A Travellerspoint blog

A Taste Of Budapest

... and trying not to use Hungary in a pun

sunny

Three nights isn't enough in Budapest. I know that now. In fact I think I knew it as soon as I stepped off the train. The place was filthy. The main station looked rusted as if it would collapse at any moment, men were trying to sell us hotel accommodation or taxi rides, others just looking us up and down in a shady way. The streets outside were unkempt, overpopulated. The environment made me think that the Soviets had left yesterday, and no one had started the rebuilding process. But somehow there was charm, and excitement. Coming from the imperial Vienna before that, this middle class, comparatively privileged traveller got his first real taste of Eastern Europe, and I liked it.

We came in pretty late to Budapest, well it was night time anyway, and proceeded to figure out how to get to our CouchSurfing hosts place, which would be our home for the next 3 nights. I must admit I always enjoy this part, coming into a new town completely unprepared, except for an address and a shonky hand drawn map. It makes my brain switch on to a level where all the senses are heightened. I have to figure out where we are, observing the surroundings, I have to figure out the metro system while getting an overall sense of all the citys public transport, how to buy tickets, whilst concentrating on speaking the little bit of the language that I studied on the train over. I have to keep an eye on Mel, and be diligent of any kind of scams or extortion attempts. And as my brain does this its also taking in everything around me, the people, the scenery, what the locals are doing, and remaining aware that I am experiencing a new city for the first time, and try to embrace that and play tourist while doing the tasks at hand. I think its great as I see it as a real time of focus for me, an escape from the usual chaotic tornado of ideas that normally curse my day.

Anyway, loosing focus, I told you that happens. We arrived at Helga's place. And for the first time since starting CouchSurfing, we had met our host previously. If you can follow, while we were in Paris, Helga was couchsurfing at a French couples place, who had previously couchsurfed at our place in Sydney. When we had arranged to meet our former guests for dinner, Helga came along as well. We didn’t get to talk much then, as that was the night Mel got sick after ingesting some pine nuts hidden in the lasagne, but within the brief time we did chat, upon hearing our plans to visit Budapest, she had very generously extended an invitation to stay with her while we were there.

Well invitation accepted, and we found ourselves at Helgas. Greeted by herself and her housemates, we had discovered they had cooked a big dinner for everyone, which included the use of some sort of garlic leaf Mel and I had never experienced. It was like a vine leaf that tasted exactly like garlic, and it was amazing. It was the start of many new discoveries we would have during our stay. So, needless to say we felt very welcome. We chatted over dinner, getting to know each other. They were all very cool. Helga was intelligent, funny and insightful, and passionate about showing us the best parts of her city. Her housemates Balasz and Lila were great. They had both travelled Australia a few years back, and both were very welcoming. Balasz spoke more English and really seemed genuine in wanting to help us out when he could, and Lila was a little less confident in the language so seemed a little shy, but she was a photographer and was reading Game of Thrones, so we had some things in common. Later we would find out it just took a few beers to get her talking. But all three of them stayed up and talked and shared their experiences and really made us feel so welcome in their home. Again we couldn’t believe our luck with CouchSurfing in giving us the chance to meet some really cool people we could get along with so easily. We immediately felt comfortable, and being so far away from home I really think thats a special thing.

We set off the following day to explore. As far as cities go, Budapest is pretty small. We decided to split our days to Buda in the West, and Pest to the East. It didn’t quite turn out like that, but lets just say that we took it pretty carefree. Being that we were staying in the heart of everything, we set off on foot towards the famous Danube River, which splits the town down the middle in an elegant curve. Our first stop on the way was the Parliament building. Not knowing what it looked like we came across this old, ornate looking structure, a building that looked like it held dignitaries of some kind, if not parliament, then maybe an embassy or something. Well, no. It was MTV headquarters. Man I love Europe.

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If not embarrassed already, the real parliament building made us feel really stupid. An Eastern European version of its London counterpart, this residence was large and intimidating, yet delicate and beautiful at the same time. Resting on the riverfront, we admired its columns, spires and detailed sculptures that adorned its facades.

