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RS Best of Eastern Europe Tour question about Krakow

We’re trying to decide between several tours for next year, one of which is the Eastern Europe tour. In reading through some of the scrapbooks from prior years, time in Krakow included the Jewish section of the city as well as Schindler’s Factory Museum. Has that tour been discontinued, and if so, would it be possible to visit during the “free” time in the city? It seems that it’s been replaced by a visit to Auschwitz. Not sure I want to visit, having read many books about the atrocities that took place there. Visiting Mauthausen concentration/work camp on the GAS tour was difficult, and later I read accounts of people who were imprisoned there
I’m drawn to this tour because it’s not all cities and “ABCs,” so for those of you who have taken this tour, please tell me what you particularly liked about it.
We’re both in our 70s, in good physical shape; have been able to “keep the pace and participate in all activities,” but I know our “tour years are dwindling,” so that’s one reason I, having a strong analyzer trait, am having a difficult time deciding.
Other tours we’re considering: Basque Country of Spain and France: I want to walk part of the Camino.
Best of Germany: We haven’t been to Berlin.
Loire to the south of France: Want to go to Arles because of Van Gogh and also able to go to Monaco.
I’m eagerly reading The Loire Tour Trip report by Allan. Allan, you may be the person to persuade us to choose Loire to the South of France.
Anyhow, open to all opinions and suggestions.

Posted by
120 posts

I took the Eastern Europe tour several years ago when it was 16 days long. In looking at the new itinerary, it does seem that the Krakow portion is very different from when I took it, which is probably what you're referring to. I think you're asking about whether or not the Schindler Museum is worth fitting into your free time? Or are you asking about the Eastern Europe tour as a whole? Not quite sure, but I'll try to give my thoughts.

If you're asking about the whole tour, I absolutely loved it. It was a great way to experience a lot of countries/cultures/etc. in a short time frame. I learned so much from my amazing guide and got a taste of this fascinating part of Europe. I used the tour as a way to test all these countries out, because I couldn't decide which ones I wanted to visit. Then after the tour I planned another trip to revisit on my own the places that were my favorites and that I wanted to spend more time in. You won't see everything on this tour because 2-3 days in each country is nowhere near enough to do it all, but it's a great way to test it out and see which ones you might want to revisit later. And then when you go back you'll be armed with the knowledge and travel skills that were passed on by your RS guide.

As for the Schindler Museum, I did really enjoy it. I like history and WWII era history in particular, and the museum was done in a way that kept my attention the whole time. They really immerse you into the different exhibits, using sound effects and even different flooring in different rooms to help you understand what's going on. Even though my tour went there as a group, all we did together was walk through the front door, then it was everyone for themselves and we had to find our own way back to the hotel after. It's not something you need a tour guide for so I imagine it would be possible to visit on your own during free time, but I haven't done that so I can't say exactly what day would be best. You can contact the RS office if you want a better idea of what your free time hours will be.

Posted by
237 posts

Ditto on great value of Eastern Europe tour as a way to get an introduction to this part of the world. After visiting auschwitz (sp?) I wish we would have seen more of modern krakow. Our visit to Schindler museum in our free afternoon was too much ww2 downer. There wasn’t enough time to get to the Salt mine tour.

Posted by
5979 posts

Just in case it makes a difference, RS has said they are planning to offer a Poland tour in 2021. So if more time in Krakow is a priority, it might be worth waiting for.

Posted by
469 posts

I was on this tour in 2018, before they added the extra day back to Krakow. I believe there is still some free time built in to the Krakow schedule. On our tour, we were able to spend our free afternoon at the Schindler Museum. Some of us had pre-booked entry times; for those who hadn't our guide facilitated purchasing the tickets. At least 3/4 of our tour group visited the museum. I was actually happy to do this as a free time activity, because it allowed me to spend more time in the museum than I might have if we had gone as a group. After we visited the museum, 5 of us then went to the newly revitalized Jewish Quarter in Krakow and ate dinner at a Jewish restaurant with Klezmer music. It was a lovely cultural affirmation. I thought the museum was excellent and highly recommend it.

Prior to the start of our tour in Prague, our family arranged for a day trip to Terezin with the phenomenal Pavel Batel of Terezin Private Tours. I felt that tour was a very important precursor to the Auschwicz visit. Terezin was both a ghetto and a way station to Auschwicz. But much of what has been preserved there are artifacts of the thriving arts community that brought beauty and dignity to a horrendous situation. Terezin is in many ways the story of the people, whereas Auschwicz is a monument to the evil that took place and the victims of the holocaust. I am very glad we were able to experience both of these things. Glad might be a strange word to use, but I am glad we were able to see firsthand, because it is so important for us to bear witness and tell the stories of those who were lost. If you are able to arrange for this tour prior to the start of the Eastern Europe tour, I would highly recommend it, as well.

