A Swiss vacation spot, Locarno (pop. 48,000) gets over 2200 hours of sunlight per year more than anywhere else in Switzerland. For centuries, visitors have journeyed here solely to see the orange-yellow Church of Madonna del Sasso (Madonna of the Rock), founded in 1487. A 20min. walk up the smooth stones of the Via al Sasso leads to the top, passing life-size wooden niche statues along the way. Hundreds of heart-shaped medallions on the church walls commemorate acts of Mary’s intervention in the lives of worshipers who have journeyed here. (Grounds open 6:30am-7pm.) Each August (Aug. 4-14, 2004), Locarno swells with pilgrims of a different sort; its world-famous film festival draws 150,000 movie-lovers.
Trains run from P. Stazione to: Lucerne (2!2hr. every 30min. 6am-9pm, 54SFr); Lugano (50min. every 30min. 5:30am-midnight, 17SFr); and Milan via Bellinzona (2hr. every hr. 5am-9:25pm, 34SFr). The tourist office, on P. Grande in the Kursaal (casino), makes hotel reservations. (791 00 91. Open M-F 9am-6pm, Sa 10am-6pm, Su 2:30-6pm.) To reach Pensione Citta Vecchla , Via Toretta 13, turn right onto Via Toretta from P. Grande, (s 751 45 54. Breakfast included. Reception daily 8am-9pm. Check-in l-6pm. Dorms 29-37SFr; doubles 70-80SFr; triples 120SFr.) The rooms of Garni Sempione , Via Rusca 6, are set around an enclosed courtyard. To reach the hotel, walk to the end of the P. Grande, turn right onto Via della Motta, and take the left fork onto Via Rusca. (s751 30 64. Breakfast included. Reception 8am-9pm. Singles 60SFr, with shower 65SFr; doubles 110120SFr; triples 150 170SFr; quads 160SFr. AmExDCMCV.) Left of the station, Ristorante Manora , Via della Stazione 1, is good, cheap, self-service dining. Salad bar 4.50-10SFr. Pasta buffet 8.50-10SFr. Meat Menus 10.50-16.50SFr. Open Nov.-Feb. M-Sa 8am-9pm, Su 8am-9pm; Mar.-Oct. M-Sa 8am-10pm, Su 8am-9m. Get groceries at the Aperto in the station. (Open daily 6am-10pm.) Postal Code: CH-6600.
During the Cold War, Westerners imposed the name Eastern Europe on the Soviet satellites east of the Berlin Wall. The title has always been somewhat of a misnomer, capturing a political rather than geographical reality: Vienna lies farther east than Prague; Croatia sprawls along the Mediterranean; the geometric center of the European continent is in Lithuania; and most of Russia is, quite frankly, in Asia. To understand the remarkable complexity of Eastern Europe is to imagine a map of the region a little over a decade ago: In 1989, there were a total of seven countries behind the Iron Curtain; today, that same area is comprised of 19 independent states. In that time, the region has undergone an astounding political and cultural transformation.
With the exception of the tumultuous Balkans, the former Soviet satellites are progressing, with varying degrees of success, toward democracy and a market economy. In March 1999, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary joined NATO. May 2002 saw the ironic formation of tl\e NATO-Russia Council, a strategic alliance between Russia and the organization originally established as a military alliance against Russia. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia have been invited to join NATO and are expected to become full members by May 2004. That same month, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia are slated to join the European Union (EU). Bulgaria and Romania are expected to become members in 2007.
The region has also recently become the darling of budget travelers. Magnificent cities, pristine national parks, and ridiculously cheap beer lure backpackers seeking bargains and adventure. Prague and Budapest in particular have exploded onto the scene as destinations rivalling the great capitals of Western Europe, while the Dalmatian Coast attracts travelers with azure waters and medieval towns. If Eastern Europe intrigues you further, pick up a copy of Let’s Go: Europe 2004 or Let’s Go: Eastern Europe 2004.
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