Agriculture in the Czech Republic

One of the things that we have noted in both Budapest and Prague is the lack of grocery stores with fresh produce. I mean, there is usually some fruits and vegetables but most does not look particularly fresh or abundant. At the Museum of Communism, it mentioned that before the Soviets took over in 1948, Czechoslovakia’s agriculture sector was made up of small to midsize privately owned farms. Collectivization began in the early 1950’s and continued throughout the 80’s. Small farms all but disappeared as the state “collected” them in order to establish large, state run farms.  Mostly women and old men were left to work them as the industrial sector in the city became more attractive for men to make a living. As a result, agriculture continued to decline. After the change of government in 1989, confusion followed. There were few farmers left that had any knowledge of how to run a modern farm. Much of the available arable land was taken back by forest.  There have been some gains made within agriculture in the last 20 years but it continues to be slow growth. Most land is dedicated to barley, wheat, oats and hops – mostly to feed the Czech breweries. The Czech Republic is the second largest producer of beer in Europe following Germany. However, fun fact, Czech people consume more beer per capita than any other country in the world. Richard can attest to the fact that they do have good beer!!

So, as we travel across the Czech Republic on our way into Poland, I have noticed that there are small and large fields along the tracks that are in various stages of crop – some are still black, others starting to become green and are in the process of being sprayed. Equipment looks similar to back home – fairly large but perhaps not brand new.

I remember that when Buhler was first bought by the Russians in 2008, my boss at the time made a trip to Russia to view the factory and surrounding area. He commented that the fields were huge but the machinery was not. That makes sense to me now as the state had created all of these large farms but in the end did not have the equipment or manpower to run them. As globalization and new technology continues to develop, I am sure that these countries will again be able to produce up to their potential.

 

The Jewish Quarter and The Prague Boat

Well, as the title suggests, we finally made it to the Jewish Quarter. However, not before we made a bit of a detour down to the river. It was such a beautiful day that we couldn’t resist getting on the water and cruising down the river. The hour long cruise took us along much of the same ground that we covered on land but with a different perspective from the water. The commentary also filled in some of the blanks as to what some of the buildings were called. We saw the large metronome at Letna Park which was the original location of the large Stalin statue of granite. This statue was unveiled in 1955 but was demolished in 1962 after the atrocities of Stalin were revealed to the world. We floated past a number of government buildings and the ancient hydro electric plant that produces enough power for all the street lights of of Prague. It was a nice, relaxing start to the afternoon.

The Jewish Quarter is very interesting. Our ticket included four synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Celebration Hall.  Each synagogue contains Jewish artifacts, books and teachings from different eras of Jewish life. The Jews have inhabited the Czech Republic (formerly Bohemia and Moravia) for over 1000 years. Throughout the centuries the Christian  churches and ruling dynasties have harassed and persecuted this population. From 1918 until 1938, the 350,000 Czech Jews were finally able to enjoy unprecedented freedom, equality and safety.  This social position was short lived however, with the advent of the Nazis, the Holocaust and Communism. There are currently only about 4000 Jews living in Czech Republic.

The Celebration Hall contains information and artifacts on the Jewish Burial Society. It was interesting to find that these societies still exist throughout Europe and the United States. Their main function is to ensure that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition and are protected from desecration, willful or not, until burial. Two of the main requirements are the showing of proper respect for a corpse, and the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial. The Hall contained a number of paintings depicting burial rituals in the 17th century as well as silver basins for cleansing and purification. silver cleaning tools (combs and nail files), and linen burial garments.

The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the most important Jewish historical monuments in Prague. It served its purpose from the first half of 15th century until 1786. It is home to approximately 12,000 tombstones but many more burials have taken place there. As there was no other area allocated to the Jews to bury their dead during this time, graves were layered on top of each other.  As a result, the entire graveyard is many feet higher than street level.

Though most of the Jewish Quarter was demolished before World War I due to overcrowding, lack of sewage and water systems, the buildings constructed within this area since then have been well preserved.  Walking along the pretty streets you can almost forget the horrors of what happened here not that many years ago.

