While studying abroad, I was luck enough to get a fall break from my semester in Florence. Wishing to see some sites off of the beaten path that I might never get the chance to again, I opted to travel through the East of Europe, instead of the west. In ten days I visited 6 cities and 4 countries. Here are a few of the highlights:
I adored Budapest. The second I stepped off of the bus I was charmed by the unique architecture of the city. The city has quite the mix of both eastern and western influences and it shows in the architecture. The city is full of culture as well, from the proud Jewish quarter, to the colorful ruins bars, the crowded bath houses, and museums full of art and history. However, it is at the same time incredibly modern and trendy. On my first day I enjoyed a walking tour throughout the city, stopping at the major sites like the old synagogue, the Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church, and Castle Hill. The view from the Fisherman’s bastion was absolutely stunning because you could see the entire city from the hill. In my next few days in Budapest I also took a river cruise down the Danube at night and was able to see some of Budapest’s most famous monuments lit up at night. It was the most surreal experience. The most touching museum that I visited was the House of Terror Museum, which exhibited the awful things that happened in Budapest under Nazi and Soviet control and commemorated men and women who lost their lives for supporting human dignity. I am very glad that I went and took the time to take those lessons in. It was very eye-opening. In my next few days in Budapest I would also visit St. Stephen’s Basilica to climb the dome, visit the famous ruins bars, try my hand at an escape room, relax in one of the bath houses, and eat some really great goulash. I really hope I will get to come back to Budapest soon.
Vienna’s charm and class instantly took me back to the days of rococo. The gorgeous, gilded architecture as well as the fancy horse-drawn carriages, high-end stores, and jaw-dropping pastry shops only add to this environment as you further explore Vienna. While there I was able to walk around and see most of the main sites including parliament and the opera house. For lunch, I at the best sausage I had ever had in my entire life. Seriously, I can’t even begin to describe to you how amazing it was. Only those who have had German sausages could possibly understand. being the cookie fiend that I am, I also got roped in by one of Vienna’s beautiful pastry shops. I definitely spent more than should have on fancy European cookies, but it’s all a part of becoming cultured right??
Krakow, Poland was probably one of the most unusual places I have ever visited. It had so much culture for such a small place. Old town was incredibly picturesque with beautiful old architecture mixed in with a little bit of newer buildings. The Jewish quarter in Krakow was small, but proud. It had survived centuries of harsh history and had several synagogues and gorgeous restaurants to show for it. While I did not get the chance to make it to Oskar Schindler’s factory, I did see some locations in which the filmed was recorded. Another thing I loved about Poland was the Pierogis. I think I had them for almost every meal with a glass of hot red wine or cider. They were just so good no matter what filling you put inside of them. St. Mary’s church in Old Town Square was the highlight for me. The inside of the church is incredibly ornate and decorated. All of the incredible details and patterning were astounding and jaw dropping. I wished so much that we were allowed to take pictures inside, however it was probably better they were not allowed because it made me stop and truly take in the moment.
I took a day trip to Auschwitz concentration camp from Krakow. I visited both Auschwitz 1 and the larger Auschwitz 2. This was a day that didn’t feel real to me. I couldn’t fully process the atrocities that I was hearing about or seeing. When we rounded the corner in one of the prisoner bunkers that had been converted into an exhibition space and I laid my eyes on some of the belonging of their victims that the Nazi had left behind, my heart was heavy with the knowledge of the gravity f the crimes committed at the location in which I was suddenly very aware I was standing in. There was a wall that was full of human hair. This two ton amount was only the small remaining bit that hadn’t been sold to German textile factories yet. And there was two tons of it. I won’t ever forget those images. “For ever let this place be a cry of despair, and a warning to humanity.”
Prague is a fairytale city. With the largest medieval castle in Europe on top of a hill overlooking a quaint city full of colorful buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and unique, beautiful towers how could it not be? Prague was full of awesome artisan shops and candy shops and puppet shops that could keep you wandering the streets in awe for years. However, it had modern elements mixed into it as well that made it seem like an older London or New York City. While in Prague I visited the Old Town Square and saw the giant Astronomical Clock, as well as Old Town Hall, walked across the gorgeous Charles Bridge, and of course spent a long visit at the John Lennon Peace Wall. I also hiked up the hill to the castle, where there was an amazing view of the city. I wish I could have eaten my bodyweight in Trdlniks, but there just wasn’t enough time! I know I will be back to visit soon though.
Eastern Europe was such a unique experience and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit these places. They definitely are off of the beaten path for most tourists, however I think are definitely a must see. Especially because of their tumultuous history and beautiful cultures. I took a leap of faith and went on this trip by myself. I am so glad I did because I was able to branch out and make new friends as well as learn a little bit more about myself in the process. I won’t ever forget this trip.