Eastern Europe was the focus of a two month summer trip in 2001. I wanted to extensively tour the region after my short dips into it from Western Europe and Scandinavia. I was able to explore the homeland of my relatives in Croatia, hike the Tatras of Slovakia, and attend a medieval festival in Romania among other things. After this trip I would study for a semester in Prague, taking courses in Central European history, Russian, and Czech. Our dormitory had students from all over the world. Each week, one nationality would host a party for the rest of us providing food, drinks, and drinking games. As a student in Prague, I was also able to travel a lot around the Czech Republic and explore some out of the way places. I also saw many Sparta Praha matches including Champions' League clashes with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. This was probably my best trip in Europe and most of the friends that I still have in Europe were met during this summer.
Ukraine- Kiev, Rivne, L'viv. My first visit to Ukraine was memorable. I found Kiev to have beautiful communist architecture, something I could have never guessed. The monasteries and churches somehow did not contrast these communist structures, but instead they worked together to form a gorgeous city.
Poland- Przemysl, Zamosc, Lublin, Warsaw, Torun, Wroclaw. Poland was good again as I spent some time with a friend in Warsaw. The real highlight was a trip in the fall to Wroclaw from Prague with my exchange student friend from Germany.
Czech Republic- Prague, Karlstejn, Litomerice, Cheb, Karlovy Vary, Telc, Trebic, Brno, Kutna Hora, Hradec Kralove, Pardubice, Cesky Krumlov, Ceske Budejovice, Plzen, Melnik, Jicin, Cesky Raj, Jihlava, Jindrichuv Hradec, Trebon, Tabor, Kromeriz, Olomouc, Decin. It's amazing how much of a country you can see when you live there and it's cheap. The Czech Republic has some real gems that nobody knows about. From the rock formation hiking of the Cesky Raj to the renaissance architecture on the square of Telc, you're never far away from something special here.
Slovakia- Trencin, Levoca, Kosice, High Tatras, Bardejov, Spisske Podhradie, Slovensky Raj, Bratislava. This was my favorite place of the summer. Eastern Slovakia goes from strength to strength. If you want hiking, the High Tatras offers some of the best mountain scenery anywhere. I met three members of eurotrip.com here for some adventures in the mountains. Slovensky Raj is great for forest hiking and has installed steel steps jutting out the sides of cliffs for a real thrill. Spissky Hrad offers a wonderful castle experience. The small towns of Bardejov and Levoca are nice places take it easy for a while. And Kosice, the offers big city ammenities in a calm envionment plus a great nightlife scene on Friday nights (I made some friends there that I have hung out with on several visits since). The best part, all of these places are within an hour of each other packing maximum excitement into a small region.
Hungary- Eger, Budapest, Gyor, Sopron. Budapest became one of my favorite cities as I was in it no less than five times during 2001. It was a convenient place to transit through between the north and south, allowing me to avoid expensive Austria and the required visa of Ukraine. Everytime I passed through, I stayed for a day or two or three. I even took an amazing tour through Budapest's extensive cave network. I loved it more every time. One of my exchange student friends from Prague is from Budapest which makes it that much better. Gyor, Sopron, and Eger are also nice towns that I really enjoyed.
Romania- Bucharest, Brasov, Siniaia, Sibiu, Sighisoara, Orlat. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of something special. I didn't have any desire to go to Romania, but decided to check it out for four days from Budapest. I took in some interesting cities, but then something magical happened. I was on a bus to Sighisoara. It was a small town, so I planned on looking around town for six hours then taking a night train back to Budapest. I met some members of a medieval band on the bus and they informed me of a festival in Sighisoara which was starting that very day. I became good friends with these guys and I stayed for the entire four day festival. I then had to leave Romania and rush to Croatia to meet relatives, but after that, I returned to Romania and spent an extended period of time with my new friends. Two years later I would return to the Sighisoara Medieval Festival with the same friends and the magic would strike again. You'll have to read my Summer 2003 to find out what happened then...
Croatia- Graesnica, Rijeka, Pula, Rovinj, Trogir, Split, Zadar, Plivice, Zagreb. I visited some relatives and learned about my heritage in Croatia's region of Slavonia. I am not Croat though. My relatives are from a Czech family and an Italian family who were uneasy neighbors (someone shot someone if I recall correctly), but the son of the Czechs and the daugher of the Italians fell in love. How Romeo and Juliet of them! Plitvice, Rovinj, and Trogir were the sightseeing hightlights.
Italy- Venice, Trieste. I made an unscheduled trip to Venice just for fun. There was a night train going there from Zagreb so I figured, why not? That's the fun of traveling.
Slovenia- Koper, Piran, Lake Bled, Ljubljana. Piran and Bled were both fun places to explore. I stumbled upon a Bahai gathering in Koper. They were strange and tried to convert me. Unfortunately for them, they do not drink alcohol so their attempts were futile.
Austria- Vienna, Bergern, Vocklabruck, Gmunden, Linz, Bad Scallerbach. A visit to my mom's cousin (the father of one of my Croatian relatives) took me to a new region of Austria which really impressed me. The town of Gmunden in particular appealed to me with its island castle and mountainous backdrop.
Germany- Dresden. I went there for a party with my German exchange student friend from Prague. I had a good time plus got to see the harmonious baroque buildings of one of my favorite German cities.
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