BALKANS and GREECE, 2005
PART 1: Crossroads of Culture and Contrast (CCC)
(Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia / Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria)
Brendan (Kompas) / Globus
The first 21 days are all new. This is a combination of two tours in the same region with departure day of the first being the same as arrival day (day 2) of the second trip, thus no extra nights. Brendan (BrenDamn!) is the company offering the CCC tour (not really - it's a Kompas tour … doesn't Brendan do *any* tours of their own?) RE is a Globus tour co-offered by Brendan. As usual, Brendan doesn't provide pre-tour information on optional tours but I do have information on the Globus tour. Germany, Greece and Austria use the Euro. All others have their own currencies.
I'm going to take my smaller (digital) camera on this trip due to all the airlines flights (gee thanks, AlwaysLateHansa) rather than the new large digital. I set it on "Fine" for the best pictures it can take. It should work out ok. I have plenty of compact flash card space. I also take my notebook computer in order to keep track of and identify all the pictures, and to keep my trip notes current.
Day 1, Wednesday, July 20 Houston - Europe.
I've been worried about Hurricane Emily for a few days. At first it looked like it would be heading straight into south Texas not that far south of me (and as a category 3 or 4 storm) and - would it mess up the airlines schedule for this morning? Fortunately it's started curving more southward. It's supposed to make landfall about 2AM this morning just south of the Texas / Mexico border.
Up at 4 for a taxi ride (direct) to the airport at 4:45. It's my birthday, so hopefully it wouldn't be by AlwaysLateHansa, but it is. Not only that, but Brendan fouled up the schedule so now it is about 7 hours longer than before and one additional flight. Even when the better flights became available, they wouldn't make any changes. The second flight is actually a United flight - no meals - just the usual snax.
|1||LATEhansa LH9165||Houston-Chicago||7:04 AM - 9:33 AM||2:29||5:02|
|2||LATEhansa LH9153||Chicago-Frankfurt||2:35 PM - 5:45 AM||8:10|
I tried to upgrade the Chicago-Frankfurt flight but it's actually United Airlines so I can't use my AlwaysLateHansa Frequent Complaints miles. Unfortunately the 5 hour layover turns out to be more like 6 hours. There's weather to the east of us and we have to get a new routing to the north to dodge it…which also requires a new flight 'slot'. So much for my connection in Frankfurt. At least the service is good and the 2 meals are ok - nice dinner and decent breakfast croissant. Better than what I remember from other AlwaysLateHansa flights. (7 hours time difference here)
Day 2, Thursday, July 21 Arrival Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
LATEhansa LH960 Frankfurt-Munich 6:35AM - 7:30AM
LH 960 departed before we arrived. So try for LH 962 at 7:35 -- no luck since it takes 1 1/4 hours just to get through Passport Control. So try for LH 964 at. 8:40 … no luck, it's overbooked. So how about LH 966 at -- oops -- 9:45 won't get into Munich until it's time for flight 4.
LATEhansa LH3500 Munich-Sarajevo 10:55AM - 12:20PM
Scratch the above flight and go to the backup … which should have been used anyway. (Brendan fouls up again):
|3||LH 6334||Frankfurt - Vienna||11:15 AM - 12:45 PM|
I get booked on these two flights and everything looks good for an on-time departure, then there seems to be a problem. Someone in the flight crew/management forgot to file for a departure 'slot' so we have to sit on the tarmac and wait 25 minutes for the next available takeoff time. My 45 minute connection is down to less than 20 minutes. Fortunately when we get to Vienna, the gate I need is right next to the arrival gate ... come off the flightway, make a U-turn and go onto the next plane.
|4||LH 6456||Vienna - Sarajevo||13:30 PM - 2:40 PM|
This flight is delayed a bit while we wait on connecting passengers and *most* of the connecting luggage. Finally arrive in Sarajevo about 3:10. Now to wait for my luggage, and wait and wait and, NO LUGGAGE thanks to that Brendan flight schedule. Luckily the airlines had notified the tour director (Steve) of my changed plans and he meets me as I file for a lost luggage report. Hopefully my luggage will get here *sometime* tomorrow.
I have to get Bosnian currency (Marka) at the exchange in the airport since there are no ATMs for currency and the hotel rate will be lower.
It turns out that as of my arrival time, there are only two tour members present. Two more will arrive about 10PM tonight (they have AlwaysLateHansa problems also) and the rest will join in a couple of days in Dubrovnik. (This again isn't a Brendan tour, it's a Kompas Vacations tour.) There will be 33 total when we are all together. On the drive into town, I can see that the setting for Sarajevo is really beautiful, but the downtown itself is very uninspiring. There's still too much leftover from the war 10 years ago (1992-1995). Many buildings still show major signs of battle, others are just abandoned - they look ok until we see that there's no glass in the windows, etc. The only bright new buildings are the new mosques (many of the locals, although Muslims, resent that so much - millions - is being spent on the mosques and not in helping the people). There are several and more are being built. Traffic is fairly heavy on the main road through town, but there's not that much to see.
There are only two hotels in town of a size for tour groups - ours (the Hotel Grand is almost grand - and definitely the better of the hotels in town) is somewhat on the edge out away from town and near the top of a hill. The view from the front of the hotel is very nice (hillside homes, etc) but Brendan/Kompas has booked us in the less expensive rooms on the back side. No a/c so it's warm now (but turns nice and cool later in the night with the window open). The balance of the day, if I can stay awake, is at leisure. Tonight (set a wake-up call), enjoy a Welcome Dinner (with just the 4 of us - 2 tour members, tour director- Steve, and driver-Vlada). Buffet dinner - somewhat limited but there are only the 4 of us plus another tour (Trafalgar) - which has about a half-bus load here and a very few "regular" hotel guests. We can hear the Muslim call to the faithful several times all throughout the city at the appropriate times during the day. (D) Hotel: Hotel Grand (2 nights) The bus driver has to move the bus to right in front of the hotel so the hotel night porter can keep watch on it - the last times through someone siphoned most of the gas out of the tanks! Summary: except for the missing luggage, a nice day.
Day 3, Friday, July 22 Sarajevo
Up at 5:30. The local tour is supposed to start at 9, but the local guide (Adriana, a journalist) is almost 30 minutes late. Sarajevo, the capital city of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been influenced by a number of cultures and civilizations. On our city tour, visit the picturesque Turkish bazaar "Bas Carsija," the Husref Bay's Mosque, Olympic Stadium and Sarajevo War Tunnel Museum (way out of town in a little village - down some dirt roads, etc.). Also on this tour we learn a new curse word - valid throughout the tour: Serbians. Lunch on our own in the Bazaar which is in the 'old town'. This part is very interesting - lots of crafts (if I knew I would have a suitcase, I would have bought something - lots of nice, interesting things), restaurants, Gypsy (danger) beggars, etc. In general, Sarajevo still looks like it has just been in a war zone - not like it's been 10 years since the war. As a whole, Sarajevo is still in really pathetic condition even 10 years after the war.
Because of its location on the Balkan Diagonal, since ancient times it has acted as a gateway for the people of Greece and Asia Minor migrating towards the Midwest of Europe or vice versa. Thanks to its geographical position, since its origins Sarajevo has been influenced by a great number of different cultures and civilizations which came together, struggled against one another, but then intermingled and reconciled on this same land. The existence of sacred buildings, schools, books, paintings and other forms of creativity proves the development of different cultures and religions.
