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Europe: Eastern From Russia to Croatia, the Danube, Iron Curtain era vestiges, Pilzner beer, Czech it out!

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Old 08-23-2006, 12:33 AM   #1
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As im sure y'all have read in my posts before I am planning a huge trip of indeterminate length and of no specific destination for next year (probably july or august departure date..) What I am really interested in seeing are towns/villages/cities/areas with great preserved culture and traditions... Perferably off the beaten path, but that would be safe for a female travelling alone to spend time. Anything truly authentic and beautiful... I would also love to hear of places in the middle east, western europe or northern africa as i intend to be in all those places too, but since I can't post the question more than once.. I figured I would just lump them all together... I am not much for hiking or outdoorsyness in general although beautiful scenery does help.. I am definately more interested in the people and their traditions and culture... any suggestions you have would be a GREAT help. Thanks for taking the time to read this...
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Old 08-23-2006, 12:58 AM   #2
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Well, modernity is encroaching almost everywhere, but you can get a bit of a flashback in the Lithuanian countryside. While Vilnius, Kaunas and Siauliai and the other major cities are rapidly catching up with the present, throughout the countryside you can still see people farming with horse- or human-drawn plows, planting and gathering by hand, that kind of thing. A lot of the local craft traditions are still practiced (there's a black pottery studio in Vilnius, lots of weavers, woodcarvers, iron smiths, etc - both in the city and out in the country). There are also a lot of song festivals, at which you'll see your fill of traditional costume, eat typical food and hear beautiful and ancient songs.

Lithuania was the last country in Europe to adopt Christianity, in about the 14th C, so the traditional pagan ways are much more firmly ingrained and to some extent still practiced in the daily life of modern Lithuanians, and even their Catholic religious observances are informed by these local traditions.

At Rumsiskis (Room-shish-kiss), there is a fantastic outdoor museum with a large display of traditional architecture, and you can see craftspeople practicing their art with traditional tools and materials. Linen, amber, silver, woodwork, black pottery and iron work are typical of these crafts.

Near Kedainiai there is a church and collection of outbuilidings at which a priest has assembled a tremendous collection of religious artefacts - mostly beautifully embroidered robes and finely wrought iron crosses.

In Aukstatija (Auk-shta-tee-ya) National Park, people live and farm in the traditional ways, there is a bee-keeping museum and two small villages which are preserved (and lived in) in their old (pre-electricity, running water) state. Pretty well anywhere you go in the country, you'll see people carrying on their lives in much the same way as their forefathers, but this isn't a pretty little history tableau - you won't necessarily find people in native costume (though you might) - it's just day to day, a fairly hard life.

We lived in Lithuania for two years, and of all the places we've lived, it truly became my second home, so I'm totally biased in favour of it, and I've been known to ramble on about it for ages - if you add it to your list, by all means, ask questions!

If you want to read a series of novels about the Baltic culture at the time of the clashes with the Prussians, you might be able to track down the "Tales from the Baltic" series by Skomantas. I believe there are only 5, there might be a sixth: The Captive, The Fen Wolf, Blood Wedding, The Blue Raven and The Flaming Tower. They're kind of cheesy, but an easier read than most of the history books I've read on the subject!

Contact Vilnius Tourism office to get info about folk festivals and special events, there's buckets out there.

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Old 08-23-2006, 01:13 AM   #3
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I noticed that you don't have Asia on your list of places to go, but should your plans change, northern Japan is a great place to go to see what that country must have been like back in the old days. The cities are smaller and less overwhelming than Tokyo/Osaka and in the countryside the rice fields are still tilled by hand. Every little village has it's summer festival, and with smaller crowds, the whole thing is much more accessible. During our first summer there, I think we visited every little summer fest in any tiny village, and had an absolute blast taking in the music, costumes and art work, as well as discovering beautiful shrines and temples in obscure places.

Kyoto is of course a must see for Japanese culture, should you head that way.

And in South Korea, there is a Folk Village just outside Seoul that is well worth a day trip, to see the traditional arts and crafts, dancing and such.

There's also a Folk Village in Okinawa that we enjoyed immensely.

Again, I know you aren't planning on visiting Asia, but just in case.


Back to Europe, there are two open air museums which I have visited - one in Bokrijk, Belgium which is quite interesting - I would like to go earlier in the day, I believe there is more activity, though we saw pies being baked, fires stoked, pottery in the making...the bakery was closed sadly. Another is in the east of the Netherlands, around Arnhem, I believe. I enjoyed that immensely and there was fortunate to get to the bakery in time to order a loaf of their fine raisin bread. Everyone goes there first, orders the bread, and comes back at the end of the day to pick it up - still warm! Then on the train going home, you are surrounded by the most wonderful aroma of fresh baked raisin bread. We were among those sneaking bites from our bag...

Also in the Netherlands there is a small village, rather like an Amish community, in which people dress in traditional garb, and work without electricity or modern amenities. I can't recall the name of the village, but it's very near the highway from Giesthoorn to Zwolle, maybe 10-15 kms from Zwolle - a look at a comprehensive guidebook would probably have the information. We attempted to go but got stuck in a traffic jam and couldn't get to the exit.



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Old 08-23-2006, 04:11 AM   #4
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i would love to include asia... but im not sure if my money will carry me that far... and i figure since this is my first backpacking trip/adventure... i shouldnt try and spread myself too thin... but you never know, i've written down your suggestions and i will definately try and get there.
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Old 08-23-2006, 07:40 AM   #5
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It's going to be difficult in Europe what with economic booms, cheep travel, open borders and MTV even small towns out in the arse end of nowhere are having their culture watered down. The more scenic a town is the more likely it is to be completely tourist orientated especially here in Ireland at least we have heritage orders on these places so they look the part.

You can go to regular small towns but they won't have a great tourist setup (loads of pubs though) although most towns have a B&B, I don't see anything special about these towns but some Finish couchsurfers I had stay with me loved being in a regular small Irish town. This won't last though many of the older building are being torn down and replaced. This year alone in my town 2 buildings over 200 years old got ripped down.
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Old 08-23-2006, 08:24 AM   #6
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Why not South America?
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Old 08-24-2006, 07:00 AM   #7
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<div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(DJ_VeeeNoM @ Aug 23 2006, 02:24 PM) [snapback]136399[/snapback]</div>
Quote:
Why not South America?
[/b]
I just don't think I'll get there this time... Next trip is the one I have planned for SA.... Although I'm not sure when that will be at this point..
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