An Online Primer for Budget Exploration
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I. THE PLAN
WHERE should you go? (continued)
As for the east, with so many things changing, it is hard and probably not wise to make even generalizations. But I will anyway. Accommodations may be difficult to find at times, and budgeteers will mostly use camping or rooms in private homes. Here, more than in the west, you need good planning, but it is also a good opportunity to look back and see how the west of Europe looked twenty to forty years ago. Visa requirements have been relaxed in most countries but you should still get updated on the latest conditions. Some governments will have a web site listing visa requirements for their citizens, such as the US Department of State site at (http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html); the Canadian government suggests you consult a travel agent. Of course individual countries will list visa requirements on their respective websites.
Hungary is the dark horse in the group. It is small, flat, has good food and a wonderful city in Budapest. It's one of those things: I just love little Hungary. The people are often endearing, shy and possess a special charm outside the busy capital. They can also be, on rare occasion, boorish, especially the men. Hungarians remained the most distant from their Soviet oppressors and made one of the more successful and painless transitions to a western-style economy and political system.
Poland is lovable, generally. The people have always defied the Russians and although extremely poor, sometimes seedy and tacky, there is a spirit for living here that is endearing. The vodka is good but beware the spiritus (190 proof). The mountains in the south are pretty and Cracow is a wonderful old city. Again, infrastructure problems can be acute, especially in crowded summers. You will need lots of time here. If you are of Polish decent, you got no worries. Well, actually, different worries...
Adjacent Albania, Europe's poorest country, offers a good experience for those who want to see Europe as it was well over 40 years ago, but travel there will not be of the carefree and footloose type. It's rugged, mountainous, and rebuilding, slowly.
Then there is the rest of the east, the dysfunctional family of the old Soviet Union, unfairly lumped here because I am running out of room. It has been interesting to see how individual nations and ethnic groups assert themselves. You will need to constantly keep abreast of events and keep a close ear to the travelers' grapevine. At the moment, money talks (dollars and Deutschemarks especially) and you should be able to buy whatever you want. Tourist infrastructure is a problem in many areas and it is hard to predict what will happen next. The Baltics are sorting themselves out and present charming destinations. Ukraine, especially the south, has some interesting offerings. Russia itself is vast and open, often confusing and frustrating, but not at all lacking in possibilities. The typical Russian is quite a wonderful host, and keen to learn about life on the outside. Keep up with government advisories for the countries on the southern end, such as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Stans. It will take several years for things to settle down in the region. Most are impoverished and petty crime abounds. In general, these countries do not offer the carefree travel bliss of lands to the west, but are fully deserving of a visit. They just need a bit of extra planning and care.
Estonia: www.visitestonia.com/ | Latvia: http://latviatourism.lv/ | Lithuania: www.travel.lt/
There are plenty of other websites with specialized information on the country of your choice. University students can get information from the campus student travel office. As you talk with people it will be obvious that everyone has their own biases, and no one will agree totally (or at all...) with my assessments above.
Make a rough itinerary but keep it flexible. This is crucial; count on your plans changing at least once or twice a week. Keep focused on the main point, which is (hopefully) to have fun and maybe learn a little.
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