Back to the hotel about 2:30; it starts raining about 2:45. Still no word on my suitcase. The trip info says dinner included but it isn't (another Brendan foulup) - we have to go out to get something … in the rain … or stay here (the hotel restaurant isn't open - there aren't enough people here to make it worth while) and subsist on munchies (courtesy of my neighbors back home) which I do. I have to stay here since I have to be here to sign for a suitcase … if it shows up. Finally on a call to the airport about 4:30, I learn that the suitcase has been located and will *maybe* arrive from Zagreb (why from there; I was never supposed to go there even with all the schedule scramble) sometime late this evening (10 or after) … maybe. Summary: except for the missing dinner, another nice day.
The rain is temporarily over about 7, though it starts again later. The suitcase finally shows up at 11:15 PM. Take it upstairs and go straight to bed. It's been another long day. (B,D)
Note: my Wells Fargo ATM card is no good here. Apparently WF is having trouble with east Euro countries. True also in Croatia when I tried. (True even in Greece which is a full EU/Euro country!)
OPTIONAL: Dinner in a local restaurant ($37) This evening enjoy traditional Bosnian dinner accompanied by traditional Bosnian music in the restaurant "Kod Kibeta" in the old quarter of Sarajevo. After dinner we will have time for a stroll in the city before returning to the hotel. Yes - but NOT OFFERFED - requires 8 and there are only 4 of us at this time. (censored)
Day 4, Saturday, July 23 Sarajevo - Mostar - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Gunshots heard several times during the night, and lots more rain. Up at 5 to check out the luggage, get everything rearranged, etc. Breakfast is at 6, bag out at 7:30 (not me, I take my own bag down) and on the bus to leave at 8. Still intermittent rain as we will have all through the day.
Drive through the gorge of the River Neretva (gorgeous scenery) to Mostar, where we will see the remains of the Turkish quarter now rebuilt as it would have been and turned into a tourist shopping and dining area - neat! - and the reconstructed 16th-century stone bridge - nice pictures, I hope. In a way I like this 'old town' better than the one in Sarajevo. It also reminds me of both Assisi and San Marino - old narrow hilly streets and side alleys. Mostar is HIGHLY recommended. Unfortunately it's extremely hot and humid here and even though there's lots to see, we're 'drenched' after two hours when its time to leave. I guess we lucked out on timing - it starts raining again as we leave. On the way out, watch a diver from the bridge. Cross the Croatian border to Dubrovnik. As the bus struggles to follow a narrow and very winding road clinging to the hillside/cliff edge, the coastline from where we turn south to Dubrovnik is much like that of southern Italy - various islands and bays with beautiful small towns clinging to the hillsides. Very nice drive and we get to see it again on Monday when we head back north to Split. It's raining again as we get into Dubrovnik. Arrive at the hotel about 3:45 with time to rest a bit, unpack, and get ready for the group introductory meeting at 6 where we get to meet with the rest of the group of 33 and find out more about what Kompas (not Brendan) has planned for us. After that is dinner at 7 in the hotel. It's an excellent buffet dinner once we work our way through the maze to find the restaurant.
After dinner (9-10:30) Steve and Vlada offer an 'extra'. They take us into the old town to show us what it looks like at night with the special illumination. This is an unscheduled 'extra.' Rain overnight. (B,D) Hotel: Argosy Hotel. (2 nights) Summary: Excellent day.
NOTE: Because of the narrow and historic roads in Dubrovnik, walking is the primary way of getting around. Pack good walking shoes.
Dubrovnik, unchanged in so many ways, and often called the "Pearl of the Adriatic", is a rhapsody of human power and culture, where love of nature has never failed. The virgin beauty and mild climate of the city and surrounding islands makes it an ideal place for an unforgettable holiday
Day 5, Sunday, July 24 Dubrovnik
Up at 6, on the bus at 8:15. First a drive to one of the high points around town for a panoramic view of the area, then back to the old town for a guided tour which is 1 ½ hours long. Fairly good, but could have been better. Dubrovnik is an architectural marvel, over 1,000 years old. As we enter its gates, we feel as if we are stepping back in time - cross a wooden bridge past the gate towers, wind our way through the inner gate and enter on to the Placa, the gleaming limestone street that runs straight to the entrance gates at the other end of the town. Our city tour includes the Rector's Palace, Bell Tower clock, Orlando's Column and the Sponza Palace. We will also see the Dominican Monastery and Franciscan Monastery with its Pharmacy, one of the oldest in the world. After the tour we may want to visit St. Blaise's Cathedral or the open farmer's market. After that, until 2 PM we are on our own. Then it's back to the hotel or whatever we wish to do. Good weather - no rain - but very hot and humid. I have to get Croatian Kuna at a local exchange scalper since my bank won't do ATM transactions with Croatian banks.
During the summer months Dubrovnik is host to one of the oldest and most popular Summer Festivals in Europe, with a number of outstanding theater and music companies performing at various open air venues around town but there's nothing scheduled for Sunday evening. Maybe we should have been scheduled to be here stay here for 3 nights. Again the preliminary documentation says dinner included, but Brendan online documentation is wrong again. (B,D) Summary: good day except for disappointment of no festival activities. Dubrovnik is my favorite city on this part of the trip.
OPTIONAL: Boat Cruise with wine tasting ($38) This afternoon depart Dubrovnik by boat for the town of Cavtat. The journey takes us past the island of Lokrum (a nature preserve) and many small bays. Upon arrival in Cavtat, enjoy a visit to the valuable collection and Franciscan Monastery. Proceed by bus to Konavle where we savor a wine tasting at a local winery and have some free time before returning to Dubrovnik later this afternoon. I choose Yes - but NOT OFFERED.
Postcards: no time to get and mail postcards in Bosnia. In Croatia it seems that 'nobody' knows how much postage to use. Estimates range from one to seven stamps - probably 4. Similar problems in Slovenia so I give up on the idea of sending postcards home; besides, we are told that they will take weeks to get there. I just buy some and save to send/give when I get home.
Day 6, Monday, July 25 Dubrovnik - Split
Up at 6, then on the bus to go at 8. This morning depart Dubrovnik and travel north along the spectacular Adriatic Highway (great, fantastic, beautiful!!, and our tour director really knows the area and its history) along the Adriatic coast - actually the coast line, not inland somewhere - past old fishing villages and new resorts, then a lunch stop in Makars with time to check out the scenery on the beach. Croatia has a very liberal policy on "dress" on the beach: topless is relatively common and nudity is permitted but usually only practices on beaches specified for nude bathing. Here at Makars we were to get on the bus at 1, but it turned out that where we were to meet the bus is also the local ferry landing … and one was scheduled to arrive, unload, and reload then. This blocked up traffic so we had to do some quick re-planning. Side note: the small local ferry (and also many of the much larger ones we see later in Split) are single-enders. This means that to load, vehicle drivers have to back onboard. Then later they can drive off.
Then on to Split. Arrive in Split about 2:30. Enjoy a 2-hour walking tour of this city of 200,000, the cultural and economic hub of Central Dalmatia. The tour features the historic inner city, built around Roman Emperor Diocletian's 1700 year old Palace, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. See remnants of Split's Roman heritage, its Renaissance and Gothic structures, Jupiter's Temple, the Peristyle and the Cathedral. Very nice tour of the palace and a good guide … though we got stuck behind a French tour group with a very long-winded tour guide which slowed things down quite a bit so we missed a bit of the rest of the city tour. Check into the AIR-CONDITIONED hotel at 5.
