Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 blog 10

     Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 blog 10

Stop 9, our final stop.

Stop 13, our final stop.

Super highway we traveled on to Budapest

Super highway we traveled on to Budapest

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Two hours after leaving Gyor we arrive in Budapest a huge city bustling with traffic, full of people, and with a haze of smog drifting above the skyscrapers of the city. Budapest is cut in half with Buda situated on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the east bank of the mighty river. Waessik winds through the busy streets of Budapest and turns down a narrow street where our hotel is situated. There are cars parallel parked on both sides of the street which hardly gives our big bus room to squeeze through. A problem arises when to our right a small sedan hasn’t parked properly and is sticking out into the street a few inches and our bus needs every inch it can get to continue down the street. Waessik eases up to the poorly parked car and shakes his head at our demise. Waessik gets out of the bus and tries to push in the rearview mirror on the car to our left hoping this maneuver will give him a much-needed extra inch or two. Unfortunately, the mirror is fixed so our driver’s common sense idea doesn’t work. Waessik climbs back into the bus and continues to slowly ease the bus forward. I stare open-mouthed at the parked car to our left, certain that we are going to scrape if not pull the rearview mirror off. Ms. D can’t even bear to watch and ducks down in her seat. When no screeching of metal on metal is heard and we safely pass through the bottleneck, a collective sigh followed by nervous laughter rolls through the bus. Another round of applause please for our superb bus driver!

Our spacious room

Our spacious room

We unload in front of the K+K Hotel Opera, enter the hotel, and collect our electronic key and go to find our assigned rooms. Paul, me, and three other members of our group are in one corridor having problems in getting the door to our rooms open. We finally figure out that the handle we are trying to turn to open the door is only there for looks! Boy, do we all feel silly after tugging mightily on a handle that doesn’t move.  When our group meets back in the lobby everyone admits that they too tried to open the door using the fake door handle instead of the little knob below it. Weird.

A glimpse of the interior of the opera house.

A glimpse of the interior of the opera house.

Tonight, we walk to a restaurant that is several blocks from our hotel for dinner. On the way, we step into the Opera house that is situated near our hotel, hence the name K+K hotel Opera I suppose. We can only stand in the foyer of what is considered one of the best Opera houses in the world, to admire a small portion of the beautiful interior because if you want a full tour you must pay for that. As we return to the street we hear a motorcycle engine revved up to a whine and soon the cyclist appears imitating Evil Knievel as he travels by us and beyond doing a spectacular wheelie. I must admit my mouth fell open in admiration at the driver’s stunt :).

We reach the restaurant and just before entering there are a few of us snapping photos. Across the street are several men, they have had a bit too much to drink I would guess, who make snide remarks about we tourists and our picture taking. We ignore them but I must say this is the first encounter we have had on our trip of people deliberately being rude and mouthy. Milan has tables reserved for us of course, and we settle into our chairs. The restaurant is busy and noisy but the food we are served soon makes us forget this. The wait staff serves us chicken which is placed on top of what our waiter calls potato stew. We have had wonderful food on this trip in my opinion but the potato dish tonight is at the top of the list.

Despite the damaged walls, people still put flowers in the windows

Despite the damaged walls, people still put flowers in the windows

When we have finished eating, Milan leads us through a part of the city which was once the Old Jewish Quarter which has now been converted to bars and restaurants. The area is full of people, mostly young folks, and it is still early. I can’t imagine what the crowd will be like later this evening. Milan points out an entrance to a popular roof top bar and says it has a great view of Budapest. Many of our group expresses an interest in checking it out but Paul and I aren’t one of them. Going to a crowded, loud, smoky bar just doesn’t appeal to us. We all return to the hotel, where Paul and I wish the others fun tonight, and then we retire to our room.

One of the many bars in the old Jewish Quarter

One of the many bars in the old Jewish Quarter

We have a leisurely start to the day as we don’t leave the hotel until nearly nine o’clock. Milan takes us to the metro and reiterates the importance of validating than keeping our tickets until we leave the underground system. I had written in my first blog that the metro escalator in Prague was so fast that it was difficult to get on and off. Actually, I got mixed up on the metros, as it is the old yellow line, (built in 1896), in Budapest that has the fast escalator and was not situated so deep under the ground. When we exit the old metro, we go deeper beneath the earth to catch a ride on the newer metro that takes us to our destination.

Taking the escalator down to the metro, Paul's photo

Taking the escalator down to the metro, Paul’s photo

Our guide in front of the incredible Parliament

Our guide in front of the incredible Parliament

Memorial to the 1956 victims shot in this square

Memorial to the 1956 victims shot in this square

Emerging above ground again, Milan takes us to the Parliament building, (this building is huge and is touted as the 3rd largest in the world), to meet our local guide for the morning. Milan introduces us to the elderly gentleman who then leads us to wooden benches in front of the beautiful Parliament. Once our group is sitting down we listen to our guide relate history about Hungary, particularly the 1956 revolution. This man, I forget his name, was eleven years old when the Hungarians, led by workers and students, revolted against the Russians who occupied Hungary in a fight for the country’s freedom. It was in this very square where peaceful protesters were fired upon by the government which killed several people and wounded many others. This incident was what escalated the revolt of 1956.  I can’t relate the history of the short-lived revolution without writing pages about it. To put it very simply the Hungarian people amazingly had success against the Russians for a few days but then the Russians brought in the big guns so to speak and the Hungarian people were crushed, many of the revolutionists fleeing to Austria to save themselves. A great book to read about this incredible story of ordinary people going up against a military giant is James Michener’s nonfiction book called “The Bridge at Andau”.

A different view of the Parliament building, I never could get the entire building in my camera frame!

A different view of the Parliament building, I never could get the entire building in my camera frame!

President Reagan out for a stroll, Paul's photo

President Reagan out for a stroll, Paul’s photo

Our guide takes us to Freedom square where a larger than life statue of Ronald Reagan stands looking as though he is out for a stroll. President Reagan is much admired here for his efforts to fight communism. Our knowledgeable guide then leads us to the Danube Promenade to see what is known as the shoe memorial. Here there are dozens of pair of iron shoes lined up along the bank of the Danube River. The shoes are a memorial to the thousands of mostly Jewish people who the Arrowcross militants murdered from 1945-46. The victims were told to take their shoes off before the fascist group shot them, shoes being valuable at that time. The victims’ bodies then dropped into the Danube to be washed away. We have seen many, (too many), memorials to Jewish victims of the war on this trip but the shoe memorial is just gut-wrenching and the one that has a lingering effect on me.