From the Jewish Quarter we headed back to Old Town to enjoy one last Prague Hotdog before heading back to the apartment. We are off to Krakow tomorrow for a couple of days.  Looking forward to trying some Polish cuisine!!

Since it was such a beautiful sunny day we had our lunch in front of the statue of John Hus, a church reformer (depending on which side of the fence your were standing) from the fifteenth century.  He was born and became a priest in Bohemia which is now part of the Czech Republic.  He was granted safe passage from the Holy Roman Emperor to defend his writings at the Council of Constance in Germany where he was imprisoned and burned at the stake.  Consequently his death set off a bit of a war and John Hus became a national hero.

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The River Cruise.

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The Pinkasova Synagoga.  Here we found wall after wall of names of Jewish families, 80,000 in total, who perished under the Nazis.

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Some pictures from inside the Spanish Synagogue.  Col and I very much enjoyed touring the Synagogues.  Such a rich and long history riddled with so much pain and suffering.

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The Old Jewish Graveyard.

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An organ is not something you will see in many Synagogues, but during the Enlightenment period some were added.

The Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, was an intellectual movement in Europe that lasted from approximately the 1770s to the 1880s. The Haskalah was inspired by the European Enlightenment but had a Jewish character. Literally, Haskalah comes from the Hebrew word sekhel, meaning “reason” or intellect” and the movement was based on rationality. It encouraged Jews to study secular subjects, to learn both the European and Hebrew languages, and to enter fields such as agriculture, crafts, the arts and science. The maskilim (followers of the Haskalah) tried to assimilate into European society in dress, language, manners and loyalty to the ruling power. The Haskalah eventually influenced the creation of both the Reform and Zionist movements.

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We would like to conclude this post with another slide show which seems to be becoming a bit of a tradition.  This one is in honor of the 80,000 Jewish lives that were lost in former Czechoslovakia and the John Lennon wall of peace.

The First Day of Spring

After our plus ten and 1/2 miles of walking yesterday, we thought that we would stick fairly close to home today. It was a beautiful day – sunny with a temperature of 14C – so we couldn’t resist going for a walk. From our living room window, we can see a large horse statue at the top of a hill. Today was the day to climb it so up we went. The climb was not particularly difficult, the horse was spectacular and the views were amazing!! We sat there for a while watching people come and go – students, families, joggers and dog walkers. We hiked down the other side of the hill, and because alcohol in public is legal in Europe, picked up a bottle of wine and a large bottle of beer and found a park bench to continue to enjoy the afternoon and watch the world go by. We sat until the sun went down and headed back to the apartment. Looking forward to some warm days ahead. We hope that things are starting to warm up in Canada as well.

Statue of Jan Žižka

The monument was unveiled in 1950 on the anniversary of the battle on Vítkov (1420), in which the Hussites under the leadership of Jan Žižka defeated the Crusaders’ troops in this place. The bronze monument has admirable size: it is 22 m high including the pedestal and the total weight is 16.5 t. It is one of the biggest equestrian statues in the world.

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I don’t have any pictures of us drinking wine and beer in the park.  Col felt too much like a wino to have them taken.  A Kodak moment lost to antiquity.

Prague – Day Three

We started our day at the train station booking our reservations for the next legs of our journey. From there we headed back to Old Town with the intent of exploring The Jewish Quarter. However, once we got there we got caught up in watching the Astronomical Clock again (still can’t tell the time) and having some lunch. For whatever reason, we headed away from The Jewish Quarter and ended up crossing the Charles Bridge. This historical bridge was built under Charles IV in the early 15th century. It served as the only bridge across the River Vltava until 1841 so was the most important route through Old Town to the Prague Castle. This beautiful old bridge is lined with statues – mostly of religious nature – and most of which are copies of the originals. We wandered along this bridge enjoying the different buskers, artists and vendors, each hawking their wares. Before reaching the end of the bridge, we followed a number of people down a set of steps, down the street and around the corner to the Lennon Wall. After his murder on the 8th of December 1980, John Lennon became a pacifist hero for many young Czechs. An image of Lennon was painted on a wall in this secluded square opposite the French embassy, along with political graffiti and occasionally Beatles lyrics. Though it has been whitewashed many times, graffiti is always replaced, originally by Prague youth determined to undermine communism, and after 1989 by tourists, determined to continue the tradition. The wall is no longer whitewashed and stands as a testament to free speech and pacifism.

