Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 9
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.
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 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:).
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”:).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next blog, Budapest