September 14, 2004

Eastern Europe, It's a Wrap

Our last three days in Germany were very uneventful. We really took it easy. We mostly cooked for our wonderful hosts, Bjorn and Heike. We did spend one day in Cologne. Its cathedral is one of the largest that we had seen. It is also one of the oldest with construction starting in the late 1200's. We also visited the chocolate factory to watch them make it and to taste it.
Again we enjoyed these days immensely.

Our Summary of a Journey to Eastern Europe

Our trip to Eastern Europe was both more and less than we expected. Do not get me wrong, we had a wonderful time. Along the way, we learned a few lessons, met some wonderful and some not so wonderful people, ate great food and some not so great, drank mostly very good beer and both good and bad wine. And we did all this at a fairly reasonable price.

We can recommend traveling all these countries, except Bulgaria. We enjoyed the Czech Republic and Hungary the most. We also liked Romania a lot. It was wonderful to really get to know two Romanians, Mihael and Octavian. We were not in Poland or Turkey long enough to form strong opinions, except that we want to go back. Germany and Austria are Western European countries that we like a lot, but they are expensive. Having two wonderful friends, Bjorn and Heike, helped make Germany a great place to end our trip. We think that a person looking for an inexpensive European vacation, will find a trip to Eastern Europe very satisfying.

We traveled to Europe on Air Canada to England. This was probably a mistake. Yes, it was about the best price that we could get. We figured that we would take a budget airline from England. This does not really work well, unless you fly to a London airport other than Heathrow. To our knowledge, no budget airlines fly out of Heathrow. This means that if you fly to Heathrow, you have to take a bus or train to another airport, which will cost you $20 and take at least an hour-and-a-half. This can make connections a problem. There are a number of very good budget airlines that can carry you to dozens of European cities, and to name a few of them,, German Wings,,, and Fares usually run from $20 to $120. What we should have done was booked a ticket to say Gatwick or Frankfort. Things just would have gone better.

Another thing about Western Europe, the fast trains are more expensive than these budget airlines. That's not to say that trains are not a good way to get around, because they are - especially in the East where they are fairly inexpensive. While we did not take buses, they are not too bad of an alternative either. One final note on getting to your destination in Europe: stay out of Toronto. Our experience on the return trip at the Toronto airport was simply awful. The airport is gigantic, and not very well set up to move passengers around. We ended up taking three shuttle busses. We had to clear U.S. Customs in Canada. This could have been a real pain if we had missed our flight. From what we saw, many do miss their flights. Another thing was that we noted large numbers of flights being delayed, and ultimately so was ours. It was clear to me that Air Canada does not feel like a competitor out of that airport, because it felt like their domain - and it probably was.

Compared to Western Europe the cost in the East is less than half. Accommodations were our greatest expense. Most of the rooms that we took cost between $25 and $40 per night. Yes, we paid less as little as $20 without breakfast; and we paid as much as $100. Transportation was the second greatest expense, mainly because we rented a car for 73 of our 91 days traveling. It cost about $20 per day plus gas, which averaged about $7 per day. Food costs came next, running from $10 to $25 per day. It would have been much better for us to have flown to Germany and bought a used car, something we wanted to do in the Czech Republic, but could not. Some of the bureaucratic insanities of the old socialist days still hang on in many of the Eastern countries.

The water was good to drink everywhere except Istanbul, or so they told us. The food was good everywhere. When we got tired of eating local fare, we usually ate Italian, which was OK everywhere. The roads were good most places with the worst ones in Romania and Bulgaria. The accommodations were also good everywhere.

Country Days Cost Friendly Sites Food Beer Wine
Czech Republic 29 3 2 3 2 3 1
Hungary 13 2 3 3 3 1 3
Romania 12 3 3 2 1 2 2
Bulgaria 8 3 1 2 2 1 2
Slovakia 6 2 1 2 2 3 1
Turkey 4 1 3 3 2    
Poland 2 3 2 3 2 3  
Austria 5 1 3 1 2 3 3
Germany 12 1 2 2 3 3 3

We tried to rate the countries that we visited. The table shows our ratings. The first column contains the country's name; the next is the number of days that we were in the country. We rated the cost, friendliness, historical and other sites, food, beer and wine. Three is the best rating and one the lowest. That means a three is the cheapest under cost, and food the best.

We hope that our stories and pictures during the past three months have been enjoyable, because we certainly had a good time.

Be sure to check my BLOG from time to time. Entries will be fewer and farther between for the next two months. Hopefully we will be in Argentina by then.

Posted by bill at 11:55 AM | Comments (3)

September 06, 2004


Press HERE to see a slideshow from West Germany.

