“More often than not, I don’t receive the recognition or appreciation I deserve, despite my exotic charm and rustic beauty. I am often misunderstood and overlooked since I am relatively new to the scene. I come from a land of rich cultural heritage and above all, I am more friendly and welcoming than my neighboring counterparts. “
Who am I?
I am Eastern Europe.
There exists a common misconception among many that a ‘Euro trip’ is synonymous with the green pastures of Switzerland or the lights of Paris (France) or the scenic country side of Italy. Pick any random travel agent’s plan for an ‘Europe tour’, you won’t be surprised to find a Paris, Rome, Venice or a Zurich! We frequently hear about romantic Gondolas in Venice or the majestic Colosseum in Rome or the soaring Eiffel tower in Paris but, how often do we hear about the beautiful chain bridge in Prague or the relaxing thermal baths of Budapest or for that matter, Dracula’s castle in Transylvania? It’s very rare to come across a travel agency or a tour operator that advertises a ’14 day’ trip to Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Warsaw or Transylvania. What has surprised me as a traveller is that there is less emphasis about the benefits of travelling to Eastern European countries as against Western Europe. Despite this fact, the Western countries have a stronger foothold in the travel industry when compared to their Eastern counterparts. Here are some reasons why one must consider Eastern Europe as a potential tourist destination –
A road less travelled: One of the biggest advantages of traveling to Eastern Europe would be the low tourist swarms at all major attractions in the city. Over the years, some of the best places I have enjoyed are those that are not swamped with tourists, Eastern Europe being one of them. At best, you would find a handful of tourists scattered around some of the very famous tourist spots. The rest would be the locals going about their daily lives. This gives a traveller the benefit of being able to enjoy the city like a local in its purest form. In addition to being able to enjoy the place on your own, lack of tourists also provides a few other benefits of its own. No tourists mean no street vendors trying to persuade you to buy a selfie stick or a key chain of the Eiffel Tower! No tourists mean, no one to hustle and therefore lower chances of scammers scheming you. No tourists can also mean walking around in peace which would be close to impossible at places like the Vatican or the Louvre.
Rustic charm: Only a few cities in Europe can match the old-world charm of Bohemian Prague, the lively café culture in Hungary and the rugged and stunning mountain villages of Romania. I have seen quite a few rivers in Europe and to the best of my knowledge, none of the rivers seem as majestic and as vibrant as the Danube which flows through several cities in Eastern Europe, one of which being Budapest. The best thing about the East is that, not only do the cities have a rich culture and heritage, the beauty and the charm of this rich culture and heritage have been preserved through time. Taking a walk along the streets of one of the Eastern cities almost feels like taking a walk, through history.
Safety: I lived in Budapest for three months during the summer of 2015 and during my time there, I travelled to quite a few cities in Eastern Europe and not once did I face any safety issue. In fact, as surprising as it may be, it was in Milan and Paris (the most popularized Western European travel destinations) where my husband and I were almost pickpocketed. In Milan, my husband would have lost his wallet had he not been aware of a little girl trying to pick his pocket. In Paris, we were attacked by a group of girls asking us to sign a petition and had we not read about this popular scamming technique before our trip (the one where, a few members of a gang come to you asking for your signature while a few others of the same gang pick your pocket or run away with your bags when you’re looking the other way and engrossed in signing the paper), we would have succumbed. But never have we faced any such issue in Budapest or any of the other Eastern European cities we travelled to. Most of the time, it is the prejudiced fear of the ‘unknown’ that scares people from taking a stop across Eastern Europe.
Easy on the pockets: You’d be surprised to know that you could visit a minimum of four Eastern European cities at the cost of one in the West. This is because the cost of living is predominantly much less in the East when compared to the West which means your stay, food, local travel and, entrance tickets to tourist attractions are going to cost you much less. For instance, an Airbnb accommodation will cost you not more than INR 1500 per night. Also, the weekly travel passes are way cheaper than those in cities like Paris and London. Some countries in the East have a favourable exchange rate when compared with the Indian Rupee that adds to our advantage. For instance, 1 Indian Rupee is roughly worth 4 Hungarian Forints.
No language barrier: Honestly, in this time and age, language should never be a barrier for not travelling anywhere. With a plethora of language apps available for your Android/iOS powered device, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up a few words of another language. Still not good enough? You always have the Google translate app. You can download the offline version of the language and translate any word to English or even to your native language. You also have apps where you can click a photo of a sign post in a different language and have it converted to English. Also, if you face any language issue, just enter a souvenir shop near one of the tourist spots and you will definitely find someone who speaks in English. Most of the times, your Airbnb host or hotel concierge will know English. So, language will and should never be a barrier.
Tip: Three main words you need to learn when you visit any country – ‘Entry’, ‘Exit’ and ‘Thank you’. Learning how to read ‘Entry’ and ‘Exit’ in a language is all you will need to travel around the city using public transport and learning how to say ‘Thank you’ gets you in the good books of the locals.
Friendly: The locals in Eastern Europe may not know English but they sure are some of the friendliest people I have ever met during my European travels. Despite not knowing English, most of them are ready to guide you in the right direction or help you in any other way possible. If you seem a little lost, people stop by and enquire if they can help. On the contrary, when I was at Paris, my experience was the exact ‘opposite’. If by chance you happen to stop anywhere and seem lost, either you would be pushed from behind and cursed (in my case, in French) for blocking their way or you would be taken advantage of by the scammers who look for that one sign of weakness in their prey.
Infrastructure and Connectivity: A common misconception among people is that Eastern Europe is not as developed as Western Europe. When you compare the West and the East ‘economy’ wise, that may be true. However, when it comes to the infrastructure/amenities on offer, I did not find any difficulty. If anything, it is in fact much better than travelling around some of the cities of the West. The crowd is less and there are fewer beggars and scammers around the city. Also, all the cities in the East are well connected by metros/trains/trams. There is no need to hire a cab to travel around. You can even travel to cities other than the capital cities through public transport. The infrastructure is great and general connectivity is just fine.
That said, I must add that I do love Western Europe as well, but not as much as I love the East. I hope this article provides a fair picture of Eastern Europe and hopefully you pick one of the Eastern cities the next time you decide to travel.