Time to cool off some before dinner at 7. This seems to be a very busy port. During the one hour of dinner, there were 9 ferries coming and going from the port, plus a high-speed tri-hull passenger boat. The dinner was decent (set menu) but not great. After dinner, it's a nice walk down to the harbor side and even back towards the Roman Palace. (B,D) Hotel: Marjan. Summary: Excellent day.
The biggest city in Dalmatia, world famous Roman core of the Old City, makes Split one of the most interesting places to see. The Roman core belongs to UNESCO heritage of the world. There are many beautiful towns, picturesque villages and islands around Split that are worth paying a visit to.
Day 7, Tuesday, July 26 Split - Trogir - Zadar - Plitvice Lakes
After a limited breakfast at 6 (the main restaurant doors couldn't be opened; nobody could find the keys, so we get in only after someone found some keys which would open a side door), off at 8:30. Head further north along the coast to Trogir, a center of artistic activities, where scholars from around the world gather to study and paint. Trogir - the part we visit is an 'old town' area with some newer buildings. It was mostly destroyed during the late war and although some of the old buildings were re-built as they were, there are also many new buildings. Then on to Zadar, the oldest Slavic city on the Adriatic. Enjoy an orientation tour that includes the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Cathedral and St. Donat Church. This is also our 'lunch' stop but it's so late that we generally skip that. In fact we don't get away from here until 4. As we are on the bus ready to leave, a small runabout boat cruises by with 2 nude ladies on board. Surprising since this is a very public area with many bus groups, shoppers, other boats tied up along the docks, etc. (No, no pictures.)
Continue inland towards Plitvice Lakes National Park - up in the "mountains" at an elevation of about 1500 feet. We get there about 6 - just enough time to find our very hot rooms (no a/c and we can barely get any crack at all in the windows). There are only three hotels in the area and we are supposedly in the best one, nice but miserably hot without the a/c. Dinner is a set menu (fish or chicken) and is quite good. After dinner is time to do laundry. We finally get optional excursions information, and have to let Steve know tomorrow afternoon.
My 220/110 adapter has burned out possibly due to power problems here. I haven't had any trouble up to this time. Steve said that three others had their adapters burned out last night. I either need to find and buy adapters, or borrow one. It's a long time to the end of the trip. Fortunately there's a US standard 115 plug in the WC so I can be sure to start out with fully charged camera and razor. (B,D) Hotel: Jezero. (2 nights) Summary: not so great - with the hot room and burned out adapter. Good meal, however.
Day 8, Wednesday, July 27 Plitvice Lakes
Up at 6. The breakfast is buffet style - but no hot food; just big "Continental" style things to eat. In the morning, there's a walking tour around several of the lakes. Leave at 9 for a long 3.5 hour walk around the lakes. I skip part of it due to the very irregular paths - I don't trust my knee holding out for all that walking. Plitvice Lakes National Park, in UNESCO's register of the World Heritage, is a system of emerald green lakes connected by waterfalls and cascades. Enjoy a half day in the breathtaking scenery of this natural wonder, with 16 terraced lakes surrounded by thickly wooded mountains and lush vegetation. The rest of the day is free. For dinner, it's a short 5 minute bus ride to a local restaurant. I found someone on the tour who would sell me a set of adapters so I can keep everything running. Whew!
Our very special Dinner this evening: Excellent soup. Very good salad, entrée is some unidentifiable cuts (probably cut with a small hatchet) of some unidentifiable animal, lots of gristle and fat. Inedible; I find one of two barely edible bites and just skip the rest. Very good vegetables. Nice desert. There was supposed to be entertainment, but nothing was presented. (B,D) Summary - good day except for the awful entrée at dinner.
Day 9, Thursday, July 28 Plitvice Lakes - Opatija - Postojna, Slovenia - Bled
Up at 6, depart at 7:30. Return to the coast to beautiful Kvarner Bay and its popular resort town, Opatija which is a lot like Makars. Then, head north to Postojna, home of one of the largest caves in Europe. Tour this fantastic subterranean world by miniature electric train. It's very nice but having seen Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Cave, Wonder Cave, Longhorn Caverns and others, it's not all that different. I try to change currency, but at the local exchange office, their computer is down. Afterwards, our journey continues to Bled, beautifully situated near the Julian Alps. It's been beautiful scenery all day and as we head towards the mountains we can hope for cooler weather - but as it turns out, no luck; it's still hot when we get to Bled. Arrival is about 6:30.
Here on at least three occasions, the staff is very rude - examples: once when someone asked about air conditioning, and also when I asked about changing currency. The room is VERY hot. We are supposed to get a really nice buffet dinner but it turns out to be a very mediocre/poor set menu dinner. Also they don't even provide water (except at about US$3 per small bottle. The first course is supposedly Minestrone soup but is actually colored water with two small pieces of cabbage on the bottom of the bowl (and this after an excellent Minestrone soup a couple of days ago). With this as a guide to the rest of the meal, I decide that my need for water is far more than my need for their "food" so skip the rest of the meal and go back to the room to get water from the sink faucet. (Later meal report: 2nd course - poor, skipped; main entrée etc: barely decent; desert - bad - skipped). I'm ready to boycott buying anything in Slovenia. There's also the noise from a nearby entertainment bar which is very loud even in my 5th (7th) floor room and goes on until midnight - and I can't close the patio door since that would leave the room impossibly hot. I take the duvet off the bed, fold it double on the floor by the door, and sleep there so I can get even a breath of air. (B,D) Hotel: Golf. (2 nights) Summary: starts out well then crash and burn.
An alpine lake surrounded by the high peaks, Bled was discovered by tourists in the middle of the last century, after a Swiss, Mr. Arnold Rikli had built a climatic health center there. Since then a small town with beautiful hotels, restaurants, and villas has developed around the lake, turning Bled into a living place all year round. For the winter, apart from skating on the frozen surface of the lake, there are numerous ski runs in the neighborhood. In the summer Bled offers swimming, rowing, trekking and one of the most beautiful golf courses in this part of Europe.
Day 10, Friday, July 29 Bled
Up at 6 for a surprisingly (after last night) good breakfast buffet here rude waiters run us out of the main dining area to where tour groups have a much reduced selection buffet. On the bus at 8:45 for today's sightseeing. A morning sightseeing tour features the town of Bled with the lakeshore and includes a visit to Bled Castle, perched on a cliff high above the lake and surrounded by Julian Alps. Also included is an enjoyable ride on a special small boat called a "Pletna" to the scenic island in the middle of the lake. Disembark the boat and visit the island's old church housing an impressive art collection. We have some free time to enjoy the magnificent views from the island. Later the boat will bring us back ashore and we will continue with the bus to back to the hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure to shop, relax or join an optional activity.
OPTIONAL: Bohinj and area. ($38) Leave at 11 for a bus ride to Bohinj resort and its lake. Travel on to the end of the lake for (optional) lunch (which Steve called ahead and arranged - Excellent Goulash soup, roll, and *FREE* water. (We all agree that this is what dinner last night should have been instead of that (censored) set-meal.) Bohinj with its surroundings of natural beauty is a jewel among the alpine resorts. There are several photo stops. The journey will take us past old villages (stop and walk through parts of two of them) and beautiful landscape. The excursion will end about 4PM. This turns out to be an absolutely excellent option.
Note that the Brendan web info says dinner included but it turns out to be optional. (B,D) Summary: turns out to be another excellent day after all - despite the 100+F heat.
OPTIONAL: Dinner in a local restaurant ($34) Evening visit to the little medieval town Radovljica. Short walk through the old part. Later dinner in a typical Slovenian restaurant "Lectar" where we will have the opportunity to try Slovenian food. Not enough people signed up then at the last minute a few more agreed but I didn't know about it so missed out. However after the "entrée in Plitvice, maybe I didn't miss much.
