Eric set a leisurely pace within a tightly structured timetable. He gave good advice on currency (imporant when travelling to 5 countries in 14 days) and recommendations for restaurants were sound. I followed all recommendations for additional activities and they were very worthwhile: concert in Vienna, evening cruise in Budapest, the visit to the glacier lake in the Tatras, the Salt Mines and Auschwitz in Krakow. Eric is easy going and relaxed.
This tour was different from those I have taken in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The guides there spent much more time with the whole group and meals were almost always taken as a whole group. On this tour, people split up and did their own thing in the cities so there much less of a 'group ambience'. And the guide was less prominent as each city had a specialist local guide to accompany the city tour. I enjoyed having the CD of additional photographs which Eric produced.
Fruit and vegetables are best consumed at breakfast! The menu for vegetarians was a bit limited but for 2 weeks it was OK. Most of the diet in restaurants consisted of meat with dumplings of various sorts.
I took walking poles for the hike and these were useful to take the strain off my old knees!
There is not much time for browsing or shopping on this trip - a wooden toy, paprika, some Polish pottery, a book of poetry from Auschwitz and finally some Baltic amber.
The whole trip was well balanced and very interesting. I have waited a long time for a chance to visit these historic cities and the progression through the countries was a real immersion course in central european history. It was wonderful to visit the smaller UNESCO World Heritage towns, which I had never previously heard of but really appreciated.
I would recommend this trip to friends, and would do it myself again without hesitation! So the following comments are just personal ideas to add that final gloss to an excellent travelling experience.
I would have enjoyed more cultural insights; this could take the form of a collection of books to browse on the bus, or general information such as some big pictures books to browse through. I did have some printed material that I had downloaded but did not bring all the guide books due to packing realities! A road map to have a look at would also have been interesting.
As some of the stops were very short, a sketch of the town showing the location of the most important buildings + other highlights + good cafes would have been useful: some stops were only 45 minutes and although it was impressive to just stroll, I would have preferred to have had a map when doing so (e.g. Sopron, Levoca, Szentendre). One photocopied A4 page, expanded from the trip notes, would not be too difficult to produce and would be very useful to maximise the interest in the visit to the town.
The minibus from the Tatras to Krakow is rather cramped. There were a few taller people in the group and they could hardly fit into the seats. I am 5'3" tall and my knees were against the seat in front of me. Those sitting over the wheels also had even more restricted legroom. This is only for one afternoon, so was bearable, but only just!
I was able to find a vegetarian restaurant very close to the hotel in Vienna, but otherwise I did not have any recommendations. A list with one or two vegetarian restaurants for each city would be useful but most restaurants do have some dishes to offer.... but do they use meat stock in the vegetable soup? Better not ask!