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Itinerary ?/Help...Hungary, Prague, Vienna, Western Ukraine, Minsk & Poland

Finally, going to the homelands of my grandparents with a couple of extra stops in Prague & Vienna.
Thinking of starting off (April 2019) in Prague, then Vienna for about 5 nights each. Then into W. Hungary (Gyor or Sopron) to rent a car for about a week & tour the Orseg towns before heading by train into Budapest for another 5 nights.
After enjoying Budapest, we will need a driver to take us into a small W. Ukrainian town for a night, perhaps 2, & back into Budapest maybe stopping at another town on the way. We’d drive ourselves but hear that taking rental cars across the border can present problems. True?
After finishing up back in Budapest, we’d like 10-14 days in Poland. It seems logical to train or fly to Krakow, then either to Warsaw OR fly to Minsk for 2-3 nights because of the no-visa requirement & Minsk looks almost parallel to Krakow. If we did that, we’d fly back from Minsk to Warsaw, touringa few more towns not far away.

So many questions!
Does the order of the itinerary sound both logical & easily done?
Any suggestions for which city might be best for a car rental...Gyor or Sopron?
Recommendations for a driver into Ukraine, etc.? I’ve taken a look at train/bus options & it looks too complicated & long.
Is driving from Hungary into Ukraine with a rental really a problem?
Comments, suggestions are so welcomed. Thanks much.

Posted by
16996 posts

I covered much of that ground this year. You will have a great time. I depended solely on public transportation, so my ability to visit rural areas was limited, and I have never been to Belarus.

Rather than Eger (which is in eastern Hungary), I think you may mean Győr. I liked both Győr and Sopron, but Győr has the larger historic district, plus a number of attractive small museums that I enjoyed. In addition, the Pannonhalma Abbey is within striking distance of Győr.

I think you might save some money by arranging to be picked up by your car and driver in eastern Hungary rather than Budapest, but I have no experience using such services. I'll bet James E can make some very helpful suggestions. Debrecen is a place of some size, much closer to Ukraine that Budapest is. Or perhaps--depending on exactly where you want to go in Ukraine--Kosice, Slovakia, might be useful.

Now, Ukraine: I went to the three major tourist destinations (L'viv, Kyiv and Odesa) plus three smaller cities that are less often visited by foreign tourists: Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk (just an overnight stop) and Uzhhorod. (You will see spelling variants on all of these names.) I was surprised to find only one tourist office in all the places I visited. It was in L'viv. So print maps out before you go for any city/town you might pass through, and do some Googling to see what is there. Two of the three hotels I used in the less touristy cities did not have a local map they could give me.

There are lots of young people who speak English quite well in the more touristy Ukrainian cities; in the other areas, such folks are scarcer. Everyone tried to be very helpful, but I think it could be a bit discombobulating for someone who has no experience with a language written in the Cyrillic alphabet. It would be helpful if your driver spoke Ukrainian as well as English, but I don't know how many such people you'll find in Hungary.

It seems to be recommended that tourists drink bottled water in Ukraine, as many of the locals do. I think you'll prefer the still water. Much of the fizzy stuff seems extremely salty. If you order lemonade in a restaurant, it will typically be made (in my experience) with that salty, fizzy water. The fizz was refreshing; the saltiness was not a plus for me.

The roads in the Ukrainian countryside are sometimes in extremely poor repair. I took a bus through the Carpathians, and the driver wove back and forth along several sections of the road in an attempt to avoid the worst of the potholes. So you may need more time than you think to move from place to place. I suspect there might be a problem taking a rental car from Hungary (or Slovakia) into Ukraine. Even if there isn't, the driving could well be a lot more challenging than you are expecting, and you should certainly be sure of good insurance coverage.

When traveling around Ukraine you can expect to encounter a lot of pit toilets. I found them very clean. But they were still pit toilets.

The more I read about Poland during my trip prep, the more places I wanted to go, and it's a large country requiring a good bit of time to move from place to place. I ended up spending five weeks there without covering all that I wanted to see. Ultimately, I had to call a halt or I would never have set foot in Czechia. (I had already eliminated Slovakia from my itinerary.) I can't really argue with the Big Three of Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk, but there are so many other interesting places. You may want to concentrate on just part of the country, figuring you can make another trip to see the rest.

