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Most people traveling to Europe have tunnel vision, limiting their focus on Western Europe. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain twenty years ago, travelers still see Eastern Europe as a mysterious, third-world region. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us chronicles author Francis Taopn's four year journey throughout the entirety of Eastern Europe. Hidden Europe is not a typical travel guide like Fodor's or Lonely Planet. Instead, it highlights each country's culture through Tapon's personal experiences.

Don't get me wrong, Tapon still discusses tourist sites in each country, but the book refreshingly focuses on culture and his personal experiences. Therefore, if you are only looking for information about hotels, restaurants and popular tourist destinations, this book is not for you.

Hidden Europe provides a comprehensive look at everything Eastern Europe. Readers will discover that throughout Eastern Europe, they can find a plethora of ancient and enchanting cities; a range of disparate, yet occasionally similar languages; intriguing cultures and fascinating people.

Tapon's book is not written in sequential order. Instead, each chapter of Hidden Europe focuses on a single country, ending with a brief summary of what each country can teach you. Sometimes the same lesson can be learned from multiple countries. In those cases, Tapon has included the lesson in in only one country's summary.

Tapon has identified 25 countries that he considers Eastern Europe, including:

  • Finland
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Belarus
  • Poland
  • Eastern Germany
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Slovenia
  • Croatia
  • Serbia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Montenegro
  • Albania
  • Kosovo
  • Macedonia
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Bulgaria
  • Romania
  • Moldova
  • Ukraine
  • Russia
Tapon visited each country at least two times. He made his away across Eastern Europe with few personal effects and not much money. Sometimes he stayed at hostels, sometimes in public parks, sometimes in caves and also did some couch surfing when invited to do so. Using this minimalistic approach, he was able to spend more time with locals and get their opinions on any number of topics. Ultimately, he was able to capture the essence of each country.

Throughout his travels, Tapon discovered that Eastern Europeans are not cold and abrasive, but typically very friendly and giving. Many are willing to open up their homes to complete strangers. That's something you just don't see in America. Tapon's interactions with an East German named Veit provides a clear example of Eastern European friendliness and hospitality:

" ... This simple, working-class German had undergone a complete transformation. He had started as a cold, suspicious man, offering me only five minutes of conversation. But in the end, he spent 93 minutes with me, drove me all around the town, and went completely out of his way (and into another country) to drop me off at the train station. It is often said that Eastern Europeans are cautious at first, but once they like you, they will go to the ends of the earth for you. Although Poland wasn't the end of the earth, for a German, it is...."

Hidden Europe reads like a travel narrative in which Tapon conducts a discussion with the reader. Humorous anecdotes are used to keep the book both entertaining and enlightening. If you enjoy Anthony Bourdain's honest, no holds barred approach to commentaries on food and travel, then you're going to love this book. While long at 736 pages, it is an easy and enticing read. I highly recommend this book to everyone, even those who rarely travel.

Author Francis Tapon is a Harvard MBA who turned his back on the corporate world to travel around 75 countries and the United States. The book has received substantial praise from numerous sources, including the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Edit: I sent a message to Mr. Tapon informing him that this review was published. He suggested that I include that message with this review:

"I have posted my review of The Hidden Europe on my website. The book was absolutely fantastic and extremely difficult to put down. In my limited exposure to Eastern Europe, I agree with everything Francis says about it. I personally don't understand why people seem to avoid those countries. Please tell him that I thoroughly enjoyed his book. I can only dream that one day I can have a handful of the same experiences."

The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is currently available in eBook format. The official publication date of the hardcover release is March 4, 2012, though It will be available on a limited basis starting December 12, 2011.

The book is available in several formats:

Directly from Francis Tapon's website

Barnes & Noble Nook

Kindle eBook



Hardcover


I am excited to announce that my interview with former Chernobyl liquidator Sergei B. has been published by Greenhaven Press in David Nelson's new book, Perspectives on Modern World History: Chernobyl.

The Perspectives on Modern World History series provides basic historical information on significant events in modern world history. Each book presents controversies surrounding a specific event along with first-hand narratives.

Currently available from Amazon.com, Perspectives on Modern World History: Chernobyl is a compilation of essays and narratives/interviews about the Chernobyl disaster, the subsequent clean up efforts and aftermath of the world's worst nuclear accident.

