Eastern Europe

Raw Travel Season 2 – Central & Eastern Europe Recap

How they still do it in Transylvania, Romania

As of this writing, we arrived back from Central & Eastern Europe just over one week ago and already memories are beginning to fade. While so happy and appreciative to be home (and more comfortable), for me at least, there is always a sense of sadness and loss when I return from a trip. The excitement of a daily adventure gives way to the mostly mundane tasks of  everyday living.

But I’m fueled by the memories of the people we met along the way, the incredible sights and sounds of experiencing another culture, place and in many places another time. “Another time? It was a few weeks ago” you say?   Ah but for perhaps the 1st time in my life I was able to experience what life may have been like centuries ago with castles from mid evil times and Roman ruins from BC times.  More recently, World War II was for me mostly something my father had lectured about when I was a kid, but now I feel firmly in charge of at least a few basic facts and a small but better understanding of what actually went on (and the incredible and largely awful impact and implications for many of the destinations we visited).

Mining salt in Krakow, Poland

I also felt just a little how the iron fist of the iron curtain could be so brutal. I couldn’t help but think how but for the luck of geography and just a smidgen of time, I could have been spending my days in an internment camp (I just know I would have never kept my head down and mouth shut). Or maybe, I would have been a different person in that different place and time and I would have dutifully fulfilled my obligation to the State, working to garner my quota as  a farmer, miner or dutifully cleaning up the dishes at a Milk Bar, wondering what life would be like if I could simply do, say and be whatever I wanted.

Yes, this trip has forever changed me, but so what? That’s no reason to spend precious money and resources to fly over a camera crew and work 41 of the 42 days we were there producing television is it? Yes, I think it is.

For if travel has changed me (for the better) then it can and will change others. If there is anything we’ve learned from Communism, it should be that more knowledge for more people is a GOOD thing.  But let’s face it, showing something on TV or via the web is not the same as going. No matter how good I am at my job of communicating I can’t change this completely.

Massive sunflower fields in Bulgaria

But maybe, I can give you, the reader and the viewers of the show, a small idea of what it is like. Just like centuries ago when sailors and other travelers came back from a journey and spun tales of far off places and the incredible things they’d seen, I can do the same, but through the magic of video’s sight and sound.

And perhaps more importantly, inspire others to travel themselves. Across the planet if they can but if not, just across town experiencing their lives from a different perspective.  If I were to work just one day in a taco truck or a Chinese Laundry or Korean nail salon for example, who is to say I would not be forever changed? Travel can take many forms.

Raw Travel is a Travel AND Lifestyle show. Travel has taught me to LIVE differently when I’m at “home”. Thanks to travel I am an avid recycler. Thanks to travel I have more empathy for people I used to simply shove past on the street. Thanks to travel I appreciate kids more than ever and recognize they don’t need a video game but they MUST have love in order to have hope of a good life. Thanks to travel I view the news and media we consume very differently. Thanks to travel, I am more conscious about what type of food I put into my body, etc, etc.

Charming in Romania

Thanks to travel I recognize that the TV business needs more life affirming, positive shows and less conflict, competition, or whatever the flavor of the month is and that is why I do this. It’s not easy sharing a small space with a crew or sleeping on couches. I thought those days of sacrifice were over for me. But comfort is not the same as happiness. Just ask some of the happiest people on the planet (and they usually don’t reside in the most advanced economies of our world).

But enough about what travel and the show means to me. It’s what it means to the viewer that is most important.

Each destination will have it’s own blog entry before each episode airs, but before memories fade to quickly, I wanted to recap each destination and to properly thank people who so graciously helped us along the way. I hope I haven’t left anyone out but it’s very likely that I have. There were just too many people helping us to remember and thank everyone.For that, I apologize in advance and ask that if you see an omission, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Wishing you many safe (but not too safe) journeys!

Entry to Auschwitz
Entry to Auschwitz – Outside of Krakow, Poland

DESTINATION 1 (Episode 201) – KRAKOW, POLAND (Premieres week of 9/29/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: Counter-intuitive perhaps but visiting Auschwitz. It was very reflective and made something intangible very tangible.