Because we were now on the other side of the river, we decided that we might as well continue walking up to the Prague Castle. The climb was easy enough and at the top, we took in the magnificent views of the city and decided that we would by tickets for the castle and the grounds. The complex dates back to the 9th century and is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. In the past, the castle has been the seat of power for kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors. The most significant structure within the complex is St. Vitus Cathedral. Though construction on the cathedral began in 1344, it was not completed until almost 600 years later in 1929. The church is large and of course beautiful, featuring not one but two pipe organs and the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, which contains relics of the said saint.

The castle complex also contains the Basilica of St. George, much smaller and less ornate than St. Vitus. It is the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle, founded by Vratislaus I of Bohemia in 920. The basilica was substantially enlarged in 973 with the addition of the Benedictine St. George’s Abbey.

Also within the complex is the Old Royal Palace which houses a copy of the crown jewels, the Vladislav Hall (which is still used for inaugurations), the Observation Tower and the Rider Stairs – my favorite, as these stairs were built so that the knights could ride their horses into the castle.

The final tour on our ticket took us along the Golden Lane. Though originally it looked like a street full of vendors, it actually contained a few old buildings that housed medieval armour, a torture chamber and other tidbits relating to war, espionage and defense.

The Lane exited us at the outside wall of the Castle so we decided that it must mean it was time to head back home. We had been on our feet for about five hours so we were ready to head back down the hill. Though our plan was to either take a tram home or at least stop for a drink on the way back, we actually ended up walking all the way home with no drink stop. Our host had pointed out a couple of local watering holes on our first night in Prague so after a quick bathroom stop at the apartment, we headed across the street for a much needed drink. A cozy little bar, fairly busy with an after work crowd and even a dog.

Speaking of dogs, since we have been in Europe, we have seen many dogs. Some large, some small, most on leash, some with muzzles but shops, bars and restaurants seem to have no problem allowing them all in. This is always uplifting after a particularly long day and I try to pet as many as I can.

We have two more days in Prague so with any luck, we will make it back to the Jewish Quarter to experience yet another aspect of Czech life and history.

The old square by the Astronomical Clock.  Again, so much for slow tourist season.

The Charles Bridge.

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Lennon Wall…..  Imagine.

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The torture chamber, Prague Castle and some views from the top.

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Incredible artwork.

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A Couple of Days in Prague

As has become the norm for us, when we arrive in a new city, we take the first day to do a general walkabout to see what sites we would like to spend more time at for the rest of the week. So yesterday we headed down to Old Town. Prague is a city with lots of history so for a couple of buffs like us (history, not body), there is a cornucopia of things to explore. There is medieval history (John Hus), World War I, World War II, Communism, Freedom and Liberation.

The walk to Old Town took us about 20 minutes and we passed by small shops, large shops, restaurants, cafes, and office buildings, all with their own character and vibe. Some of the buildings are very old. Some look restored and others look like they are pretty new. There are many construction projects on the go so it appears that the city is definitely flourishing. To enter Old Town we passed through the Gothic style Powder Tower. This gateway was built in 1475 and marks the beginning of the “Royal Route”.  Kings and Queens would enter through the gate on their way through the historical town to Prague Castle. In the 17th century it became known as the Powder Tower as the military began to store gunpowder inside the tower.

Once inside the gate, we noticed a number of historical vintage cabrio cars that were offering tours of the city. Richard and I both agreed that it was step up from the poor horses that were pulling the carriages in Salzburg and Vienna. We were now in the tourist area and a few weaves and bobs through the crowd brought us to the main square, aptly named Old Town Square. Established in the 12th century, it has been witness to many historical events. In addition to the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the square is dominated by the Baroque Church of St Nicholas, the Rococo Kinský Palace, the Gothic House at the Stone Bell and the monument to Jan Hus. In the pavement of the square are memorial stones marking the execution of 27 Czech lords in 1621 after an uprising against the Hapsburg Empire. And of course a square would not be complete without a number of cafes, pubs, magicians, dancing panda and polar bears and a whole bunch of tourists.

