Planning Our Trip
As we travelled, many people spoke about tours they had done with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). We looked at the various itineraries and decided we would try our first tour with OAT to Central Europe. The OAT itinerary took us from Prague to Budapest. From there, we continued on our own to complete our 6 weeks in Central Europe.
A few weeks before the trip we got an email from the tour group leader Vashek. It was great to be able to ask him questions about our specific tour. Most of the online information seemed to be generic regardless of the tour you were doing. We were much better prepared for our first tour with OAT when we left for Central Europe.
Starting Our Tour In Prague
We arrived in Prague 5 days before the tour started. This gave us time to get over jet lag and to do a little wandering on our own. Vashek met with us the day we landed and was very helpful in giving us tips on how to enjoy Prague. We had a great time in Prague and didn’t overlap with was planned for our organized tour.
We moved hotels the day our first tour with OAT formally started. It was clear that the new hotel was used to hosting tour groups. We waited while a large group checked in before us. We had time to settle into our room before the first group meeting. The initial meeting reviewed our agenda, provided some basic group rules and gave is a quick introduction to the 12 other people on our tour.
Vashek took us for a brief walk around the hotel to point out key things in the neighbourhood – shops, bank machines, the pharmacy and the local transit stops. This was helpful to us since the new hotel was in a very different part Prague from where we started. We got a warning in Prague about being careful where we exchanged money. Most of the street exchange shops had a bad exchange rate and/or charged a high service fee.
The first of many group meals was held at a local restaurant. We got a taste of the food of Central Europe. It was clear that we would not be able to follow our low carb diet on our first tour with OAT!
Touring As A Group
The OAT tour groups are small with a maximum of 16 people. We had 14 in our group. All but David and I were from the U.S. Many in the group were retired and most people were well travelled. We were surprised at the number of solo travellers. But then we learned there was no single supplement.
I was worried that I would be the slowest person in the group. I was not. And the tour leader did a great job of accommodating people. We were pleased to find that our whole group was punctual and we never had to wait for people. Vashek did a good job of corralling the group as we moved at a slow but steady pace.
In Prague, we only used the big tour bus once to get us close to the Prague Castle. In Budapest the bus took us up for a sunset view and to explore Buda castle. The rest of our time inside the cities we walked or used public transit to get around. This worked out better than sitting in traffic. But it did mean that our daily walking was more than the tour advertised!
We travelled between towns by bus. With only 14 people, we had lots of room to spread out in the bus. I tried a couple of times to work while the bus was travelling. But the twisty country roads really did not help to keep my laptop steady.
Touring as a group worked out pretty well on our first tour with OAT.
We Kept A Gruelling Schedule
The pace of the trip on our first tour with OAT was hard on some. But apparently not up to the normal OAT “adventure” standard for others.
It was a very busy 14 days on our OAT tour from Prague to Budapest. We saw so much more than we would have seen on our own. Many days we were with the tour group for almost 12 hours a day. There were a lot of walking tours. We definitely exceeded the walking distance that the tour brochure had stated.
A couple of days we had free afternoons. I often needed these as down periods and tried to use this time to catch up on blog work and pictures.
Most days we had two meals with the group but some days we had three. Often we did a short walk to get to our meal. Once we went out of town in Bratislava to a winery for dinner. We usually got a great local meal. The only meal choice offered was for those who were vegetarian. Every meal came with one or two beverages that always included wine or beer.
On travel days, we often had two or three stops along the way. The stops along the way were interesting places that we may never have found on our own. One day we toured the Budwar Budweiser beer factory. We spent an afternoon at the Lednice Palace. And one morning we went to the Lipno ski hill and walked high in the treetops. But the travel days were as busy as the days touring in the city.
For our first tour with OAT, we found the pace to be fast and the days long. But it did mean we maximized the experiences every day.
Visiting With The Locals
One of the things that OAT promotes is the chance to actually meet the local people. Since we tended to stay in smaller hotels, Vashek always made sure to introduce us to the owners or operators of the hotels. On our stay in Slavonice in the Czech Republic, the owner of our hotel actually took us into his extensive wine cellar for a tasting.
One night we had dinner at the home of a local resident outside of Slavonice. We spent time to get to know the woman, toured her large garden and learned about the products she made from the garden herbs. It was a great home cooked meal. The group brought her different gifts from their home towns.
One immersion activity was a morning spent at a goat farm. We got to see the process for tending the goats and the process to make goat cheese. The cheese was so good we wanted to take a supply home. We worked together with the family to make a typical lunch meal.
