Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eastern Europe - Freiburg, Germany & Prague, Czech Rebuplic (Part 1 of 3)

"Why go to Eastern Europe?"

Heard that way too many times before we left for the trip. A better question is maybe, "Why not go to Eastern Europe?"

It is very inexpensive, the people in the tourist areas almost all speak English, the food is excellent, the beer is even better, there are many things you will never see in any other part of the world especially with the recent fall of communism, you get to see their personal views regarding the cold war, communism, the NAZI party, etc. I could go on, but Eastern Europe is an AWESOME place to visit, no question about it, I highly recommend it to anyone.

Strasbourg, France / Freiburg, Germany

Yes technically this is not Eastern Europe, but we needed to start our trip from Paris somewhere, and Charlene has family living in Germany, so it was a great place to start our trip. We originally thought we were going to stay in Strasbourg, France, but actually this was just the pickup spot from Charlene's cousin to get us and take us to their home in Freiburg, Germany (about 30 miles across the French-German border).

Freiburg, Germany was a beautiful area, and it still surprises me how much a lot of Germany looks like St. Louis, Missouri (minus the cathedrals and castles). Very nice open areas, clean, and lots or red clay brick buildings.

As you could imagine, the beer was great in Germany, the food was good with a lot of potatoes and an interesting kind of German pizza with no cheese (I forget the name of it, but it was pretty good).

Prague, Czech Republic

We then took a night train to Prague. We were lucky to find a Czech pub/cafe/restaurant a few doors down from our hotel (the building was over 500 years old). The food was excellent, excellent...and did I say excellent? The beer was also very good and everything was very inexpensive. Prague is an easy city to walk around everywhere.

There are many sites to see from castles, to bridges, to museums, to parks and just local restaurants and pubs. I finally got to try goulash, very good, highly recommended!

They also had a really cool toy museum with many toys from all over the world as well as toys from the "cold war" era.

I got to check out the Museum of Torture Instruments (no pictures were allowed inside). Three floors of torture insturments that were used throughout Europe for hundreds of years.

We took a day trip out to visit the city Kutna Hora that has some cathedrals and a very interesting "bone church". There are bones from over 40,000 people here. I had seen a bone church in Rome, but the design and scope of this church in Kutna Hora blew away the one in Rome.

We returned back to Prague later that day. The following day we went to the Museum of Communism. It is quite amazing to see the changes from WWI to WWII to the Communist era to the modern "post-Communist" era.

We then took a night train from Prague to Budapest, Hungary...which I'll cover in the next post.

Eastern Europe - Budapest, Hungary (Part 2 of 3)

Budapest, Hungary

We took the night train from Prague to Budapest and arrived quite early in the morning. From the train we took the subway. It was quite interesting, the subway cars in Budapest looked a lot like the subways in New York from the 1970's (think of the movie "The Warriors").

The food in Budapest was even better than the food in Prague. I got to try "real" Hungarian goulash which was excellent. 

We also discovered the wonderful spice Paprika. It is very similar to American BBQ sauce, with both a sweet and hot version of the spice. The beer in Budapest was even less expensive than Prague, about $1 US for a draft beer (yesterday in Paris I just paid $10 US for the same size beer in a pub).

We traveled to the main castle in Budapest and I got to meet a guy straight out of the movie "Highlander". He had an eagle, and for about $5 US I got to hold this huge eagle, it was actually quite heavy and felt very strong...then again it is an eagle, not a parakeet, so I guess it's not too surprising.

There was a creative businessman in Hungary around the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. While most people were tearing down the statues of the Communist leaders, he thought to buy them and create a park where people could come and view the old icons. The end result is Memento Park. There are over 32 HUGE statues to check out in the park. Whene we got there, we were the only people so for a short time it felt like we were in some kind of modern day Mount Olympus.

The next day we left for Krakow, Poland...