My route through Europe...
Only a couple of days more to go, before I will start my tour through Central- and Eastern-Europe. This is the moment that people start asking you whether you are nervous or not. I am not nervous, as it feels very natural to finally realize a plan that has been in my head for years. There is still a lot to be decided, which countries to visit and which places I really can't miss, but the bigger lines of my trip are there.
First chapter: Finland
The fourth of June I will arrive in Helsinki, where I will meet up with Maia Palonen, professor at the University of Helsinki. I will talk with her about the European Cultural Capital program that has taken place in Helsinki, Turku and Tallinn. Turku and Tallinn will also be visited in the first week. This means that a beautiful ferry tour from Helsinki to Tallinn is included in the trip!
Finland may not be Central or Eastern Europe by definition, it does has multiple connections with these areas. Not only because Tallinn is just 2,5 hours away, they shared the same year for the European Cultural Capital, but also much more historical ties. Did you know that Helsinki only became the new capital as the Russians wanted a capital more in the center, but back then it was still a small village. The previous capital, Turku, therefore also has a lot to offer when it comes to cultural events and historical sites. The distance between the both is only 2 hour drive, so when you plan to go to Helsinki, don't forget to swing by Turku! I decided not to start in Tallinn, because I heard so many good stories about the ferry trip, I had to it see for myself.
Second chapter: Baltic states
Ever since I watched 'The kids from room 402', which has a side character 'Polly' who is fascinated with goats and spoons, I decided that I need to visit this weird country, Lithuania. For me personally Vilnius will definitely be one of the highlights, just because I have wanted to go there for so long.
Starting in Tallinn I will travel to the south. The second stop is Tartu, the university city and second largest city of Estonia. There I have found a completely eco-friendly hostel. This aligns very well with the meeting I have planned in Riga with the organization 'Free Riga', who are developing a cultural program for an empty industrial building. From Riga the last stop in the Baltic states will be Vilnius!
I am really curious about the Baltic states, while on the internet you can find some information about travelling in these states, but they remain quite mysterious. The history of this area is quite divers and a long line of multiple different kings, queens, leaders and rulers. As Anne Applebaum describes very beautifully in her book 'Between East and West' is it even for the citizens of the Baltic states sometimes unclear where their roots are from and to which nationality their heroes belong. It is not rare in this area to stumble upon multiple stories about the same event or person, seen from different perspectives. I am really curious about their answers on the question how they see their European, national and regional identity.
Third Chapter: Poland, Vienna, Graz, Slovenia & Pula
From the Baltic states I will go down south. It is the line between Central- and Eastern- Europe, the border between mass tourism from the West and the still remotely quiet places. As I only have 3,5 weeks for this pretty long distance....unfortunately I won't be able to stay to long at the same place. During this time I will cross many historical sites and areas characterized by multiple wars, exactly east enough to get to know eastern and central perspectives but close enough to the West to be connected to the Western history.
Not long ago Bialowieza was hot topic in the news. The EU saved the last old forest of Europe, that was being threatened by the Polish woodchoppers. A historical forest where kings and knights fought over pieces of land and thieves hid in the wood. You understand that I simply have to stop here before I move further into Poland. I do for sure not have enough time to really see and discover the whole of Eastern Poland. But I planned to take some time to at least see how Poland connects with the rest of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Unfortunately I have to cut through directly to Warschau and maybe Lublin, to take the train towards Vienna!
Long I was doubting whether or not Vienna should be part of the trip. But as I read how Geert Mak describes it as the centrum of Europe, the hesitation was fading. Most of the historical lines and big events in Eastern and Western Europe can be tight to the history of Vienna. On top of this, there are multiple organizations working on topics related to the EU and Europe. Like Tour Europa, which one day a year, gives tours through Vienna, explaining why the specific buildings etc. are related to Europe. I hope that we can bring this initiative to Amsterdam as well.
Slovenia is another country that still holds a lot of mystery for me. But after long research I'm convinced that I have to make some stops here. One time I will come back to Slovenia to make a camping trip, as this country has multiple campings and glampings that are all about relaxing but also reducing your ecological footprint. For now it will be reduced to Lake Bled and Ljubljana, to leave some mystery for the future.
Pula is the most south's stop of chapter three, where I will be joined by my first friend Rosa and her lovely little girl. From Pula we will make some trips in the area of Istrië but also take some time for reflecting and resting. Istrië is one of the oldest civilized areas of Europe. The area has beautiful ruins and holds inside some amazing stories of the beginning of the South-European civilization. Pula itself has been conquered by multiple nationalities that surround it. As it has belonged to Italy for a great part of the history, you'll see much Italians and Italian habits and food. We will surely not complain about that.
After resting and reflecting in Pula, I'll head towards Bratislava from where I take the plane to meet my sister in Tblisi! This will mark the two parts of my trip, the western and eastern part. After Tblisi I will remain in the area of Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Macedonia and Hungary.
As for most optimistic plans, there comes a moment that you have to cut back in your dreams. I already know for sure that these coming four months won't cover all the grounds I want to see. I'll need to go back to the region to discover so much more. Especially when you realize how much pollution is caused by one plane ticket, it is important to remember that there are many hidden places and spots, with different cultures, to still see in Europe. On the other hand am I also hoping to come back with loads of knowledge and a deeper insight into the development of a European identity and the role of the public sphere.