We take a lot of backroads, so we get to see villages, ski resorts, and wide expanses of beautiful terrain uninterrupted by billboards, traffic or even other roads. There is an advantage to passing through countries whose tourist industries have not yet been fully developed.
Here's some of what we learned from Katka, who was born in 1975 in Prague, during the time of Communism.
- Communist society could feel safe. Everyone had enough to eat, jobs, and were taken care of when sick and old. But it could also be scary. You never knew who was listening to your private conversations and whether that person would report you to the authorities. You were not free to cross the borders. If you did, and then tried to return, you could be arrested and put in prison.
- If you saw a line, you stood at the end of it. When you got to the front of the line was the first time you knew what you would be able to buy there. And you would buy it.
- The Velvet Revolution of 1989 was part of the breakup of the USSR. It started in Prague with a peaceful demonstration by students, and within six weeks the country was independent, with no violence and no tanks.
- Czechoslovakia was a single country until 2003, when it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was actually done without a vote and it was peaceful.
- Many families live in three-story houses, with three generations, each on a separate floor. Katka grew up in the same house as her grandparents. Now, her brother and his family live in that house and Katka and her husband and children have a separate house.
- Houses are built piece by piece as the components (e.g. windows) are available to purchase. It can take years. That may be one reason why, when people work in a town and then lose their jobs, they may not be willing to move to a place to find another job. They are attached to their homes.
Last night our group feasted on a typical Hungarian dinner: goulash (soup), pasta and beef (like stroganoff), stuffed cabbage, pickled cucumber slices, peppers, goose liver with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce (the goose liver also called foie gras, was much better than what we had in Paris some years ago, where it was quite salty), and crepes and apple strudel for dessert.
Here in Eastern Europe, we are eating like royalty.