Shoe memorial by Danube

Shoe memorial by Danube

A child's pair of shoes. How can you not be touched by this?

A child’s pair of shoes. How can you not be touched by this?

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We say good-bye to our local guide and proceed to take the metro back to the hotel where we load up on the bus. Waessik drives us to the small town of Szentendre where we eat lunch in a small restaurant which is packed with patrons due to its popularity. After the tasty lunch, we hike up to a high point in the village where we look out over the town and countryside. After Milan talks about the history of Szentendre and its historical buildings, some of our group returns to the shopping area while the rest of us follow Milan to take a closer look at the beautiful buildings. We meet back at the bus at 3:00 and return to the hotel. I might add that it is really hot today!

Beautiful church in Szentendre

Beautiful church in Szentendre

What a unique building

What a unique building

There is a Jewish festival taking place nearly in front of our hotel so Paul, Jennifer and I listen to a young woman sing a couple of songs. Her voice is beautiful but it is so hot we retire to the comfort of our air- conditioned rooms! The three of us meet in the lobby at six o’clock and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, having only eaten a yummy quinoa salad, but when we pass an ice cream stand on our way back to the hotel we all cave into the temptation. Our will power is pathetic!

Woman singing at festival taking place by our hotel

Woman singing at festival taking place by our hotel

Our group meets in the lobby at 8:00 tonight as we are going for an evening boat ride on the Danube. Milan tells us that he wants to make an unscheduled stop before catching our boat since we have plenty of time before the boat casts off. We get off the bus and join other people walking up Gellert Hill. We reach the first of many points on our uphill march where we stop to look over Budapest. The city is lit up like a Christmas tree and the Danube is sparkling due to the lights reflecting in the water. Our group exclaims with delight at the stunning view as we take photos of the scene below us. Milan who I think is tickled with our reaction to this impromptu stop, leads us farther up Gellert Hill until we reach the summit. At the top of the hill there is a statue of a woman holding a palm leaf over her head which is called Liberation Monument. The monument is bathed in floodlights giving it an ethereal glow. After admiring the sculpture for a time, Milan informs us we must head back to the bus. On our descent, we can’t help but stop now and then to soak in the sight of glittering Budapest.

Budapest at night from Gellert Hill

Budapest at night from Gellert Hill

Taking photos of Liberation Monument

Taking photos of Liberation Monument

Liberation monument

Liberation monument

Waessik delivers us near the dock where we will board the ship for our cruise on the Danube. When we reach the steps that lead down to the mooring, Milan leaves us standing behind a large group of Russian tourists while he goes down to where the boats are docked. When Milan reappears, he climbs up a few steps and gestures for us to come on down. As we cut in front of the Russians some unintelligible words are pointed our way. Milan laughs when we have left the Russians behind and says “they don’t know that I can speak Russian”. Milan doesn’t tell us what the Russians said so I guess we probably don’t want to know :).

We assumed that we were sharing a boat with the group we jumped ahead of and this was why they were ticked off. To our great surprise, our group of fifteen has a boat all to ourselves. How wonderful (and expensive) is that! There are chairs set in the prow of the boat so we have an unobstructed view of the glorious sights along the banks of the Danube. Once we are settled into our chairs, the captain casts off and we are cruising down the Danube. Milan disappears into the cabin behind us and becomes our moderator for the cruise, telling us about the sites that we are floating by.

Example of what we were treated to on our cruise on the Danube

Example of the beautiful views we were treated to on our cruise on the Danube, Liberation monument gracing the horizon

I am having a hard time getting a decent photo and I become somewhat obsessed and whiny about my inability to capture the beauty of the buildings that are awash in lights. Jennifer suggests that I just sit back and enjoy the scenic ride and I realize that I should take her advice! I still try to take some photos, particularly when we glide by the extraordinary Parliament building, but I do sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of this cruise.

Oh my word, the Parliament is shining so brightly that there are a flock of seagulls circling above the vibrant building, the poor birds must think the sun is coming up.  At some point on our tour, Paul quips that Hungary could supply the whole country with power for a month with the energy it takes to light up the buildings along the Danube for one night. Hmm, he could be right but boy is all that “wasted” energy a feast for the eyes.

The terrific Danube cruise comes to an end and we thank the captain before disembarking from the boat. On our way to the bus all of us express our gratitude to Milan for treating us to such an exhilarating evening. This was definitely a highlight, (among many), of our Jewels of Bohemia adventure. A very happy and satisfied group of people are delivered back to the hotel about ten o’clock.

Parliament building taken from a different angle

Parliament building

Paul and I are up early as he wants to use the hotel computers to print out our airplane tickets for our very early flight tomorrow. After Paul has our tickets in hand we go to breakfast. Soon after breakfast we leave for a city tour with our local guide, Helga. As we drive through Budapest, Helga points out various buildings and recites the history of them. Our blonde guide also remarks on how restoration is still ongoing in Budapest so it is possible to still find bullet holes in the facades of various buildings. We arrive in the parking lot adjacent to Hero’s Square and Helga snaps an order that we should try to be off the bus in two minutes. Whoa, I think our guide is channeling a past life as a drill sergeant. We do manage to get off the bus in the specified time and we march behind our guide, across the street onto the impressive Hero’s square.

The center monument in Hero's Square that Archangel Gabriel graces.

The center monument in Hero’s Square that Archangel Gabriel graces.

One "walls" housing Kings and important leaders of Hungary throughout their history

One “wall” housing Kings and important leaders of Hungary throughout their history

Helga

Helga

Helga maneuvers us near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier where we listen as she identifies the various people who are represented in the many statues here. The center sculpture is topped by the Archangel Gabriel and below him are representatives of the seven Magyar tribes that settled this part of Europe, all of them astride horses. Helga continues moving through Hungary’s history and at one point talks about the German occupation of Hungary. Oops, Milan has already discussed with our group how Hungary seems to be trying to rewrite their history by saying that Germany occupied them when in fact the two countries were allies. Our guide’s body language shows that this statement doesn’t set well with him but showing his class, he says nothing to refute Helga. Before Helga is finished speaking to us, we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the heat and there is a bit of grumbling about where we are standing. All the other groups are situated in the shade of the memorial walls that house the statues of various kings and prominent leaders of Hungary’s’ past. We are not quite sure why we didn’t join them in that shade. Once the history lesson is over, we are given time to peruse the solemn statues and take photos before returning to the bus.

