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.

img_3807img_3806

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

img_3803img_3804img_3805

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. 

Image result for The budapest parliament building

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.  

img_3754img_3755img_3756

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.

img_3753

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

img_3757img_3758

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

img_3789

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.

img_3788

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…..

img_3787

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!!

img_3646img_3733

img_3652img_3664img_3650img_3675img_3677

Hungarian Poetry

img_3731

The Boat Cruise….

img_3721img_3700img_3716

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.

Image result for budapest

Saying Goodbye to Vienna and Austria

Another travel day – this time to Budapest, Hungary. We are sad that we are saying goodbye to Austria and that our time in Vienna was cut short due to illness and injury. On the days that we did get out of the apartment, we did what we could in the allotted amount of time.

Vienna is made up of a number of zones – City Center is Zone One and we were staying in Zone 16. There are a number of palaces and castles spread across the city but most of the main sights are within Zone 1. We had walked through Zone 1 a few times but thought that we should expand our horizons so ended up taking a Big Bus Hop On Hop Off Tour. Though these tours are fairly expensive, they do give a pretty good overview of the city with headset commentary as you travel. We travelled along the Red Line that took us around the Ring Road which basically encircles Zone 1. We saw the Parliament Buildings and the Votivkirche (built in 1879 to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life after an attempted assassination), drove by the Sigmund Freud Museum, Beethoven’s Residence, and crossed the Danube Canal into the Jewish District (which was all but cleared out during the Second World War). We continued on and crossed the Danube River (which has been rerouted in order to avoid the numerous floods that plague Vienna) arriving in the modern business district and the amusement park simply called the Prater. From the bus we viewed the landmark giant ferris wheel dating back to 1897. Once back to the Ring Road and our original departure point, we jumped onto the Blue line. This took us a little further afield to the Schonbrunn Palace (summer residence to the Hapsburg Dynasty), Belvedere Palace (another summer residence of one of the Princes) and the War Museum. Though we talked about getting off at the Schonbrunn Palace ,  once we saw how massive it was, we decided that it was just too overwhelming for the time that we had. So, we stopped at the War Museum instead which of course has its own post. This gave us a full day of touring the city and we feel that we got a pretty good bang for our buck.

Unfortunately, we did not make it to any music concerts. There were many but all late in the evening and by then we were pretty pooped. We think that if we had been staying closer to the city center we may have been more inclined to take in one of them. However, we weren’t and we didn’t so this may be another one of those things that we will regret missing once we are home.

And that brings this Austria section to a close. What a beautiful country and with some good fortune we may make it back again. Looking forward to the culture and history in Budapest!!

 

 

The Vienna Military Museum

While we were on one of our Hop on Hop off bus tours we came upon the Vienna Military Museum.  One of the artifacts in the museum was something I was very interested in seeing so Col agreed to stop off with me and tag along for a tour which lasted about two hours….

img_3606img_3605

A Russian officer’s coat which Napoleon had acquired.

img_3575

And now for you history buffs.  The picture below is of the car that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in while he was in Sarajevo.  The event proved to be the spark that started a chain of events which led to the start of WWI…..

img_3579

War:  Will we ever learn…….

 

Horses, Horses, Horses – The Lipizzaner Stallions!!!

Today was the big day – off to the Spanish Riding School. Other than Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud, Vienna is known for its riding school and beautiful white stallions. (well, if the truth be told, I think it is probably famous for a lot of things but at this point I will not go into that).

We booked tickets for the two hour training session this morning and a tour of the facility this afternoon. The reviews from TripAdvisor on the training session were brutal – “boring” “horses just walking around” “unorganized” “no tricks performed” to name a few. I figured that these reviews were from uninformed non horse people so chose to ignore them – and I was so right!! I enjoyed every minute of the 120 minute session – divided into four sessions of 30 minutes each. Each session featured 5 horses and yes, basically they went through their paces of walking, trotting, and loping. But not just your average gait and lead changes. These horses were poetry in motion prancing along the wall, loping controlled circles (Terrie – this would have been your moment!!), sidespassing diagonally across the arena and stopping for a sugar treat after a particularly well executed sequence. Each session had horses at different levels of training. In Session Three I was particularly drawn to a black horse – yes, he is actually a 21 year old black Lipizzaner of which I will tell you more later – that moved through his paces beautifully. At one point he was alternating leads so that he looked like he was actually skipping down the arena. It had to be the coolest thing until he started to slow prance his way back. Awww, I just fell in love with that boy. The last session was the young ones – five year olds, still grey and a little hotter than their older companions. The riders kept them well in control but you could tell that a couple of them would have liked nothing better than to gallop from one end of the arena to the other in wild abandon.

