Last Modified: 28 Sep 2012
St Petersburg to Istanbul
Trip code: WBSIC
Validity: 01 Jan 2011 to 31 Dec 2011
Join us on a journey to discover the splendours of St Petersburg, the iconic Kremlin in Moscow and ancient Novgorod, the birthplace of Russian history and religion. Onwards through Ukraine by train, travel to Kyiv, elegantly situated along the glorious Dnipro River. Take time out to explore the majestic Carpathian Mountains before crossing stunning countryside to arrive in romantic and cosmopolitan Budapest. Continue the adventure past the haunted castles of Transylvania and across stunning mountains to Bulgaria and beyond. Be enchanted by medieval monasteries, Old World towns and the warm hospitality of this region, before ending the journey in magnificent Istanbul.
2012 Itinerary change
St Petersburg to Istanbul trips departing in 2012 will spend Day 23 overnight in Bucharest (previously was Sinaia)
Table of Contents
To save you money and the hassle of booking multiple trips, this journey is a combination of some of our most popular adventures so your leader and the composition of your group may change.
- Original trips are classic Intrepid adventures. With a mix of included activities and free time, they offer plenty of opportunities to explore at your own pace and take part in activities that really get beneath the skin of a destination. While the occasional meal may be included, you'll have the freedom to seek out your own culinary adventures. Accommodation is generally budget or tourist class (2-3 star), but you're as likely to find yourself as a guest of a local family as staying in a hotel or camping. Transport will vary as well. Depending on the destination and the itinerary you could find yourself travelling on anything from a camel to a train or a private safari vehicle. It's all part of the adventure! Original travellers have a desire to make the most of their travel time and really get to know a place, its people and cultures.
Days 1-2 St Petersburg
Zdrastvutye! Welcome to Russia.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Truly one of Europe's finest cities, built of baroque European architecture combined with the opulent palaces of Russian royalty, St Petersburg was built by the Russian tsar Peter the Great and his legacy will clearly be felt as you explore its enigmatic streets and visit its showcase cathedrals and museums.
If you arrive early, we recommend you visit St Isaac's Cathedral and climb to the colonnade from where you will have magnificent views over the city. Why not walk along Nevsky Prospekt - St Petersburg's main thoroughfare - maybe popping into one of the many bakeries or pancake shops along the way, or head down to Aleksandr Nevsky Lavra where Russia's great musicians and writers like Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky are laid to rest in the cemetery.
You can also join a free daily walking tour which starts at 10.30AM, available till September, 30th 2011.
During 3 hours you will familiarize yourself with most important sites in the historical centre.
This tour normally runs for 3 hours. No booking is required for this tour, so just turn up at the meeting point (Tavern Athens Таверна Афины at 27 Nab. Reki Fontanki, next to north western corner of Anichkov Bridge – a famous bridge with the four horse statues right on the main street) a few minutes before it starts, meet your guide and hit the road! Besides, you are always welcome to suggest visiting a particular site or covering a particular subject or area you are interested in, provided it does not require a serious detour and other tour-takers are happy with the change of itinerary (which they, normally, are).
Tour is free, however a small token of appreciation in the form of a tip is always appreciated as long as you feel the service you received was worth it.
In the summer months, we take a night-time boat tour of the canals and waterways with a local guide to see the architecture from a unique perspective. In midsummer it will still be light as the sun barely sets during White Nights.Outside of these months we'll have a walking tour of the city.
For many the highlight of St Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum, one of the world's premier art collections housed in the former imperial Winter Palace.
Please note that the Hermitage is closed on Mondays, and in the high season (May-Sep) there can be very long queues. In order to avoid waiting and to make the most of your free day it's possible to book tickets online in advance:
The Hermitage is closed on Monday's, and for this trip we depart on Tuesday in the afternoon. If you wish to take a long visit to the Hermitage it is worth doing on Sunday.
Other suggestions for your time here include:
Visit the Kunstkamera where Peter the Great's ghoulish collection of oddities is on show.
Explore the opulent grounds of Peterhof with a local guide and marvel at the magnificent landscaped gardens and spectacular fountains. These were the pleasure grounds of Peter the Great where he entertained his guests from around the Russian Empire and abroad. Don't fall for the same fountain "tricks" as Peter used to play on his vistors!
- The Peter and Paul Fortress Cathedral & Museum - RUB370
- St Isaacs Cathedral & Colonnade - RUB400
- St Isaacs Cathedral Colonnade - RUB150
- Aleksandr Nevsky Lavra & Cemeteries - RUB150
- Petrodvorets - Peterhof Park & Fountains - RUB500
- St Petersburg - Hermitage Museum - RUB500
- Mariinsky Theatre - RUB2000
- Kunstkamera Museum - RUB200
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 3-4 Novgorod
Take the metro to the main bus station and catch a local bus to Novgorod (approx 4 hrs).
Novgorod is Russia's oldest city and is still home to numerous well-preserved architectural monuments hinting at the glories of the past. As the former capital of ancient Russia, it's often seen as the cradle of modern Russian civilisation.
Explore the city's sights on foot with our local guide. The city's foremost sight is the graceful Kremlin on the banks of the Volkhov River. Inside there are parks, museums and cathedrals as well as the amazing Millennium Monument, which tells the story of 1,000 years of Russian history. On the opposite bank of the river are quiet shady streets, the graceful ruins of Yaroslav's Court and other echoes of medieval times.
In your free time here you might like to check out the Yurev Monastery on the shores of Lake Ilmen, visit the Wooden Architecture Museum just outside of town or catch a music performance at the Philharmonic Hall. In the summer you can also relax on the little riverside beach or take a boat trip on the Volkhov River for glimpses of the quiet countryside surrounding Novgorod.
Tonight, join your leader and plenty of friendly locals for a refreshing steam and wash at the public banya (bath house).
Board our train for Moscow (approx 7 hrs).
Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after our comfort and safety although service standards can vary greatly. Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car although with a limited menu. We travel 2nd class (four berths per compartment) on this trip. Trains are generally heated but most do not offer air conditioning. The train can become very hot even in winter and the train attendants will not allow the windows to be opened, please pack clothing appropriate for the warmer conditions on these train journeys.
In some cases, particularly in peak travel season, due to high demand for tickets on this route we aren't always able to get all of our tickets together. It's likely that at least some members of the group will be sharing compartments with other travellers, either foreign or local, particularly if your group does not divide evenly into four.
A brief word about drinking on the train: Social drinking is common on trains in Russia and can be an enjoyable way to meet local people as well as interact with your fellow Intrepid travellers. In order to make sure that your experience of train travel with us is a positive and safe one there are a few things we'd like you to keep in mind before setting out on your train journey.
While alcohol is often available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. Train security guards keep a very close eye on drunken behaviour and have the legal right to fine or have any passengers who are intoxicated removed from the train without warning. Should this happen there's very little we can do to assist you in continuing your journey with the rest of the group.
While we certainly want all our Intrepid travellers to have a great holiday it's important that you show due respect for your fellow group members and keep in mind that many of your local companions use the train as a means of transport to get home or to work. It's most appreciated if foreign travellers are respectful of this, particularly in the mornings and evenings or when other passengers are sleeping.
