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Presenter : Justine Shapiro

Czech Republic & Poland

Justine Shapiro begins her journey in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and a great starting point for a journey through Eastern Europe. Since the collapse of Communism in 1989,image: IWindy Hiller: Justine feels the breeze on the Tatras MountainsPrague has become an incredibly popular destination for travellers.

Justine visits the castle, the most famous landmark in Prague and the seat of power since the 9th century. It’s been home to medieval royalty, the Hapsburgs, the Nazis and the Communists. She also hangs out in the Globe Bookshop Café, which holds its regular literary events and readings. After spending the night in a convent that was taken over by the Communists and turned onto a secret police headquarters where political prisoners were interrogated, Justine visits a local spiritual cleanser who is concerned about bad energy which he believes is caused by ‘tourist pollution’.

Justine leaves Prague in a Skoda to go to a rave in Teplice in Northern Bohemia. Outdoor raves have become very popular in the Czech Republic, which is not surprising considering parties and gatherings were not allowed under Communism.

Next morning, Justine goes to nearby Karlovy Vary, a beautiful spa town that has been visited for the last 500 years by nobility and commoners alike. There are 12 natural springs. Each one has a different mineral content and temperature and certain waters are prescribed for particular ailments.

Justine travels on a coach to Cesky Krumlov in south Bohemia. It’s one of the most picturesque medieval towns in Europe and the best place to stay is in a medieval tower. Justineimage: The medieval village of Cesky Krumlovdecides to canoe down the Vltava River to her next destination, Ceske Budejovice. From here she catches a train that will take her over the border into Poland.

Despite being officially atheist for more than 40 years of Communist rule, 90% of Poland’s population are devout Catholics. Justine’s first stop in Poland is Czestochowa, the home of Poland’s most important religious icon – the Black Madonna – on display in a monastery called Jasna Gora.For the past 6 centuries people have travelled from all over Poland to pay homage to the Madonna, a symbol of Polish identity and resistance.

From Czestochowa, Justine travels on to Krakow, Poland’s ancient Royal capital and the cultural centre of Poland today. Krakow is one of the few places in Poland where you can still find Milk Bars – state subsidised restaurants left over from Communist days. Until the middle of the 20th century, Krakow was one of the great Jewish centres of Europe. World War II changed all that and Oswiecim is better known by its German name Auschwitz. As a Jewish-American, visiting the site of the concentration camp at Auschwitz is a very personal experience for Justine. Many of her relatives died here.

Finally Justine heads south into the Tatra Mountain Range, which form the border between Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Zakopane, situated in the foothills, it is possible to get a glimpse of the traditional, rural way of life. The Tatras are the location for the annual Mountain Folklore Festival, which celebrates the traditional culture of the Podhales – the mountain people who live in the area. Justine is caught up in a wedding procession and is invited to the wedding party where she joins in with the dancing and vodka sampling.

Places Mentioned - Czech Republic, Poland

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