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The Jewels of Eastern Europe - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Eastern Europe, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for The Jewels of Eastern Europe Tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Eastern European adventure.
Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic are 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States. Like most European countries, these three countries have daylight savings time which lasts from April to September. It moves its clocks ahead an hour in late spring and an hour back in the fall, corresponding roughly to daylight saving time in the United States, but the exact dates vary. When it's noon in Budapest, Vienna or Prague, it's 6 a.m. in New York and 3 a.m. in San Francisco.
There are many great souvenirs to bring back with you from Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic, so make sure you have space left in your suitcase and pack light. You do not need formal clothing for this trip. Some people like to dress up if they are visiting high-end restaurants or attending classical music concerts, but this is optional. They only ask that you don't wear sneakers or jeans.
Visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport, but visas are not required for Americans, Canadians or Australians visiting for less than 3 months. If you are a citizen of another E.U. country, you do not need a passport, only an identity card. Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the date you intend to leave the European Union. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another in your suitcase.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts in Budapest International Airport (airport code BUD) and ends in Prague, the Czech Republic (airport code PRG). The tour starts in Budapest, Hungary on Monday, June 10, 2019 at 4:00PM, and your flight should arrive no later than 2:00PM. That means that you'll probably depart North America on Sunday, June 9, 2019. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for private airport transfers on arrival in accordance with your flight arrival time, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Budapest. The tour will end in Prague on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, we'll arrange for a private airport transfer in accordance with your flight departure time. If you need help with your flights to Budapest and/or from Prague, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones) drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Eastern Europe tour group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. However, because we have only 12 rooms available on this tour, if there are a lot of people requesting a single room, we may have a smaller group. In addition to the tour director, the travelers will be assisted by private local guides, museum docents and bus drivers, who will be sharing their insights about Budapest, Vienna and Prague with the group throughout the tour.
Eastern Europe doesn't present any major health problems for travelers. You don't need shots, most food is safe, and the water is theoretically potable, but it's safest to stick to bottled water. The CDC warns travelers not to eat food purchased from street vendors to reduce risk of hepatitis A and typhoid fever. You should also avoid unpasteurized dairy products in the Czech Republic and Hungary. All destinations have English-speaking doctors at hospitals with well-trained staff, however, the quality of treatments and drugs availability varies. Travelers from Canada and the United States must pay for medical services rendered, but will be reimbursed by their travel insurance. There are very few health problems encountered while traveling in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels. Otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name. Eastern European food tends to be hearty and heavy and not advisable for anyone on a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet. Vegetarian restaurants are few and far between, but the large cities (Budapest, Vienna and Prague) have more options.
Prague: tap water is fine to drink, but most restaurants won't serve it, preferring instead to serve mineral water. Carbonated water is "voda s bublínkami" and still water is "voda bez bublínek". Vienna: tap water labelled “Trinkwasser” (drinking water) makes it clear that you can drink it. Budapest: you will see plenty of people drinking bottled water, but water from the faucet is completely safe to drink. It is just a matter of personal preference.
All toilets in Eastern Europe are Western style, but quite often you need to pay the attendant a small fee to use the facilities, so it's handy to have some coins on you: 50Ft - 100Ft in Budapest, 50c to 1€ in Vienna and 5Kc - 10Kc in Prague. The attendant will have a saucer where you put your money, and he or she ensures that the toilets are clean. You should also have extra toilet paper with you, as what is provided is usually minimal.
Budapest, Vienna and Prague are generally safe cities for tourists, but you should exercise the same caution you would in any unfamiliar city and always be aware of your surroundings when walking in less trafficked areas or at night. In general, visitors should carry limited cash and credit cards and should leave extra cash, credit cards, and personal documents in the hotel safe, as there are problems with pickpockets on crowded buses, trams and on the metro. Taking a few simple precautions will minimize travelers’ chances of being ripped off. Photocopy your passport, credit cards, plane tickets, driver’s license, and other important documents – leave one copy at home and keep another one with you, separate from the originals. A hidden money belt remains the safest way to carry money and valuable documents. Take only what you need on busy sightseeing days and use the hotel safe. Due to some political issues, there have been demonstrations in Budapest recently. They tend to localize in front of Parliament and at Heroes' Square. Drinking alcohol on a street or on public transportation is illegal in Hungary.
During The Jewels of Eastern Europe Tour, we will travel by a private bus. We will also walk a lot. One day, we will be taking a Danube Bend cruise from Melk to Krems in Austria. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 5 miles throughout the day, sometimes on cobbled streets and uneven surfaces. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is busy. You must be prepared for a couple of full days and some early starts.
Eastern Europe has a Continental Pannonian climate, with low rainfall, hot summers and mild winters. July and August are the hottest months (average temperature 78°F) in Eastern Europe. The best time to visit begins in May and lasts through mid-October, when it gets rainy and cold. In June, Eastern Europe experiences relatively warm and sunny days, with highs in the low to mid 70's and lows in the 50's.
Eastern Europe's cities have Internet access available in internet cafes, hotel lobbies and in some public places. Internet access in rural areas may be available, but it varies widely. Cellular phone coverage is generally very good in Eastern Europe's cities and metropolitan areas, although expect limited coverage in remote or mountainous areas. All hotels where we’ll be staying have WiFi Internet available for their guests.
Voltage in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic is 220 volts AC (50 cycles) and the plug is the typical European plug with two round prongs. Many stores in North America sell the appropriate transformers and adapters, and they can also be purchased on arrival at the Budapest airport. If you bring a hair dryer, it should be a dual-voltage one, and you'll need an adapter plug. Any heat generating appliances that you bring need a transformer, and they may still not work properly with the different voltage.
