Spy vs Spy

Well not really, but the old MAD magazine cartoon was fun.

What I really would like input on is hearing if there is anyone out there that has taken BOTH the a) Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, & Prague tour and the b) Northern Spain, The Rioja Valley and Madrid tours ( asking this was too long for the Discussion Title, hence the Spy vs Spy decision ). If so, could you comment on if you clearly preferred one over the other and why. I'm sure both were great but I thought I'd ask.

We've seen some aspects of both tours. We've seen Vienna and Krakow from the a) tour and we've seen Madrid from the b) tour.

If you haven't taken both tours, but have seen enough of the visited locales of both tours a) and b), then I'd appreciate your feedback as well.

These are two fill-in candidates for next year as things have fallen apart this year.



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    edited May 2020

    We took the Warsaw, B, V and P land tour and loved it, though of course there is a lot of overwhelmingly sad and shocking history. You definitely see more in each location than on a comparable river cruise tour. This was confirming by the TD, Mark, who was excellent. He often leads the Israel Jordan tours I believe and would love to have him if our tour goes next year. An advantage on the tour is that you get to see the inside of the Budapest Parliament Building which you don’t on a river cruise. It s incredible. Very busy and you would definitely need to book way in advance if you went independently for an English speaking tour. Airport type security there. You also get to drive through beautiful countryside. I recently posted my husband making strudel on the tour on the food thread that Claudia started.
    I’ve been to Madrid, but not on a tour. My husband had a conference, so I went with him. Unfortunately the hotel was way out from the center, so I had to get a $30 plus Uber every day to site see. The palace was excellent and the Prado, which takes hours to go round. Forget the name of the other art museum, but also excellent. You can see most everything in about three days. Warning.... Madrid airport is super huge with lots of security points and long lines.
    I would like to take the Spain and Portugal tour some day

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    I agree with British about the Warsaw, B, V and P land tour. If you're into European history, I haven't been on a better tour. This part of Europe is just so rich in it. It probably helped that we had what I consider the best TD of any trip (Stephen, and British, I had Mark on the I/J tour and I'd place him a close second). Both Prague and Budapest are amazing cities (despite the Bolsonaro-like lunatic who is current PM of Hungary).

    Been to Madrid with another tour company and it just doesn't compare to the cities of central Europe. I did really like Barcelona. haven't been to the intermediate stops on the trip you mention.

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    BKMD -- Is Stephen married to another Tauck TD? (Spent his high school years on Cape Cod, then went to the University of Maine.) If so, I had him as TD on Southeast Asia. I think he mentioned that he also did that central European tour. I agree that he was excellent. (I had Carmine on I/J, and he was excellent as well. It's hard to find one who wasn't!). I've been to Budapest, Prague (twice) and Vienna (twice). I'd love to go back to Budapest and want to go to Warsaw. I'm especially interested in seeing Auschwitz. One of my trips to Vienna was with Tauck. I'm trying to decide whether it would be worth it to go back to places where I've been. There's a big world out there, and I'm running out of time.

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    MCD - I know he's from the Boston area and was married a number of times. When I did this tour (summer 2017) he was single. Ran into him outside Yad Vashem on the I/J tour in Nov 2019. What are the odds?

    I had been to Budapest for a weekend in 1982 when it was still Communist. The architecture was the same, but otherwise the difference was amazing. This time there were cars on the streets, people dressed in bright colors and smiling, and no high barbed wire fences with soldiers in towers with machine guns at the Austrian-Hungarian border.

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    Odds are slim, at best. That's the same guy. He was raised in Boston and then his family moved to the Cape when he was in high school. We bonded over Hockey East. I'm a big BC fan. He was recruited to play for Maine, but never did.

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    Smiling Sam,

    We have been on both tours. While the Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna and Prague (WBVP) tour is very similar to the one we took in 2011, the Northern Spain tour differs significantly from the one we took in 2013. The tour we took drove down the Portuguese coast and ended in Lisbon while the current one flies to Madrid. Some of the intermediate stops are different as well. With that caveat, I'll share my opinion of the tours.

    These are two very different tours. Both are good and worth taking. Which one you would prefer depends upon your interest in a tour that is almost entirely in larger cities and concentrates on history, architecture, music and art or if you would like some smaller towns and countryside thrown in.

    We enjoyed all of the cities in the WBVP tour. We are interested in World War II and life under the Communists. From the beginning in Warsaw though the end in Prague we were thrilled with what we saw and experienced. If you've never been to a concentration camp, you shouldn't miss Auschwitz/Birkenau. They were still working on a museum in Warsaw regarding the History of the Polish Jews which I'd love to see if we return. We got to experience the devastation of WWII in Warsaw. Almost the entire city was destroyed before the soviets entered. We saw a film showing the women digging through the rubble with shovels to rescue some personal possessions. Warsaw was better than I had anticipated.

    In Budapest we had a guide who was in her forties and described life in Hungary for her grandmother, her father, herself and her children.

    The hotel in Vienna is next to the Opera house. When we were there they were showing performances on a large outdoor screen. We were able to hear then from our room and if we leaned out could actually see the picture.

    Prague is a beautiful city. If you go you should see the Mucha museum which shows his artwork as well as the larger one with his Slavic masterpiece.

    We also had Stephen as our guide. His background is studying history and is from Massachusetts. He may have taught at UMass at some point (or at least studied there).

    Northern Spain includes the city of Barcelona which is among my favorite cities. It's very different from other Spanish cities. It's more like France. The Sagrada Familia is wonderful and there are many other Gaudi buildings (and even a park) to experience. It's very walkable and the food is quite good. I'm not a fan of Madrid which I see as a large city without the character that I felt in the Eastern European cities. If I was to compare Barcelona and Madrid, I'd say they are Boston and NYC.