- Novgorod - Family visit & dinner
- Novgorod - Public Banya
- Novgorod - Walking Tour & Kremlin
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Days 5-6 Moscow
The great city of Moscow has survived centuries of revolution and seen Russia through some of its most turbulent years, from the days of the tsars through the communist era to the growing pains of democracy. Beneath its modern veneer - a sign of Russia's recent embrace of capitalism - Moscow is a fascinating, historic city with a wealth of sights to see.
Head to iconic Red Square with a local guide. This beautiful cobbled city square is framed by St Basils Cathedral, the opulent GUM Department store, the imposing walls of the Kremlin and the fairy-tale building of the State Historical Museum.
Visit Lenin, the initiator of the 1917 Russian revolution which ushered in the era of communism, at his austere mausoleum on Red Square.
Please note that on occasion Lenin's Mausoleum and Red Square may be closed to the public during regular opening hours without prior warning.
Enter the Kremlin grounds which house the oldest and most important churches in the country, where many Tsars and Tsarinas are laid to rest. Also head inside the Armoury Museum which houses a glittering imperial collection of regalia and items once belonging to the world's richest monarchy, including Faberge eggs and ambassadorial gifts.
As Moscow's premier tourist attractions, tickets for the Kremlin and Armoury are in high demand. In order to control the number of tour groups entering these sights at one time the Moscow Tourism Administration has set strict quotas. The amount of time guides can spend with their groups is also restricted to 90 minutes in each area, with any exceptions possibly resulting in the guide losing their license, so while we appreciate that some travellers would like to spend longer in the Armoury Museum we ask for your understanding that the guide is under pressure to keep to the schedule.
The Diamond Fund isn't included in our tour, but after the Kremlin and Armoury there may be time to visit. Entrance tickets can be purchased in the ticket office at the Armoury. The Diamond Fund is open for visitors from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm to 4pm. Thursday it is closed.
Intrepid's aims when researching and contracting accommodation is to find properties that are well maintained, clean and as centrally located as possible. In an expensive destination such as Moscow there is a balance to be reached in choosing a centrally located, clean property and still maintaining a value priced trip.
The hotel we stay in is simple and is located centrally in the embassy sector of Moscow approx. 20 minutes walk to Red Square.
Some ideas for your free time here include:
Relive the nation's turbulent past at Victory Park.
Step inside the colourful St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square. Legend has it that tsar, Ivan the Terrible, had the two architects blinded so that they couldn't build anything as beautiful.
Travel back to the beginnings of Russian art at the Tretyakov Gallery.
Board an overnight train to Ukraine and its capital Kyiv (approx 12 hrs). Please be aware that the standard of trains in Ukraine tends to be lower than in Russia, although their basic layout and carriage classes are the same or very similar.
We go through border crossing formalities overnight and need to be awake for these to fill in some forms, show our passports and possibly open our luggage for inspection. After everything is completed it's lights out and back to sleep until we arrive in Kyiv the next morning.
- Moscow - Lenin's Mausoleum
- Moscow - Red Square
- Moscow - Kremlin & Armoury guided tour
- Izmailovo Vernisazh Markets - RUB10
- Museum of the Great Patriotic War - RUB200
- Tretyakov Gallery - RUB400
- Victory Park Museum - RUB200
- St Basils Cathedral - RUB150
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Days 7-9 Kyiv
The capital city of Ukraine and its largest cultural centre with a population of about three million, Kyiv lies on hilly territory by the Dnipro River and features beautiful landscapes, parks and gardens. It's often called the 'mother of Slavic cities.' The golden age of Kyiv was between the 11th and 12th centuries, when it was a powerful state and the centre of trading routes between the Baltic and Mediterranean seas. For centuries Kyiv has been occupied and invaded, but has survived to become a new independent travel destination which many travellers are yet to discover.
Join your leader for an walk to explore Kyiv. The best view of the city is definitely from the top of the bell tower at the Cathedral of St Sophia just a short walk away. From here it's also a lovely walk to Andrew's Descent, a sloping cobbled street lined with craft stalls.
Visit the Chernobyl Museum with a local guide - a chilling but highly worthwhile experience that will help us understand more about this terrible event in Ukraine's recent history.
In your free time here you can visit the unique and award-winning Museum of One Street, head out to the Caves Monastery with its mummified monks or say hello to Kyiv's tallest landmark - the remarkable Rodina Mat (Motherland) statue. If you would like to explore further afield, you could take a trip to the nearby village of Pirogovo, which is home to an outdoor Architectural Museum featuring houses from different areas of Ukraine and providing an insight into daily life over the centuries. On one of your nights here, why not spoil yourself with an evening at the ballet or opera, or at one of Kyiv's many classical music concerts?
Board our next overnight train to the Western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk (approx 13 hrs).
At 12.00 or 16.00 daily you can join free walking tour. The meeting point is at the post office on Maidan square near to Kozatskiy Hotel.
- Kyiv - Orientation Walk
- Chernobyl Museum
Hotel (2 nts), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Days 10-11 Carpathian Mountains
Arrive in Ivano-Frankivsk, the gateway to the Carpathians, and transfer by local bus to Kolomiya (approx 1 hr).
The tranquil town of Kolomiya is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine.
Check out the town's two top attractions - the Hutsul Museum with its great insight into local culture and traditions, and the Pysanka (decorated Easter egg) Museum.
Stay with our local friends in their guesthouse. Our host mother Irina will lead us in a cooking class where we learn to make (and eat!) some traditional Ukrainian favourites.
Head to the mountain village of Sheshory by private transport (approx 1 hr).
The Carpathian Mountains are located near the borders of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. Considered one of the most beautiful natural areas in Eastern Europe, it's a popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts from near and far.
Spend the day relaxing and enjoying the beautiful countryside, admiring the lovingly decorated Hutsul houses with their private chapels and ornate wells. There's an option to take a picnic lunch and hike to the high pastures where shepherds tend their flocks in summer. Or instead walk to a nearby church and take a swim in the river.
Dinner will be prepared by our homestay hosts and you can be assured of a hearty home-cooked meal. Please note that the group may be split up into several nearby homes for the night, rooms may be triple or quad-share and bathroom facilities will be shared.
- Cooking Class
- Guided walk in Carpathians
Guesthouse (1 nt), Homestay (1 nt)
Days 12-13 Lviv
Leave the Carpathians and transfer to the train station in Kolomiya in time to catch the local train to Lviv (approx 4 hrs). This is a day train and seating is in a general seating carriage. You may want to take some snacks with you for the ride, both for you and to share with new local friends.
Historical Lviv is at the crossroads of Central Europe and the influence of many empires and religions is evident in its elegant architecture and many places of worship.
Meet our local guide for a walking tour of the Old Town, taking in the grand Opera House, Armenian Church, Roman Catholic Cathedral, Jewish Quarter and Rynok Square as well as other historical sites. Afterwards you'll no doubt be ready for coffee and cake in one of the Lviv's renowned Viennese-style cafes.
Other options for your time here are hiking to High Castle Hill for views of city, visiting Europe's oldest still functioning brewery, or wandering through the ornate gothic monuments of the Lychakivsky Cemetery.
