How to Prepare for a European River Cruise

A European River Cruise is a relaxing and romantic way to see the Old World ... photo by CC user  Rolf H and Aconcagua on wikimedia commons

Until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, most parts of Eastern Europe were sealed off from all forms of international tourism. Travelers have since discovered a vast array or cultural riches on the other side of of what was long known as the Iron Curtain. From the ornate cathedrals of Prague to the remnants of ancient castle along the banks of the legendary Danube, Eastern Europe contains countless treasures. One of the best ways to enjoy this part of the world is to take a river cruise where you can relax and watch the scenery go by during the day and experience Eastern Europe’s great cities during the evening. River cruises have gained significantly in popularity during the past several years, but because they offer a substantially different experience from ocean cruises, different preparation methods are necessary. Following are three strategies designed to optimize the European river cruise you’re planning.

Go for the Glitz

Unlike classic ocean cruises, river cruises stop at ports of call virtually every night. Because Eastern Europe has fabulous opera, fine dining, and other cultural and entertainment options that are worthy of full-on formal attire. Packing for an ocean cruise generally involves one formal night at dinner in the ship’s main dining room rather than off-board excursions to local nightlife. Even though you’ll be spending each night of a river cruise in a different city, most people prefer to take along more than one formal attire option. Enjoying an opera performance in Prague or dining at an exclusive restaurant in Budapest are experiences of a lifetime that deserve every ounce of glitz and polish that you can fit into a suitcase. Try for at least three formal options and bring enough accessories to change them up enough so that you’ll have a unique look for each occasion.

Bring Walking Clothes

You’ll also be spending more of the day on land on a river cruise than you would if you’d opted for a typical ocean cruise. Eastern Europe river cruises are all about exploring the individual ports of call instead of being on the open water. Ports such as Bucharest and Kiev have numerous ruins of old medieval castles that offer fascinating glimpses into life in the Middle Ages, but you’ll need good footwear to get the most out of the experience. Walking among ancient ruins does not involve comfortable, flat surfaces, so be sure to pack a pair of superior walking shoes and thick socks. Also, keep in mind that many of the streets in towns and cities situated on the riverbanks of countries like Slovakia and Croatia are narrow and winding passageways that often involve significant uphill and downhill terrain, so bring nonrestrictive clothing in breathable fabrics to pair with your sturdy walking shoes.

Take Healthcare Precautions

Certain destinations in Eastern Europe involve elevated risks of contracting diseases that are not commonplace in the United States. For instance, polio and typhoid have both surfaced in various parts of Eastern Europe, and yellow fever outbreaks have become so prevalent that Albany requires travelers to be vaccinated as a condition of being allowed to cross their borders if they are coming from countries where that disease has been found to be present.

It’s also a good idea to arrange for medical transport in the event that you become ill or injured while on a trip. Even though the likelihood of an emergency situation occurring is small, being prepared will streamline situations that require quick action and alleviate obstacles that cost substantial time and money.

It’s also important to be extra vigilant about personal cleanliness and hygiene while on a river cruise. River ships are smaller than ocean going vessels, which means that quarters are slightly more cramped. Use hand sanitizer liberally, particularly before meals after washing your hands thoroughly. Keep in mind that certain surfaces such as door handles and stairway railings are more likely to contain germs than others because they are touched much more frequently.

Above all, relax and take in every aspect of this enthralling part of the planet.

Top 10 City Destinations to Do On a Budget

Even in the city destinations to do on a budget, sights like this can still be seen.

City breaks are great value for money and the latest figures from ABTA show that more of us choose them than beach holidays. If you are on a budget it pays to shop around for the best deals. Buying airport car parking in advance works out cheaper, and car hire insurance is the best way to avoid paying high charges if your hire car is damaged or stolen. Our top ten city destinations to do on a budget are:

With its Art Nouveau architecture, romantic cafes and spa baths, Budapest is a wonderful destination at any time of the year. Walk across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to enjoy the best views of the Danube.

2. Vilnius
The medieval Old Town of Vilnius is home to the cathedral and the lakeside castle of Trakai. Lithuanian cuisine is excellent and calorific, so walk it off with a wander around Uzupis, Vilnius’s equivalent of Montmartre, with galleries, cafes and workshops.

3. Warsaw
Warsaw’s lively nightlife and fascinating Old Town make it a great place for a cheap break. Don’t miss the National Theatre, the Chopin Museum and the many memorials to the city’s wartime history.

Must-sees in Prague include the Art Deco architecture of the shopping arcades by Wenceslas Square. The Prague card covers entry to over 50 attractions, such as the Astronomical Clock, the Jewish Cemetery and Prague Castle.

In winter, the climate is balmy and although summer temperatures may soar, it is only 20 minutes drive to cool off at the beach. Must-sees: the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the 9th-century Castelo São Jorge.

Riga stands at the crossroads between east and west. Its lively nightlife makes it popular with stag and hen parties, and it offers visitors a dazzling variety of cuisines. Riga is surrounded by water, with the sea on one side and many lakes on the other.

Hotels in Tallin are excellent value and the food is perfect for visitors with hearty appetites. Tallin was the European City of Culture in 2014 and is renowned for its music and film festivals, which are among the best in Eastern Europe.

For many holidaymakers, the highlight of Dubrovnik is the 2km walk around the town’s ancient walls that offers views over rooftops, countryside and sea. Don’t miss a ride in the cable car to the top of Mount Srdj, or try sea-kayaking around the coast.

