Eastern Europe Spring vacation -2017

Many of my friends say I am very well travelled.

I do not think so. This is because having spent close to four decades on this planet, my total number of visited countries (the definition of visited being spent a night there purposefully) is maybe in the thirties and the number of countries we have in our society is almost two hundred.

I do think I am fortunate to have travelled somewhat and learnt a little bit more about the world through my sojourns. This blog is related to my most recent trip.

When I was still in my early thirties I used to tell anyone who asked where I am from that I was from three countries: India – where I was born and probably spent ten years of my life, Botswana (in Africa) – where I spent my childhood years, attending school and living the life of an expat (at least that’s what it felt like then) and finally USA – where I came for higher studies and to build a better and more secure (in all sense of that word) life.

I have now lived the longest part of my life in USA and consider it to be as much home as India is; where I still have my roots and more importantly; most of my family.

Living in the USA definitely has it’s advantages and amongst the many there are two I would like to mention here. First is – you start appreciating and working around all the holidays you get; just to get away from the busy monday-friday life and second is that – because of it’s location and high currency value you do get the opportunity to visit a wide range of countries and continents.

I feel grateful to have the freedom to visit different countries with a spouse who is equally into traveling to explore culture, nature, and definitely not the least; cuisine. Last November we went to Japan and I was very much enamored by the culture and the people. It led me to write a three piece blog on Japan which you can read here. I thought I would continue the tradition and blog about my experience visiting two European countries in April 2017- Croatia and Austria

Austria:
My strongest memory of this country will be how much dessert they eat and subsequently we ate in our three days in Vienna! I didn’t know this fact till after our travel plans were made.  As it usually happens once you learn about a new place you start noticing articles and conversations about that place. I learnt about Austria both through this NYT article on Viennese desserts and about Austria’s contribution to world history and art through an interesting BBC documentary I watched. I think it’s a great way to prepare for a trip- watch a documentary or movie, read a book, article or talk to someone who knows that place. That really helps you enjoy the destination you are visiting even more; the familiarity of what you learn before the trip about the place feels like meeting a relative you haven’t seen in awhile and yet leaving enough room for discoveries akin to the pleasure of making a new friend in a new country. Some of my other memories of Austria are below.

Everyone associates the artist Klimt with Austria but I learnt about another equally talented artist I had never heard of before named Egon Schiele whose work I fell in love with and was so pleased to recognize later on back in NYC. I loved the fact that coffee is an actual drink here which is enjoyed in leisure and not taken for “to go”. Austria is not only the dessert but also the coffee capital of the world with at least 20 different coffee drinks to choose from and no starbucks in sight anywhere. Imagine that! Here’s a typical coffee menu which I may add I was first introduced to on the flight itself. And last but not the least, the former royalty of Austria left a huge impression on me- be it princess Sisi with her beautiful face displayed in every tourist store or Queen Maria Theresa- one of the few women rulers as well as one of the most powerful rulers of her time. There’s so much more to Austria, especially for such a small country. Freud, Hitler, Mozart- are all Austrian by birth. But now it’s time to look back and  visit another country, so off we go to Croatia.

Croatia:
I must say I didn’t know much about Croatia before we decided to visit it this Spring. A quick search online yielded this video which instantly made me like the country. Another quick search on images.google.com (I always use that tool when planning a trip) showed beautiful multi-colored azure coastlines and emerald colored forests. These two Croatian beauties turned out to be Hvar and Plitvice National Park. We were sold. We were going to visit this Eastern European country and was that a good decision! It was a lovely dream come true and when I was later on compiling my online album of pictures taken there, I couldn’t believe I had been to this postcard perfect country.

We were there during Easter and it is quite a treat to visit a deeply religious country during one of their major religious festivals. There were eggs and bunny decorations everywhere. There was sun and turquoise water and relaxed people with cute kids everywhere we turned.

It wasn’t peak season which had some disadvantages- less frequently running ferries, not all restaurants open for all meals, not all attractions are open but the benefits are equal in number- perfect weather, very less people to compete for and with (peak tourist season in June holds 10,000 people compared 2500 (average) in April, which is when we visited), and most importantly; much more affordable hotel rooms. Definitely recommend the country if you are looking for real R&R, especially the natural kind.

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