In addition to my interview, the book contains contributions from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a number of familiar Chernobyl book authors and people connected with Chernobyl charities, including:

  • Svetlana Alexeivich - author of Voices from Chernobyl
  • Glenn Alan Cheney - author of Journey to Chernobyl and Chernobyl: The Ongoing Story of the World's Deadliest Nuclear Disaster
  • David R. Marples - author of The Social Impact of the Chernobyl Disaster
  • Grigori Medvedev - author of The Truth About Chernobyl
  • Mary Mycio - author of Wormwood Forest
  • Adi Roche - founder of Chernobyl Children's Project International
  • Lyubov Sirota - my dear friend, poet and former Pripyat resident
The book's content includes:

  • Annotated table of contents
  • Introduction to the topic
  • A world map
  • Three chapters containing essays focusing on general background information, multinational perspectives and first-person narratives
  • Full-color photographs, charts, maps and other illustrations
  • Sidebars highlighting related topics
  • Glossary of key terms, as appropriate
  • Chronology
  • Bibliography of books, periodicals and Web sites
  • Index
I'm still waiting to get my contributor's complementary copy, but have seen the complete table of contents and it appears to be a very interesting book. I'll post a review after I get the chance to read it.

ISBN 13: 9780737745559
ISBN 10: 073774555X

Chernobyl Exhibit in Moscow - "Wanting Remembrance"

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A new exhibit about Chernobyl has opened in Moscow. ХОТИМ, ЧТОБЫ ПОМНИЛИ (Wanting Rememberance) includes a selection of documentary photographs and video installations showing life in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone before and after the 1986 accident at the V.I. Lenin Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

The exhibit includes work from five Ukrainian photographers and filmmakers, three Russian artists and my friend, Michael Forster Rothbart. The show has been organized by my friends at the public project Pripyat.com and coincides with the annual memorial day for Chernobyl liquidators (Veterans Day) on December 14.

"Wanting Remembrance" officially opens on December 2, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 13 in Gallery Creativity, on Taganskaya Street in Moscow.  See the official "Wanting Remembrance" exhibit website for more details( in Russian).

Other events include:

  • Daily - Screenings of films by Rollan Sergienko, the director of many films about Chernobyl
  • December 6, 2:00 p.m. - Roundtable discussion featuring former Pripyat residents
  • December 12, 3:00 p.m. - Presentation about the current status and future of Chernobyl's New Safe Confinement structure
  • December 13, 12:00 p.m. - Presentation: Understanding Radiation A to Z

A list of highlights from the exhibit schedule is available on the Pripyat.com website.

Three Mile Island Radiation Leak

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Three Mile Island nuclear plantA radiation leak has been reported at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Yes, despite the meltdown at this plant 30 years ago, portions are still functional today.

Apparently, an Exelon maintenance crew was performing maintenance work in the Unit 1 reactor building when a radiation alarm sounded. Workers were cutting a large number of pipes at the time. Unit 1 has been shut down for several weeks to overhaul new steam generators and other equipment.

Twenty employees were treated for radiation exposure. Original reports indicated over 100 workers needed to be decontaminated.

Exelon does not know the cause, but believes the incident does not pose an occupational threat, nor a threat to public health and safety. The cause of the leak is under investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the entire plant is now shut down.

Even if this event really is not a threat to public health, it reveals that radiation dangers from nuclear power still exist, despite efforts to improve safety systems following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

According to Korrespondent.net and the Unian News Agency, Forbes magazine has named the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as the world's most exotic place for tourism.

Forbes mentions that 23 years after the Chernobyl accident, some companies now offer tours of the area, including Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Plant, Pripyat and the Red Forest. I wonder if the Forbes writers know that Chernobyl tours have been occurring for at least 8-10 years?

The Korrespondent article also mentioned Pripyat.com has seen a recent decrease in the number of people visiting Chernobyl due to the H1N1 swine flu crisis in Ukraine.

Video: Exploring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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My friend Sergey has posted a new video showing exploration of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, showing some abandoned villages. In this short video, you can definitely get a feel for the eerie silence that permeates the Zone.


Due to the widespread flu epidemic that is currently sweeping across Ukraine, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Administration has started requiring all visitors to bring with them a protective mask and doctor's medical certificate.