Istanbul is home to unique historical treasures such as the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman emperors. Take a Bosphorus tour to experience the beautiful views from the water. Enjoy traditional street food such as kebabs and don’t forget to treat yourself to some authentic Turkish delight!

Beer, moules, frites and chocolate are sure to play their part in your visit but don’t miss taking in a little culture. The Brussels card gives entry to a wide range of attractions, including the Magritte Museum and the Chocolate Museum.

Unlocking the Cultural Highlights of Slovenia

Slovenia is a country with a rich cultural heritage, which is continually nurtured and preserved. It is difficult to get a true feel for this nation’s complex tapestry by visiting one single area or attraction. A trip to Slovenia is best done by road; hiring a car is the ideal way of getting around and seeing many of the countries museums, castles, monuments and archeological sites and to really experience all that the country has to offer.

city in Slovenia

Preparation is essential

A journey on the open road calls for a little preparation in the form of drinks, snacks and the best vehicle for the job. Improvements in engineering, technology and styling have made modern cars a dream conveyance for long haul journeys in Europe. A reliable navigation system is a must; the majority of cars tend to have have inbuilt GPS devices, though they can often be hired for a small additional fee, along with high-spec music systems. Comfort is when long periods are to be spent in the vehicle especially for the driver. Some smaller vehicles can be somewhat cramped for backseat passengers, so be sure that everyone has sufficient legroom before making your final choice.

Although not essential, for families with young children, there is usually the option to rent a vehicle with split-screen and/or backseat monitors to keep them entertained. Fuel consumption is of paramount importance for those long journeys if the inconvenience of making multiple fuel stops is to be avoided, so be sure to check the fuel efficiency of the vehicles being considered.

Cost is arguably the most important factor to consider when it comes to hiring a vehicle; as well as additional insurance cover, which can affect the overall fees. Detailed planning for your trip can bring down costs significantly and make a considerable difference when it comes to choosing a particular vehicle.

The sights and secrets of Slovenia

Once the paperwork has been completed and the open road awaits there are a multitude of sights and attractions to explore in Slovenia that will unlock the cultural significance of the country. The National Museum, Museum of Natural History and Ethnographic Museum are among the highlights offering visitors a fascinating journey through the country’s history. Among the most popular attractions are the castles; the Bled, Pledjama and Celje’s Old Castle are all breathtaking to view and have magnificent histories to investigate.

Victims of war and major historical figures gain recognition in the majority of the memorials and monuments. Slovenia is rare in that it has monuments dedicated to local artists and historical figures rather than political leaders.

In many ways, Slovenia is one huge archaeological site; important historical remains are found during virtually every excavation project and the wealth of relics come from a variety of historical eras. Numerous finds are on view at one of the many archaeological parks and sites arranged for visitors across the country.

Slovenia offers more than just museums and monuments; however, the countryside is both unique and awe-inspiring and there is always something new to see. So, whether a first time visitor or a returning long-time fan of the country, rent a car and get to know the real Slovenia.


InterRailing on a budget: Across Europe by train

Exploring Europe by train is the best way to go!

Exploring Europe by train is the best way to go!

There has been a romance about traveling by rail ever since George Stephenson first unveiled his groundbreaking Rocket on England’s Stockton to Darlington rail line.

As the technology for engines and railroads spread to the US, opening up the country for development, and to many other countries, there are now iconic journeys that can be made in places such as Australia and Europe.

The Orient Express is one of those iconic rail journeys, redolent of the luxury enjoyed by the European aristocracy and now a fixture in the travel plans for those looking for a different vacation experience. Yet InterRailing is arguably the very best way to see Europe by train.

InterRail planning

Before traveling to Europe and going InterRailing it’s essential to plan the journey. There are some 30 countries in Europe that can be visited with an InterRail pass and everyone will have a different idea as to where they want to go.

For some it will be the iconic cities of Paris, London, Prague, Istanbul, and for others it will be a chance to explore countries that their ancestors may have come from.

The enormous range of choice for destinations and types of train makes this completely different from simply flying in to a destination. Of course, flying is fast and generally convenient, but taking the railways gives a whole different sense of what traveling is about.

Firstly, there is the opportunity to really see the countryside, towns and villages of so many different nations. Even the change from England to France is mesmerizing, and then traveling on to countries such as Switzerland and onward to Italy or Austria reveal stunning landscapes that simply can’t be experienced by air. Of course they can be experience by car, but that requires knowing the various driving regulations of each country and putting in a hard day’s driving just to get somewhere new.

InterRailing completely takes the hassle out of traveling, letting vacationers sit back as the train takes the strain and stopping and staying in fascinating places that might otherwise never have been experienced.

InterRail Pass

There are number of different InterRail Passes that save lots of money, so the planning is essential. Those who want to visit one country can get a One Country Pass and can buy additional One Country Passes to visit more countries.

For those who really want to explore Europe in depth a Global Pass is the best. It’s an amazingly cheap way of getting all over the continent and a thrilling expedition of exploration for children as well as adults. Passes for seniors aged 60 plus, for youths aged 25 and under, and for children aged 4-11 years are all discounted.

Emergency money transfers

It can happen to anyone. Money runs short and funds are needed quickly. Setting up with a money transfer specialist such as Trans-Fast means that an order for transfer can be given quickly and money is sent extremely quickly, at a low cost, ensuring the vacation can continue without further disruption.