I have always treasured my friends. And, I have always loved traveling with friends, as opposed to lovers/partners/spouses. So, over a year ago, my friend Elizabeth said "let's go to Eastern Europe". E. is older than me, does not have field biology/geology legacy, and travels differently than I might. This trip was a bit more upper end than I would have done on my own. On the other hand, not worrying about logistics, and hot water at the end of the day gave me a lot more time to think about things. And it gave me a lot more time to write.
We went to Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There were a couple of themes for me on this trip. One was culture, into which I lump cathedrals, art museums, concerts and food, of which pastry is the single most important sub-category, followed by the sub-category gelato. The other was history. History is inescapable in Eastern Europe, but that was part of the point of the trip.
There are lots of ways to look at the history, lots of ways in which the history was presented, seen, and experienced. While the history of the middle of the 20th century was front and center, the 18th and 19th centuries are not neglected by the people vying for the attention of tourists. The response of various countries and cities to the Hapsburgs, the Nazis and the Communists was as different as the money (we spent a lot of time changing money). Also right there is the story of the Jews, which in brief seemed to be: welcomed into cities, build synagogues, schools and businesses, lose synagogues, schools and businesses, get kicked out, and then invited back a generation or three later. Up to the Holocaust, where a more permanent solution was attempted.
We went to: Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Spending only a few days in each of these made the differences among the countries, the cities, stand out. I tried to learn, and as a 2nd generation American, I went back and forth between familiar and not. I'll post what I saw. I am not a historian. I didn't even really do history of science in these places (though I took a picture of Marie Curie's birthplace). But you can't, I couldn't, visit these places without having some aspects of history smacked into my face.