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From there we strolled over the Danube via the Chain Bridge, and caught the cablecar up to Castle Hill, a massive complex that overlooks the city, and houses the Royal Palace, a few museums and Matthias Church, the gorgeous structure seen from mostly everywhere in the city. We got something to eat there, found some quiet places away from the tour groups, and took a thousand photos. There really is something surreal about overlooking an entire city. Imagining its people both past and present, feeling like some sort of bird observing silently from above. I mean I feel disconnected from humans most of the time, but doing so over an incredible view feels very calming to me, as if somehow escaping the world. Plus, from that height, you can really hock a loogie on someone. (Waynes World reference, no one was spat on in the making of these images)

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We walked back down the hill and back over the bridge to the Great Market. It was an old building filled with stalls of food and ornament vendors, all offering traditional Hungarian wares. To be honest, I didn’t like it too much, it was just a bit sterile.

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Now, as I have mentioned before, CouchSurfing is great for a number of reasons. One of those is that locals give you ideas and insights of where to go and things to do that are very helpful for people like us who call ourselves flexible and easy going, but really just suck at planning anything. Well, that particular day, our hosts imparted three pearls of wisdom upon us that would be absolute highlights of our stay. The first one was convincing us to visit the Hungarian Baths. We took their recommendation, but came to the realisation that Mel didn’t bring any swimwear. So, although not the most interesting piece of literature here, we spent the next hour or so in search of a bikini. Exciting stuff I know. But, it did mean that we passed through the main shopping district, which is as colourful and interesting as most. No suitable bikini was found that day it may be noted.

Second pearl of wisdom gifted upon us. Helga suggested for lunch we try an establishment called Hummus Bar located on October 6 street. I mention the address, because if anyone goes to Budapest who enjoys, um, eating, and doesn't go here is missing out. I am going to go so far as to say we experienced this as crack cocaine for the tastebuds. To say this meal had flavour, is to say that the Louvre has some paintings in it. And it was really cheap as well. On their menu they have written “Hummus is sexy” and I'm not ashamed to say that I did feel slightly aroused.

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Food drunk and intoxicated with flavour, we stumbled around the corner to St Stephans church. It was the middle of a service, so the place was lit up and looked very nice. We didn’t stay too long, but were happy we went. Its pretty cool.

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Third pearl of wisdom for the day. Local bands and a cool club. In fact I may have heard the “coolest club in Budapest” but that may have just been because I was there. Anyway, Helga, Balasz and Lila invited us to tag along to see their other nomadic housemate who we hadn’t met yet play bass in a band in a special location. Helga went off earlier than us to meet some other friends, so the rest of us went in together, which gave us a chance to get to know each other better and learn a bit more about the Hungarian psyche. The bar was revealed to be an old Soviet ship, now moored on the bank of the Danube River, the inside converted into a live music venue which also held some pretty loose parties from the sound of things. The band we were seeing tonight was described as Hungarian folk-jazz, which was kind of a mix Bjork, Dream Theatre and Herbie Hancock. They could all really play, busting out the chops when they could, but laying down the groove when they needed to also. I really dug it. And another thing that made the night special, was beers were cheap in Budapest. I'm talking I could buy a round of 4 or 5, for what I could buy 1 beer for in Sydney. Not that we drank heaps, but it helped loosen everyone up. It was great to meet new people again, Helgas friends were cool, and as she promised, with a few beers under the belt Lila was busting out the English to everyones delight. In fact, they even bought us some traditional Hungarian spirit, Palinka, to shot at the bar. To be honest, it wasn't great. I thought Mel was going to gag or throw it back up over the bar, but she kept it down. It was just very raw and a bit nasty on the throat. I didn’t mind it. The taste of experiencing new cultures I guess.

The next morning we miraculously found a bikini for Mel, then made our way to the Citadella, which was a fortress/battlement nested on top a green hill overlooking the city. At the start of the ascent, we came across a church built into the side of the hill. Literally inside a cave. The history was kind of interesting, but it all felt a little fake.

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So we then made the hike up to the top, and were blown away by the view. There were a few monuments that were amazing, but the city itself was the real star of the show. We sat for a while just taking it in, then trekked back down through the lush green trees. It was really cool because there was so many different paths leading up and down, that we were pretty much alone, and with the density of the trees you could easily imagine it being in some jungle or forest away from any civilisation, but then some of the beautiful city skyline would poke through and you were glad that you weren't.

