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Deep Sigh and Goodbye
When we came to Budapest years ago, after its freedom from Communism, we saw a beautiful city just awakening from years of neglect. I called it a “faded glory” then. Now, it is completely renewed and simply glorious! We liked the city so much then that we wanted to return; now, we “love” the city and would easily return again.
It is impossible to overstate how wonderful a city Budapest has become. Apt adjectives are fashionable, stately, upbeat, cultural and approachable. The food scene is both traditional and hip. A wonderful blend. Tree-lined streets are filled with interesting stores and outdoor restaurants. Pocket parks are surrounded by beautiful buildings and contain fountains and monuments and flower plantings. Every turn could produce a photograph. The Danube flows through the city and its bridges are unique and attractive. The promenade along the river is stately and easily walkable. Here and there a beautiful church stands between the belle époque buildings. The transportation system is vast and easily navigable. As you can see, Budapest spoke to my heart.
We spent our last day walking Pest, having spent the day before in hilly Buda. We took our time, eating lunch at the famous Gebraud Bistro and Pastry. We sat outdoors under the trees surrounded by a beautiful park in the square and literally watched “the world go by.” We moseyed down Váci Utca, one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares of central Budapest, and ended up at the cavernous Central Market Hall with its orange, yellow and green tiled roof (featuring the same kind of tiles as the impressive Matthias Church). Located near the Liberty Bridge, the Central Market is a fun and interesting place, filled with hundreds of stalls on the bottom floor featuring food stuffs of all kinds, including the famous red paprika. Hungarian wares fill the second floor, and a full grocery store is in the basement. Hungarian food vendors are interspersed throughout. We could not pass by the poppyseed rolls without choosing one blended with cherries. A leisurely long walk back to our hotel on the Buda side brought us over the Chain Bridge. After a small shared meal of Hungarian goulash and cottage cheese curd dumplings (a dessert), we called it a day–our last day. Now it is to Rome and then home. With this, we close the blog for our European Adventures 2015. Thanks for following us on this blog. It has been a pleasure spending time with you. Joy in Jesus, WEG – Friday, October 1, 2015
Walking the Hill
Our hotel is located on the Pest side of the river, and so we spent the day walking the hill for which it is noted. We took a bus to the top and were amazed with the great transformation of the area since we were here about twelve years ago. Refurbishment had made everything appealing and clean. When we came to spend a week here years ago, Hungary was just being discovered again after years under the communist shadow. It has now definitely been discovered.
We spent major time around St. Matthias Church, the historic church of Budapest. Founded by King Saint Stephen in 1015, it has seen much destruction and renewal as the Mongolian hordes destroyed the city in the 1200s and later, in the 1500s, when the Turkish invasion turned the church into a mosque. The Muslims whitewashed the walls and destroyed most imagery, but walled up the Madonna statue, the Virgin Mary. It was forgotten until the Christian forces assaulted the hill in an effort to retake the city in 1686. As the Muslim leadership assembled in prayer, a powder arsenal accidentally exploded and shook the mosque so hard the wall crumbled, exposing the Madonna to the astonished praying Muslim Turks. That night, the hill fell back into Hungarian hands and the church reclaimed its heritage. Later, the church was badly damaged in both world wars, and then the Soviets turned it into a military vehicle storage facility and stable. The target of a terrorist bomb attack in the late 1990s by unknown assailants damaged some of the priceless stained glass windows. In spite of all these trials, today the church is a marvel of Art Nouveau style. It houses many treasures of the Hungarian heritage and is a testament to the Hungarian spirit.
We walked to the Fishermen’s Bastion with its white stone buildings and beautiful monuments. The scenes from its terrace over the Danube give unforgettable views of the Hungarian Parliament building with its iconic red tiled roof and majestic spires standing out in regal beauty on the Buda side of the river. Then, we walked to the massive palace that gives the hill its name, “Castle Hill.” It has impressive statues and flower plantings.
After some shopping, we got on the bus for the trip back down the hill where we spent a long relaxing meal time in a “cave” room with vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows of a great restaurant near our hotel. WEG – September 30, 2015
Beautiful, Belle Époque Budapest
The belle époque architecture that gives Budapest its distinctive feel is enhanced by the blue Danube that runs through the heart of the city, separating it into Buda on the “flat” side and Pest on the “hilly” side. Both sides offer much to see and do. While several bridges span the Danube and tie the city into a whole, the Chain Bridge is the handsome bridge with its huge lions and stone archways and lights that make it gleam in the dark. Kathy and I walked the Chain Bridge twice today–it has an enchanting pull.