Board an overnight train to Budapest (approx 14 hrs). As we arrive in Budapest mid-morning we recommend bringing some food with you for breakfast on the train.
The set-up of this train is a little different than our previous ones with a triple bunk in each 2nd class compartment. This results in there being very little luggage space so if you have large bags they may have to travel on the bunk with you.
During the trip we cross the border into Hungary. Immigration and customs inspection happens on the train and we need to be awake for this. But once it's all done you can sleep tight knowing you'll soon be in beautiful Budapest.
- Lviv - Guided walking tour
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Days 14-15 Budapest
Since the collapse of Communism, Budapest has experienced something of a renaissance. The grand architecture and boulevards evoke a time gone by, while glamorous stores and glitzy restaurants make this one of the truly great cities of Europe.
Head out to see what this inspiring city has to offer by bike on a cycling tour with a local guide (approx 3 hrs). We ride at a relaxed pace around the city centre with plenty of stops at some of the key sights and plenty of stories from our guide to bring what we see alive.
Known as 'The Pearl of the Danube', Budapest is the perfect city to enjoy from the water. From here you'll see the magnificent buildings that line the banks of the Danube River and the bridges linking Buda to Pest. Take one of the tourist boat trips to see the sights, walk across the magnificent Chain Bridge or catch a funicular to the castle for a spectacular view of the Parliament Building.
For art or history buffs, Budapest has many museums to occupy you for at least a few days. If you have extra time, head out to Statue Park to see the communist monuments that were removed from the city streets after the fall of the Iron Curtain. We definitely recommend staying a few more days to make the most of all there is to see and do here.
If you're interested in communist history, try the locally-guided 'Hammer & Sickle' tour.
- Budapest - Guided bike tour
- House of Terror - HUF2000
- Parliament tour - HUF2520
- Hungarian State Opera House Tour - HUF2900
- Great Synagogue - HUF2250
- Hungarian National Museum - HUF1100
- Hammer & Sickle Tour - HUF7000
- Bike ride - HUF5000
- Transport and entry to Statue Park - HUF5000
- Thermal bath - HUF2500
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 16 Eger
Take a train east to Eger (approx 3 hrs).
The beautifully preserved Baroque town of Eger is surrounded by ranges of hills and is home to some of the most famous vineyards in Eastern Europe, producing such renowned brands of wines as the Egri Bikaver (also known as 'Bull's Blood').
Explore the 13th-century castle, which established Eger's reputation as a patriotic town when 2000 soldiers (including the women) withstood a month-long siege and successfully defended the fortress from 150,000 Turkish troops, hence thwarting the Ottoman Empire's advancement into Western Europe. Also check out the stunning 19th-century cathedral and the Minorite church in Dobo Square.
Visit the wine cellars of the seductively-named Valley of the Beautiful Women to sample some of the town's famous 'Bull's Blood' red wine and perhaps even sing with the local folk musicians.
- Eger Castle - HUF900
- Minaret - HUF200
Pension (1 nt)
Days 17-18 Maramures
Travel by bus to visit the pleasant town of Debrecen (approx. 3hrs). While there, you'll have time to explore Deri Square with its fountains and colourful buildings.
Continue on by train and private vehicle to Romania (approx 6 hrs). Time in Romania is an hour ahead of Hungary so don't forget to re-set your watch.
Please note that Romanian visas are not available at the border. Should you require one, please organise this before you commence this tour.
The region of Maramures ('mah-ra-moo-resh') is a land that seems frozen in time. It's often said that Maramures contains Romania's heart and soul. It's a region of tradition, customs, rich folklore and ancient superstitions that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. One of the last peasant cultures in Europe continues to thrive here with traditional music, costumes and ancient festivals continuing to flourish. Each village has its own colours for outfits and their own style of straw or felt hats. Maramures is particularly famed for its wooden churches, many of which are World Heritage-listed sites.
Set out to explore the region - visiting the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, the village museum in Sighetu and various other traditional villages.
Pension (2 nts)
Day 19 Sighisoara
Travelling through the pastoral fields to Sighisoara (approx 9 hrs) and cross into the magical land of Transylvania - the name alone conjures up images of haunted castles, gothic churches, werewolves and vampires. Its connection with the famous Count Dracula, itself a literary myth, is a small part of what makes Transylvania an enchanting, romantic and exciting destination.
The medieval masterpiece of Sighisoara ('Sig-he-shwara') is likely to seduce visitors' hearts more than any other place in Romania. Another World Heritage site, the town was first settled by the Romans but flourished under the Saxons from the 12th century.
There is the option of enjoying a meal at Casa Dracula, a restaurant in the house where the Wallachian prince, Vlad Tepes, whom many identify as the source of inspiration for the literary Dracula, was born.
The more energetic are free to take a walk around the town which includes a 64m-high clock tower that dominates the citadel and cobblestone side streets.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 20 Viscri
Our next stop is less than an hour away, but it seems that we are in a different world.
Viscri is a small Saxon/Roma town which was originally inhabited by the Saxons from the Luxemburg area.
Visit the fortified church and museum, and learn about the Sock Project which supports the Roma community.
Stay in a very special place in this Transylvanian village. The rooms are in different houses and have shared facilities with our host families. We have dinner with the families to sample the fresh produce, home-made wines and schnapps. This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for local interaction and indulgence.
- Cow Milking - RON10
- Unesco Church - RON4
Homestay (1 nt)
Days 21-22 Brasov
Take a short train trip to the 13th-century Saxon city of Brasov (approx 2 hrs).
Also known by its German name of Kronstadt, the city of Brasov was a major medieval trading centre with ornate churches and townhouses, protected on three sides by mountains and the massive walls that still remain.
Explore the city's main attraction - the gothic Black Church. This Protestant church was completed in 1477 and took its name from its fire-blackened the walls in 1689. The original statues from the exterior of the apse are now inside and some 120 Turkish rugs hang from the churches balconies (gifts from merchants who went on shopping sprees in Ottoman lands).
For those looking for a little nightlife action, the city has plenty of funky bars and restaurants to enjoy.
- Guided walk - RON60
- Rasnov Fortress - RON15
- The Black Church - RON7
Guesthouse (2 nts)
Day 23 Sinaia
Head south to Sinaia (approx 1.5 hrs), stopping en route at the famous Bran Castle.
No trip to Romania would be complete without a visit to the famous Bran Castle, most commonly known as Dracula's Castle. The castle was built by the Saxons in 1382 to defend the Bran pass against the invading Turks. With its fairytale turrets and Mediterranean whitewashed walls, it's far from menacing.
Also known as the Pearl of the Carpathians, Sinaia has a gorgeous alpine setting.
Explore the country's most magnificent building - the Peles Castle. Once a quiet monastery settlement in the Prahova valley, Sinaia quickly became a booming resort town with the construction of King Carol I's summer residence, the Peles Castle. This breathtaking castle rises above green pasture, was landscaped in English fashion and resembles a Bavarian masterpiece.
Visit the Sinaia Monastery.
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 24-25 Veliko Tarnovo
Take a train to Bucharest (approx 2 hrs).
Take a guided tour of Romania's beautiful capital city. Bucharest likes big things and we'll stop by the huge Piata Unirii, one of Europe's largest squares. Also see the 'Ceausima', the enormous 12-storey Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon).
