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Solo traveler right on track in East and Central Europe
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Solo traveler right on track in East and Central Europe

Planning to make virtually all travel by train and stay mostly in private homes or guest houses, I set out in July |91 for a three-week solo trip through Central Europe.

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Dresden

From my starting point of Munich, I left at 6:30 a.m. aboard one of the "Deutsche Reichsbahn" trains of the former East Germany. The cars were a bit worn and dirty compared to their western counterparts of the "Deutsche Bundesbahn," but they ran on time.

When I arrived in Dresden, I checked with the tourist office and was able to find a room in a private home for about $20 per night (room and breakfast).

Although my hosts, Marlis Steffens and Klaus Asmus, could not speak English, we got along fine with my limited knowledge of German.

I was generally quite surprised at how much activity I saw in the city. There were many people, both tourists and locals, walking on the streets and in parks or simply relaxing at sidewalk cafes.

Shops had adequate supplies of a variety of goods.

Based upon my impressions from American newspaper articles, I had expected to see a grimy, old city filled with depressed people, but this was not true at all.

At breakfast, my host was listening to an English-language program which included an old song by Louis Armstrong. When I commented to him about the song, he simply smiled and said, "Satchmo."

Although the long years of communist rule were likely difficult, it seemed to me that the spirits of the people had endured.

The city was heavily damaged during WWII thus has many modern buildings. Certain areas were apparently so completely destroyed that no attempt was made to rebuild in the earlier styles.

Noteworthy places such as the Zwinger Palace were restored and do offer a glimpse of the previous architectural splendor. Construction began in 1710 and the palace became the seat of the Saxon kings. It now is a museum.

Seeking roots

After Dresden, I traveled about 40 miles eastward to the town of Bischofswerda. Several of my ancestors lived in nearby villages in the 1700s and I wanted to do some investigating.

Two years prior to my visit I had made contact by mail with a woman in the area whose maiden name, Keilich, was the same as that of my ancestors. She wrote to me in German and said that I would be welcome if I ever wanted to visit.

I figured out the bus schedule and went to her village, Rammenau, which consisted of about 15 houses surrounded by farmland.

When I first stepped from the bus, I had a sinking feeling and wondered if I had made the right decision. However, when I found her home I was given a generous welcome.

During the course of the afternoon I met her husband, their three children and their spouses and her grandchildren.

All were quite surprised and pleased to meet the American who might be a very distant relative. We still are trying to determine the exact connection.

They drove me to all of the nearby ancestral villages and insisted that I spend the night. The following morning I was taken to see a national park, Sachsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), a scenic mountainous area along the Elbe River.

All of the hospitality was wonderful and I was made to feel at home. My hosts did not speak English, but we had no real communication problems. My German/English dictionary got some heavy use by all.

Old-world charm

After Rammenau, I went south to Prague.

I spent two days exploring the city and was intrigued by all of the old buildings. The city was generally untouched by the World Wars and many structures are over 400 years old.

There were many tourists in town and quite a few vendors selling postcards, small watercolors, handcrafts and even some Russian military hats and insignias.

My next stop was Budapest where I stayed at the Hotel Gellert. This stately old hotel was my one splurge for accommodations on the trip ($79 per night, single, with bathroom and breakfast).

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and especially liked the indoor/outdoor mineral-springs swimming pools for which the hotel is famous.

I also was impressed by the elaborate architecture of the city's old buildings and landmarks such as the Fisherman's Bastion and the Hungarian Parliament.

In several large, pedestrian shopping areas (Vaci utca and vicinity), embroidered linens, glassware, pottery and handcrafts could be found. Prices were reasonable and restaurant meals were an especially good bargain.

I continued my journey southward and spent two days at Balatonfured on the north shore of Lake Balaton.

Lake Balaton is a large, fresh-water lake that is an extremely popular holiday area. The town and beaches were very crowded with German tourists.

There are few historical sites in the area and water sports are the principal attraction. I had seen plenty of historical/cultural sites in the preceding days, so the lake was a good diversion.

Austria and Germany

After Lake Balaton, I made a series of short train trips with daylong stops in Vienna, Salzburg and Kitzbuhel.

I have been to Vienna and Salzburg before and Salzburg is my favorite. Although expensive, like most of Austria, it is a lively, fascinating city. It does cater heavily to tourists, but it still retains its class and character.

My next stop was Prien am Chiemsee in southeastern Bavaria. This is a popular lakeside town on the Chiemsee, which is similar to Lake Balaton but not quite as crowded.

The nearby island of Herreninsel is noted for the Palace of Herrenchiemsee, which was bult in the late 1800s for Ludwig II of Bavaria.

The palace is quite elaborate inside and was designed as a miniature Versailles.

The final four days of my trip were spent in Munich where I visited a friend.

Munich is a great city and I toured a few of the popular sights such as the Olympic Par, Nymphenburg Palace, Englischer Garten, Alte and Neue Pinakothek museums and the Marienplatz area.

My stay also included an open-air Mozart concert in the Residenz Palace as well as stops in several beer gardens.

Practicalities

I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation. In my three weeks of travel there were only two rainy days.

Most of the time, I stayed in private homes or guest houses for prices that ranged from $14 to $30 per night (room and breakfast). For my occasional hotel stays, prices ranged from $50 to $79 per night (room and breakfast).

Virtually all of my travel was by train. I had a second-class German-Rail pass as well as a first-class European East Pass which was valid in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had no trouble using either of the passes.

The East European pass was new last year and was only available in first class. I found few Czechoslovakian and Hungarian first-class cars and would have preferred the second-class pass of one were available.

The conductors on the Czech and Hungarian trains seemed a bit confused when I presented the pass, although none ever questioned me. It was not until I arrived in Austria that a conductor finally validated the pass for me.

I like to travel light and had only a small backpack and a canvas airplane carryon bag. This arrangement served me well and was not much of a hindrance when I had to carry things for any distance.

I was not accosted by pickpockets or unscrupulous persons and I tried to avoid people who and places that appeared to be somewhat less than reputable.

Although it was nearly impossible to eliminate all evidence that I was a tourist, I tried to use some common sense as I traveled.

Traveling along simply required that I be a bit more alert and keep track of the essentials such as my wallet, passport and traveler's checks.

I had a great time seeing new people and places and will always have good memories of this trip.

PHOTO : My hosts took me to see a national park, Sachsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), a scenic mountainous area along the Elbe River in Germany.

PHOTO : Eric Dalton and host Ruth Schuster at one of the villages where his ancestors had lived in Saxony.

PHOTO : In Prague, there were many tourists and quite a few vendors selling postcards, small watercolors, handcrafts and even some Russian military hats and insignias.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Martin Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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