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Driving up the winding hills of the castle district to the historical Lobkowicz Palace, it occurred to me that I was going to miss Prague, with its colorful mix of cultures and medieval architecture, the most. Or perhaps I’d miss the views of Buda and Pest, Hungary, lit up at night. But then again, there were those charming streets and coffee shops in Vienna, Austria, and the extraordinarily good ice cream I discovered in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland.
What was foreign became familiar to me during my two-week tour of Eastern Europe with Tauck. Traveling with my family in a small group of 20 people, I was able to immerse myself in each city’s culture, while receiving historical lessons from our guide, in a way that few tourists can do on an FIT.
During a private concert in Warsaw, for example, I was reminded of the Polish people’s revolution by the music of Frederic Chopin, Poland’s pride and joy.
In Budapest, I was awed by the ornate beauty and grandeur of the Hungarian Parliament Building while I learned of Hungary’s oppression during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Communist regime following World War II. I also learned that Hungary’s second language, sarcasm, developed over years of coping with such challenging political periods.
When we visited Prague’s Lobkowicz Palace, our tour guide gave us insight into William Lobkowicz’s family and their exile after World War II. Only recently has the family returned to their ancestral home to begin the immense task of revitalizing their properties into accessible cultural sites.
My only disappointment was that our visit to Vienna happened to fall on a Sunday and a religious holiday the following Monday. Because of the timing, all of the shops in Vienna’s lovely shopping squares were closed. I was delighted, however, to sample the city’s signature strudel and tortes with a cup of very strong dark coffee. Every city seemed to offer stand-out products — paprika and wine in Budapest, amber and coffee in Warsaw and Krakow and garnets and beer in Prague, to name a few.
Because our trip was arranged by Tauck and was comprised of such a small group, we enjoyed some very special experiences in each city. During our last night in Vienna, we were treated to a private Mozart and Strauss concert, complete with ballerinas, a soprano and a tenor at Palais Auersperg.
Additionally, when we visited Prague, we had the extraordinary privilege of actually entering and touring the Strahov Monastery and Library, where most tourists are only allowed to peek inside from the doorway. We perused the stacks of ancient tomes, globes and more (without touching them) while our guide relayed the rich history of the books before us — one of the many memorable experiences possible on a small group tour.
Tauck offers select departures on the Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna & Prague itinerary with groups of no more than 26 guests. Pricing for the 14-day tour begins at $5,790 per person, based on double occupancy.