On Eger (Hungary)

After our morning at Auschwitz, it was a long ride to Eger (EH-gher) – a city of about 53,000 in northern Hungary. The next day we had the morning to discover Eger on our own before two scheduled activities.

Nestled in the hills of the Bukk Mountains, humans have lived here since the Stone Age.

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Eger Castle sits above the town center – and this place is close to the Hungarians heart because here, the Hungarians defended the castle from the invading Ottomans in 1552. Istvan Dobo is a legendary hero for his leadership.

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During the 1600s, the Ottomans built a minaret in Eger, which is one of three minarets remaining in Hungary.

 

Eger has a variety of grand buildings, but the pedestrian street with Baroque architecture is a pleasant stroll and a good place to eat or enjoy a beverage.

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After our independent time, the group gathered together for an activity – attending a junior high school where we met with a teacher and her students in their English class – and then had lunch in the school cafeteria. (We were pleasantly surprised.)

 

Eger is the center of one of Hungary’s productive wine regions. One of the popular wines is known as Bull’s Blood – a dark red wine blend of three grapes. The legend is that the wine was dark because it was mixed with bull’s blood, which gave Dobo’s men strength. So after the school, it was a short trip to a winery where the wine flowed, the music played, learned a Hungarian dance, and who knows how many times we toasted in Hungarian – Egészségedre!

 

Eger is a charming small city. For us, it was a good stopover between the gut-wrenching in Auschwitz and the grandness of Budapest to come. Time at the school and the winery helped make the day wonderful. Below is a 4-minute video (set to appropriate music) showing many of the sites we saw in Eger. Enjoy.

 

Next Stop” Budapest

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

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On Auschwitz I and II (Poland)

Forgetting them means letting them die again. (Elie Wiesel)

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

 

Night, night without end, no dawn comes. (Tadeusz Borowski)

 

We have to remember, always, but it’s never easy. (Alberto Israel)

 

Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace, and encounters among people. (Pope Francis)

 

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity. (on a plaque)

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It happened, therefore it can happen again. (Primo Levi)

 

Any denial of the facts is a denial of the truth (A. E. Samaan)

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Personal note: Everyone should visit Auschwitz I and II at least once in their life. I never realized that the two are a 5-minute ride apart. At Auschwitz I, exhibits as hair, suitcases, shoes, and belongs can rattle the soul – but the size of Auschwitz II (aka Birkenau) is staggering. For me, I’m glad we didn’t have a guide – therefore, at the chance to move and contemplate on our own.

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Next stop: Eger

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Krakow (Poland)

Krakow – Poland second largest city (pop. 750,000); Poland’s economic, education, arts, and culture center, Poland’s capital until 1596

Krakow – It’s Old Town contained within walls (some still exist) and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large Main Market Square is a vibrant place!

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Krakow – Home to Krakow Castle found on Wawel Hill above the Vistula River across from Old Town. To me, not only was Wawel Cathedral the most magnificent church I saw on the trip – it was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

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Krakow – A place where revered Karol Wojtyla spent much time before becoming Pope John Paul II.

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Krakow – Not bombed in WW2, but is home to Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Jewish Ghetto (in Kazimierz neighborhood). The factory is now a museum about the war in Poland while the Ghetto is in a rejuvenation period. Looking up the long stairway reminded me of the scene when a lady came to the factory for an interview, and Mr. Schindler was standing at the top of the stairs.

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Poland has a rich history, and compared to many other European countries, it was large. I didn’t know that during part of the 18th Century, Poland didn’t exist because the land was divided among Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As for Krakow, the visit here was the most surprising of the trip. To learn more about Krakow, I encourage you to watch the 3-minute video because from Rick Steves.

Next stop: Auschwitz

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

On Rick Steves’ Europe Tours

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My wife and I enjoy travel – especially in Europe. Through the years we’ve watched many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS – plus we found his tour books to be the best – but, we’ve never taken any of his company’s tours.