WORST MOMENT: Just the overwhelming jet lag. Oh and when our cameraman Scott tumbled down the stairs on day 2 or 3. Very lucky he didn’t break a bone and there goes the entire shoot (yes, always I’m selfishly thinking of the show!).

SPECIAL THANKS: Sara Egan, Brains All Gone, Schindler’s Museum, Pawel Zleba and See Krakow, Marek Pryjmko and Cafe Finska, Jerzy Elster & Crazy Guides,

After the shoot in Bunkr Parakarku, Prague CR

DESTINATION 2 (Episode 202) – PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC  (Premieres week of 10/5/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: Visiting the old communist nuclear bunker Bunkr Parukarka and Cafe Potme (Cafe in the Dark) getting a feeling for what it’s like to be completely sightless (and raising money for the sight impaired in Czech Republic in the process)

WORST MOMENT: The overnight train from Krakow to Prague. It was a communism era “sleeper” car with no space and not much sleep going on . As a result we rolled into Prague sleep deprived and subsequently the crew began to get a little snippy with each other. (it wouldn’t last long thankfully).

SPECIAL THANKS: Gaell La Vu of Zouk Side Down, Eliska Mertova & Segra Segra, Loreta Museum, Woody & Rocket Dogz, Lucky Hazzard, Pavel Horejsi, Honza Hegre & Cafe Potme, Foto Eskoda

Pork Knuckle in Vienna
Ready to eat Pork Knuckle in Vienna

DESTINATION 3 (Episode 207) – BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA & VIENNA, AUSTRIA (Premieres week of 11/17/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: Visiting Vienna and the Prater Amusement Park and subsequent dining on Pork Knuckle (Deee-licious!) with travel writer Duncan Smith aka the “Urban Explorer and author of “Only In… ” travel guides.

WORST MOMENT: Getting repeatedly ripped off by taxis in Bratislava, getting lost in Bratislava, getting chewed out by a rude, condescending, bigoted, nosy and presumably Austrian in Vienna (for some strange reason he took exception to us shooting in the men’s room, the 1st toilet in Vienna or something another).

SPECIAL THANKS: Duncan JD Smith, Wild Elephant Hostel owners and guests, Tomas & Bratislava Man Tours, Brano & Authentic Slovakian Tours, Kto Chce Co Chce Band (Do What You Like), Vladimir Raiman of Trunk & Wine Gallery in Bratislava, Tostaman Tracher (Vienna).

Crew tries on “Souvenirs” at Hospital in the Rocks – Budapest

DESTINATION 4 (Episode 208) – BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (tentatively premieres week of 11/24/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: Taking a ride on the Children’s Railway, a fun, kitschy train run completely by children. So cool! and the Gypsy Musicians (Gypsy Musicians is how they referred to themselves) hanging out in their home and listening to their tradition, history and music.

WORST MOMENT: I am tempted to say there wasn’t one, but alas, the final day, our final meal at the train station, I think I was ripped off. Still disputing the charge with my credit card company.

SPECIAL THANKS: The Hungarian Tourism Board.. they were simply amazing and the ONLY tourism bureau that attempted to help us out on this trip. Thank you to Maria and the whole gang at , Zach Tipton & Diane Librizi and the entire crew at Vinylize , John McPherson and Herby Cobb, Hospital in the Rock, The Children’s Railway, Rocco from Bankrupt Band, Tibor and the Pudor Ruin Pub, Mozaik Thrift Shop,  Andy our “Gypsy” tour guide, Kalma & Ewa (Gypsy Musicians)


Novi Saad, Serbia
Balkan Folk Musician in Novi Saad, Serbia

DESTINATION 5 (Episode 206) – SERBIA (tentatively premieres week of 11/24/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: The entire city of Novi Saad and the wonderful and hilarious tour with radio DJ Dasko and his tour guide sister Jelena. What a treat? Attention talent agents if you are looking to import some talent, give these two a look when this episode premieres. They are incredible.

