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S: BEST OF EASTERN EUROPE MAY 10 - 31, 2012

FC: 2012 RICK STEVES to EASTERN EUROPE

1: GERMANY CZECH REPUBLIC POLAND HUNGARY SLOVAKIA CROATIA SLOVENIA | May 10-31

2: ITS COLORFUL OLD STREETS WITH RICK AND CAROL, AND HOW MANY WAYS TO PROPEL A GERMAN BEER BIKE! | THE CAPITAL OF BAVARIA IS ONE OF GERMANY'S OLDEST TOWNS, FOUNDED BY THE ROMANS IN 179AD, THE OLD CITY WITH IT'S MEDiEVAL CITY CENTER AND STONE BRIDGE IS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. | Germany | egensburg | R

3: GOOD FOOD GOOD | May 11-13

4: The Mai Dult is Regensburg's beer festival celebrating the onset of Summer. Germans seem to find any excuse to drink beer, and lots of it. One liter steins of liquid gold, each unique to its specific contents, are liberally passed out by robust women in drndels, often hugging six or more at a time. A cover band plays a mix of traditional German drinking songs and 80's hits while jubilant teens, reveling in the freedom of a low drinking age, dance on the benches. Many a hammered young man in lederhosen attempts to scale the maypole that holds up the great red and white tent, hoping to score yet another beer while the rest of us simply indulge in the great festival foods and enjoy the celebration! | WITH A PARADE AND A FESTIVAL | SCHWINE

5: PROST | HOXEN | PROST !

7: REGENSBURG CATHEDRAL stands as a beacon over the city as it has for centuries. Begun in 1275 and finished in 1634, the spires weren't added until the 1860's. It, as well as the old stone bridge and most of the old town, survived the ravages of WWII.

8: Velvet Revolution Old Town Square Astronomical Clock John Nepomuk Art Nouveau building | Prague | May 13-16

9: Charles Bridge Tyn Church changing of the guard Mucha window in cathedral Trdlnicks!

10: Prague Castle is the largest castle complex in Europe. It dates back to 880 and has been the residence for numerous kings and heads of state. The Gothic St Vitus Basilica dominates the skyline and is the resting place for St John Nepomuk, King Winceslas, and its namesake, St Vitus. The royal palace consists of two churches, exhibition halls, gardens, a riding school, a vineyard, and the golden lane of alchemists' residences.

12: JAN HUS TYN CHURCH and BETHLEHEM CHAPEL | Our Lady Before Tyn is one of Prague's iconic landmarks, its unique twin towers visible from all across the city. The present church, founded in 1385 AD was the main place of worship for Hussites in Prague led by Jan Hus, a contemporary of John Wycliffe and an advocate for separation from Rome. He was burned at the stake for heresy in 1415 but his cause continued in the 12 year Hussite Wars and a century later as many as 90% of Bohemia followed his teachings. A Hussite monument dominates the Old Town Square and the Reformer stands along with his fellow warriors, facing the Tyn Church. His words, "Love each other and wish the truth to everyone." are inscribed below. Hus's own Bethlehem chapel, plain in contrast to the Tyn, also stands in old town Prague.

13: JOHN OF NEPOMUK was the parish priest for the Roman King Wenceslas IV. In 1383 when he refused to divulge the queen's confessions he was tortured and martyred, his body thrown off the Charles Bridge and into the Vitlava River. Legend tells us that 5 stars rose from water upholding his innocence. John is the patron saint of the Czech people and of all sea farers. An annual celebration held on the anniversary of his canonization includes Mass and a processional from the St Vitus Cathedral to his statue on the bridge. Venetian gondola races, a Baroque music concert, and fireworks complete the evening. It was a festive night for many as we also enjoyed the harmonies of a traditional group of singing Babickas on the bridge.

