Middle Europe (New Name for Old Place)

Prague,Czechs,MusicForTheEyes

Czechs Stating Their Opinion in Prague. © Sharon Lundahl

Our memories of working abroad defined certain places as Eastern Europe–using the old “Cold War” dividing line of Russian influence.

Prague,Czech,MusicForTheEyes

Wandering streets in the Prague old city. © Sharon Lundahl

Traveling in October of this year in the countries of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, we learned that most citizens prefer to be identified as living in Middle Europe.  They are tired of being affiliated with a term that they feel is outdated and which identifies them as being repressed under authoritarian regimes.

We also found that people in those countries didn’t want to speak Russian with us, as it was a reminder of the same period.  Knowing Russian was still sometimes helpful, as Slavic languages share many similarities.

Warsaw,poland,MusicForTheEyes

Pretty girls in Warsaw. © Sharon Lundahl

We could often read signs or understand words in Czech or Polish.  It was difficult to get along in Budapest, however, as Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages and looks and sounds really weird.

We usually travel to third-world or at least more far-flung countries, where we can purchase exotic handicrafts to sell in our store.  We knew that Middle European countries also had interesting handicrafts, and we were attracted by the possibility of train travel between the different cities on our itinerary.  Also, it was sort of Europe, without being so expensive.

Budapest,Hungary,Trains,MusicForTheEyes

Budapest Train Station. © Shawn Harquail/Flickr

Traveling by train was a mixed blessing, however.  While it is relatively cheap, and the rail cars are clean…and some even have power plugs for our smart phones…there are problems.  First, we had to go to the main train stations to buy our tickets; there, no one spoke good English, and once we had to wait more than an hour while the computers were down.  Second, it was confusing to find out what track you should be on, and there were often changes of trains required before your destination.  Finally, the trips were always longer than advertised.

Poland,Warsaw,MusicForTheEyes

My favorite Polish Pottery for Sale. © Sharon Lundahl

Even though the train cars were modern, we suffered from the poor state of the infrastructure and the fact that the tracks seem always to be under repair.  One time we stopped 45 minutes without anyone telling us why.  The final straw was when the train from Warsaw to Budapest took 11 1/2 hours, and there was no notification about when to depart the train.

We just flew the final leg of our journey, from Budapest back to Prague.  It was convenient and easy.

One big surprise was that in the EU no one asked to see our passports, until the time we took our flight back to the U.S.   When a train attendant came through, he was only interested in looking at our tickets.

Krakow,Poland,MusicForTheEyes

Shopping at a local market in Krakow. © Sharon Lundahl

Because of the wide geographical spread between the countries, there were noticeable differences in personalities.  It is said, for example, that Czechs are generally non-confrontational, while Poles might be more straightforward with their opinions.  It’s taboo in Poland to shake hands at the doorway, but OK for the other countries.  The Hungarians seemed more reserved in their manners than people in Prague.

Poland,Warsaw,MusicForTheEyes

Real Polish T-Shirt. © Sharon Lundahl

All of the cities we visited, coming off a terrible 20th century, have blossomed into huge tourist magnets in the 21st.  Even in October, we shared the streets and shops with many tourists, although apparently few Americans.

Fred likes to buy T-shirts in the local language, but that took some effort.  The city centers were full of shirts saying “I (heart) Poland” or “Hard Rock Cafe Budapest”…all in English.  We finally found our way to real local shopping areas and markets.  We would know we were successful when we saw T-shirts for sale with slogans in Czech, Polish or Hungarian!

Budapest,Hungary,MusicForTheEyes

View from Riverboat in Budapest. © Sharon Lundahl

8 Responses to “Middle Europe (New Name for Old Place)”

  1. Sean

    Wow. Not much nice to say. I have a lot of good Friends from Poland and Prague and I LOVED living there. An open mind often helps.

    Reply
    • Sharon

      We also loved our trip and the people we met there. This is just an introductory blog about our trip…the following ones on each city will tell more about the wonderful things we saw and did!

      Reply
  2. Judy Wheeler

    That’s not the way I read the blog – I can’t imagine two more open people, with a world of travel experience and open to other cultures — just perhaps surprised by the train service not being more ‘European’ and less third world – comments and observations, not necessarily cultural judgements

    Reply
  3. Richard Hayes

    Jane & I visited Poland, spending two weeks traveling by rented car & train, & Prague, on our way to Ukraine, during the last five years. Nice to be in the second world where things are not too expensive & yet less touristy than Western Europe.

    We loaded up on Polish ceramics at a store in Krakpow across from our hotel.

    We must return to Budapest where we lat visited before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

    Reply
  4. Bruce Froemming

    A fun read promising more reportage in the New Year… Thanks! Now, I just can’t resist weighing in on this budding controversy; it’s a classic refrain from as far back as the 19th century: “If they could just get the damn trains to run on time!” A bit of confusion makes for a good mystery ride and recounted hassles serve as fair warning; as good travel reportage requires. Yet I missed knowing what the English translation on Fred’s t-shirt? Does it say; “NEVER TRUST OUR TRAINS!”-?-;)

    Reply
  5. lynda klau

    i want to tell you i LOVE the name of your shop. MUSIC FOR THE EYES.

    it rapidly tells us you are special.

    thank you for doing what you love and passing it on.

    lynda

    Reply
  6. Jackie

    When we visited Budapest in 2012, there were clear signs of economic problems. Our guide said Hungary was always on the wrong side of the war. I saw very few large trees which were more prominent in other cities. Prague was a wonderful city with so many different sections. Glad you enjoyed it all.

    Reply

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