You could get used to this. Image from Pixabay.
After four months in Central Europe, I have come to appreciate that this region is its own unique animal, neither entirely consumerist nor entirely outlandish. It is not simply a blend of Eastern and Western Europe, but is its own version of itself.
I have already expressed my appreciation for the hidden benefits of living and traveling in Eastern Europe over Western Europe, and I have since been additionally pleased with life so far in Central Europe. While squat toilets and horse-drawn carts may not be as prolific here as in rural Eastern Europe, there are ample reasons to fall in love with the lifestyle, beauty, and randomness of Central Europe.
Warning: As my love of Eastern Europe was biased heavily by my Peace Corps experience in Moldova, so is my interpretation of Central Europe undoubtedly distorted by my impressions of living and working in the Czech Republic.
Here are 10 reasons why Central Europe deserves more credit:
1. Food is cheap.
This item made the Eastern Europe list as well because it’s such a significant factor in both travel and living-abroad budgets.
In Central Europe a full pub meal could cost you less than $10, including beer. A half liter (significantly larger than the average American draft) might cost you $2.5o, and making your meal from “beer food” (i.e. a mouthwatering sausage) would be just $3 more. Central Europe is the king of the sausage, by the way. (Sorry, vegetarians, it may not be your paradise….unless you really like potatoes).
It should be mentioned that within capital cities food will be three to four times as expensive as in the villages and smaller towns. However, as my parents reminded me over the holidays as we wined and dined in Prague, capital city and touristy prices in Prague may seem exorbitant to me compared to Karlovy Vary ($200 for a group of four versus $40) , but they are still a fraction of what we would have paid in L.A.
2. Beer is cheap.
Czech people consume more beer than people in any other country, and it is no surprise why. I appreciated that beer was cheap in Eastern Europe ($1 to $3 per draft), but, truthfully, I didn’t think it was all that impressive. Here in the Czech Republic I drink more beer than I know what to do with, factories have tours, and manufacturing is regulated. Plus, you can still find local places that will serve a $2.50 half-liter that is cheap and delicious.
A typical Czech day involves a hike to a lookout tower, local beer, and gulash in a bread bowl. How wonderful! Image courtesy of Samantha Marangell.
3. The architecture mirrors complicated histories.
Having gone back and forth between warring conquerers for centuries, this middle-of-the-continent land features some beautiful blends of architectural cultures, simultaneously German and Victorian.
4. Leaving the capital cities can mean not hearing English.
This is a big plus for me, as I purposefully chose a smaller town in Central Europe in order to get to know the culture better, which is much harder to do if you are exclusively speaking English. My Czech isn’t great, but I would rather be immersed in Czech than living in an English bubble.
Of course, historical and charming Prague is lovely and is a huge draw for tourists coming to the area. It’s for history buffs, college kids who want cheap beer, and lovers who want a reason to fall further in love. But it’s also for a large number of expats who can go years without learning Czech. While this is very helpful in adding to the diversity of the city, I appreciate that outside of the capital cities, one can dive into a more traditional experience.
5. The forests look as if they were plucked from fairy tales.
I love that Karlovy Vary is nestled among the mountains and that a short walk will lead me into the trees. All around the area, in fact, there are majestic little forests that seem to bring to life images of magic, witches, bedtime stories, and make-believe. As it turns out, fairy tales are a big part of the Czech holiday culture.
6. Kids still have childhoods.
The children play in the snow during recess and build forts in the fall during P.E. I simultaneously love and dread that young ones run around unsupervised, like at our local hockey games. But, more importantly, I’m jealous that they have such natural freedom.
7. You’re within close proximity to all types of outdoor activities.
Within a short drive, you can be hiking in the mountains or rafting down a river. Just last weekend we went skiing and snowboarding for only $27, including gear rental. Most families have mountain cabins for this purpose.
Many places are easily accessible by bus systems as well,which leads me to…
The landscape of Central Europe is diverse, natural, and enticing. Image courtesy of Samantha Marangell.
8. You don’t need a car.
Since not everyone has a car here, public transport is accessible within most towns and between them. The major cities have reliable clean bus transit, and many have efficient subways as well. Going from country to country is especially convenient and inexpensive, with both trains and buses viable, safe, and convenient options. It will cost us $30 to get to Budapest next month by bus, for example. And it would be less if we went from capital to capital.
9. There are beer spas, outdoor saunas, and indoor spas as adult-themed amusement parks…
…as well as other spoil-yourself themes. These are popular all around the area, not just in my little Czech spa town.
10. There are washing machines.
While I am totally capable of washing my clothes by hand, doing so during the week is something I vow to never need to do again. Now if only there were dryers…
Obviously, not every point I’ve listed is true for every bit of Central Europe, but this list provides a sprinkling of the factors that have most caught my attention and my interest.
Having been here for four months now, I look back and see that while my heart may be permanently stolen by Eastern Europe, my soul is beginning to feel quite at home in Central Europe.