14: Krakow | Poland | May 16-19

15: MARKET SQUARE is where the city comes to unwind and eat kielbasa. It is dominated by the iconic Cloth Hall which has been the center of trade for traveling fabric merchants since the Middle Ages. Today, it is still a bustling center of commerce for everything designer bags and furs to kitschy local handcrafts. At one corner of the square stands the Hall Tower and directly opposite local poet, Adam Mickiewicz and the stately St Mary's Basilica keep watch. By night the square is filled with local talent.

17: ST. MARY'S BASILICA the brick symbol of the faith in Krakow, has stood watch over Market Square for 800 years. Its two towers are noticeably different. While the shorter one is the actual church spire, the taller, more ornate one is the city watchtower. Continuously for eight centuries at the top of every hour, a bugler has played the Hejnal Mariacki from the tallest tower, each time breaking momentarily to commemorate the heroic watchman who was shot in the throat with an arrow by the attacking Mongols in the 13th century. Our lunch today is in a spot left over from Communist days. No place remains as steadfastly un-Western as the Polish milk bar where, for a few coins, we eat traditional cuisine reminiscent of the ways of the Eastern Bloc.

18: WAWEL CASTLE and the Pope

19: Early Medieval legend tells of an ancient dragon who lived on Wawel Hill in the bend of the Vistula River, and the brave Prince Krakus who founded Krakow over the slain dragons lair. The castle was built as a 9th century fortification and royal residence for its first historical rulers. It has since seen numerous changes of power and function over 1150 years, most recently from 1963-78 when the Wawel Cathedral was home to Archbishop Karol Wojtyla prior to becoming Pope John Paul II. Today it houses the historical and religious treasures of the city.

20: Remnants of Communism live on in the mindset of Poland's older residents. This was abundantly clear as we were confronted on a Communist looking tram on the way to Schindler's Factory by a couple of corrupt attendants. Desiring to procure a bribe, our American group looked to be an easy target. They underestimated the grit and savy of our fearless leader, Etelka however, as she navigated us past threats of calling the Policja with the rally, "He's NOT the boss. I am the boss! FOLLOW ME!"

21: Directly across from the Archbishop's residence is little St Francis of Assisi church with its magnificent "Let It Be" stained glass.

22: Auschwitz/Berkinow was the largest Nazi German concentration and death camp. From the years 1939-45, the Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people: 1,100,000 Jews, 140,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma (gypsies), 15,000 Soviet POW's, and 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups. 1,100,000 perished here. Most of them were Jews. Many starved to death or succumbed to disease or medical experimentation, but the majority of them died in the gas chambers.

23: New prisoners were evaluated on the railway platform. Those who were selected to die were directed to their left and assured they were going to bathe. 2,000 at a time were crammed into the "shower", the doors locked, and a lethal cannister of Cyclon B was released. Then their bodies were stripped of gold teeth & jewelry and sent to the crematorium. After examining the living conditions of Auschwitz, I began to think these were the fortunate ones.

24: EGAR | Hungary

25: provide fantastic scenery as we leave Poland and head on to Hungary. Our first stop is little Egar, where a handful of its brave citizens successfully held off the Ottoman Invasion of central Europe in 1552. Egar is a college town, producing many of the best teachers in Hungary every year. Our guide, Etelka, is one of them! | Slovakia's Tatras Mountains | May 19-20

27: Hungarian folk singing and dancing, and the best Gulyas Soup, was what awaited us at the Kohari WInery. All this washed down with generous pours of white and red wines from their own cellar. The regional favorite Bulls Blood was especially nice. EGESZESEGEDRE!!

28: May 20-23

29: BUDAPEST

30: THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE is a multi-venue performing arts centre in the Australian city of Sydney. It was conceived and largely built by Danish architect Jrn Utzon, finally opening in 1973 after a long gestation starting with his competition-winning design in 1957. | Szechenyl Thermal Baths | There was nothing more needed or relaxing than a soak in the thermal baths that Budapest is known for. We were amused by the bravado of so many Speedo clad, hairy and pot-bellied Hungarian men, so proud of their bodies. Built for the first Millennium Celebration in 1896, Hunyad or Vajdahnuyad Castle in the city park represents four historical periods of architecture. In its center is a bronze monument to Anonymous, the first author of Hungarian history from the Middle Ages.

