The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia; tourism has grown in leaps and bounds in these countries since four decades of communist rule was ended in 1989.
The Czech Republic is most known for the stunning beauty of its capital, Prague and as the birthplace of Pilzner beer. Prague, the City of a Thousand Spires has seen it all. Centuries of Bohemian kings, classical composers, invading Nazis, Soviet tanks and Velvet Revolutionaries have passed over Prague’s cobblestones, and the spires survived it all, creating one of Europe’s most romantic and beautiful skylines. Few visitors realize that the magnificence of the capital’s buildings is also echoed in towns and cities across the country. The Czech Republic has suffered very little physical damage over the centuries. Gothic castles and Baroque chateaux have been preserved in abundance. Town after town in Bohemia and Moravia has retained its old medieval quarter, and even rural wooden folk architecture has survived beyond all expectations. Twelve sites in the Czech Republic have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Hungary lies at the heart of central Europe, Hungary is landlocked and has borders with seven states. Historically, Hungary has been a cosmopolitan cultural center, and during its years of market socialism was more prosperous than the other Eastern Bloc countries.
Budapest, known as the “Pearl of the Danube” drips with Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural details. The twin cities of Buda and Pest are split by the River Danube and the 19th-century grandeur makes Budapest one of Eastern Europe’s finest cities. The Balaton region of Hungary features the largest lake in central Europe, 170 kilometers of shoreline and Pecs is famous for its Roman archeological sites. Hungarians are passionate about folk music and folk culture is an important feature of their national identity. The country is home to some 22 wine-making regions.
Poland is one of the success stories of new Europe, transforming itself from a communist-bloc one-party state to parliamentary democracy and European Union member in a remarkably short period of time. Kraków, has rightfully joined Prague and Budapest as part of the trinity of must-see cities in central Europe. In Warsaw, the entire Old Town has been rebuilt brick by brick in an emotional show of a city reclaiming its history. In Gdansk, you can visit the shipyards where Lech Walesa and his Solidarity trade union first rose to power to oppose Poland’s Communist government in 1980. It was the rise of Solidarity that helped to bring down Communism in Poland, and arguably sparked the revolutions that swept through all of Eastern Europe in 1989. The horrors of World War II, followed by the decades of Communist rule, have etched painful and moving monuments in the landscape of Poland but the natural beauty of the country shines through; the sandy beaches at the Baltic Sea, majestic High Tatras, one of Europe’s most starkly beautiful ranges, lakes that run to the borderlands with Lithuania and Belarus and some of Europe’s last-remaining primeval forest grace Poland.
Slovenia was part of Austria for many centuries before joining the former Yugoslavia in 1918. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, newly independent Slovenia was the richest and smallest country in central-eastern Europe. Slovenia combines remarkable beauty, sprawling forests, traditional crafts and ancient monuments with modern architecture and a cutting-edge arts and cultural life. Slovenia boasts many active musical and choral associations whose common goal is to pursue the deep-rooted tradition of singing and playing music. English is widely spoken and the people of Slovenia are warm and welcoming. The small and compact capital, Ljubljana is a vibrant university town and has long been a cultural center. It’s a contemporary European capital, yet preserves the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of a small town. In Ljubljana, mansions and masterpieces of the world renowned architect Jože Plečnik are scattered throughout the city. Outside of the capital city you’ll find the glacial Lake Bled. Slovenia has only one island, Bled Island. Sheltered by picturesque mountains, the island reigns in the middle of the Alpine lake. Its charm has made it a symbol of the 1,000 year old town of Bled for centuries. Perched on a rock overlooking the lake is the iconic Bled castle.
Slovakia has experienced much fortune and misfortune over its thousand-year history, much of it closely linked to its neighboring nations. Part of Hungary for 1,000 years, attached to the Czech Republic for 75 years under Communist rule, it only regained its independence in 1993. Slovaks are proud of their natural riches, their architectural and artistic heritage and traditions. The capital, Bratislava is a young, relaxed and centrally located city only 50 miles from Vienna. It has played an important role in Hungarian history. During the Turkish occupation of Hungary, the Hungarians moved their capital here. No less than 11 Hungarian royals were crowned in Bratislava’s St. Martin’s cathedral on Dóm Sv. Martina down through the ages.
Be sure to visit the websites of Eastern Europe’s Tourist Offices:
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