Hungarian is one of the most difficult European languages. In Budapest, people who commonly come in contact with foreign tourists (guides, hotel staff) will speak English. It is less likely that you'll be able to communicate in English at places geared to locals (grocery and department stores, public transportation). Most young people, though, will speak some English, although they may not be fluent. German may also prove useful, particularly with older people.
The language Spoken in Vienna is German. However, English is commonly spoken throughout the country since English is taught in elementary and high schools. Especially the people who come in contact with tourists will be able to communicate with you in English.
Czech is a Slavic language, a distant cousin to Russian but more similar to Slovak and Polish. Nearly anyone who works in a hotel, restaurant or tourist center will be able to speak at least some English. Everyone under the age of 30 has had (in theory) several years of English instruction at school. German may also prove useful, particularly with older people.
While all three countries: Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic are members of the European Union, only Austria uses the single European currency, the Euro. Hungary uses the Forint, and the Czech Republic uses the Koruna. Nonetheless, many hotels and restaurants in both Hungary and the Czech Republic have been quoting their prices in both Euros and the local currencies for years, a practice that sometimes confuses tourists. No matter how prices are listed, most establishments will accept payment in the local currency, and you'll get a more favorable conversion rate if you pay with local cash. In Eastern European cities, the easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), commonly referred to as a "bancomat" in Eastern Europe. Be sure you know your 4-digit personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. You should also notify your bank that you'll be traveling internationally, so your card does not get blocked for suspicious activity. Remember however, that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. When you use a credit card to make a transaction, the cashier may give you a machine. If it is a debit card, enter your pin code. If it is a credit card, just press the green button, which authorizes the sale. If asked if you want to have the charge calculated in dollars or in local currency, choose the local currency which will end up costing you less.
The basic unit of currency in Hungary is the forint (Ft or HUF). Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Ft. Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 Ft. As of November 15, 2009, 200 Ft paper notes are no longer legal tender. If you are approached on the street to change money, just walk away; it is illegal. You should carry the exchange rate cheat sheet from which we send prior to the tour: when you get to an ATM, you may lose all sense of how much money to withdraw because all the zeros throw people off.
The Euro, the new single European currency, is the official currency of Austria. Each Euro is divided into 100 Eurocents. Some people like to bring local currency with them when traveling to a foreign country, but it is not needed, and depends on what you're comfortable with. We believe that the easiest way to get local currency is at an ATM. ATMs are common throughout Austria. You'll find them inside and outside all banks, in major shopping centers, in supermarkets and gas stations. NOTE: To get the best rate of exchange, use your credit cards whenever possible. They virtually always offer the best exchange rate, and there's no accompanying service charge.
THE CZECH REPUBLIC
The Czech currency is the crown (koruna in Czech). It is usually noted as "Kc" in shops and "CZK" in banks. One crown, in theory, is divided into 100 haler, though halers no longer circulate. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 crowns. Bills come in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, and 5,000 crowns. The euro is sometimes accepted at large hotels and larger shops. Many hotels list their rates in euros for the convenience of foreign guests. Credit and debit cards are increasingly common and many shops, restaurants and hotels accept them. Stores may impose a minimum purchase amount for using a card. Only large banks will cash travelers' checks; hotels and restaurants are not likely to accept them.
As members of the European Union, Hungary, as well as Austria and the Czech Republic impose a value-added tax on most goods and services. The VAT in Hungary is 18% to 27%, in Austria it's 20% and in the Czech Republic it's 10% to 21%. The VAT is already included in the displayed price. Visitors from outside the EU can get VAT tax refund at the airport when departing the European Union, but the minimum that you must spend at one store to obtain the refund is about 80Euro, but it varies by country. The VAT refunds are not made for services. To get a VAT refund on purchases that qualify, present your passport to the salesperson and ask for the special stamped form. Present the form with your purchases at the booth marked IVA Tax Refunds at the airport, as you leave the EU. Your refund should arrive by check or be credited to your credit card within a few weeks. Not all stores participate in this scheme, so it pays to ask first, particularly for major purchases.
The favorite articles to buy in Hungary are: Hungarian handicrafts, such as pottery and porcelain; lace and embroidery on shirts, skirts, dresses, jackets, bedding, tablecloths, cushions and tapestries; antiques and Hungarian glass. The most famous place to shop in Hungary is the Central Market in Budapest, where you can find not only the handicrafts, but also a variety of typical Hungarian foodstuffs: spices, pate, salami, paprika, chocolates filled with cherries and cognac, wines and liqueurs, etc.
Austria also has a rich selection of souvenirs: Swarovski crystals and other collectables, nativity scenes and Christmas ornaments, coffee, porcelain and glass, (factory sealed) Sacher torte, schnapps liquors such as, Spätleese and other dessert wines, Styrian pumpkin seed oil, Mozart balls and the confectionaries of Demel and other famous chocolatiers also make a classy souvenir.
For something truly Czech look for handmade goods: lace, wooden dolls and marionette puppets, hand painted eggs, semi-precious stones like garnets, amber, glass and crystal, herbal Becherovka vodka, Art Nouveau reproductions by Alphons Mucha, and linden tree perfume.
Restaurants', drivers' and guides' gratuities are included in the Jewels of Eastern Europe tour price. While dining on your own, it's expected that Americans tip 10% or more of the bill. Quite often, the waiter will inform you that he/she cannot accept tip in credit card charge, only in cash.