Prague, Budapest, Vienna, & Bratislava 2012
August 8 – PRAGUE
Yesterday, for 31 euro each, we flew with Easy Jet from Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Prague, however, we had to add another 25 euro each for our luggage, but still a great price tag. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, an extraordinary city with a museum of architecture up and down every street. Main attractions are the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge (pictured beside taken from our hotel room), Old Town Square and the Astronomical clock. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The Charles Bridge is steeped in legend and forms a connection between the Old Town and the Prague Castle, constructed in the 14th century. We carefully negotiated our way through the crowd holding tightly to our wallet and purse because we’re told, “Pick pockets are ramped”.
This is the heart of Prague, choker-block full of sights and sounds. The castle below, and on the other side of the square is the astronomical clock and St. Nicholas' church. We arrived just before noon, when the clock performs delightful chimes and tricks, as well, a trumpet player rings out over the city from the top of the tower.
August 11 – CND $100 is worth CZK 2000, which translates into a good exchange rate in our favour. In the morning, we pulled back the curtain and took in the city below (our hotel is the yellow building with the red circle facing the river). The entire street was blocked off by military and police as a flood preventative practice was taking place. In 2002, the river over flowed the banks and flooded the Old Town, all the buildings and streets just behind our hotel.
Music pulses through the streets and out of buildings and churches. We've attended two concerts while here, both in Catholic churches. The classical music is extraordinary, with organs, sopranos, strings, and horns. Click on the music (left) and enjoy Mozart. Prague was his favourite city.
Curiously, Prague has some of the most beautiful churches and the Czech Republic has been named one of the least religious countries in the world.
The locks above are fixed to the fence over the river on Mala Street in Lesser Town. Lovers put a lock on the fence and throw away the key.
We rode the train south to Budejovic, a three-hour trip there and three hours back, home of Budweiser beer. It's also a much smaller version of Prague and a bit of a break from the hordes of people.
August 13 – BUDAPEST
Six hours by train from Prague, we arrived in Budapest. Refreshed, we disembarked along with our two suitcases and drag-behind backpacks (all of which we've been hauling around and living out of for the last two months). Seeking a taxi to take us to our hotel just 1 1/5 KM from the station and knowing the fare should be 2000 - 2500 HUF, (CND$8 - $10), we expected to be ripped off, since we read that the mafia control all the cabs in Budapest. Sure enough, the moment we stepped off the train we were circled by taxi drivers. Con asked, "How much to the Corinth Hotel?"
They responded, “5000HUF.” CND$23! We shook our heads, and attempted to walk through their circle which had become tighter. They used body language intimidation to get us to accept. We both said in unison, "No thanks," Con added, "we'll take the transit," and shouldered through the circle, me following, and we made a dangerous dart across the busy road to the underground subway. Con had researched how to get to the hotel by transit as a back up. We disappeared below ground, into a subway, clambering off and up to daylight at the next stop, hauled the bags onto the tram for two stops, and viola, our gorgeous hotel was in view.
August 14 – OUR 8th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
Budapest is an awesome city, with layers and layers of history. The Austrian-Hungarians started to develop two cities: Buda and Pest in the 12th century with the help of the French, which is evident in their architecture. During the 14th century, the French built many palaces, still beautifully preserved in Buda.
We were invited to have a tour of our hotel, which intrigued us believing we'd learn how all the sheets and towels are washed and how the kitchen operates sort of thing. Instead, we had a fascinating tour led by a man about 70 years old, who has worked in the hotel since a young teenager. He hold the social and historic history of the city through the history he has lived through as it relates to the hotel. For instance, in WWII, when the city was under German occupancy, and there were blackouts everywhere, the hotel had its own generator and the place was lit up brightly at night. The Gestapo moved in and made it headquarters. That resulted in the Russians coming in at the end of the war and nearly demolishing the hotel. It was rebuilt again. During the Hungarian Revolution, when the people tried to free themselves from communism (which failed) the revolutionaries used the hotel as headquarters. Once again, the hotel was nearly flattened, and one wing burned. It was rebuilt again, after Hungary was freed from communism, and beautifully restored to its original grandeur, but modernized inside. The world's greatest celebrities have stayed here and still do. He shared the quirky requests from people like Pink. He told the stories with animation making the six of us on tour totally entertained and given new insight into Budapest's history.
August 15 -- Another full day on foot in Budapest.
We toured the House of Terror where in 1944, the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party headquarters, (a pro-Nazi socialist party) tortured and murdered ten to fifteen thousand Hungarians, mostly Jews. The shoes pictured are a permanent memorial along the Danube promenade remembering the thousands of Jews murdered. Many were ordered to take off their shoes, and then were shot falling into the cold Danube River.
The Danube divides Budapest into half, Buda across the water and Pest. We walked back through Pest to the Opera House for a tour and a mini concert in the afternoon.
The Budapest Opera House; open in 1894
August 20 – VIENNA
Arriving in Vienna, Austria by train four days ago, we wasted no time setting out on foot to explore the culturally rich and architecturally magnificent city. Vienne is the capital of Austria, "The City of Dreams" birthplace of Sigmund Freud, and known as "The City of Music".
Our hotel, unlike the ornate perfectly restored buildings built in the 1800s that surround us, is an ultra-modern building designed by the latest artsy French architects. Our room has two colours, grey and black, with floor to ceiling windows on two walls. The floor, walls, ceiling, window treatments, bathtub, sink, sheets, duvet cover are all the same shade of grey, and it’s all in one big room.
Con says, "I don't know if I'm in bed or the bathtub." We can't distinguish between walls and cupboards. We needed to close up the window treatments for night, because other large buildings were right beside. A staff member had to come to the room to show us how to close one window covering that embarrassingly baffled us as we couldn’t figure it out.
“Oh,” she assured us, “no matter day or night, no one can see into the rooms.”
We're on the 8th floor; Con took this picture the next day to test it! You be the judge. Con said, “Stand at the window, and if I can see you, I’ll pat my head. I stood there, and he didn’t pat his head, so I continued to stand while he took photos thinking all the while what a fantastic new-age window. Ha!
Images of Vienna: Painting by Jan Vermeer in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
We purchased expensive tickets (discounted because we were buying them half-way through the performance) to the Lipizzaner Horse show. They are a certain breed of horse that performs classical stylized jumps and prancing. For Con and me, not being “horsey” people it was boring and we were happy to have only had to watch half the show.
Purchasing tickets for the Danube catamaran, "Twin City Catamaran" we moved along the river from Vienne to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The view of the Bratislava, Slovakia Castle was taken from our window aboard the catamaran. It flew down the river at 50 KMP.
Two days ago, the Twin City Cat rammed into a sand dune! "It's never lost the computerized power before," the captain said to the newspapers. A few people were taken to the hospital, but it could have been a lot worse.
The cost of living in Slovakia is pretty darn good based on the Big Mac Theory. Every country we visit, we check the price of a Big Mac.
You can get two Big Mac's, four cheese burgers, and four large fries for 10,90 euro's. That's about $13.50 Canadian.