We had another opportunity to meet with the locals for morning coffee in the homes of different people in Bratislava. In Budapest one of our local guides was a fascinating gentlemen. He shared his experiences through the Budapest revolutionary period as we toured the Budapest Parliament area and saw a wide range of memorials.
On our first tour with OAT, we got many chances to meet the local people.
Learning More About The History
At every stop in the Czech Republic, we got a great look at life being lived today. But on many of our stops, we got a great glimpse into the history of this country. One morning we got a sobering look at a uranium mine that was used as a forced labour camp first by the Germans and then by the Soviets.
On our stay in Slavonice we got to visit the Zidovsky Hrbitov Jewish cemetery. It was in the middle of a field with a small marker.
We saw another stark reminder of the Jewish history in the Czech Republic when we visited the Zadni Synagogue in Trebic on our way to Bratislava!
As we drove through the countryside, our guide would often point out humps in the fields. These were old abandoned bunkers. One day we got to visit inside one of these bunkers.
A side trip to Austria to see the Roman ruins at Carnuntum took us ever further back in history. It was fascinating to see the size of the Roman town that stood on this spot.
On our first tour with OAT we saw of so many reminders of the Czech Republic past.
Hotels – The Good And The Not So Good
The hotels chosen in the host cities were generally local, boutique hotels. This meant that they were small and often charming in decor. Many people oohed and ahhhed over the quaint decorations and room designs.
We got breakfast in the hotels every day. Food was generally good and plentiful. Good coffee was hit or miss. We often got a supply of fruit and vegetables to start our day. A good thing since most of our Central European meals had little fruit or veggie servings.
But twice we got rooms at the top of the hotel in the attic. Air conditioning either didn’t work or was non-existent. Normally in April this would not have been a problem. But we visited Central Europe in a very warm April and May. The attic rooms had sloped ceilings that resulted in more than one accident. We generally had little options for better rooms.
Internet service was available at all hotels. Generally the access was ok. But the bandwidth generally took a nose dive when the whole group was in their rooms. I really missed the high speed access we got for the rest of the trip around Central Europe on our own.
The Tour Group Leader Can Make Or Break Your Trip
We got very lucky with our tour group leader Vashek. He was from the Czech Republic and he just wanted to share this region of Europe with us. He took part in all of the activities with us. And I hope he had as much fun as we did!
In every town Vashek shopped for local products for us to try, whether it was beer, fruit liqueurs, rum, cookies or sausage. It was always a surprise!
Vashek provided lots of information as we travelled. In some spots he was the local tour guide. He provided an interesting perspective on life and history. When we finished the tour, he emailed us a bunch of additional information and pictures. If you are ever visiting in the Czech Republic, he would be a great guide!
Our first tour with OAT was made that much better by our local guide!
Small Challenges For Us
Before we started our trip, our initial impressions with OAT were not great. As an American firm, they really did not know how to deal with Canadians. Our address in their database remained as Boston (their home office). Much of the correspondence came by snail mail and it generally took over a month to get to us. But we ultimately got our trip planned and paid for. The online portal let us look up most of the things we needed to know.
As Canadians, we could not take advantage of any air reservations from OAT. We would have had to fly to the U.S. and travel from there. Like other travel we have done, the air reservations made by tour companies often were not ideal. Some people left the hotel on the last day at 4am. Many had at least one transfer to make. We were actually glad we were able to make our own travel plans.
We have done group tours before but never for this long a time. By the end of several days of various excursion bus tours, we always vowed “never again”. But then on the next cruise we signed up again. Our first tour with OAT for 14 days was hard on us – even with a good small group and a great tour leader. It was hard for us to be moved out early day after day to someone else’s plan. As a hard core introvert, I found the long days with the group was taxing. I just needed more time alone and quiet. But if you like to meet new friends, this might be a way for you to bond over an extended time together.
Our First Tour With OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) Was Good
We were not sure what to expect when we booked our first tour with OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel). It had come so highly recommended we were willing to give it a try. We chose a pretty low risk itinerary for our first tour. And we chose an area where we really wanted to have a local guide. We definitely saw and learned so much more than we would have had we done a trip from Prague to Budapest on our own. Our tour guide Vashek went out of his way to make sure we go the absolute most we could from our days with him.
Group touring for this length of time is probably still not my favourite way to travel. We must admit to wanting a little more luxury and a little more free time in the schedule. But then, we have the leisure to travel through Central Europe for 6 weeks. Not everyone has that freedom or means.
We would definitely consider the more adventurous tours offered by OAT when we look at options in those parts of the world. A tour group of 14 is definitely much better than large groups. And the local experience and knowledge we gained was great.
What did you think of our first tour with OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel)? Does this look like something you would consider?
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