Tips for East Europe travel

Here are a few tips from our travels in late April-May ’05. We spent seven days in Budapest, three in Kraków, seven in Praha and five in Berlin.

Use ATMs to get local currency. Don’t get too much, because in getting rid of excess money you are hit hard. Hungary’s forints were hard to get rid of in the Czech Republic and Poland!

We found cab drivers in these countries (with the exception of Germany) to be notorious rogues. Once you know what the approximate fares are, negotiate for that fare or move on to the next cab. You will be surprised how quickly the price is lowered by 30%-40%.

We rented apartments in all the cities except Kraków; the price in each place was only €70 (near $84). There are minuses and pluses to apartment living. One tip — if you have room, take along an absorbent bath towel; those in hotels and apartments are like sandpaper! Suction hooks are useful as well.

If you’re in Budapest on a Sunday, go to the “park.” Everyone knows about it and will tell you how to get there. You will be transported to the real Hungary with music, food, crafts, families with children, etc. It was well worth the time — better than stodgy museums and churches.

When you arrive in major cities, buy a local English-language newspaper. The doings in town are there. Be independent, but if you plan to walk a bit, watch out for torn-up sidewalks — sprained, turned ankles are a problem. Walking shoes with thick soles are in order.

A favorite ploy of ours for meeting people is to get lost. When you ask for directions, you will see how somber-looking people will light up and give expert advice.

East Europe is no longer cheap. Prices are similar to ours in the States.

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