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Skiing on a budget in eastern Europe

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While undoubtedly fun, the expense of skiing can be off-putting. There’s kit to buy, flights, ski passes and accommodation to pay for – not to mention the cost of après-ski. It all adds up very quickly. With this in mind, we’ve done some research and found a handful of more affordable ski resorts in Eastern Europe. They may not be as glam as Gstaad, but they won’t break the bank…

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”POLAND – ideal for beginners and families” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22293″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Poland’s most popular resort is Zakopane, a two-hour drive from Krakow and ideal for beginners and families. Intermediate skiers and those looking for a great nightlife should look elsewhere, but if skiing in the snow-tracks of a former Pope is one of your goals, then you’re in luck (Pope John Paul II was a regular visitor).

Zakopane is made up of several smaller resorts spread around the town which can be accessed by bus. Most offer pay-as-you-go lift passes and eating out is also quite reasonable. Skiing conditions are at their best in January but be warned: the days are short and cold. The end of February and the full month of March are popular with skiers.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair fly direct to Krakow from Dublin and from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. Taxis, mini-buses and coaches can be hired for transfer to Zakopane.

MORE INFO:

discoverzakopane.com

Image by Konrad Wąsik, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CZECH REPUBLIC – great for kids” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22294″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The Krkonoše is the Czech Republic’s highest mountain range and Janské Lázne is a small spa town nestled among the peaks. Book your flights to Prague and it will take you about two hours to get to the snow. Once you arrive, there are gentle, wooded slopes which are suited to beginners, intermediates and children. There are also child-friendly menus and hotels, and cheap lessons.

GETTING THERE:

Aer Lingus and Ryanair both fly direct to Prague from Dublin. They also operate flights from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. It’s a two-hour drive from the airport to the resort and a number of taxi services can be booked for a fixed price.

MORE INFO:

janske-lazne.cz

Image by T. Przechlewski, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BULGARIA – great nightlife” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22295″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Borovets is the oldest, biggest, and one of the cheapest ski resorts in Bulgaria. It’s especially good for those who haven’t skied before and intermediates, as there are good nursery runs for those starting out and most hotels are located next to the slopes. Borovets is also known for its busy and affordable nightlife.

GETTING THERE:         

Ryanair fly to Sofia three times weekly and there are shuttle services to Borovets once you land, which take approx. 55 minutes. Aer Lingus fly to Bourgas, located to the far east of Borovets, but it will take an extra three and a half/four hour journey. Car hire is available at Bourgas Airport.

MORE INFO:

bulgariaski.com/borovets

Image by Tropcho, used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ROMANIA – perfect for beginners and intermediates” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22296″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Romania’s most popular ski resort is Poiana Brasov, Transylvania and is perfect for beginners and intermediates. The ski area covers 14km which is small compared to other European resorts, but it is still a very attractive and affordable location for a ski break. There are two cable cars and a gondola that will bring you to an altitude of 1775m. You can then enjoy a long, 45-minute run to the bottom without taking another lift.

While you’re there, you could also take a day away from the slopes and pay a visit to nearby Bran Castle, which inspired Irish writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair, Turkish Airlines and Blue Air all fly to Bucharest, Romania direct. There are also flights from Cork and Shannon which include one stopover. Getting to the slopes requires an extra three-and-a-half hour travel. Shuttle buses and taxis are available for hire or you can take the train which will be approx. four-and-a-half hours. A taxi from the airport to Bucuresti Nord station is 30 minutes by car. You then take the train to Brasov and use local transport to get to Poiana Brasov.

MORE INFO:

ski-in-romania.com

Image by Surovyi, used under CC-BY-2.5 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SLOVAKIA – suitable for advanced skiers” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22297″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Jasná in Slovakia is located in Chopok mountain, one of the highest in the Low Tatra range, and is suitable for all skill levels, from beginners to experts. Snow is guaranteed for five months a year with the ski season lasting from the end of December to the start of April. There’s lots to do besides skiing with restaurants and nightclubs as well as an Aqua Park and indoor sky-diving.

GETTING THERE:

A number of airlines operate from Dublin to Bratislava, Slovakia but Ryanair is the only company that flies direct and offer several flights each week. Car hire is available at Bratislava Airport and it will then take over three hours to reach Jasná.

MORE INFO:

jasna.sk

Image by Marcin Szala, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET COVERED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The AA’s Winter Sports Cover can be added to your Essential or Extra* Travel Insurance policy if you decide to hit the slopes. As well as all the benefits of AA Travel Insurance, adding on Winter Sports covers you for things like your ski pass, lessons and equipment.

*Don’t forget that AA Members get extra benefits on Travel Insurance with the AA Extra Policy. If you’re an AA Member at the time you take out Annual Travel Insurance, you can enjoy unlimited medical cover and no excess on any claim – as well as the usual benefits – from just €34.99.

