Summer 2022 Alumni Tour #1, Central Europe and the Perils of Travel just after COVID

Summer 2022 Alumni Tour #1, Central Europe and the Perils of Travel just after COVID

I don’t remember exactly what happened during the late summer of 2022, but it must have been a busy time, or it took me awhile to recover from two Alumni Tours that took place that summer. I failed to write up for this blog what we did on those tours. This is the first of two entries in which I will try to make good on those tours.

The summer of 2022 was a difficult one for travel. It was the first time we could travel freely since COVID. We left in mid-June for a tour with eighteen alums and friends for Central Europe and specifically to three cities Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. We left the weekend that London’s Heathrow Airport made the international news with reports of lost and abandoned luggage, lack of workers to transfer luggage, and staff flights, and more.

Most of our group got from Fresno to Budapest pretty much on schedule but seven of us left on time on a Monday morning and didn’t arrive at our destination until very early Thursday morning, two full days late! We took advantage of a long layover in London by taking our small group on a whirlwind tour of London—taxi ride (a must), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Parliament, and the Tower—then back to the airport to wait several more hours for our flight to Budapest. Why not see London if you just happen to get stuck in the airport for almost 24 hours?

In Budapest we did several things to get a feel for the city and Hungary—a tour of the city on both sides of the Danube (the Buda side and the Pest side) to see the Parliament buildings that dominate the river scene, and the government and business districts. There are statues of Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush in one of the central squares in recognition of their role in the end of the communist governments. I asked if the US or the Hungarians put these up. The Hungarians, our tour guide explained, in gratitude for their efforts.

Later that day we toured the building where political prisoners were tortured by the Soviet led government—a sobering and heavy couple of hours. Across the river was the Matthias Church with still visible remnants of the Ottoman occupation and rule of the Balkans. Budapest was the northernmost city of Ottoman rule, and the staging site for efforts to conquer Vienna in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. (I know, I sound like a history professor…occupational hazard).

Next, we traveled to Vienna, one of the truly great cities of Europe, with its multiple palaces (we saw all of them!). The Hapsburg monarchs loved music and Vienna has since been a city of Music with concert halls dedicated individually to concerts, opera, and other forms of performance. Our tour guide, Viennese herself, arranged for us to attend a concert in one of the major venues, the Musikverein Karlsplatz. And we took another trip on the Danube to Melk Abbey, one of the most influential monastic sites of Europe.

Our third city was Prague. After traveling through beautiful, rolling, Bohemian farmland, we arrived in a very different city than Budapest and Vienna. Prague is energetic, less inclined to celebrate political power, and proudly independent. It is often said to be the most beautiful city in Europe, for good reason. We toured the city, crossed the Charles River, visited the old Jewish quarter, and some of us got lost (me) in the winding medieval streets and alleyways just off the central square. Everyone gets lost at some point in old cities. It’s all part of the fun of travel. The food was great too, as was one of the waiters who tried to teach us a few words in the Czech language, with little success.

This was the end of our main tour. But then we went on a three-day extension to Salzburg where we toured the city and visited sites were the 1960s musical The Sound of Music was filmed—a highlight (though our guide said that Austrians just don’t understand this at all). On the way we were able to alter our travel plans just a little to visit the small town from which the ancestors of one of our group emigrated to the US about 150 years ago. Another highlight of the trip for all of us! A good tour guide knows how to adjust schedules to make these kinds of opportunities possible and can find events like the concert mentioned above. We have had exceptional guides each year.

The goal of our extended travels was to see the Oberammergau Passion Play, a performance repeated every decade for the last four hundred years! The now five-hour play (it has been shortened for modern audiences) is a portrayal of the last days of the life of Christ, his death and resurrection with about a hundred cast members, many of them residents of the small town of Oberammergau. An English script helped us follow the German of the dialog. It was a truly religious experience. It brought the gospel stories we have heard so many times to life and helped us see and understand them more deeply. After a series of detours due to a G7 economic summit, we traveled to our hotel in the Bavarian city of Munich and to the airport the next morning.

I suppose in the interest of full disclosure I should add one more thing. I began this piece by noting the difficulties of travel in the summer of 2022. Those difficulties did not end with airports. Four of our group got COVID, two in Budapest, and two in Vienna, and were quarantined in those cities for more than a week each. Thank goodness for travel insurance. Before COVID about half of the people in our groups purchased travel insurance, now almost everyone does. It is difficult to leave friends in a city while we bus off to our next stop. More difficult for those forced to stay. But we all caught up together in Munich for the final days together. That was a trip!

Educated State
Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis

Tagged: Alumni Tours Tours