Free concert this evening in the hotel: Classical music performed by Alenka Zupan (flute) and Danijela Masliuk (piano). Very nice. 9PM.
Day 11, Saturday, July 30 Bled - Ljubljana - Zagreb, Croatia
Up at 6, bus at 8. Travel about one hour to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, founded by Illyrians between 1000 and 500 BC as Esmona. Its edifices and monuments are witnesses of its long history of existence. See the Baroque Old Town, the City Hall, Robba's Fountain, the Three Bridges, Parliament and the open-air market on a sightseeing tour. Lunch in Ljubljana - and we see our first "unofficial American Embassy" but it's closed for renovation. Nice visit. We leave at 12:30
Then, on to Zagreb (with a 2 ½ hour plus wait on the highway to get through passport control - we noticed one young lady from one of the cars stuck in line 'just couldn't wait' and got down as far as she could in a deep ditch between lanes to ....), the capital of Croatia since 1557. Finally arrive in Zagreb at 5. Hotel staff does NOT deliver our suitcases; we have to fetch them ourselves.
Town tour is delayed until 6 because of the late arrival. It will be a shortened tour due to that - and because it's well over 100F this afternoon. Zagreb's history dates back to 1094. The Upper Town is one of the best maintained medieval cities in Europe, with museums, galleries and numerous monuments. Our sightseeing tour will take us along only part of the historic Upper Town. The rest of the day is at leisure but there is no rest of the day. After that we go direct to our very good "Farewell Dinner" at a restaurant (not in the hotel). (B,D) Hotel: Sheraton Zagreb. I'm not at all impressed with (what little we've seen of) Zagreb; as far as I'm concerned we could have ended the trip in Ljubljana. Summary: definitely not one of our better days.
Day 12 (2), Sunday, July 31 Depart Zagreb. Arrival in Athens, Greece
Up at 5, breakfast at 6:30 but I have to leave by 6:45 in order to get to the airport on time however the hotel staff let us "sneak" in at 6:15 so there's time for a very nice breakfast. Transfer to the airport included (verified with the main office) but Brendan has fouled up (again?). The Brendan office said specifically that transfer to the airport was included but the list the tour director has says no transfer so I'm on my own but Steve takes pity on me and gives me a ride. I'll probably be marooned in Athens as well.
PART 2 GREECE AND THE BALKANS
Early departure from Zagreb ending tour #1, but instead of going home, make a couple of short flights to Athens to start tour #2. Airfare is by using AlwaysLateHansa "Frequent Complaints" miles. This saves me about $700. Problems at the airport: Zagreb doesn't accept E-tickets and Latehansa never sent me a paper ticket. My reservations are in their computer but I have to pay €100 ($125) for a "replacement" to a paper ticket that I never received - and none of the emails from Latehansa indicated that I should receive one so I never knew I was missing something.
|5||Austrian Airlines #682||Zagreb - Vienna||8:40 - 9:35||1:55||0:55|
Only :55 layover - pray!
It seems ridiculous to fly all the way north-west to Vienna and then even further back south-east to Athens. There must be some shorter route but this is what AlwaysLateHansa stuck me with. At least the flight gets off on time but just 2 or 3 seconds before we touchdown in Vienna the plane is waved off and we have to go around (which takes 20 minutes - so much for any margin). Apparently some other pilot took a wrong turn while taxiing and turned across the active runway ahead of us.
|6||Austrian Airlines #801||Vienna - Athens||10:30 - 1:55||2:25||4:15|
Fortunately no big problems getting to the next gate - but did my luggage????. This flight is also on time (note hour difference - different time zone - now 8 hours time difference) but I'm worried the whole way about whether my luggage will make it. Huge sigh of relief as my luggage is the second one on the carousel. It must have been the next to last loaded back in Vienna. Bought lunch on the plane for US$. (Austrian Airlines only provides a very small bottle of water free.)
I'm supposed to be met at the airport for transfer to the hotel (verified with the Brendan main office) and fortunately Globus is, as expected, really on the ball. I don't see a Globus representative (turns out she is checking on other arriving flights) but they find me as I'm beginning to think I have to take a bus or $taxi$. I'm on their list for a transfer. Hooray for Globus. We get to the hotel about 3. Time to rest before, at 6 p.m. meet my traveling companions at a welcome meeting with a drink (only) hosted by our Tour Director, Scott Widenhouse (American born but living in Europe for many years; father in the US Diplomatic service). He turns out to be another excellent Globus Tour Director. There are only 30 on this tour. It's a Globus tour so we have pre-trip options information (3 cheers for Globus). Dinner (spaghetti Bolognese) at a nearby "fast food" small shop. Hotel: Titania. (2 nights) Summary: since everything worked out, it's a good day after all despite all the worries.
Note: we are warned about the newest scam: someone pretending to be a lost American tourist asks us for help. Then some men claiming to be "Police" (note the American spelling on their badges rather then "Polizi" or something appropriate to the country) come up claiming we are talking to dissidents or undesirables or selling drugs or ... and want to see our wallet and identification, and when we show them, they grab it and vanish.
Day 13 (3), Monday, August 1 Athens
Breakfast (nice enough but had to wait for the hot foods; on the bus at 9. Enjoy a tour of the capital's classical sights: the Parthenon's crowning beauty atop the Acropolis, the Erechtheum with its Porch of Maidens, the beautifully preserved Theseum, the Roman Temple of Zeus, Theater of Dionysus and the Agora where Socrates taught. Vistas of the Royal Palace, government buildings and elegant homes in the modern city provide a striking contrast to the remains of a glorious past. The Acropolis tour is about 2:15. Lots of scaffolding as restoration work is in progress. Also we have to watch our step very carefully - some of the exposed rock is VERY slick. This means that we can't look around as we walk - we *have* to keep ours eyes down to watch where we are walking and also to be careful not be run over by the huge mob of tourists already here and many, many more coming. Great area to visit and nice views of the city. However one of our tour members takes a bad fall - lots of abrasions and even a dislocated/separated shoulder. She has to be taken to the hospital - and only gets back to the hotel about 11PM. Her arm is in sling the next few days. Then back on the bus for about an hour for more city sights. This part is over about 12:30. The rest of the day is at leisure. Take some time to cool off; it's 38C (100.4F) at noon. Time for a water break - about a half-gallon worth. (BB)
OPTIONAL: (would have been 12:45 - 2:45) National Archaeological Museum ($35) Meet our local guide for a short drive to the National Museum - one of the most important museums in Greece and one of the richest worldwide in ancient Greek art, with collections representing all of the cultures that flourished in Greece. (yes)
Only a few people want go so it's not officially offered but it's within very east walking distance - only about 10 minutes so I go by myself along with a couple of other tour members. Admission is only €7 and it's well worth it. FANTASTIC museum. Time for some shopping on the way back from the museum. I could also have walked to the Plaka district - not *too* far, but the museum was worth the time so no chance for that. Time for another water break.
OPTIONAL: Plaka with Dinner ($68) (would have been 8:30 to about midnight) Sample a glass of ouzo (no thanks) and enjoy a Greek-style four-course dinner with drinks (no thanks) at a taverna in the festive Plaka district. Folk dances put us in that special mood reminiscent of Zorba the Greek. (yes!) But not enough people sign up (we have to have 15 and there are only 30 on the tour); there are quite a few first-time-to-Europe tour members and they balk at the $68 price tag. Censored.