Posted by
74 posts

Acraven, so quick to respond, thanks! Yes, I meant Gyor. There are trains from Vienna &, hopefully, a rental car agency. I will check. We will be traveling with a Hungarian relative (met through our mutual genealogy searches) & will be driving around to the small towns of our ancestors in the Orseg area, Vas county. She also speaks some Russian so I think we should be ok in Ukraine.
Thanks for the Debrecen suggestion. My grandfather came from a Transcarpathian village & a driver would definitely work best. Now to find one. I think James may have given me a suggestion months ago before I actually began planning. Hope he, or someone else, can provide some recommendations. Lviv is a possibility as my husband’s maternal family camefrom there & we hear it’s lovely & relaxing as well.
In Poland, I’ve got two small towns to visit from Warsaw & any other places that strikes us. Right now, concentrating on the homeland towns plus the cities.
Love this forum...everyone is unbelievably generous & kind...

Posted by
12117 posts

Györ is ca half way between Vienna and Budapest. Trains going to Budapest from Vienna stop in Györ. In your grandparents day the town was known as Raab.

Posted by
129 posts

Depending on where you are planning to go in Poland and depending on where in western Ukraine is the town you want to visit, you could also consider entering Ukraine from Poland on the train. We went Warsaw> Kraków >Przemysl > Lviv in August. It is about 3 hrs. from Kraków to Przemysl, where you have to change trains and about 2 hrs from Przemysl to Lviv. If you don't want to do it all in one day, Przemysl is an interesting place to stop for a visit.

Crossing the border was simple, the train didn't stop, the border officials came on the train and did the checking of passports as we were travelling, first the Polish officials, and then the Ukrainian ones. The train is a new one, with A/C, WiFi, food service, very comfy. We bought the Przemysl>Lviv tickets online from the Ukrainian Railways site, it was very easy.

I highly recommend a visit to Lviv, esp. if your family has roots in the area. Also, it is not hard to find a driver in Lviv to take you to other ancestral villages. The hotel we stayed at arranged for a driver to take my husband to his father's village.

Lonely Planet published a new edition of their Ukraine guide this past July, it includes maps for quite a few cities and towns.

Posted by
74 posts

Khrystia, we are going to a small town now called Velyka Byyhan, south of Berehovo. It’s near the northeastern border of Hungary. We may go to Lviv as well & if we do, will then go to Poland or maybe to Minsk first. I am trying to plot the most logical, time saving routes. This area (VB) doesn’t seem well served by trains so we will look for a driver from either Budapest or Debrecen as suggested here. Thanks for the alternate idea!

Posted by
16996 posts

Google Maps spells the name Velyka Byihan', for others interested in seeing where it is on the map. It's very close to Hungary and not far at all from Romania and Slovakia. Getting there will be a bit of an adventure, but it's so close to the border that you won't have to spend a great deal of time on secondary Ukrainian roads. Still, I think it would be prudent to let someone else risk the axles on his car.

You might fiddle around with ViaMichelin.com, plotting routes from possible starting points to get an idea of the driving time from different directions. VM uses the same spelling as Google Maps.

Posted by
10983 posts

I would start with Lviv, cause that’s the tough one. Some of the best flights to Europe from the US are on Turkish Air. In Istanbul you can connect to a direct flight to Lviv (did this about a year ago). From Lviv there are good cheap flights to a number of locations in Poland.

There are a lot of non-stop options from Poland to Prague. Then the train to Vienna on to Gyor and finally Budapest. From Budapest back to Istanbul for the ride home….

As for Lviv; Its a pretty okay town. I've been there once and Kyiv two times. So you know which I enjoyed the most.

Posted by
74 posts

Thanks, Acraven. We will (always do) print maps & directions at home beforehand as well as taking maps, guidebooks & jotting down anyone’s suggestions. Better safe & it came in handy when the GPS didn’t kick in on a drive from Florence into Umbria a few years back!
James, your recommendations aren’t doable this trip...using our airline points #1 & meeting a distant relative in Hungary who will accompany us on the “heritage tour” there & into Velyka Byyhan. This will be at her convenience mid April. But, you always are a wealth of info....keep it coming.
Thanks so much.

Posted by
74 posts

James, have you flown Turkish Airlines? I know they are lots less $, comfortable for tall people?

Posted by
10983 posts

I'm 6' and it was good for me. They are one of the highest rated airlines in Europe. The airport un Istanbul is pretty easy to navigate too. I use them to reach Budapest ocassionaly.

The trip to Lviv I took last year was open Jaw, Houston into Lviv and out of Budapest back to Houston for about $800. I bought a flight on Ukranian air from Lviv to Kyiv, and another a few days later to Budapest. Both of those were under $100. But I understand the points issue.

