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East vs. West August 2, 2012

Posted by Connor Perkett in Travel Log.
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In the United States- we’ve always had arguments of what’s better- clam chowder or guacamole, NY vs. LA, or Georgia Tech vs. Stanford ;)- east coast and west coast has always been a heated rivalry. Across the pond, we have eastern and western Europe, two distinctly different regions of the same continent. Which is more enjoyable? In a perspective, it depends on what you are looking for- a tradition visit or a more raw experience of certain livelihoods. Personally, I enjoyed heading East much more this time around.

Out of all 12 weeks here at GTL, I never once headed West of Metz. Some of my visits were mainly to the regions of Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia. During these trips, I necessarily didn’t go to the major cities or the main stops a normal traveler would head into, we tried to be a bit raw and see a side of the world we have never seen before.

The first stop begins with Germany, but with rather major cities. Both Berlin and Dusseldorf are major tourist areas, but both have been transformed into locations off the beaten path, due to their reconstruction after WWII. With the change of ownership, especially for Berlin, a (half) communist state transforming to a more democratic state transformed most of the city; however, some parts still remain. For Berlin, we walked around some of the southern and East Berlin neighborhoods, where areas have seem to stay stagnant to where they were 20-30 years ago- broken down and distraught. Graffiti was the highest form of art, where any artist used their spray cans to express themselves and the people around them. Personally it was very interesting and exciting walking though these areas, getting a different sense of the land that not many people see, experience, or even think about. Ideals and methods were so different back then in these locales, and you could still feel it in the air surrounding the mini fastfood and small shops lining the streets. In a big city setting, I was able to find an area different from a major city I’ve visited in the past.

Budapest was another great city, although on the rise, that is still hidden in the East. Walking around the city, you could definitely notice the very touristy areas, but the more east we moved into the city (on the Pest side), the rawer the city became. Graffiti and rundown buildings posed as remnants of the Communist era, providing to be a very interesting museum of its own kind. The people of Budapest also used these buildings to showcase their nightlife- transforming rundown buildings into bars, clubs, and hang out areas of a different kind- the dirtier it was, the greater the experience. The use of Hungarian baths was definitely surprisingly fun as well- we spent a whole day at the baths!! In the major cities in Western Europe have not had any of these kinds of experiences, and it was great to see life from a different perspective, as if it were actually behind the “Iron Curtain.”

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Our most recent stop that was quite surprising, and the most “Eastern” city we visited, was the city of Bratislava in Slovakia. Bratislava was under total communist control, and over 60% of the city center was destroyed to make way for economic housing and highways. After recovering since the early 1990s, there are still remnants all over the city of it’s past, but more importantly, the 40% of the city center that is still intact is quite beautiful!! There were little to no tourists in this beloved city, and the prices were almost half of anywhere I have been in Europe! The town was very quaint, without all of those currency exchange counters and touristy shops. It was great to try totally different foods that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Western Europe- including halusky (a delicious potato dish). The trip was very different from everywhere else I have been before.

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Monument to honor those lost during the Communist Regime in Brastislava. A meeting spot for citizens during very important times (elections, riots etc.)

Eastern Europe was a very different realm away from the West. After being sheltered from the rest of the world during the Communist regimes, their raw nature still exists if you know where to go, and they put on an extensive showcase. Even though the areas are fantastic history lessons to the past, I hope that they are renovated soon enough to move up to the standards of the rest of the cities. But for now, they will exist as some of my favorite places in Europe due to their difference from everyone else.

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