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The Ash Heap

What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term, the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history. 

Ronald Reagan in a speech to the British House of Commons

Frankly, a trip to the heart of Europe during the Christmas season deserves more than one belated post. But, this will have to do for now.

Last December we started a three week trip starting in Germany where we stayed in Heidelberg and Nuremberg enjoying their amazing Christmas markets. We then boarded a Viking River Cruise and spent a full week on the Danube in Germany, Austria, and ending in Budapest, Hungary on December 23rd. We stayed in Budapest through New Year’s Day—our first prolonged stay in a formerly communist country.

Hungary shed their Iron Curtain bonds and joined both the European Union and NATO. They have a sense of humor about their former status as member of the Soviet Bloc. While some countries were enthusiastic Communists, the Hungarians had a revolution in 1956 where they threw out—as least temporarily—their Russian masters. And while some countries, like East Germany, were committed to the Communist cause, the Hungarians were less enthusiastic. In fact, that attitude helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Laurie and I were living in West Germany in 1989. When I joined the USAF in ‘83 it seemed like the Cold War would go on for decades. But in the late ‘80s the Soviet Bloc began to crumble. One major break occurred in 1989 when East Germans vacationing in Hungary refused to go back home. The East German government, enthusiastic communists, pushed the Hungarian government to send their people home. The Hungarians declined. The dispute went all the way to the Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, who declined to intervene. At that point, the government of Hungary opened the border between Hungary and Austria and East Germans flowed across it. Months later, the border was opened and the Berlin Wall came down. We watched the happenings on TV in astonishment. In October of 1990, West and East Germany were reunified.

An interesting place to see how the Hungarians view that period of history is Memento Park, a short bus ride outside of Budapest. They moved many Soviet era statues out there where they remember that period, and mock them. The subtitle of the guidebook is In the Shadow of Stalin’s Boots, referring to all that is left of the Soviet Dictator.

I read a fascinating history of Budapest before our trip: Budapest: Portrait of a City Between East and West by Victor Sebestyen. It starts in ancient times and covers the Soviet era in detail.

I’m writing this at SeaTac Airport waiting for a flight to England which will cover a number of countries—including our first trip to Africa. The core of this adventure will be hiking the Caminho Portuguese from Lisbon north to Santiago de Compostela. I hope you’ll follow us on this adventure—our sixth Camino.

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