This Travel Journal entry is from Bruce and Renee Schaefer. They are well seasoned world travelers whose love of adventure keeps them going back for more.
We just returned from 12 days in Hungary and Romania with stops in Siofok, Pecs, Eger, and other places unheard-of', our trail ending in Budapest. This was our 3rd trip to Eastern Europe, having visited Prague, Belgrade, Dubrovnik, and others in recent years. We love the eastern countries for the people, the culture, the foods and (especially) wines. They are extremely affordable. And easy to drive in – none of the white-knuckle terror you get driving in France, Spain, and Italy. You know you're in Eastern Europe when the steeples start to look like gold onions. The church interiors also blaze with gold. Each city too seems to have squares, plazas and streets where people congregate by day, promenade in the evenings. Perfect perches for people-watching, they are usually lined with umbrella tables hosted by restos or cafes. A few bucks for drinks and appetizers will buy you hours of fascination. Budapest was probably our favorite city. Several small cities picked turned out to be absolute gems: photogenic, easy to walk, brimming with personality, and full of hidden treasures. One example: walking the battlements of Pecs, Hungary, we stumbled on a little al fresco resto looking out over the city. Lots of young people gathered; a band was tuning up for evening entertainment. We ordered our favorite people-watching snack: calamari and red wine. But instead of frying it, they delivered it sautéed. Fabulous! Best we've ever had, topping off the whole mix of sunset, battlements, twinkling city, happy people, and music. Outside of Eger, Hungary, we searched out the Valley of the Beautiful Woman, a lovely park in sort of a grotto where we found about 40 tasting rooms for different wineries. Tastings are free, you can buy glasses to enjoy at the tables out front, and the wines – some anyway – are terrific. We bought 4 to bring home, for about $6 each. We explored Budapest via the hop on/hop off tourist buses you find in many large cities. Tickets here are good for 48 hours, perfect for us. They also included a boat ride on the Danube, allowing wonderful views of the spectacular Hungarian parliament building on the Pest side, and the castles and cathedral on the Buda side. Our favorite visit was Memento Park, where you can still see some of the flotsam of communism.
"It vas all choost a choke."
Communism required a hard sell because the economics certainly didn't work. So after the Soviet Union collapsed, someone collected many of the monuments created to exalt the strap-hangers of life: soldiers, workers, peasants, housewives. But that is part of the charm of Eastern Europe today. Tourists are treated to sights and culture disappearing in the west, and a spirit to be found only in the east.