(Based on visits to
Poland in April 2001 and Warsaw in June 2005, Budapest in April 2003,
Zagreb in October 2000 and Sarajevo in Sept 1999)
Eastern Europe is probably my favourite part of the planet (that
I've actually been to, that is). There's something about the general
pace of life, and the price of beer, that keeps me going back for
This mini-guide is for the places I don't know quite well enough
to devote a whole mini-guide to. The Poland and Budapest guides
were taken directly from an email to a friend of mine (Davie Carruth)
who was touring Eastern Europe with his fianceé Shannon in
Spring 2003. The Zagreb and Sarajevo paragraphs are taken from my
distant memories of my short trips there in 2000 and 1999 respectively.
Almost every pub is underground (which I like, although I'm sure
Health & Safety wouldn't). The beer (mostly Zwyiec) is very
strong, but if you get the chance, give Helvetius a go. The best
vodkas are Wyborowa (clear and normal - good chilled if you have
to drink it neat) and Zubrowka (or bison-grass vodka, very smooth
and mild taste) - Zubrowka and apple juice mixed in equal parts
is called a Tatanka, and is very nice (and doesn't give you a hangover).
Remember that no-one pronounces "W" (as in Germany and
Russia, it is sounded as a "V", therefore Warsaw = "Vashava").
A great place to go, and great weekend nightlife (although very
quiet during the week). We got almost all of our pubs out of In
Your Pocket, but in particular I recommend the Latacy Holender (Flying
Dutchman), in the basement of the LOT building on the south of the
old town, and the pub on the right of the old town square in the
middle as you walk in from the river. The cafes on Mariacka (running
between the huge St Mary's church and the river) are also well worth
Gdansk is beautiful, and you can get a boat to where WW2 started,
as well as jump on a 20-minute train to Sopot (twinned with Southend!),
home to one of the world's longest piers, a Baltic beach and a Scottish
pub called the Language Pub. There are also loads of castles and
stuff around, but we didn't go (and you can get a boat to Hel).
It took a while before I managed to visit Warsaw (in Summer 2005),
but had heard mixed things, from high crime rates to a disappointing
old town. I'm happy to report that the Old Town is nice, if a little
on the new side, and we weren't troubled by any aggro, although
there does seem to be a disproportionate amount of shell-suited
skinheads hanging around the Metro stations!
We splashed out and stayed in the top-notch Le Meridien Bristol
(well, it was on the way home from a week in Belarus!), which was
well-placed between the Old Town and the newer commercial centre
around the main station (which is a real hive of scum and villainy!).
There's a sad story behind the destruction (and subsequent reconstruction)
of the Old and New (but still very old) Towns, as the Nazis sought
to target the most ancient and nationalistic signs of the Polish
psyche with their slash and burn withdrawal (the Russian Army is
also accused of being complicit as they sat and watched on the opposite
bank of the river). So although everything (bar one wall) is basically
a little shinier than it should it be, and has the feel of a communist
theme park attempt at how things were once upon a time, there is
a very good reason for this!
We were only there for two days, and I was suffering from a summer
cold, so our sight-seeing and drinking was severely curtailed. We
did make it up the very kitsch "Palace of Science & Culture"
tower by the station - the tallest of the "Stalin's Birthday
Cake" towers (the others are in Moscow, although a few mini
ones exist, e.g. Riga). We went on a Monday morning expecting it
to be quiet - it was mobbed with screaming Polish school kids, and
there's only a few lifts. Just over the road, similar views can
be had in much more comfort in the bar of the Marriott Hotel (expensive
Our eating and drinking experiences were very limited - Elefant
on Pl Bankowy had excellent steaks, and Pierogarni on Piwna in the
old town had incredibly friendly service and did taster plates of
Polish staple pierogi (like big, doughy ravioli). The Pub pod Barylka,
down the hill from the Old Town entrance on Marienstazt Square was
not as good as the Lonely Planet (1999 edition, admittedly!) made
it sound, but still worth looking out for a decent range of Polish
There's a lot of things we didn't do, and we certainly would go
back, so watch this space!
The rest of Poland
Krakow supposedly more than makes up for this (we want to go there).
Avoid Wloclawek at all costs (but if you do end up there, head for
the Warka Strong Club), and Bygdoszcz, where the Scotland game was
played, is surprisingly okay (and full of student nurses) - best
bet of all there is the Amsterdam pub and the superb Pub Medyk.
I'd recommend getting the
11am bus from Deak Ter (opp Le Meridien hotel) to the Statue Park
(just under £7 for the bus and entrance) full of old communist
statues. There you can buy a "Simple Red Band World Tour 1917-1971"
tshirt with Lenin, Stalin and Marx on. You get around 40 mins at
the park, but that's plenty as its just a group of statues in a
park (but they do make for some good photos).
The obvious choices such as the Parliament building, the Palace
and the Fisherman's Bastion are worth a visit, and if you want to
see a mummified Saints' hand, head for St Stephen's Basilica.