Travel by train across the friendship bridge into Bulgaria and the picturesque town of Veliko Tarnovo (approx 6 hrs).
Veliko Tarnovo's history is incredible. Founded in 4500 BC by the Neolithic people, the Romans later built the first fortress walls and in the 6th century, a Byzantine capital was established on Tsarevets Hill by Emperor Justinian. After the foundation of the second Bulgarian empire in 1185, it became the second most important and beautiful city in the region (after Constantinople) and trade and culture flourished for the next 200 years. In 1393 the town fell to the Turks who held the city until the Russians liberated it in 1877. Because of its importance during the second Bulgarian empire, the city was chosen as the place where the Bulgarian constitution was written in 1879 and where the official proclamation of Bulgaria as an independent state was made in 1908.
Explore the City of Tsars and the imposing Tsarevets Fortress which overlooks the city. This once-magnificent fortress was first built in the 7th century and the ruined citadel is a delight to wander through.
Wander through the Old Quarter with its preserved Renaissance houses and handicraft workshops before relaxing in one of the town's cafes or 'vinarnas' (wine bars).
- Bucharest - Guided walking tour
- Museum of the Romanian Peasant - RON6
- Palace of Parliament Tour - RON15
- Tsarevets Fortress - BGN4
Guesthouse (2 nts)
Day 26 Sofia
Travel by bus to Sofia (approx 3 hrs).
Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, is an ever-growing and cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pleasant parks.
Enjoy a walk through the city and pass some of its most striking buildings, perhaps none more impressive than the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Church which dates back to 1912 and was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence during the Russo-Turkey war (1877-1878).
Other impressive buildings include St Nikolai Russian Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral and Banya Bashi Mosque, a reminder of years of Turkish rule. At night, the city comes alive with interesting bars and nightclubs.
- Aleksander Nevski Church - Free
- National Art Gallery - BGN4
- National History Museum - BGN10
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 27 Gorno Draglishte
Take a short bus ride to Rila.
Explore the most important of the orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria. This World Heritage-listed site is the largest, holiest and most impressive of Bulgaria's monasteries, hidden away in a narrow and forested valley. Founded in 927 by Ivan Rilski, a leader of a monastic colony of hermits, the monastery helped keep Bulgarian spiritual and social life alive during centuries of Turkish rule. The monastery's most treasured historic and artistic monuments include the 14th-century Hrelyo Tower, the five-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin church and the original monastery kitchen from the 19th century.
Transfer to the small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte.
Stay at our local friend's guesthouse. Here we have the chance to learn all about traditional weaving and some of the regional Bulgarian cuisine. Our guesthouse accommodation is simple and not all rooms have en suite, but the atmosphere is welcoming and warm.
- Gorno Draglishte - Rila Monastery
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Days 28-29 Bansko
Travel to the small town of Bansko.
Set at the bottom of the majestic Pirin Mountains, Bansko is home to more than 150 cultural monuments and many of its stone houses have been transformed into charming 'mehanes' (taverns).
In the evening, we have an opportunity to indulge in some local cuisine. Try some filet elena (spicy cured meat) or kapama (simmered meat, rice and sauerkraut), and wash it down with some delicious melnik (dark red wine).
And if you have the time, you could stretch your legs with a hike up the mountains, home to some crystal-clear lakes, jagged peaks and pine-forested alpine scenery.
- Belitsa Bear Sanctuary - Free
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 30-31 Plovdiv
Travel by train to Plovdiv (approx 5 hrs).
Situated on the Maritsa River, Plovdiv was once the meeting point of two ancient transportation routes. A picturesque town with many parks, gardens, museums and archaeological monuments, its Old Town features many 18th and 19th-century baroque houses dating from the national revival period. These charming homes sit alongside museums, mosques, galleries and Byzantine ruins.
Join a local guide for a tour of the main sights and some insight into the history of this fascinating town. The most remarkable sight is the magnificent ancient Roman amphitheatre. Built during the 2nd century BC during the reign of Trajanus, the theatre seats about 6000 people. From here, wander up the cobblestone street to the site of Nebet Tepe, a former hilltop fortress, for excellent views of the city before heading downhill to the 15th-century Dzhumaya Mosque, still in use today.
Be sure to take the time to wander about the workshops of the traditional masters of old Bulgarian arts and crafts on Strumna Street - coppersmiths, farriers and potters are all represented.
Another alternative is to travel 30 km south to the foot of the Rhodope mountains to one of the oldest and richest Bulgarian monasteries - Bachkovo Monastery. It was established in 1083 by the brothers Bakouriani who were military commanders in the army of the Byzantine emperor Alexis Comnenus. The church in the yard of the monastery was built in 1604 while the icon of the holy virgin dates back to 1310. The icons, frescoes and the monastery crypt are especially interesting
You could also visit the many mineral hot springs surrounding the Plovdiv region. Thirteen bath-treatment resorts offering 2000 beds function all year round. One of the most well-known spa towns is Hissarya, famous for its 22 mineral springs.
Take an overnight train to Istanbul (approx 14 hrs). Please note that for our overnight train journey we use very small 3 berth cabins. We choose to travel overnight so you can make the most of your time in Plovdiv and Istanbul rather than spend all day on a train limiting your time to see the wonderful sights of these cities. This train can be fully booked which means there's no room to spread out as we are assigned specific berths. Please take note of the luggage suggestions in the 'What To Take' section of these notes since there's limited room for large suitcases. Please also note that when we arrive at the Turkish border early in the morning, we'll be required to get off the train for a short while to get our passports stamped and to purchase visas for those passengers who need one.
- Bachkovo Monastery - BGN16
- Hot Spings Hissarya - BGN50
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Day 32 Istanbul
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, so it will come as no surprise that this vast metropolis is home to a beguiling mix of different cultures and traditions, blending the influences of both east and west. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2000 years ago, Istanbul originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, intriguing Istanbul is a bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people and a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored.
There's so much to explore in this sprawling city of 16 million people you might consider staying on ; admire the marvellous Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace; stand in wonder of the awesome Aya Sofya and shop till you drop in the worlds biggest undercover market, the Grand Bazaar. This is a land of Turkish baths, whirling dervishes and superb cuisine.
This is a departure day and there are no activities planned. For your comfort and convenience a day room is provided on this day until 12 noon, for luggage storage and an opportunity to have a shower and freshen up. Once settled consider joining the rest of the group in a farewell breakfast. Otherwise you are free to depart any time after our arrival.
We recommend not booking flights any earlier than 3pm to allow for any train arrival delays, time to transfer to the airport and check-in time required at the airport.
- Istanbul - Aya Sofia - TRY20
- Istanbul - Spice Market - Free
- Istanbul - Grand Bazaar - Free
- Istanbul - Turkish baths - TRY30
- Istanbul - Ancient Cistern - TRY10
- Istanbul - Bosphorus boat cruise - TRY10
- Istanbul - Galata Tower - TRY12
- Istanbul - Topkapi Palace (incl. harem) - TRY35
Also available to purchase
For many of our trips we have other services or experiences that are also available to purchase to extend your trip or to make your holiday a little easier. Below is a list of other travel products you can purchase in conjunction with this trip.
