Eastern Europe Overview

Eastern Europe Tours

Eastern Europe

Why Visit

Undiscovered wonders of Europe’s far east await you on a Black Sea tour.

Explore 2,500-year-old Istanbul, Turkey. Literally striding two continents, the city reflects the culture, architecture and cuisine of the many peoples who conquered and inhabited the city or passed through it on a trade route. Head to Amasya on your Turkey tour for regional Turkish cuisine and spectacular mountain views. If you’re interested in architecture, Trabzon has examples of Greek Orthodox and Byzantine churches and monasteries. Turkey cruises transport you to a wonderful crossroads of East and West.

Neighboring Georgia will stun you with its legendary beauty—snowcapped peaks sweeping down to lush vineyards and plains. The picturesque subtropical Sochi in the Russian Riviera is home to Stalin’s summer retreat. Yalta, Ukraine, on the Crimean Peninsula draws visitors to its many resorts, gorgeous seaside vistas and majestic castles. You can visit Czar Nicolas II’s summer home here.

Your Eastern Europe cruise might include Ukraine’s port cities of Odessa and Sevastopol, which welcome visitors with lively big-city adventures. You can walk through history in Sevastopol’s submarine tunnels and learn about the Crimean War. In beautiful Odessa, you’ll see why the happy locals call themselves Odessites first and Ukrainians second.

Outdoor enthusiasts will be wowed by the sheer number of species found in Romania’s Danube Delta Biological Reserve—more than 5,500! It’s the third largest biodiversity in the world behind the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. The reserve is most famous for its birds—over 200 species—including the pygmy cormorant, purple heron and Dalmatian pelican.

The history of this region reaches back to prehistory. Highlights of the area’s many archeological sites include 2nd century Roman baths and the oldest worked gold in the world in Varna, Bulgaria, and the many archeological museums of Odessa, Ukraine. Romania’s Histria and Constanta have been under excavation since their rediscovery in 1914. So far, the remains of Aphrodite’s Temple, the Temple of Zeus, Roman baths and other Roman-Byzantine public buildings have been uncovered.

Whether you’re drifting down the Danube or relaxing on deck sipping local vodka, an Eastern Europe tour is sure to transport you to cloud nine.

History

Ancient Greek myths referred to the Black Sea as Pontus Axeinus, or “Inhospitable Sea.” At that time, the sea was on the edge of the known world and still shrouded in mystery and legend. Eventually, with the establishment of Greek colonies along its shores, the name was changed to Pontus Euxinus, the “Hospitable Sea.” Legend has it that Jason and Argonauts set off from Colchis at the sea’s eastern tip in search of the Golden Fleece. The Turks who later came to control the lands south of the Black Sea experienced one too many sudden storms on its waters and reverted to a name similar to its Greek original, Karadeniz, or Black Sea. This naming and renaming seems appropriate for a region that has been conquered, occupied and controlled so many times since early history.

Greeks and Romans, and later the Byzantines, navigated the waters of the Black Sea for commerce. The Ottoman Turks put a stop to this in 1453 when they occupied Constantinople (now Istanbul) and closed the sea to foreign trade for nearly three centuries. The Ottoman Empire came to power in the 15th and 16th centuries, reigning for nearly 600 hundred years and occupying vast territories spanning Europe, Asia and Africa.

As the Ottoman Empire began to decline in the 18th century, Russia was eager to control the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. This lead to concerns by France, Britain, Sardinia and Turkey, who sought to protect their interests in the area, and the Crimean War was underway in 1853. Russia finally agreed to peace in 1856.

The 20th century was a period of turmoil for the region. On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand served as the catalyst for World War I. The Allied forces of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the U.S. were pitted against the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria in a war that would last more than four years and involve 32 nations. Military and civilian deaths as a result of this war numbered in the tens of millions.

Peace was not long lasting, and World War II shook the world beginning in 1939. By the war’s end in 1945, more than 60 million casualties would result. The U.S. and the Soviet Union emerged as world powers at the conclusion of the war.

By 1945, Joseph Stalin had risen to power in the USSR and controlled much of Eastern Europe—restricting travel, communication and the free exchange of ideas. The United States’ opposition to Stalin resulted in the Cold War. During this time, the “Iron Curtain” divided Eastern and Western Europe, physically manifested in the Berlin Wall. The election of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 represented a new era of Soviet leaders. By 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down and by 1991, the Soviet Union fell. These events opened up areas of Europe that had previously been inaccessible to the West.

Today the countries of Eastern Europe are still adjusting to self-government and self-sustaining economies. Several countries are members of the European Union, and Turkey is an EU candidate.

Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER