The duration of our time in Europe was about six weeks, and took a slightly different course than what and where we though at first. Because of the relatively short time allotted, we decided to be a little more focused and spend most of our time in the eastern part of Europe.

This was our first stop after Ireland, and we spent about a week in Hamburg with family friends of the Cupples’. The Scherdins were generous hosts, taking us to see the city, going on a bike hike through the countryside, and also providing a place for much needed rest and relaxation. After our stay there we visited Berlin for a couple days, staying with relatives of the Scherdin family. This side trip was very insightful and interesting.

The difference between eastern and western Europe was incredibly stark as we went into Poland. The northern part especially is still very reminiscent of the communist era. We visited Krakow, which we very much enjoyed with its beautiful old architecture that survived World War II. From there we headed south to a little resort town called Zokapane. This happened to be right in the Tatra Mountains, which are quite high and neither of us ever knew existed! We did some hiking there and enjoyed the elevation.

Here we spent most of our time in an area called Slovensky Raj—translated “Slovak Paradise.” Very unassuming, one would never know that it was there, it is only discernable by low hills covered with trees. But the “paradise” lay in narrow ravines in the limestone and river gorges. It was basically canyoneering without all the equipment. There are tons of wooden bridges over the streams, and ladders up to 50 feet tall, followed by platforms and chain hand lines to make the passage possible. To top it all off everything was super cheap.

Czech Republic
Our next four day stopover included Prague (Praha) and a smaller, quainter town called Cesky Krumlov. Prague was a bit different than we had expected, as we had conjured up images of quiet strolls along streets gazing at breathtaking architecture. The architecture was indeed beautiful but the streets were by no means quiet. Overcrowded with loud tourists, the mystically cheap prices we had heard of were nowhere to be found. We found a campsite in an elderly lady’s garden outside of the main city, which was a great respite from the crowds. As our budget is very strict, we viewed most of the city from our own two feet, snatching up info from free maps and overheard lectures from tour guides.
Cesky Krumlov was very nearly the antithesis of Prague to us. Much more quiet, small, and less ornate, we found it much more to our liking. This enchanting town has the perfect “meandering” streets and alleys, with plenty of great areas to sit and observe people. A must see town.

Originally we intended to head strait for the Alps, but on a recommendation from Caleb we changed our course for a small town called Schladming. Caleb had spent time there and told us of several trails to hike in the Dachstein mountain range. Unfortunately the weather was foul and our bodies a bit tired so our brief stay resembled a two day rest break! The mountains were beautiful and we felt much refreshed and ready to tackle our next country.

To say that we had a lightening tour of Budapest would be a mad understatement. After an eight hour train trip from Austria to Budapest we set out to explore the town in the very short 18 hours we were allotted. We had to catch a train that afternoon down to southern Hungary to work on our next WWOOF farm, so we did what we do best…walk. We saw grand old buildings in disrepair due to the communist chokehold that was finally vanquished in 1990, only to change faces slightly and reappear under a different political name. Basically the same leaders are still in power and things are eerily similar (According to our farm hosts). In spite of the trash and dilapidated condition, Budapest found its way into our affections. There is an undercurrent of charm that is hard to verbalize. Our farm hosts live in a small village called Markoc. Their produce included apples, peaches, walnuts, pears, plums, and all kinds of veggies. Their farming approach is quite simple: Let nature do its thing and simply guide the process with a gentle hand. We worked harvesting and processing fruit for drying and jam, collecting and cracking walnuts, planting trees, cutting firewood, weeding gardens, and repairing tools. We stayed, along with the other two volunteers, in a nearby village and biked the four kilometers to and from the farm each day. We learned so much about the Hungarian culture, lifestyle, and history. Just one more fantastic experience in a long list.

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