Discovering Eastern Europe 2014
From October 4-20, 2014, Duke alumni, family, and friends traveled to a poignant part of the world for an overview of five distinctly different nations – Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This program was led by Professor James Salzman, Samuel F. Mordecai Professor of Law and Professor of Environmental Policy.
Through this journal, you can accompany our travelers on this journey and get a sense of the depth of our programs.
Days 1-3 | Warsaw, Poland
Dzien dobry! Staying at the Polonia Hotel, in the shadow of Stalin’s Wedding Cake, we were treated to the delights of the Old Town and Summer Palace on the Water courtesy of Philip’s dry, cynical humor. Walking the streets of the Old Town completely rebuilt from the ruins of WWII seemed a bit surreal, but it didn’t seem like Disneyland, either. And dinner that night surrounded by photos of Radio Free Europe announcers brought home the special history of this region since World War II.
The strangest sight so far has been the Vodka bottle offered as part of the hotel breakfast buffet. Not to say it wasn‘t welcome. When in Rome… The top treat has been the private concert by Joanna Lawrynowicz. I was familiar with the dreamy and playful nature of Chopin, but her muscular playing took my breath away. And the top phrase so far has been our Tour Director Silvija’s helpful advice about where and when to do our “Magic,” best performed for free.
Days 4-6 | Krakow, Poland
Krakow proved an unexpected and delightful surprise. Anticipating an old university town such as Cambridge or Oxford, Krakow presented not just that but all the magnificence of an ancient capitol, complete with magnificent town square, castle district, and Jewish ghetto. With over 40,000 students at more than 22 universities, the place buzzed with energy. While as sombre as KraKow was inviting, Auschwitz and Birkenau provided reminders of the desperate situations this region has faced in our parents' lifetimes. The top surprises included a full-size chapel carved out of salt caverns and Leon being propositioned in front of our hotel – and more than once!
Days 7-9 | Budapest, Hungary
Driving to Budapest, we profited from group strudel making and eating! This capital of the Magyar nation provided our first introduction to the Danube. The hotel location was literally unbelievable, not just for the view across the river to Pest and the ornate Parliament but because it incorporates an ancient monastery. We got to see the main boulevards in great detail as we inched through marathon traffic en route to the city market. The visceral highlights included spas river cruise for some and funnel cakes for others. Touching sights included the shoe memorial beside the river and the tree of remembrance in the courtyard of the Temple, donated by Bernie Schwartz (Tony Curtis) for his father, Emmanuel.
Days 10-12 | Vienna, Austria
The magnificent weather continued as we made our way past wind farms into Austria. Vienna lived up to its reputation as a truly imperial city. The magnificent sights included Schonbrunn, a morning private tour of the State Opera House, and more fleshy cherubim than you can count. Folks who visited the National Museum of Fine Arts said it was extraordinary. Outside of Vienna, we all learned to spell Heiligen Kreuz monastery and hum Gregorian chants. Heading out of town, one could not help but be impressed by the fantastical apartment block by designed by Hundertwasser.
Days 13-14 | Bratislava, Slovakia
This was a new country for most of us and this jewel of a city proved a particular treat, much smaller and more pedestrian-friendly than the imperial grandeur of Vienna. A great town for walking, the old streets and cafes provided a comfortable feel for what we have been getting used to in Central Europe. Introduced to the term, Velvet Divorce, our tour guide recounted the complicated saga of the battle over raising prices at the Castle WC, continuing the trend of dry, cynical commentary on the politics and history of the region. We drove out of town to the goose and duck capital of Slovakia for our special dinner but, for some, the hot chocolate proved a highlight for those who had the good fortune to visit Bon Bon. Yum! Although that night provided the first rain of the trip.
Days 15-17 | Prague, Czech Republic
Our last visit and the main reason that some of us went on this trip, Prague, did not disappoint. The city provided amazing sights from 360 degrees. As our tour guide put it, a house on the Old Town Square featured a Romanesque basement, Gothic ground floor, Renaissance first floor, topped with Art Deco façade. We were not alone, however, with lots of people, people, people. Those who saw St. Petersburg Ballet said it was the best they had ever attended. Our farewell dinner showed again the wonderful camaraderie that prevailed throughout the trip, with heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary efforts by Silvija, not just in looking to the details but in so generously sharing her own life experiences with us.
|15-17||Prague, Czech Republic|