Eastern Europe

Exploring the Hidden Europe in 2004 and 2008-2011

In 2004, I visited all 25 countries in Eastern Europe. You'll find the blog entries from that trip here. In 2008-2011, I returned to see what had changed since that time. With these two visits, five years apart, I accumulated enough material for my 750-page book, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us.

This blog now has many excerpts from The Hidden Europe. But who the hell reads anymore? Just look at the best photos from Eastern Europe!

This map reflects how I define Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans love to deny that they're in Eastern Europe. I tackle how and why I define Eastern Europe the way I do in the Introduction of The Hidden Europe.

Eastern Europe map from Francis Tapon's book, 'The Hidden Europe'

Backpacking in Europe

Ben Brown has written this guest post....

What’s more liberating than travel? You get to see people, places, and things that you don’t normally see. In the past, traveling the world was restricted to only the privileged few that could afford it. Today, almost everyone can travel to just about any corner of the globe. So, what’s stopping you from taking that solo-backpacking trip across Eastern Europe? Go ahead and find some cheap flights and start making memories today!

Backpacking across Eastern Europe is a great way to learn a bit of history, view the scenery, and meet new people from a completely different culture to your own. There are numerous historical monuments and sights of interest to visit in the countries of Eastern Europe.

While most individuals prefer backpacking in Europe with a few friends, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take such a trip alone. It will allow you the opportunity to see the sights you want to see and learn something about who you really are. Don’t let mom talk you out of it because she thinks it could be dangerous. Backpacking around Europe can be quite safe and is great fun. To keep safe you just need to know what you’re doing and to have a comprehensive plan. Keep these tips and suggestions in mind and have a great time!

Skocjan Jame - Slovenian Cave and bridge by Kalense KidImagine if the Grand Canyon were underground—that should give you an idea of what to expect when you enter the Škocjanske Jame (Škocjan Caves). Lonely Planet listed them as one of the top 10 attractions in Eastern Europe. They’re also on the UNESCO World Heritage list and get 100,000 visitors a year. They live up to their reputation by being one of the largest underground canyons in the world with the Reka river still carving through it. At 60 meters wide and 140 meters deep, this canyon is a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size, but the fact that it’s all underground makes it feel bigger. When you cross the canyon via the narrow Hanke Canal Bridge, you’ll see the roaring river far below. You’ll realize that you could fit a fat 45-story skyscraper in this subterranean world.

The Škocjan underworld is so enormous that a unique ecosystem has evolved here—it’s home to strange blind creatures that have never seen sunlight. The most bizarre one is the proteus. Slovenians informally call it the človeška ribica (human fish). This alien vertebrate is as long as your forearm, has a long tail for swimming, gills, four legs, pigment-free skin, a highly sensitive nose, a sensor for detecting weak electrical fields in the water, and a pair of atrophied lungs and eyes that don’t really work. They’re a weird amphibian that lives almost exclusively in water. Their life cycle is mystifying: they live almost as long as humans, they become sexually mature as teenagers, they have never been seen reproducing in the wild, their babies hatch out of eggs, and they can live up to 10 years without food. It’s one of the most hidden creatures in the Hidden Europe.

Cloveska Ribica - Human fish - by SanShoot on Flickr

Goats and farmer in Turkincha, Bulgaria

While I was traveling in Eastern Europe, my high-school friend, Sarah Spiridonov, made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I hadn't talked with Sarah since we were 18 years old, but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected. She was married to a Bulgarian and they had two boys. To help me with my book, she generously proposed that I stay a couple of weeks in her family's summer home in Turkincha, a tiny village about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Veliko Tarnovo. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to take a closer look at a rural Bulgarian setting. The experience ended up surprising me in numerous ways.

 The village of Turkincha

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