Fringe Europe: 2008
Everybody does Paris, Amsterdam, and the Cinque Terre these days. But what about fringe Europe: Norway's Spitzbergen, Portugal's Azores, Ukraine, Albania? If you're gone to the edge — and lived — here's your chance to talk about it. Thanks for the inspiration!
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A most rewarding tour of Romania with Andrei Nicolau
My wife and I have just returned from Romania. We toured for 11 days with our private guide Andrei Nicolau Miclea. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
He was recommended by the International Travel News magazine and a few travelers to Romania -- both on this web site and on similar ones. We then saw him interviewing on the television last fall on the Travel Channel.
We would like to commend Andrei for his superior knowledge of English, patience, charm and above all, the ability of customizing the tour according to our special interests. The fact he knows Romania so well was such an advantage. Meeting locals in their homes and learning about their lives, attending a folklore show organized for us only as well as touring some of the off the beaten track sites -- were all rewarding experiences. We particularly liked the friendliness of the Maramures family we stayed with for two days.
We never thought Romania to be such a beautiful and fascinating land with a diversity of culture and customs. And it is now changing fast -- in fact we found the country much more developed than we ever thought. We would like to return to the area -- probably visiting Bulgaria and Albania in 09.
Anyone interested in knowing more about our Romania trip is welcome to E-mail us at email@example.com
Martin & Jen Richards
New York, NY
Queens, NY USA Wed 12/10/2008
Prague, Krakow and Berlin
I just returned from a 10-day trip to Prague, Krakow and Berlin all alone as a single 29-year-old female. I began with a direct flight from Seattle to Frankfurt Germany then a train trip from Frankfurt to Dresden where I transferred to my train to Prague. If the airfare had been more reasonable, I would have flown direct to Prague, but I think every train ride is an adventure! While in Prague, I walked everywhere, I found the city quite small and comfortable on foot. I can say the proper shoes are a must here…I wore Merrell Plaza Mary Jane's and did just fine. I stayed in an adequate hostel (Old Prague) recommended in Rick's Eastern Europe guide, not the best ever but comfortable and close to everything. From Prague I travelled to Krakow, the train journey was easy until I reached my change in Katowitz, Poland, travelers be warned…there are very few English speakers and no train numbers indicated on the sign board in the station…I was able to guess my train by the departure time…but the event was a bit stressful. When I arrived in Krakow, it was already getting late in the day so I headed to my hostel…right across the street from the main station…Greg-Tom Hostel is by far the best place I have ever stayed, they treat every guest like family and provide a traditional Polish Meal on Saturday evenings not to be missed! I ended my time in Krakow with an evening of Jazz…I liked Prague, but I loved Krakow. Finally, I was off to Berlin, where I stayed in newer hostel, Wombat City-Berlin, this hotel style hostel was in a young-fun artist filled part of Berlin with cheap eats just a block or two away and a Metro (U-bahn) station right across the street. In every city I visited there was at least one other person at my hostel who wanted to see some of the same sights I did each day. I hope that this inspires others to try other parts of Europe and maybe helps others to know that independent travel can be fun!
Tacoma, WA USA Tue 10/21/2008
A friend and I recently returned from a 11 day visit to Budapest, Vienna and Prague. We flew into Budapest and took the train from there to Vienna and then to Prague. Great time in all three cities but I really loved Prague. There are so many uniquely decorated buildings in the old town and Mala Strana. The castle area is full of places to explore and the views from the Charles Bridge are wonderful even though it is under construction on one side. Even that is interesting as you can see how they have numbered all the pieces. The tram system is easy to figure out and the beer is fabulous!
Lawrence , MA USA Sun 10/19/2008
I am here in Granada, Spain with a college study abroad program. Two weeks ago I led 33 college students and two other adults to Tangier, Morocco for a 3-day weekend. We took Rick's advice and contacted his friend Aziz Begdouri (firstname.lastname@example.org). Aziz was an unbelievable guide. I asked him to organize tours of the city, the Rif Mountain village of Chefchaouen and the seaside village of Asilah. He did everything- arranged housing (at a real Arab house B&B), catamaran tickets, a banquet for the students - with surprise floor show. He showed us the best places to eat. And he did it for a fair price that the students could afford, adding in an opportunity for a camel ride and a stop at a weaving co-op with particularly affordable prices. The students are still talking about it. We went during Ramadan so Aziz explained in depth Moslem religious practices. I have no doubt the experience has broadened their thinking considerably. I can't recommend Aziz enough. He was a joy to work with - and he did all the work so I could enjoy the trip too.
