I travelled through six countries in Eastern Europe recently with a really great guide and sixteen other Aussies. All aspects of the trip - itinerary and arrangements - allowed the right combination of organised activities and time to explore. We could spend the entirety of our free days in art museums, or we could walk or shop. The tour group size encouraged positive interaction and cohesion, often everyone chose to eat together in the evenings. People were helpful and considerate: no one was habitually late or antisocial.
All the hotels were comfortable, and well-positioned close to public transport in larger cities, and right on the main square in the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, which allowed us easy access to the whole town. The guides were generally knowledgeable and informative, but particularly our own tour guide was quietly considerate, capable and someone whose knowledge and judgment I grew to value very much.
The main cities we visited - Berlin, Warsaw, Kracow, Budapest, Vienna, Prague - were sensational, especially Vienna, but the travel days also incorporated stopping places that caught the imagination, like the sight of the ruined castle on a hill above the Danube at Durnstein in which Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned on his way back from the Crusades. Like Durnstein, our stops at Bratislava, Melk Abbey, Kutna Hora and other places added to the layers of history and culture available to us. The stay in Cesky Krumlov was like a country weekend in a medieval town.
I loved the bus travel, which allowed me to see geographical changes: the rivers, especially the Danube and Moldau, the Great Plain of Hungary, the vision of the High Tatra mountains in the distance, then up close. Overall, the tour was a huge success for me - lots of fun, but also comprehensive in its offerings of new knowledge and experiences.