- WBSIC Single supplement (WBSIC)
We also recommend
If this trip is not quite right for you, cast your eye over these alternatives:
- Best of Turkey (ERSI)
- Trans-Siberian and Mongolia (CBSU)
Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. For the latest updated Trip Notes please visit our website: www.intrepidtravel.com
Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route.
Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
You will be travelling through countries that speak little or no English, where transport often runs only when it is full (and often overflowing), where hotels and restaurants have very different ideas of service and amenities, where the plumbing can sometimes be temperamental and the power will often just vanish. Many of the places we visit are not used to people travelling outside of large coach tours so they will be uncertain of how to deal with us. This can be a challenging trip covering a wide range of peoples, cultures, religious and political beliefs and is a trip that involves some long travel days and nights. Some passengers will experience fatigue more than normal due to these challenges. If you are able to bring with you a lot of patience and a huge sense of humour, then your experience will be greatly enhanced.
This trip will raise your heartbeat. Moderate physical activities are included and a good level of fitness is required.
Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are for entrance only and don't include transport costs to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination. Optional activities aren't necessarily endorsed or recommended by Intrepid nor included in price of this trip. If you do any optional activities, you do so at your own risk and it must be clearly understood that your participation is your own decision and doesn't form part of your contract with Intrepid. You may be required to sign/complete a waiver form or a receipt for some optional activities.
BOOKING THEATRE TICKETS IN ADVANCE:
To avoid disappointment we recommend that you book any theatre performances that you wish to attend in Moscow or St Petersburg in advance. Please consider carefully which performances you are going to want attend and make sure that the dates correspond to your trip. Here are some useful internet sites to check for what will be on (ballet, opera, exhibitions, etc) in Moscow and St Petersburg when you are there: www.mariinsky.ru, www.bolshoi.ru and www.ticketsofrussia.ru. In particular we recommend you see what's playing at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky, as it may be difficult to get tickets when you are there especially during White Nights in St Petersburg.
The official currency of Russia is the Ruble (RUB). 1 ruble = 100 kopeks.
We strongly advise against bringing travellers cheques as in Russia they can be extremely difficult or impossible to change.
ATMs are widespread in Russia so the easiest way to access cash on your trip is to bring a credit card. Please check with your bank about overseas withdrawal fees before you depart and note that recent travellers have experienced difficulties in using credit cards without a debit function from US banks for purchases or withdrawals. Some banks will allow a cash advance against a major credit card which will incur a service charge of 5% or more.
The easiest foreign currencies to exchange are USD and EUR, however please be aware of the security risk of carrying large amounts of cash. In any case, some money should be taken as cash in case of emergencies - we recommend around US$400 per person. Commission is sometimes charged for currency exchange. Check the rate before you exchange as what is advertised is sometimes only for transactions above US$500, carefully check the amount you are given and ask for a receipt.
Due to restrictions on changing money in Russia, only US$50 and US$100 notes/bills printed after 1996 and in good condition (no creases, marks, stamps or tears) will be accepted. Avoid bringing US$ notes in smaller denominations. By law, all purchases in Russia must be made in local currency.
The local currency in Ukraine is the Ukrainian hryvna (UAH) of which 100 kopiyka = 1 hryvna.
UAH may only be obtained within Ukraine. While the safest way to carry your money may be as traveller's cheques, in Ukraine there can be extremely long delays when changing them and in some areas on this trip exchanging them might prove completely impossible. For this reason they are NOT recommended for Ukraine.
Along the way you will be able to find ATMs that accept foreign cards to withdraw local currency. Major credit cards may be accepted in larger shops and restaurants but only in the bigger cities. Some banks in major cities will allow cash advances against a credit card but cash withdrawals are subject to a 5% or more service charge.
Another reliable way to access local money is to bring and exchange USD or EUR cash at currency exchange offices but you need to be aware of the security risk of carrying large sums of money. In any case some money should be taken as cash in case of emergencies.
Due to the restrictions on changing money in Ukraine, only USD50 and USD100 notes/bills printed after 1996 and in good condition (no creases, marks, stamps or tears) will be accepted.
All purchases in Ukraine must be made in local currency.
The local currency in Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF)
The local currency in Romania is the Romanian New Leu (RON)
The local currency in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian Lev (BGN)
The official currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TRY, although prior to 2005 the currency code was TL)
Currency exchange rates often fluctuate. For the most up to date rates please refer to the following website: www.oanda.com.
Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
If you're happy with the services provided a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it's of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations. Please note we recommend that any tips are given directly to the intended recipient by a member of your group as our group leaders are prohibited from collecting cash for tips.
The following amounts are based on local considerations and feedback from our past travellers:
Restaurants: Local markets and basic restaurants - leave the loose change. More up-market restaurants we suggest 5% to 10% of your bill.
Local guides: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide in addition to your leader. We suggest EUR1-2 per person per day for local guides.
Your Group Leader: You may also consider tipping your leader for outstanding service throughout your trip. The amount is entirely a personal preference, however as a guideline EUR3 per person, per day can be used. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
All departure taxes should be included in your international flight ticket.
WILDLIFE IN ROMANIA & BULGARIA:
Romania and Bulgaria are home to large numbers of wild bears.
There is a chance whilst hiking in those countries to experience bears, though this happens mainly in twilight. Please be especially aware should you decide to hike in mountainous areas. Always ask your local operators about the situation and notify your group leader about your intentions.
Maximum of 12 travellers per group.
Your fellow travellers
As you travel on a group trip you will be exposed to all the pleasures and maybe some of the frustrations of travelling in a group. Your fellow travellers will probably come from all corners of the world and likely a range of age groups too. We ask you to be understanding of the various needs and preferences of your group - patience with your fellow travellers is sometimes required for the benefit of everyone's travel experience. Remember too that you have responsibilities to the group. If you are requested to be at a place at a certain time, ensure that you don't keep the rest of the group waiting. We have found time and time again that the very best trips we operate are those where the dynamics within the group work well - this takes just a little effort on your part.
Due to privacy reasons we are unable to provide you with contact details and any personal information about your fellow travellers booked on your trip prior to departure. However you can download Intrepid's FREE Meet Up app to chat with your fellow travellers before your trip. Meet up, discuss your upcoming trip and share the excitement of planning for your adventure. For more information visit:
Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own room (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
A Single Supplement is available on this trip, please ask your booking agent for more information.
The price of the Single supplement does not include the following nights where single rooms may not be available. If a single room becomes available at check in for these nights, there may be the option to upgrade to a single room and pay the surcharge locally for that night:
Day 20 Viscri Homestay
Day 27 Gorno Draglishte homestay
Day 31 Overnight Train
Hotel (15 nts), Guesthouse (6 nts), Overnight sleeper train (5 nts), Pension (3 nts), Homestay (2 nts)
OCCASIONAL ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION
The style of accommodation indicated in the day-to-day itinerary is a guideline. On rare occasions, alternative arrangements may need to be made due to the lack of availability of rooms in our usual accommodation. A similar standard of accommodation will be used in these instances.
