My wife and I are going touring in motorhome, firstly to scandinavia. We are then considering either going across to Estonia, through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland or going back across to Denmark and heading south from there.
Has anyone any experiance from the Eastern countries, I have heard that they are very beautiful (and cheap - make up for scandinavia) but I have also heard stories of travellers been hassled quite a lot. This seems to often be being stopped by police for no reason (other than to get cigarettes off you) or problem with mafia types. Is this being blown out of proportion or is there quite a bit of hassle in these countries. Obviously we are wanting a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I think that this would sour it quite a lot.
Basically from experiance should we visit these countries and is there plenty to do and see? (I have also heard that Latvia is an up and coming holiday destination?).
I had 3 days in Tallinn last August and it was beautiful. The medieval square and the cafes/restaurants/bars to be found down the litte side streets are great and the place is charming. I would definitely recommend it. Tallinn is really easy to get to from Helsinki as well as there are ferries that go all the time (i think it took about 3/4 hours on the ferry, 1.5 hours on the fast boat) As for the hassle, didn't get hassled once.
I know that all of these countries are reputed to be very beautiful, like I mentioned I have just heard that as a motorist you may get some unfair hassle, this could just be blown out of proportion tho. I have also heard that the people are generally very very friendly and helpful, what languages do they speak - are we best off learning a little russian? Do they speak some German in Poland as well?
I was in Poland for a few days over the summer as part of an eastern european tour and found that German was virtually no help at all. The best bet is to buy a european phrasebook which will have all of the languages in and try and just learn please and thank you. It also helps to have it in case u need to buy anything then u can write what u need down - after 2 summers touring europe found this was much simpler than trying to explain through gesticulation alone!!
Though didnt get as east as latvia, lithuania and estonia - that is this years plan - generally speaking we didnt have any problems in eastern europe apart from the language issues. Didnt find many people who spoke english so it was very hard work. We took trains and buses everywhere so cant comment on being a motorist out there, but we didnt encounter any problems and i dont think you could get more touristy than we were!!
Where abouts did you go in Poland, anywhere that you would recommend visiting?
With the youngsters, that is, anyone that has gone through school in the last decade, English is all you need. For those that grew up through the communist system, they will *know* Russian but not *want to know* Russian.
In some parts of the Baltic states you might see some Russian, but in most parts the Russian signs have been taken down. Note the language roots of each country and learn some words or carry a phrase book.
Poland: Slavic. Sounds a lot like Russian with a French accent. Base words like 'water' sound the same here and any other slavic country: "Voda"... although the Poles spell things differently to their neighbours, this would be "Woda".
Lithuania and Latvia: Their own little pocket of language, unrelated to any other European language.
Estonian: A kind of Finnish dialect. Example: "Terve" the Finnish greeting is "Tere".
I remember sitting on the train from Siauliai to Vilnius talking to a local schoolgirl who knew some English. She taught me the basic words as at the time I travelled (1994) there were very few Lithuanian phrases in the travel books.
Poland, anywhere that you would recommend visiting?
Krakow is fantastic, I loved the old castle by the river, and the city square with the indoor craft market.
Warsaw is very drab and boring, being mainly built in the post-war communist period, but there is a small centre which is rebuilt exactly as it was before it was flattened in WW2.
If you want a life-changing experience, go to what we know as Auschwitz: Oswiecim in Polish. The former concentration camp is set up as a museum. Walk through the Arbeit Macht Frei gateway. But only look in the old gas chambers if you have a tough stomach. The smell lingers on.
Thanks to BritHockey for all the info, I think we shall try and get some phrase books maybe even one for each country. We have got some audio CD courses for the mainstream languages like French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portugeuse, Danish and Czech and even Russian but you dont seem to be able to find many audio courses for the less spoken languages - even the other scandinavian ones - tho I am led to believe that Danish and Norwegen are similar at least - not sure whether Swedish and Finnish are also similar? The good thing with these is that you learn how to pronounce the words pretty well but we will get some books and do our best with the phonetics.
As for the places we will do our best to get round all of the places that the guide books and the locals recommend wherever we travel, and I am hoping that the whole trip (probably around 2 years) will be a life changing experiance....... cant wait
I wouldn't invest in learning 10 languages before the trip. Look for tourist phrase books that offer good pronunciation guides and a little grammar help.
Norwegian/Danish/Swedish are extremely similar. The languages are more similar than comparing the language spoken in London, Liverpool and Newcastle. They just spell the words differently. The languages are closely related to German and Dutch but are as distinct from them as English is. You'll see some familiar words if you open your mind.
Polish/Czech/Slovak/Serbian/Croatian/Slovenian are all Slavic languages so you will see plenty of familiar words as you cross the borders. Russian is in the pile too but with the exception of Cyrillic usage in Serbia the rest of these languages are in our alphabet.
Finnish/Estonian are completely different to anything else. There isn't even a difference between "he" and "she" in Finnish.
Hungarian is related to Finnish/Estonian but a LONG way back, so the grammar is similar but the two are amazingly different for a "related" language.
Tip: Pick out one of each of these groups plus German and learn the basics, learn the structure, pronunciation, etc. I ordered 300g of cheese at a grocers in Riga with Czech. Tri sto gram syr. It is almost identical in Russian. There are enough ethnic Russians in Latvia and Estonia to get by with some Russian. But don't expect people to speak it there.
If you have anything left after all that, learn the Cyrillic alphabet in case you come across it on toilet signs (gents/ladies?)
Something relieving about all these languages is that they are phonetic. Or fonetik if you prefer ;o). Learn each letter or combination of letters in each language and they will be loyal to you.
Hi, you can get a rough guide to the baltic states which is very useful as it also contains some really useful phrases, plsu gives u maps and guides. In terms if Poland i was slightly disappointed with Warsaw, but that may have had something to do with it raining non stop for the 2 days i was there. However, i would still go as it is the capital and does have some sights that are worth seeing.
As i think someone has already mentioned Krakow is a must. It is a little gem really, and one i only stumbled on as an access to Budapest. It is very pretty and picturesque and it offers loads of things to do and see. A trip out to the salt mines and auschwitsch are possibilities as well though a day trip would be required for both.