From the square we wandered into the Jewish District and checked out opening times for the museums and cemeteries. According to articles that I have read, Hitler decided that he would spare the buildings in this district and have them preserved for historical purposes. His reasoning was that once the Jews were completely annihilated, this area would serve as a museum of a lost people. Whether this is true or not, I do not know, but when we go back for a closer look in the museums, perhaps this story will appear.

We stopped our touring for a late lunch/early supper and decided that we had seen enough for the first day. Not only had we had a great first full day exploring the city, earlier in the day we had booked the next couple of legs of our journey (Krakow and Berlin) as well as some camping spots in Manitoba for when we return. All in all, a great day.

Today we headed to the Museum of Communism. This well laid out and informative museum explores the rise of communism in the Czech Republic after World War II through to its demise in 1989.  As I read and reflected through the many wallboards and exhibits, I realized that as I became a teenager and an adult in Canada, there was a whole generation – my generation – of peoples that did not have the freedom of speech, the freedom to listen to their own music, watch their own movies, live their own dreams or explore the world outside the confines of their borders. How spoiled we are!! How lucky!! I again give thanks to live in the best country in the world.

Humbled, we left the Museum of Communism and because we were not far from the Old Town Square, headed back there to have a drink and watch the clock strike three. The Prague Astronomical Clock, or Prague Orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock located  on the Old Town Hall. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. On the hour, a crowd of tourists gather around to watch the twelve apostles poke their heads through the openings in the clock to herald in the new hour.  Though I have looked at it two days in a row now, I still do not have a clue how to tell time with it. Regardless, it is pretty neat.

Once the clock dinged 15 times, we finished our drinks and headed to the hotdog stand that we had seen yesterday. The dogs did not disappoint and because I did not drop anything on my jacket in the way of ketchup or mustard, I thought that I might be able to handle a giant ice cream which is served in a cinnamon pastry shell. I wasn’t quite so lucky with that and ended up with melted ice cream on my face, hands, pants, and shoes. Worse than a three year old…..

I got myself cleaned up and we headed over to Wenceslas Square (Wenceslas Square is named for King Wenceslas which most of you would recognize from the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas). This large rectangle of several blocks is now a corridor of shops and office buildings but is historically where many public gatherings, demonstrations, speeches, riots and parades have taken place. The National Museum and the Bohemian Museum stand at the far end of the “square”, and we hope to have some time in the next couple of days to stop at one or both of them to soak up some knowledge. We continued our journey up the hill to the “Second Ugliest Building In the World”. Obviously this is subjective and it is actually a communications tower and not really even a building, but we did see it and took some pictures. You can be the judge.

As we had made somewhat of a circuitous route, we headed around and down the hill to come out just a street above our apartment. Another great day in another beautiful city. We are so very fortunate!!

The Powder Tower.

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The old tour cars which take the place of horse drawn carriages.  I like this idea.  Horses are not meant to walk up and down paved streets.

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The second ugliest building in the world according to a Prague tourist site.  Obviously they have not seen the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. 

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The Sex Machine Museum.  They wouldn’t let me in as they thought I would be too much of a distraction for the tourists.

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The Astronomical Clock……

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The Polar Bear and the Panda in the Old Square.

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The Museum of Communism.  Being a hockey fan it was interesting that Jaromir Jagr’s picture and name were mentioned twice in the museum. 

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I just thought this was an interesting advertisement.

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The hotdog and the ice cream.  Both of which were great.

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I stepped out for a bit to get some groceries and ended up in a Prague bar right across from our Airbnb apartment.  To my pleasant surprise they had one large screen TV and one smaller one.  Both had hockey games playing and it felt like home.  I also had a nice conversation with the bartender about some of the teams in the NHL.   Unfortunately the Prague team has been eliminated from the playoffs so we will not be able to attend a game.

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Prague

We rolled into the Prague central train station about 20 min. behind schedule which put us at around 4:30 PM local time.  Our amazing Airbnb host picked us up at the train station, showed us around his apartment which will be our home for the next few days and gave us a lot of useful information about the city that we will put to good use.

As per the norm we headed to the nearest grocery store to hunt and gather essentials then proceeded up the street to a restaurant that our host recommended for authentic Czech food and drink.

