautiful Green Slovenia
I spent two wonderful days in Slovenia. Why Slovenia? It is the country that my grandparents emigrated from in the 1880's. It was so green for July. For being the tourist season, Slovenia was not crowded. We saw many Italians and Germans. My daughter and I stayed in Ljubljana at the Bit Hotel. It was clean and the staff were very helpful with information about bus lines and places to visit. There was internet service available. I had use of a rental car that we drove to many places in Slovenia. First stop was Redovljica to have Euros exchanged for Tolars, then to the Museum of Apiculture, beekeeping museum. This a big industry in the country. We viewed different types of beehives, saw a film on beekeeping, and looked at the famous Bee Boards and bought one.
Next was Lake Bled. I wish that I could figure out the parking meters better because we wanted to stay longer and visit the church on the island, but our time ran out. The town has a good market for local items including bee boards, honey, an alcoholic drink made from Honey, vegetables and fruits, and toys for children. Then we drove to the Bit Center for our accomations and a visit to Ljubljana Castle Vitual tour.
We were up early the next morning to visit my Grandparents homes, then on to the Postjna Caves. These are truly amazing caves. A train takes you through 2 km of all kinds of wonders, then you walk for another 1 km. We were also able to see the cave Salamander and talk with the Lithuanian Olympic Swim team that was visiting the caves. Next was the Pedjama Castle that is in front of another cave. We visited the cave first and then the castle. Interesting tales about the Robber/Baron who lived there.
Kranj was our last stop and we went to the shopping mall to use up our remaining Tolars. I want to go back and visit more sights next summer.
USA Fri 10/01/2004
More on Croatia
The best time to visit coastal Croatia is May-June and September-early October. The main reason: tourists from near-by countries flood the country in July and August. Croatia is best seen via car. Highways are improving. Rural Croatia is lovely, almost anywhere except the flat valley that runs into Zagreb. The interior of the Istrian peninsula is quite nice, but so is the area north of Zagreb, in the mountains, and along the border with Bosnia. Lastly, don't forget Zagreb.
Copenhagen, DK Thu 08/12/2004
Luxembourg: So often, Luxembourg is overlooked in European intineraries. Most of you who read this website have traveled to Europe before and I highly recommend the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to experience one of the Continent's best kept secrets. Don't expect big thrills and tourist meccas, but instead, Europe at its finest. How could any American not visit Genral Patton's grave just outside Luxembourg City? Take a walk thru the valley (grund) and experience vistas and a skyline that will inspire you to visit this tiny country again and again. I lived in Luxembourg during my college years as a student at Miami University of Ohio's campus in the heart of this wonderful city. I have traveled the whole of Europe but return to Luxembourg for my 'home away from home'. Vianden in the norhern Ardennes offers one of Europes best preserved Medievial towns complete with scenery and hilltop castle that compare to popular destinations anywhere. Specifically, stay at Hotel Francais in the city centre square, open your windows and enjoy wonderful orchestra concerts free of charge from your hotel room. Dine at Giorgios and enjoy old world ambiance at reasonable prices and casual atmosphere. Search out the Welle Mon pub and their back patio for a view of the valley that is awe-inspiring. Finally, end your evening at Scott's 'pub in the Grund' to discover their back patio and its beautiful views of Luxembourg's medieval fortress. In addition, most of the major boulevards in Luxembourg are named after famous American WWII leaders which makes you feel welcome and proud of our contribution to European freedom and security, something that many have forgotten. Happy travels. TJF
Cincinnati, Ohio USA Sat 05/01/2004
Norway in the winter
I recommend a trip to Norway any time of the year. I visited just recently, and although it was the dead of winter it wasn't bad at all. I've been to the upper midwestern US in the dead of winter, and compared to Norway's latitude it's a nice bargain. Be prepared if you do travel in the winter for a lot of slippery ice. Some places in downtown Oslo had ice up to eight inches thick. This was actually my first trip to Europe. I had two airport stops in Paris and Germany, and all I can say is avoid CDG airport if you can and switch to a smaller one. If you have two hours to transfer in Paris, you'll be fine. However if you have less than 35 minutes (thanks to Delta Airlines) you'll be very stressed in getting to your next flight, and your luggage might not make it with you.