The medical certificate must state that the person is completely healthy and be completed and signed by a physician. The Zone Administration will accept certificates from foreign doctors.

People who fail to bring both a protective mask (cloth masks are fine) and medical certificate will not be allowed to enter the Exclusion Zone. I assume tour drivers will verify travelers have both items before leaving Kyiv.

This policy is expected to remain in effect for the duration of Ukraine's flu epidemic.
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant General Director Igor Gramotkin has requested all staff at the facility to take a serious and responsible attitude toward the H1N1 influenza epidemic that is spreading throughout Ukraine.

All employees are expected to make every effort to avoid the spread of infection within their families and team members at the plant. The Chernobyl Plant administration has also ordered appropriate sanitary measures be taken at the facility to protect the health of all employees.

Despite a shortage of funds, management has purchased specialized, high-strength disinfectants that are used for the treatment of surfaces in public places. Disinfectants have also been used to clean all the electric trains that transport workers to and from their homes in Slavutych, as well as on buses that employees use between the train and the plant buildings.

H1N1 Flu Panic in Ukraine

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H1N1 UkraineIn case you have not been paying attention to current events in Ukraine over the past week, or have simply been hiding under a rock, the eastern European country is firmly in the grip of an H1N1 flu panic.

According to the Kyiv Post, 71 people in Ukraine have died from flu or acute respiratory infections since the epidemic began. It is not known if any of those deaths are directly related to the H1N1 swine flu.

H1N1 UkrainePrime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko indicated that through November 2 - 19,198 Ukrainians have contracted the flu and over 236,000 had acute respiratory infections. Citizens are so concerned about H1N1 that many people are now wearing medical masks whenever they go outdoors. Tymoshenko has even commissioned two million face masks to be made in the nation's prisons.

The panic has resulted in extreme reactions including:

  • People staying home from work
  • Schools closed until further notice
  • Food markets closed (by government order)
  • Public meetings banned
  • Roads closed between oblasts (I'm not sure how this can be enforced)

H1N1 UkraineGreetings from Kyiv provides an interesting hypothesis regarding the public's panicked reaction:

Rumors are abounding everywhere about just what is going on in Ukraine. What some people outside of Ukraine don't understand is that there is a history in this country of the government not giving out vital health information (check your history on Chernobyl) and a socialized medical system in which many times doctors do not even communicate to people what kind of disease they have. So it makes sense that Ukrainians are nervous about what is really happening around them.

My friend ModovAnn, who lives in Kyiv, has also posted some interesting insights about the flu panic on her blog.

Photos: trinixy.ru (via English Russia)

After Chernobyl Web Exhibit

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After Chernobyl posterRegular readers of Chernobyl and Eastern Europe may remember a series of posts I wrote last April about a new photo exhibit entitled Inside Chernobyl: life goes on by my friend Michael Forster Rothbart.

Inside Chernobyl: life goes on
Inside Chernobyl Photo Exhibit

This exhibit was displayed for two weeks in Kyiv's Shevchenko Park and later in Slavutych, the city that replaced Pripyat as home for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers.

Rothbart has since returned to the United States after completing a 10-month Fulbright fellowship, in which he spent time documenting life in Slavutych and villages near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. He has created a second exhibit titled After Chernobyl, which details the daily lives of Chernobylites including samosels, former Zone residents and liquidators. This exhibit has recently been showing at the University of Wisconsin and is scheduled for other showings in the future.

If you are not able to see the exhibit in Wisconsin and are interested in seeing part of this show, Rothbart has just released a preliminary beta version of his new After Chernobyl web exhibit. This unique site is more than just a web gallery. It has been designed as a place where visitors can participate in meaningful discussions about the photographs by leaving either text or audio comments on each page.

This website utilizes VoiceThread to create a collaborative, multimedia slide show. It is different than any other Chernobyl site you have seen on the web and definitely worth your time. Check it out when you get a chance.

Rothbart is planning a second, much larger web exhibit for 2010. Upcoming shows of his Chernobyl photo exhibits are currently scheduled for:

  • Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art, Kharkiv, Ukraine - Autumn 2009
  • National Chernobyl Museum, Kyiv, Ukraine - Autumn 2009
  • Washington, D.C. - Spring 2010 (Details to come)