A poor photo of St. Stephens Basillica

A poor photo of St. Stephens Basilica

Beautiful marble columns inside the Basillica

Beautiful marble columns inside the Basilica

From Hero’s Square, we venture on to St. Stephens Basilica for a tour of the enormous church. The Basilica is gorgeous with beautiful marble columns, stained glass windows, and of course stunning frescos on the ceiling. Helga escorts us to a room where we join a line of people waiting to see the hand of St. Stephens. Soon it is our turn to view the mummified hand which is contained in an ornate box. Helga gives the caretaker of the hand some money and he illuminates the box so we can look at the sacred hand of St. Stephen. Personally, I can’t make a hand out of the dark object that sits in the box but frankly I don’t really care because I find this a bit gruesome. However, St. Stephen is so admired by Hungarians that every year on the 20th of August, the hallowed hand is presented to the people via a parade in the city.

An example of the stained glass windows in the Basillica

An example of the stained glass windows in the Basilica

St. Stephen's hand is inside this ornate box.

St. Stephen’s hand is inside this ornate box. I can’t make it out at all

Our next stop on our tour with Helga is Castle Hill which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Helga informs us that the famous Castle Hill is still a residential area with many people living here despite being such a popular tourist destination. We follow Helga through the old town until we reach the Matthias Church where another statue of the renowned St. Stephen stands in front of nearby Fishermen’s Bastion. Helga fills us in on some more history about Castle Hill then we are given some free time. Before we break ranks Helga suggests we use the restrooms in the Hilton, but also adds that “you didn’t hear this from me”.

We stopped here to learn about the various types of paprika for sale

We stopped here to learn about the various types of paprika for sale

Matthias Church

Matthias Church

Once we are on our own Paul, Jennifer and I wander around in the heat admiring the fantastic buildings, esp. the 700-year-old Matthias Church, and enjoying the view from the Fishermen’s’ Bastion. Jennifer and I need a bathroom break but Paul decides to take a seat on a bench rather than walk down to the Hilton with us. What a relief when we walk into the lobby of the plush hotel and cold air rushes over us. Jennifer and I run into Mr. B and Ms. A who direct us to the restrooms. We encounter more of our group on the same mission as us who also heeded Helga’s advice. Jennifer and I decide to take a cue from Mr. B and Ms. A and we sink into a couch in the lobby and enjoy the cool air since we aren’t due at the bus pickup zone for a while. Paul probably is wondering where the heck we are! The two of us reluctantly leave the comfort of the Hilton and Paul is still sitting where we left him. The three of us stroll to the bus stop where many of our group is already waiting and the rest of them soon show up. There is no shade to be found here so all of us are very happy when our bus arrives.

View of the Budapest and Danube from lower level of Fishermens' Bastion

View of Budapest and the Danube from lower level of Fishermens’ Bastion

I'm not sure what this man did to entertain but the raptor is what really caught my attention

I’m not sure what this man did to entertain but the raptor is what really caught my attention

From Castle Hill, we proceed to the Covered market. I can’t recall when Helga left us but I’m sure we all thanked her profusely for her time. I do know that Milan has taken charge of us again when we walk to the market. Paul and I have been to many markets around the world so we had some idea of what we were about to experience. Upon entering the large structure, Milan informs us that the floor where we are now is where vegetables, meat, etc. is sold while the second floor is where crafts, clothes and food stands are located.

The Covered market

The Covered market

Paul taking photo of one of the many vendor booths

Paul taking photo of one of the many vendor booths

Since we are all hungry we make a beeline for the second floor. Milan has recommended trying langos (sp?) since they are a traditional Hungarian dish so Jennifer, Paul and I settle on langos for lunch. When we find the stall that is selling langos we join a line of people waiting to place their order. Langos appear to be a version of fast food as you tell the vendor what toppings you want placed on the flat piece of bread and pay per items you choose. There isn’t a lot of room to sit but a young man who is standing at a table nods to me and I see that there is room for us at his table. The three sisters also end up at our table which livens up our lunch!  We enjoy visiting with this polite young man from Romania who came to Hungary to run in the marathon yesterday. He is delighted to learn that Paul and I have visited his fascinating country. He informs us that he has tried to obtain a visa to the USA three times but his requests were denied. The fellow says that he really wants to see America but due to the time and cost involved to try to procure a visa he has given up his dream. How sad is that.

Chicken legs and Duck's head. Paul's photos

Duck legs and Duck heads. Paul’s photos

Not sure what this was but the designs in the jars were amazing. Paul's photo

Not sure what this was but the designs in the jars were amazing. Paul’s photo

After lunch, (the langos were tasty but very hard to eat), the three of us return to the lower floor to look at the various stalls piled high with all varieties of vegetables. The meat cases have items we would not see in our part of the country such as duck legs and duck’s heads. Yikes. Jennifer wanders off to do some shopping and Paul and I spend a lot of time taking photos of the interesting displays of food. I do join Jennifer on her quest to buy some paprika, Hungary is famous for paprika, as I want to take some back to Connie. Once that task has been fulfilled we look around a bit more before we must converge with the rest of the group at the allotted meeting time to return to the bus.

Piles of vegetables for sale

Piles of vegetables for sale

Our group has gathered at the entrance where Milan is waiting for us. Milan pulls out a sack of candy from that magical satchel and urges us to try the popular Hungarian sweet he has bought for us. The candy is quite tasty and I believe some people have a second piece, Paul included. Milan gives us the choice of riding back to the hotel on the bus or walking. Mr. D and Ms. C opt to walk but the rest of us climb into the air-conditioned bus. We return to the hotel mid-afternoon where Jennifer, Paul and I agree to meet in an hour or so to explore a bit more of Budapest, and to also have a beer :).

Look who we bumped into!

Look who we bumped into!

