Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A tale of two romantic cities

So after an emotionally tumultuous time in the west of Hungary we took the train to Budapest for some rest and relaxation. We could not have picked a better place with its numerous lush gardens, the Danube river snaking through the middle, and beautiful hills with amazingly lit buildings that make this city one of the best for wandering along the river's edge and across the bridges at night.


This was where we parted ways with my sister and her husband but we still had a couple of days to fill before they left. The first day was taken up going to Heroes' Square and seeing the semi circular parade of statues of heroes long past.







Then to completely mix things up we caught a bus to the countryside to visit Monument Park. Paul had a brochure for this place that claimed 'tons of communism' so we wanted to find out how many tons. Tucked away in the outlying areas and not easily accessible is where all the old monuments of communist rule can be found. Included are the boots of Stalin, the only thing left of his statue from the 1956 uprising, as well as a huge statue of a worker (I think) that reminded me of the Hulk. We did not spend a long time here as due to our parents' experience Erika and I were not overly excited by remnants of communist rule, but to the side was a building that was eminently more interesting. Inside were blow by blow histories of the 1956 and 1989 revolutions.


First and last nights were long late walks soaking in the atmosphere of the two sides of the Danube that comprise Buda and Pest. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge was really cool just going into evening as the lights on it are initially green and then go progressively more yellow as they warm up. On the Buda side is the funicular that goes up to the castle district where we found buildings and walkways along the top with stunning views in the early evening and at night all the way back to the bridge at Margaret Island. Margaret Island is also a great place to go for early morning walks or runs if you are that way inclined (like us) with large park areas.













The sun goes down on Budapest
We finished our last day there looking for one of their famous thermal baths to soothe our tired muscles. We found three, one for women only (clothing optional), one for men only (clothing optional) and one for both (clothing mandatory). Yep we picked that one. Room after room of thermal baths of different temperatures as well as adjoining rooms of saunas of varying temperatures, from opening up the pores to slow rotisserie. 









Sufficiently relaxed we boarded a train for our next stop, Prague, in the Czech Republic. We got in late but found out that from our hostel there were free tours running in the mornings. We got up early ready for our free walking tour and then followed the tour leader to four other places while he picked up more people.


We started our tour at the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall just as it chimed and went through its complicated series of motions. Our guide explained that it is the only one of its kind in the world, the story goes thus: the inventor became really famous and was being asked to make similar clocks all over the world, so the ruler invited him over for dinner to celebrate but instead of a celebration he was blinded so that he would not create any more. The clock goes through the same steps every hour and a crowd gathers every hour and watches. At the end the crowd claps.


For the next several hours we walked all over Prague learning its secrets, and then the same company had a non free tour in the afternoon to see the Prague Castle. We decided to do that one as well. So after a days worth of walking the tour finished at the castle. We then wanted to see the view at the top of The Great South Tower of St Vitus Cathedral that houses the largest bell in the Czech Republic at 15 tons, so 287 steps later we were looking at panoramas of Prague.









On the walk back we saw many sights including a weird fountain that Elizabeth really liked for some reason, I had trouble getting her to leave... Then we went over Charles Bridge which is an old bridge covered in statues, some of them can bring you good luck! Legend has it that John of Nepomuk was a priest who had taken the queen's confession which the king was rude enough to ask him to reveal. Saint John would not and was thrown off the bridge into the Vltava river. Consequently that translates into it being good luck to rub any statue of him (the logic escapes me, but luck is luck!). It is easy to know where to rub, it is wherever there is a shiny gold area.

The next night we went back to the castle to see the night time views from that side of the river and strolled leisurely back over the old bridge to our comfy hostel apartment. Prague was one of those places you could just wander endlessly and we easily clocked up 18 km per day according to my trusty Android pedometer App. We decided that Budapest and Prague have two main things in common, amazing architecture and romantic night views.