Eastern Road » Review by Shaldon
I guess if you are reading this review then you want a few questions answered. Should I do this tour? Which optional extras should I do and which can I skip? What's hot and what's not? I'll try my best to help you with these most pertinent questions.
Should you do the tour? Hell yes! For me the tour was amazing and a real mind growing experience. But what makes the tour so amazing and warrants my high rating? I have a keen interest in World War II and I don't believe that another tour can offer so much in terms of experiencing this pivotal point in history. Even if you are not an avid WW2 follower the sights are amazing nonetheless. Other than the history, the shopping, arts-and-culture and the night life are all top notch. Every city has something to offer for whatever it is you may hope to experience. I also found that the crowd on this tour was older than on my previous tour. There were more people in the 26-27 age group than teens who were still wet behind the ears. While you have to love teenagers, the truth is they behave poorly and can be quite annoying. If you are reading this review and in are in your teens, don't be offended, rather make sure people don't say the same thing about you. So quite obviously, I really enjoyed my tour mates. So let me begin then:
BERLIN: Berlin is an extraordinary city, even more so when you consider that it was ruins after WW2. The historical sites here are aplenty and the people are super friendly. I had an extra day in Berlin and even that wasn't enough. There's so much to see and do so get there early or better still plan an extra couple of days in Berlin at the end of the tour.
The hotel in Berlin is probably the worst of the hotels on the tour. The biggest complaint that people had was the lack of an air-con. But are you going to Berlin to relax in your hotel? So for me it wasn't such a disaster. However if that type of thing bugs you then buy a fan or something. Anyway it's not supposed to get very hot in Berlin but it was over 30 degrees Celsius while I was there. By the way I did this trip in July; the middle of the European summer. The breakfast in the hotel is great; lots of fresh options and even a desert. There is a subway station near the hotel (Magdalenestrausse) but be prepared for a 2km uphill walk from there to the hotel. If you've just been traveling for 20 hours to get there, this can be a tough walk; made worse by the heat and the fact that you have to lug your suitcase all the way. Again, this is part of the fun of traveling.
The tour starts in the evening, so the first night is just admin and chilling. I needed some sleep on the first night so I just had a few beers at the bar down stares then had an early night (the only one on the tour). Both the activities on the 2 days in Berlin were optional extras. The first one is a guided tour through Berlin. For €10 I highly recommend it. It's quite a long walk through the city but well worth it. The guide will give you plenty of historical information and show you most of what you need to see. After that you have the afternoon off. I would recommend that you visit either the TV tower or the Museum of German History (not both). If you do go to the museum, start at the place that interests you most because the place is huge and by the time you get to the WW2 stuff the afternoon will be over. We had dinner at the Horfbrauhaus that evening. Now if you've been to the Horfbrauhaus in Munich then you might want to jump at the opportunity to visit the one in Berlin. Don't be! It’s no where nearly as good, it just doesn't have the same atmosphere. They don't sing any beer drinking songs, the crowd is minimal and the beer maidens or more like normal waitresses rather than the muscular German woman that can carry 6 huge beers in each hand and can probably knock you out if you disrespect them. The beer is still really good though. The best of us managed 2 liters of beer in the time we spent there. Let me know if you manage to do 3. The next optional extra is the Eye-Spy-Tour. This again consists of a walking tour but a much shorter one. However, after that, you end up in a bar followed by a night club called Matrix. The entrance to the club is included in the €16 that this optional extra costs. With all that you get for this extra, I also highly recommend it. The club was great, so you'll have a blast and have a great opportunity to party with the tour crowd, and get to know who all the bad dancers are. You depart from Berlin pretty early the next day, leaving no time to see more stuff, which is why I reckon you should plan a few extra days in Berlin. This is the case with most of the cities on the tour.
You will need extra time in every place.
PRAGUE: The journey to Prague is not too long as to give you an ass cramp or so short that you can’t even sleep. For me the journeys on the bus were all about sleep. There’s a lunch stop in the beautiful city of Dresden. I think that after even after such a brief visit I might want to go back there. Keep an eye out for all the restored (burned) buildings. The hotel in Prague is an improvement to the one in Berlin and is pretty much the standard that you can expect for the rest of the tour. The breakfasts are good too albeit not as good as Berlin. For me, Prague was the best city on the tour. It is by far the prettiest and the nightlife there is amazing. The architecture is particularly stunning and on those streets, you will certainly feel like you are walking through the middle ages.
There are 4 planned activities in Prague. First there is an included guided walk through some of the historical parts of Prague. This walk includes the castle complex and the Charles bridge. The problem is that you really have to keep close to your guide in quite crowded parts of the city. We lost our guide on a few occasions and for a significant part of the tour, couldn’t even hear her. I think you can maybe give this a skip and possibly spend more time at the castle or the bridge. There is an included meal at the end of this walk so make sure you catch up. I can’t really comment on the meal though, probably wasn’t great or too bad.