The one must-do thing I'd
recommend is the House of Hungarian Wines, opposite the Hilton hotel
in the Palace Old Town bit - you pay a tenner each (3500 forint)
and get a small tasting glass for keeps. For this you get two hours
wandering around a wine cellar with around 50-60 open bottles of
wine that you just help yourself to with your glass. Expensive-ish,
but you can work hard and make it count! The Hilton over the road
has an amazing wine cellar built into the hillside (i.e in a cave)
- head in the front door, turn left past the bar and keep following
the signs, even when they lead downstairs into the rock. Wine there
is relatively expensive (£2-ish a glass) but it's worth a
visit just for the one!
Be cautious in the touristy pubs on the main street (Vaci Utca)
as they can scam tourists. There is a (posh) Scottish pub in a going-out
street (Raday Utca) called Sir William (as in Wallace) - we left
a Scotland France '98 scarf when we were there - it's not worth
hanging around in there. Another going out area is around Oktagon.
If you go to West Station (Nugati Pu) and walk down Jokai St towards
Oktagon, you'll pass the Crazy Cafe on the right (with all the beer
signs outside) - worth popping in if you're there (just for the
waitresses!). Jokai St heads up to Oktagon and the trendy street
cafe-ish Liszt F Ter.
If you get tired of the touristy city centre, and fancy a slice
of real local life, you could head for the pubs near Kispest Honved's
ground (Ferenc Puskas' old team, before he went to Real Madrid)
- we saw them play when we were there. Get the blue metro (M3) to
Hatar Ut, walk out the metro to the right and get a number 42 tram
(it can come either side of the track as it's a terminus) - stay
on it 6 stops to Tulipan Utca (look for a bunch of grapes and a
borozo sign on the right 150m before the stop). The Borozo (at Ady
Endre Utca 115) is a real traditional local - i.e. a room with a
shelf to lean on and a handful of stools. The wine is served out
of soup canteens on the counter into half-pint glasses and cost
us 15p-30p a go (I think we were undercharged as we left a NATA
pennant - look out for the yellow one on the wall). Wine bars in
Hungary are not really full of women, but Helen was fine in there
(after she politely refused a red wine spritzer!). Right next to
the tram stop is another decent bar, and 150 yards on from the stop
is a railway line (right next to the ground's turnstiles) - immediately
right here is another good bar called Arena (although I did have
to speak German to be understood!). To complete this, there's another
bar inside the
ground (in the bottom of the Kispest Hotel building), although this
might only be open for games. Well worth a trip if you want some
local colour (even if there's no game on). If there is a game on
there, ladies should get in free - it'll cost blokes around £3!
Zagreb is a fantastic city, and I'd even consider it for a stag
weekend. The nightlife is superb, the city is picturesque, and the
women are absolutely stunning (see the entry in Women
of the World). The city developed around the end of the 19th
century, when the railways moved in, and a lot of the historic buildings
are from around this time.
Sight-wise, you need to head up the funicular railway from Ilica
to Gornji Gradec, where you'll find narrow cobbled streets and the
mosaic-roofed Parliament building. There's a pleasant stroll downhill
to Tkalciceva (where a load of pubs are - see below). The Maksimir
Stadium, where Dinamo Zagreb and the national team (usually) play
is worth a visit, as is the small zoo over the road in the park.
Zagreb's second team, NK Zagreb, play in a typical Eastern European
stadium in the south-west of the city centre - near the University
area (and lots of student pubs and cafes).
The main pub when were in town was the Bulldog - named after the
Bad Blue Boys' (Dinamo's Ultra group) mascot. You can find it in
Bogoviceva, just south of the main square (Trg Josip Jelacica),
a street running at right angles to the huge glass palace that is
the 3* Hotel Dubrovnik. Just south of the Dubrovnik is the excellent
Boban italian restaurant, owned by Zvonimir Boban, the ex-Croatian
A far more fertile hunting ground for cafe-bars is Tkaciceva, running
from Trg Josip Jelacica northwards (right up to the highly-recommended,
but not by me as I never went, Saloon nightclub). There are dozens
of small, cosy cafe bars where it is equally acceptable to have
a beer or a coffee - all of these spring to life in a pavement cafe
style when the weather's fine. For more lively drinking, head one
street up to Opatovina, where half-a-dozen popular bars sit cheek-by-jowl.
Another two bars worth seeking out are next door to each other up
Gradec hill - the magical Hobbit, and the brightly coloured cocktail
bar next door.
Sarajevo was one of those places I instantly regretted not spending
more time in. We stayed in the Hotel Saraj at the the head of the
horseshoe-shaped valley the city sits in, and it was around 10-15
minutes walk downhill to the Turkish quarter of the old town.
My abiding memory of the city was how much the streets thronged
with young, happy people. We popped into a pizzeria (owned by a
retired bodyguard) near the Turkish quarter whilst it was still
light, and when came back out, it was dusk and there were smiling
young people our for a good night everywhere we looked. We literally
got swept into the brilliant named Cafe Muppet, and sampled a good
few other bars in the centre before getting a cab out to the Harp,
an Irish bar near to the Kosevo Stadium and a favourite with ex-pats
Two other places worth mentioning are: Marquee, on the river front
- a late night bar with a Harley Davidson inside, a good selection
of music, and, when we were there, porn on the telly; and Fis, a
lively student bar/club where we were made very welcome and met
lots of decent people. The beer is superb - Sarajevska Pils is,
in my opinion, up there with the best brews Eastern Europe has to
Unfortunately, due to the lack of time spent there, we didn't get
to see any sights.