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We found that all that walking and well, sitting down, really took it out of us and worked up a hunger. So we went back to Hummus Bar. And to be honest, this made me feel really guilty, because I don’t like going to the same place in the same city twice. I would much rather try a few different places to get the experience and feel for the local cuisine. But guilt never tasted so good.

So, what do you do after stuffing your face full of falafel? Go swimming! Yes, we made the journey to the 19th Century Szechenyi Baths, a massive complex of traditional Hungarian baths of different types, located in City Park. And it was incredible. I cant really explain how amazing it is, after a month and a half of living out of a backpack, staying in other people houses, and just being on the go everyday, to just get pretty much naked, and sit in a hot spring pool, outside in fresh air, and just chillax. It was heaven. Not to mention the fact that the building was just gorgeous. Mel and I just shut up, put our heads back and embraced the waters healing powers. I even indulged in a nice massage by a firm yet gentle Hungarian man who I didn’t quite get a good look at come to think about it, so I hope it was a man, or maybe not, I'm not sure now. Anyway, the whole thing rocked. Mel's eyes didn’t open more than half way for hours after, and our skin looked like dried fruit, but it was totally worth it.

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Tip for travellers wanting to travel from Budapest to Krakow, plan it a little earlier than the night before! After our swim we realised we hadn’t made plans for our departure for the next day, so thought we'd quickly look it up. Up until this point, this tactic had pretty much worked for us, but this time it didn’t. Turns out that rather than the 1 train that we thought might take 5 hours max, the best we could do was catch 4 trains, taking 14 hours, and every connection has to be on time or we were stranded somewhere. And anyone whos experienced European trains, isnt going to put their money on them running to schedule. Now at this point we could’ve freaked a little bit, but instead, we decided to go for a drink.

It was our last night in the city, and with our CouchSurfing hosts. They had talked about Budapest's famous ruin bars, which were old, partially damaged buildings, many from the war, that instead of being fixed, just get converted into bars and clubs. Despite obviously being tired, Helga, Balascz and Lila took us out once again to a bar that I think used to be a Dentist office pre-soviet collapse. Now, the place wasn’t in ruins as expected, but it was a really cool vibe. It was like an artsy student hang out, and there were some photo exhibitions by local artists in each of the rooms. We had a few beers, met some new friends again, and even battled it out in a few games of Fooseball. We let the girls win a few times, but the boys were still the clearly dominant sporting species.

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More beers and a few slices of pizza later and we were off home. On the way we got a little sad thinking it was our last night here. It really felt like we had just started to discover the place, just started to get to know some new friends, and kinda started falling in love with another city all over again (I know, we'll never learn). Budapest was truly a city that had a flavour for all the senses and for the soul. It was yet another unique taste in our degustation tour of Europe, one that will stay on our tastebuds for a long while, and one we hope to experience again very soon.

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Posted by Clayton30 11:11 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest hungary europe 2012 Comments (1)

A Symphony for Vienna in D Major – Second Movement

Inspired in Vienna

all seasons in one day

A Symphony for Vienna in D Major – Second Movement

Composition by Claytonius Von Idathoven
Accompaniment by Melis Mi Amore

She seems sad today. Her tears of snow glide weightlessly through the sky and the winds icy lips place gentle kisses upon the face. The flutes widdle sporadically as the strings howl and swell. But again Vienna is subtle, nowhere in the extreme, and rugged up and ready for the day our three enter the streets together and embrace her altered mood as a gift, as another picturesque side of herself she wants to show off. Its snowing in Vienna.

Despite the cold, the trio head out in exploration. Their first stop may appear strange to some, but those familiar with the characters will appreciate, they stop for ice cream. And what ice cream it is, guided by Masha and her secrets of Vienna, they go to the best. And the purchased cups of heaven don't last long.

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The work becomes whimsical, playful, almost carnivale. The Vienna Three journey to Hundertwasserhaus and Kunsthauswein. The famous Viennese artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser becomes the captain in the journey through his mind as they witness the practically bizarre and the understandably insane. His designs and work glimmer with madness on the surface, yet underneath is a strong philosophical intellect and dedication to human relationship with nature that is both inspiring and thought provoking.

