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“The following day they did go to the Valle Giulia. They saw the stone coffins, the sarcophagi, adorned with statues and terracotta reliefs showing the ancient Etruscan dead living merrily, eating, drinking, carousing, embracing their women, and spreading the Etruscan gospel, which in their great wisdom they had never written down, never pausing long enough to develop a literature to express their cultural singularity. Yet their way was unmistakably carved on their statues’ faces: only the moment counts, and the beauty of the moment shall never pass.

Waldheim showed him wide-lipped vessels. It was from these that the ancient Italians drank their wine, as the inscription said: Foied vinom pipafo, cra carefo.

“Today I drink wine, tomorrow I won’t have any,” Waldheim translated. “Now, tell me, can there be anything as short and sweet? This sentence in its archaic splendor is as definitive, as impregnable as polygonal city walls, as the erections of the Cyclops. Foied vinom pipafo, cra carefo.



“I don’t get it,” Mihály pretended. “I always thought the Greeks were terrified of death. The Greeks of Homer were never consoled much by an after-life, if my memory of Rohde’s book is correct. And the Etruscans who lived for the moment were even more afraid of death.”

“All that is true. These people were probably a great deal more afraid of death than we are. Civilization gives us such ready-made psychological templates that most of our lives we’re able to forget that one of these days we’re going to die. Eventually we’ll put it out of minds as we have God’s existence. This is civilization. But for ancient man, nothing was more immediate than death and the dead, whose shrouded after-life, destiny, vengeance, continually obsessed them. They were immensely afraid of death and the dead, except their psyches were much more ambivalent than ours. The great contraries lay closer to each other then. Death-fear and death-wish were more than just neighbors, and many times the fear was a wish and the wish a fear.”


Antal Szerb: Traveler and moonlight, 1937


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 From the Etruscan collection of the Alte Nationalgalerie of Berlin

Come with us to the Gothic Route of Spiš!


The region of Spiš – in German Zips, in Hungarian Szepesség – was one of the most peculiar regions of ancient Hungary, with many languages and traditions, inhabited by Saxons or Zipsers, Hungarians, Slovaks, two kinds of Rusyns – Lemkos and Boykos – Jews, Poles, Gorals, Gypsies and the scattered representatives of many other peoples. Some parts of it simultaneously belonged to Hungary and Poland, while the complex administrative relations of others gave a hard time even to Tranquillius, the author of the Pangea blog, who wrote twice about them, and who will also come with us. Its Renaissance towns lay in the embrace of a stunning nature, surrounded by the Slovak Paradise, the Spiš, Beskid and Vihorlat Mountains, the gorges of the Hornád and Dunajec rivers. However, its biggest treasure are the multitude of Gothic triptychs and murals preserved in the town and village churches. On their unique richness was established the Gothic Route through Slovakia, which we will follow during our five-day tour.

We start from Budapest by bus on 26 August, Friday, and come back on 30 August, Tuesday. Going up through Košice and descending through the Branisko Pass, in five days we go around the Spiš Mountains. We visit the most beautiful Gothic triptychs and frescoes, and tour the richest Renaissance merchant’s towns. We hike in the Hornád Canyon and boat on timber-raft on the Dunajec river. We go up with a century-old tram to the Tatras, and on foot to the Spiš Castle. We dinner in traditional Slovak restaurants and roast meat on campfire.

Participation fee for the five days: 370 euro/person (accommodation with breakfast and dinner, autobus, guide). Registration until 26 July at wang@studiolum.com.


Friday, 26 August. Budapest – Košice – Branisko Pass – Žehra – Spišská Kapitula – Spišské Podhradie



At 8 a.m. we start by bus from Budapest. In Košice we’ll have an unconventional sightseeing: inner courtyards and passages, the memories of forgotten and suppressed stories. Lunch at the same place. We stop at the Branisko Pass, from where the panorama of Spiš opens up for the first time. In Žehra we admire the frescoes of the 13th-century village church, and then the Gothic triptychs of Spišská Kapitula, the religious center of the region (both World Heritage sites). Our accommodation is directly below Spiš Castle (World Heritage site). In the late afternoon we will climb up here to watch sunset.


