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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


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, 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

Book Review - Radiant Girl


Radiant Girl by Andrea White, Bright Sky Press, 2008

Radiant Girl, a coming-of-age children's book by author Andrea White, is the fictional account of Katya Dubko, an 11-year old girl who lives in Yanov, a village located very near to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

On the evening of April 25, 1986, while Katya's family is preparing for her eleventh birthday celebration, she wanders into the nearby woods and meets a mysterious boy named Vasyl, who tells her that her world will be destroyed by an explosion. In the early morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explodes, throwing Katya's young life into a tailspin.

Katya's father Ivan is an upstanding supporter of the Soviet Union's Communist Party and refuses to accept the seriousness of the situation caused by the Chernobyl accident.

Following the accident, Katya must contend with:

  • The evacuation of her small village to Kyiv
  • Moving to a new town (Slavutych)
  • Various family health concerns
  • Volatile friendships
  • Her overly-patriotic father, who works at the Chernobyl Plant
Over the next four years, Katya searches for answers about Vasyl, the Chernobyl accident and radiation, all while continuing to struggle with her past. It takes events during a school field trip for Katya to finally come to terms with her past and find a way to move ahead with her life.

This is a children's book, yet is still an enjoyable read for adults. The author did a wonderful job weaving fantasy and historically accurate details together to provide readers with insights into the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and its affects on the residents of what is now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

If you are like me and know a lot about the Chernobyl accident and the Exclusion Zone, you will notice a few inaccuracies scattered throughout the story. I know the author conducted extensive research for this story to be as accurate as possible (I have personally seen some of her notes), therefore I assume these inaccuracies are due to poetic license and didn't let them bother me, at least not too much.

My only criticism about Radiant Girl is that I wanted more details - maybe 50-60 pages more. Of course, that may just be me and my complete obsession with everything about Chernobyl and my constant search for more information and details.

Overall, this is an educational, emotional and haunting story that I enjoyed very much. If I did not have other things to do, I could have easily finished this book in one day. If you have not yet read Radiant Girl, get it as soon as possible. I highly recommend it.

Chernobyl Book - The Pripyat Syndrome


Pripyat Syndrome Book CoverA new book titled "The Pripyat Syndrome" officially went on sale April 26, the 23rd anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. "The Pripyat Syndrome" has been 15 years in the making and is written by my friend Lyubov Sirota, a poet and former Pripyat resident. The book examines developments in Pripyat on April 26-27, 1986, the evacuation and the lives and fates of Pripyat's residents and Lyubov's friends and relatives.

This should be a fascinating read, however it is only available in Ukraine and Russia in the Russian language. Once I get my copy and am able to translate it, I'll pass along some details.