Bullet holes in the wall. Paul's photo

Bullet holes in the wall. Paul’s photo

Once in our room Paul and I do most of our packing and then rest for a bit. We meet Jennifer in the lobby and walk down to the main street. We turn down streets that we haven’t been on before and just wander. Paul discovers some bullet holes in a building along with chunks of stone missing here and there, which is probably war damage too. We stop to watch a film crew at work across the street and run into the three sisters who are also out exploring. Settling at an outside café to have a beer we are waited on by a young man who takes time to visit with us. Again, we hear the story of trying to get a visa to the USA but he too did not have any luck. He intends to try again and feels like he may have a better chance this time. We wish him well. We return to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We do have a short meeting before we leave for dinner in which Milan tells us the time most of us will leave for the airport, (our flight is at 6 a.m.), when to have our luggage out, and so on. He also asks us for any suggestions for this trip and most of us say we would have liked to have another day in Bratislava. We all express our delight with the trip and with our guide and Ms. J does an exceptional job in thanking Milan for all the extra work he does that we aren’t aware of. Everyone then hands Milan a more concrete form of appreciation for the spectacular job he has done and he tucks the envelopes containing the tips into his black satchel.

Delighted with our entertainment

Delighted with our entertainment

This evening we again walk several blocks to the restaurant where we are having our farewell dinner. Milan has arranged for us to be serenaded throughout the meal with gypsy music which entails a violinist and a pianist. Ms. A is thrilled with the violinist since she used to and perhaps still does play the violin. Ms. A requests a piece of music that she played at her recital as a youngster and to her delight the musician plays it for her and plays it beautifully! The meal is delicious with way too much food to eat as usual. It was a great farewell dinner that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Upon our return to the hotel we say goodbye to the energetic sisters and to Mr. D and Ms. C who are not flying out of Budapest at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.! The rest of us will say our goodbyes at the Budapest airport although Ms. D is on the same flight as we Kansans back to the states. It has been a wonderful trip through fascinating countries, with a fun and interesting group, lead by one of if not the best guide Paul and I have ever had. Until our next adventure, Nancy

Even a dog riding in a bicycle basket needed a drink due to the heat!

Even a dog riding in a bicycle basket needed a drink due to the heat!

A close up of statues representing the Magyars

A close up of statues representing the Magyars

Even the manhole covers in Europe were pretty.

Even the manhole covers in Europe were pretty.

 

 

 

 

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Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 9

                                      Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 9

Visiting stops 11 and 12 after leaving Bratislava

Visiting stops 11 and 12 after leaving Bratislava

 

Our group is on the bus and we are rolling out of the parking lot before six on our way to try some of the local wine at a restaurant in a nearby village. There are vineyards here and there on the sides of the small mountains on our drive to our dinner destination, some of the vineyards are being tended too while it appears some have been abandoned. When we reach the village, Waessik lets us off on a main street and we walk to the restaurant/winery from here.

Restaurant and Winery where we had our last dinner in Bratislava

Restaurant and Winery where we had our last dinner in Bratislava

A young woman meets us at the entrance of the restaurant and we follow her past diners eating at outside tables, to a very cool room that looks like an old wine cellar. Milan explains to us that we will be tasting three local wines, all white wine if I recall correctly. There is also some fresh grape juice for those that don’t want the wine. We all try the wine, and unfortunately I don’t care for any of it. However, I do like the grape juice very much! Most of our group really likes the wine so it just goes to show you what I know about the fermented grape drink!

The cool room where we tasted wine and ate dinner

The cool room where we tasted wine and ate dinner

The three bottles of wine we had samples from and the grape juice is included with our meal but once the bottles are empty everyone must pay for any extra wine. As you can imagine, three bottles of wine for 15 people doesn’t go far after we have all had a taste. While most order another glass of wine to accompany our meal of delicious salmon, Paul and I plus two of the sisters (I believe) finish off the bottle of grape juice.  Have I mentioned that Waessik often eats with us at meals but as our driver the poor guy can only watch as his passengers enjoy wine or beer.

Once we have finished dining on the delicious salmon and imbibing in the local wine or grape juice, Milan suggests we visit the local festival that is taking place in the village. Fourteen people agree that it sounds like a great idea. After walking a few blocks we enter the area where the party is taking place. There is a band playing and singing to a crowd of locals. Jennifer can’t resist the music and she does a few dance steps which catches the attention of a male bystander. The handsome fellow looks at Jennifer and nods his head towards the dance area. Jennifer smiles but shakes her head to decline the hunky guy’s invitation. Jennifer’s suitor doesn’t give up and again tries to get her to dance with him but again Jennifer stands firm against the wiles of the charming Romeo. Alright, I might have stretched the description of Jennifer’s’ admirer a bit, he was shorter than me, slightly balding and probably several years older than Jennifer but the part about him wanting to dance with her is absolutely true!

A really bad photo of the entertainers at the festival

A really bad photo of the entertainers at the festival

This festival is a family affair; people of all ages are standing around enjoying the performance of the band. Fathers put little children on their shoulders so they can have an unobstructed view of the band. We foreigners get a few curious looks but no one pays much attention to us, they are having too much fun. We decide to go see what the vendors are offering but many of them have already packed or are packing up their wares. There is one tent where the people are just beginning to put away the beautiful ceramic dishes but when several people from our group begin to look in earnest at the pottery the boxing of the dishes stops. I just admire the table ware as I know we have no room to pack any of these fragile dishes in our luggage. I am sure the couple that is tending to this stand is glad they still had things on display as many in our group, including Jennifer; buy a dish or a mug from them. After visiting a bit with the vendor, Milan takes us back through the dimly lit street toward the band which is still playing. As we leave the festival behind, Milan performs a few traditional dance steps and some of us mimic him as we make our way to the bus. What a fun way to end the evening.

Talking to the "shop" owner where many of our group bought a piece of the beautiful ceramic dishes. If you want to get a better look at the dishes the web site is on the front of the tent flap!

Talking to the “shop” owner where many of our group bought a piece of the beautiful ceramic dishes. If you want to get a better look at the dishes the web site is on the front of the tent flap!

