I got an opportunity to be a part of the study tour of four technically Central but by perception East European countries. Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary collectively called European Quartet. I had never been to this region before so was all excited to explore it. We had roughly 2 days in each country including the travel time between them. But we got introduced to the basic ethos of the countries, cities, and region in general. Like every travel, I constantly felt I should have spent more time in each of these places. That is the traveler in me who is never tired of exploring new lands and meeting new people. Here I am sharing my first impressions and random observations from the trip across these countries.
European Quartet – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland & Slovakia
- All the places we visited on this trip were beautiful. And continue to maintain their gorgeous old-world charm. The signs of modernity were so well merged with the old that they did not stand out. As an example, the Hard Rock Café in Prague and Budapest only displays its logo at the windowpanes of the old structures that housed it. Not only are the old sculptures well maintained, but the new modern art installations are regularly being installed.
- The tram is a popular public transport in all big cities and uses the same road as other vehicles. On the first look, you expect accidents, but then you see the traffic moving harmoniously on the narrow roads.
- Use of plastic is limited. All the hotels that we stayed in used returnable Glass bottles for water. All the restaurants that we ate it served water in Jugs and glasses. Plastic bottles were only used to use on the go.
- Most hotels have a sky roof that allows the sunlight to keep the premises lighted.
- At most tourist attractions taking a local guide who specializes in the place is a must. Every guide would switch on the lights as you enter a section and switch them off as you come out. I wish I could replicate this practice in my country.
- Most of the production and consumption remains within the region. People eat what they grow, they drive what they manufacture. More often than not they travel within their own neighborhood. Most wines and beers are locally brewed and breweries are important points in the cities. Our lively guide in Slovakia told us that ‘All diseases are caused by the lack of Alcohol in the blood’. Indicating the fondness for Alcohol, but I guess it is the weather that demands the inclusion of Alcohol as an integral part of food intake.
- Except at Parliament building in Budapest, there were no security checks of any kind anywhere, making you feel trusted.
- Memories of World Wars, especially the Second World War dominated the public memory, and most of them still feel the trauma. You can see the pain when they talk about various events, and about their families then. A Museum of Torture exists in every town, reminding of the various ways used to torture during the war and otherwise.
River Front Cities
- Krakow, Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague – All these cities have a river flowing through them and the city virtually lives around the river. Riverfront has been developed as a recreational place and as a tourist spot. Boats, ships, lined coffee shops, restaurants and performers along with the classic European bridges create a panorama for the visitors. There is something to keep everyone interested.
- Live music can be heard on the street, at the squares, and in bars. Performing arts are on display at most places. You can voluntarily pay for the performance depending on how much you liked it and what you can afford to pay. A concept that has now been given the name of Gift Economy.
- I flew Russian Airlines – Aeroflot for this trip and took a total of four flights with them. Every time the plane landed, passengers clapped. I have never seen this happen anywhere else. I assume at some point in time this may have been to celebrate after a safe landing. Even after flying becoming so common it continues. Is this a Russian or a European tradition – if you know please enlighten?
Stories from each place we visited will soon follow.
Recommend you to read following blog posts on these countries.