Ever dreaming of her next adventure, Lynne is always on the lookout for ways to amass free travel miles while she continually researches hiking trails in distant lands. She enjoys working as a bilingual translator at Wy’east Middle School in Odell, as well as an Administrator Assistant for the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. Her weekends are divided between spending quiet moments on a hiking trail and unquiet moments playing with her grandkids.
I’m passionate about travel, exploring new places and meeting new people as I am ever curious about the language, traditions and foods of other cultures.
With some time off work last summer, and an accumulation of free air miles in hand, I decided to explore Eastern Europe.
I began in Budapest, Hungary, since that where the best round-trip fare took me. Budapest is actually two separate cities: Buda and Pest, with the Danube River flowing between the two, similar to the Columbia River dividing Hood River and White Salmon. Although I stayed in Pest (whose name does not reflect its visitors!), it was easy to walk between the two cities, with numerous pedestrian-friendly bridges spanning the Danube.
For many Americans, hostels may seem suitable only for the 20-something crowd or backpackers. But in my experience, hostels are extremely popular with Europeans of all ages, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to share a dorm-style room of bunk beds with older couples, small families or young adults. It may not be the ideal way to slumber, but such frugality enables me to have some big adventures on a rather tiny budget.
My walking path in Pest often took me past The Shoes on the Danube Memorial. This installment of 60 pairs of iron-sculpted shoes is a haunting tribute to the 60 children, women and men who were gunned down at that spot by militia during World War II. It was especially heart-wrenching to see the little toddler shoes filled with candies and trinkets.
After Budapest, I traveled to Prague, where I had signed up to teach English to adults through the Angloville program. All lodging and food is provided to native English speakers who volunteer a week, living, eating and speaking with those enrolled in this unique program. It was a great way for me to develop friendships with local residents and explore the area during down time — all the while being fed and housed for free!
Prague is a fabulous city to explore, filled with castles and gargoyles, interesting museums, the famous St. Charles Bridge, and the historically rich Wenceslas Square.
But the hiking trails were calling me, so I was happy to venture off toward less populous regions — and trains are the best way to do so. The train system in Eastern Europe is incredibly affordable, efficient, spacious, and a great way to soak up the passing scenery, meet locals, chat with other travelers, and get tips about an upcoming destination.
Romania was an unexpected gem and became my hands-down favorite country on this trip. It was easy to get around on buses and trains, it was very inexpensive and the countryside was just beautiful. Since the Romana language is Latin-based, it was also easier for me to intuit than were any of the other languages I encountered this trip.
In Romania, I first traveled to Transylvania, known for its castle of the infamous Vlad the Impaler. Apparently, the fictional story of Dracula is based on the real Vlad the Impaler, whose princely reign was rife with more horrors and bloodshed than the fictitious stories of Dracula.
Next, after enjoying the outdoor cafes and ambiance of nearby Bavarian-themed Brasov, I was ready to backpack in the Carpathian Mountains. Europe has quite an extensive hut-to-hut system along their trails which are staffed year-round. For a nominal fee, hikers can stay overnight in a hut during the summer months as they trek along a trail, and cross country skiers can ski hut to hut in the winters. Although I did stay in a hut one windy, rainy night, I preferred being outdoors, so I put up my tent off-trail the other nights.
While there were bears and wild boars to evade in the Carpathians, the biggest danger out there were the sheepdogs. As in times past, flocks of sheep are brought to graze on mountainsides, and the sheepdogs brought to guard them are not family pets. They have been specifically trained to attack any intruder. It was scary! I was fortunate that each time a group of dogs did come charging at me from across a field, there was a shepherd close enough to call them back, and I left the trail with all my limbs intact.
From Romania, I headed to Warsaw, Poland, where I’d agreed to volunteer a second week with Angloville, as I’d had so much fun with the group in Prague. Poland is another country rife with museums and memorials from the days of communism, World War II and the Holocaust. After visiting the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Shoes on the Danube in Budapest, and Vlad the Impaler in Romania, I wasn’t sure my heart could take more sorrow, but I also felt it important to bear witness to the atrocities of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There really aren’t words to express the overwhelming despair I felt in walking those grounds.
Slovakia hadn’t even been on my radar when I was first planning to visit Eastern Europe, but as I met other people on my journey, I began hearing about some great hiking opportunities near the quaint town of Zdiar, Slovakia.
So I hopped a bus from Poland and began backpacking in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia, where I encountered marmot families, the antelope-like Rupicapra Tatras, and assorted day hikers from around the globe.
After two months of exploring the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, I was sorry to leave behind new friends, but I was also grateful for the incredible memories and experiences that I was bringing home with me.