Our Saturday Morning Breakfast

Last Wednesday, the last night in August, on our final day in the Czech Republic, we finally made it to the opera. Our seats were about 60 feet from the stage or about as far away as you could get. I thought they we pretty good, because the theater is not a monstrously large venue. Rather it was a smaller and more intimate theater that was very beautiful. We saw Aida by Verdi. This was an opera that he was commissioned to write and would have never written it, save that he had heard that his patrons were about to commission another - since he seemed so disinterested in writing it. The performance was pretty good. The cost compared to American venues was really very cheap at $16 each.

On the first of September we ended up waiting all day to take a late afternoon flight to Dortmund. It was the inauguration flight of the Prague-to-Dortmund route by EasyJet, one of the European budget airlines. As I mentioned before, the price was excellent at about $40 each. We finally got on the plane about 4:30 in the afternoon and 90 minutes later we were in Dortmund where my friend Heike was waiting to pick us. We were really looking forward to this visit as a time to take it easy and get ready for our flight back to the states. So we were at her and Bjorn's home in Wuppertal. They are kind and gracious hosts. We had a bowls of home-made chicken soup for dinner and the soup was wonderful. When I travel, I long for these simple meals of hearty soups and stews.

On Thursday we took the bus and the flying train into the city center. The flying train was the world's first mono-rail system that was built more than 100 years ago. In the center Betty bought some books; yes, she was out of books to read again. We checked on the price of a car rental, which was 39€ per day. We saw open air market near the old city hall. Then we went grocery shopping. When we got back to the house, we prepared dinner. We made our version of sauerkraut with shredded carrots and chicken broth. Despite our friends being German they had never eaten kraut prepared this way.

Friday was a very special day. We did absolutely nothing. It was great. When Heike and Bjorn got home from work, we made a pizza together. After dinner we watched a very interesting movie called American History X. It was a movie about an American skinhead who made an about-face after having killed two black men and serving time. The movie had a heavy duty ending with the ultimate karma coming down on this guy who was portrayed by Ed Norton, giving a fabulous performance.

The Marburg Castle Grounds

On Saturday the 2nd of September we started with a marvelous breakfast that all four of us had a hand in. Later Betty and I visited a museum in Wuppertal that had a Kadinsky exhibition. We discovered that we really do not like Kadinsky. It is not that his work is bad; it just does not do anything for us. Well, I won't dwell on this. After the exhibition we went to a soccer game; it was Wuppertal versus Lubeck. They are in the third league, in other words, they were not very good. Lubeck started by playing a bit better, but Wuppertal was soon out playing them and really dominating the play. Eventually Lubeck got one of those lucky goals that happen. Then in the last five minutes Wuppertal finally scored to tie the game. In the evening we went to a street festival in the Barmen section of Wuppertal. It was no Aquatenniel, but still it was fun. There was live music, food, little stands with people selling handicrafts and car give-a-ways. It wasn't the state fair, but it reminded us of it - after all we were missing the fair this year.

Just a short diversion now: I am interested in my family roots and have made a study of the family tree. My father's parents were from Sweden. My mother's mother was from a long line of Americans, most of whom emigrated to America in the 1600's. My mother's father came from German stock. We do not know much about the Brinker line, but I am pretty sure that they came from Germany. The mother of my grandfather was born Margareta Christiana Koch. Her parents were from Germany, from a village about 220 kilometers from Wuppertal, from the village of Wollmar, Marburg-Biedenkopf, Hessen, Germany.

Inside the Marburg Castle
The Old Marburg University
A Marburg Street
Old Building in Marburg

Well, we had heard that Marburg was a beautiful city. The castle, the old university, and most of the city center were from the 16th century. So yesterday, we borrowed Heike's car and took off for Marburg. I knew that the distance was only 150 kilometers by the way the crow flies, but on the road it was 240 kilometers. The drive time was two-and-a-half hours, an hour more than a hour longer than I had first calculated. The town was stunning. I thought that it was possible that my ancestors had been in same square where we stood as we entered the old city. To our surprise this was the Castle Fest weekend. We did not stick around for the storming of the castle, but we did visit the castle and its grounds. We saw as much as we could in the two hours we were there. A treat was the Café Vetter with its great pastries. From here we traveled north. Both of the villages where my grandfather Charlie's grandparents and their ancestors came from are just a few kilometers from the town of Mü nchhausen. We stopped first in Ernsthausen. Then we went to Wollmar. The village is very old. It is a farming village. Its church is 176 years old. Like most graveyards that we have visited, the old stones are no longer there. We returned to Wuppertal very tired from all the driving. We ate some sandwiches and broke out the cakes that we had got at the Vetter Café. It was a nice treat for everyone.

The Church in Ernsthausen
The Church in Wollmar
A Typical Home in Wollmar
The Countryside near Wollmar
Posted by bill at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)