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Back to tradition standards, they explore culinary culture in the form of Weiner-Schnitzel. Nourished with food the travellers also receive nourishment of the mind as Masha explains the finer details of Viennese politics and historical happenings, after which they separate and the two go off and visit the Museum of Music, an interactive experience in sound and influential Viennese personalities. Much to their delight, the two contemplate on the day of art, architecture, culinary experience, history, music, new friendship and new discoveries.

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The following day begins in light travel, a journey just outside of the main part of Vienna, to the Klosterneuburg Monastery. Again the travellers are surprised at the uniqueness of another religious establishment. This one visualised through the exuberant display of a golden interior. The religious relics housed within provide some interest but most importantly highlight a lifestyle in a time and place not widely known. Again, the two thank their host, without whom this place would not be discovered.

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We then return to the adventure overture, as the couple make way for Schloss Schonbrunn. Imperial extravagance pulsates through all senses. Wonderment abounds and like little children the two run through decadent halls, pristine gardens, phenomenal fountains, and even a lush green labyrinth. Monuments offer spectacular views of the city, and of the lifestyle of the 16th century's rich and famous.

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From glitz and glamour to flash and trash, the ensemble launches into a roller-coaster of aural delights, as the wanderers experience the visual. The weird and wonderful are on display at Prater Amusement Park, a strange yet wonderful juxtaposition within the boundaries of Vienna's normally conservative and classical nature. And as the majority of the Viennese are at home sipping tea and listening to Mozart, the two are face first in fairy-floss and fluorescent wonderlands, reaching sky high within the iconic Wurstelprater.

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From the highest point in Vienna, the next day brings the lowest. It is the day they must leave. Sadness fills the chamber. Farewells are said to their wonderful host and the remaining hours are spent within the Kunsthistorisches, admiring in particular the amazing work of Gustav Klimt.

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Again beauty is all around but they know their time is fleeting. They find solace in the reassurance that they will return, but for now they must take leave. The music has been with them since their first steps, each sight, smell, touch and sound resembling its own unique instrument. And while they elicit admiration on their own, it is when they come together as a whole that they arouse euphoria. In this amazing place they become one, Vienna's orchestra and the symphony of the city.

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Posted by Clayton30 10:34 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria europe 2012 Comments (0)

A Symphony for Vienna in D Major - First Movement

Inspired In Vienna

sunny

A Symphony for Vienna in D Major - First Movement

Composition by Claytonius Von Idathoven
Accompaniment by Melis Mi Amore

Trumpets announce the arrival of guests as they take their first steps within Vienna.

A slow swell of the strings enters slowing in ¾ time. The tempo is slow, relaxed, mirroring the pace of the travellers weary after a five hour long train journey.

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Flutes enter in a curios dance. Eyes bounce and glow in marvel at the new, as the brain works to navigate and discover. Each path, each tree, each stone is viewed upon for the first time, like a baby born or a blind man healed. And the beauty of such holds true.

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Tentatively the wanderers go to meet their host. The strings of the cellos gently caress every fibre of their bows. The tension builds until the the fifth bar, when the ensemble bounces with jovial relief. Their host is Masha, a talented Chemist and Pianist from the land of Russia, who's hospitality and couch are both warm and welcoming. Upon Miss Mashas display of extravagant adoration for the famous composers, The Beatles, the orchestra breaks into a brief but passionate rendition of “All You Need Is Love”. The original bounce continues into the night as chats and laughs ensue.

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The ensemble comes in full as a steady pace returns. The sun rises on a new day and the couple waltz down the crisp Austrian streets. Around them the sun awakens the buildings of old, displaying their age and wisdom with the same majestic entitlement as those who created them. The crescendo spikes with each turn. Excitement marches for several beats, then bam, the crash of the cymbals announce the decorative University building, the march continues, then crash, the Rathaus, crash the Opera. With marching in between, the crashes continue in higher ferocity with the Parliament building, an ode to Greek mythology and philosophy. Again with the KunstHistorisches and the Naturhistorisches Museum their minds marvel and their souls ignite with the encompassing flames of the beautiful, of the ornate, of the art.

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The next phase pulses with chaos as the two enter the neon glitz of the tourist strip. Like members of the herd the music pushes and pulls against the rhythm, the crush seemingly never to end. They wish to find refuge within the church, however it does not offer sanctuary. The Stephansdom is poor in light but rich in admirers. The solemn walls weep at the ignorant, the loud, whos camera flashes fire without connection, without emotion, and whos disregard is evident in the trail of startled bodies barged out of the way, left only to perform the post-mortem of human decency.

