(Rail)tripping in E. Europe

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Merseysider

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Hello folks :)

I'd like to hear your experiences of travelling (bonus points if by rail) in Eastern Europe, and any recommendations of journeys worth doing or areas worth visiting.

Through a stroke of luck I'm able to fit in an extra holiday in Autumn/Winter and due to the low cost of travel to/from places like Budapest, I can afford to spend a week away from home (excluding Russia due to visa costs and Lithuania as I've already visited).

I have a particular interest in countries with cultural links to the Ottoman Empire. I'd also like to visit Albania but it appears to be rather expensive/difficult to access, with no international rail links.

However, a trip to Hungary's capital is all I've decided upon so far and what I do after that is completely undecided. Please, if you've been east of Germany/Italy, I'd love to hear about it :)

Jake
 
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NicholasNCE

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If you are interested in Ottoman heritage, you should be looking at the Balkans and specifically Bosnia with its Ottoman era old towns. Obviously, modern history is equally present with many scars remaining from the devastating 1990's war.

I visited Sarajevo and Mostar by train in summer 2014 and it was a beautiful experience, great place, extremely welcoming and ... cheap (€5/night in peak summer months in Sarajevo!).

If you want to see Budapest, you could plan to fly in to BUD (many LCCs) followed by a train down to Zagreb then onwards to Sarajevo (one train per day, slow but great experience) and maybe then down to Mostar (hopefully the line will have reopened by then, the scenery is breathtaking as the train skirts the Neretva river through deep gorges) and flying back from Split if you're not too late in the season. A variant would be to head over to Belgrade (another great place to spend a few days) from Sarajevo by bus and fly back from there.
You might be cutting it short in a week, but the Bar-Belgrade line is another must-see in the region.

For reference, my routing was: ... > Ljubljana(SL) > Zagreb(HR) > Sarajevo(BA) > Mostar(BA) > Dubrovnik(HR) > Kotor(ME) > Bar(ME) > Belgrade(RS) > Timisoara(RO) > ...

Feel free to ask more details, I would be more than happy to help! :)
 
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Ash Bridge

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If you find yourself in Bulgaria, I made a day trip last April from Sofia to Koprivshtitsa, departing mid morning from Central Station the journey took about 2.5 hours and is quite scenic once you've well away from the Sofia suburbs.

On arrival at Koprivshtitsa Station there is an infrequent shuttle bus to the town itself (its location is somewhat similar to Bodmin Parkway and Bodmin in Cornwall) a few Kilometres away which is situated in the Sredna Gora mountains.

Koprivshtitsa was one of the centres of the April Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1876, it was also here that the first shots were fired during that year, it is an interesting place to visit with its preserved architecture and there are several small hotels/B&B's should you wish to stop over, although the trains are nicely timed for a day visit (if not that frequent) regarding the journey I saw several class 87's, a 92 and a Ludmilla diesel electric at locations on the way, and the former German rolling stock used on this service smells and sounds just like early type1 bogied BR Mk1's :)
 

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lemonic

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Budapest is an amazing city, but if you want to make the most of the city, I think you really need at least 3 days there. This may not be exactly what you're looking for, but if I was in your position I'd probably do Budapest (3 days) - Bratislava (1 day) - Prague (3 days), although you could miss out Bratislava if there wasn't time to visit there. Like Budapest, Prague is another great city that is well worth visiting.

If going south/east of Budapest, then the public transport will be slow, but I think you could probably fit in one or two more cities in a week instead of Bratislava/Prague. e.g. Budapest to Zagreb is 7 hours on the train. Zagreb is nice but probably only worth a day or two.
 

fowler9

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I was in Budapest last week. Got a 72 hour travel pass for 4150 Forints which works out something around £13. Valid on all the buses, trains, trams, trolley busses, ferries etc. Excellent service, stunning city, up there with Prague, Krakow etc. out that way. Didn't do any proper train travel alas but it was more of a sightseeing trip to the one place. Keleti Station was brilliant though. All kinds of loco hauled stuff going on. Met an English chap and his Serbian girlfriend who were getting the train to Belgrade the next day. Can't remember the details but it sounded cheap and straight forward.

I have travelled more by train further north to be honest so not much use to you there. Budapest is amazing though.
 

70014IronDuke

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If you are interested in Ottoman heritage, you should be looking at the Balkans and specifically Bosnia with its Ottoman era old towns. Obviously, modern history is equally present with many scars remaining from the devastating 1990's war.

I visited Sarajevo and Mostar by train in summer 2014 and it was a beautiful experience, great place, extremely welcoming and ... cheap (€5/night in peak summer months in Sarajevo!).

