On Budapest (Hungary)

Click for some background music while you look and read, enjoy Hungarian Dance No. 5 (Johannes Brahms)

 

BUDA-pesht – is how they pronounce it – not BUDA-pest

Budapest – the capital of Hungary with a vibrant population approaching two million. It was also a co-capital of the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Although we hear about the Danube separating Buda and Pest, we forget that Óbuda was the third city joining in the union forming Budapest in 1873.

The Buda side of the river is hilly and Buda Castle (Royal Castle) sits atop a hill along with Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion. These structures and a few statues and monuments amplify the skyline. Buda’s streets are narrow and the buildings echo with history.

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The hills of Buda offers wonder views of the Danube and Pest.

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The Pest side of the river is flat, newer, vibrant, and a grand display of architecture of Art Nouveau, Baroque, Classical, Neo-classical, Romantic, and Renaissance providing a grand visual treat. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Parliament, Hero’s Square, Liberty Square, National Theater, Great Market Hall, parks, spas, shopping, entertainment, and more. Numerous pedestrian-only streets make Pest very walkable.

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Hero’s Square celebrates 1000 years of conquest by the Magyars. Whereas the other countries on the tour were Slavic, Hungary is not – and it’s language is more similar to Finnish and Estonian instead of being close to any of its neighbors. Before this tour, I had no clue about this. Hero’s Square celebrates the seven Magyar tribes of Central Asia that came to the region. The square includes statues to labor, war, knowledge, and glory along with a few early national heroes.

 

A short walk beyond Hero’s Square, Varosliget (a 302 acre city park) also celebrates the 1896 millennium with galleries, museums, a thermal spa, and more in a beautiful park setting.

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If you visit Budapest, make sure you take a night-time cruise on the Danube River because the city lights provide a great show.

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Of the places we visited on the tour, Budapest was the biggest and the grandest. It’s a vibrant, beautiful city and worth at least at least 3 days – if not more. The excellent 6-minute video below showing Budapest is done by a group of travelling friends. Enjoy

Next Stop: Plitvice National Park (posted)

Next Post: Rovinj

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

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On Eger (Hungary)

After our morning at Auschwitz, it was a long ride to Eger (EH-gher) – a city of about 53,000 in northern Hungary. The next day we had the morning to discover Eger on our own before two scheduled activities.

Nestled in the hills of the Bukk Mountains, humans have lived here since the Stone Age.

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Eger Castle sits above the town center – and this place is close to the Hungarians heart because here, the Hungarians defended the castle from the invading Ottomans in 1552. Istvan Dobo is a legendary hero for his leadership.

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During the 1600s, the Ottomans built a minaret in Eger, which is one of three minarets remaining in Hungary.

 

Eger has a variety of grand buildings, but the pedestrian street with Baroque architecture is a pleasant stroll and a good place to eat or enjoy a beverage.

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After our independent time, the group gathered together for an activity – attending a junior high school where we met with a teacher and her students in their English class – and then had lunch in the school cafeteria. (We were pleasantly surprised.)

 

Eger is the center of one of Hungary’s productive wine regions. One of the popular wines is known as Bull’s Blood – a dark red wine blend of three grapes. The legend is that the wine was dark because it was mixed with bull’s blood, which gave Dobo’s men strength. So after the school, it was a short trip to a winery where the wine flowed, the music played, learned a Hungarian dance, and who knows how many times we toasted in Hungarian – Egészségedre!

 

Eger is a charming small city. For us, it was a good stopover between the gut-wrenching in Auschwitz and the grandness of Budapest to come. Time at the school and the winery helped make the day wonderful. Below is a 4-minute video (set to appropriate music) showing many of the sites we saw in Eger. Enjoy.

 

Next Stop” Budapest

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

On Auschwitz I and II (Poland)

Forgetting them means letting them die again. (Elie Wiesel)

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

 

Night, night without end, no dawn comes. (Tadeusz Borowski)

 

We have to remember, always, but it’s never easy. (Alberto Israel)

 

Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace, and encounters among people. (Pope Francis)

 

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity. (on a plaque)

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It happened, therefore it can happen again. (Primo Levi)

 

Any denial of the facts is a denial of the truth (A. E. Samaan)

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Personal note: Everyone should visit Auschwitz I and II at least once in their life. I never realized that the two are a 5-minute ride apart. At Auschwitz I, exhibits as hair, suitcases, shoes, and belongs can rattle the soul – but the size of Auschwitz II (aka Birkenau) is staggering. For me, I’m glad we didn’t have a guide – therefore, at the chance to move and contemplate on our own.

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Next stop: Eger

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Krakow (Poland)

Krakow – Poland second largest city (pop. 750,000); Poland’s economic, education, arts, and culture center, Poland’s capital until 1596

Krakow – It’s Old Town contained within walls (some still exist) and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large Main Market Square is a vibrant place!

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Krakow – Home to Krakow Castle found on Wawel Hill above the Vistula River across from Old Town. To me, not only was Wawel Cathedral the most magnificent church I saw on the trip – it was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

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Krakow – A place where revered Karol Wojtyla spent much time before becoming Pope John Paul II.

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Krakow – Not bombed in WW2, but is home to Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Jewish Ghetto (in Kazimierz neighborhood). The factory is now a museum about the war in Poland while the Ghetto is in a rejuvenation period. Looking up the long stairway reminded me of the scene when a lady came to the factory for an interview, and Mr. Schindler was standing at the top of the stairs.

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Poland has a rich history, and compared to many other European countries, it was large. I didn’t know that during part of the 18th Century, Poland didn’t exist because the land was divided among Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As for Krakow, the visit here was the most surprising of the trip. To learn more about Krakow, I encourage you to watch the 3-minute video because from Rick Steves.