TWIN SHARE / MULTI SHARE BASIS
Accommodation on this trip is on a twin/multishare basis. Please note there may be times where facilities will be shared rather than ensuite and rare occasions when you share a room with passengers travelling on different Intrepid trips than your own.
Throughout the trip we request that our hotels prepare rooms in time for our arrival, especially if we're arriving prior to normal check-in time. However this isn't always possible which means we won't be able to check-in immediately on arrival at some hotels. Instead, we can store our luggage and explore our new destination.
PRE/POST TRIP ACCOMMODATION
If you've purchased pre-trip or post-trip accommodation (if available), you may be required to change rooms from your trip accommodation for these extra nights.
Some of the accommodation along the way is very basic, staying in local guesthouses and homestays with limited facilities. Some facilities are shared and some accommodation has cold water only.
Please be aware that Russia requires all foreign nationals to register their passports upon arrival in each city. Since March 25th, 2011 the registration rules for foreigners have been relaxed in Russia. According to these rules, foreign citizens must register themselves within 7 business days of their arrival into Russia (instead of the 3 days required before). This means that if you are arriving in Russia before the trip start date or staying extra days after the trip has finished (less than 7 days), whether at our Intrepid hotels or at accommodation of your choice, you don’t have to be registered and pay any registration fees. Intrepid will take responsibility for registration of passports at our first place of stay in Russia including any associated costs. If you are arriving more than 7 days prior to the start of the trip, or staying more than 7 days post-trip, you will need to be responsible for your own passport registration and any extra charges for this service. Failure to register could lead to problems at immigration when departing the country.
Overnight trains are simple but comfortable. There is a toilet/bathroom and compartments with bunks/berths. Please note that we travel 2nd class on all overnight trains (4 people per compartment). While we always try to have our groups staying together there may be times where due to ticket availability the group will be staying in different compartments and carriages. If the group number does not divide into 4 then you can also expect that some group members will be sharing a compartment with other travellers including local people. Please note that It is NOT possible to upgrade to a higher class train compartment on any section of this trip. There are generally no power points available in the compartments of the trains. The only power outlet occasionally available is one in the corridor for the whole carriage, and this is not guaranteed to have a steady flow of electricity or to be accessible from the compartment.
Trains are generally heated but most do not offer air conditioning. The train can become very hot even in winter and the train attendants will not allow the windows to be opened, please pack clothing appropriate for the warmer conditions on these train journeys.
While travelling with us you'll experience the vast array of wonderful food available in the world. Your group leader will be able to suggest restaurants to try during your trip. On our camping trips we often cook the region's specialities so you don't miss out. To give you the maximum flexibility in deciding where, what and with whom to eat, generally not all meals are included in the trip price. This also gives you more budgeting flexibility. As a rule our groups tend to eat together to enable you to taste a larger variety of dishes and enjoy each other's company. There's no obligation to do this though.
Vegetarians might find the menu selection less varied than they would see at home. Vegetarianism is not as common in this region and generally the choices are basic, involving vegetables and salads. Vegans will find it even more challenging. Vegetarians might choose to supplement meals with supplies bought from home, e.g. protein bars, dried fruits and so on.
9 Breakfasts, 4 Dinners
Please budget for additional meals and expenses while on your trip. Our suggestion is based on past traveller feedback but you may choose to spend more or less.
Metro, Taxi, Overnight sleeper train, Bus, Train, Private minibus, Minibus, Tram, Bicycle, Boat
As we cover lots of ground on this trip, expect some long travel days on local trains and buses. This is an opportunity to mix with the locals and enjoy the scenery out the window. Travel schedules are known to change with little notice. Not all transport may have air conditioning.
All Intrepid group trips are accompanied by one of our group leaders. The aim of the group leader is to take the hassle out of your travels and to help you have the best trip possible. Intrepid endeavours to provide the services of an experienced leader however, due to the seasonality of travel, rare situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders.
Your leader will provide information on the places you are travelling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, recommend great local eating venues and introduce you to our local friends. While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad general knowledge of the places visited on the trip, including historical, cultural, religious and social aspects. At Intrepid we aim to support local guides who have specialised knowledge of the regions we visit. If you were interested in delving deeper into the local culture at a specific site or location then your leader can recommend a local guide service in most of the main destinations of your trip.
Sadovaya street #22/2
Phone: +7 (812)4488383
Joining point description
M-Hotel is situated in the 'Golden Triangle' of St Petersburg in close vicinity to world-famous museums such as the Hermitage, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood, Russian museum and Alexandrinsky theatre where ballet performances staged by famous choreographer Boris Eyfman take place during the summer. Next to the hotel, guests will find a great variety of cafes and restaurants catering to different tastes, as well as plenty of boutiques, art galleries and antique shops.
The hotel provides a full range of services including laundry and dry cleaning as well as tour and airline bookings. There is a cafe (breakfast is included), room service, bar and conference hall, 24-hour security and elevator. There is also free Wi-Fi in the rooms and lobby bar.
Joining point instructions
Please be aware that Russia requires all foreign nationals to register their passports upon arrival in each city. Please see ACCOMMODATION for the most recent information about registration.
Arrival transfers are available - if you have pre-booked a transfer with us your driver will be waiting for you in the arrivals section near where you clear customs. The driver will arrive according to arrival time indicated at time of booking and wait for an hour after your scheduled arrival time. If your flight arrives before the scheduled arrival time please wait in the arrivals hall. If you are delayed beyond one hour after your scheduled arrival time, please make your own way to the hotel.
If you have pre-purchased an arrival transfer our local operator will await you holding a sign with your name when you exit the baggage claim area of the arrivals hall.
In the unlikely event that your transfer is not waiting for you - please call Slava on +7 812 9280739 (for calls) or +7 911 9280739 (for calls and sms).
St Petersburg has an International airport (Pulkovo-2) and a Domestic one (Pulkovo-1). You will need to get a taxi or use public transport from the airport to the joining point hotel.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT:
Airports have public transport links that allow you to get to our starting point hotel cheaply.
From Pulkovo-1 / Pulkovo-2 airport go by public bus or private mini-bus to 'Moskovskaya' (МОСКОВСКАЯ) metro station stop.
Go inside the subway station - entrance to the Metro is marked by an 'M'. Tickets cost 20 RUB and there is no extra charge for changing lines once you are inside the Metro. There is direct blue line from 'Moskovskaya' metro station to 'Nevsky prospect'. Travel on the blue line to Nevsky Prospect station, get off on 7th stop. From there change to the green line to 'Gostiny dvor'. This is where you leave the Metro and head outside.
Please be aware that there is very little English signage within the St Petersburg Metro and at peak times can be very crowded. If you choose to travel by public transport allow plenty of time and make sure you have a bilingual map with you to plan your route.
If you arrive to Moskovsky railway station by train take subway from the nearest 'Ploshad' Vosstaniya' (ПЛОЩАДЬ ВОССТАНИЯ) metro station, change to green line 'Mayakovskaya' (МАЯКОВСКАЯ) metro station, travel one station and get off on 'Gostiny Dvor'.
Outside of Metro station cross the road (Sadovaya street) through the underpass. There is Krylova lane between Sadovaya street and Plosha'd Ostrovskovo (Ostrovskovo square). M-Hotel located on Krylova lane, it's marked with the letter 'M' and is situated inside of the yard.
