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On a Budget

Capitalize on Bargains and Charm in Eastern Europe

August 19, 2001|ARTHUR FROMMER

First-time travelers to Europe tend to go for the big ones--Rome, London, Paris. Experienced travelers often go farther afield, in many cases to the capitals of Eastern Europe, the cities that used to appear in James Bond movies about the Cold War, the ones Americans couldn't visit without complications. Today they are tourist-friendly and sometimes uncomfortably crowded with visitors. My advice: See them quickly, before additional fast-food outlets spoil their charm.

Here are some cost-sensitive travel companies that will affordably take you there:

* Paul Laifer Tours has an array of packages for exploring the former citadels of the Iron Curtain. For departures starting in November (low season), you can book a six-night package--three nights in Prague, Czech Republic, three in Budapest, Hungary--including round-trip air fare from New York for as little as $699 per person, based on double occupancy. Another Laifer bargain is a 13-night package for Prague; Budapest; and Krakow and Warsaw, Poland, for $1,369 round trip from New York. That rate is good for departures from Nov. 1 to Dec. 10, and Jan. 2 to March 25; for departures with a better chance of mild weather, through Oct. 31, the price starts at $1,619. Laifer also offers air-and-hotel packages just to Prague or Budapest, as well as combination packages that include visits to Berlin and Croatia.

To learn more, visit Laifer's Web site at http://www.laifertours.com (click on "specials") or telephone (800) 346-6314.

* Czech Airlines' major off-season package is similar to the Laifer Prague-and-Budapest one: air fare from New York and three nights in each city, starting at $679 per person, double occupancy, for departures in November or after New Year's. The price in September and October is $919.

For details, go to http://www.czechairlines.com or phone (212) 765-6545.

* For an affordable Poland-only package, look no further than Affordable Poland. The six-night package to Krakow, with departures in November and early December, starts at $599 per person, double occupancy. But if you'd prefer a warmer time (Poland's winter can be quite cold), packages in September and October start at $200 more.

Telephone (800) 497-9929, or visit http://www.AffordablePoland.com. (These are for the Sophisticated Traveler agency; on the Web site, click on "Poland.")

* For the young and adventurous between 18 and 35 (a prerequisite for participation), Contiki Holidays operates a 14-day land-only package, "The Eastern Road," to Prague, Budapest, Krakow and Warsaw for $889 per person through September, which includes hotel accommodations, daily breakfast and some dinners. For details, log on to http://www.contiki.com or call (888) CONTIKI (266-8454).

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