Budapest is a magical and majestic city. Landmark buildings, such as the Parliament Building and State Opera, are world renowned. On the opposite side of the river, Castle Hill, with its palace, churches and Fish Bastion, stands powerfully above the Danube. Everywhere, buildings stand out with interesting pediments or ornamental tops. Budapest is simply a beautiful, if not stunning, city. Few can compare.
We were fortunate on our walk to get a flyer about a concert in the St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest. We went to a great restaurant close to the basilica and enjoyed a fine meal in a charming candlelit atmosphere.
The concert was enchanting and the artists excellent. The massive gold, green and red basilica echoed with the voices of a powerful tenor and soprano who, joined by an accomplished violinist and trumpeter, performed well-known spiritual classics by Handel, Gounod, Liszt, Franck, Schubert and Mozart. The grand pipe organ accompanied and also soloed with some Bach and Widor. Kathy and I were enthralled and left thanking God for this hear-warming experience in such a magnificent place. It is such a rare experience that you absorb it into your soul to bring back out when you need times of refreshing.
WEG – September 29, 2015
The Stare Mesto (Old Town) is comfortable and quaint–you know you are in eastern Europe; everything is different and in a good way. But the food!
One of the joys of traveling is trying new foods, expanding your pallet and taking risks. I cannot imagine traveling this far and eating things I can get back home. Tonight we dined in a brewery that has a traditional Slovak restaurant attached. The starter was a home made crackling that was chopped and ham fat drippings added to make something like a pâté. Served with sautéed onions and soft rye bread–I would be hard pressed to think of a spread that I have ever had that was better. Did you say, “carbs?” I didn’t hear you–I was too busy chomping away–remember the adventurous food part! Kathy and I will take a walk when finished. Main course for me was crispy duck legs on a bed of stewed red cabbage with ham dumplings–scrumptious. Kathy had stewed beef in a pumpkin cream sauce with puffed bread dumplings–excellent. We shared sides of marinated tomatoes and creamed cucumbers.
The Stare Mesto (Old Town) of Bratislava is charming. Church steeples abound. Mainly Roman Catholic, the city has a large share of Lutheran churches as well. The streets are thick cobblestone–really old time thick cobblestone. The narrow streets curve around so that you don’t end up where you thought you were going. But, that was ok, since where you went was pretty and interesting. I saw a big crystal beer mug, hand-cut and crafted in Slovakia, in a store window, and that is my main souvenir for the trip. Each ancient archway leads to a new street to search, and we walked hand in hand around the entire area. The castle fortress sits on the hill above the Stare Mesto and gives the area a majestic feel. So, as you can see, I walked enough to eat that pátê.
WEG – Monday, September 28, 2015
Kathy’s post script: We are so pleased with public transportation in Europe and the ease of using it. We feel quite comfortable with the process and are performing quite well in our travels. Yesterday in Vienna, we looked at the map of the train routes and figured out (by ourselves) the plan to get to the train station the next day from our apartment, and we bought our tickets — for less than three euros. This morning we left our Vienna apartment, walked a block to catch the U6 tram, transferred at the appropriate stop to the U4 tram, then transferred to the U1 that brought us to the main hauptbahnhof in Vienna where we then boarded the train to Bratislava. Upon arrival in Bratislava, we paid less than two euros to take the x13 tram to our stop in Stare Mesto (the Old Town) where we met our apartment manager & settled in to an apartment in the Old Town.
Apartment living in Europe has been a positive experience for us. Our apartment in Bratislava is wonderful. For a mere 72 euros, we have a fully furnished apartment with a kitchen equipped with cooktop, microwave, dishwasher, refrigerator, coffeemaker, cookware, & dishes; two master bedrooms each with a king-sized bed; a couch & chair; dining room; bathroom with a shower & a washing machine; & two TVs with English channels (which we don’t have time to watch!) — and internet that works! It is beautiful. In our Vienna apartment, I was amazed to have use of a clothes washer/dryer combination that effectively performed both tasks.
Just wanted to share with you some of the details of travel in Europe with the Graumann’s.
Glory of a By-Gone Era
The Royal Imperial Habsburg’s ruled the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were industrious, hard working, generally frugal and duty-bound. Emperor Franz Joseph said, “When you have worked until you are exhausted, you have had a good day.” He practiced what he preached, waking at 4 AM for morning prayer and then working 16 hours straight. He slept in his grand palaces on a hard iron framed bed in simple circumstances.