I visit the local "American Embassy" for something different from the Balkans food I've been eating for 2 weeks. I pass one on the way to and from the museum. "Chicken McNuggets, anyone?" Almost no American "fast food" places on the first trip, but they turn out to be very common on this part of the trip. There are even some "KFC" restaurants and a couple of "Pizza Hut" ones. Summary: very good but not fantastic day - too hot and miss out on the Dinner/folk dances.
Day 14 (4), Tuesday, August 2 Athens - Thessaloniki
Up at 6; on the bus at 8 (we get our regular bus and driver, Bobis) to start our swing north. Following the coastline of the Aegean Sea, motor north towards Thermophylae. Lots of large fields of olive trees; brighter green fields when various crops are being spray irrigated. Other areas of sand, rock and lots of small trees and brush reminiscent of west Texas. Blue waters of the Thermaic Bay and dramatic background of Mount Olympus (just a dim outline in the haze off to the left/west) provide a breathtaking (?) setting for the comfortable ride to Macedonia's capital. A comprehensive (5 minute) orientation drive helps us learn very little more about Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. Arrive at the hotel about 4:45. Good dinner included at 7 though my system doesn't seem to like the olive oil that was on the salad. (BB,D) Hotel: Capsis. Summary: average day - mostly just driving. I try for photos from the bus but the tinting in the glass produces too many reflections and the pictures are no good - so much for that; I'm going to miss lots of good pictures. (332 miles)
Day 15 (5), Wednesday, August 3 Thessaloniki - Sofia, Bulgaria
Up at 6, off at 8. We get to the border at 9:30 but it takes 2 ½ hours to get through everything. Cross the Bulgarian border (passports carefully checked) at Kulata where we pick up our country guide, Peter (adequate but not great) and head north through the Struma Valley, Spartacus' mountainous homeland. Nice scenery but anything at much of any distance is lost in a heavy gray-brown haze. The landscape turns into mountains, nice rivers / streams and lush forests. Very nice. Past lush tobacco and huge sunflower fields we reach the village of Kocerinovo, from where a scenic side trip takes us high up a narrow winding road towards the Rila Monastery, a beacon of the Bulgarian nation during half a millennium of Ottoman rule. Just before we get there, we stop (2PM) for one of 5 not-included but due to lack of time and facilities, arranged optional lunches - I pass since we have BB and D. We finally get to the Monastery at 3 for an hour visit. Then back down the road to the (misnamed) "highway" into Sofia. It's a bit cooler today probably due to a bunch of clouds moving in, and partly to the slightly higher altitude. Our country guide tells us that it was 43C (107F) in Sofia yesterday. Due to the road (mostly) and traffic, we don't get to the hotel until 6:45. Included very good dinner at 8. Overnight in Sofia. (BB,D) Hotel: Kempinski Zografski. (2 nights) Summary: boring morning but the afternoon turns into a good one - scenery, monastery, cooler, etc. (213 miles)
As it will turn out, we left the hot, dry weather behind when we crossed the mountains. Now and for the next several days we are in the cool, wet, cloudy, rainy season.
Day 16 (6), Thursday, August 4 Sofia
The so-called air-conditioner is really just a noise machine; it's actually broken. This 5-star hotel is now officially (by me) demoted to only 3 stars (or maybe 2.5 stars). I get up at 2 and cut off the noise and open a window to let in an occasional small breath of air but in order to feel even that I have to sit up in a chair right by the window for the rest of the night. It's much cooler outside than inside but the wind is from the wrong direction to make a difference inside.
Up at 6, on the bus at 8:30. It's "cool" (75F) and looks like rain. The site of Bulgaria's modern capital, at the foot of Mount Vitosha, was first occupied by the Thracian tribe of Serdi. In the second century AD, the Romans were attracted by the hot mineral springs and founded the city of Serdica. We spot sections of the Roman wall during morning sightseeing. Also admire the ancient Church of St. Georgi, the golden-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with a marvelous collection of medieval icons and the Turkish Bashi Mosque. We have about 2 hours free in the city after the tour but almost immediately it starts raining so most of us take shelter in a nearby underground shopping area to waste away the 2 hours, then back to the hotel or take an optional tour to the art museum (no thanks). During the walking part of the tour, I'm almost certain I saw a group of men setting up their next victim of that scam we were warned about. (BB,OD)
One of our tour members *finally* got his luggage from AlwaysLateHansa - "only" four days late. I guess I was lucky in that mine was only 30+ hours late in Sarajevo.
OPTIONAL: National Historical Museum ($25) Learn more about the exciting history of the Bulgarian people at the National Historical Museum; see significant Thracian works of art and priceless Orthodox icons. (I pass on an art museum.)
Heavy rain, hail, and lightning during the afternoon. Also the tour member without his luggage finally got it this afternoon *just a bit delayed*. Tonight's optional dinner outing (on the bus at 7:30) includes a specialty meal and folklore performance (yes!).
OPTIONAL: Bulgarian Evening ($44) An evening of authentic Bulgarian folklore in a typical country inn. Enjoy a rich blend of exotic Oriental and traditional Slavic dishes. It starts to rain again as we leave (7:30) with lots of lightning, but there's not far to go from the bus when we get to the restaurant. Excellent dinner with music and singing, then folklore dancing afterwards. Super evening. Finally back to the hotel a bit after 11. Globus set up a nice evening for us here. Hooray. (yes)
Summary: nice day since it is cooler and we have some interesting sights. We were even able to dodge the rain even though it meant missing some sightseeing time. Truly excellent evening. Thanks Globus.
Tonight the hotel proves that it is only 3-star: now that the a/c is supposedly repaired, it is cut off for the night at 10PM.
Day 17 (7), Friday, August 5 Sofia - Bucharest, Romania
More rain, lightning, hail, etc. overnight. Up at 5:30 since it's too hot to stay in bed. on the bus at 8. Still raining. Cross the low Stara Planina (Old Mountains) chain (very nice even in the rain) on the way to the wide and fertile Danube Valley where at least temporarily it has stopped raining. Break the journey at Pleven, where the impressive Panorama Monument commemorates Russia's role in the liberation of Bulgaria from Turkish occupation. We have another of our arranged optional lunches - and again I pass. We also drop off our Bulgarian country guide, Peter, here at the border. After finally completing border formalities we cross the (muddy brown, not blue) Danube at Rousse, an important river port since Roman times. We pick up our Romanian country guide, Monica, as we get through the Romanian formalities. In the late afternoon we reach Bucharest…and more heavy rain as we arrive. Its gracious appearance and Latin charm have earned the Romanian capital the flattering sobriquet "Paris of the Balkans." Rain and traffic slow us down and we don't get to the hotel until almost 6. Tonight taste typical Romanian fare and excellent local wine (wine or nothing) and enjoy the songs and dances performed by a skilled ensemble in colorful costumes (our two dinners are reversed; this was supposed to be tomorrow but there was a conflict). The dinner is good, but none of it was nearly as good as the night before. Back to the hotel about 10. (BB,D) Hotel: Crowne Plaza. (2 nights) (250 miles) Summary: Due to the rain, not one of our better days, but the evening folklore was good.
