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When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the iron curtain slowly lifted to give the world its first unobstructed view of Eastern Europe since World War II. What materialized was a region numbed by economic disaster, iron-fisted suppression of the individual, and the neglect of the aesthetic. Almost 2 decades later, Eastern Europe's fortunes have changed dramatically, but most North Americans still picture the region east of Berlin and the Adriatic in grim, forbidding Cold War terms and consequently eliminate it from their lists of desirable vacation destinations. Western Europeans, however, always viewed Eastern European countries as places to explore and relax, and as soon as they were free to travel there without much restriction, they returned in droves to Croatia's Adriatic resorts, the Czech Republic's majestic churches, Hungary's intriguing spa towns, Slovenia's picturesque Alpine villages, Romania's Carpathian mountains, Russia's historic cities, and Poland's bustling markets. North Americans' long-held preconceptions of Eastern Europe are dissipating, and more and more English-speaking folks are riding the tourism wave that is sweeping the region. Eastern Europe finally is emerging as a trendy travel frontier where friendly people, stunning natural beauty, compelling history, and relatively low prices are drawing a crowd of savvy travelers. Even though North American travelers must tolerate one-stop flights and must obtain a visa if Russia is their destination, gaining entry to Eastern Europe is no more difficult than accessing Western Europe. Furthermore, you'll find an OPEN sign on these formerly restricted destinations and you'll wonder why it took you so long to get there.

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