WORST MOMENT: Eating way to much meat during the entire trip. We were literally hungover from all the wild game, sausages, etc. Granted, not a bad problem to have.

SPECIAL THANKS: Dask0, Jelen and the Red Union Band, Route 66 in Novi Saad, Milos, Slikar Miscov (Artist), Helena (Belgrade), Katerina (souvenir salesperson), Darko and Kvazimodo Band, Ralph from the Serbia Nightlife Academy and IbikeBelgrade, Belgrade Ethnographic Museum and the people of Serbia fighting to recover from this summer’s devastating floods.

Doru talks about the “Bleeding Potato” in Bucharest

DESTINATION 6 (Episode 203) – Bucharest, Romania (premieres week of 10/12/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: Visiting the emerging eco-reserve Vacaresti smack in the middle of Bucharest and stumbling upon a taxi driver fishing in his underwear. When he agreed to be on camera we were all ecstatic. His interview was possibly the best of the entire trip and the eco reserve is in such an unlikely spot… it’s wild, wooly and amazing.

WORST MOMENT: When my crew accidentally locked themselves into the apartment and there was no way out. They were stuck inside, no food, no phone, no way out (8 stories up) waiting on my imminent return 3 hours later.

SPECIAL THANKS: Doru and Robert from the Interesting Times Bureau, Ortaku (street artists), my old pal Dan Popuscu who simply wanted us to produce a good show about Bucharest, Gabby from Underworld (thanks for the shoes!), Raizing Hell Band, the brave guys from  Casa Jurnalustului (House of Journalism) and all the wonderful people of Bucharest. Jurnalistului

Milking sheep in Transylvania

DESTINATION 7 (Episode 203) – Transylvania, Romania (premieres week of 10/26/14)



FAVORITE MOMENT: OK I know I’m not supposed to have favorites but how about the ENTIRE TRIP. Transylvania is amazing and Dracula had very little to do with it. OK, if I’m forced to recall our best moment was hanging out, herding and eventually milking the sheep with some local sheep herders who spoke not a shred of English. They kindly gave us a still warm glass of sheep milk and a big handful of freshly made sheep cheese. Simply surreal, simply amazing.

WORST MOMENT: Getting stood up last minute and very unprofessionally by a British ex pat travel guide. During the entire trip this would be the ONLY time we were stood up by someone. How ironic that he was British (known for their punctuality and professionalism?) not a Romanian (supposedly not known for their punctuality and professionalism). This all worked in our favor however, when we were force to strike out on our own and this led to my Favorite Moment (see above). Several lessons learned here. More on this when the blog post goes up.

SPECIAL THANKS: The sheep herders in Transylvania, the wonderful folks doing wonderful work at Little John’s House,  Limui and family at the Scerma Scoala Cornatel Horse Reserve & Rescue Center, Gita & Mihaela of Casa cu Zarele Bed & Breakfast just outside of Sighisoara and their Swedish guests, Tudobe (AKA the Spoonman) of Sighisoara, Daniel of Covinnus Travel, House of Vlad Dracula Restaurant, Gabby & Beth from Sibiu.

With Karina of Koukery in Rouse, Bulgaria

DESTINATION 8 (Episode 209) – Bulgaria (premieres TBA)



FAVORITE MOMENT: The Black Sea city of Sozopol. Simply amazing.

WORST MOMENT: Our producer Erica getting pretty sick and visiting a rough looking emergency room in Burgas where they proceeded to misdiagnose her and jab the IV needle in the muscle rather than the vein. This would result in huge swelling of her arm and continued decline in Erica’s condition. We finally made it to the capital Sofia and visited an emergency room at a Japanese run hospital which set her straight on the road to recovery.

SPECIAL THANKS:  Katerina and Andre of Koukery Dance School in Rouse, Scroletics Band, Flamingo Entertainment Complex and Dancers in Sozopol, Kristian Mitov in Sofia, International Women’s Club of Sofia and Dimko of Sofia Travel Holidays in Sofia.