Day 18 (8), Saturday, August 6 Bucharest
Up at 6, breakfast at 6:30. Time to type notes and reorganize, then on the bus at 8:30. Rain forecast - 60% so this may or may not turn out a good day but it turns out the forecast is 50% wrong: we do get some showers but fairly late in the afternoon after we are back in the hotel. Flower-festooned parks and gardens and wide boulevards shaded by century old trees contribute to Bucharest's beauty. The highlight of our sightseeing tour is a visit to the open-air Village Museum (much like Maihaugen in Norway), a unique collection of traditional farmhouses, cottages, wind- and watermills, and artisans' workshops from all parts of the country. Unfortunately they want 4€ for a photo permit (not worth it for a 40 minute visit) … and they don't even have postcards in the gift shop. I could have stayed here a long time, particularly and would have purchased the photo permit if I had. Way too short on time here - (growl, grumble and gritch!!!). There were some individual vendors with nice souvenirs and I manage a couple. The city tour is over at about 11 and we drop off some people, then we go directly to the Cotroceni Palace. Monica is a much better guide than Peter was. (BB,D)
OPTIONAL: Cotroceni Palace ($28) This 19th century royal palace, built within the precinct of the medieval Cotroceni Monastery, currently houses the Romanian Presidency and the National Museum. We have to have our passports for this one. No photos allowed and no gift shop for cards. It's an interesting place to visit. I'm glad I changed my mind and took this option. (yes)
After this we are dropped off back in Victory square for lunch/shopping. Those going to the Parliament building (not me) are picked up at 2:15. I could have stayed for a bus pickup at 4:30 but after getting something to eat and doing some window shopping, choose to share a taxi back to the hotel.
OPTIONAL: The Parliament Building ($25) Visit the second largest building in the world, the Republic House, once Dictator Ceausescu's headquarters and now the political center of modern Romania. (No thanks)
OPTIONAL: An Evening with Romanian Soloists ($33) A unique opportunity to hear soloists from the Romanian Opera perform both classical and contemporary programs. (I vote yes - but NOT OFFERED - comments censored!) Fortunately the evening program in Brasov had lots of classical music, vocals, and dance.
Dinner this evening is in the hotel is one of our best. The Crowne Plaza definitely has their act together. Summary: Very good day despite way too short on time in the historical Village Museum, and a week from tonight I'll be home. This trip has gone too fast.
Day 19 (9), Sunday, August 7 Bucharest - Brasov
Rain off and on all night - lots of lightning. Up at 6; on the bus at 8. The rain starts again at about 8:15 and never really stops all day though it does slow down sometimes. The morning break at Ploesti is a pleasant interlude before continuing into the Carpathian Mountains (when we can see anything due to rain and cloud - the cloud sometimes so heavy we can barely see out of the bus) to Romania's most elegant mountain resort of Sinaia. Even with what little we can see, I can well understand why this would be a favorite resort area. The real treat this afternoon is the tour of the Bran Castle, built in 1377 and ever since assumed to be the home of the Romanian vampires. It's also been linked to "Count Dracula" of the 19th century novel fame. We have to climb quite a bit to get to the castle and then fight our way through mobs of other tourists to get an abbreviated (due to the tourist crunch on a Sunday) tour. When we get through it's time for the 3rd of our arranged optional lunches - and another "pass" for me. Instead many of us wander around the large "flea market" and shops. Lunch (in a light rain) is a very long/large 'corn on the cob' fresh from the pot (very good), and a big Romanian style 'hot dog' for only 5.50 Lei or just a bit less than $2. Between the weather and the reflections in the bus windows, I don't even think about trying for pictures even though there were LOTS of places I would have liked to photograph. The mountains are very nice and there are some incredibly interesting architecture and other scenes.
We get to the hotel at about 3:20. It's the "best hotel in the city" - older but obviously having had some remodeling. No a/c as expected, but quite decent. At 7:30, leave the hotel for a long tortuous drive up the high hill (very narrow winding road) to a special evening. End this exciting day at its medieval Citadel where a knight's style welcome is only the start to a typical local dining experience with extraordinary (!!!) song and dance. The program is mostly classical (music, vocal, and dance) with some popular music medleys thrown in. Excellent dinner menu as well. The best of the three (Sofia, Bucarest, Brasov) special evenings so far. Summary: other than the fact that most of the (driving) sightseeing was rained out, it's been a good day (Bran Castle) and fabulous evening at the Citadel. Rain is forecast for overnight. (BB,D) Hotel: Aro Palace. (107 miles) Summary: Good day despite the rain but I really wish we had had good weather.
Check Elisabetha Bathory on the 'net. Referenced by the guide during our Bran Castle tour. Count Vlad and son Count Dracula had a history of inhuman torture, but she was worse.
Day 20 (10), Monday, August 8 Brasov - Cluj-Napoca
Up at 6:30, on the bus at 8:30. Yes, it's still raining. Our guided tour features all the highlights of old Brasov (in the rain): the Black Church, Old Town Hall, Merchants' Hall and 15th century Monastery and School of St. Nicholas. Drive through the legendary heart of Transylvania. On to the fortified town of Sighisoara, the birthplace of Count Dracula. Legend has it that Dracula was born and baptized here in the Castle Chapel. Monica explains the background of the gory legends at their very source. It's the 4th of our arranged optional lunches but I passed on all of them. This would be a fabulous stop - if it were not cloudy with drizzle. I shoot about 50 pictures but none of them come out. (comments censored!) Then just as we leave the sun comes out but just for a while. I try some countryside pictures on the way. Enjoy a break at the county seat of Tirgu Mures before reaching Cluj. Included is a pleasant (20 minute) stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Overnight in Cluj. (BB,D) Hotel: Belvedere/Transilvania. (175 miles) Summary: The rain ruined this day at the Citadel!
Day 21 (11), Tuesday, August 9 Cluj-Napoca - Budapest, Hungary
Up at 6:30, breakfast is a bit limited since it's not a great big hotel and we are the only tour group), and on the bus at 8. Sometime about 6AM this morning early, a white van pulled alongside our tour bus, stopped there a few minutes, then moved on. When it was gone, so were two of the bus hubcaps. That's reminiscent of the gas siphoning in Sarajevo.
Something extremely unusual this morning - clear and cool. Wow! It's a long drive plus we have to go through Hungarian Customs which takes quite a while. (Change time zone and turn our watches back one hour.) We drop off Monica just before this. The landscape changes from the gentle rolling hills of the Western Carpathians into the fertile fields of East Hungary as we motor across the Romanian border into Hungary's Great Plain. Our scheduled optional lunch location cancelled out on us but we go to another and I get in on this one. Lunch isn't until 2pm (3pm).Really great Beef goulash soup in a small stew kettle. Excellent for only the equivalent of $3.50 We are supposed to get to the hotel at 5, but it isn't until about 6:15 (7:15). Perhaps join our traveling companions this evening for an optional Hungarian folklore performance (yes! … but it's not offered. (*$#(*&$#!!!! ). Dinner is at 7 (8) and the other option for the evening is the Illumination drive starting at 8:15. (BB,D) Hotel: Corinthia Aquincum Hotel (2 nights) (275 miles) Summary: driving day, but the Goulash was great!
OPTIONAL: Illumination Drive ($21) Enjoy a marvelous illumination tour of the city's historic center including the splendid panorama from Gellert Hill. (yes; I've done this before but it's nice) Nice evening and good weather though we lost about 20-30 minutes of tour when two members of the other group (2 Globus groups on the bus) didn't follow the guide and 'got lost.'
OPTIONAL: Hungarian Folklore Evening ($35) Dancers dressed in Hungarian costumes enliven our evening with a colorful folklore performance. (Yes but NOT OFFERED - comments censored!) There's supposed to be some folklore tomorrow with our optional dinner, but I remember this from the previous time in Budapest and it was fantastic. I was really looking forward to this one.
