Hello fellow travelers, I'm in the beginning planning stages. 3 week trip this May. Current plans are to fly in Instanbul and fly out of Prague, and I'm looking for some experienced direction on how to plan the in-between parts (which cities, how long?). Eastern Europe and Turkey are all brand-new to me, so any help at all would be lovely. Thank you in advance! Mel
If you are going to travel by public transport go to Deutsche Bahn website and find Istanbul - Praha (Prague). You will have to change trains in Plovdiv, Sofia and Beograd (Belgrade). If you click on each train it will show you where it stops. Having only three weeks I would probably stay in each city where I have to change trains and add Budapest. That should be enough. This would be logistically the easy option.
Hi, We did that trip two years ago. Our own version of the Orient Express. I am not sure that the train between Istanbul and Sophia is operating. We went from Istanbul, an absolutely stunning city for history, to Sophia, Bulgaria. Sophia is still being remodeled creating an really old-world feel. We stayed at the Hostel Mostel, considered THE best hostel ever. Well, it offers a free spaghetti meal and a beer each evening, English speakers behind the desk, WIFI with computers available, and a full ion of room types. We then took a bus to Veliko Tarnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria, and stayed at the Hostel Mostel's sister location. Bus back to Sophia. Back to Sophia and on the train again to Belgrade. What a city. We stayed at the hotel where Dorthea Dandridge stayed and the Nazi's high command occupied. Then onto Budapest. Our favorite city, unfortunately our hotel is now closed. Go to the Opera for a performance. really inexpensive ($5) We skipped Brataslava...time was a concern. Continued on to Brno. The 'second' city of the Czech Republic. It has a very photogenic old town. We stayed at the monastery where Mendel did his famous pea experiments. And let me recommend the restaurant Spalicek on the old town square. When you order the duck meal, you get the whole duck, not a half duck. If you order the roast pork dinner, you get several pounds of pork, and red and white cabbage, and several types of dumplings, and potato pancakes. Bewarned. From Brno we stopped to see friends in a small city but eventually landed in Prague. We had been there a decade earlier. Here tourist shops occupy the first floor of most buildings. However, keep your eyes up and be stunned by the architecture. Good travel to you. Some of the train lines where spectacular.
Of the people that I know that have taken the train across Bulgaria or Romania or Serbia they all agreed that it wasn't the best decision they had ever made. Some complained about the time sitting on the train, some the condition of the train and some about the shifty looking people they encountered. If I were 20 years younger I would still do it for the experience. But, don't get me wrong. I have traveled by car across both Bulgaria and Romania and they are fantastic. If you only have three weeks choose one or the other. To no one's surprise I think Budapest is a good half way stop. Turkish Air has direct flights out of Istanbul. Takes about 2 hours and you should be able to find a ticket for about $350. Turkish Air flies from Istanbul to Sofia for under $200. A good guide for Bulgaria with a car is a woman named Pavlina Docheva http://www.easytouristguides.com/ . Wizzair does have flights direct from Varna and Bourgas, Bulgaria for under $150. Or Daniel might pick you up at the border (see the next paragraph). Turkish Air and Tarom also have flights from Istanbul to Bucharest for under $150 and I know an excellent tour guide in Bucharest, Daniel Gheorghita who will show you Romania and then drive you to Budapest. http://covinnus.com/ . I've done this and the drive to Budapest was a blast. Both of these folks will give you a great time for something under $300 a day including hotel accommodations. Both countries are stunning and worth the time.
Bulgaria: http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/bulgaria and http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/bul2 and http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/bu3 Romania: http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/easterneurope and http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/rom2 and Budapest http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/bp1 then look for the INFO, HOME, Bp and HU links at the top of the page.
Hi wayne iNWI again,
As for the trip Istanbul to Prague (Praha), I should mention that we bought our train tickets one segment at a time. As for the trains being dirty. On the overnight from Istanbul to Sophia I was glad I had gotten my shots. Just kidding. But my wife was glad that it was fairly dark when we boarded as it was a bit old and used. The blanket provided felt as if it were made out of tree bark. but hey, why do you travel? The 3am passport stop was a trip too. But why do you travel? If you want the comforts of home, well...stay home. I would do the trip again in a heart beat, only spending more time along the way. I mean how would an innocent from central Wisconsin know how beautiful Beograd is? Or the black ceilinged Orthodox churches of Sophia? and now I now that Plodvid (sp?) should be a stop along the way. wayne iNWI
Yes, you can have your chake and eat it too. But can your afford it: http://www.danube-express.com/train-journeys/transylvanian_west
Pegasus Air is also a good "budget" airline for Turkey. I took it from Rome to Istanbul and back and it was great. Much more comfy than Ryanair, you can check a bag... It's like a real airline, just a little cheaper than Turkish Air typically. Think about visiting some different places around Turkey, you can get round trip through Pegasus for quite cheap. If you want to spend more time in eastern Europe think about Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Brno before you go to Prague. You could fly from Istanbul to one of those and then travel around by train to visit others.