From the U.S. I would like to thank Robert Kennedy and his Puritti Water Filters, Pati McGrath of Baggallini Bags and my associates Jon Krobot and Paul Rowen for helping hold down the fort while I was away. I should also shout out the dedicated crew, producer Erica Soto and camera (and writer of bad puns) Scott Gawlik. It was a pleasure traveling with you guys! And thanks to all my friends and family. Of course our over 100 affiliates and our sponsors. Geez, I’m going to shut up now. This is a blog post, not the Academy Awards. You get the point.

Eastern Europe

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic is magical but overrun with tourists in the summer months. Although it made our lives more difficult in some respects, I was none the less happy that we had booked an apartment in District 10 on the outskirts of town rather than in the heavily trafficked Olde Town.  The street our apartment was located on roughly translated to “uranium” street, so named in the cold war, which gives you a tiny hint to the utilitarian, communist past of this now thriving tourists mecca.


We arrived sleep deprived (are you sensing a theme here yet?) from an overnight train from Krakow, Poland. The trip was a “red eye” and we had reserved a sleeping compartment for all three of us. The compartment was tight, the train had no dining or bar car so we promptly flipped the beds down and tried, pretty much in vain, to get some sleep.

I’ve taken several trains in my lifetime and they usually are calm, monotonous things, generating almost a lullaby of white noise (in fact there is a “Train” effect on my white noise app on my i-phone), but not on this train. The clamoring of the tracks felt like it was just below us (perhaps because it was and always is, but usually doesn’t sound thus) and the constant starting, stopping as we pulled into one town after another made sleep upon the narrow, fold out metal bunks with wafer thin mattresses just next to impossible. We all pretty much just catnapped during the 7 or so hour journey from Krakow.

Taxis in Eastern Europe are, by and large, an under-regulated mess resulting in thousands of over charged fares from unsuspecting (and in our case, even suspecting) visitors to airports, bus & train stations on a regular basis. Indeed, travel pros though we may be considered, we were not immune to this scourge of corruption that has been allowed to fester and grow as the former iron curtain countries pursue the capitalist’s dream of ripping off their fellow man.

With Gaelle in front of the old clock tower.
With Gaelle in front of the old clock tower.

Luckily, our kindly and hospitable apartment host, Pavel, had arranged for us to be picked up by Tic Tack Taxi, a somewhat respected transportation company that is reportedly trying to help revolutionize the taxi, bus and transportation system in Czech Republic.

Our taxi ride from the train station to Pavel’s was semi-luxurious (a leather seated Audi with an extremely polite English speaking driver with GPS and even free bottled water for each of us) with the fare a fraction (about $10 U.S) of what a taxi hail or worse the taxi line at the railroad station could have run us.

Loreta Museum and Church
Loreta Museum and Church

After meeting Pavel, our super gracious host on whom we would all come to rely heavily upon, we all crashed for a couple of hours and decided that it was extremely inefficient from a work POV to take overnight trains. We’ve since sworn them off but we’ll see if this trend sticks the remainder of our journey (as my friend, coordinator and part time travel planner Margarita pointed out, it saves tremendously on the cost of lodging for one night).

We would have slept longer but we had arranged to meet Gaelle, a French expat now living in Prague and author of Zoukside Down. Gaelle is a dance teacher and  ardent enthusiast of Brazilian Zouk Dancing, a style of dancing that has recently taken hold in Prague. Gaelle agreed to show us around some of the more basic touristy sites in the old town before we were to head to a Zouk Party to watch her in action. The party was hosted at a lovely hillside restaurant that offered some absolutely amazing views of Prague at the magic hour of sunset.

On the Charles Bridge with cameraman Scott.
On the Charles Bridge with cameraman Scott.

If you think it’s unusual to feature a French native who dances Brazilian in an Eastern European, well, I must admit I had my reservations as well. But what we’d quickly find out on this trip was that Prague was full of ex-pats from all over the world. It is truly an international city of the highest order.

There were literally bucket loads of Americans, Australians and others living and working in Prague and thus speaking English was almost never a problem with the exception of when we went back to our apartment in the almost 100% non-touristic District 10. By the end of the journey, this would become a fun game with the locals who, while not exactly smiling, warm people were simply wonderfully patient when dealing with us funny speaking foreigners and almost ended every awkward difficult conversation with a smile of some sort.