Day 22 (12), Wednesday, August 10 Budapest
Up at 6, on the bus at 8:30. Budapest - pronounced as Budapesht. Our good weather continues. A local expert explains the history and sights of the liveliest and most cosmopolitan metropolis of Eastern Europe. Castle Hill at the heart of Buda, the part of the city occupying the west bank of the Danube, is a good place to start. From the lacy lookout towers of Fishermen's Bastion, enjoy a panoramic view of the sprawling city, home to more than one-fifth of the Hungarian population. The 13th-century Matthias Coronation Church, the Citadel on Mount Gellert, and Heroes' Square are also on the agenda. While on the tour we see the sister cruise boat to the one I'll be on in October. It looks very nice, but it's so long that anyone will need to stop and rest if walking from one end to the other. The tour is over about 11:15. Email to friends in Vienna. We have the afternoon at leisure until 3:30 unless we are taking the boat cruise. The bus will take us back to the hotel then. Tonight, a delectable optional Hungarian specialty dinner leaving the hotel at 6:45; back about 10:30. (BB,OD) Summary: good day but not fantastic.
OPTIONAL: Danube Cruise ($50) An ideal complement to our Budapest visit. Board a boat for a cruise on the Danube and enjoy spectacular river views of the city's main sights. (No - I pass on this one since I'll be back here for the October Danube River trip, particularly for $50 even if there is a *light* snacks/lunch included.)
OPTIONAL: Parliament Building and Crown Jewels ($37) Guided visit of the impressive new-gothic House of Parliament, one of Budapest's most decorative structures and a dominant sight and symbol of the capital. The crown of St. Stephen, the patron of Hungary, is displayed here. (no - I've seen all this on my previous trip to Budapest.) Not offered / did not make.
OPTIONAL: Hungarian Dinner ($54) In a typical Hungarian restaurant, dine on a three-course dinner with drinks; try the goulash or select a dish from the international menu. There's a bit of folkdance/music, but not nearly as much as I would have liked; mostly just overloud music / noise / vocals (but good lighting for good pictures). At least the dinner is very good. (Yes)
Day 23 (13), Thursday, August 11 Budapest - Vienna, Austria
Up at 6, leave at 8:30. This morning, drive by way of the Austrian lowlands. Time for lunch in Eisenstadt, Burgenland's capital and hometown of the world-renowned composer Joseph Haydn. Here visit Esterhazy Palace (very nice place to visit and an excellent guide) and its huge 18th-century hall decorated with frescoes, stucco, and monochrome, where the talented composer conducted the court orchestra. Arrive in Vienna, once the center of the mighty Hapsburg Empire. Arrive about 4:30 - have time to email Christian and Erich. (BB,OD) Hotel: Hilton Vienna Danube (30 feet from the Danube?) (2 nights). (163 miles) Summary: could have been better if the schedule hadn't been reversed.
Traditionally the Heurigen Dinner is the "Farewell" dinner for the tour groups because the Dinner + Concert evening is over so late (and many people have VERY early departures the next day) and also because most of the tour groups will sign up for this dinner rather than the "combo" evening. However there was a conflict if availability somewhere so it was reversed.
OPTIONAL: Heurigen Dinner ($53) Done this three times but it's the only way to get a dinner here. I wish they had reversed the schedule with the Austrian dinner and concert tonight instead of tomorrow…or the Gypsy Evening as below which would have been even better. Off at 7 for this one. It's the same place as the first trip - Die Alte Presshaus - same as my first visit to Vienna. Very good dinner. I'm glad we didn't go to the same tavern as on my third trip.
OPTIONAL: Gypsy Evening ($52) Enjoy an unusual musical performance during this lively dinner party in downtown Vienna. I vote Yes - but NOT OFFERED.
Day 24 (14), Friday, August 12 Vienna
Up at 6. In Vienna for the 4th time. Standard tour, but I won't taking it. (BB)
OPTIONAL: Schonbrunn Palace ($44) Done this twice. No thanks.
OPTIONAL: Classical Austrian Dinner ($55) This famous restaurant, in former Austrian imperial hunting country, has hosted many illustrious people. Enjoy a fine four-course dinner. Conflict with other plans so not done.
OPTIONAL: Waltz and Operetta Concert ($55) Tried this once - only saw the 2nd half of the concert - from back of the room behind pillars. Heard the music but never saw anything. No thanks.
OPTIONAL: Imperial Highlights Tour ($30) NOT OFFERED.
This is at least the 3rd time I've been in Vienna, so instead of taking the scheduled sight-seeing, I'm meeting friends: Christian Anger and Erich Haiderer. It's my first time to meet Christian. He picked me up at the hotel at 8AM. It is only half an hour from his home. Then we had a look at his collection (as I said it's only half an hour away from my hotel) and I met some of his family. Then we went to see some historical places from the ancient Roman Empire (Carnuntum legion camp). After lunch, we were back between 12:00 and 12:30 into Vienna and went to the NHM Vienna to see the Vienna Meteorite Collection.
Later we met Erich and spent the rest of the day with him. When we finished our day, Christian brought me back to my hotel. Summary: Fantastic day.
Day 25 (15), Saturday, August 13 Depart Vienna
The homebound flight arrives the same day. (BB) Again not likely to get that breakfast due to early flight out...and it's that damn AlwaysLateHansa again. Brendan also fouls up again - even though I purchased my airline tickets through them, they have me as "no transfer" on the tour list. Fortunately the tickets show that they were purchased by Brendan so I get a "free" transfer to the airport. I have to get up at 4 for a 4:50 shuttle to the airport. Definitely no breakfast - as usual.
|7|| Latehansa 3543||Vienna - Frankfurt||7:30 AM - 8:55 AM||1:25||0:50
|8||Latehansa 440||Frankfurt - Houston||9:45 AM - 1:45 PM||11:00||13:15|
AlwaysLateHansa changed the departure time for the next flight - cutting off 20 minutes of my layover time. Not only that, but as usual, they take off from Vienna 20 minutes late. So much for any slack time. As usual, it's park the (arriving) planes way out in the airport "Siberia" and take a long slow bus ride to the main terminal - so that I have to go through passport control and security all over again. I almost don't make the connection - when I get to the check-in counter, they are already closing the aircraft door and about to pull the jetway back but the agent calls down to tell them to hold off for another minute. I'm the last one to board. At least I don't have a VAT refund this time.
Even assuming that AlwaysLateHansa gets here on time (zero chance) it will already be a long day: 17 hours so far and it's only 2PM. 2PM is when we get here - late again, and due to that I miss the local shuttle bus by 2 minutes and have to wait an hour for the next one … all thanks to AlwaysLateHansa.
Click to enlarge
|1||Latehansa LH9165||Houston-Chicago||7:04 AM - 9:33 AM||2:29||6:02|
|2||Latehansa LH9153||Chicago-Frankfurt||3:35 PM - 6:45 AM||8:10||2:15|
|3||Latehansa LH 6334||Frankfurt - Vienna||11:15 AM - 12:45 PM||1:30||0:45|
|4||Latehansa LH 6456||Vienna - Sarajevo||1:30 PM - 2:40 PM||1:10||22:21|
|5||Austrian Airlines #682||Zagreb - Vienna||8:40 - 9:35||0:55||0:55 |
|6||Austrian Airlines #801||Vienna - Athens||10:30 - 1:55||2:25||4:15|
|7|| Latehansa 3543||Vienna - Frankfurt||7:30 AM - 8:55 AM||1:25||0:50
|8||Latehansa 440||Frankfurt - Houston||9:45 AM - 1:45 PM||11:00||13:15|
Summary: I hate AlwaysLateHansa and won't take BrenDamn! Travel again. Hooray for Globus!!!