However, we know at least five couples who have taken his tours – some multiple times – and everyone endorsed them! So, this past late September-early October, we ventured on our first Rick Steves’ Europe tour to a land we didn’t know – Eastern Europe. (After Bled, we continued on our own.)

 

Several broad points about Rick Steves’ Europe tours – especially two very important limitations:

  • Group size in the mid-to-upper 20s (so there is plenty of room on the full-sized bus)
  • One carry-on luggage and one backpack per passenger – after all, travelers are responsible for carrying their own to/from the hotel

For the tour,

  • A tour guide was with us the entire time (we had a wonderful Czech named Jana)
  • When in a new location, local guides shared their expertise
  • Most hotels are for multiple nights (which allows ample opportunities to do some laundry)

As a philosophy, Rick Steves’ tours want travellers to get the most of their experience by emphasizing history, culture, and interacting with the people because he wants travellers to understand the people, their place, and what is important to them. Besides the local guides, our activities included

  • tasting wine at a winery
  • visiting a school and meeting with an English teacher and her students
  • tasting honey at a local producer
  • eating local cuisines
  • being entertained by traditional music.
  • having two transit day-passes in Budapest good for buses, trams, and subways
  • after leaving each country), Jana led us in a toast to that country with a local liquor and toasting in the native language

The hotels exceeded our expectations. All were clean, spacious, conveniently located, and with a hearty breakfast to start our day.

Rick Steves’ Europe offers tours throughout Europe – and a surprising number of offerings, plus each frequently offered. I invite anyone interested to visit ricksteves.com. Regarding this tour, the previous post featured Prague, and my plan is to post at least one stop a week.

Bus touring isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. However, I can honestly say that we would not hesitate to take another Rick Steves’ Europe tour. Actually, we even have our eye on another Rick Steves’ Europe tour in the future.

 

On Prague (Czech Republic)


Click for background music of a very special song to the Czech people.

 

Prague – Praha to the Czechs

Prague – located on the Vltava River, the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the historical capital of Bohemia, and the place known as The City of 100 Spires.

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Prague – with its historic Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site) providing much of the city’s charm. Once surrounded by a wall, now only a few towers remain. Old Town Square serving as its center while featuring a statue to Jan Hus – a Czech religious reformer who was 100 years before the Reformation.

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Prague – with the historic Charles Bridge connecting Old Town and the Little Quarter located across the Vltava, just below Prague Castle. The bridge served as part of Coronation Way during the days of the monarchy.

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Prague – the home of Prague Castle with the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral within its walls. At our first dinner, two members of the Prague Castle Orchestra (from the opening video – the flute and accordion players) – privately entertained our group.

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Prague – with New Town flourishing outside Old Town. A magnificent collection of Art Nouveau buildings dominating the eyes – as well as a pair of dancers (Dancing Towers) known as Fred and Ginger.

 

Prague – featuring Wenceslas Square as New Town’s main square – the place where thousands of Czechs gathered for 1989’s Velvet Revolution ending one-party rule (Communists). Yes – the square is named after the Good King (of Christmas carol fame) who is buried at St. Vitus Cathedral.

 

Prague, not only a wonderful place to start our tour, it’s a great city for visitors. If you get a chance, GO! Below is 3-minute video about Prague’s Jewish Quarter (in Old Town). Hope you watch. Have you ever been to Prague?

Next stop: Krakow

On Reviewing a Travel Book

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” (Mark Twain, author)

I don’t know about the PBS stations in your area, but ours love Rick Steves shows and specials – especially on weekends and during fundraising campaigns. Sometime in late August I stumbled across one of him giving a lecture. I hadn’t seen it and he immediately grabbed my attention.

He (like me) is a believer that the majority of people in the world are good. Even though his talk did not inspire me to donate to the fundraising effort, I bought the book ahead of my journey to Eastern Europe, then finished it during the trip.