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Escape. The horns rejoice once more as the two continue their exploration. They are joined in a movement by the piano in the theme of the royal waltz, for the two have found themselves at the footsteps of Hofburg Palace, the pompous summer dwellings of the rich rulers who have gone before us. In wealthy exuberance their legacy is left in the statues and figures that grace the grounds. In the decadent and the opulent they display such wealth as a sign of strength, of majesty, and of un-opposable power.

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Enter ecstasy. Apple strudel, Kardinal cake, pudding in custard and afternoon coffee. The two meet their host in Vienna Museum Quartier, a cultural hub in the middle of the city. The ensemble bounces again with playful artistry as the three dance with the colours and forms of the creative minds housed within the Mumok, a massive structure seemingly dropped from space.

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As the sun fades and the day of the moon approaches, the couple contemplate on the day. A soothing and relaxing interlude begins. There is joy and happiness upon reflection of the adventure, and the prospect of more to come. The city in all is elegant is her appearance and likewise in her manner. She projects a calm nature, but with a flirtatious smile. You can hear it in the music that magically fills the city, you can breath it in the air, and you can see it reflected in her people. It can not really be described as romanticism, as its not what she is looking for, but it is something, something alluring.

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Fade out

Posted by Clayton30 13:47 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria europe 2012 Comments (0)

More Baroque Than Bohemian

sunny

Ah, Prague. One of those picturesque cities of legend. One of those towns I had always dreamt of going and one everyone who's been always loves. A fairytale city. Although I don’t think there is enough fairydust in the world to make a Czech smile.

The city is gorgeous. Coming in by train we immediately noticed just how colourful the town was. Different coloured buildings, green surrounds, grey water, blue sky, golden towers, it was really a breath of fresh air from Berlin.

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We decided to take a little break from the CouchSurfing Experience and book out an apartment for 6 nights. We had loved staying at peoples places up until then, but we thought it might be time for ourselves. Our place was smack bang in the centre of it all, we couldn’t have had a better location for seeing sites. Plus we had our own kitchen, so we bought a whole lot of fruit and vegetables for the week, which was pretty exciting.

Anyway, we started the first day with a free walking tour. I definitely recommend this to anyone on their first day as it really had a few benefits. First up, we got a good scope on how the city was laid out. For three hours we walked around led by our very animated guide, who imparted historical wisdom and cultural insights. The benefit to such information is you start to understand your surroundings better, why the architecture is the way it is, why areas are where they are, and why the people are so grumpy. For instance my favourite part of Prague was the architecture, the buildings. After many wars and fires that levelled the city, one of the main architects was a bit of a Paris nut, so pretty much created most of his works in the Art Nouveau style. Such much detail and such decoration was put into each structure. And what really makes it stand out is the eclectic mix of styles within the city. On the one street you can find Art Nouveau, Gothic, International/practical, Baroque modern, even a few Cubism styles of buildings. Every now and again, some would even get started in Gothic and then finish in Nouveau. Now I'm no student of architecture, but I'm telling you I spent most of my time in Prague looking up.

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The other thing I liked about the tour was getting schooled in Czech history. Particularly the countless wars and takeovers that occurred. From Russian, Germans, Swedes, French, everyone seemed to have a crack at taking over the country, and throughout, the countries political stance changed dramatically. You can almost immediately see the wounds left by communism, which I think only fell here in 1989. In many ways it gives an insight as to why the people behave the way they do.

We visited the landmarks (they like clocks), strolled through the Old Town, the New Town, The Old Jewish Ghetto, learning about various events, most of them bloody and horrific thanks to religious power trips.

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The main epicentre of the town is admittedly a tourist crush. We're talking heaps of people. But, I don’t like complaining about tourists, because for starters I am one, but most importantly, is that tourist spots are that for good reason, because they are special and should be enjoyed. Saying that, it didn’t take much to get out of it all, and we found with a few turns we could be in a really interesting place virtually alone. One of those spots was Vysehrad, which was an old fort on a hill which overlooked both the city and the river. I may be wrong, but I think it was the first place the countries leaders settled. It was quiet and peaceful, had a nice park and a little cemetery. From there we took a stroll through some of the working class districts which had a decisively different feel to the centre.