If you could visit Velyka Byyhan from Lviv a car with a driver guide in Lviv will cost about the same as a car alone from Budapest .... if you can find a rental company or a driver who wants to let their car cross the border into Ukraine. Also the countryside between Lviv and the border is reportedly beautiful.

.

Posted by
74 posts

This is another question for the same trip. Does anyone have any suggestions for good, clean & comfortable accommodations in the Orseg/Vas county area? I’m finding either very small, very basic places or what seem to be resorts. Really wanted something good in the middle. Possible?

Posted by
10983 posts

I know you have deep historical roots in Ukraine, but if you are interested in the current plight of the mother country you might want to see a couple of movies:

http://www.breakingpointfilm.com/
https://www.netflix.com/title/80031666

Winter on Fire is available on NetFlix, Breaking Point I 'think" is on Netflix, if not, then Amazon Prime. Between the two you will understand a few things you will most likely bump into while in Ukraine.

Posted by
12117 posts

"We may go to Lviv as well...." If you have ample time for that visit, I would heartily suggest that for historical reasons, if you're into that...well worth your time.

A little over a 100years ago, ie prior to 1914, this city was called Lemberg, the 4th largest city in Austria-Hungary, the province capital of Galicia, where linguistically it was a mixed language area (gemischtsprachig), ie, a polyglot population in which relative stability existed in a population of German-Austrians, Polish, Ukrainian and Jews.

The region and the city suffered the horrors of war in 1914 as it was the strategic objective of the invading Russian armies.

Posted by
10983 posts

Then you would want to visit in Lviv the National Museum-Memorial of Victims of the Occupation Regimes. This is the Prison on Łącki and was used as a political prison of the Polish, Nazi and Soviet regimes. The Polish and Ukrainian cemeteries in town are also fascinating. What a twisted history Lviv had, and now its a center for nationalism (good and bad) in Ukraine. Actually, without understanding the roots and results of Ukrainian Nationalism, you will miss out on a lot while in the Ukraine. Some of it is pretty good, a lot of it pretty bad; and all of it very complex.

http://www.lonckoho.lviv.ua/

Posted by
16996 posts

If you're not able to read Ukrainian, you'll want to visit the L'viv prison when an English-speaking volunteer is present. I just showed up and it didn't work well; I may simply have hit the lunch period. If you can manage a telephone call in Ukrainian, you'll probably be able to find out yourself when an English-speaking person will be on hand. Otherwise, ask someone at your lodgings or at the city tourist office to call and inquire for you.

Posted by
10983 posts

Some people go to less expensive locations to save money. I tend to do that to a degree, but I also take advantage of more the opportunity of more value for the money. In other words hire a guide ... with a car when there is advantage to it. Ukraine, even with a very good full time guide is less expensive than, say Paris on your own.

Posted by
74 posts

So many responses so sorry if I missed replying directly to each. Acraven, we may or may not go to Lviv. I’m always game but we’ll see about time. My Ukraine stop is into the village that my grandfather was born, previously in Hungary. And, we will definitely hire a driver at minimum as we have a personal guide/translator in my newly discovered relative.

Thanks, guys...I appreciate all the input

Posted by
74 posts

And Fred, I’ve read & heard great things about Lviv. My husband’s maternal family is from there so it’s definitely on our radar.

Posted by
12117 posts

@ Barbara...Yes, the city is well worth setting aside time for.

The history of its name change tells the bloody history, aside from the German Nazis and Holocaust. As Lemberg in Austria-Hungary prior to 1919 to Lwow in the inter-war years when it was part of Poland, then under Nazi control until liberation 1944, then Lvov under the USSR after 1945, then after the collapse of the USSR, it has been Lviv.

Posted by
10983 posts

Lviv is an attractive city. A number of decent sights. For casual interest maybe 2 full days worth and for deeper interest probably 4 days. The downside is getting there. We found a direct flight from Istanbul. Then on to Kyiv (on of my favorite places) on another direct flight and after a few days in Kyiv a direct flight to Budapest. The Lviv - Kyiv flight and the Kyiv - Budapest flight were both under $100.

Posted by
1 posts

Yeah, you'll definitely like Lviv. It is widely-known for prominent coffee culture, tasty beer and beautiful architecture. Old Town of Lviv is included on the UNESCO list.
I really enjoyed my time in Lviv, it was Chrismas time so atmosphere was fairy. I stayed in a great place Premier hotel, it was great !
Train or bus options aren't so complicated that it looks like and you will not worry about drivers.
Wish you a nice trip!

Posted by
10983 posts

Looks like a beautiful hotel, but not exactly in the part of town I would want to be as a tourist.