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'

After learning about my new book, The Hidden Europe, a reporter from a San Diego newspaper asked me for tips on finding a reasonably priced accomodation in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Because everyone has different definitions of what is "reasonably priced," here are 6 good options to stay in Dubrovnik in 2012:

Dubrovnik, view of the whole Old Town 1. Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik. Five star hotel outside Old Town. 158 rooms/suites. Price $150-350/night.

2. Hotel Uvala.
It's a 4-star hotel that has rooms that feel like the Holiday Inn. It's near the beach and not in the Old Town. It's $150-250/night.

3. Begovic Boarding House. They have dorm rooms, singles, and doubles. They have a shared terrace with a view. Prices range from $20 to $60.

4. Youth Hostel. Youth Hostel Dubrovnik resides outside the Old Town. You get there after a 20 min walk from the bus station and it takes you 15min to get to the Old Town. Roughly $20/night per person in a dorm-room arrangement.

5. Be spontaneous! This is what I like to do and it works well if you're not hauling around lots of luggage. Look for homes with signs that say "Zimmer" (room, in German) or "Sobe" (rooms, in Croatian). Knock on their door, negotiate with the owner, and then stay with them. You'll stay in a real Croatian home, and you'll usually have your own bathroom. There are hundreds of rooms available in Dubrovnik, both in the Old Town as well outside of it. So you can almost always find a place pretty easily, even during the high season. If they're full, ask them to refer you to (or call) someone else. Obviously, places outside the Old Town are cheaper than those inside the Old Town. Prices vary: $25-50/night.

6. Stay in the Old Town in a 3-star apartment. Croatians will rent out their apartment, especially during the high-season. Rates vary from $75 to $150/night. The advantage is that you're in the Old Town and the price is a great value.

Then the reporter asked, "So, do you recommend staying in the Old Town?"

I replied: I've stayed both in and outside of the Old Town - they are both good options. As you might expect, outside the Old Town you'll get more bang for your buck, because to stay in the Old Town you're paying for the convenience of being in the thick of it. Still, the Old Town is pretty quiet at night, so don't expect loud noises. If you stay in the Old Town, make sure to find out how many steps you have to take to get to your apartment (sometimes it can be over 100).

Wherever you stay in Dubrovnik, make sure you see the other surrounding jewels: the rest of the Dalmatian coast, Kotor (Montenegro), and Plitvice Lakes National Park.

In 2011, Mikhail Gorbachev said, "The United States needs its own perestroika." The same could be said for the EU. On Friday January 13th, 2012, S&P downgraded the credit rating of nine European countries

Credit crunch. Photo from Adam Crowe's profile on Flickr.Most of EU nations, like the US, are living beyond their means: their governments are spending more than they're collecting in taxes. After several years, something has to give. This week, what's giving is their credit rating.

If Europeans (and Americans) don't vote for and support politicians who cut government spending (especially on the big ticket items like military, medical care, and social security), then credit ratings will continue to plummet, interest rates will rise, and Western Europeans will suffer like Eastern Europeans suffered when they transitioned away from communism 20 years ago.

Some argue that we shouldn't just cut spending, we should also increase taxes. Some tax hikes would be good. For example, a carbon tax would be helpful at capturing externalities like pollution.

However, believing that increasing taxes on the rich would solve everything is foolish. First, in the US, the top 1% already pay over 36% of federal income taxes; in Europe, the wealthy are taxed even more.

"So what? Let's tax the rich bastards even more!" you say?

The problem is that it's easier than ever for the rich to take their money and run. Let's say you're a rich guy in Paris and France increases your tax rate to 95%. Are you going to stick around? Or will you move to a neighboring country that lets you keep more of your income?

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.

Download the MP3 - 23MB.

Michael Krasny and Francis Tapon at KQED's Forum studio in San Francisco

Forum Logo

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

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