Posted by
651 posts

In my opinion, Schindler's Factory is much better visited independently. Some of the spaces are not large and trying to move a group through there is challenging.

I have taken all of the tours you mention except Best of Germany. The most interesting tour was Eastern Europe. So much history to be absorbed. Large cities are all very enjoyable. Krakow has a special feel to it. Hard to describe, but it's there.

Posted by
1424 posts

I was in Krakow this past April on an independent solo tour. I was there for 4 nights. I did a half day trip to Auschwitz. And I hired a private guide to take me through the Schindler Museum (and also to show me Ghetto Heroes Square nearby). I certainly could have done these things on my own, but the museum is quite extensive and there is so much history explained in great detail, it was helpful to have someone put it in context.

I imagine you could easily opt out of the Auschwitz excursion and use that time to see anything in Krakow that you would otherwise miss.

Posted by
285 posts

I appreciate the thoughtful replies to my post.Thanks to those who posted.
Allie: Thanks for your thoughts on the tour as a whole. I too love history and have been reading books about the WW II era; lately, fiction based on real people and events. Some of the books i’ve read are “Where The Birds Never Sing;” “Born Survivors” by Wendy Holden about three young mothers who survived the camps; “The Tattooist of Auschwitz;” and “We Were The Lucky Ones.”
Lane: Yes, I do understand the importance of visits to Auschwitz, but I would like to be given a choice of opting out of going there. For while I was reading so many WW II era books, that I had to quit after awhile and chose some lighter material.
Stan: Appreciate your input on Krakow. Husband is Polish; hence one of the reasons for considering this tour.
Ruth: I wonder if all guides would facilitate tickets to the museum. I like the idea of doing the Jewish Quarter also, and having dinner there.
A couple of years ago we were in Prague and spent considerable time in the Jewish Quarter, and in one of the synagogues saw and read letters and essays written by the children in Terezin. Thanks for your impression of a visit to Terezin. If we go back to Prague, will consider a tour there.

Posted by
120 posts

I have also read and enjoyed "Tattooist of Auschwitz" and "Born Survivors." I would also suggest "Librarian of Auschwitz," but I totally understand the need for a break after too many WWII books. If you decide to take the Eastern Europe tour I also recommend "Prague Winter" by Madeleine Albright and "Eclipse of the Crescent Moon," which is fiction, but features Eger, Hungary and is displayed at the castle there.

I'll have to check out the others that you mentioned. Happy reading and happy travels!

Posted by
225 posts

We just got back from the Eastern Europe tour. First, I will tell you that it is fast-paced, even with the free time that Rick's tours always give you. Lots of riding on the bus, but they did put in some quality stops to break up the trip. And a lot of walking, which you'll see when you read the itinerary. I've been all over Europe, and really enjoyed this trip as I had not spent much time in that area. It really is fascinating, and you'll learn a lot. There is a lot of sad history in these countries, but all worth learning about.

I loved both Prague and Krakow, especially since Rick's tours stay in or near the center of the old town and they were both easy to wander around on our free time. Budapest, obviously, was amazing, but just too big for my liking. We did see some beautiful scenery and, as everyone says in their reviews, Plitvice National Park was gorgeous. Also loved Rovinj and Lake Bled. Again, had plenty of free time in each city/town to explore on our own.

The tour does go to Auschwitz, but I chose not to go. Instead my husband and I toured the Oscar Schindler museum on a guided tour (which I highly recommend). Then afterwards we spent time in the Jewish Quarter and found some great food.

Posted by
4897 posts

I haven't been on the RS tour, but we did visit Krakow recently. If you do go to the Schindler Factory Museum independently, be sure to order (you don't pay in advance) your tickets early, because it sells out every day. I agree that it has cramped corridors and several small-print label sections that slow down already slow progress. While it is worthwhile, it has a home-brew, less than professional museum feel to much of it. That could be a plus or a minus, depending on your own response. As others have noted, remember that it is not a museum "about Mr. Schindler" ... it is a museum about the occupation of Krakow. It includes material on the Schindler factory and his activities.

Trip Report: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/four-cities-in-poland-2019

There is no reason you can't do any independent things that interest you in your free time. Krakow, like the other big Polish cities, it quite easy to see independently. The hardest thing is getting a reliable tram map to facilitate quick moves between what you want to see. The problem will be having enough time!

Note that only official, proprietary guides can guide groups inside Auschwitz. That means someone other than your RS guide will take you around the two associated camps. A big issue about Auschwitz is the travel distance from Krakow or other cities. It is convenient to have transport arranged for you. My personal experience was that, although the scale of death was entirely different at Auschwitz, our having previously visited Buchenwald made the Polish visit less ... frightening. The vast crowds inside Auschwitz are also a big factor in your visit. It takes away from the experience, and also limits how many places your guide has time to take you.

