How the East Was Won
Or rather how the East won me over – East as in Eastern Europe. After spending most of my American life pining to be exotically French or Italian or even British and being obsessed with all things Western European, I have come to admire Europe’s other half. My trip with my mom to Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia and Italy (just couldn’t resist!) transformed Eastern Europe from intriguing to enchanting.
Living in Southeast Asia, I’ve become accustomed to a fast rate of change. Office buildings, hotels, economies are soaring all around me. And the energy of quick upward growth is addicting. Suddenly places with stagnant economies seem a bit stagnant themselves. The reliability, even charm, of an unchanged look and feel can also be a bit boring. But on the flip side of things, I also love history, especially when it can be seen. I love the grandeur of Western European opera houses, or the call to imagination sounded by houses built years before my country was even founded.
Eastern Europe has both the excitement (and positivity) of change and the splendid visual history. Somehow it merges both beautifully. Instead of rebuilding, things are repurposed; instead of ignoring, relics of pasts are highlighted, sometimes remodeled. That which was once dreaded, dark, Fascist or Communist is now the backdrop for, or house of, modern, creative and innovative progress.
Budapest uses crumbling walls to showcase 3D art. Prague has turned ghetto into high, high, super high end and commemorated one of its only World War Two bombing sites with a dancing building. Zadar – a city that existed before time itself (to paraphrase a Roman Emperor) – entertains with a walkable light display and musical organ which are both propelled only by sea waves. Split uses its ancient Diocletian’s Palace as an outdoor mall of sorts for fusion restaurants, art galleries and boutique stores. And Venice, well, Venice is just cool as it is and is trying hard not to sink.
Visiting this remarkable part of the world, where Eastern energy and Western splendor interlace like a funky handshake is a treat. The East(ern Europe) has won me over.