For more information, GPS coordinates and a detailed map go to: www.mhotelspb.ru.
The taxi ride from the airport to our starting point hotel takes around 1 hour and costs around US$30-35. Avoid taxi touts. From all airports we recommend you use the services of one of the official taxi desks located on the ground floor inside the arrival terminal.
Check-in time is 2 pm.
Please note Russian (Cyrillic) wording for M Hotel below which is useful to show to a taxi driver or to ask for directionsL
ул. Садовая, 22/2
Станция метро — «Гостиный двор»
We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your group trip as scheduled, please contact your starting point hotel, requesting that you speak to or leave a message for your group leader.
If you have pre-booked an airport transfer (where available) and have not made contact with our representative within 30 minutes of clearing customs and immigration, we recommend that you make your own way to the starting point hotel, following the Joining Instructions in these Trip Notes. Should this occur, please apply to your travel agent for a refund of the transfer cost on your return.
No refund is available on missed transfers or portions of your trip owing to a different flight arrival or delayed flight arrival. Any additional cost incurred in order to meet up with your group is at your own expense.
The Constantine Hotel
Hocapasa Mah. Alemdar Cad. No:19 Eminönü, Fatih
Phone: +90 212 513 08 08
Fax: +90 212 526 05 06
Finish point description
Located in the suburb of Eminonu, close to the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace, The Constantine Hotel is a boutique hotel featuring modern rooms with air conditioning, en suite bathrooms, hair dryers and double glazed windows.
Finish point instructions
Taxis can easily be hailed to the airport and cost approx TRY40.
Private airport transfers are available for pre-booking through Intrepid. Contact your agent for details. Be sure to advise which of Istanbul's two airports you will be flying from at the time of booking. Sabiha Gokcen is on the Asian shore, while Ataturk airport is on the European side (and closer to our hotel).
If you have any problems with departure transfers please contact our Intrepid Istanbul office on one of the following numbers:
Office: +90 212 512 7144
Mob: +90 532 641 6514
Mob: +90 532 641 9056
Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$400, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES ON THIS TRIP (EXCLUDING RUSSIA, UKRAINE, TURKEY):
Australia: No - Not required
Belgium: No - Not required
Canada: No - Not required
Germany: No - Not required
Ireland: No - Not required
Netherlands: No - Not required
New Zealand: No - Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: No - Not required
UK: No - Not required
USA: No - Not required
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany: Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance
LETTERS OF INVITATION (LOI)
Most nationalities require a visa for Russia. You will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI), sometimes called a Voucher or Visa Support Letter in order to apply for your visa.
You can obtain your LOI online through our local partners in Russia. Instructions and a link to the website will be sent to you at the time of booking. Read the instructions carefully and fill in the online application form. You will then be able to download your LOI instantly. Please note that we will add 3 days to the LOI duration before and after your trip dates for your convenience. If you are planning to stay longer than these dates please let us know as we will need to manually request a LOI to fit your specific travel plans.
The LOI included in the cost of your tour is for a Single Entry Tourist Visa. LOIs for other types of visas may be organised at your own expense and paid directly to our local partners, Parallel 60 (www.parallelsixty.com)
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
You must apply for your Russian visa in advance. Visas are not available on arrival or en-route. Once you have received your LOI it is your responsibility to apply for your own visa either directly at an embassy or by using a visa agent. We do not recommend trying to obtain your Russian visa outside of your home country or place of residence as your application may be refused.
Use ONLY the information and dates on your LOI when filling in your visa application. There is no need to reference Intrepid Travel or include a copy of your itinerary as Parallel 60 is the official inviting organisation, not Intrepid. Do not be concerned if the destinations and accommodation listed do not match your Intrepid trip exactly. This information is for the purposes of obtaining the visa only, not an indication of where you must travel and stay in Russia.
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
* Letter of Invitation (LOI)
* Photocopy of your passport
* Passport size photo (up to 4)
* Flight or other transport details - if required
* Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
Please be aware that visa extensions are NOT possible in Russia.
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR TRAIN TICKET BOOKINGS:
Train tickets in Russia are booked with passport numbers. Please make sure you provide us with your correct passport number. If you have to renew your passport after booking please notify us as soon as you have a new passport number and bring your old passport with you on your trip. If we receive changes to passport numbers less than 30 days prior to departure we cannot guarantee purchase of train tickets.
We do NOT recommend travelling on multiple passports for trips that involve border crossings by train. This can cause difficulties with train ticket bookings and cause significant issues delays at Immigration.
WARNING – MIGRATION CARDS
All foreign citizens entering Russia are required to fill in a migration card. The entry portion of the card will be retained by Immigration upon arrival. The stamped exit portion of the card must be kept with your passport during your stay in Russia and submitted to Immigration upon departure. If you are not given a migration card at Immigration on arrival you must request one, even if the immigration official says that you do not need one. Loss or failure to receive the exit portion of the card will result in you not being able to travel on our trip as all hotels require this card for registration and may result in significant delays or fines upon departure.
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: No - Not required
Canada: No - Not required
Germany: No - Not required
Ireland: No - Not required
Netherlands: No - Not required
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance, Visa Support letter - Yes
Switzerland: No - Not required
United Kingdom: No - Not required
USA: No - Not required
Some nationalities are now visa free to Ukraine. Please check your own visa requirements carefully.
LETTERS OF INVITATION (LOI)
Some nationalities that require a visa may also need a Letter of Invitation (LOI), sometimes known as a Visa Support Letter, in order to apply for a Ukraine visa. As of 2013 travellers from Australia and New Zealand no longer need the LOI in order to apply. Should you require a LOI please notify us at the time of booking and ensure you send the following information no later than 30 days prior to departure:
* Clear, colour scanned copy of the personal details page of your passport
* Nominate which embassy you will apply for your visa
Please note that it can take up to 7 business days to receive the LOI from our Ukrainian partners. The LOI is included in the cost of the trip, however should your embassy require other support documents you may be charged an additional fee.
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
You require a Single Entry Tourist Visa for this trip.
Surname and first name of the inviting person(s) in Ukraine. If not applicable, name of hotel(s) or address of applicant’s temporary accommodation(s) in Ukraine:
1/3, Mikhailovskaya street1
+380 44 279 49 25
Address of inviting person(s)/hotel(s)/temporary accommodation(s) in Ukraine:
Name and address of inviting company/organisation:
If LOI required please use the information on the document. If not required - N/A.
Surname, first name, address, telephone, telefax, and e-mail address of contact person in company/organization:
Your visa application form may require you to state the dates on which you enter and exit that country.