If you want to see Budapest, you could plan to fly in to BUD (many LCCs) followed by a train down to Zagreb then onwards to Sarajevo (one train per day, slow but great experience) and maybe then down to Mostar (hopefully the line will have reopened by then, the scenery is breathtaking as the train skirts the Neretva river through deep gorges) and flying back from Split if you're not too late in the season. A variant would be to head over to Belgrade (another great place to spend a few days) from Sarajevo by bus and fly back from there.
You might be cutting it short in a week, but the Bar-Belgrade line is another must-see in the region.

For reference, my routing was: ... > Ljubljana(SL) > Zagreb(HR) > Sarajevo(BA) > Mostar(BA) > Dubrovnik(HR) > Kotor(ME) > Bar(ME) > Belgrade(RS) > Timisoara(RO) > ...

Feel free to ask more details, I would be more than happy to help! :)

Honestly - this advice says it all. Sarajevo is the second most interesting city in Europe. (No, I'm not letting on on the first, I don't want too many folks going there, not that they will :) )

Of the other replies, of course, Bulgaria has some of what you say you want.

You could always fly back from Belgrade, or Timisoara (a great city! - served by Wizz, I think.)

Some Ottoman stuff - not much - in Budapest, but north of there? Forget it. Prague and Bratislava (and Brno, Breclav, and Ostrava etc) have their attractions - but they are not what you specify.
 

fowler9

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NicholasNCE any info on your trip would be much appreciated. Train fares, how you organised it etc.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Honestly - this advice says it all. Sarajevo is the second most interesting city in Europe. (No, I'm not letting on on the first, I don't want too many folks going there, not that they will :) )

Of the other replies, of course, Bulgaria has some of what you say you want.

You could always fly back from Belgrade, or Timisoara (a great city! - served by Wizz, I think.)

Some Ottoman stuff - not much - in Budapest, but north of there? Forget it. Prague and Bratislava (and Brno, Breclav, and Ostrava etc) have their attractions - but they are not what you specify.

Please tell me the first. Ha ha. Any info about travelling around that area would be great. (Even if the first is not in that area, ha ha).
 

Ianigsy

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I visited Hungary about six years ago - I'd suggest Pecs as somewhere to look at as well, as there's a well-preserved 16th century hammam and the main church in the town centre was converted from a mosque.

There were some interesting train movements going on as it's on the route from Budapest to Osijek and Sarajevo so there were a few international trains working through and changing locos as it's where the Hungarian electric network begins. It looks from the MAV website as though the border crossing is now closed, though, and the international trains have been diverted away if they run at all. Still plenty of international traffic at Budapest, though- one of the highlights of waiting at Keleti was the arrival of the sleeper from Moscow with Russian and Ukrainian carriages, some of them through to Belgrade, and a little flatiron electric shunter frantically reorganising them all. Looks as if the Prague-Thessaloniki EC has well and truly bitten the dust, though.
 

NicholasNCE

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Travelling round SE-Europe is a rather relaxed experience so no need to plan everything in minute detail, leave some room for the unexpected! Fares are strictly distance-based and so you're best buying at the station just before boarding. You can get away with English pretty much everywhere and people are usually happy to help.
I still remember the waiter in a small pizza restaurant being offended when I asked if he spoke English, of course he did was the answer!

Timetables are available on Hafas-based websites (bahn.de, sbb.ch, etc..) but don't expect perfect timekeeping, the main being that frequencies are extremely low (1tpd Zagreb > Sarajevo, 2tpd Sarajevo > Mostar for example) so you don't want to miss that one train.

As usual, seat61.com provides a good deal of up-to-date information.

I wrote up three trip-reports (in French) available here (registration required):
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...4381-le-long-de-la-save-de-ljubljana-à-zagreb
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...441-au-coeur-des-balkans-de-zagreb-à-sarajevo
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...441-au-coeur-des-balkans-de-zagreb-à-sarajevo
 

fowler9

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Travelling round SE-Europe is a rather relaxed experience so no need to plan everything in minute detail, leave some room for the unexpected! Fares are strictly distance-based and so you're best buying at the station just before boarding. You can get away with English pretty much everywhere and people are usually happy to help.
I still remember the waiter in a small pizza restaurant being offended when I asked if he spoke English, of course he did was the answer!

Timetables are available on Hafas-based websites (bahn.de, sbb.ch, etc..) but don't expect perfect timekeeping, the main being that frequencies are extremely low (1tpd Zagreb > Sarajevo, 2tpd Sarajevo > Mostar for example) so you don't want to miss that one train.

As usual, seat61.com provides a good deal of up-to-date information.

I wrote up three trip-reports (in French) available here (registration required):
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...4381-le-long-de-la-save-de-ljubljana-à-zagreb
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...441-au-coeur-des-balkans-de-zagreb-à-sarajevo
http://www.trains-en-voyage.com/for...441-au-coeur-des-balkans-de-zagreb-à-sarajevo

Thanks for the tips. Very much appreciated. :D
 
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