As we toured the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Imperial Summer Palace, we walked through beauty and history. Gold and white rooms with huge chandeliers and porcelain fire stoves, with beautiful paintings of Habsburg historic events and family members went on without end. After all, there are over 1,400 rooms in the palace complex. Silk wall-coverings and Belgium tapestries adorned others. The magnificent ballroom with frescoed ceilings and crystal glass mirrors held many important world events, including the meeting of JFK and Premiere Khrushchev in the 1960s. Empress Maria Theresa married off her daughters to secure the Habsburg reign. One, Marie Antoinette, died at the guillotine during the French Revolution. The Empress said that she only hoped that the daughters would do their duty, take care of their husbands and save their souls–whether they were happy or not did not matter. The Habsburg reign came to an end at the conclusion of World War I, since the Empire was a part of the defeated Axis powers. All the palaces became state museums.
The exterior gardens of the Schönbrunn are gigantic and spectacular. A hedge and flower maze surrounded by a long arbor adorn one side of the palace while the opposite side hosts a rose arbor and garden with fountains. The rear gardens reveal magnificent flower design plantings lined with statuary and sheered hedges. Fountains dance in the gardens overseen by the amazing Gloriette, a white marble fountain with statuary at the base rising up to a masterful building silhouette on the hill above. Truly, this is one of the most wonderful gardens in the world.
Kathy and I are proud of our ability to maneuver with public transportation. Today, without map or help, we moved through Vienna like pros.
WEG – Sunday, September 27, 2015
We arose late and lollygagged for awhile, then Kathy said she was going to take a nap. She slept another 3 1/2 hours. That kind of put a hole in the day, so we called family and spent time talking. On a long trip, there comes the time to take time off from all the adventures, and our comfortable apartment was a wonderful place to take a respite. Eventually, as evening approached, I said, “I’m taking off my pj’s and dressing to go out for a walk,” and that is what we did.
The air was fresh and clean, the temperature perfect at 55 F. We were surprised with the large number of people out in the evening air. We strolled past magnificent government buildings brightly lit since Vienna is the national capitol. Other historic buildings and fountains came into view as we followed the Ringstrasse, or ring road, that ties the inner core into a whole. My health app on the phone was ringing happy tones as I piled up the steps on our invigorating walk. Vienna is beautiful by night!
As we tended homeward, we stopped into a nice coffee caffe for a light evening meal and some sachertorte, a traditional Vienna dessert. It was not only a lazy day, but a healthy one at that.
WEG – Saturday, September 26, 2015
Our journey to Vienna brought out the sweater. It became cooler the closer we came to the capitol of Austria. It felt like a winter day in Texas, around 45 F with a light rain in a light breeze. Huddling inside the grand St. Stephen’s Cathedral while the organ played felt exactly right. It was dark inside and the stained glass windows were bright with color. The light on the golden altar gave a shimmering effect. In spite of the massive size of the room, it felt cozy and warm. We ducked into a cozy restaurant in the early evening for a wonderful meal. The dark paneling and close tables filled with people was just right for the weather. The waiter told us what to eat because it was cold outside–hot skillet meals with fried potatoes and spaetzel with bacon and eggs. It was, in fact, just right.
We had some interesting experiences today. Getting to Vienna, I was surprised that we were getting off at the West Bahnhof, since we always go to the Hauptbahnhof (main station). Our apartment was in the city close to most sites and not close to the West Bahnhof. We ended up needing to take an underground train and a tram to get close to our lodging. (We could have taken a taxi, but I am sure it would have cost $30 because of the distance and the U/tram tickets cost us $3–I am not good at spending more than necessary, especially when it is a challenge–I don’t tend to stress when on an adventure.) Amazingly, with the help of friendly Viennese, this trip was quick and a piece of cake.
Getting into our apartment was another story. Our directions were not complete–we found the apartment, but we did not know how to get inside. Finally, I got someone to answer a phone and the person said, “Why didn’t you push buzzer 42?” Our directions said nothing about buzzer 42! We were led to our beautiful and spacious apartment and given keys. Yeah! The Rathaus (city government) spire is right outside our fifth floor (yes, there is an elevator) window. EXCEPT, after walking to the Rathaus and St. Stephen’s Cathedral and eating our wonderful meal, my key got stuck in the big front door to our apartment building. Wonderful, helpful people tried to help us get the key out to no avail. You can’t just leave a key in the main door of an apartment building, can you? “NO,” Kathy said, “I’m not sleeping down here all night!” I finally got “Buzzer 42” to answer the phone. “You must have positioned your key wrong; it goes perpendicular to the earth to pull it out.” Sure enough, turning my key 90 degrees until it was perpendicular to the ground allowed it to be pulled out of the latch easily. I was so very thankful that German-speaking Buzzer 42 knew the word perpendicular. WEG – Friday, September 25, 2015
Pumpkin has appeared on the menus as the autumn season begins here in Austria. Kathy is enjoying cream of pumpkin soup, and I am having pumpkin goulash. As we traveled to Melk to visit the Abbey, we saw field after field of orange pumpkins ready for the picking.
