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.
On December 29, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the USSR, Michael Krasny interviewed me on his award-winning KQED radio show, Forum. KQED is currently the most-listened-to public radio station in America, reaching over 745,000 listeners each week.
Listen to the one-hour interview, where we discuss my book, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us.
The program's blurb: San Francisco native Francis Tapon has visited more than 80 countries and hiked over 12,500 miles. Along his journey he has learned many life lessons. He joins the program to share his insights about what Eastern Europeans can teach us in his newest book, The Hidden Europe.
“Francis Tapon provides us with a wide-ranging personal and historical travelogue. . . . The result is one of the world's most personal, idiosyncratic, and unorthodox cultural and historical travel guides. . . . It's really an impressive and ambitious book.” — Michael Krasny, Host on KQED's Forum
Eastern Europeans aren’t known for being innovative, but in some ways the stereotype is unfair. Hungarians, for example, invented the ballpoint pen and holography. A Hungarian, John George Kemeny, co-invented the BASIC programming language with American Thomas Kurtz. Hungarians also invented artificial blood and the Rubik’s Cube. Four Estonians designed Skype. Nikola Tesla, a Serb, patented the rotating magnetic field, which led to the use of alternating current (AC). Russians were the first in space, made the biggest nuclear bomb, designed Tetris, and created the iPhone of assault rifles (the AK-47).
Places I saw and recommend in Northern Greece: Metéora. I’m sure it’s fun to climb Mt. Olympus, but I was too busy having fun in Thessaloniki.
Whenever you think of the founder of western civilization, you probably think of Greece:
The astronomer Carl Sagan observed that if the repressive Middle Ages had not come and Europe had stayed on the technological path that the Greeks had started us on, then we would have colonized the Solar System by now.
Given that everyone associates Greece with western culture and civilization, it's ironic that Greece is in Eastern Europe. [I'm assuming a binary east-west split, where the idea of "southern Europe" doesn't exist. For more about this read about how I define Eastern Europe.]
Americans don't like looking at maps, so it's easy to forget that Greece's northern borders touch the Eastern European countries of Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. In fact, Greece is so far east in Europe that you only have to drive two hours east from the Greek border and you'll have left the European continent and entered Asia! Istanbul, the gateway to Asia, is short drive away (see map below).
Hence, geographically, it's obvious that Greece is in Eastern Europe. Just don't tell the Greeks that, it will piss them off.
If you were looking for evidence that Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, was trying to claw his way to our plane of existence, it's in Metéora. It seems as if his stony fingers are piercing through the earth's flesh and reaching toward Zeus in defiance. In Greek, Metéora means suspended rocks. About 60 million years ago (five million years after the dinosaurs went bye-bye), Metéora's sandstone pinnacles formed. Weather carved them into their shape today. They may remind you of Monument Valley in Utah. What makes Metéora truly special is that hundreds of years ago Greeks built celestial monasteries on top of these rocks. When you see them, you'll ask yourself, "How the hell did they build that there?"