    The smaller towns are quite nice. La Seu d'Urgell was the site of the kayaking and canoeing for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and is situated beautifully. San Sebastian is a seaside resort where you can wander the town or even go to the beach. Santiago de Compostela is one of the highlights of the trip. You see the pilgrims who have completed the Camino. They have a pilgrim's Mass for them where they swing a large incense burner after the Mass. The hotel the tour stays at is on the same square as the church at the end of the Camino. As an interesting fact, every day they permit some of the walkers to come in for breakfast in the dining room.

    We stopped for lunch in a few paradors in smaller towns which I think the tour still does.

    If you choose this tour, don't go in the height of the summer. It can be very hot.

    To reiterate, I don't think you can go wrong with either tour. The choice should be based upon the type of experience you would like to have.

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    All, thanks for the comments.

    We've done the Spain and Portugal tour, which we loved, which is how we picked up Madrid. I believe the tour is different now then when we did it in 2014. Yes, Madrid airport is large. We loved the Spain and Portugal tour, but it only did southern Spain, hence our desire to pick up Barcelona and the rest of the north of Spain. Doing so we would repeat Madrid, although the hotel is different on this tour. On the Spain and Portugal tour the Madrid hotel was near the Prado and the things in that area. On the Northern Spain tour the Madrid hotel is close to the Presidential Palace, so if we ventured out on our own in Madrid sounds like we could easily pick up different things that are within walking distance of the hotel. So with only the Madrid overlap this doesn't seem too bad.

    With respect to W,B,V, and P tour we would be repeating Krakow and Vienna from our Berlin, Danube, and Krakow river tour. During the river tour we saw most of the sights of Krakow (Wawel Castle, the city center, Auschwitz, and the Salt Mines). For Vienna, we've been there on two different tours, one Tauck and one non-Tauck. Although we saw Schonbrun Palace on one of the tours (the non-Tauck one), how Tauck sees it would make it a much different experience. Not sure how I'd pick up the other tour spots (Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague) with less overlap. If anyone sees some other tour that might allow me to pick up Warsaw, Budapest, and Pragues without the Krakow and Vienna overlap please let me know.

    Like MCD, I'm struggling with whether it would be worth it to revisit places I've already been. I've already done that for a few places (London, Venice, Vienna) because of tour overlap. I definitely don't need to see Venice anymore, two tours filled that itch. Repeating some of these key tour cities may still be the most efficient way to pick up additional places that you haven't seen. This overlap issue is what has steered me to other parts of the world. I will run into another of these overlap issues if/when I take the Normandy, Loire Valley,... tour.

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    We had Stephen F. on Romantic Germany. (Single. One or more former wives) He also does I & J and Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna & Prague – Honoring the Jewish Heritage tour (his favorite). He is quite passionate about the history.

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    Kathy M - It looks like we posted our above replies at the same time, before either had seen the others new posting. I think you've summed up the decision to be made with respect to the two tours.

    With respect to your fondness for WWII history and such, if you haven't seen Berlin, then you need to do it. We really enjoyed our days in Berlin (including the gift of time extra day) as part of Berlin, Danube, and Krakow tour.

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    I have been to many places more than once. I think when you go the second, third time....you are more relaxed Because you know what else there is to see and that you will have time. You can estimate distances and times and go back to a restaurant you like etc. many places change a great deal over the years, it almost feels like you have never been. There are many things in life I like to do more than once and traveling to a place more than once is no exception. There is no way you can check everything off your wish list And thank goodness for that.

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    Alan -- That's not my TD Stephen (who actually went by "Steve.") Here he is
    (with more of those Cambodian tarantulas).

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    British I have been to many places more than once.

    Just curious... When you go back to a place, do you do it on your own?

    Sam mentioned London. That's a city you can return to many times, like NYC.

    MCD That's not my TD Stephen

    When you said hockey, that raised some doubts with me as he didn't seem like the athletic type, but things could have been different 40 years ago. AlanS posted the Stephen that was my TD.

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    I had the first Stephen that was posted on the Warsaw/Krakow.....tour.

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    edited May 2020

    Having flown internationally for many years, and domestic for a number of years, I visited many places more than once. Just as at home, I found what I considered the best restaurants, and the most enjoyable places, and I enjoyed visiting them over and over again. Often the crew could be as many as twelve or thirteen, so there were lots of offerings ... but we tended to gravitate to the same places. Flight crews don’t often go to ‘Michelin’ star restaurants, but they know a lot of good places where you might be landing.

    We have also traveled with Steve pictured above.

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    I went to places before I went back and visited with Tauck. Have been back to the same places with Tauck on slightly different tours. Have taken two of the same tours twice.

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    I had Stephen F. (the one in the photo posted by AlanS) on my I/J tour November 2019 (Thanksgiving time frame). He was wonderful and very patient with a very difficult guest. BKMD perhaps our paths crossed at Yad Vashem...that was a moving experience.

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    edited May 2020

    PureLuxury - I was there at the beginning of November. Personally, I found Auschwitz much more disturbing.

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    BKMD--I've never visited Auschwitz. It is on my list. I did visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and of course the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC...both quite moving. It took two visits to Germany for me to visit Dachau. On my first visit i just couldn't bring myself to go. During my 2nd visit a friend insisted we experience it and just allow our emotions to pour out. I'm glad i made the effort.


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    edited May 2020

    PureLuxury - As part of the Berlin, Danube, and Krakow river tour we visited the Auschwitz/Birkenau camp and Oskar Schindler's factory ( two of the featured things in Krakow, along with Wawel Castle, the Salt Mines, and the city center of Krakow). The history and scope of what took place at these locations was very moving/disturbing.

    If I do the Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague tour I'd probably opt for something different than a second visit to Auschwitz.

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