Travel As a Political Act (3rd edition, 2018) is not only an antidote of his travels, it focuses on the ability of travel to bridge cultures. After all, many people have fears based on exaggerations, myths, and a lack of knowledge.

Eight of the 10 chapters center on specific regions/issues as Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Denmark, Turkey & Morocco, Israel/Palestine, Europe & drugs, and similarities & difference between Europe & America. The other two chapters are about the importance of travel and retrospective thoughts when returning home.

Simply put, each of us have a worldview that is shaped by friends, family, media, perceptions, education, and personal experiences. Rick Steves want travelers to

  • Get the most out of travel by keeping an open mind and getting outside our comfort zone
  • Think beyond the logistics “hows” as flights, hotels, transportation, sights, and travel tips. The “whys” of travel allows travelers to be enlightened, learn, and grow.
  • Understand that bridging differences begins with understanding differences
  • Travel with the purpose of learning, not just seeing because everything has a history.
  • Know that sights are important because of what went on there and why it is important to the people today.
  • Learn why people are proud and why they hurt because all people have dreams, national heroes, traditions, values, and stories.

Yes – these points are easy to say, but very hard for many to do.

Travel As A Political Act is a good read. There is no question in my mind that Rick Steves is promoting his worldwide view. Just like his television shows, he is optimistic, affable, humorous, and even at times cheezy – all with the goal of how travel can change a personal perspective if the person embraces travel with an open mind.

Although some may say the author is promoting a political view. I disagree because he is using his personal view through experience to help travelers get the most out of travel. However, I understand how a reader can construe one personal view in the same light as a political view. Because of that, I hesitate to endorse this book for uber conservatives. On the other hand, they may be ones who could benefit from the challenge if they approached it with an open mind.

“While seeing travel as a political act enables us to challenge our society to do better, it also shows us how much we have to be grateful for, to take responsibility for, and to protect.” (Rick Steves, traveler & tour agency owner)

On Heading South from Yellowstone


After leaving Yellowstone to the south, Grand Teton National Park is less than an hour away. The park is named after the tallest mountain in the Teton range. The name’s origin goes back to the area’s French fur trappers calling the range les trois tétons.

The range’s sharp, jagged peaks are not only a contrast to the rounded ones at nearby Yellowstone, the peaks also serve as a reminder that the Tetons are the youngest mountains in the Rockies.

The drive through the valley east of the range offers stunning views. These mountains are spectacular!

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Jackson Hole refers to the long valley east of the Tetons. Jackson, the major town in the valley, is a popular destination for tourists and serves as a base for vacationers during all seasons and a seasonal home for some notable people. Our tour group stayed an evening in Jackson before embarking on the long drive to Salt Lake City.

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After an evening in Salt Lake City, our next destination was Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce, resembling more of a natural amphitheater than a canyon, is spectacular and very unique. The red, orange, and white color combination below a bright blue sky is stunning.

Bryce’s unique appearance comes from the sea of hoodoos occupying the amphitheater – the pillars of rock formed by weathering and water eroded erosion previously uplifted rock millions of years ago. Although hoodoos are found in other parts of the world, Bryce offers the largest collection.

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After an evening in, we were bound for where we started – Las Vegas – but not without stopping at Zion National Park. Whereas the views of Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon were from above looking down, one enters Zion Canyon’s deep gorge from the floor, which allows visitors to enjoy looking up at its walls of reddish and tan Navajo sandstone.

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After 2800 miles (4500 km) in 2 weeks, we saw many wonderful sights that America’s National Parks provide. Simply spectacular! Yes, we had a lot of bus time and yes, our visits were long enough for sampling – therefore, not long enough for embracing – but this trip was better than not ever seeing these natural wonders.

To see the post of the entire trip, see the sidebar (Categories > Travel > Western US National Parks Tour), click here, or visit any of the individual posts linked below.

Las Vegas
Vegas to Denver
South Dakota and westward
Yellowstone