Next stop: Auschwitz

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

On Rick Steves’ Europe Tours

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My wife and I enjoy travel – especially in Europe. Through the years we’ve watched many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS – plus we found his tour books to be the best – but, we’ve never taken any of his company’s tours.

However, we know at least five couples who have taken his tours – some multiple times – and everyone endorsed them! So, this past late September-early October, we ventured on our first Rick Steves’ Europe tour to a land we didn’t know – Eastern Europe. (After Bled, we continued on our own.)

 

Several broad points about Rick Steves’ Europe tours – especially two very important limitations:

  • Group size in the mid-to-upper 20s (so there is plenty of room on the full-sized bus)
  • One carry-on luggage and one backpack per passenger – after all, travelers are responsible for carrying their own to/from the hotel

For the tour,

  • A tour guide was with us the entire time (we had a wonderful Czech named Jana)
  • When in a new location, local guides shared their expertise
  • Most hotels are for multiple nights (which allows ample opportunities to do some laundry)

As a philosophy, Rick Steves’ tours want travellers to get the most of their experience by emphasizing history, culture, and interacting with the people because he wants travellers to understand the people, their place, and what is important to them. Besides the local guides, our activities included

  • tasting wine at a winery
  • visiting a school and meeting with an English teacher and her students
  • tasting honey at a local producer
  • eating local cuisines
  • being entertained by traditional music.
  • having two transit day-passes in Budapest good for buses, trams, and subways
  • after leaving each country), Jana led us in a toast to that country with a local liquor and toasting in the native language

The hotels exceeded our expectations. All were clean, spacious, conveniently located, and with a hearty breakfast to start our day.

Rick Steves’ Europe offers tours throughout Europe – and a surprising number of offerings, plus each frequently offered. I invite anyone interested to visit ricksteves.com. Regarding this tour, the previous post featured Prague, and my plan is to post at least one stop a week.

Bus touring isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. However, I can honestly say that we would not hesitate to take another Rick Steves’ Europe tour. Actually, we even have our eye on another Rick Steves’ Europe tour in the future.

 

On Prague (Czech Republic)


Click for background music of a very special song to the Czech people.

 

Prague – Praha to the Czechs

Prague – located on the Vltava River, the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the historical capital of Bohemia, and the place known as The City of 100 Spires.

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Prague – with its historic Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site) providing much of the city’s charm. Once surrounded by a wall, now only a few towers remain. Old Town Square serving as its center while featuring a statue to Jan Hus – a Czech religious reformer who was 100 years before the Reformation.

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Prague – with the historic Charles Bridge connecting Old Town and the Little Quarter located across the Vltava, just below Prague Castle. The bridge served as part of Coronation Way during the days of the monarchy.

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Prague – the home of Prague Castle with the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral within its walls. At our first dinner, two members of the Prague Castle Orchestra (from the opening video – the flute and accordion players) – privately entertained our group.

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Prague – with New Town flourishing outside Old Town. A magnificent collection of Art Nouveau buildings dominating the eyes – as well as a pair of dancers (Dancing Towers) known as Fred and Ginger.

 

Prague – featuring Wenceslas Square as New Town’s main square – the place where thousands of Czechs gathered for 1989’s Velvet Revolution ending one-party rule (Communists). Yes – the square is named after the Good King (of Christmas carol fame) who is buried at St. Vitus Cathedral.

 

Prague, not only a wonderful place to start our tour, it’s a great city for visitors. If you get a chance, GO! Below is 3-minute video about Prague’s Jewish Quarter (in Old Town). Hope you watch. Have you ever been to Prague?

Next stop: Krakow

On a Fall 2018 Return

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Greetings fellow bloggers!

Some have noticed my return from comments. I haven’t posted since 18th September when I announced my blog break. On that post, some may have wondered where I was going, but Eleanor blatantly asked. After all, some of my blog breaks are travel oriented – but not all!

It’s time to confess. This blog break was about travel. Long-time readers know we enjoy cruising – but nope – not this time! However, we did partake in another passion – Europe!

When 2018 started, we’ve never taken a bus tour. Oddly enough, this year involved two bus tours. The first was the 2-week bus tour of many US National Parks in the west. Although I have already posted some initial thoughts about the experience, posts about the those sights are finally in the queue.

Meanwhile, many Americans are acquainted with Rick Steves from his Europe travel shows on PBS. I’m guessing many Canadians also know this American travel guru. Because we know a good number of people who have taken and raved about Rick Steves’ tours, we decided to take one to a past of Europe that is new to us – Eastern Europe.

 

A couple of notes about the image. The numbers inside the circles indicates the number of nights in that location. We had an extra day in Prague before the tour started. The tour ended in Lake Bled, then we extended it with two nights in Trieste, Italy (red dot & my birthplace) and one night in Venice (blue dot as it was our inbound airport).

Although I hope to do dedicated posts about each stop in the future, below is short adjective for each stop.

  • Prague, Czech Republic – romantic
  • Krakow, Poland – surprising
  • Auschwitz/Birkenau, Poland – somber
  • Slovakia (drive through) – naturally beautiful
  • Eger, Hungary – quaint
  • Budapest, Hungary – grand
  • Plitvice National Park (Croatia) – stunning
  • Rovinj, Croatia – soothing
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia – urban relaxation
  • Lake Bled, Slovenia – enchanting
  • Trieste, Italy – a time capsule
  • Venice, Italy – It’s Venice!

I’ve returned to my normal home routine of ballroom dance, the handbell choir, working at the golf course, and more – so now is the time to return to my WordPress friends.

Before ending this post with a video, I want to announce that Pronouns: The Musical resumes on Saturday, 21 October at 1 am (US Eastern) with Act 10 featuring songs with They in the title. (It’s more difficult than I imagined.)Upcoming acts are Them and It.

Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the song!