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Eastern and Western Europe -- Part I

Author: WFDoran (More Trip Reviews by WFDoran)
Date of Trip: June 2006



On Monday June 5th I headed out for a three week sojourn to Eastern and Western Europe which combined a week's worth of work and two week's worth of vacation. I hopped on Delta's flight from Greensboro to La Guardia then took a cab over to Kennedy where I connected to Delta flight 30 direct to Moscow, Russia. There must have been tremendous tailwinds because we made the flight from New York to Moscow in about 8 1/2 hours which is normally a journey of about 10 hours.

Moscow was having an extremely late spring. The trees barely had any leaves on them and the temperatures were in the 60's during the day and high 40's at night. It was cloudy and a bit rainy most of the time.

As I was only staying in Moscow for two nights I decided to stay at the Novotel hotel located at the airport. I chose this hotel for a couple of reasons. The first was that at $275 a night it was a relative bargain for a Moscow hotel and secondly it cut down on the amount of time we would have to spend fighting the horrible Moscow traffic. Most of the hotels in downtown Moscow are at least $350 a night. The majority of our meetings were halfway between the airport and downtown so it really paid off to stay out at the Novotel rather than in central Moscow.

We finished up in Moscow on Thursday afternoon and flew off to Riga, Latvia. We brought spring to Riga with us. When we arrived the weather was in the 70's and the sun was shining bright. It remained that way until we left on Saturday afternoon.

Latvia continues to show signs of a growing economy. New construction of all types is going on in the capital city of Riga and the traffic is getting worse. We stayed at the Radisson SAS Daugava hotel which is right on the river across from Old Town. The company we do business with there has an outstanding room rate at the Radisson of 72 euros per night including breakfast. If you tried to book it through a travel agency the same room would cost about $170. It's classed as a five star hotel but it really isn't although it is a decent place to stay and the location is fine.

Thursday evening our host took us to a supposedly great new restaurant that just opened slightly outside of town. I should have known by the name that it was not going to be a legendary culinary experience. The Martini Bar had no shortage of nubile young blonde Latvian ladies and loud music, however the food was forgettable.

Latvia, along with the other two Baltic tigers Estonia and Lithuania could make for an interesting vacation. All of the countries have beautiful beaches on the Baltic Sea and lots of unspoiled pristine countryside. All three countries are dotted with small farms and villages and are very clean and environmentally conscience. There's great fresh water and salt water fishing, mountain biking, hiking, rafting and a relatively uncrowded atmosphere. Some castles dot the countryside and the small towns and villages are relatively inexpensive, plus the people are extremely friendly. I would recommend a trip to the Baltics for those who are slightly adventurous.

On Friday evening we had dinner at Monterosso Restorante Italiano at Valmueilea Street, Old Town. This restaurant was as good as the Martini Bar was bad. They served a wide variety of classic Italian meat, fish and pasta dishes and had an excellent wine list. I started with a great mixed salad and then moved onto penne arrabiata, which was spiced just perfectly and finished up with veal Marsala and mushrooms. We drank some nice Spanish wine which seems to have gained quite a following in Eastern Europe because of its price and quality.

We finished our business early Saturday afternoon and I flew to Paris. My wife Pat was coming in early the next morning and we would take off on our two week trip to Italy.

As usual I stayed at the Ibis Hotel at terminal 3 at Charles de Gaulle airport. This hotel is one of the best bargains in the world. On the weekends the rooms are 89 euros a night and breakfast is 6 euros. They have a reasonable restaurant with indoor/outdoor dining. I had a better than acceptable chicken risotto, a very good help yourself salad bar and a bottle of modest wine all for a grand sum of 24 euros ($31).

The other super feature about this hotel is that it's right next to the RER subway station that runs directly into central Paris. A round trip ticket is 16 euros ($20) and takes about thirty minutes.

When I got to Paris the weather was absolutely magnificent. It was beautiful, clear, sunshiny and temperatures in the low 80's. I hopped on the RER and buzzed into town for the balance of the afternoon and early evening. I had a wonderful time wandering around town shooting pictures. I spent most of my time on the right and left banks of the Seine River as did most of Paris on that lovely day.

I stopped by Place Dauphine and much to my surprise an art show had taken over the whole area. As I wandered through I stopped and watched what I thought was an artist creating an abstract painting. I took a picture of him doing so. He then stood up and said to me, "Monsieur, would you like to be part of this collaborative effort?" I said sure. He said, "Go pick a color and an instrument to apply the oils to the canvas and make your contribution." I did, so now among other things I'm a Parisian artist.

All of the parks along the river were crowded as were the areas along both banks. The tour boats were filled with people and everybody was enjoying the magnificent, beautiful Paris day. At that time of year it's light outside until at least 9pm so after tramping around for a few hours I sat at a sidewalk café and had a glass of wine and watched the world go by for a while before heading back to the Ibis hotel. As usual I met some interesting people and had good conversation over a nightcap glass of wine at the bar in the Ibis. This time it was a family from Oakland, California. Last time it was an entrepreneur from eastern Germany.

On Sunday morning I hopped on the shuttle bus and took the five minute ride over to Charles de Gaulle to meet Pat's incoming flight. Everything was on time. For once we got lucky, her flight landed in terminal E and our flight to Venice was in terminal F, which is a short three minute walk. Everything worked perfectly. We arrived at Venice's Marco Polo airport around 12:30pm. The weather was magnificent, mid 70's and sunny. We took a bus to the Venice Mestere train station to catch our train to Verona.

The guide book had told us that the train trip from Venice to Verona was around an hour. They neglected to tell us there were various types of trains and the one we got on stopped at every town along the way so it took almost two hours. The train only had 2nd class accommodations and this particular train was devoid of air-conditioning.

We arrived in Verona hot, dirty, sweaty, tired and hungry. We went into the McDonalds at the station which was a combination McDonalds, pizzeria and bar. The pizza looked fabulous, better than anything they serve in our hometown of Greensboro. We had a nice big slice covered with fresh mushrooms and a couple of cold diet cokes while I called our hotel and got directions. Pat went to the restroom at the station and it cost 1.5 euros (almost $2) to use the facilities. When I got directions from the hotel they said it was right around the corner from the train station, which in essence turned out to be a ten minute walk.

Our hotel was the Novo Hotel Rossi, a three star hotel on Via Small del Coste, 2 37138 Verona, Italy. The tab was 103 euros per night including breakfast. We haven't been on vacation to Italy in three years and I must say that these smaller hotels in the medium cities have made fantastic improvements. Every hotel we stayed in had a king size bed and the room was air-conditioned. Also, each one has been recently renovated or redecorated. They also got the message that people like a large thick bath towel. All of them provided a nice giant bath towel that was reasonably thick as well as decent sized hand towels. The prices range from 77 euros to 102 euros per night. All but the 77 euros hotel provided breakfast.



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