Waessik drives us safely back to the hotel and backs the big bus into its little space in the parking lot. We all call it a night and return to our rooms. As we are getting ready for bed we hear the distinct sound of fireworks exploding. Paul and I walk out on the balcony, where we say hello to Jennifer on the balcony to our left. The three sisters are down two balconies on our right, (one wrapped in a bath towel :)), and we all stand in the warm evening air and enjoy the colorful show. The fireworks are being shot from a barge that sits in the Danube and the brilliant pyrotechnics light up the sky and reflect in the river water. Fantastic. I take photos now and then just to have a record of this impromptu free show we are being treated to. A wonderful way to end our last night in Bratislava!

And another one lighting up the sky

And another one lighting up the sky

This morning Jennifer and I get up early and take a stroll along the Danube. It is a beautiful morning and we have the path mostly to ourselves. There are River Cruise Ships moored along the banks of the Danube where a few passengers can be seen looking through the large windows of their rooms. I suppose we walk a half mile along the placid Danube before we reluctantly decide to turn back since we still need to eat breakfast.

The balcony's outside the hotel rooms that looked over the Danube

The balcony’s outside the hotel rooms that looked over the Danube

A River Cruise boat we saw on our early morning walk

A River Cruise boat we saw on our early morning walk

After enjoying the delicious buffet, it is time to load up on the bus for our last destination in Central Europe which is Budapest, Hungary. Our group very much enjoyed our stay in Bratislava and I for one would encourage anyone traveling in this part of Europe to add this delightful city to your itinerary.

Wind towers marked with reflective tape or paint

Wind towers marked with reflective paint

Our road trip today includes stopping at ruins of the Roman city of Carnuntum, which happens to be in Austria. I knew we were visiting Roman ruins but didn’t realize they were in Austria, so we can add another country to our list of places we have been! We are on a super highway today that travels through a lot of rural area. Also, there are many wind towers sprinkled throughout our route. Most the towers are in Austria and they have reflective paint decorating the tips of their long blades. I wonder if this is an attempt to make them more visible to birds since wind towers slaughter over a million birds and even more bats every year. If so, I question whether it will do much good as I understand that it is the speed of the blade which kills the birds, it is tough to dodge something that is turning from 50 to 130 mph!dscf7133

Waessik pulls the bus into the mostly empty parking lot of the Roman ruins, great no big crowds to endure here! When we enter the grounds where the ancient Roman city once stood, we are met by a fit young man, (we haven’t seen many people in Central Europe that aren’t fit), who will be our guide through a portion of the ruins. Following our energetic guide, our first stop is to watch a well done film that depicts life as it would have been during this time. Next our guide takes us over to a replica of this once grand city to show us the size and scope of Carnuntum when it was at its peak Moving on we stop to look at old pottery that has been dug up in a small plot near a restored house. I’ve always thought it would be so exciting to work at an archeological dig and uncover ancient things like this pottery.

Our local guide

Our local guide

Wouldn't it be exciting to dig something like this up!

Wouldn’t it be exciting to dig something like this up!

Sitting in the restored room of a Roman house

Sitting in the restored room of a Roman house

We trail our guide to an area where the wealthy would have resided and tour a restored house. Our guide takes us to a true to life kitchen where the staff here will actually prepare food on certain occasions, perhaps when school children are touring the place. We move on to a beautiful, airy room where we sit on the replica furniture while listening to our guide explain the uses of the room. Our guide leads us across the street to where multiple buildings have been beautifully restored, their red-tiled roofs glinting in the sun. This area is just stunning and to think this city dated back to around the fourth century AD is mind-boggling.

Restored buildings and the foundations of other buildings that they are unsure of what they were.

Restored buildings and the foundations of other buildings that they are unsure of what they were.

The "dressing" room for the Public Bath house

The “dressing” room for the Public Bath house

We follow our guide into another building and enter a large room with decorated walls where rows of tables are set up. I can’t remember what this room was for but I do remember that the decorations on the wall are modeled after pieces of the original painted murals that miraculously survived all these centuries! Our next stop is the public bath house which has been spectacularly restored. Again, they found parts of the actual baths so were able to base their restorations from the ancient baths. There is also a working sauna that is using the same technique to heat the water and room as the ancient Romans did. None of us linger in this room long as it is quite steamy.

The public bath

The public bath

The steamy sauna

The steamy sauna

Our tour is nearly over but we do walk along a replica of shops where again our guide stuffs more info into our overcrowded brains, at least mine is. One item I remember this fellow talked about was the myth put forth by Hollywood movies, that gladiators fought to the death. He states the very logical point that these men were super stars and to kill one of them off in every fight would be ludicrous. Just like we have favorite super stars in sports today, the fans back then also had favorite gladiators and wouldn’t have taken kindly to their demise our guide tells us. Gee, I’m stunned that the movie version that gladiators fight to the death is wrong:).

This is where our guide set us straight about gladiators.

This is where our guide set us straight about gladiators.

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Beautiful stone work

Our enthusiastic guide leaves us and Milan takes us back to the ticket office so we can use the restrooms. He also gives us a few minutes to look at the items in the gift shop. As we women are checking out what is offered for sale, I overhear one of the men, who shall remain anonymous, say to another man “they are like a bunch of vultures”. I laughingly call out that “I heard that” but I can’t truthfully disagree with the analogy. Perhaps a kinder statement would have been “we are like butterflies drawn to flowers”:).

Beautiful restoration of a small portion of Carnuntum

Beautiful restoration of a small portion of Carnuntum

It is time to move on down the road where our next stop will be in Hungary. When we arrive at the Hungarian border, Milan tells us that a few weeks ago there was a large migrant camp on the Hungarian side erected here which has now been removed. I can see no evidence that anything or anyone was there at all.

Yikes!

Yikes!

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We are eating lunch in Gyor which proves to be another lovely city.  Waessik drops us off and we walk through a small section of Gyor to get to the restaurant. A small farmers market seems to be winding down although there are still some bright flowers on display. We pass by booths selling crafts and stroll by more pastel painted buildings. Arriving at the restaurant the special is posted on a sign with the price of 1,990 written by it. Even though we know this is priced in Hungarian Forints the large number is a bit intimidating. When you convert the price of the meal from Forints to US dollars it is around seven bucks.