After that there was an included bike tour through Prague. I enjoyed this excursion, but a lot of people gave it a miss, more due to fear of falling off the bike though. It’s a great way to see the city as the bike gives your feet a bit of a rest while still affording you great views. Next, is the nuclear bunker tour. This tour is an optional extra that costs €18. I found this interesting, but the problem is that it is immediately after the bike tour and really doesn’t leave any chill time. I still suggest that you do it but for your health you may want to give it a skip especially if you did the bike tour. Finally, you end Prague off with the traditional Czech evening. This is really a lot of fun and is far more about the tradition and culture than the food. I remember that the beer and wine is included in the €28 so make sure you’re thirsty. Jump at the opportunity to try your hand (and mouth) at the weird drink dispensing contraption and hat tossing competition. I did and won a little drink as a prize. This extra is a must do.
Finally I cannot end the Prague section without commenting on the pub crawl. There were quite a few awesome nights on the tour but none as hot as this one. We did this on our first night in Prague and it costs in the region of €20. You crawl through 3 bar/clubs before ending up in the 5-story club. I had an absolute blast on this crawl. There are partiers from all over the world and it was simply amazing. It’s a mish-mash of people all interested and partying in a city renowned for its nightlife. Make sure you see the ice bar floor at the bottom of the 5-story club. Also don’t bother lining up for beer at the second bar, it takes way too long and you end up wasting your time. Rather stick with wine and shooters. Also you can take your drink with you through the streets so stock up just as you leave but make sure to finish before you get to the next bar. No wonder Prague is one the party capitals of the world. In closing I must say that the women in Prague are exceptionally beautiful. I envy the men there.
VIENNA: The Journey to Vienna is pretty much the same as the journey from Berlin to Prague. There is a short stop at Kutna Hora; an old church where the bones of dead monks decorate the interior. Quite freaky! You stop of at a weird fantasy-Excalibur world for lunch, where I must warn you against ordering the mega schnitzel. It really is MEGA. It doesn’t even fit on the plate. The hotel in Vienna is by far the best on the tour. It’s very spacious and comfortable, but more than that it is actually quite classy. Like Berlin the breakfasts here are also really good. I remember having lots of free time in Vienna so you can take it quite easy over the 2 days.
Your first evening is free so you have options of visiting various places. I ended up at the theme park, which in truth I kind of regretted. I’m not sure what alternative to suggest but I think one can do a lot better to experience a city than going to a theme park. There are only 2 planned activities in Vienna. The first one is the visit to the Schnapps museum for €8 and the second is the classical concert for €64. The Schnapps museum is well worth it. The visit is quick but informative. Please heed the advice of the guide and do not overdo it at the tasting session. The alcohol is strong and many people felt sick afterwards. You will get an opportunity to buy bottles at the end of the visit so rather get drunk on the stuff back home. I would recommend the flaming rocket and the Vienna gold.
Now the classical music concert is somewhat iffy. Firstly for €64 it really is pricy; almost ridiculously so. You get misled to believe that the concert is in the Habsburg palace, which it is, but is in some far away wing of the palace. The venue is more of a makeshift hall, rather than an actual theatre. The music is…Ummm…Ummm… Crap. I’m really not a fan of classical music but even those who were fans were not impressed. Some people fell asleep while others left after the break. On the bright side, there is an included dinner and it is the one opportunity that you have to dress up. Also it’s a Viennese thing so it is somewhat of a cultural experience. Nonetheless I do not recommend this extra. My suggestion is that you get dressed up, go out for a good dinner and meet up with everyone after the concert. There’s a really good club not too far from the palace, just opposite the parliament building. It’s a club with a huge outdoor area and great music. The queue is a bit hectic and you might have to fight your way in but it’s well worth the fight.
I also visited the Gustav Klimt exhibition at the Belvedere museum which was surprisingly enjoyable. Again start off with the stuff that interests you. If I remember correctly it costs in the region of €18.
BUDAPEST: The drive to Budapest is very short so sleep may be a problem in this journey. There is a lunch stop in Bratislava, it's not really long enough to explore the place but my initial impressions of the city were good. From there it’s a really short drive to Budapest. Budapest was probably the city I enjoyed the least, not because I hated it but more because of the other cities on tour that it had to live up to. It is the one city that you will visit where you can actually see the damage of WW2 and the lack of development through the communist era. Nonetheless it still has volumes to offer and the view from the top of the hill on the Pest side that is stunning. The hotel in Budapest is pretty much the same as the one in Prague but from here on the breakfasts get progressively worse.
There are 2 planned activities in Budapest, one is great and the other not so great. The river cruise is superb, the food is good (better than any of the other cities) and the views are stunning. There's also plenty of wine making the views all the more enticing. For €34 it is well worth every penny. The view of the Parliament building from the river is beautiful especially with it lit up at night. Having said that, the view is the best part of the Parliament building, because the tour through the inside of the building is just bland and uninteresting. For €18 you could do much better. I know that the history is the appeal but you could do much better spending your time on Google reading up on the building. This is the one extra that I would unequivocally suggest that you SKIP. Do not take my advice at your peril.