Our Menu along with an explanation on how they draw their beer.  Col had the slow cooked beef and I sampled the duck breast with plum sauce.  It was my first time having duck and I have to say I enjoyed it very much.

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Some interesting items at the grocery store.  My kids are encouraging me to purchase some.  I think it’s cheaper than alcohol.  Hmmmm……..

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Cheers..

 

From Budapest to Prague

Our last day in Budapest did not exactly turn out the way we had hoped. One of the main reasons for going to Budapest was to track down and take pictures of the church and town in which Richard’s kids’ maternal grandmother was born. Maybe even find a few relatives to boot. The little town is about 3 hours by train and bus outside of Budapest. We had a plan set up for Friday. Of course, then we found out that Friday was a national holiday and buses and trains were on a Sunday (or nonexistent) schedule. So, then we would go on Saturday. But, public transportation was on a weekend schedule and though we could get to the town, there were no trains/buses coming back until Monday. Let’s rent a car – oops, all car rental agencies close at noon on Saturday so no chance to return the car. We tried all the angles but we were hooped. This was a disappointment for us because we were pretty pumped to be poking around old graveyards and looking for long, lost relatives. No seriously, we were.

So, instead, we ended up walking down to the train station to book our seats for today’s trip to Prague. Then off to the House of Terror. This building, used by the Nazis and Soviets during each of their regimes, has now been transformed into a museum documenting these periods in Hungarian history. There was quite a lineup when we got there so decided that we would stop for a bite to eat before tackling the museum. However, service was so slow at the restaurant that we did not get out until after 3:30 and decided to call it a day. It was a bit of a disappointment but we took the long way home, found a couple of cool shops along the way and had a nice relaxing evening at the apartment.

Our apartment was quite nice but very hot. There were no heaters on but the combined heat within the complex made our unit unbearably warm. So, we had to open the windows. Now the thing about visiting during a holiday weekend is that people like to party and they had three days to do so. Our choice was to sweat to death or listen to the pumping music and party noise from the street. We chose the latter. Either way, we would not have gotten much sleep but this way we were still able to “take part” in some of the festivities.

So, here I am , half asleep, on the train to Prague. The trip is about 6 hours and the landscape looks much like we would see on the Prairies – some nice sized fields with a few farms dotting the landscape. There is no longer any snow and some of the fields are turning green. We have crossed the border from Hungary, through Slovakia and are now travelling within the Czech Republic. We are looking forward to a week in the Czech capital visiting castles and churches and trying the very famous Czech beer. I’m sure that Richard will let you know how it compares to home. Until then….

March 15 – Revolution Day

On March 15, 1848 a number of students met at a cafe early in the morning in Budapest to present a list of 12 points to begin a bloodless revolution from the Hapsburg Empire. First on this list was the freedom of press and after commandeering a printing press, the group quickly printed off the twelve freedoms and distributed these to the masses. Over the following days, many joined the revolution from Vienna and Bratislava and the leaders of the Hapsburgs had no option but to concede to the wishes of the people. Over the next year, new governments were formed and Independence was eventually obtained by the Hungarian people.

Though this is a very simplistic explanation of the Revolution, it is nevertheless held as a very important day here in Hungary. It is a national holiday and there are parades, speeches, and of course, lots of entertainment and street food. Richard and I headed out to the Parliament Buildings and though we had missed all the pomp and circumstance, there were still a number of people milling around there. We took some pictures and then headed back towards Castle Hill where many of the celebrations were taking place. As I was not feeling up to large crowds of people, I headed back to the apartment. Richard however, headed up to the hill and the following pictures/videos will give you an example of what he found.

The Parliament building in Budapest which is the third largest Parliament building in the world. 

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I (Richard) was glad I headed up Castle Hill to take part in the celebrations.  There was a smorgasbord of Hungarian food, entertainment and culture.  

They had a few tables where they were handing out free samples of homemade bread and meats.  The best I could do however was get close enough to get a couple pictures.  You would have thought the people were starving to death the way they were fighting to get some free nibbles.  

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Giant hamburger patties that were served in what looked like big pita bread.  They would load them up with onions, peppers and all types of condiments.  I wanted one so bad, but I didn’t want to ruin my supper.

