Central Europe’s Small Town Delights

A warm July Day Downtown - Bialystok Poland - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

When non-Europeans think of Central and Eastern Europe, most can name a few countries. Some can even name a few capital cities. Let’s think… There’s Hungary, Russia, Czechoslovakia … oh wait, it’s now two countries! Czech Republic and Slovakia… There’s Budapest, Prague, Warsaw… What else? Much of Europe is seriously under the radar for tourists, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It remains untouched by big corporations, allowing for mom and pop shops to thrive, neighbors to know neighbors, and for families to continue to grow as one rather than as separate entities.

 

Click on an image to view small town Europe up close:

As the desire for more riches and higher education spreads to these areas, it is becoming more and more common for students to leave home after high school to attend university in big cities. But still they return whenever possible, catching a retro-style train back to their hometown on weekends.

Religion is allowed to play a factor in the daily lives of community members because they still have cares and values reaching beyond Hollywood and Facebook. Food is cooked with care, with family restaurant’s serving family recipes, family members serving guest diners, and Grandpa sneaking behind the counter to offer sample sips of his own homemade concoction. While guests are in-house enjoying their own meal, it’s common to see the entire ownership escape from their duties as cook, server, bellboy, what-have-you, and enjoy a meal together in their own restaurant.

 

Click on an image to view small town Europe up close:

Children still get dressed up in their Sunday best, ride their bikes freely through the streets, and walk home hand-in-hand without the fearful eye of an overprotective parent. Women gather together in hair salons for gossip sessions. Men drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in pool halls and barber shops. And when the sun is shining, they all reconvene in parks around town, often squishing 5, 6, 7 to a bench. People trust. People talk. And they make it work.

Though much of Central Eastern Europe isn’t benefiting from a steady cashflow of tourists, it is more than benefiting from a normalcy that began there generations ago and still continues.

 

Click on an image to view small town Europe up close:

 

During the past year, most of my time has been spent in Eastern Europe because this is what I find attractive. So often, I find myself calling it “real” and “raw”.

As my time in Europe is coming to an end, I’ve been making the most of visits to these lesser known cities and towns. I’ve been taking train after train to village and city, and really trying to soak in the fresh air and fresh atmosphere of these lands yet to be discovered by big city corporations.

Through Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Hungary I’ve passed. Cities such as Chop, Kosice, Bialystok, and my personal favorite: Nitra. Here are a few photos to give you a little glimpse at the side of Europe you may not yet know.

 

Click on an image to view small town Europe up close:

 

When planning your trip through Central and Eastern Europe, be sure to head off the beaten path and to dive into some of these untouched towns. Trains and buses quickly and easily transport locals and visitors alike from place to place, and hostels are more than accommodating to different travelers’ styles.

Get There:
To find the best deals on transportation, click HERE to visit Slovakia Rail‘s site; and HERE to travel on the highly-recommended Student Agency Bus.

Stay There:
While staying in Slovakia, be sure to stop in Nitra and spend a few cheery nights at the colorful Nitra Glycerin Hostel. I originally chose it for its creative name, but was incredibly impressed by the customer service, cleanliness, and multiple lounge rooms equipped with games, instruments and plenty of places to unwind. Take a look at the photos above for a glimpse of the Nitra Glycerin life. Privates and triples are also available, ranging from 13euro for a single in the dorm to 40euro for an entire triple room.

In Kosice, Hostel Barno was my stay of choice – a quiet building in a quiet neighborhood set up in a fashion reminiscent to college dorms. Private bedrooms and shared bathrooms are typical, and the simplest single rooms can be rented at 13euro per night. If traveling in a group, quads can be booked for 53euro.

Moving North to Poland, a favorite stay was in Bialystok‘s Pokoje Goscinne Centrum Kultury Prawoslawnej. Despite the name (forgive them, it’s in Polish, one of the hardest European languages to learn) it is a simple, comfortable gem resembling a YMCA. Near to the main pedestrian area, I opened my bedroom curtains the first morning and was amazed to see a hot air balloon floating in the not-too-far distance. Single rooms with private bath run for 22euro a night.

Eat There:
In Slovakia you must try the Bryndzové Halušky. Go hungry, as this rich dish of specially prepared potatoes and cheeses is mighty filling. Perfect for a cool autumn night, but delicious no matter the season. While staying in a cabin with strangers in Slovakia’s mountains, I was able to taste the homemade goodness that is Bryndzové Halušky. Read about the adventure and find the recipe HERE.
And in Poland? You’ll be a fool to leave without sampling several types of dumplings, called Pierogis by the Poles. Last summer, I was lucky enough to be in Krakow during its annual Pierogi Festival. Feast your eyes and lips on THIS POST bringing you all Krakow’s curiosities.

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