I didn't have time to make a day trip to Bergen, and I'm sure in the winter Norway has had this year (very snowy) it would have been beautiful. I can always go back though next winter :)
The museum of modern art in Oslo was also transferring exhibits around so it was closed except for one floor. There is also a charming mini-bottle museum about two blocks away from that - look for the big building with the ribbon around it.
I met a lot of locals and other people from Sweden and Denmark. The people are shy, but friendly once they get to know you.
One final note: If you ever take the T-Bane on a weekend be prepared to give the locals a lot of room for their skis :)
Meridian, MS USA Mon 03/15/2004
Hvala vam Hrvatska!
I have to echo previous comments made on Croatia, and add Slovenia to the mix as well (although Slovenia is a bit more modern and visible on the world stage and therefore may be outside the scope of the word "fringe"). My wife and I traveled there in September 2001 (8 days after the attacks; it would have been 9/13 had planes not been grounded) via Vienna & Budapest. And we're leaving in exactly 2 weeks to do it again! Our principal destinations included Ljubljana, SLO...a charming Central European town with all the modern amenities and ancient history of the West at a fraction of the price. This is a country that is proud to be riding the crest of post-war renaissance, and is really the model the other former Yugoslav Republics should have followed. Want a cheap, clean, centrally-located hotel without the frills of a Hilton but a few steps up from a hostel? Try the Hotel Park - double rooms in 2001 ran us around $50 USD/night. One of the best things about Ljubljana is its proximity to Slovenia's other wonderful must-see sites, including the Skocjan caverns and Lakes Bled and Bohinj - all are within a 1-1.5 hour drive from the city center (assuming you have your own transport, that is, we prefer to rent and drive rather than use busses & trains).
We then headed towards Slovenia's part of the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic - as many have said before, it really is "Venice without the high prices, dirt & grime, and tourists." Beautiful Piran has a fabulous central square and old church. From there we headed down the coast through Portoroz and Koper and across the Croatian border towards our favorite town, Rovinj. Again, Mediterranean/Venetian culture and style at lower prices and with fewer Americans than you'll find directly across the water in Italy. In Rovinj, we arrived with no reservations and stopped at the first "Turist" office we could find. We were able to get a 2-bedroom 2nd-floor apartment in a family's condominium, full kitchen and satellite TV, for about $21 USD/night!! You can't even get a roach or no-tell motel in the States for that. Rovinj is great in and of itself, especially the church of St. Euphemia, but it also is less than an hour's drive from Istra's other great sites, such as Pula's 1st century A.D. Roman amphitheatre.
Everywhere we went the people were friendly, relaxed and helpful, even if their English was limited and our Croat was even more limited...we tried, though!
I'm torn between saying that I hope someday this part of the world will no longer be considered "Fringe Europe," and hoping that no one else finds out about it but us!
Portland, OR USA Sun 03/14/2004
Travel in Croatia
Recently on a train trip through Eastern Europe we wanted to go from Zagreb to Dubrovnik. Since there is no train service between these two cities, I thought we would need to rent a car or take a bus. Because of the odd shape of Croatia, and the desire to stay out of Bosnia, this would mean a full day's journey. But I discovered that it is cheap -- and fast -- to fly. The one-way fare on Croatia Airlines was only about US$80. Well worth the time saved. Just be aware that taxi rides on both ends will cost you a few more bucks -- especially in Dubrovnik, because the airport is several miles south of town. But Croatia is a fairly inexpensive country, so this solution seemed like a good value to me. Don't skip Dubrovnik because it looks out of the way! It's beautiful. On the way back north, we took the ferry from Dubrovnik to Split. This takes several hours but the boat travels during the day, so you can relax and enjoy the fabulous coastal views. Highly recommended. Check sailing dates ahead of time. They do not run every day. The ferry line is called Jadrolinija and they have a web site.