For lunch, we are served duck liver for a starter, (it is very rich but not bad), Hungarian goulash which was delicious, and a yummy blackberry dessert. I over ate but everything was so tasty that I had to eat it all. Once lunch is over, we waddle, (at least I do) out of the restaurant and walk across the square to St. Ignatius Church. There is an area in the middle of Szechenyi square where geysers of water shoot up unexpectedly and this fountain is extremely popular with the children. You can’t help but smile as kids either try to elude the spouts of water or enjoy being sprayed by the water jets.

Our group trailing Milan into the restaurant in Gyor

Our group trailing Milan into the restaurant in Gyor

Most of the group took the chance of eluding random geysers, I walked around the water maze.

Most of the group took the chance of eluding random geysers, I walked around the water maze.

Little girl having fun in the unpredictable spouting water

Little girl having fun in the unpredictable spouting water

Milan takes us inside St. Ignatius Church and informs us that we can take photos without flash. That is a relief because the inside of this 17th century church is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is also being readied for a wedding so white bows are affixed to the pews and two chairs wrapped in white material are awaiting the bride and groom.

St. Ignatious Church

St. Ignatious Church

We also visit the Cathedral Of Our Lady which dates back to the 11th century. There are people waiting outside the church and the way they are dressed it appears that they too are waiting to attend a wedding. The cute little girl dressed up in her fancy purple dress catches everyone’s eye. We are afraid that because of an event that appears to be taking place here we will not be able to tour the church but a man appears, unlocks the front door and invites us to enter. This church is huge and as all churches we have seen on this trip there is a lot of gold plating covering various items, incredible paintings, and fabulous stained glass windows.

Little girl dressed in a fancy purple dress. How cute is that.

Little girl dressed in a fancy purple dress. How cute is that.

Gold plating everywhere

Gold plating everywhere

Our group spent an hour after lunch exploring this pretty city, depending on Milan to give us the pertinent information about what we were looking at. Besides the two churches we enjoy many ornate buildings, unique fountains, and impressive statues. A city definitely worth seeing.

Unique Fountain

Unique Fountain

Beautiful park by the river.

Beautiful park by the river.

Next blog, Budapest

Paul looking out the kitchen window at Carnuntum

Paul looking out the kitchen window at Carnuntum

Walking in Gyor

Walking in Gyor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 8

                          Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 8

 

This morning I stepped out on our little balcony to gaze over the Danube in the early morning light. There is very little traffic or people to distract from the peaceful scene of the iconic river. The UFO above the bridge is still in the same position as last night, either taking off or landing :). As I stand on this balcony so far from Kansas, it is a good time again to remind myself how lucky Paul and I are in being able to travel this fascinating world!

A morning view of the UFO bridge. The UFO is actually a revolving restaurant

A morning view of the UFO bridge. The UFO is actually a revolving restaurant

Paul and I make our way to the breakfast room and survey the large spread of food that is laid out for the hotel guests. If you can’t find something you like at this buffet you are much to persnickety. There is a half-dozen types of juice to choose from, (I rule out the green colored juice immediately, Ick), along with meats, fruits, eggs, cakes, numerous types of breads and things we normally don’t eat for breakfast like vegetables.  I place a piece of bread in the nifty “conveyer belt” toaster, watch the bread disappear and then come out the bottom toasted to perfection. Later I watch in awe as a woman about my age, alright an older woman, places five pieces of bread through the toaster and then adds them to her already food-heaped plate. Holy Smokes, that is a lot of food to consume.

Nora our local guide

Nora our local guide. Lots of the Czech and Slovakian women were so petite and quite lovely.

Our group gathers in the lobby, yes, most are there before the scheduled time. This is a good time to share a conversation I overheard between Paul and Mr. D at some point in our tour when we still were struck by how people showed up so early before the actual rendezvous time. Paul comments to Mr. D that we should start coming an hour early to get here with the rest of the group and Mr. D replies, “No, I think we will have to show up the day before!” I had a good laugh over that line. Anyway, Milan introduces us to the local guide, a petite young woman named Nora who will tour us around Bratislava’s Old Town.

Bratislava Castle in day light

Bratislava Castle in day light

The tower that St. Michaels gate passes under.

The tower that St. Michael’s gate passes under.

The shop where Milan bought the croissant specialty of Bratislava for us

The shop sign with a likeness to the special croissant of Bratislava.

Nora takes us more-or-less along the same route as Milan did last night, through the parking lot, by the American embassy, (which is surrounded by a wire fence which didn’t set well with the locals when they put it up), and into the small square, (actual name is Hviezdoslavovo Namestie Pedestian Mall), which is full of tourists this morning. Nora talks about history, buildings, statues, etc. with us in excellent English as we stroll through the square. Much of what we cover with Nora was touched on last night but everything looks different in the bright sunshine. Milan has disappeared like magic again as our group diligently follows Nora around Old Town. Nora points out Bratislava Castle, gleaming white in the sunshine, where it sits atop the hill above the city. Our guide talks about St. Michael’s Gate which is a gateway located under a stately 14th century tower. We pass by a shop that sells a croissant filled with different fillings and we learn that is a Bratislava specialty. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the pastry.

Milan preparing to hand out the pastry treats.

Milan preparing to hand out the pastry treats.

Nora leads us on to another small square and “tada” Milan the wizard suddenly appears, an impish smile on his face, and his black satchel bulging.  Milan reaches into the magic bag and pulls out some of the Bratislava special croissants and gives us a choice of walnut or poppy seed. Oh, my gosh, I am still full from breakfast but I take one of the walnut pastries and bite into the half-moon treat. Yum, of course I eat every crumb of the delightful specialty.

Jennifer and Paul enjoying the croissants.

Jennifer and Paul enjoying the croissants.

We continue exploring with Nora who is quite funny and informative and not afraid to speak her mind. What a difference a few decades make on freely speaking because she tells us the story of her Grandfather who made a disparaging comment about the communists when they ruled and soon found himself working in a uranium mine. Nora also tells us that his health has suffered greatly from that forced work detail.

You can't help but smile looking at this statue

You can’t help but smile looking at this statue

There is a lighter side to our tour such as the statue of a pleasant-looking man who is tipping his top hat. It seems the figure was erected in honor of a local man who would stand on this corner and tip his hat at all the ladies while giving them compliments. Because he so endeared himself with his kindness the people wanted a statue to honor him. I love that story. We also pass by the happiest city worker which is a bronze statue of a man part way out of a manhole. The fellow is resting his chin on the sidewalk and smiling. Why is he smiling? Because from this vantage point he can see up the women’s skirts as they walk by, thus the happiest worker in the city. HA! Naturally, we all rub the top of his head as is the tradition and many have their photo taken with the rascal.

The happiest City worker!

The happiest City worker!

As our tour winds down, we end up in the Pedestian mall, (I’m not spelling the full name out again), where we started from. As Nora is talking to us she suddenly looks towards two women and states “those are pickpockets”! All of us stare at the women who are dressed like tourists and appear to be part of a small group of tourists. The group is perusing crafts that are for sale in various stands that have been put up in the square for the day. Just to be ornery, I decide to take the pickpockets photo which results in the women immediately turning their backs to me. Well now. As we continue walking I look back occasionally and see one of the women is still shadowing a man in the group. I don’t know if the pickpocket gives up or if the woman got what she was after because later I see her walk away from the target. I can guarantee you that I would have never suspected these women at all as they seamlessly blended in with the tourist crowd!

A view of some of the area in the Pedestine mall

A view of some of the area in the Pedestian mall

Nora dispensing information to us.

Nora dispensing information to us.

With this part of the tour over we return to Hotel Devin for a short break to use the toilets and then board the bus for the drive up to Bratislava Castle.  When we get to the street where we are to unload, Waessik must turn the bus around on a busy not exactly wide street and he does so with such alacrity that our group gives him a well-deserved round of applause. We disembark by the Parliament building where Nora talks in disapproving tones of their government. Gee, that sounds very familiar. We had learned yesterday from Milan that Slovakia was hosting the EU officials for six months, evidently the EU alternates around to the member countries every six months. Because of the EU presence we cannot get into the Castle so Nora just talks about its history as we stand outside gazing at the enormous white structure. Nora points out a building that was the stables long ago and says it was turned into a gym, including a sauna, for the politicians and intimates that perhaps the money could have been spent on more important concerns. Our guide repeats a joke the citizens like to tell which is that at least the stables is a proper place for the politicians since the people liken them to the posterior end of a horse. I thought that was pretty funny. There is a viewing platform near the castle which overlooks the Danube. Although it is hazy we can just make out the spinning wind towers in nearby Austria.

The front of Bratislava Castle. You can see the tape across the entrance to keep people out.

The front of Bratislava Castle. You can see the chain across the entrance to keep people out.

Viewing platform in front of the Castle looking over the Danube with a hazy view of Austria in the distance

Viewing platform in front of the Castle looking over the Danube with a hazy view of Austria in the distance

Waessik meets us at the load-up point and Nora says that her part in our Bratislava tour is over. All of us thank her for the informative tour she gave us and we say goodbye when the feisty woman gets off at a bus stop down the street. Our morning activity isn’t over yet as we are doing in home visits with local people now. We are leaving the historical part of Bratislava and venturing into the housing projects that were built in the communist days.

Waessik drives the bus over the Danube, (using a bridge of course), and Milan explains that we will divide into groups, each group being guests of a different family. Since Paul, Jennifer, Mr. D & Ms. C, and I are sitting closest to the front of the bus, we are being dropped off at the first stop. No one is waiting for us but we spy a young woman in a flowered dress running our way. A bit out of breath, she apologizes to us for being late, which we assure her is no problem. After introductions and Milan informing Stella when they will return to pick us up, we follow Stella to the cement block building where she resides.

I was amazed that the plastic booties fit over Paul's big feet.

I was amazed that the plastic booties fit over Paul’s big feet.

When we reach the apartment where Stella, and her parents live, our hostess asks us to either take our shoes off or put plastic booties over them. We all choose to put the hospital-like covers on our shoes and then we are allowed to enter the apartment. Stella’s dark haired mother is there to greet us as we walk into the small hallway. We are then asked to wash our hands, which we do one person at a time in the tiny bathroom. I wonder if this is a normal procedure for guests in people’s houses or is someone here a bit of a hypochondriac?

Once we have finished the hand washing ritual, we follow mother and daughter into the sitting room. This room has been painted as colorfully as the bathroom and hallway, which maybe is a compensation for all the years they lived in the drab grey apartment buildings. The outside of many of the apartment buildings have also been painted in different colors now, thank goodness. The sitting room is crammed full of stuff. There are enough chairs in the tiny room for all of us to sit down but if you shift positions in your chair you risk bumping into something.

Stella welcoming us to their home.

Stella welcoming us to their home.

Once we have carefully settled into our seats, Stella welcomes us and then gives us information about her folks and herself. Her mother is an artist/model which is validated by the many paintings that cover the walls of the room. I believe her father is also an artist but works with wood, including making frames for paintings. Stella, who speaks English fairly well, is still going to University and hopes to get a degree in marketing. Her goal is to help her parents and friends with selling their products, perhaps via the internet. Stella’s mother, I can’t think of her name, doesn’t speak English so Stella is translating for us and her mom.

The dessert our hostesses served us. Paul's photo

The dessert our hostesses served us. Paul’s photo

After visiting a bit, the two women retreat into the kitchen and bring back a generous bowl of ice cream for each of us. We spend much of our time together asking questions of one another. One of us asks Stella what her memories are of living under communism as a child. Stella replies remembering how hardline communists would scold you if you wore a bright-colored dress. She also recalled the long lines you had to stand in while shopping for everyday needs, plus what a treat it was if oranges or such were available. Then someone asks if they miss anything about communism. After a few moments of reflection, Stella translates her mother’s answer that it was easier to sell art work then. I didn’t quite understand the reason why this would be but I believe it was because people wanted something beautiful and colorful in their houses and that there wasn’t as much competition in those times as there is now. They both talk about how quickly more things became available once the Velvet Revolution took place. They also mention traveling to Austria just to look in awe of the variety and abundance of things available there for sale when the iron curtain came down.

We are asked about our professions and where we live, also what our religion is which I thought was rather interesting. Our photo book would have come in handy at this visit! Stella’s mom brings out a photo book full of pictures of herself posing with various works of art. We are then shown a large book about Slovakian artists in which her folk art is featured.

