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Eastern Europe, the destination for our most recent family vacation, was definitely my brother’s idea.
I was pulling for Italy – pizza, pasta, gelato, are you kidding me? When I thought of Eastern Europe I thought…schnitzel? I don’t even know what that is – isn’t it a hot dog?
I was so wrong. In fact, I never once ate sausage on the trip. And schnitzel actually refers to an Austrian culinary practice in which meat, usually veal, is pounded very thin, coated in batter and fried to perfection. The thinner the meat and lighter the batter, the finer the wiener (veal) schnitzel is.
Gelato, however, was also in abundance. In Vienna, Italians set up shop in the summer and sell gelato from gelateria stands throughout the bustling areas of the city,
Even better the coffee in Warsaw, Krackow and Vienna was some of the best I’ve ever had. Not to mention that in all of the cities we visited, iced coffee was not coffee over ice, but rather coffee over ice cream.
But what really took me by surprise were not the culinary offerings, but rather the dramatic and amazing architecture of the region.
Budapest, with its Byzantine architecture and the rolling hillsides of Buda sitting in quiet opposition to the bustling shops and streets of Pest, was as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen.
Perhaps my favorite city, taking me by surprise, was Prague – red-roofed, gothic, charming Prague, a city with so much cultural convergence and yet a liveliness and beauty entirely its own.
Perhaps my favoritism was somewhat skewed by the disproportionate number of attractive waiters in its restaurants, (is that a rule I didn’t know about?) but mostly, I think to the fact that Prague as a city is entirely original.
Unlike most of the cities, which sustained some damage during World War II, Prague was entirely undamaged and thus is home to gothic, renaissance, baroque and rococo styles of architecture in their original states, sometimes with two or more styles co-existing in the same building.
Cute little cafes and stately riverside restaurants hum busily along serving cappuccinos, entrees from a variety of cultures and famous Czech beers. Somehow, this incredible conglomeration of styles and flavors produces a unified feeling that is simply “Prague.”
Our vacation was organized by Tauck and their program allowed us the incredible privilege of seeing the Strahov Monastery library and dining in Lopkovitz Palace in the castle district, which may have been my favorite part of the city. Both the monastery and the palace are beautiful historical buildings with fascinating stories of their survival throughout the changing political regimes of Europe. Situated high up in the hills of the castle district, they also offer stunning panoramic views of this colorful city.