Kraków, Wisconsin, Ukraine, Greece and the Danube!

The Year in Travel

The first big travel adventure was a little over a month (February/March) in Kraków updating a guidebook for Lonely Planet. It's one of my favorite cities anywhere and one of the first cities in Central Europe I ever spent real time in. This is Kraków's glorious main square on a sunny February afternoon. Photo by Mark Baker.
My research trip to Kraków unfortunately coincided with Valentine's Day, which is one of hardest days/evenings of the year to be a travel writer in a foreign city (for one thing, it's impossible to book a table for one in a restaurant). Somehow crossing the red-lit Bernatek Footbridge walking home that evening cheered me up! Photo by Mark Baker.
My Airbnb in Kraków was located in the neighborhood of Podgórze, which became infamous during World War II as home to the city's Nazi-built wartime Jewish ghetto. Fragments of the former ghetto survive to this day. This piece of the old wall is located incongruously in a children's playground. Photo by Mark Baker.
One of the highlights of my trip to Kraków was the chance to visit the former apartment of Nobel-prize winning poet Czesław Miłosz. Though he's been gone now for many years, the apartment looked like he'd just stepped out to buy some groceries. Photo by Mark Baker.
After Poland, it was off to the whimsical absurdity of rural Wisconsin as part of a research trip to the upper Midwest. Here are some pink flamingos from the northern town of Bayfield, on the shores of Lake Superior. Photo by Mark Baker.
This photo shows off some of the beauty of rural Wisconsin, somewhere in Green County, near the capital of Madison. I took this photo in April, just as it was finally starting to warm up a little. Photo by Mark Baker.
That April/May research trip for Lonely Planet marked a lot of 'firsts' for me: First time working as a travel writer in the United States, and first time in Minneapolis -- a city I could easily live in. Part of researching a guide in Minnesota is following in the footsteps of local badboy gone famous, Bob Dylan. Photo by Mark Baker.
With an Airbnb rental you never really know what you're going to get. Here in Minneapolis, the owner of the apartment I was renting for the week told me (as she was handing me the keys): 'Are you a fan of the band The Replacements? You know, the drummer committed suicide in here.' Hey thanks for the info! Photo by Mark Baker.
After returning from the U.S., the first order of business was to fly down to Budapest to hop a cruise ship headed to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the cruise got off to a tragic start when a neighboring cruise liner (just a few meters away) was involved in an accident that cost around 30 lives. This was easily the darkest travel moment of 2019. Photo courtesy of Czech Television.
That same cruise trip from Budapest to Amsterdam ended in farce when I became an impromptu circus performer, here at a castle in Western Germany, near Koblenz. Photo by Mark Baker.
After returning (and recovering) from the river cruise, I embarked on a 30-something day road trip through Central and Eastern Europe. This was purely a pleasure trip, and one of the first stops along the way entailed a nostalgic return visit to the High Tatras in Slovakia. There was a time when I'd come here every year to celebrate my birthday, but I hadn't been back in years. Photo by Mark Baker.
During that same road trip, I finally got to the hot, hot Ukrainian city of Lviv (and got that Ukrainian travel monkey off my back). Lviv feels like a piece of surviving Kraków from the 1990s -- and a great city to kick around in. Photo by Mark Baker.
After Lviv, one of the highlights of my trip to Ukraine was to see the city of Chernivtsi/Czernowitz. The former Austro-Hungarian Empire outpost had been on my bucket list for years. Here is a photo of the city's remarkable university, which was actually designed by Prague architect Josef Hlávka. Photo by Mark Baker.
One of the secret destinations of that long Central and Eastern European road trip was to eventually make my way down to Greece to visit my friends Colin and Deborah, who have a house on the beautiful island of Alonnisos. This is a photo from one of our beach outings. Photo by Mark Baker.
On the drive home from Greece, I detoured slightly toward the west to travel through North Macedonia and Serbia. This is central Skopje, which has so many statues and plastic façades strewn out all over the place that it looks like the closing down sale at a garden center. Photo by Mark Baker.
My 'big city' trip in 2019 turned out to be London, where I traveled in November to pilot a masterclass on travel writing for Lonely Planet. It was great to meet budding young writers and hang out with some old friends and colleagues. Photo credit: Lucy Smith.
The last long road trip of the year (this was a rail trip, actually) took me through some familiar territory: the pretty towns and cities of southern Bohemia in the Czech Republic. This is the old town hall of the former Hussite stronghold of Tábor. Photo by Mark Baker.
After Tábor, I hopped the train further south to the Czech town of České Budějovice. My trip happened to coincide with the opening of the Christmas market there, and the town looked great bathed in pink, green and blue lighting. Photo by Mark Baker.
From České Budějovice, it was an easy hour-long bus ride to the serene southern Czech city of Třeboň. The town is best known best for its fish ponds, like the one here in the photo. Photo by Mark Baker.
I visited Český Krumlov twice in 2019, the first trip was part of that southern Bohemian research trip for Lonely Planet in November. I arrived just in time to catch the opening of the town's tiny, pretty Christmas market. Photo by Mark Baker.
The Scenic Amber river cruise liner was my home for eight days in December while working for National Geographic on a Christmas markets cruise from Budapest (here) to Nuremberg. Photo by Mark Baker.
A lonely bench overlooking the Chain Bridge in Budapest at the start of our National Geographic-Scenic Christmas markets cruise in December. Thankfully this time, our trip to Budapest happened without incident. Photo by Mark Baker.
I'll always have a soft spot for Vienna, a city I spent five years of my life in. This is a typical shot of a horse-drawn carriage as it makes its way through the Hofburg. Vienna was one of the stops along our Christmas markets cruise in December. Photo by Mark Baker.
My second visit to Český Krumlov was part of an excursion along the Christmas markets river cruise. We bused in from somewhere near Passau. This is the view down to the town center from the castle on a blissfully quiet day in December. Photo by Mark Baker.

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About the author

Mark Baker

I’m an independent journalist and travel writer who’s lived in Central Europe for more than two decades. I love the history, literature, culture, and mystery of this often-overlooked corner of Europe, and I make my living writing articles and guidebooks about the region. Much of what I write eventually finds its way into commercial print or digital outlets, but a lot of it does not.

That's my aim with this travel website: to find a space for stories and experiences that fall outside the publishing mainstream.

You’ll find a mix of stories here. Some will be familiar “what to see and do” travel articles on particular destinations. Others will be tales of “adventure” (usually with a comic twist) from life on the road. I'll also share tips about living in my adopted hometown of Prague and stories from a more-distant (but seemingly ever-present) past, when Central Europe was the “Eastern bloc” and I was a full-time journalist trying my best to cover it. I hope you enjoy.

Tales of Travel & Adventure in Central Europe
Mark Baker