And hello or Ahoj (Czech) Zdravo ( Croatian and Slovenian) Czesc ( Polish)and Hello ( Hungarian)!! Sorry - don't know how to do the special accent marks! I am still running slide shows in my head from all the incredible sights and WOW moments of our trip. And my mind is full of the history and culture and perspective - thanks to Sanel who was an over the top awesome guide!!! We LOVE you Sanel!!!! I will try to replay the trip for you through the many, many, many, images I have. Ed calls me an "active shooter". Yikes, Ed!! I will categorize them by day or city with a bit of introduction to refresh your memory of where we were in time. But we did all venture off on our own, on most days, so there are lots of images of what we experienced personally. Hope these will help you to REPLAY this wonderful and broadening experience. .Click on the thumbnail image and it will come up in its originalsize and then you can scroll through all of them. . .
Pre trip visions in Prague - We arrived a day early and had some time to do our own Prague Walk. On Sunday morning the 6 of us had a Jewish synagogue tour that was gripping. We joined a Jewish family from Paraguay. Very powerful. The helter sketer Jewish cemetery was particularly poignant with headstones that reflected what their professions were and layered over time. This laid the mental framework for many other ghettos and concentration camps to come.
Day 1-2 - Prague We met at 3 in the "basement" of the Metamorphosis Hotel to get acquainted - 6 Calvin College graduates and 4 "boys" who have been friends since elementary days - OMG!! We had no idea then what an awesome group we were!!! We took a neighborhood walk with Theresa (lawyer+actor - really??) through the historic Old Town Square to the Chain Bridge and then over the bridge past the Lenin Wal,l to our dinner destination, where we were entertained by an incredible duo of flute and accordion. Only the beginning...... The next morning we boarded a tram and met Theresa at the Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in Europe. We toured Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace ( complete with the window to throw out political opponents - if only it was that easy!!), St. George's Basilica ( slaying the dragon) and the Golden Lane (really, pee???) The afternoon we went our own ways to get that perfect image of the Vitava River- complete with a beaver, wedding shots (without the wedding), bachelor parties, Czech boys checking out Czech girls, kids taking selfies in front of the Lenin Wall, old cars and the Old Square full of street performers and bubble blowers.
Day 3 -Quick stop in Stramberk - Driving east into the mountainous Moravian countryside towards Poland, we stop in the Baroque hill town of Stramberk for lunch. The tower on the hill offered some lovely views of that countryside. And then back on the bus and a little of Sanel's "medicine". Andy said it was the best Hungarian goulash anywhere!
Day 5 -Historic Krakow - We met Tomas, a really academic historian, who let us through the historic and academic Krakow. The influence of the University was stunning even though the 200,000 + students were not there. He pointed out the influence Pope John Paul II has had on Krakow because it was his home town. He emphasized the importance of the Catholic religion on the Polish people. The Wawel Castle was evidence of that. We watched the bugler play from St. Mary's Church ( for 600 years!) We went to Shindler's Factory in the afternoon - another eye opening view of the life of the Jews in Krakow as the Nazis took over - on holiday one day and in a ghetto the next. Hard to imagine. The evening ends in beer beer and more beer!
Day 5 - Lessons of the Past- Auschwitz- Birkenau -The ghettos of Prague and the stories of the Jews in Krakow lead us to this concentration camp. "Work will make you free" - the irony is hard to grasp. The shoes, the eye glasses, the faces, the train tracks that led to death, the barracks,.....words fail me but the visuals will never let me forget. The contrasts of this trip are overwhelming.
Day 6 - Hungary Great and Small- After some of Sanel's "medicine" to clear our heads, we went on through the Tatras Mountains and the rolling hills of Hungary's famous Bull's Blood wine region. First 5 shots are from the front of the bus - the third one being the line between Poland and Hungary!!! That is all you get. We slept in Eger and had a fabulous Hungarian meal, spiced with paprika. We had a free morning to explore the Baroque town that boasts of holding back the Ottomans in the 1550's. But short lived! The highlight was the school with Anita and her 6th grade English class. They were quick to share their English and a few games and lunch in their cafeteria. I don't know about you, Janel, but we didn't have cloth table cloths in our school!! Adorable kids!! And then Anita turned into the wine tasting queen getting us sloppy on Hungarian wine and dance!!! Passports ready???? Sorry the pics don't tell the whole pic - the windows were so dark - didn't think of that!!! Just for you Sanel!! -
Day 7-8 Bustling Budapest - We arrived at the Andrassy Hotel on Embassy Row in the middle of the Heritage Festival - backing in ( way to go Sweetie!!). Monica led us through the streets of Pest, checking out the Hero's Square that was built for the 1,000 anniversary and was cordoned off for the horse races. Europe's largest parliament, on the Danube, was spectacular - and even better at night as we found out later on an amazing night cruise on the river. In the morning, Monica took us to the Buda side which hosts the Palace via the funicular and more spectacular views of the city. Once again, the stories of Fascist and communist tyranny make your head spin. The shoes by the river leave an image I have a hard time getting out of my head. The baths were pretty interesting.....no men in speedos playing chess....dang.