Main image used under CC0 licence.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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My Interrailling Journey – From Amsterdam to Zadar

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Planning your interrailling journey? AA Roadwatch’s Sharron Lynskey tells us all about her experience travelling through Europe by train.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20927″ title=”Amsterdam, The Netherlands” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Our first stop was a quick flight to the Dutch capital and it was the ideal start to our interrailing experience. The vast majority of Irish travellers opt for this city as their first step in their journey. It’s a short hop on a plane from Dublin and the city is brimming with quirks. Although this was the most expensive city on our route, it was worth every penny to experience the magic of the canals, the cobbled streets and the extraordinary sights of the red light district.

We stayed two nights in a dingy hostel with a small Stuart Little for company. It was definitely the worst accommodation and yet, we paid almost double the price for this place in comparison to other hostels.

In terms of local cuisine, make sure you don’t leave the city without sampling the Dutch pancakes. There are small stalls and pop-up restaurants dotted all around the city that serve this delicacy – I’d recommend eating it with lashings of Nutella. You’re only on holidays once, eh?

Boredom simply does not exist in Amsterdam. The city is bursting with fun things to do so whether you want to re-visit the realities of World War II in the Anne Frank House or sip a cold pint at the Heineken Experience, this city has it all. I would definitely recommend taking a spin on one of the many canal cruises that are on offer. I didn’t expect much from this at first but the cruise really was one of the best ways to see this fascinating city. You can go for an evening or dinner cruise, but we spent a sunny afternoon on one of the day cruises, which was a really relaxing way to pass the time.

Amsterdam Bucket List:

  • Anne Frank Museum
  • Red Light District
  • Canal Cruises
  • Ice Bar
  • Heineken Experience

For a more comprehensive guide to Amsterdam, check out Nicole Gernon’s trip to the Dutch Capital.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20937″ title=”Berlin, Germany” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]After a (relatively!) short 6hr journey via Munich, we eventually landed late at night to the prinicpal station in the majestic German capital. Luckily for us, the hostel we booked was centrally located in the Alexanerplatz district and was less than a 10 minute commuter train from there. If you’re unsure where to book you accommodation, then I would highly recommend staying around Alexanderplatz. It’s a very central and safe part of the city and there’s an energetic vibe around the square with a number of high street shops dotted around it. There’s also a big train station just off the square that connects you to all the major tourist sites around the city.

We stayed in the One80 Hostel in Alexanderplatz and it was probably the best standard of accommodation we stayed in over the sixteen days. It’s a modern hostel full of young tourists and inter-railers from across the globe. It also has a nightclub, a beer garden and a decent restaurant included in the building so you’ve everything at your disposal. The rooms were clean and tidy and bathrooms and shower facilities were second to none – a rarity in most European hostels!

We stayed a mere three nights in Berlin and I can say, it really wasn’t enough time to truly take in all its historical significance. Saying that, we didn’t waste a single minute and packed in a plethora of activities. Truly, the best way to see the city is to avail of a free walking tour. A lot of the tours actually pick up people from the hostels and take the crowds directly to the tour’s start point – saves a lot of hassle! They’re mostly free of charge but they do accept donations at the end of the tour. Our walking tour took us through the Houses of Parliament, the Berlin Wall and other historical and sometimes quirky points from World War II, including the site of Hitler’s bunker.

Another must-do is the Alternative Pub Crawl. Berlin is well-known for its stellar nightlife but this particular pub crawl is second to none. We stumbled across this pub crawl by accident but it was probably one of the best nights out I had over my holiday. This crawl only travels in small groups and takes you through the more interesting bars around the city including a hippie bar, a ping-pong bar, a Goth rock bar and even a toilet bar (don’t ask!). You will definitely experience a night out like none other! We were also fortunate to stop off in Berlin during one of Germany’s group games with the USA in the World Cup 2014. We caught an open-air screening of the game in the park behind the Brandenburg Gate and the atmosphere was nothing short of electric!

Berlin Bucket List:

  • The Alternative Pub Crawl
  • Walking Tour of Berlin
  • The Berlin Wall
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Fernsehturm – The Television Tower in Alexanderplatz

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20954″ title=”Prague, Czech Republic” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Prague is only a 4 and a half hour train trip away from Berlin but the difference between these two cities is phenomenal. On the train journey, you’ll travel from the bustling contemporary life of Berlin through some of the beautiful, green German countryside and the quaint Czech villages before arriving at the old-fashioned and charming Prague. Although it’s well known amongst young travellers for its crazy pub crawls, this city is definitely more suited to those looking for a relaxing European break.

