Saturday, 1 October 2016

Reflecting on Eastern Europe

We didn't visit this museum in Prague
I had been to Prague once, prior to our recent road trip. January 2003 on a study trip through Europe. We were there all of three hours. Most of which were spent in a nice and warm coffee house. In my recollection at least. I knew it was a beautiful city from what I did see and had wanted to go back ever since for a proper look. So, when this holiday came up and my sister said: "I would like to go on a road trip and I would like to head East..." Prague was a place that was going to be visited, without a doubt.

Synagogue in Prague.
Jews are an integral part of the history of most Eastern countries
The uneasiness started almost right away. We were going to be traveling to the former Eastern Block, That part of Europe that sends millions of people to the Western part to work. The part that seemingly seems to have quite a high crime rate. Steal cars, rob tourists. And of course it is a backward place. How could it not be: it was hidden behind this Iron Curtain for so long. 

King Charles IV of Bohemia.
The Charles Bridge in Prague is named after him
Well, my prejudices were exactly that: prejudices, because once we entered the Eastern Block, the roads did not change from nice tarmac to rubble. The signs were still the same. The houses were well-cared for. There were new businesses in shiny new buildings. It certainly wasn't grey and drab as I had feared. 

A little doggy on the pulpit in a church in Kraków
Our hotels were all shiny and reasonably new. The only place where we couldn't drink the water was Kraków, but since we only saw that after two days in the place... The food was good and there was plenty of it. The only thing that was really different was the fact that I didn't understand a word. Which makes for a more tense frightening uncomfortable time. I speak five languages, but none of the Slavic ones (like Czech, Polish or Slovakian) or Uralic ones (like Hungarian). 

Even through wars and communism, Poland remains Roman Catholic to this day.
Pope John Paul II 
In the end, the only sign we ever saw that any of the countries were still not completely out of the 'behind the Iron Curtain position' was in Slovakia and a little bit in Hungary and then only when in the small villages that no tourist ever sees. A bit more grey, a bit more drab, but still people owned cars and satellite dishes and probably all other mod cons. 

Inside the Cloth Hall in Kraków. Built as a  trading center, it has been used for that for centuries
The inner city of Kraków was on the very first Unesco World Heritage List!
Nobody stole our car (well our parents' car), nobody tried to rob us (or if they did, Brom must have scared them off) and the language barrier wasn't that big either. Most people we had dealings with spoke English or in some cases German. And in Budapest, there was one person who answered us in Dutch!

Beautifully renovated homes/farms in Northern Slovakia.
In the South, they had the same shape, they were just shabbier and a bit more drab
People went about their daily lives as they do everywhere else. The Iron Curtain had been gone for over 25 years and the young people had taken full advantage of that, dragging most of the country with them into the new age of freedom and possibilities. The Polish and Bulgarian people I work with on a daily basis should have prepared me for this, but I think my mind was stuck in the 1980's. I am pleased to say though: it has been dragged into the 2010's without any problem!

Solar panel field in Southern Slovakia
Will I be going back? Well, probably not to Kraków, mainly because we have seen all of the main touristy things. But there is Wrocław and Katowice close to Kraków, there is Warsaw and Gdansk and there are plenty of more rural places I would love to visit. Of Slovakia we hardly saw anything. Mountainous in the North with the Tatra mountains (beautiful) and quite flat and farmland in the South. I would like to explore a bit more though. 

Part of the Citadel in Budapest. Damage from the shooting taking place in the latter stages of WWII is still visible.
The grey concrete left of the windows had to be put in due to a very large hole made by heavy fire.
We only saw a tiny bit of Hungary and most of that was spent in Budapest, where we spent most of our time in one street enjoying a local green street fair thingy. So, Budapest is definitely on the list to see again. Plus Lake Balaton and the more Eastern parts of the country. I don't think we saw that much of the Czech Republic either. Prague for two hot and tiring days and that is about it. And yes, I would like to visit again. 

Anybody making cotton candy is civilised in my book
Here in Budapest, Hungary


  1. Hari OM
    What beautiousness you explored despite some sombre parts... and as travel is perhaps the truest of educators, you were an excellent student! Knowing one would revisit is always a recommendation. YAM xx

    1. When in school, Poland and those other countries were stuck firmly behind the Iron Curtain. We never learned much about it, apart from their capitals. What we learned on this holiday though was that they were very much part of Europe throughout the centuries and that their history is our history as well. Even if the names do sound a bit 'foreign' to us!

  2. Nice reflective post showing how travel can broaden the mind. This is no doubt why I am narrow-minded. :)

  3. Mara you should be a travel writer....this is a wonderful post.
    We went to Prague in 1999. It was a work trip for me. My hubby walked all over the beautiful city during the day. He found it very easy to get around. He visited many places during the day that I could not see. But at night he took me back to see them from outside like the Synagogue. We found Prague to be gorgeous in different ways in daylight and night light
    Hugs cecilia

  4. Wow, you really have explored during your holiday! And to put aside your discomfort to learn about a new place was well paid off in such great experiences and sights!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

    1. It turned out the people were exactly like you and me. They just spoke a different language! One I didn't understand.

  5. You certainly had an eventful holiday. You went to places I wish I had the courage to go. I will live through you.

  6. The only Eastern country I ever saw was ex Yougoslavia and there in the 60th the difference between west and east was enormous. But now I have heard from everybody the same as you wrote. They are catching up !

  7. We certainly enjoyed our time 'behind the Iron Curtain', too. We experienced very much the same as you. Fell in love with Budapest. Love your reflections!

    1. We have seen far too little of Budapest. Only one day there and we didn't see half of the sights. But it is a place I would like to go back to some day and see again.

  8. Keeping your travel posts in my Feedly travel folder. This was so interesting. I like King Charles IV since I am 100% Bohemian! We had relatives in Prague but I don't know them at all.


Any weighty (and not so weighty) comments are welcome!