For your Russian/Ukraine visa application please follow the instructions sent to you regarding which dates to enter (these may be earlier/late than the actual entry days listed below)
The following are the international/administrative border crossings for this trip:
Exit Russia at Bryansk - Day 7
Enter Ukraine at Konotop- Day 7
Exit Ukraine at Chop - Day 13
Enter Hungary at Zahony - Day 13
To help calculate the exact dates of these crossings we have found the following website to be very useful - http://www.timeanddate.com
TURKEY (ALL TRIPS):
Australia: Yes - on arrival
Belgium: Yes - on arrival
Canada: Yes - on arrival
Germany: No - not required
Ireland: Yes - on arrival
Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: Yes - on arrival
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: Yes - on arrival
USA: Yes - on arrival
Visa costs can change depending on the political climate of the region. For Turkey, an entry visa is required for citizens of the following countries (not limited to this list):
- USA (US$60),
- Canada (US$60 on arrival; CAD$75 for advance application)
- U.K. (US$60; GBP45 for advance application)
- Australia (US$60 on arrival)
- Austria, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Portugal & Spain (varies from US$10-100)
The visa costs can change at any time and with little notice depending on the political climate of the region.
A valid passport is sufficient for citizens of most other countries including New Zealand, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland for stays up to 3 months. All other nationalities please check with your nearest Turkish embassy.
Generally visas can easily be attained on arrival although sometimes the lines for these can be quite long. Visas obtained on entry must be paid in cash in US$ or EUR so ensure you have some on hand. It is also possible to pay by Credit Card however passenger feedback suggests this is not very reliable. Depending on your nationality, visas are either valid for 3 months or 1 year.
Issues on your trip
While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
What to take
What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage and although you won't be required to walk long distances with your luggage (max 30 minutes), we recommend keeping the weight under 10kg / 22lb.
Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
CLOTHING & CLIMATE:
The climate in this region is extremely varied. From October until May you can expect temperatures close to and below zero, while from June until September temperatures can reach well above 30 C. For departures October to May you'll need to bring a warm windproof jacket, scarf, gloves, warm hat and waterproof footwear. On all other departures it can still get quite cool at night especially when in the countryside, so we recommend that you bring a warm jacket or fleece.
IMAGES FROM HOME:
During our trip there will be many opportunities for you to meet and talk with locals. One way to start any conversation is with pictures. We recommend that you bring some photos / postcards of your family, home, city or country where you live, animals peculiar to your country etc.
Consider bringing your own water bottle to refill along the way. The sale of bottled water contributes to an enormous environmental problem around the world. In addition to the water in bottles, the production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil. A large proportion ends up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments. Although it can be difficult to avoid bottled water when travelling, please consider water purification techniques such as iodine or micropur and use the water dispensers which are provided at some of our accommodation. When unable to avoid bottled water it is better to buy the largest available and distribute into your smaller bottle for the day
Cold tap water is generally safe and good to drink so you can avoid the purchase of bottled water by refilling from the tap. It may be better to boil water in some regions or avoid some public water fountains, please check with your group leader.
In some parts of Russia and Central Asia it is important to boil drinking water before use.
All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
POTENTIAL HEALTH ISSUES:
Giardia intestinalis, a parasite that causes severe diarrhoea has been reported from time to time in the water supply in Russia. For this reason Intrepid recommends against drinking unboiled tap water in all Russian cites.
In spring and early summer in rural areas of Russia and Mongolia ticks are prevalent. Please take precautions when walking in these areas by wearing long trousers and boots and check your clothes and body thoroughly.
The diet and hygiene standards of Russia, Mongolia and Central Asia may be very different from what you are used to so please take care with washing hands before meals etc. and bring some medication/rehydration salts etc. should you experience stomach problems.
Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your group leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
BEARS & PERSONAL SAFETY:
Romania and Bulgaria are home to some of the last remaining populations of European Brown Bear. These beautiful and endangered animals are generally nocturnal and feed mainly on berries, fruit, and small animals. It is not unknown for people to come across wild bears whilst hiking in the mountains. Whilst the danger to humans is minimal there are some simple steps you can follow to ensure your safety. Never stay out in the mountains after dusk, always stick to the path, make plenty of noise (for instance by talking or whistling) as you walk and never approach or take photographs of a wild bear. Take particular care around mothers with cubs or injured bears. Handled carefully, a chance sighting of a bear can be a highlight of a trip to Bulgaria or Romania, as long as these simple rules are followed. While travelling on overnight trains is generally safe in Europe, we recommend you bring luggage locks to secure your personal belongings.
Please be aware that local laws governing tourism facilities in this region differ from those in your home country and not all the accommodation which we use has a fire exit, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.
Some hotel balconies don't meet UK standards in terms of the width of the balcony fence being narrower than 10cm.
TRAFFIC AND DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD:
Depending on where you come from please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!
Please be aware that local laws governing transportation safety may differ from those in the western world or from your home country and not all the transport which we use provides seat belts.
PETTY THEFT AND PERSONAL SAFETY:
While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
When travelling on a group trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
We recommend that you dress respectfully at all stages of the trip especially when in and around religious sites. This means clothing that covers your shoulders and knees for both men and women. Women are advised to cover their heads when entering functioning churches in Russia, while men should remove their hats.
A couple of rules
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
The Intrepid Foundation
Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your group leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
Responsible Travel projects
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Russia include:
* Nochlezhka focuses on providing for St Petersburg's homeless community. Its Night Bus project provides a mobile social support point: two specially equipped minivans that are visited by up to 150 disadvantaged people each night. Every visitor receives a hot meal and tea, a nurse is able to provide first aid, specialised social workers can assist street children, and clean, warm clothes are also available.
Please advise your leader if you have any unneeded clothing or toiletries you would like to donate, so that they can arrange for them to be passed on to Nochlezhka.
Intrepid Travel also supports the following non-profit organisation:
*Upsala Circus shows children and teenagers from social risk groups with the method of circus pedagogy an alternative from the street and to integrate them into the society.
As the only organization of its kind in Russia, Upsala Circus directly connects the professional circus and theatre art, with social work. By the everyday training in the circus and attendance at circus festivals, the children and teenagers from social risk groups experience exciting and difficult challenges. The circus is referring to "high risk" nearly like the life on the street. It appeals to them with magic, lets them explore their individual skills, makes them stronger and motivates them to create their lives in society in an active way.
More information about Upsala Circus can be found at their web-site www.upsala-zirk.org.
Intrepid Travel supports the following non-profit organisations:
*Bears Park located in Belitsa, Bulgaria. The Park was founded in 2000 and its main aim is to rehabilitate the Dancing Bears of Bulgaria. As these bears have suffered intolerable cruelty there is no option for their release back into the wild, so the Park aims to recreate a life as close to nature as possible. A guide takes the groups through the park, explaining the rehabilitation process involved and passengers have the option of leaving a donation.
*Traditzia Handicraft Centre which is helping disadvantaged artists to practice and create their arts. Traditzia supports people from the Roma and ethnic Turkish communities and people with disabilities from eight regions of Bulgaria. Their efforts are focused on helping them grow to become self-sufficient by developing their artwork into attractive high quality handicraft products. Our groups can visit the handicraft centre, and make purchases which in turn is supporting the organisation.
Viscri is a Saxon village located near Sighisoara in Romania. This village was originally inhabited by the Saxons who returned to Germany in 1989. Our groups have the chance to have dinner at a traditional Saxon house, to visit the fortified church and to learn about various projects set up to help the local community. The most famous of these, the Sock Project, involves approximately 125 women knitting 10,000 pairs of socks a year earning around 45,000 Euro for the village!
Carbon Offset C02-e 713.00 kgs per pax.
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