Saturday, 27 August. Spišské Podhradie – Vítkovce – Hornád Gorge – Levoča – Dravce – Spišský Štvrtok – Spišská Sobota



In the morning we hike – on an easy terrain, about two hours there and back – to one of the most beautiful sites of the Slovak Paradise, the Tamásfalva Lookout (Tomášovský výhľad), emerging above the Hornád Gorge, with a breathtaking view on the canyon, the two mountains separated by them, and the High Tatras beyond the Spiš Mountains. We recover from the fatigues of the tour with sightseeing and lunch in Levoča (World Heritage site). On the way there, we stop at the Gothic church of Vítkovce, to see the 14th-century fresco cycle of St. Ladislas. In the afternoon we also stop at the Gothic churches and triptychs of Dravce and Spišský Štvrtok. Our accommodation on this and the next two nights will be on the charming Renaissance main square of Spišská Sobota, where we also look around, and in the main church we visit the second most beautiful Gothic triptych of Spiš.


Sunday, 28 August. Tatranská Lomnica – Poprad – Veľká Lomnica – Kežmarok – Hrabušice



Most luckily, this is the only Sunday of the month, when the Poprad – Tatra tram runs with century-old wagons. We book tickets well in advance (a group can have a separate wagon), and drive up to Tatranská Lomnica, the former popular holiday resort of the aristocracy and high bourgeoisie of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. We will come back to Poprad just in time to see the unique frescoes of the Romanesque St. Egidius church, open only for the midday Mass. After lunch, we go to Veľká Lomnica, where we see another fresco cycle of St. Ladislas, and a recently discovered Last Judgement fresco, and from there to the Renaissance town of Kežmarok. We look around in the town, visit the Thököly castle, the Gothic Holy Cross church, and the Lutheran wooden church (World Heritage site). And in order not to be left without a beautiful triptych on this day either, on the way back we will stop at the medieval church of Hrabušice.


Monday, 29 August. Podolín – Stará Ľubovňa – Red Monastery – Dunajec Gorge – Niedzica Castle



We go up to the Polish border, and even beyond. Along the way we stop in Podolín, at the house of the great Art Nouveau author Gyula Krúdy, and we climb up to the abandoned Jewish cemetery, from where we have a magnificent panorama on the city and the northern Carpathians. In Stará Ľubovňa we go up to the castle, and visit the open air museum of wooden architecture next to it. On the Polish border, at the Red Monastery we will sail on timber-raft through the gorge of the border river Dunajec, and we will go over to the neighbor, the castle of Niedzica towering on the shores of Lake Czorsztyński.


Tuesday, 30 August. Bardejov – Prešov – Budapest



Continuing the route of the previous day, we reach Bardejov, which is not a part of Spiš, but as it is the most important Gothic town of the area, we would have no complete picture of the region without visiting it. We look around on the main square, and visit the wonderful triptych ensemble of the St. Egidius church. We go to see the two synagogues, which were saved from destruction by the diligence of an enthusiastic local engineer, Uncle Cyril, “the only Lutheran Jew”, as he calls himself. We visit the museum of Rusyn icons, the most beautiful collection of this charming rustic version of icon painting. After lunch, we start back to Budapest.


A shtetl tour in Galicia

Galícian Jewish family, 1930’s

In Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed book and movie Everything is illuminated, a small Odessa travel agency, a family-run company operating with one trabant undertakes the task of leading American Jews, searching for their Galician roots, to the former shtetls of their grandparents. The trabant, starting at the Lviv train station, soon turns off the highway onto a dirt road. From then on, a series of absurd misadventures follow one another until we reach the place where everything is illuminated.

The movie (directed by Liev Schreiber, 2005, see here) has always been a paradigm for the travels of río Wang, during which we leave behind the beaten path and seek encounters with the marvels of the East, the hidden small towns, the forgotten stories. But this is the first time we organize a journey in the same region where the film takes place, the former Jewish shtetls of the Ukraine. For many years we have roamed about this region, many times we have written about it, and we have organized a few tours to its western half, Polish Galicia. Now it is time to open up the Jewish world of Eastern Galicia, the “deep Galicia”, the birthplace of Joseph Roth, Bruno Schulz, Agnon and Paul Celan. Perhaps for the first time ever in this still recently isolated and less known country.

