Europe, Travel Tips

Tour Review: Busabout


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I thought I’d take some time to write up a review of the bus tour I took a few weeks ago.

This trip is the first big one I’ve taken by myself and so I thought it would be a good idea to start off with a tour. After, quite a lot of research, I decided on the Busabout tour that started in Prague and ended in Split, Croatia.

The tour lasted a total of nine days and we had the chance to visit Prague, Kutna Hora, Olomouc, Auschwitz, Krakow, Zakopane, Budapest, Plitvice Lakes and Split. All for a total of £565 (about $700).

Overall I think the tour was well-worth the money and I’m really happy I did it. This is mainly because I got the chance to do things that I would have been able to do on my own: drink in Stalin’s plane in the Czech Republic or ride in a Soviet tank in Slovakia.

Before I started the tour, I was really worried that I would go stir-crazy on a bus for nine days, but the bus was actually really nice. The front section had groups of four seats placed around a table, so we could play cards to pass the time. We took turns playing our iPods over the bus’ sound-system and it was kept nice and cold. The best part was that we never drove longer than two hours without stopping to stretch our legs or go for a pee break.

Our Australian tour guide also tried hard to take us to the restaurants and bars that the locals would visit so that we had a really good feel for the local cuisine.

The people on my tour were also really nice, most of them were Australian as well and many hand been travelling for a while already. Being able to hang out with the same people for a week is a real luxury while you’re travelling, I’ve come to discover.

Of course, there are always some downsides to joining a big tour: the main one is that you don’t really get enough time in any one place. This became really clear for me in Krakow, when I got food poisoning the first night and I missed out on the bike tour of the city, tour of a nearby salt mine and dinner in the old Jewish district the next day. Pretty much all I saw was the castle that was a few blocks away from my hostel. This means that I will definitely have to go back to Krakow.

If you are thinking of doing a bus tour, I would recommend you research the tour that is right for you. I chose Busabout because it was the cheapest I could find and also catered to the 18-29 age group. (There was one older couple who were nearing retirement age, but they worked hard to be sociable so it was fine.) I also liked that Busabout had a good selection of tours that catered only to Eastern Europe as I had already been to most of Western Europe on my own. After the tour, I think I got good value for my money, with breakfast and accommodation as well as several tours included in the price.

Croatia, Europe

Soaking up the sun in Croatia


Today I had another beautiful day in Croatia. I’m really starting to believe it’s the most beautiful country in the world. I’ve been here six days already and have another two days to go.

I arrived with my bus tour on Thursday and we spent the night camping just outside of Plitvice National Park before heading to the park at 8 a.m. the next morning.

Several people had told me that I had to visit this park while I was in Croatia and it did not disappoint. A UNESCO world heritage site, the park has 16 amazingly blue lakes that run into one another with spectacular water falls. As we walked through the park, the colour of the water went from aqua blue to royal blue to turquoise to teal. I never saw that before.

From Plitvice, we went to Split for a night. I’m actually back there now and I really love the vibe of the city. The city is centred around a Roman ruin called Diocletian’s Palace and there is a port all along the main street. The area has many nice little cafes and terraces.


After my first night in Split, I took the bus to Dubrovnik and spent two days there. The bus leaves every hour and takes about four hours to get to Dubrovnik. The ride costs 140 Kuna (20 Euros) and the bus goes through Bosnia, so you need to take your passport on board with you. The buses are air-conditioned and it is not a bad way to travel.

Dubrovnik is definitely the prettiest city I have ever visited. The Old City is built into a little piece of land between mountains and the Adriatic sea and it completely encircled by a wall. It is one of the last remaining walled-cities in the world. The houses are also very pretty with white walls and red, clay roofs. The one down side of Dubrovnik is all the tourists.


If you do visit the city, I would highly recommend visiting the tourist sites as early in the morning as possible. Firstly, to beat the crowds and secondly to beat the heat. The main tourist attraction is to walk the city walls. It normally costs 70 Kuna (10 Euros) for adults and 30 Kuna for students (4 Euros), but it’s possible to walk a section for free. If you head to the north-east side of the city you will find stairs leading up to the walls. You can walk about 100 along the walls metres to the next staircase and not pay.

