Eastern Europe has experienced more change in the last generation than any other corner of Europe. With war-era grandpas now gone, across the former Warsaw Pact zone new museums and memorials deal candidly with the dark side of communism - and fascism before that. Here's the latest:

In Prague, the National Museum on Wenceslas Square is wrapping up a long renovation. By mid-2015, visitors should be able to see its interior, decorated in the Czech Revival style that heralded the 19th-century rebirth of the Czech nation.

Direct trains from Prague to Vienna are now operated by RailJet (Austrian high-speed service), which makes the journey in just over four hours, a half-hour faster than the previous EuroCity service.

It was huge news when Poland's own John Paul II was canonized as a Catholic saint, putting construction at sites dedicated to the pope into full swing. In Krakow, construction is ongoing at the new St. John Paul II Center, which will have a sanctuary and a museum. In Wadowice, about an hour outside Krakow, John Paul II's family home has been renovated and turned into a museum.

In Warsaw, the Museum of Polish Jews recently opened its permanent collection, showcasing a thousand years of Jewish history in Poland through multimedia displays, paintings, and artifacts. A new airport train conveniently zips travelers downtown, and an east–west Metro line will open this year. The Sródmiescie ("Downtown") district has emerged as the city's hipster dining mecca.

Gdansk's new European Solidarity Center, in a rusted-metal building at the entrance to the shipyards where Lech Walesa's 1980 strikes took place, is one of Europe's best places to learn about the end of communism. The shipyards are undergoing a multiyear redevelopment into a "New City" residential and commerce zone - though key Solidarity landmarks are unaffected.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio.

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