The film also has something more to teach. Due to our cultural conventions, we distinguish between sublime and tragic ruins. We consider the vanishing sites of past life either as messengers of a rich history, or of a tragedy. At the sight of the former, like Roman monuments, we think about the life that once took place there. At the latter, of the tragedy that brought an end to this life. The surviving relics of Eastern European Jewish shtetls, the cemeteries, the synagogues, the Jewish streets are clearly allotted in the latter group. Nevertheless, much more important than their destruction is the life which thrived here for centuries, which lives on in many forms, of which we are heirs. And which can be revived. Just as the film’s Trachimbrod is not only the stone erected in place of the destroyed shtetl, but also the house where all its memories are collected and where the former life vividly lives on. By traveling around the shtetls of Eastern Galicia, we also want to make this life visible again.

Ukraine is a large country, almost inconceivably large to us. The settlements are far apart, we will travel long hours in the gently rolling landscape, between endless wheat fields and forests, and along large rivers, just like in the film. This journey from shtetl to shtetl is part of the experiencing. It helps to understand the importance the small inhabited places in an uninhabited region, the weight of the distances, which the merchant and the traveler had to cover, when carrying wood from Verkhovina to Czernowitz or wine from Tokaj to Bolechów. Along the way, we will only stop at some prominent places, where enough sights have been preserved. However, all along the journey we will also hear stories about the other shtetls, where there is nothing to see any more, but which once were living links in the large net of Jewish settlements stretching from Pskov to Sighetu Marmației.

The tour lasts from 20 to 26 August, Saturday to Thursady. The participation fee is 400 euro, which includes accommodation (the half of a double room, with breakfast), the bus and the guide. You can register at wang@studiolum.com.


Paul Cantelon: Odessa Medley The travel motif of the movie Az Everything is illuminated (2005)


Day 1. Budapest – Yasinia



In the afternoon we arrive to Yasinia, the ancient border of the Hungarian Kingdom, in whose railway station in July and August 1941, seventy-five years ago, the Hungarian authorities handed over twenty thousand “stateless” Jews to the German authorities in the frames of an immigration procedure. Along the way, we will visit the still working synagogue of Hust, will have at the center of Europe, and will travel along the Beregovo-Yasinia railway line, which has been dead for half a century. That day or the next morning we will walk up in the hills abov the town, to the Jewish cemetery.

“Kőrösmező [Yasinia]. Rafter’s prayer on the arrival of dam water”, from here

Day 2. Yasinia – Czernowitz



After crossing the Yablonka Pass, we travel through Verkhovina, the land of the Hutsuls, whose central town, Kolomea was once a major city of the Galician Jews. At the border between Galicia and Bukovina, we stop at the beautiful cemeteries of Kuty and Vizhnitsa – important Hasidic communities –, and then reach Czernowitz, the “Jerusalem along the Prut”, the most Jewish city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We walk aroun the city, and go out to Sadagóra, to the palace of the Tsaddik of Ruzhin.

“Reb Burech drinks toast” on the stage of the Jewish theater of Czernowitz, from here

Day 3. Czernowitz – Tarnopol



Along a winding road, through many important shtetls we reach Tarnopol, the other center of the Galician Jews. We stop, among others, in Czortków, the cradle of the Hasidim of Teleki tér in Budapest, in Buczacz, the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Agnon, and the Freud family, in Halich, with a still existing Galician Karaite population, and in Rohatyn, the birthplace of the wife of Great Suleiman, Roxana.

Klezmer musicians of Rohatyn, mainly the Faust family, 1912

Day 4. Tarnopol – Lemberg



We travel to the north, parallel to the eastern border of Galicia and the Monarchy. We stop in Brody, one of the most important trading cities and the Galician center of Jewish Enlightenment, from where Joseph Roth and the Bródy family of important Hungarian writers come. Here we turn back to the west, in the direction of Lemberg. In addition to the shtetls, we visit Podkamień, one of the most important Polish pilgrimage monasteries, and to the royal castle of Olesko as well. In the afternoon we have a walk in the center of Lemberg.