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As the Czechs always seem to be going on about their beer, we decided to go out and try a few types. We went to a cool little bar housed inside a Comic Book Museum, so all the walls had strips on them and it was all themed out. The beer was ok by the way, but didn’t live up to the hype. Saying that, it was the best beer I had for equivalent AUD $1.20. So yeah, it was really cheap. Another night we stumbled upon a little bar call U Sudu, which from the outside appears to be a small quiet wine bar, with about four tables and a little bar area, but once inside, you walk around a corner, through some unmarked door and down some stairs, and the whole place opens up into these underground caverns, with different bars and rooms filled with people drinking and eating and even playing foosball. Again the beer was cheap and cheerful. However the smoking inside thing killed that place for us pretty quick.

The next day was scheduled solely for Prague Castle, the largest castle complex remaining in the world. Kind of like Edinburgh, the castle is situated so that it overlooks the entire city, and aside from the practical reasons, it just looks cool. Again we decided to take a tour, 3 hours this time, to soak up as much info as possible. On the way to the tour meeting place we crossed Charles Bridge, the gorgeous bridge that is in every Prague postcard. Again, a gazillion people, but somehow it gave off this cool party vibe, with bands playing along it and people just happy to be there and basking in admiration. I had heard there were heaps of pickpockets working the area, so for most people, the only thing that could’ve spoilt the experience was this weird bearded Australian guy staring everybody down menacingly. But hey, thats me, and maybe some residual paranoia effects left over from Amsterdam.

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We made it to the tour no worries, and headed off. The tour was great for the most part as it was interesting and I got a chance to not have to think about where we were going (Mels not great with directions), but two things did let it down. Firstly, the tour group didn’t cap numbers, so I say there were 50 people at least in the group with 1 guide. At least. Secondly, I hate to generalise here, but every time we go on a tour, or into a museum, there are some loud mouth obnoxious Americans who pierce through the respective silence like daggers. In this particular group, it was a bunch of young teenage girls who just didn't shut up the whole time. We knew there was trouble when they turned up to a 3 hour walking tour through cobblestone streets in stilettos. But, aside from that, the place itself was incredible. Amazing buildings, amazing history, and an amazing view.

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The following day we decided to get out of Prague. We took a day trip an hour out to a little town called Kutna Hora. Apart from the appeal of significantly less tourists, we wanted to see the Bone Chapel, a chapel that had been decorated with the bones of the 40,000 bodies that had been buried in its surrounding cemetery. This place was great. Apart from the immense artistic creativity, I couldn’t stop thinking that this place would be the perfect venue for a Death Metal gig. In fact, I'd even love to see a classical jazz gig there. Either way it was impressive.

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There were some other interesting things in Kutna Hora's old medieval centre, but mainly the quiet little town was just nice to stroll around. And the weather was perfect again for us.

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We returned to Prague that night to an awesome twilight. The buildings all lit up and the Old Town Square came to life with music and markets and I can only assume celebrations for Easter. We didn’t bring our camera originally, but had some dinner and then ran back home to get it. Unfortunately by that time it had gotten dark and the effect wasn’t the same, and the music had stopped. It was still beautiful though.

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And for some reason, this beauty triggered an insatiable urge in Mel. The lights, the music, the romantic atmosphere, she was just overcome with desire, with passion, with a hunger that wouldn't be denied, she proclaimed that she NEEDED a Lindt Chocolate Bunny! So, instead of going home, we scoured the Prague streets looking for this little chocolate critter but to no avail. Lets just say Mel wasn’t happy, and I knew the first thing I was doing the next morning.

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The next day it rained, which turned out pretty nice as we got to see the city in a new colour once again. We started off with a stroll to soak it all, and then spent a pretty lazy day organizing the rest of the trip and Skyping the fam back home. We capped it off with by spoiling ourselves at a really awesome restaurant, Pizza Nouva.

The next day we would leave Prague, so glad that we had come and so sad to leave. We both loved it, it was a beautiful place. But unlike some of our other destinations, I think the people let it down. Remnants of war or communism or whatever past experience, the root of the attitude may be easy to identify, but the reluctance to let it go perplexes me. I mean you live in Prague, crack a smile with that beer!