Posted by
285 posts

Allie: will add Librarian of Auschwitz to my reading list. I did read Prague Winter by Madeline Albright before we went to Prague. We searched for and found her grandparents’ names on the Wall in one of the Synagogues.
The book I read, Where the Birds Never Sing is a quick read about the 92nd Signal Battalion who were the first to reach Dachau. It focuses more on their “March” across the Continent. I read it because we were on tour to Normandy to the D-Day sights last year.

Naale from Hawaii: Aloha. I was born and raised in Hawaii. We “think” alike concerning Budapest and Auschwitz. We have been to both Prague and Budapest, and enjoy Prague more, maybe because it is so walkable and easy to get around by Tram and Metro. One of the dilemmas for us in choosing this tour is we have spent time in both of those cities. So really Krakow is the big draw for us. And it isn’t that I wouldn’t want to go to Auschwitz, it’s a matter of having limited time in the city, so I would prefer to spend it IN the city rather than spending time away from the city.

Tim: I read and “book marked” your Trip Report. Not familiar with “_____in my Pocket,” but sounds useful. And thanks for the “heads up” about trying to decipher “paying in local currency.” We have been caught a couple of times because we did not read carefully and slowly.

The Eastern Europe tour date and the Basque Tour date we are considering are both “available,” so we still have time, but want to get in on the “early booking” discount. Whatever we choose, we’ll need to end up in Zurich for another tour, so looking for convenient connections.

And question about Ljublijana: Did anyone who took this tour spend extra days in that city? It seems like it warrants more than a few hours.
Thanks for all your input.

Posted by
1 posts

Carol, we just returned from the Eastern Europe tour. Of the large cities we enjoyed Krakow the most. We did the Schindler factory during our free time one afternoon. It was well done and I think it is better to do the factory without a tour. Most of the displays were in English. The tour includes Auschwitz and I really got a lot out of the time at Auschwitz.

Concerning Ljubljana I think that at least one more day there would have been good. We were scheduled to go back to Ljubljana after Bled, but the bankruptcy of Adria Air blew our plans apart. Maybe next time. After the tour ended in Bled we took the overnight train from Bled to Zurich. Long time on the train (12 hours) so I would consider getting a flight to Zurich if possible.
Next year we are going on the Best of Germany tour so I can’t compare between the two.

Posted by
225 posts

Aloha, Carol.

Regarding getting from Ljubljana, to Zurich, go to the website: maninseat61.com. It is very easy to use and you will find everything you need to know about buying tickets, which trains, etc.

We left at the end of the tour and took the train to Salzburg where we spend a couple of days before flying home. Friends of ours spent a couple of days in Ljubljana and really liked it.

BTW, we, too are in our 70s as were many people on the tour. The longest day hiking was in Plivitche National Park. although you can do a LOT of walking in all the cities and towns.

Posted by
285 posts

Just checking back in to report that I/we still have not committed to the Eastern Europe tour mainly because I still have time. The date I want is still "available," and I'm also trying to figure out an itinerary for spending extra days in Germany before the tour begins in Prague. I've also been reading through Trip reports and Scrapboks, trying to get a feel for the different cities, etc. I'm having trouble committing because there are so many places on my list right now.
Ragssdale 7: Wow! 12 hours for the train to Zurich. I considered going by train because I read that the section into Switzerland is scenic, but think we would fly. Our Switzerland tour is through Road Scholar, and I want to have a few days in Luzern before Zurich (I've been staring at the Chapel Bridge on my RS calendar all month and want to walk across it).
Naale from Hawaii: I have been on Seat61 website trying to puzzle together "easy routes" through Germany and Switzerland. Do you wish you had an extra night at Lake Bled, or were 2 nights sufficient?

Posted by
9 posts

We are booked on this tour for next year (begins May 17). The information we received after booking includes the following:
"This tour does not include Schindler’s Factory Museum in Kraków. If you wish to visit this sight, we recommend booking several weeks in advance. The best time to schedule your visit is on Day 4, after 2pm."

This will be our 5th RS tour. You can opt out of any activity you don't want to participate in. If you would rather not go to Auschwitz, tell your guide at the beginning of the tour. Good luck deciding - the good thing with a decision like this is that there is no wrong answer!

Posted by
285 posts

fishes: Thanks. Since we haven't booked the tour...yet, we have no information. Good to know RS knows that visiting the Schindler museum might be hight on people's list. Just curious, what is the name of the hotel in Prague?

Posted by
9 posts

Carol: For the May 17 tour, the Prague hotel is Hotel Art Embassy (www.hotelembassyprague.cz/en/) and the Lake Bled hotel is Hotel Lovec (www.lovechotel.com). We also stayed at the Hotel Art Embassy on our Berlin, Prague, Vienna tour in 2016. We loved that tour, particularly Berlin. I submitted a scrapbook, which you can see in the archives for 2016 under Sherri & Greg Fisher. Happy planning - would love to hear what you decide!

