Friday, December 5, 2014

A Bath in England leads to Hungarian revolution

After Ireland we took the ferry from Dublin to Wales then drove to the heritage listed city of Bath. It's a place Elizabeth always wanted to get to due to its history and its famous Georgian architecture. We decided to crash at the youth hostel (they take oldies), situated in a magnificent old building, and do our exploring on foot.

We made our way into the city centre coming across the beautiful Bath Abbey church with fabulous fan vaulted ceilings. Next up were the Roman Baths, used since year 1 (seriously 1AD) for every manner of ailment or injury, the only natural hot springs in England. Entertainingly presented with pretend Romans wandering throughout and an interesting blend of ruins and artifacts with interactive exhibitions and media. The Romans used to cover themselves in oil in the sauna and the dirt would come out of their skin into the oil and then they would scrape it off with a trowel. Ewww.

We followed that with a two-hour free walking tour, revelling in the historic structure of this town with its various levels of architecture: more recent inhabitants built on top of the lower levels so the previous Roman structure is underneath. We called it a day around 4:30, the time that it gets dark around here. The next day we visited 1 Royal Crescent (to see how the other half used to live), fully restored to depict the elaborate lifestyle of Georgian times from the bedrooms to the kitchen. The street itself was a picture of opulent indulgence with its sweeping arc of Georgian mansions.

The view from the 2nd floor of No. 1

Royal Crescent

We travelled from here to the town of Hurstpierpoint to visit an old friend, taking some much needed down time lounging around the house watching movies, and going to see some new ones (fyi the new 'Hunger Games' is awesome), after the hectic driving of the Wild Atlantic Way. Eventually we built up the energy to organise a plane trip to Budapest in Hungary and then train to Sopron to catch up with some old and new family members.

Sopron is an amazing old city with Roman ruins of its own and quirky architecture surprising you at every turn. As the world was turning into Christmas mode we got our first experience of what it is like celebrating in a cold climate. In Australia Christmas is more likely to be celebrated with a barbeque and an afternoon down the beach. Stunningly beautiful with its Christmas decorations twinkling in the crisp cold twilight, Sopron put on a display that literally took your breath away and not only because of the debilitating cold. Reindeer and nativity displays were surrounded by running and laughing children wrapped up from head to toe, while adults gathered around large smoking barrels emanating heat from the burning wood fires within clutching large cups of hot wine contentedly being warmed up from the inside out.

Even Elizabeth drinks hot wine in this cold!

The view from the restored Fire Tower

The ballet theatre

As we near the end of 2014 the Sopron ballet company put on a performance that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pan European picnic that occurred near the border here with Austria in 1989. Hungary was not a very good citizen in the communist community and had already started being lax with its borders with the rest of Europe. East German citizens were taking holidays here and then trying to stay and this was going to become a problem with the long cold winter. It was a badly kept secret that a picnic was going to leave the borders open for about 3 hours. So while the guards were enjoying a well needed break the East Germans fled to the west. This started a chain of events that would result in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. From this tiny town a friendly gesture would have massive effects.

The ballet started with events in 1956 during a previous 3 week period of open borders before the Russians came back and cracked down, hard, and worked its way forward to 1989. Really well done in an intimate old theatre.

Hungary never disappoints and we returned to Budapest enjoying the Christmas lights and a brief flurry of snow before looking for warmer climates to finish off the year in.

Budapest. Arguably the most beautiful city at night in the world.

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