The Benedictine Abbey in Melk was founded over 900 years ago when Leopold II gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks. Today, the Abbey is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Awesome is a good word to describe it. The yellow gold colored Abbey sits massively on a rock promontory. The displays are both educational and devotional at the same time. The theme of the Abbey is the Cross of Christ, and it is well integrated into every presentation. Artifacts from throughout the history of the Abbey are beautifully displayed as you wind your way to the Baroque masterpieces held within the grounds.
The first inkling of the beauty to come is in the grand marble dining room, done with both natural and faux marble painting. Massive and with a dramatic ceiling fresco, the dining room played host to many Austro-Hungarian personages. From the dining room, we are led out onto a courtyard balcony that overlooks the Austrian countryside with the Danube River flowing below. From there, the great library, one of the world’s finest, held our rapt attention. The main room holds 10,000 texts with the same ancient binding on each. The bookshelf woodwork with gold etchings is marvelous and intricate; the frescoed ceiling is stunning. The library contains over 750 printed works before 1500 with a total today of 100,000 volumes in all.
The treasure, however, is the Abbey Church. Considered the pinnacle of Baroque design, the room is aglow with gold. The beautiful frescoes and statuary harmonize into the total design, intended to portray heaven on earth. At first sight, we stood transfixed, not moving, such was the sight.
It was a “beautiful” day in Austria! WEG – Thursday, September 24, 2015
Czech it Out
I had one of the best meals on our trip today. That is saying a lot, since our food in Italy and Germany was wondrous. First of all, it only cost $10 –things are quite reasonable in the Czech Republic. The beef filet was perfectly cooked and was topped with fresh cranberry sauce, a marinated lemon slice and whipped sour cream. It sat in a bed of mushroom gravy and along side it sat three puffed Czech bread dumplings. I had to fend off Kathy trying to eat them away from me. It had complex seasonings that worked well. It will be my only meal for the day, besides the amazing breakfast this morning that is part of the hotel cost. We were shocked to find our table waiting and laid out for us with wonderful foods. Fresh fruits beautifully arranged in a basket, yogurts, and a fruit pastry cake beckoned. Drinks were quickly provided as were cheese and meat plates. Made to order eggs/omelets were offered. This turned out to be a “lollygagging” kind of day in Český Krumlov. It was a cloudy, cool day, and we enjoyed our time together in this enchanting place.
WEG- Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Český Krumlov is what Bohemia (one of the major divisions of the Czech Republic) has always been. It is frozen in time. Visitors from all over the world come to walk its very narrow and heavenly cobblestoned streets surrounded by ancient medieval dwellings (our hotel dates from the 1490s). The Vltava River rushes its way through the center of the village overseen by a royal castle perched on a rock outcropping, giving it a look of solid strength.
Our trip here from Hallstatt, Austria, was by private shuttle. It was the only viable way. Reasonable in cost and comfortable, our van moved along roads and highways in Austria past beautiful lakes for most of the journey. Once we passed into the Czech Republic the land became rolling hills filled with pastures and farms. Eventually, we followed the Vltava River all the way to our destination, passing castles and churches commanding the hillsides. When we turned onto our final road to Český Krumlov, it narrowed to basically a one lane road. Large trees hugged the roadside, painted white on the trunks to remind drivers that they shared the road. We drove slowly around curves and when we met traffic going the other direction, both drivers moved carefully.
Arriving into Český Krumlov was unmistakable. A UNESCO World Heritage site, towers and multi-spired steeples abounded, and old dwellings in a concrete plaster wash with aged pastel colors greeted us. Our shuttle could not drive us into the narrow pedestrian zone, so our luggage clunked over the heavy stones as we walked. Our hotel is ancient and our room spacious with huge wooden beams and a seating area and Austrian lace curtains and decorated in 1700s Bohemian style…all at a very affordable price. We ate beside the Vltava River and looked out at the 13th century castle above with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural elements. We then searched out a Trdelnik shop, a traditional pastry/dessert in Czech Republic. We watched as the pastry chef rolled out the dough and wrapped it around a metal cylinder, hand rolling it until flat on the cylinder, then rolling it in cinnamon before placing it on a shallow grilling surface on which the cylinder continued to spin slowly as the dessert slowly baked. When browned, the Trdelnik is slid off the cylinder piping hot with a crispy exterior and soft interior. Delicious. Off to a good night’s sleep under duvets, window’s open to the cobbled-stoned street below and cool air wafting into the room.
WEG – Tuesday, September 22, 2015