The border of the Monarchy and Russia at Brody, 1910

Day 5. Lemberg

A full-day sightseeing in Lemberg: Jewish and Armenian neighborhoods, Renaissance main square, Art Nouveau suburb, the “Krakauer Vorstadt”, the Jewish slum. This day begins the Lviv summer music festival, which previously was a Klezmer festival, but from this year is extended into a world music festival.

On the market of Lemberg, 1910

Day 6. Lemberg – Budapest



Along the way home, we stop in Drohobycz, Bruno Schulz’s birthplace, which at the turn of the century became a beautiful Art Nouveau small town from the wealth of the Galician oil fields, as well as in Bolechów, the Galician centre of Tokaj wine trade. Here, in the beautiful Hasidic cemetery lays Rabbi Ber Dov of Bolechów, who in the 18th century was one of the most important links between the Jews of Galicia and Hungary. Our Galician shtetl tour ends with the visit of his grave.

Hasidic rabbi and his followers in the Carlsbad spa, 1930’s

Wang tours till the end of the year


The tours of río Wang in the first half of the year have successfully ended. We went to Prague and Sardinia, Lemberg and Kurdistan, Georgia and Armenia. Now we are in full swing to prepare the tours of the second half of the year, to no less exotic places. In our annual program we have written about all future journeys, but we will soon publish detailed cost and itinerary plans about each of them. If you want to immediately receive news about them, sign up for our newsletter at wang@studiolum.com!


Between 20-25 August we will visit the former Jewish shtetls of Eastern Galicia, from Czernowitz through Brody to Lemberg. We have just traveled along the route and fixed the accommodations. The exact travel plan and expenses will be published on 15 July.

Between 26 and 30 August we organize a tour to the medieval towns of Spíš/Zips/Szepesség in Northeastern Slovakia, the most beautiful Gothic monuments of medieval Hungary. Here, we just finish the organization, and the exact cost and travel plan is expected at 17 July.

The memorial tour of the literary bestseller Traveler and Moonlight through Umbria and Toscana had so many fans, that we have to organize it in two rounds. The first tour in 2-8 September will be repeated on 9-15 September. We’re going out there to coordinate hotels, and we will publish the cost and travel plan on 25 July.

In October, we organize three consecutive tours to Iran. The first one, from 30 September to 7 October, is a small photo tour to the evergreen mountains of Gilan, on the shore of the Kaspian See, and of Northern Azerbaijan, “the Iranian Switzerland”, the land of the Talish and Shahshavan nomads. The second one, between 8 and 15 October, in the week of Iran’s greatest feast Ashura, leads us through the historical cities of Iran, from Kashan through Isfahan, Yazd, Persepolis and Shiraz, to Tehran. The third one, between 16 and 23 October, travels through the breathtakingly beautiful Iranian desert, the many-thousand-year-old towns fed by the underground canal system, from Kashan down to Kerman. The three tours complement and closely follow each other, so that anyone could participate in two or three of them, as many of you had notified us. We go out to organize the hotels and transport in early August, and we will publish the detailed cost plan and roadmap until 15 August.

In our last tour, from 2 to 6 November, we will visit the historical cities of Southern Czechia. The route will follow the one we did in 2014, our accommodations also will be in the same places, we just have to find out the possible price changes. On the basis of that, we will publish the exact cost plan and roadmap until 15 August.

Many of you have asked us to lead again a tour to Maramureș, which did not figure in this year’s plan. For this, the period between 29 October and 1 November seems to be the best, the period of the traditional “lighting”, when the mountain take on their beautiful autumn colors, and the village cemeteries shine in the light of thousand of candles. At this time, the traveler is called in everywhere to drink a glass of plum brandy in memory of the deceased ones.

We ask your readers, that if you have already registered for a trip, please confirm it, and if you have not yet, then tell us about your intention to participate in it until the end of this week, 17 July, at wang@studiolum.com, so we could see how many participants to expect for which tours. This is still a “no liability” registration. Only after we publish a tour with a detailed route and exact cost plan, will we ask for final and irrevocable registrations.


Blood

Vitkovce / Witkensdorf / Vitfalva, Spíš / Zips / Szepesség, Slovakia