31: Vajdahnuyad Castle and Anonymous

33: Budapest's parliament building, inspired by its counterpart in London, is an example of early 19th century Historicist architecture. It wore a Russian star atop its tallest spire until Hungary was truly liberated in 1989. In memory, a Hungarian flag flies nearby, the Soviet hammer and sickle literally cut from its center. Steps away, near the American Embassy, Ronald Regan greets us. He walks past the only surviving Soviet monument in the city which remains as a tribute to those soldiers who helped force the Nazi's out of Hungary in 1945.

35: Budapest's Great Market is a culinary feast for the senses. There we found Hungary's delicious Langos amidst the tangled tourists muscling through its popular second story, searching for a meal and a table (or for just a corner to eat their lunch). Resembling Indian Fry Bread, this traditional pizza could be topped with most anything your heart desired. We were very fortunate to score the end of a small table on which to enjoy our delicacies. Below us, locals freely wandered the farmer's market, most likely searching for a special paprika for the evening meal. St Istvan's Cathedral is named for Hungary's first Christian king. Below its pediment we are reminded of the proclamation of Jesus', "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."

36: Even Paris can't compare with this City of Lights. | Evening falls and we board a riverboat for a cruise on the Danube

38: ROYAL PALACE and MATTHIAS CHURCH Crossing the famous Chain Bridge over the Danube, George pauses to listen for the lion's roar, identifying a truthful and virtuous woman among us! Then we ride the funicular up, up, up Castle Hill, arriving at the Royal Palace and the mythic Turul bird which led the Magyars to settle this land in 896. Views of Pest across the river are spectacular even through the drizzling rain. The old palace, although no longer a residence, is symbolic of the continuous struggle over this valuable European gateway city. A short walk leads us to Budapest's great Matthias church and the scenic Fishermen's Bastion.

41: A contemplative picnic lunch by a lily covered pond on a working farm in Croatia was a refreshing time together. The little mill town of Sunj sits at the crossroads of two rivers and over a series of magnificent waterfalls. It was only a preview of the beautiful water soaked day to come.

42: Plitvice Lakes National | TO | May 23-24

43: Park

49: May 24-26 | Adriatic Coast | RAB ISLAND

50: maroubra beach | SYDNEY | on the patio Grand Hotel Imperial | Happy Hour

51: vacation from our vacation

52: Here is the azure jewel of the Julian Alps, a pristine lake circled by forests and hiking paths. Its charm centers around a Medieval hilltop castle and a pretty little island church. Ring the bell and make a wish. I wish we could stay forever. | Slovenia | Lake Bled | IN

53: May 26-28

54: During the Communist era the church was closed and weddings outlawed but a tradition remained... | A trip to the island requires man power in the form of skilled oarsmen rowing the traditional Pletna.

55: 95... 96... 97... 98... 99... | carrying your bride up the 99 steps to prove your worthiness.

57: Bled is beautiful in the summer but its primarily known for its winter activities. There's a small hill with a lift right in town. In winter you can ski but all summer you can LUGE! Push forward to go and pull back to brake. Some fly down going over 30mph and some take it slower than the lift itself, but its lots of fun for everyone!

59: FRONT ROW: Jan Dobry, Etelka, Louise Nelson, Hugh Baskin, Susan Dorr, Chris Dorr, Linda Witcher BACK ROW: Amy Dobry, Susan Murphy, Carol Groff, Martha Ingles, Kimberly Dykin, Jim Groff, Alice Blake, Kevin Lash, Dick Nelson, Andrew Blake, Becky Drysdale, Patty Baskin, Bill Snorf, Krista McVey, Rick Rohrkemper, Carol Rohrkemper, George, Ken Witcher

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  • By: Carol G.
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