Mother and daughter

Mother and daughter

At one point in this visit, Stella begins telling us about some product that is supposed to cure a lot of ailments and cites how her stomach problems cleared up after taking it. We are having a little trouble following her but it appears that we can go on a website for the product and purchase it under Stella’s name. This is a bit weird. Stella announces that it is time to go as Milan and Waessik are due in a few minutes. Before we leave, Jennifer presents a sunflower dish towel to our hostesses to thank them for letting us spend an hour in their home with them. As we are preparing to leave, Stella asks if we would like to buy any of her mom’s paintings that are sitting on a small table. Well this is awkward. We hem and haw around then Ms. C states that they didn’t bring any money and Jennifer tells the duo that we don’t have room in our luggage to take one home. Both statements are completely true but I’m sure this is disappointing to the women.

Stella escorts us to the bus where we again thank her for graciously having us in their home. We then drive around and pick up the other members of our group who are exuberant about their home visit experience. Let’s be frank here, one group was served liquor so that might have added to their happiness :). No really, we all enjoyed this unique experience of spending time with ordinary people and seeing how they live.

As we are driving back to the hotel, after talking about our home visits, Milan relates a story about living in the communist housing projects (Paul and I disagree if this was his own personal story so I have made it a generic story). Because all the buildings were the same color, height, with no landscaping, (can’t have any personal touches here), children would get lost trying to find their way back home. Honestly, how scary would that be!

These communist era buildings are not in Slovakia but it is the only photos I have of the apartments for some reason. You can see how painting them livens the buildings up.

These communist era buildings are not in Slovakia but it is the only photos I have of the apartments for some reason. You can see how painting them, livens the buildings up.

This afternoon is free but Milan has promised to escort me to a pharmacy so Jennifer and Paul tag along. To make a long story sort of short I have been having terribly sore lips off and on for a couple of months. I’m not one to run to the Doctor so I waited until the day before our departure to see my doctor. She diagnosed my condition as cold sores and sent me to my pharmacist for a prescription. The pharmacist said that I should be fine in five days. A week later my condition was worse and I emailed my good friend Connie asking if she would contact my health clinic for advice. The doctor sent the name of a different medicine and said I should be able to get it at any pharmacy. Hence, our visit to the pharmacy. Thanks again Connie!

Paul printed the email from our Dr. at the hotel so we could show it to the pharmacist in hopes the staff would consider it equal to a prescription. I lay the email in front of the young woman who waits on us and point to the name of the medicine. The pharmacist nods and asks if I want the pills or the ointment. I tell Milan to ask her if there are any side effects of this medicine that I need to be aware of. Milan grins and says “why don’t you ask her; she is speaking English”. I can hear Paul snickering behind me and Jennifer says “hello” as I feel my face turn a bright red. I am so flustered that I forget to ask about the side effects but do ask if I can buy both items. The smiling pharmacist says of course and tells me how  often to take and apply the medicine which turns out to be over the counter not prescription. Paul pays the very reasonable price for the medicine and we leave the pharmacy. In my weak defense, I have become so used to having Milan translate for us the past ten days I just blanked out the fact that the pharmacist was speaking English :). I profusely thank Milan for taking a part of his free time to help me out at the pharmacy. After Milan departs, I take my purchases back to the hotel while Paul and Jennifer find a bench in the Pedestian Mall to wait for my return.

Paul waiting patiently for Jennifer and I as we look through the craft stands

Paul waiting patiently for Jennifer and I as we look through the craft stands

Once I join up with Paul and Jennifer we decide to just wander through Old Town to see what we can see. There are more tented stands selling crafts in the main square so Jennifer and I decide to take a look at what is being offered. Paul finds a wall to lean against and people watches as we shop. Jennifer purchases a couple of crocheted angels for family members that are really nice and just as important, easy to pack. We step into the nearby church that stands next to Bratislava Old Town Hall. Mass is taking place so we stand quietly and listen to a soloist singing, what a beautiful voice she has.

No those beers aren't all for Paul.

No those beers aren’t all for Paul.

The three of us decide to go in search of a place to eat and find a café that is selling Kozel beer which we prefer over Pilsner. We eat a light lunch as between the croissants and the big dish of ice cream at our home visit, we aren’t’ all that hungry. We just enjoy sitting at the outside table and watching life go on around us. The three of us agree that we just feel comfortable in Bratislava and like the laid-back attitude. Also, my sense of direction is working here unlike in Prague where I was always confused to my where abouts!

One man band

One man band

Young girls practicing their dance routine

Young girls practicing their dance routine

We decide to visit the St. Martin’s Cathedral and along the way we watch a one-man band serenading passersby’s. There is a group of young girls in costume practicing a dance routine on a side street, and a group of kids with musical instruments are preparing to perform near the cathedral.

Inside St. Martin's Cathedral

Inside St. Martin’s Cathedral

The lamb on the end of the pew makes sense but there are dragons and a raccoon reading a book etc. Anyone have an explanation?

The lamb on the end of the pew makes sense but there are dragons and a raccoon reading a book etc. Anyone have an explanation?

Entering the quiet cathedral, Jennifer and I proceed to take photos of the opulent interior, as do two other tourists. As with all the cathedrals we have toured on this trip there is incredible woodwork, lavish alters and beautiful ceilings. A nun is kneeling in a pew at the front of the church in deep meditation. There are pews in the chancel where fairy tale-like creatures are perched on the end of some of the pews. In a corner is a large sculpture of a man on horseback cutting his cloak in half to share it with a destitute fellow. So many interesting things to look at in this cathedral. Paul walks up and tells us that he has just seen a sign that states “no photos”. How did we and the other people manage to miss that sign? Too late now, but frankly we have photos of just about everything in the church already!

St. Martin's Cathedral

St. Martin’s Cathedral

Sharing his cloak

Sharing his cloak

The three of us return to the hotel to freshen up before our outing to a nearby village for wine tasting and dinner. We are in wine country after all.

Next blog, Wining and dining in a nearby village to end our day in Bratislava, and traveling to Hungary tomorrow.

Close-up of the dragon on the end of one of the pews in the cathedral

Close-up of the dragon on the end of one of the pews in the cathedral

Men in Black. There was a lot of security around the city due to the presence of EU leaders.

Men in Black. There was a lot of security around the city due to the presence of EU leaders.

Getting ready to perform.

Getting ready to perform.