Also, if you plan to go in the sea in Dubrovnik, I would recommend visiting one of the two cafes in the Old Town that have access to the water. Your hostel should tell you where they are. The main beach is not very big and it gets crowded very quickly.

Back in Split, I got the chance to visit some of the nice areas around the city. Yesterday, I went to Krka, a national park that includes a lake with waterfalls where you can actually swim. The water is super rocky though so bring flip-flops. The park costs 95 Kuna or 70 for students and there are usually day trips leaving from the main dock or you could rent a car. It’s about an hour from Split.

Today, I took a ferry out to Brac island. It’s a 50 minute ride from Split and has one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. The sea is a bit cool to when you first get in, but gets really comfortable quickly. Again the beach is rocks instead of sand, so be ready. The beach is a good 40 minute ride from the docks on Brac island. There is a bus, but I would recommend splurging on a taxi. It’s worth the extra beach time.

 

Europe, Hungary, Slovakia

End of the tour – Slovakia and Budapest


So it’s been a few days since I last updated all of you. I’ve had an absolute blast in that time. The highlight of the past few days was riding in a Soviet tank in Slovakia…. Yes, a real tank.

As part of my tour, my tour guide arranged for us to be driven in a Soviet tank, by a Slovakian man in a commander uniform. The roof and gun of the tank had been cut off and about five bars were installed along the body of the tank so that passengers could hold on. We piled in about 15 people at a time and drove around rough terrain, through a lake and ripped up a forest. I will upload a photo when I have a chance to edit them all.

After Slovakia, we went to Budapest. The city has some of the loveliest buildings I have ever seen. My absolute favourite was the Houses of Parliament:

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I took this photo while on a boat cruise on the Danube. I didn’t get much time in the city, but I had a chance to visit the castle and go to the market.

The highlight of the trip was getting to visit a thermal bath on my last night in the city. The bath was housed in an 18th-century yellow building and the baths ranged in temperature from 18 C to 40 C. There was also a sauna that went up to 80 C. I’ve never experienced heat that intense before. By the time I left, I felt very refreshed. If you ever get a chance to visit, make sure to go after 7 p.m. The entrance price goes down to 2900 HOF (about 9.50 Euros.)

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Poland

Stepping into history- A visit to Auschwitz


Two days ago, I had the chance to visit Auschwitz for an afternoon. The experience really affected me and has given me a new appreciation for the Holocaust survivors.
I learned all about it in history class, but actually being there had a much greater impact on me. I almost wish I had gone several years ago.
I highly recommend you all go if you have the chance. I’m only going to tell you a few stories because I don’t want to take away from the experience for any of you.

The main parts the stick in my mind are seeing the piles of possessions of victims that were found when the Soviets arrived at the camp.
The most shocking one was 7,000 kilograms of hair that had been shaved off the victims’ head. (The Nazis intended to use the hair to make cloth).
We walked through a large room filled with tens of thousands of pairs of shoes.
We went into the bunkers and saw the wooden planks stacked three-high where the Jews slept. The guide told us that anyone who was strong enough would scramble to the top bunk because the bottom one had rats, as well as the excrement from the people above… Everyone was too sick to control their bodily functions.
The last story I’ll share was the one we heard in the latrine room. It was a 20-metre long room filled with holes cut into a long wooden plank. The Jews were only allowed to use the latrine once in the morning and once at night and they were only allowed 10 seconds to relieve themselves. So the ground would have been covered with shit and pee.

When you visit the site you get a guide and they show you around Auschwitz I and II. I didn’t realise that there were actually three Auschwitz camps. The killing happened mainly at Auschwitz II- Birkenau (960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, 19,000 Romas.)

The original camp was built in an old military barracks, so the facilities were marginally better than Auschwitz II because at least the buildings had insulation.

I really can’t stress how much the day affected me. If you get the chance, visit the camps.