Sebastopol, CA USA Wed 10/15/2008
We had a fabulous time in Budapest. We were on our own and staying on the Pest side of the river. The food was the best. There is a little restaurant near the art museum called 'Paprika'. Though unasuming from the outside, the inside is Hungarian hunting lodge and the food unbelievably good. Especially would recommend the goulash with dumplings (really like spatzel). Would also recommend the walking tours. Great guides. j.
Portland, OR USA Sat 09/20/2008
Metro Luggage tickets in Prague
Just an fyi in case you don't read fine print in Metro stations. In Prague you must buy a ticket for yourself and your luggage. If you are caught without one, the charge can be 200 Kronas. The inspector did check us but we had our luggage tickets...he looked disappointed.
Portland, OR USA Sat 09/20/2008
Mostar, Bosnia - Local Guide Alma Elezovic - the best!
My wife and I just returned from a trip thru Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina using Rick Steves' guide book. In Mostar we spent the afternoon with local guide Alma Elezovic (noted in the guide book - - email@example.com). What a treat - the kind of travel experience that fits so well with the Rick Steves philosophy. My wife and I both feel privleged to have spent some time with Alma and look forward to going back for a longer stay in Bosnia.
Paris, France Thu 09/11/2008
Albania from Athens, Greece
For those who are interested in entering Albania from Athens, Greece: Take metro-line 2 to Metaxourghio exit to Theodorou Diligiani St.; look for ALTravel on your right (30 Kryqezimi Zogu i Zi, Athens, Greece, phone: 04-2224281, email: Altravel@hotmail.com). Bus leaves nextdoor to the agency at 1pm & 6pm (daily?) and it costs 35 euro/pp. They will tell you it will take 10 hours (from Athens to Tirana, Albania) but it took us 15-16 hours. But the point is that you will get there and will also pass some great places and have interesting experience. My husband and I traveled through Albania this summer ('08)--on our way to Montenegro, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy--and we found the people and country beautiful.
Please make sure you exchange the Albanian money BEFORE you leave Albania. We hadn't and still have about 40-50 US-dollars worth of Albanian money! No country so far will exchange them. The reason? There's no demand (outside Albania) for the currency.
Please feel free to send us an email if you have any questions.
Seattle, WA USA Thu 09/04/2008
Ilha do Pico, Azores
The central cluster of the Azores has Pico and Faial which are a great destination for travelers into nature and the ocean... you can hike Pico's volcanic peak, the highest point in Portugal. Whale watching is year round... the German tourists seem to like it with their backpacks and walking sticks. Here are some pics from a family visit to give a taste.
Sacramento, CA USA Tue 08/12/2008
My family and I just returned from a week in Luxembourg. While I would not categorize that country as being "fringe," Rick does not include Luxembourg in his guidebooks. So, we took our first European trip without Rick in ten years! In any case, there is much to see and do in this small country.
We stayed in the charming town of Echternach at Hostellerie de la Basilique. It is a very nice hotel. However, It is fairly pricey and the owners are not particularly warm or friendly. If we went back, we'd stay at any of the other hotels in town as they all looked very nice. In Echternach itself there are Roman baths, an Abbey, several good museums and many good restaurants. Echternach is also within easy driving distance of all of Luxembourg, southern Belgium, western Germany, and eastern France. We visited the town of Vianden (Lux) where there is a spectacular castle, drove to beautiful Luxembourg city, and went biking and hiking through the Mullerenthall region of Luxembourg. We even drove over to Burg Eltz in Germany - only 90 minutes or so away. A highlight was the wineries of Luxembourg along the Moselle River. Known for Rieslings, Auxerrois and their excellent sparkling wines, Luxembourg does not export wines to the US. So, it was nice to be able to sample these wonderful wines. We flew in and out of LUX, and it was very smooth. All-in-all a great trip...