Included meals: 21 of 23 breakfasts, 16 of 19 promised of 23 dinners. "missing" dinners on the Brendan/Kompas part.
Sarajevo: Bosnian Dinner $37 yes NOT OFFERED
Dubrovnik: Afternoon boat cruise $38 yes NOT OFFERED
Bled: Afternoon boat ride etc. $38 yes yes
Slovenian Dinner $34 probably Insufficient Sign Up
Athens: Plaka with Dinner $68 yes Insufficient Sign Up
National Archaeological Museum $35 yes do it myself
Sofia: Bulgarian Evening $44 YES yes
National Historical Museum $25 doubtful no
Bucharest: An Evening with Romanian Soloists $33 YES NOT OFFERED
Cotroceni Palace $28 maybe yes
The Parliament Building $25 no no
Budapest: Danube Cruise $50 no no
Hungarian Dinner $54 yes yes
Hungarian Folklore Evening $35 YES NOT OFFERED
Illumination Drive $21 probably yes
Parliament Building/Crown Jewels $37 doubtful did not make
Vienna: Heurigen Dinner $53 no yes
Schonbrunn Palace $44 no no
Classical Austrian Dinner $55 see below pre-plans time conflict
Waltz and Operetta Concert $55 maybe as above
Gypsy Evening $52 YES NOT OFFERED
Imperial Highlights Tour $30 no NOT OFFERED
July 21, 22: Sarajevo, Bosnia: Hotel Grand:
Not all that grand but the room is clean. It's the better of the two larger hotels in town. Small but sufficient room. Bathroom is a bit better than being on a small ship, but not much. Twin bed - not bad but so low it's hard to get up from it. Meals with limited selection but good, both dinner and breakfast. Nice amount of lighting in the room as well. (Part 1 ranking: 4)
July 23, 24: Dubrovnik, Croatia: Hotel Argosy:
much, much larger - it's a huge complex - and nicer but the singles get put in the 'basement' floor way back to the back (the area is so seldom used that the corridor lights are set to only come on when movement is sensed) and we are hidden behind foliage with no view at all. Also there is almost no lighting in the room - very dark. Nice queen size bed. The WC is larger and IT HAS A/C - at least somewhat. Excellent buffet dinner and decent breakfast buffet. Some rooms the a/c is broken and we can't open the window, but the hotel is full so there is no place to move those people to another room. (Part 1 ranking: 2)
July 25: Split: Marjan Hotel:
the ONLY hotel in Split large enough for a group. Medium size basic room … but the A/C actually works and the room is COOL. Overlooks the harbor and not far from the Roman Palace complex. Good location. Good set-menu dinner. Narrow twin beds. Limited breakfast the next morning. (Part 1 ranking: 1)
July 26, 27: Plitvice Lakes: Hotel Jezero
Nice hotel layout, but the room is very small (decent WC area) but it's HOT and can only barely crack the window (one) open. Narrow twin beds. Good set menu dinner. Small gift shop, but that's all to do in the area but look at trees and lakes. Breakfast is a large continental buffet; no hot food except for the usual coffee. Too many problems with this hotel and staying here, particularly with no a/c and the power problems ruining my adapter. Singles are stuck on the side with no balcony (and door to open) and the minimal window. Mine is supposed to open in two different ways but the one which gives a wide opening is apparently broken. (Part 1 ranking: 5)
July 28, 29: Bled, Slovenia: Golf Hotel
Beautiful hotel and very nice room (by far the nicest so far but without a/c) but rude staff, failure to provide promised (buffet) dinner and extra charges for any water with any meals. After being here just one hour, I'm ready to go somewhere else. As usual, tour groups get the least desirable rooms since the hotel has given the tour company a discount. See also notes above. Decent buffet breakfast, however. (Part 1 ranking: 3 steps below Rock Bottom)
July 30 Zagreb, Croatia: Sheraton Zagreb (not what was originally scheduled)
Very nice hotel, air conditioned, very nice room. NO luggage delivery. Dinner elsewhere. Quick breakfast only (Part 1 ranking: 3)
July 31-Aug 1: Athens, Greece: Titania
Newly remodeled hotel and nice. Room is small but sufficient. VERY dark, however with minimal low wattage lights. Without outside daylight coming in, impossible to read … just enough light to move around. Unfortunately everything shuts off when we are not in the room (with room key card in a special slot) so no a/c and it gets really hot! I can't even recharge batteries - all the wall sockets shut off as well. All I can see from my window is a wall about 20 feet away with some more windows. At least it does have a/c. No dinners here; breakfasts (good) only. (Part 2 ranking: 4)
Aug 2 Thessaloniki: Capsis
Large hotel, 425 rooms. Almost didn't find the a/c but even when I do, there's no way to set the temps - controlled by the management, so it cools only slightly to save on expensive electricity. Nice room, just not very cool. The a/c is on a timer, apparently 8 hours. I turned it on just after 5, and when I wake up at 2 AM, the a/c is off and the room is VERY hot again. Good dinner in the hotel. 30 minute walk to the main square by the sea. (Part 2 ranking: 5)
Aug 3, 4: Sofia, Bulgaria: Kempinski Zografski.
Formerly a Japanese owned hotel, this one is very nice. Excellent room with a decent view of the city. Supposedly air-conditioned though it takes quite a while to find where to turn it on to start cooling the room but the system is all "down" and all the unit really does is make noise and circulate the very warm air. It's probably cooler outside. Excellent dinner and good breakfast but the hotel is 'demoted' to only 3 stars instead of 5. The staff promises that the a/c is/will be fixed, but it isn't until late on Thursday…then turned off for the night. Bah, humbug on a 5-star ranking. (Part 2 ranking: 6)
Aug 5, 6: Bucharest, Romania: Crowne Plaza
As expected from a Crowne Plaza, it's a beautiful hotel. It's not in downtown but out quite a bit in a residential area (with some other hotels). Good breakfast, and the a/c was on all night. (Part 2 ranking: 2)
Aug 7 Brasov, Aro Palace
"The best hotel in town." It's in 'beautiful downtown Brasov.' No a/c, but we were told this early but we don't need it - just leave the balcony door open. Decent room but the bed leaves something to be desired. It feels like a board with a *very* thin mattress. Think extra-firm. Small room which seems clean but the w/c is very cramped and has "this funny odor." Windows can open to get in fresh air. It's good that we're only here one night on that bed. Dinner is not here. (Part 2 ranking: 8)
Aug 8 Cluj-Napoca, Belvedere (Transilvania renamed?)
Again "the best hotel in town." No a/c, but we were told this early and again it's not necessary. Nicer hotel up on a hill with a good view. It's a long walk with many steps or a taxi ride to go back into town. Room is larger and better bed as well. Narrow twin beds. Corridor lights on motion sensors. It can be really dark when we first get off an elevator. (Part 2 ranking: 7)
Aug 9, 10 Budapest, Hungary: Corinthia Aquincum
Very nice hotel, in a residential area 6 miles from downtown. Very near the Danube River (not visible from my room). Twin beds. Very good dinner. Excellent breakfast buffet. It is a/c but not all that cool. (Part 2 ranking: 3)
Aug 11, 12 Vienna, Austria: Hilton Vienna Danube
Beautiful room and a bit of a view of the Danube River. Wish I could get the room cooler .. and finally do by turning the dial down really far; apparently it's been mis-installed. No dinners here in the hotel - Grinzing the first night and with friends the second night. Excellent breakfast buffet. (Part 2 ranking:1)