Posted by Clayton30 12:38 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague europe czech republic 2012 Comments (2)

Some Walls Linger Long After The Rubble Has Cleared

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As I write this, we are on a train out of Germany. And thankful for it.

I don’t really know what I expected of the country prior to coming, but we are leaving unimpressed. I do still see the country as having potential to be beautiful, as we did see glimpses, but our own experience over the last 7 days wasn’t great, especially considering the amazing times we have had prior. Not that it was all negative, we did have some great times, met some cool people and it was all an experience.

As someone with an interest in modern history, I was looking forward to Germany, as its has had such a major influence on the shape of the world in recent times. Of course the wars that plagued the 20th century were a catalyst for perpetual change in the country, and I guess I admired the nations resilience at the same time as condemning its actions. And as always, I was very interested in getting the countries own view of the events, as most the stuff we are taught in Australia is the English/American versions, in where we are the eternal saviours conquering all evil in the world. Well, maybe it's not that slanted, but there’s room for bias is all I'm saying. And being such a short time ago, I was hoping to find these stories still reflected in the population and its infrastructure.

Well, time for my own recollection of historical events.

We were on a roll before we even got to Germany. For starters, we had slept a few hours only at a strangers house, in our clothes, and without showers, so we were a bit scattered and stinky. We arrived at the train station ok, about 30min before our train was due, but were a little perplexed that the train times were a bit off, by an hour or so. Well, turns out that night, Europe daylight savings had kicked in, so we were waiting at what we thought was 10am, for the 10:30 train, which had already left because it was actually 11am. We weren't to know, but it was pretty funny.

Our first stop was Cologne. I picked it cause of its massive cathedral, its location, and just to get a different feel compared to some of the bigger cities. Coming in it looked pretty cool. Situated on the Rhine, the massive Koln Dom dominated everything else, and was very impressive, even though we had seen a lot of churches in the past three weeks. But we didn’t have time to go inside just yet, as we had to meet our CouchSurfing host Jen. She was working the day at a green market, which was a little event near some abandoned railway which held organic market stalls, a cool clothes swap concept, and a few local musical acts. Despite some difficulty finding the place, we arrived and met Jen and her friend, whos name escapes me, who took us back to their place. Both of them were really awesome. Together with the 22 year old students, we collaborated in making a great home cooked meal and stayed up chatting and laughing till some late hour. It was unreal to click with people we had never met and feel so comfortable and relaxed. We really enjoyed it. Plus we got to eat vegetables, which had unfortunately been missing from our travelling diet.

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The next day we took the opportunity to visit inside the blackened cathedral, taking a tour, and scaling the top of its 157m tower. Thats a lot of stairs by the way. Again, easy as it would seem to get over these giant monuments of worship, each one seems to have something unique about it. For instance, the Koln Dom had this beautiful modern stained glass window, which when the sun is right, paints gorgeous colours along the walls.

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At this stage, we also caught a glimpse at my other expectation of Germany. Whilst waiting for a train at Colognes main station, at 4pm in the afternoon, full of people, there was a naked photoshoot. On the platform, some girl just de-robed as another took pictures of her. She had a little bit of body paint on, not to cover anything, just for artistic effect, but apart from that, full frontal stark naked nude. 4pm. On the outdoor train station. And no one battered an eye lid. I remember saying to Mel "I have to get the camera out, something good is about to happen." but our train arrived, so you'll just have to use your imagination. Damn you Sydney and your taboos of the flesh.

Next up, we took a train to Hamburg. An old port city up north that seems to be in constant redevelopment. Here we got in pretty late, and thanks to some locals giving us wrong directions, we arrived pretty wasted and late to our CouchSurfing hosts, Eva and Krishna. They were both cool with it, but were waiting up so we could eat together, so we felt kinda bad. Their home was pretty small for four people, but because they were so nice and friendly it felt really welcoming, and again was a huge help from someone we had never met.