Columbus, OH USA Mon 02/09/2004
Travel in Croatia
I studied abroad last year and was in Salzburg, Austria for 4 months then travelled on my own for a month and a half after that. Paris, Bercelona, etc were great but everyone goes there. Some of the best places I went were the places where I didn't encounter any other Americans or tourists for that matter. This started with Prague and Budapest but even those are quickly becoming overrun by tourists. Two places I really enjoyed was Cesky Krumlov which is a few hours south of Prague as well as travelling through Croatia. I went to this National Park about an hour south of Zagreb and it was beatiful, I believe the name translated to English was 'The Lakes' National Park, there was a beautiful system of lakes with well maintained trails running through the whole park. The important thing is to stay on the trails as the civil war was here and there are supposedly over 1 million undiscovered landmines scattered in the park, as you are hiking you see signs of a hiker walking on an exploding landmine with a big red line through it warning you to stay on the trail. Pretty intense
Redlands, CA USA Fri 02/06/2004
I would encourage anyone who would like to see what the Balkans is about to visit Bosnia. Don't be scared by guidebooks, but learn about what happened and see what is happening now. The people will endear themselves to you if you let them. Places I recommend to see would be Mostar, Sarajevo, and Srebrenica. I cannot say enough about these three places. Here is a brief rundown of each:
Mostar: easy access by bus from Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia. There are places to stay that are listed in the guidebooks, but some are far from the bus station. I actually stayed in a room with a lady who worked behind the counter in the bus station (try to find a place as close to the bus station as possible). Her husband and she have a home that has some extra rooms that they rent out in the summers. She was very kind, the room was excellent and clean, very close to the town and bus station, and I'm sure she still works there now. Just walk around the old town and see the scars from the war and visit the old bridge that was destroyed during the war that used to connect both sides of town. Now the Croats live on one side of town and the Serbs on the othe side.
Sarajevo: still a beautiful city with some scars still visable from the war. There are many interesting things to see. There is an excellent new hostel called Bjelave. I believe there are now also other new hostels in Sarajevo, so accomodation should not be an issue. Please don't just see Sarajevo but continue on to a smaller town in the east such as Tuzla or Srebrenica, where many of the atrocities took place during the war...it is the best way to actually see for yourself what happened during the war and see what going to war actually does to people and communities.
Srebrenica: most people probably haven't heard of this town but it is the site of the largest mass slaughter in Europe in 60 years. Even though the town was set up as a safe area by the United Nations during the war, 7000 people were killed in one day here due to a lack of resolve by the international community. It's been 4 months, but I think about my time in Srebrenica every day. For me it was like touring Auschwitz (a concentration camp in Poland) a few years after the war ended.
In Srebrenica, just go into a shop or ask someone on the street where Abdullah's is and they will point you in the right direction. There is a hotel in the town too, but I heard that it was very poor and that the only place to stay was Abdullah's. He has a restaraunt below and rents out some rooms above. They are very nice and clean and come included with breakfast, cooked fresh by Abdullah himself (he was the professional chef for the UN troops that were stationed there). And his cooking is amazing. Probably the best food that I had in Europe in 27 countries. There is a newly created cemetary (memorial) that President Clinton opened this past summer (03) that you can check out, but otherwise just try and learn. The people here have suffered more than anyone you will ever meet.
Please keep Bosnia in mind if
you would like to see Eastern Europe. You will not be disapointed. Buses
are the best way of travel, as trains are not reliable in the east of
Europe. You will see some grim things in Bosnia but that is the reality
of what happened there and the reality of what is and has happened to
many other places in the world. For an introduction to what happened in
the Balkans during the war (and the United States role, or lack of it,
in that war) please read A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power,
an excellent book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
Jeff - MN
USA Mon 01/26/2004