The highlight of Budapest for me was the Bath club. It's quite unique so let me explain. Budapest has a number of hot water springs throughout the city. These springs are used as normal spas during the day, however at night they turn the place into a club. You need to take a towel and swimwear with you. The entrance is approximately €20. You will receive an arm band and a smart card. You then need to load drinks-money onto your card. After that you can go to a locker room to dress and lock away your valuables. Your arm band serves as your locker key. Then you go and have a party in one of the hot pools, where an aqua DJ will entertain you. The concept is pretty cool and it is loads of fun. The hot water leaves with quite a weird hangover so take my advice and use the Parliament tour time to sleep in. It will all work out just perfectly.
I also visited the Terror building in Budapest during my free time. This museum centers around the oppression of the Hungarian people during WW2 and communist rule. The creators have done an amazing job to give you a full experience and you don't need too much of time to go through it. What's neat is that you can just collect all the information sheets and read them later at your leisure and spend the time in the museum on the visual stuff. It costs €16 and again, it was worth the spend. Finally, just remember: DON'T DO THE PARLIAMENT TOUR.
KRAKOW: This city was the most unexpected amazing experience for me. I knew very little about the place before the trip and so in a way I didn’t really expect much but it certainly surprised me. There is so much of history and beauty all around the city. The meals in Poland were the tastiest of all the countries both in Krakow and Warsaw. They also have a drink called an apple pie which you must try; in fact some people started drinking this as a standard from Krakow onwards. While the food in Poland was great the breakfasts in the hotels were terrible. The trip from Budapest to Krakow is very long, you may have a great opportunity to sleep but your ass will certainly protest. There is a short lunch stop in BanskaBystrica back in Slovakia where you must hurry. Here you order, you gulp down and you pay. You don’t have much time and the service is slow.
There is an included meal on the first night in Krakow. As I mentioned earlier, the food all over Poland is good and this place does not disappoint. There are only 2 planned activities in Krakow and they are both pretty short and easy going. The first is an included short guided walk through the city. The pace is slow so you can unwind a bit. The second activity is an optional extra tour at the salt mines for €20. It is worth the money and I would definitely recommend it. Other than that the rest of your time is free. I visited the Schindler museum which again for €12 is well worth the effort of getting there. Here too the creators did a great job of creating the right effect. Don't expect the whole museum to be about Oskar Schindler or his List though. The museum is dedicated to the Polish experience of WW2.
The night life in Krakow is great too. We ended up in some club close to the town square. The music was great and the crowd was cool too. Your time in Krakow is limited because of the long arrival Journey and the early departure. I would definitely plan to go back there some time and explore the place at my own leisure.
You depart from Krakow quite early for a visit to Auschwitz; about an hours’ drive out of Krakow. This was one of the most sobering experiences of my life. There are really no words to describe the place or the experience itself. All I can say is that you must do the visit and you should treat the experience with the respect it deserves. Don’t go on this tour with a hangover, take as few pictures as possible and immerse yourself in the moments. It may not change your way of life but you might complain a little less about the air-con in Berlin.
WARSAW: After visiting this city you will not be able to comprehend that 90% of this city was leveled in WW2. The city was completely rebuilt, but the city centre was rebuilt to look the same as it did before the war. You will still get the feel of an old European city centre. The movie “The Pianist” is set in Warsaw, if you’ve seen it recently; you may recognize some of the buildings (a certain archway in particular). There is a large restaurant at one end of the main square where the meals are exquisite. I highly recommend this place but cannot remember the name. All I remember is that the umbrellas on the outside deck are white with red print. I hope that helps. I also seem to remember that the restaurant is on the left of the mermaid in the centre of the square.
The trip from Krakow to Warsaw is also pretty long, more so in time rather than distance though. For some strange reason there are traffic lights on the highways in Poland. There is a lunch stopover at Czestochowa where you can also view the “Black Madonna”. Please do not shoot me, but it was kind of over-rated. The anecdotal story behind it is quite interesting though.
The best advice that I can give you about the hotel in Warsaw is not to eat their breakfast. It is horrible. Rather go out for breakfast, there are plenty of good places to eat in Poland. There is only one planned tour through Warsaw and it is mostly on the coach. You’ll have some free time on the last afternoon before the final big get together in the evening. To end the tour off there’s an included meal (with drinks) before you head out to a bar and club for the last big night out. This night is always bitter-sweet; you want to have a blast but you know that you may never see most of these people again. The next morning is even worse, not only do you have a terrible hangover but a grave feeling of finality also.
I guess that this feeling can only mean that you had a great time, for if you are happy to have the tour end that you could only have hated it. So do this tour, max all your credit cards and have a rocking time. It really is great. Five stars from me.
Review written Sep 2013event 0.3