We're back from our 25 day trip to central Europe. Ken and I were invited to a friend's wedding in Spišská Nová Ves, Slovakia. That seemed a great excuse to travel around a bunch of Central Europe. So we visited 13 cities in 4 countries. Here's some quick impressions, along with a map of where we stayed (you may need to zoom out to see everything).
The trip started in earnest for us in Slovakia, which we loved. It's a small country and not terribly wealthy. But it's also proudly part of the European Union and people were very friendly and welcoming, even flattered to be visited. Bratislava is a great international city. The smaller towns we stayed in were a bit disappointing (I'm sorry we didn't stay in Banská Bystrica instead), but the High Tatra mountains were phenomenal. And the high point of our whole trip was my friend's wedding in Spišská Nová Ves: nice family and friends, beautiful part of the country, great folkoric wedding elements. Really glad we had the opportunity to participate in such a special event.
From Slovakia we headed into southwestern Poland. Kraków was everything we hoped for and more, a beautifully preserved old town full of things to enjoy. (Although I suggest skipping the salt mine.) And Wrocław was a nice surprise, it's a university town with a tranquil old cathedral district. But while we had a good time in Poland it was probably the least friendly of all the places we went. Also the roads are terrible for driving.
After Poland we went southwest into the Czech Republic, stopping for a night in a ridiculously luxurious hotel and then spending time in Prague with an old Parisian friend. Prague is great, beautiful and overwhelming with so much to do. I wish I had a warm relaxed week to enjoy it instead of two bitterly cold days. Will definitely be back. We also spent a couple of days in Český Krumlov, a well-preserved medieval town that's definitely worth one tourist night but probably not two. Overall we liked our time in Czech, just wish I'd seen more of it. It seems very Western to us, like it's already made the post-Soviet transition that Slovakia is working so hard to make now.
We started and ended the trip in Austria, familiar territory for us. Honestly Vienna didn't work very well for me, restaurants, sightseeing, etc were all a struggle. I guess it's more of a place real people live than a welcoming tourist city. On the way home we also spent a couple of nights in Dürnstein, a tiny town in the Wachau wine region on the Danube. Totally beautiful area.
Overall it was a great trip, a nice sampling of some very different places. If I were doing this trip again I'd consider doing it entirely by train, skipping the smaller towns. Vienna, Bratislava, Kraków, Wrocław, Prague, Vienna again. Driving gives a lot of flexibility in seeing smaller places, but it's expensive and stressful and there's a lot to see in just the bigger cities.