After the “show” we had a couple of hours until the tour so stopped at a busy little Chinese restaurant for lunch before we headed back. The riding school itself is actually part of a bigger complex so we were not exactly sure where the stable facilities might be. We walked a different route back to the school and ended up walking right past the stables!! That was a surprise. Though we couldn’t get close to them, a few of the horses had their heads sticking out of their stalls looking for their lunch so I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures. We were not allowed to take pictures during the morning training session (though I think Richard may have sneaked a couple) so I felt quite naughty!!

Anyways, we got to our tour and our guide was very informative and a lot of fun. He told us a little about the origins of the school and how the horses came to be. In 1521, Ferdinand I became the Archduke of Austria. Now this wouldn’t really matter that much except that he was actually from Spain and had never lived in Austria. As he had to obviously leave Spain for Austria, he decided to take his herd of Spanish horses with him. The riding school was set up a few years later using the Spanish horses which is why it is still called the Spanish Riding School today. However, it was difficult to continue to bring horses all the way from Spain, so they started to import horses from Italy, Hungary etc. Even this proved to be quite a headache so eventually, they decided to breed their own horses near a small town call Lipizza. And voila, we have the Lipizzaner!

So, enough history!! What about the horses?!?!? So, off to the stables we went. We started in the beautiful tack room where each horse has two of their own outfits, one for training (black saddle and bridle) and the other for performance (white saddle, gold bridle). And then into the stables. Basically like any other stable with a number of box stalls lining the walls but each of these contained a BIG, BEAUTIFUL, WHITE, HORSE!! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to touch them, hug them, take photos of them or in anyway interfere with their beautiful bodies but we could look at them and smell them (which to horse girl is almost as good!!). There are 70 horses in Vienna at all times but there are 120 working horses in total. The other 50 are up at their “green” home in northern Austria. Each horse will spend twelve weeks a year up north and these are rotated through –  40 horses at a time.

Now, the story of the black horse – according to our guide, they are considered the lucky charm. There are only a couple born each year and they are given a free pass. All the other little Lipis have to work to get their place in the performing stable but not the black ones. Apparently, to have a black horse in your stable is to have good luck all through the year. How do they know which ones will stay dark and which ones will eventually lighten to white? It is all part of the breeding program and I guess they know because there he was – beautiful and black and way past the age of turning white.

And that concluded our stable tour. I was happy that we were able to spend the day around these beautiful animals. Maybe we’ll have to put one of the stud farms on a future tour list…..

Translation:  Spanish Riding School.

img_3609

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures or video of the horses during their morning exercises or while we were touring the stables in the afternoon, but I did manage to sneak a few.

img_3612img_3613img_3611

 

The riding arena:  It was a just a little bit fancier than the ones I have visited back home.  How often do you see chandeliers in a barn?

img_3617img_3616img_3614img_3615

The Tack Room:  For you non horsey type people that is where you keep the saddles, blankets, bridles, bits, etc…  The gold plating on the bridles is real gold.  Again, not your typical tack room.

img_3621img_3625img_3623img_3620img_3622img_3626img_3627img_3628img_3629

The only pictures I could get of the stables was from the outside. 

img_3633img_3631img_3634img_3632

20190312_134048.jpg

The following video is an advertisement for Viking River Cruises, but it shows the stables I was not allowed to take pictures of and the area where the horses are performing is the actual one we were at today.

Thought I would throw this extra video in.

Feeling Better!

Yay!

So this post got “posted” before it was complete. What I meant to say was that we both were feeling better today and decided to go out for a couple of hours. We took the tram back to the old city and wandered around for a while. We stopped for a bite to eat, took a few pictures and headed back home. It was a short adventure but it was great to be back out again.

Looking forward to an even better day tomorrow!

A Couple of Debbie Downers in Vienna

Well, we finally hit our wall. After travelling for nearly eight months the inevitable has happened – we got sick. To clarify, I am sick and Richard has an inflamed Achilles tendon which makes it painful to walk. I haven’t left the apartment for two days and Richard has limped to the store or nearby restaurant to keep us in food. Not that it matters to me – I am not sleeping, have no appetite and feel like a wet dishrag – without being nearly as useful. I guess there was a reason that we decided to stay here for eight days. It will give our bodies a chance to breakdown and build themselves up again – hopefully. We are still planning to see the Lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School and attend one of the many concerts for which Vienna is famous. However, not today and probably not tomorrow.

And so, my dear friends and family, do not be alarmed if you don’t see any posts or pictures for the next couple of days. We are taking a much needed rest from our crazy schedule and binge watching The Blacklist. With four seasons on Netflix, we should be well entertained as we kick back and relax.

As usual, it is in times like this that we miss you all very much. Really looking forward to landing in Canada on May 31!! See you all in June!!