by Linda Sipprelle (*)
Palaces, fortresses, parks, museums, cathedrals, churches, synagogues and mosques in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary created a spicy stew of impressions in my mind during my recent visit to these countries, accompanied by my husband and son. Why did I make this visit? I was born in Bucharest, Romania, and my desire to visit the home where I was born was the catalyst for the trip. Note: What is the use of a big wide world when your shoes are too small? Serbian proverb.
Spectacular beauty melds the borders in the region as sunflowers, that would have inspired Van Gogh, sparkle from fields alongside corn, wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers and berries, the latter used along with grapes to produce balanced and superb wines. Note: A 90 year old grape vine found in the garden of an elderly lady in Split, Croatia proved that Zinfandel was originally a Croatian grape variety known as Tribidrag that has been cultivated in Croatia since the 15th century. What a pleasure to drive many miles on highways and not see a single billboard! Did you know that in 2012, almost 95% of the world’s raspberries came from Serbia and that Hungary’s favorite spice, paprika is considered a national treasure?
I knew that Individuals have shaped the history of these countries and left their mark, but hearing the views of residents sometimes changed some of my notions. Vlad, the Vampire, is an admired folk hero in Romania for having defeated both the Ottoman Turks and the Hungarians. Josip Broz Tito was popular and viewed as a unifying symbol both in Yugoslavia and abroad and received 98 foreign decorations. When Nazi Germany began murdering Europe’s Jews, Bulgaria was the only Eastern European country that saved its Jewish population when Gentiles, including clergymen and members of parliament, battled the Nazis. In Hungary, many Jews were saved by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and Swiss Consul Carl Lutz.
Unique personalities impacted and are still impacting the area. The Latin poet of the Roman Empire, Ovid, born in 43 B.C., was banished to what is now Constanta, Romania by Emperor Augustus Caesar, for causes unknown. Note: It was rumored that Ovid had a romantic relationship with the Emperor’s wife. In 1883, Bulgarian revolutionary Tonka Obretenova, from Rousse, lost her five sons in battles against the Turks. On July 28, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson flew the Serbian flag over the White House and all public buildings in the nation’s capital, to commemorate the courage of Serbia on the fourth anniversary of the declaration of war against Serbia by Austria-Hungary. On January 6, 1978, President Jimmy Carter returned the Crown of St. Stephen, the symbol of the Hungarian nation, to Hungary. Note: At the end of World War II, the Crown was given to U.S. Army officers to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Soviets.
Great Britain’s Prince Charles enjoys spending time in Romania and owns several castles in Transylvania. The newly-elected President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, is the first ethnic German President, a minority in Romania. He is also a Protestant in a country where 90% of the population is Orthodox. On February 19, 2015, Croatia elected its first female president, Kolinda Graber-Kitarovic. The Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, received a scholarship from George Soros to learn the ways of Western democracy at Pembroke College, Oxford.
While watching the recent Wimbledon Tennis final, I cheered loudly for Serbian Novak Djokovic, the eventual winner. I had visited his country and my feelings about him and Serbia would never be the same!
Yes, you definitely should put Eastern Europe on your bucket list of places to visit!
* Linda Sipprelle is a volunteer tutor of Friends of Davis International Center at Princeton University