Yes yes, we know it has been a while since our last instalment. We were just trying to make Eastern Europe one concise overview and time has gotten away from us. The last that you heard, we had just finished our driving tour of south western Europe. Well from there we headed up to Sweden for a while, catching up with an old friend and being thoroughly spoilt with some of the local traditions. Our favourite tradition would have to be coffee-rope, a culinary experience that far surpasses our equivalent of morning or afternoon tea. The coffee part is relatively straight forward, a hot drink made from boiling water and ground, infused coffee beans that you drink with sugar and milk if you wish, but to this they add the following mandatory components: cream cake, cinnamon rolls, another cake and 7 different types of biscuits. We indulged in this as often as possible. Our mission in Sweden however was moose hunting, with binoculars of course not rifles. This venture saw us tip toeing through foot deep moss in the pine forests, wading through marsh lands, stumbling over beaver hides and lingering in fields of wild berries. We saw Moose tracks, day beds where a Moose had rested up, Moose poo, a stuffed Moose and a 'Mossie' but technically no live Moose - most disappointing but the berry picking was fair compensation. Thanks Alice.

Then we headed off to Eastern Europe on the ferry from Scandinavia, landing in Swinoursjce, Poland, on the border with Germany. We made our way east along the coast to Gdansk, visiting the desert like shifting sand dunes along the way. Poland was full of surprises and we ended up spending over three weeks there. The architecture in the old towns of Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow is very beautiful, simple and classic, not elaborate and overdone as in parts of the west. It was really special to sit in a perfectly preserved 13th century square, drinking coffee and being caught up in the atmosphere. 

In the south of Poland we spent 4 days hiking in the Tatra Mountains. As with many of the natural places that we have visited in Europe we were amazed at the vast number of people enjoying the fresh air and open spaces. At one point we waited in line for 4 hours to catch a cable car up a mountain - we really just should have walked. Lining up here is just part of life. In Malbork, where we had stopped to visit an awesome knight's castle, we found farmers lining up with tractors of grain for 4 days waiting to sell it to the mill. We were told that this is perfectly normal.

We had a couple of days in Slovakia on the way down to Hungary - again enjoying unspoilt architecture, medieval castle, huge cathedrals and really cheap food. It is a lot poorer here then in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but the people are proud of their heritage and happily independent. It was sad to see that outside of the tourist areas the roads are in disrepair and roofs are falling in everywhere.

Hungary was similar to Poland and Slovakia with its old town squares, neoclassical cathedrals and castles, only really differing in the south with the Turkish influence from past invasions. We really enjoyed the food in Hungary. Big hearty meals that really fill a hole. Actually when you think about it, very similar to the food in Poland and Slovakia, so in reality we really enjoyed the food in these places as well, big hearty meals that really fill a hole. Budapest is a great city; laidback, fun, clean and it always seemed that there was something going on. There was something in the air, the atmosphere was really vibrant, we loved it. We spent 4 days here hanging out and relaxing. We found the Synagogue very interesting, the 2nd largest in the world, with an attached museum that explained many of the Jewish customs and traditions. 

Heviz is a small town on a thermal lake where we bummed around beside the lake for a couple of days. The water is constant between 26 and 32 degrees, and if you believe what the attached health resort says, it is the fountain of youth and is good for what ails you. Many elderly Germans are prescribed three weeks of swimming, massages and just hanging around the pool relaxing. Accordingly the town is full of German restaurants, German music, German sausages and naked Germans. Thank goodness Craig speaks German or we would have been in a spot of bother. We actually felt like we were back in Germany.

Croatia was an unexpected delight, unexpected as we had not planned to visit. It was refreshing after weeks of similar landscapes, architecture and big hearty meals to head somewhere quiet different and more closely aligned with Greece and Italy. The landscape in the south was the same rocky, poorly vegetated terrain as on the Greece Islands. The water is clear turquoise blue and the sun shines with vigour. The Pizza and Pasta are definitely Italian and if you closed your eyes when eating it, you could almost see the Venetian Gondolas floating past. 

The north of Croatia and its capital Zagreb have a more Eastern European flavour. Split and Dubrovnik in the south are both ancient walled cities, resting on the waters edge with deep harbours dating back to the first century, resulting in a mix of ancient architectural styles and colourful histories. Split has some of the most amazing roman buildings we have ever seen, mainly because they are still in use. Travelling from Split to Dubrovnik, we passed through Bosnia. We made sure that we got out of the bus for a minute and stepped on the ground (making sure we stayed on the bitumen), adding yet another country to our list! Dubrovnik was bombed in 1991 during the civil war. The old town was extensively damaged but has been authentically restored. One of the interesting that we saw in Dubrovnik, was the preserved top half of the skull of St Stephen, the 1st King of Hungary. Strange as we had seen his mummified right fore arm in Budapest. We are not sure where the rest of him is, but is seems that little pieces of the Saints are lopped off and sent to all corners of the continent. In most of the large Catholic Cathedrals that we visited there was a piece of one of the Saints. In Dubrovnik, there was actually a collection of bits from at least 3 Saints and a number of other people, 3 heads, 4 lower legs and 2 fore arms. The pieces are displayed in silver or gold cage like structures, or inside a glass box, lined with silk and finished with gold or silver. Most peculiar.

It was somewhat unsettling to be in a country so recently ravaged by war. As we travelled south the train passed by many live mine fields, some under going clearance as we passed. There were pock holed buildings with bullet, rocket, mortar holes and imbedded shrapnel everywhere. It is different from other sites of war that we have visited as you can no longer say that is was the generations past that suffered from and committed the atrocities of war, its the people walking beside you in the streets.

After a couple of days in Slovenia we endured a 30 hour bus ride back to the UK, for a few days R&R before heading to the US. Europe has been fantastic but it is time to move on and we are really looking forward to something different.

Take care, thinking of you all,

Love, kisses and formal handshakes as appropriate

Craig and Miriam

Comments: 1 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Miranda (Tuesday, 07 February 2023 22:07)

    Truly adorable!