Recently in Eastern Europe Category


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


2009 - Year of the European Bison Rescue


European BisonS.P. Gashchak, Deputy Director of the International Radioecology Laboratory in Slavutych, Ukriane, has posted an appeal to make 2009 the year of the European Bison Rescue. The request is in accordance with next year being the oriental year of the Ox.

Gashchak’s letter of appeal provides historical details about the near extinction of the European Bison. A thousand years ago, numerous herds seasonally migrated throughout Europe, but by 1927 the last wild animal disappeared. Zoos had saved 53 specimens that descended from only 12 parents.

Thanks to preservation and regeneration efforts, by the late 20th century up to 3,000 European Bison existed in the world.

The appeal then discusses the problem that most of the regenerated stock was located in Eastern Europe, an area that has undergone tremendous economic and political change. When Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, the country had approximately 685 animals. Allowing for annual increases, Ukraine should have over 1,000 European Bison, but only 200 remain.

In 1992, the Danevske Hunt Reserve in Ukraine’s Chernigov region was home to 120 European Bison. The last seven animals died there in spring 2007. A pair of bison were brought to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 1998, but one died immediately from trauma and the other died in 2000.

Still surviving are 10 animals in the Zalesie special hunt reserve in the Kyiv region and approximately 30 more in the Sumy region. The largest number of European Bison, approximately 60-80, currently reside in the Chernivtsi and Vynnytsia regions.

Gashchak points out that the sad story of the European Bison in Ukraine was caused not only by the lack of grazing and migration space and genetic issues, but the irresponsible attitude of state officials and agencies who were supposed to protect the species.

Recently, scientists and environmentalists have started a movement defending the European Bison. Ukraine has started a state program for the creation of safe nature preserves and a ban on selective shooting of the animals. It is a small first step, but necessary to the survival of the European Bison in Ukraine.

I know we are in tough economic times, but if you have any resources available, perhaps you can help make 2009 the year of the European Bison Rescue.

More information is available at the Russian-language website of the Kyiv Ecological and Cultural Center.

Note: see my previous June 2008 post about Ukraine’s Ministry of Emergency Measures plan to create a wildness area in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for 30 European Bison.

Eastern Europe Free Travel Zone


Schengen Zone sign

Typical Schengen border crossing

December 21, 2007 marks the end of overland border and seaport checks between many former communist states in Eastern Europe and their Western neighbors. This is a symbolic event similar to, but not as grandiose as, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

The Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia join 15 other countries already participating in the "Schengen" free travel zone (Malta also joins on December 21). Citizens of Schengen-participating states are only required to carry a common "Schengen visa" instead of specific visas for each country they visit.

It is great to see the people of Eastern Europe gain new freedoms, as yet another barrier falls in part of the old Eastern Bloc.