Baby in a Box at the Communist Museum
Baby in a Box at the Communist Museum

In District 10 we ended up frequenting a lovely little ice cream parlor (we witnessed ice cream being consumed at most every time of day, even seemingly for breakfast at 8 or 9 am) and café that served the small, exotic handmade sandwiches and desserts.  Pointing and holding up the number of each sandwich was the only way to order. It was surprisingly efficient by day 3 or so.

But the highlight of our trip was perhaps meeting Ladi, a local Hungarian who runs the Bunker, a former nuclear bomb shelter designed and built for communist party leaders. Today it’s a really cool government subsidized community & event space and communist museum.

The Bunker hosts concerts and gatherings on a regular basis but the communists’ museum was my personal highlight. Seeing all these relics from the Cold War brought back memories and it occurred to me that it appeared that either I had missed the vast majority of the paranoia of the cold war (I heard that it most likely peaked in the 1950’s and 1960s) or the East was just much more prepared than the West. For example almost all the Metros in Eastern Europe we road had been built very deep underground. In case of nuclear attack, they could serve as an impromptu shelter for hundreds of thousands of members of the “working class” who could not fit into one of the bunkers.

Trying to fit in at the Bunker
Trying to fit in at the Bunker

The biggest kind of “what the…..” moment came when we saw the “Baby in a Box” display, which was a wooden box (imagine a small casket with a clear, vinyl see through cover) and a wooden foot pump to pump oxygen). The idea of the Baby Box was that in case of nuclear attack, a baby could be housed in the box and the mother (or father or surviving loved one) must hit the pump every 15 minutes or “no more baby” as our funny and expert guide, Ivan “The Hilarious” so eloquently observed. This s really brought the potential horror of the cold war into focus for me.

Growing up in the fear of total destruction of the 1980s, I’m very appreciative of the fact that we can all have a chuckle about these things now. Back then we felt truly threatened and though the source of the threats may have changed, is mankind any less threatened today?

Ladi & Pavel were like long, lost pals. Ladi had lived in Florida (playing in a rock band there) and Pavel had been a photographer in the former Czechoslovakia prior to the fall of communism and later he worked for the Associated Press as one of the few premiere photographers covering the Velvet Revolution as it unfolded and helping to tell the story of what was happening to the west and the rest of the world.

Outside “Cafe in the Dark”

Both were invaluable to our largely smooth travel through Prague and to both I owe a debt of gratitude.

I like Prague, a lot. And though the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and history of the old town are nothing short of awe inspiring, that’s not why. I like Prague because of people like Ladi, Pavel, and the regular folks like the sales clerk at the local Foto Escoda (a local photography store) who was so helpful to us when we had to replace a lens for the camera. The countless other locals who made us feel at home I can’t thank enough; people like Eleska Mertova of Segrasegra clothing designing some very cool bike clothes out of recycled bicycle inner tubes.

Trying on the designs of SegreSegre clothing
Trying on the designs of SegreSegre clothing

Or the fine folks at the Cafe in the Dark where I and my cameraman Scott were able to experience TOTAL darkness and get a feeling for what it was like for the sight impaired folks of Prague while raising money for them. Or Veronica our beautiful and informative guide at the Loreta Museum or Woody from the local band Rocket Dogz who toured us by the cool cats at Lucky HazzardClothing.  I hope to someday be able to return the favor for their generosity of their time and spirit.

Prague before the Velvet Revolution - Courtesy of Pavel Horejsi
Prague 1980’s – Courtesy of Pavel Horejsi

It was good that we had Krakow and Prague to begin with because next up were Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria. They were to be our very first real challenge and bump in the road on this journey. Thankfully, we were beginning to gel as a team both in terms of our travel and our production chops.

With Woody and pal at Lucky Hazzard

Stay tuned for our adventures in Bratislava, Slovakia and yes, Vienna, Austria (Raw Travel Style) up next.

For more photos from our travels through Prague, please visit our set on Flikr HERE.