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More delicious looking food.  The big bowl is small pieces of chicken.

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Local Hungarian spirits.  I tried a sample of the sour cherry and the plum.  

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The following food was some kind of pizza or fruit dish.  The pastry was deep fried and then loaded with all kinds of toppings.  There was a line up a mile long for this food.  I asked an individual if I could take a picture of his.

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I am not sure what the following item is called, but it sure looked good.  The video shows how the dough was rolled and the picture shows how it was cooked over a low fire.  After it was cooked it was rolled in sugar, nuts, etc…..

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Day One in Budapest

We headed off this morning to the Danube River and the famous Chain Bridge. As it turns out, we are only about 10 minutes from the river so it was a pretty quick walk. We already love the vibe here. The buildings are cool and the city seems well organized with walkways, bike paths, trains, buses and cars. We decided to book at River cruise and went down to the river to see one of the many vendors that line the pier. A nice young woman was very good at her job and sold us a dinner cruise with music for tonight. Looking forward to that!!

After booking our cruise, we walked across the Chain Bridge. This is a suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest. It was built in 1849 but had to be rebuilt in 1947 as the Nazis destroyed it as they were leaving the city. We are currently staying on the Pest side but thought we would like to see the Buda Castle which of course would be on the other side. Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. It was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. The complex in the past was referred to as either the Royal Palace or the Royal Castle and is situated on the appropriately named Castle Hill. We chose to walk up and found the walk was not that strenuous due to a series of switchbacks and stairs leading to the top.  Once there we had a bite to eat and started to explore. As is usually the case, the views were amazing. We actually did not visit the castle but instead toured the castle district itself. This included the aforementioned views, ruins of the original castle from 1265, and many souvenir shops. We continued our journey to the Matthias Church which was originally built in 1015 by St. Stephen (there is a very fine statue of him in the courtyard of the church). It was taken over by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century who turned it into a mosque. Christian troops regained the church in the late 17th century and the new church was constructed in its place. Around the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion built in 1902. There are seven turrets on the Bastion which serve as lookout points giving a wonderful panorama view of the city. We took some pictures and headed back down the hill, across the bridge and back to our apartment to get ready for our night adventure.

The River Dinner Cruise

We had a great time on the cruise!! We sat at a table with a wonderful couple from Florida – David  and Donna. It was great to share stories of travels and children while enjoying a wonderful meal. The band played traditional music throughout dinner while we visited and watched the sites of the city go by. After dinner, we went to the upper deck to enjoy the scenery and take a few pictures. We docked after two hours on the river, said goodbye to our new friends and headed for home. On the way, we ran into a street party of young people, dancing, drinking and having a wonderful time. Though we tried to blend in, I fear that we stuck out like old, sore thumbs. Regardless, it was great to hear the music and see everyone having such a great time. March 15th is a national holiday – Revolution Day – so no doubt the party atmosphere on the streets was the precursor to the celebrations that will be taking place on the morrow.

A great first day in Budapest!!

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Hungarian Poetry

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The Boat Cruise….

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A Synopsis of our first day in Budapest brought to you by “The Gypsy Violin”

Behind the Iron Curtain

Of course the Iron Curtain no longer exists but I have to admit that I was feeling some anxiety heading to Eastern Europe. Since before I was born these countries were hidden behind this invisible curtain which was cloaked in mystery, intrigue and of course the big “C” word – Communism. We were taught to fear them and stories of people defecting to the West in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had a large impact on me and my friends. We didn’t understand why people lived this way. We thought that they had a choice. Not until I reached adulthood did I realize that this was not a life choice but forced upon every family with children growing up not knowing anything else. Finally in 1989, the Eastern Block collapsed and a generation of rebuilding would begin.

We arrived today by train in Budapest, Hungary and though some of the countryside looks quite poor, Budapest, at the heart of it, appears to be like any other city. Loud. Busy. Lots of people. It appears that the city has made a grand recovery in the last 30 years. As we spend a few days here, we may yet see some signs of the old regime. I am still intrigued by this side of the world and can’t wait to part with old fears and beliefs in order to learn as much as I can about this beautiful region.

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