Posted by
285 posts

fishers! Thank you so much for the link to your 2016 Berlin, Prague, and Vienna Scrapbook. I loved your scrapbook because you included info and pictures which I find so helpful in decision making and planning before the actual trip. Since my questions now center on cities other than Krakow, I'm plan to email you because you included the link at the end of your scrapbook.
Thanks!

Posted by
8 posts

Wow. After reading these posts am rethinking my itenary. We fly in (dec 4) and out of Berlin (dec 18) So far I have us going directly to Krakow in an overnight train and then spending three nights in Krakow (5 & 6, 7) and then an overnight train to Budapest and in Budapest for 3 nights (8,9, 10). Then ANOTHER overnight train and in Prague 11 & 12; day train to Berlin on 12. In Berlin 13-18. (We have been to Prague before.) Maybe we should skip Budapest and spend more time in krakow and Poland. We tend to like smaller cities and it sounds like there are alot of things to see and do in krakow. We also love the Christmas markets and season due to less tourists etc. These forums are so helpful.

Posted by
18897 posts

spageboo, There is tons to see in Poland and in Krakow specifically; I spent 5 weeks in Poland last year, and there were a lot of places I didn't have time to go. And 3 nights is very short for Budapest, so I don't think it's a bad plan to postpone Budapest until a later trip. If you want to explore this further, you should start your own thread so you are notified when responses come in.

I trust that you have taken night trains before and know that you will sleep well? I can't imagine getting off an overnight flight (I rarely sleep at all) and then getting on a night train that same day. And then to do it two more times...no way.

I encourage you to go to the Deutsche Bahn website and dig into the details of each of those overnight trains. Select the intended train, click on "Show details" and then on "Show intermediate stops". I only checked the first one, from Berlin to Krakow. As far as I can tell, there is sleeper service (berths) only to Opole Glowne, which you reach at 11:39 PM. You will be sitting up from that point on. Every train that runs overnight is not a "night train" with sleepers or couchettes.

Perhaps the other planned overnight legs are not so bad and will offer the possibility of a bunk for the entire trip, but you should still look at all the intermediate stops and ask yourself whether you will be able to sleep through the attendant braking, station noise, and acceleration. Night trains with a lot of stops can be utterly miserable experiences unless you are a very heavy sleeper.

Posted by
1865 posts

Hi Carol, I'm excited that someone read my trip report on Loire to the South of France. You're welcome to also send me a PM with any questions or just ask on this thread and I'll make sure I monitor it for a few days.

Loire to the South of France is our only RS tour and so I can't tell you it's better than the others you are considering, but we certainly loved it. We chose that one because it had several bucket list items that we wanted to check off. The tour doesn't go to Monaco but you'll have a free day to visit, or if you tack on a few days after the tour, you can check out the whole coast. The train is simple to navigate to get you to Monaco.

Happy to advise any way I can.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks acraven, I appreciate the info and advice and am definitely considering not going to Budapest...too much ground to cover. It maybe that the only overnight train I book is the Berlin/Krakow...I really just got excited and started booking without really thinking about the need for sleep!

Posted by
225 posts

Carol, I just saw your question about spending an extra night in Lake Bled. That would have been nice, but I think maybe I would have gone back to Ljubljana. We only have a half day there on our tour, and it looks like a place that we'd enjoy exploring more.

Posted by
18897 posts

If the tour has only 1/2 in Ljubljana, I'm consider more time highly desirable It is a charming city, though not long on top-flight museums.

Posted by
18897 posts

If the tour has only 1/2 day in Ljubljana, I'm consider more time highly desirable It is a charming city, though not long on top-flight museums. I speculate that the major museums were set up in Zagreb (the capital) during the Yugoslav era.

Posted by
285 posts

acravan: It doesn’t matter that Ljublijana does not have many museums. We might be “museumed out” after our tour. We’re hoping for a relaxed pace in the city after days of being on schedule. We’ll find scenic walks; DH loves taking pictures so he can stop as often as he wants. I’ll wander through shops, and look for interesting places to grab a bite to eat....and people watch.

Posted by
18897 posts

Ljubljana has lots of interesting architecture and is a city made for wandering around. I think it would be delightful for a photographer. If you'll be there over a weekend, check with the tourist office about markets. There was something artsy right along the river, but I don't know remember whether it was on Saturday or Sunday. My visit was around the middle of the summer, so I'm not sure what happens during shoulder season.

Posted by
285 posts

acravan: Thanks for all your suggestions. If we go through our plans, we'll be in Ljubljana Sunday and Monday nights. We'll be on the lookout for outdoor venues. The city does sound wonderful, a great place to wander.