We didn’t find anything really special about Hamburg. The city was pretty grey and sterile. We did see some cool buildings, and had a nice lunch by the water. We did also find an awesome cafe that served a vegetable stew that I thought Mel was going to get naked and swim in she loved it so much. And we washed it down with chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. After that we headed to the Reeperbahn, supposedly Europe's biggest Red Light District. I'm sure it would be pumping on a weekend, but on the weeknight we went it was pretty dead, so pretty boring. We ended up buying some local beer and heading home to try it with our hosts and have some chats, as we hadn’t had much of an opportunity at that stage.

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At this point I'd like to mention that apart from our hosts, every other German we had met was unashamedly rude or arrogant or just treated us with a total disregard. That includes the general populace, all transport workers, and even tourist information centres, who are supposed to help tourists out, not look at them like its a major pain in their arse. Leaving Hamburg to Berlin, I reached a point where one female railway worker was so rude we had to exchange some words. Consequently, Mel and I were pretty over interacting with people when we hit the nations capital.

When we arrived in Belin, the reputed European weather arrived also. We'd been pretty lucky with the sunshine up until that point, but now it was pretty shitty. Another attempt to buy some food in the train station left us wondering how one human being can be so fucking rude to another human being, especially when said rude human is an uneducated whore selling 30c breadrolls. So it may not have been the best idea that our first stop was the Holocaust Memorial, as it didn’t look likely to restore our faith in mankind.

The memorial was pretty cool. Stone blocks and uneven surfaces created this sense of loss and isolation, with a cold disorientation. It would have been a really solemn reflective place had it not been for some loud arse teenagers running through the thing shouting at the top of their lungs. In this memorial to the horrors of violence, all I could think about was slapping one of these disrespectful little shits across the head. It wasn’t great. Luckily we were soon underground at the sites memorial museum, an exhibition for the history of the holocaust, with detailed accounts and graphic pictures of the terrible crimes against humanity. I'm not going to describe this part in too much detail, cause if I get started I wont be able to stop. What I will say is that this is one of those places where you learn not only about others, but you learn a lot about yourself. I personally just get flooded with emotion and my eyes well up with tears of both extreme sadness and extreme anger. The atrocities that occurred would have been unacceptable if it had happened to one person, but the fact that it happened to millions and millions of individuals is beyond describable horror. We left there not caring so much about a little rain.

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From there we did some of the tourist monument stuff, although with little enthusiasm. Berlin wasn’t really doing it for us. Later that night we met Matt our CouchSurfing host, and another surfer Chris who was also staying from Switzerland. They were both pretty cool. Matt had Seth Rogans voice, but wasn’t as funny, and they were both Vegan, so I had lots of fun ordering the biggest plate of meat I could get when we all went out for dinner that night. Tasted some pretty good local brew too.

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The next few days were still pretty miserable. We did check out the longest stretch of whats left of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery, which was pretty cool. At the last minute we booked tickets to a random theatre show that were going cheap. It turned out to be this vegas style dance show crossed with Cirque De Sole and was just really random and trippy and neither of us knew what was going on, but it was fun. We checked out a photo exhibition which was really inspiring, although it made me realise that we were so disenchanted with Berlin that we had taken nearly no photos. I found an awesome shop filled with vintage sneakers, but nothing that fit. We got evacuated from a train for reasons we don’t know, no one offered any help or explanation. Visited a few sites that were covered for restoration work. And ate too many pretzels.

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So we were getting the feeling Berlin didn’t like us too much. We had serious trouble finding wifi, people were still really rude, and due to miscommunication (again) with CouchSurfing we ended up having to find a hostel one night, which for nine euro each was unexpectedly good.

I will say this about Berlin though, that with a bit of nicer weather and some time to explore, I think we could’ve found some cool stuff. There are unique interesting buildings scattered about town, all with different styles of architecture from varying periods. Each train station looked like some funky artist had designed it, each one was different. There were some cool street art we glimpsed, and areas we would've liked to have checked out further. There were sculptures and art installations just popping up in weird unexpected places and we didn’t really get to check out any of the night life the city is famous for. It really seemed like a city that planned to be random. And I think that is pretty cool.

I hope maybe to give it another chance one day, but unfortunately its been the most unimpressive leg of the tour so far. The train just announced that we are now in the Czech Republic. Hopefully I haven't put that much pressure on Prague to impress. Is “Fairytale city” to much expectation?

Posted by Clayton30 11:15 Archived in Germany Tagged germany europe 2012 Comments (0)

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