For the last months, something special has been in the works. In late September, Visit Europe began collaborating with four travelers who set out to explore hidden gem countries in Eastern Europe and share all the spectacular things they witnessed. Each traveler had a special focus: nature, creative cities, or history. In this article, we’re following Lindsay and Eric, who explored the beauty and magic of nature in Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary. But before we get into their trip and how you can do it too, we wanted to encourage you to check out articles for our other travelers – Kirsten, exploring creative cities and Ross, exploring the history in the east of our marvelous content.
Lindsay and Eric’s natural exploration began in the gorgeous little town of Nida, Lithuania. Nida, a fishing locale filled with old, red houses and expansive white sand beaches, was the perfect introduction to the beauty of the Baltics. It was the perfect launching point for the gorgeous nature of the region. They soon took a ferry and disembarked at the woody cultural landscape of the Curonian Spit National Park.
Curonian Spit National Park
Lindsay and Eric took the morning slow, watching the sleepy sea. Then they made their way into the park. For them, the combination of dense forests next to sprawling sand dunes and the calming Baltic made for a dreamy morning. They were almost alone, and anyone they did see was strolling with their dog, biking, or simply enjoying the paths.
The long coastal sand dune is one of the most beautiful features of the region. On day two, Lindsay and Eric had a delicious brunch of chicken skewers and rich coffee, while being warmed by thick blankets at a Scandinavian style restaurant. With their bellies full, they rented bikes. Cycling the Spit is ideal. Why? Because it means you can see a lot more of its expanse than you can on foot.
Paddling handmade canoes
Making canoes from scratch is an ancient craft in Lithuania. Luckily for Lindsay and Eric, such techniques have not been lost. They spent almost five hours on day three on a handmade wooden canoe with a guide, paddling over the waters of the “Kuršių marių biosferos poligonas” nature reserve and feeling one with the gorgeous outdoors. For them, paddling evoked a deep reflection of the importance of nature. They felt the water. They watched birds. On the paddle home, the sea turned still, and they could see their reflections in the water, as if it were a mirror.
A visit to Vilnius
Before leaving the country, they stopped in the capital, explored the old town, the main cathedral, and the 600-year-old clock tower. After a delicious meal, they got some rest before taking the sunrise train to Poland.
Narwianski National Park
After a smooth train ride into Poland, Lindsay and Eric arrived in Białystok, a young, interesting city and the birthplace of Esperanto. But they didn’t stay in the city for long! They quickly went to the Narwianski National Park, a protected wetland with grasslands, marshes, reed beds, and meadows going as far as the eye can see. For them, this was one of the most peaceful places they’d ever visited. After wandering through the area, they found an epic lookout that made it feel like they were on safari in Africa rather than in the heart of Central Europe. From their perch, they spotted a wild moose and a hot air balloon landing. A fun fact: most of the houses in the area have no fences, so pets run freely.
Pieniny National Park
On Lindsay and Eric’s first day, they decided to do something they’d never tried before: riding a traditional wooden raft down the Dunajec River Gorge in the Pieniny National Park. As they floated (or sometimes rushed!) down the river, they admired the steep and lush mountains around them. The trip, guided by an expert in traditional mountain clothing, was safe and leisurely—a Polish gondola, if you will! After being on the water, they had a big appetite. Poland just might be the ideal place if you’ve got a lion hunger in you. They chose several traditional foods to try, including oscypek, smoked sheep’s cheese with cranberry sauce, chicken with mushroom gravy, steak, and traditional dumplings topped with crispy bacon.
This town is world famous for its fall hygge feel. For Lindsay and Eric, it lived up to its reputation. To end their stay in the heart of Europe, they spent a perfect evening atop the beautiful lookout above Zakopane . From there, they watched the sunset and the town light up below them. All around them were the rolling, green hills of this southern Polish gem, which in a few weeks, will be covered in a blanket of deep snow. To end the night, they went to a traditional Polish restaurant. Inside the log structure, they watched folk musicians play mountain songs and ate local specialties that warmed them through and through.
After an incredible time in Lithuania and Poland, Lindsay and Eric arrived in the uniquely beautiful Budapest and met up with Kirsten and Ross, the two other travelers who had been exploring the region in parallel to them! Hungary’s capital just might be Lindsay and Eric’s favorite city in Europe. In just a matter of days, they explored so many wonderful elements of the city, from riding the darling old funicular to chowing down on delicious local specialties.
They started their day by visiting a pastry shop to buy chocolate croissants and cappuccinos. Once properly fueled, they headed off to the Budapest funicular, which leads to the Buda castle. This funicular might ring a bell if you’ve ever seen a certain Wes Anderson film with Budapest in its title. Give up? It’s the Grand Budapest Hotel, and in it, you’ll see a funicular that’s strikingly similar in style and look. At the top of the hill stands the regal 17th century castle, and just as lovely, the sprawling views of the city below. Lindsay and Eric found the scene below to be magical—the Danube River, the glittering city, and countless monuments.
Speaking of monuments, here are the ones that they found to be the most captivating. First off, Fisherman’s Bastion, a fairytale-like neo-Gothic terrace that offers panoramic views of the city and the Danube River. The Hungarian Parliament building, a masterpiece of architecture often referred to as one of the most beautiful parliamentary buildings in the world, is a must visit. Lindsay and Eric also loved Budapest’s Széchenyi Thermal Baths, where they soaked up the mineral-rich waters while floating in blue pools set against the backdrop of the grand neo-baroque palace. Last but far from least they took a box in the splendid Budapest State Opera House, where they witnessed the Hungarian National Ballet’s production of Don Quixote.
Tip from them to you: Get a Budapest Card! It gives you unlimited access to public transportation (including the funicular) plus free access to 30+ museums and exhibits.
What were Lindsay and Eric’s top experiences across their entire trip? Here are the highlights they chose:
- The homemade and local ice-cream desserts at Zakopane
- Their canoeing adventure to the small lighthouse on the Curonian Spit
- Rowing near the massive sand dunes, again on the Curonian Spit