Day 9-10 The Natural Wonders of Croatia - Plitvice Lakes National Park - "Everybody out of the bus!" Passports ready at the Croatian border and then when they decided we weren't dangerous ( dubious decision) we pulled into this lovely little oasis right on the border. Then on to the Park. It may have been that I was getting cityed and castled and cathedral out but I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of Plitvice - despite the crazy crowds on the second half. I beg your indulgence as I have gone through these images and not unlike a kid in a candy shop, I can't seem to just pic a few images to depict it's unique beauty. Make sure to open up the image to see it full size and then scroll through to appreciate the crystal clear limestone shaded water, the dripping mosses, the reflective ducks, the dancing drops of the falls - all mesmerizing. Such a wonderful balance to the dramatic history and culture and architecture of Prague and Krakow and Budapest.
Day 11 - Rovinj on the Adriatic - We stopped in a small fishing village on the Adriatic for a quick cup of coffee ( have no idea what the name was but lovely!) and off up the coast to Rovinj on the Istria Peninsula of Croatia. Stunning!!! Sanel just said - you will love your accommodations........YEAH!! We were picked up by a boat and taken to our private island and Hotel Katerina, a once Italian villa. This view above, as you will remember, was the view from the dock. It was definitely a WOW moment!!!- We had a delicious very fishy dinner on the mainland that night. Our morning was spent wandering around the village and climbing the tower. The afternoon........sunbathing and swimming in the Adriatic!!! Sanel had a surprise for us - a sunset dolphin cruise!!! Capped off by a birthday cake for Betsy's 70th!! Top that one Scott!!
Day 12 Slovenia and Ljubjjana - "Everybody Out" again.....passports ready as we say good bye to the Adriatic and Croatia and enter Slovenia with a slight slide through Italy! Our last taste of "medicine" from Sanel, made from honey which is a product of Slovenia. We stop for the afternoon in Ljubljana., the capital of Slovenia - a beautiful, quiet, little country hiding away from the world..
Day 13 - Lake Bled - We said good bye to "sweetie" - our incredible bus driver, looked out our windows at night closing in on the Julian Alps and all went out to dinner - some having our last beers and remarkably huge sausages!!! The morning sun lit up the castle and the churches and the pletna boats that were getting ready to transport us, silently (minus engines not our trashing voices!!!) over to the island that is the poster child for Slovenia- and rightly so!! .We walked around the lake and "caught" the island in continually changing light and perspectives. Please forgive the photographic OCD!! Some had a drink and some kremsnita cream cake at Tito's bird nest and then another drink at his summer home! Toasts and dinner ended the night and the trip like "12 year old campers" as Betsy said hugging and teary and wishing we were closer! We had so much fun together!! What a delightful, fun, crazy group! Our cohesiveness had a lot to do with you, Sanel, who shared your perspectives, your history, your knowledge, your patience and your sense of humor!!! Sanel, you ROCK!!! Thank you so much!!! And to the rest of my Rick Steve's friends - until we meet again....keep on traveling!!!
Last Stop - Vienna....... Many of you either started or stopped in Vienna so I am including these images. Quite a city!!! We arrived in the rain and clouds - are you kidding? I didn't think it rained in Eastern Europe!! ( Boy were we lucky!!!) But the city shines regardless. The Cathedral, the Hapsburg Palace, the Opera House ( we stayed one block from there - Rick Steves of course!), the Albertina Museum of Fine Arts ( love the steps!), the Summer Palace......all stunning. We were tasting the local desserts and after talking to our waitress realized she lived in Budapest and went home on the weekends! Prague and Budapest are only 2 1/2 hours away by car in 2 different directions. We forget the state like closeness of European countries. Can you imagine Colorado and Michigan having a different currency and president and political history (yikes!)?? Well, you do have marajuanian!! The setting sun on our last day lit up the walls of the city to give us a final good bye.