Lawrence, KS USA Thu 07/17/2008
Tangier was the highlight of our trip. The Saveur de la Medeterranee restaurant was FABULOUS!! But we could have used better guidelines on how to pick a guide. We were virtually accosted by potential guides as we got off the boat, some claiming to be officials from the tourist office. Once we got someone who didn't seem to be quite so aggressive, I didn't really know the appropriate questions to ask. We told our guide we weren't interested in the snake charmers or camel rides, and wanted to see how the people live and the culture. He still took us to a carpet shop and souvenir shop and tried to push us to go to a restaurant Rick said was extremely touristy. He also gave an initial price of 50 Euros at first; I told him the book said it would cost 15, we compromised at 20 (for 2-3 hours) but I still wonder if we got ripped off? His English seemed good but he didn't answer a lot of our questions - not sure if this was a language issue, a cultural difference or he didn't know the answers but didn't want to say so. If I had it to do over again I would arrange ahead of time with the guide Rick recommends (although it is good we didn't do that because the ferry got cancelled due to bad weather on the day we had originally planned to go). Still, despite feeling out of our element with the guide situation, Tangier was absolutely worthwhile. We were incredibly impressed with the diversity and with the friendliness of the people. We ventured into the Medina on our own after our tour guide finished with us, and the vendors were easy to shake off if we weren't interested. The children were delightful and loved speaking to us in their few words of Spanish or even English. Don't be nervous, go to Morocco and have a great time -- we did!!
Aurora, ON Canada Fri 05/09/2008
Great Trip to Egypt. Thanks Rick!
We recently returned from a wonderful, two week trip to Egypt on 4/4/08. Thanks to Rick Steves (our favorite travel buddy), we crossed the Nile on the local ferry, rode bikes and accepted an invitation from some local farmers to come in to their house for tea (and coke a cola). We wanted to recommend a great little spot we found on the bikes. If you take your first left off the local ferry (on the West Bank) and ride all the way down the dirt road, paralelle to the Nile, you end up at Al-Salam Camp. It is a traditional, open restaurant with woven rugs on the furniture and hanging above, giving one a cool place for a cold drink and a meal. There are small, clean Boudoin tent style rooms with celing fans, mosqutio nets and shared bath/showers for about $15/ night, USD. Dinner is available over an open fire with a warm, welcoming host who speaks English. We did not stay here as we already were at the Winter Palace Pavillion (per Rick's recommendation...and we loved it!) but would stay next time for a very authentic experience. We also loved Maximes for dinner in Luxor. It is clean, non-smoking (!), good food (order the stuffed pigion the night before...it's a great local treat!), well located and friendly. A full dinner for 2, with tip was $14 USD. We stayed half of the time in budget hotels (which are VERY budget but we learned how most of the people really live) and half on a Nile cruise (Brenden Tours/4 nights/$370 USD) and at the Winter Palace Pavillion in Luxor. It was a good balance between a genuine, 'back door' experience and resting in more westernized comforts. Thanks Rick!
Dave and Wendy
San Francisco, CA USA Sun 05/04/2008
The Tras-os-Montes region in Northeast Portugal is a pristine, undiscovered world. There are more little castles here per square mile than anywhere else in Europe. Start in Vila Real and head to Braganca taking the smallest roads possible towards the East.
If you're lucky you'll run into pockets of people still speaking a form of vulgar Latin called "Romance." Easily as backdoor and "non-touristy" as anywhere in Macedonia or Croatia.
USA Sun 04/13/2008
I lived in Lulea, Sweden during one semester (August 2001 - December 2001) and the following summer as well. Lulea is about 10 miles (?) from the Arctic Circle. It is beautiful, very picturesque, and I realized those places in classical country side paintings actually exist. It is 100% pedestrian-friendly, I believe you can cross Sweden with a bike, there are trails everywhere. The people are intelligent and nice. I saw the aurora borealis. The town has a very European main street lined with cafes. Xmas is very cozy here, with all the darkness people put up lights everywhere. It is a place that made me appreciate the diversity of Planet Earth. Wintertime the firs were white with snow and the sky was pink, it really felt like I was in another planet.
PR USA Sat 03/08/2008
Macedonia, one of the most overlooked European destinations. My wife, Serije is from Ohrid. We met in 1977 and the rest is history. Ohrid, is a very charming town on the shores of Lake Ohrid. In the Middle Ages, Ohrid was called the Slavic Jerusalem. Today, the modern town of Ohrid is a spiritual, cultural and tourist center. From Ohrid, it's only a short drive to Albania and/or Greece if you desire to continue your journey through Europe. Each year Ohrid hosts the Ohrid Summer Festival which presents an exquisite dignity and a distinctive cultural richness of both Ohrid and the Republic of Macedonia. It's also a part of the European Festival Association.
Even though my focus has been on Ohrid, the entire country is beautiful and worth a visit. The diversity of the people lends to the old world feeling you will have as you drink coffee in the cafés overlooking the lake or when you're walking through the old town doing a bit of shopping.
If you haven't been there, maybe it's time to go.
Killeen, Texas USA Sun 02/10/2008