We stayed in a hostel just off the Old Town Square and although it wasn’t the liveliest area of Prague, it served as a nice place to have some ‘down-time’ mid-trip. Our hostel was called Hostel Franz Kafka and it had all the basics; a clean room, shower facilities and a small kitchen – everything a budget traveller needs!

Prague is such a beautiful city and you could honestly spend hours wandering through the streets and marvelling in the intricate details of the architecture around you. Take in Prague Castle, the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock at your leisure. When the sun sets, the Czech nightlife comes into its own.  You can’t leave the city without heading on the Drunken Monkey pub crawl. Every backpacker does it and we met a ton of people from varying nationalities. It’s the best way to meet like-minded travellers and exchange anecdotes of your recent trips.

Prague Bucket List:

  • Prague Castle
  • Petrin Hill & Observation Tower
  • Old Town Square
  • Prague Astronomical Clock
  • Drunken Monkey Pub Crawl

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20956″ title=”Lake Bled, Slovenia” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]After our stop in the Czech capital, we departed Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Prague’s Main Train Station) on an overnight train towards Slovenia. Yes, they’re uncomfortable, rocky and a little stinky but we’d a great laugh on the overnight train.

After the rocky ride, we landed in the most remote train station on our trip – it was like rocking up to a ghost village! Lesce-Bled train station is a good distance away from Bled itself and in the early hours of the morning it’s near impossible to find any signs of life, never mind a form of transport! Lucky for us, we managed to flag down a random passer-by who gave us details of a local taxi company but if you’re planning on arriving in the wee hours of the morning, maybe make sure you’ve some form of transport sorted beforehand.

Despite a pretty hectic start, Bled was undoubtedly my favourite place on the trip. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, with crystal clear waters, blue skies and luscious greenery to boot and is undoubtedly a hidden gem nestled in Central Europe.

Because it’s not as well known as a holiday destination, the village still retains some of its quaint and old-fashioned charm. The houses have colourful picket fences and there isn’t a major shopping district or brand name in sight – a nice break from the bustling squares of Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague. We stayed in a central hostel which was brimming with backpackers from all corners of the globe and had a small bar out the back which was really cosy and was a great spot to catch the World Cup games.

During the day, this little town is brimming with outdoors-y activities to enjoy. Climb to the top of Bled Castle or rent a bike and cycle around the lake. I’d definitely recommend taking a day out to walk to Vintgar Gorge – an astoundingly beautiful gorge nestled between the Hom and Bort hills about an hour walk from the town. The walk to the gorge is nearly as impressive as the attraction itself. You’ll wind your way through picturesque old-fashioned Slovenian villages and farms before arriving at the beautiful rapids, waterfalls and pools. Best to bring your runners for this one as it’s a bit of a trek!

Lake Bled Bucket List:

  • Take a boat out to the Bled Island
  • Rent a Bike and Cycle around the lake
  • Bled Castle
  • Vintgar Gorge
  • Tobogganing on the Straza

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20959″ title=”Zadar, Croatia” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Our next and final stop on our inter-rail adventure was the spectacular Croatian coastal city of Zadar. Another spot that isn’t totally bustling with tourists, it still boasts most of its Roman architecture. If you’re travelling from Bled, bear in mind that it’s not a straightforward journey. We had to get a train and two buses and for some reason, one bus company would not accept our Inter-rail passes so make sure you’ve a bit of cash to fork out on a bus journey if you’re taking this route.

We stayed a full five nights in Zadar and because of this, we decided to rent an apartment rather than rough it in another hostel. We found a lovely AirBnB and although the décor was slightly out-dated, it looked out on the beautiful Roman Forum and was within a five minute walking distance of all the major shopping streets, pubs and clubs.

Zadar has all the blue skies and sandy beaches of a regular sun holiday but with added quirks. The ‘Sea Organ’ is a really interesting piece of architecture located at the sea front which plays music by way of sea waves. The best time to hear it is when a large cruise ship or ferry passes by as the extra waves really make the difference! Just a short walk from there is the Greeting to the Sun. When the sun sets behind the Croatian islands, these solar underfloor lights come alive and create an impressive light show, to the tune of the nearby sea organ – a must see!

Zadar Bucket List:

  • Listen to the ‘Sea Organ’
  • Watch the ‘Greeting to the Sun’
  • Take a stroll along Paseo Maritimo
  • Visit the Roman Forum
  • Sit back, relax and enjoy a cocktail in the sun!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][action full_width=”yes” content_in_grid=”no” type=”normal” show_button=”yes” background_color=”#0a0a0a” background_image=”18625″ button_text=”Get a Travel Insurance Quote” button_link=”http://www.theaa.ie/travel” button_background_color=”#ffcc00″ button_hover_background_color=”#ffcc00″ button_hover_text_color=”#e5e5e5″][/vc_column][/vc_row]