Month: August 2014

Embracing the Montenegrin Way

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Surprise, surprise, there are stereotypes among the Balkan nations, and the Montenegrins have a reputation for being lazy. Our tour director, Oleg, who is Croatian, delighted in telling us jokes in this vein, and Karel got into the spirit and looked up some good ones online. Some of our favorites: A man swimming in the…

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Senseless Acts

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During our stay in Sarajevo, our tour group made an excursion to the nearby city of Mostar, in Herzegovina. The ride was spectacular, along the turquoise Neretva River. In my near-total ignorance about this part of the world, I had no idea that it has such wild, rugged mountains. One time, we asked the bus…

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Name: Sarajevo – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

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The ride by public bus from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia took us through scenic countryside and mountains and took the better part of a day. Although the country seemed beautiful and fertile, we noticed that many of the houses appeared empty. I’m not sure, but this may be a lingering after-effect of the Balkan…

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When Cars Take Over The World

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In the competition for most embattled cities, Belgrade may be the all-time champion. In its long history, it has been attacked or besieged well over a hundred times. It’s been razed to the ground, bombed to rubble, pillaged, and rebuilt scores of times. It has changed hands from one power to another every few decades…

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Revisionist History Lessons

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Budapest is very big, very old, and very beautiful. Long ago it was two different cities that united to straddle the mighty Danube. It is poised near the edge of the Orient. You might think the maturity of the city, like the grand prospects from the tops of its high hills, would lend a certain,…

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Lunch In Bratislava

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Nearing the end of the first half of our tour, we faced our most difficult travel day to date. It started with lots and lots of stairs, continued with hectic transfers, long waits, and hot, crowded train compartments. When we reached Bratislava, we stashed our luggage in lockers, then walked through the old part of…

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Playtime In Vienna

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Somehow, Vienna and most of its architectural and artistic treasures escaped widespread destruction during WWII, and then managed to be west of the iron curtain. As a result, it still looks and feels like the seat of an empire. We had only a day and a half to see the sights of this great city,…

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Enchanted Kingdom

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The train station at Český Krumlov set a new standard for near non-existence. The train stopped in what appeared to be a vacant lot, and our tour director urged us to get off. We climbed down into what looked like weedy dirt, but closer inspection revealed it to be a concrete platform in the final…

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Czech Principles Of Design

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Lucky, lucky you, city of Prague! This glorious city has survived over 1000 years of wars, crusades, reformations, revolutions, fires, and even communism. It is one vast, open-air museum of architecture over the ages, straddling the beautiful Vltava River, bedecked with numerous parks and gardens, and populated by the “smiling devils,” the most sophisticated and…

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Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

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The old buildings of Krakow escaped some of the ravages of WWII and communism, even if the people did not. As a result, and for many other reasons invisible to us, I’m sure, the outlook of the city seems more hopeful. Everywhere we looked, we saw signs of humor, pride of place, and appreciation for…

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The Beaten Path

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Zakopane is a small city of 30,000 residents and 300,000 tourists. At least, that’s the way it seemed. The town is an artist colony and ski resort in the beautiful High Tatras, which are a sub-range of the Carpathians. It’s famous for its distinctive architecture of steep-roofed, timber-framed houses decorated with elaborately carved wood. The…

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Dust To Dust

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When we emerged from the train station on the hilltop plaza of old-town Warsaw, something about the place didn’t feel right. We walked down the narrow, cobbled streets, surrounded by medieval buildings and the usual throngs of tourists, just like Stockholm and a half-dozen other cities we’d seen, but something was off. “This doesn’t feel…

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Berlin: Poor, but Sexy

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As we step to the boundary between West and East, it is immediately clear that scenic beauty will now take a back seat to the human landscape of history and culture. We begin in Berlin. It’s been 25 years since the wall came down. The joy and shock of release have long since settled into…

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A Profile Of Two Dogs

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Diva, Queen of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age: a sprightly 9 years, aging gracefully Diva loves long walks, mouse hunting, laps, pillows, and dried fish. Although she’s now an old lady, Diva still has ambitions of leading the first all-doxie dogsled team.   Pablo, Owner and Protector of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age:…

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