A Travellerspoint blog

Budapest Hungary

A tale of two cities.......

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Hello from Budapest,

We arrived in Budapest via overnight train from Krakow. After the confusion about our sleeper car reservation with the train conductor was resolved with a few Hungarian Forint ($) we were settled into our cabin for the night. I couldn’t figure out why a train from Krakow to Budapest would take all night until I figured out we traveled through Prague and Vienna before arriving in Budapest and I’m pretty sure our sleeper car was disconnected and re-connected to another train at least twice. You have to roll with the punches when you travel so we just looked at it like a camping trip where someone is shaking your tent all night.

Budapest is a union of two old cities (Buda and Pest) that each reside on different sides of the Danube River. Buda is the side with hills while Pest is pretty flat. We stayed in an area called the Castle district on the Buda side right across the street from the Matthias Church. As has somehow become a tradition with us on this trip we went in search of authentic local food for lunch our first day in town. We both had the Goulash soup and some beef stroganoff. The goulash was tasty but the stroganoff had a distinct mustard flavor which was appreciated much more by Tom than Susan.
The highlights of our visit to the city were a couple of cruises on the Danube, a trip to the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, the Opera house and some wonderful meals (OK after a bit we went Italian…sorry) with excellent wines.

Let’s get to the pictures………….

This building was at the East end of the Castle district. I am nit sure what it is but it was a good example of the highly decorated roof tiles that are seen throughout the city. The city has a distinct Eastern flavor in its architecture as it has been captured and ruled by Mongolia, Turkey and other Eastern civilizations over its history.

A Castle district street scene.

This is the front of Matthias Church and was directly across the street from the Burg Hotel where we stayed.

This is a view of the decorated roof tiles on the Matthias Church from the back side.

These next three pictures are from the inside of the Matthias Church. The decorative painting on just about every surface again has a very Eastern feeling but it was beautiful!

The picture above was taken in a relatively new area called Fisherman’s bastion near the Matthias Church and it provides some nice overlooks of the Danube River and the Pest side of the city.

This building, like many others in the city, still show the scars of armed conflict with the Soviet army in the 20th century.

This is a picture of the “Chain Bridge” across the Danube with Buda on the left and Pest on the right. It was taken from the Citadel atop the highest point of the city on the Buda side.

This church shows yet another example of the beautifully decorated tile roofs around the city.

This is a picture or the Hungarian Parliament building on the Danube River.

This is one of the newer bridges in town but I thought it was amusing that they actually had to move that church several yards to the left when they installed the bridge but it seemed to have plenty of room on the right side. Sounds like the bridge was built in the wrong place to me.

The Liberty Bridge across the Danube is gorgeous. The statue on the Citadel in the background is called their "Statue of Liberty" she is holding an olive branch.

A university library and a very beautiful building.

This is my funny street scene entry for Budapest. You just don’t see people with huge falcons on their arms that often in the USA.

The next five pictures are of the Budapest Opera house. It is a beautiful example of early 19th century architecture. This is where the opera scenes in the movie Evita were filmed.

These next two snaps were taken at dusk around the city.

This is a night picture of the Chain Bridge taken from the Danube River and seems like a good closing picture for Budapest.

Well that’s about it for Budapest. We are having the time of our lives and really enjoying learning a little about these places we are traveling. Next we fly from Budapest through Munich to Dubrovnik Croatia. We have been really looking forward to Dubrovnik. Again, I will catch up with you all as soon as I can.


Posted by Trainwater 00:45 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Krakow Poland

The City / Auschwitz - Birkenau / Salt Mine

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Hello from Krakow,

We arrived in Krakow by plane from Prague. Krakow is much more what I envisioned as an Eastern European country. I can’t really explain the feeling it just feels like you are in a previously communist country. The old town is area is very nice with early 16th century buildings and a central town square as seems to be the “norm” in this part of the world. We are only here for two days and one night before we take the overnight train to Budapest. The afternoon after we arrived was dedicated to the local street scenes and to an authentic Polish meal. We found a restaurant at the suggestion of a local and had an assortment of local dishes including Polish Pierogi’s, Galubki (stuffed cabbage), chicken soup, and, of course, pork. Along with our bread was served a dish of very tasty herbed cream spread as well as a not so tasty dish of pork grease. Yep just like mom used to keep in a jar in the fridge. Yuck! The remainder of that day was spent walking around the city, visiting a very nice church with an underground crypt as well as the local castle.

The following day was dedicated to visiting the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau as well as the world famous Salt mines. I don’t know how to describe the feeling we had visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. To say it was “sad” or “moving” or any other words seem woefully inadequate. It was stunning to witness the organizational structure, effort and precision that was put into such a violation of humanity by other humans. My objective with the few pictures I have chosen to include in the blog is not to show the gruesome details but rather try to give you a sense of how the human suffering that occurred here still permeates this place even today. Later in the day we visited the Salt mines. This is (according to the guide) the oldest continuously operating capital enterprise in the world. It has been mining and selling salt for more than 700 years now. When it began, salt was more valuable than gold. No wonder I like salt!

Well…let’s get to the pictures..............

This is a picture of the Krakow town square very near our hotel.

I’m not sure if this was a special day but there were about 30 flower vendors in the square this day. This picture shows Susan checking out the flowers.

A picture of some unknown church dome among the roof tops of Krakow.

Here is my funny street scene entry for Krakow. It was a guy hitting on a girl on stilts

The next three pictures are from the Church of SS. Peter and Paul. Along with the beautiful alter and organ they have an underground crypt where the remains of about four holy people remain along with room for another.

The next three pictures are from the Wawel Royal Castle (please don’t ask me to pronounce it). It dates from the 13th century and it very beautiful.

This is the famous main entrance gate at Auschwitz. It roughly translates to “Work will set you free” which of course was not true for most of the people that entered under it.

These next four pictures I think are self explanatory

We were very lucky to encounter Kazimier Piechowski during our tour of Auschwitz. He was one of the very few men to have successfully escaped Auschwitz with three others by stealing SS uniforms and a car from the car pool. His story is told in the movie “The Runaway”. Some of the families of the men who escaped were captured and murdered to retaliate for his escape.

After the war the original German commandant of Auschwitz was found living in Germany under an assumed identity and he was brought back to the camp to be hanged on this gallows.

One of the restored barracks at Birkenau .

This was the selection platform where prisoners brought to the camp in these train cars fate was decided and where many family members saw each other for the last time. I hope from this picture can also give you some idea of the size of Birkenau. It was 20 times the size of Auschwitz.

When the Germans realized the war was lost they blew up the gas chambers and crematoriums at Birkenau. The remains were left exactly as they were when discovered by the Russians.

At the back end of Birkenau where the gas chambers were there are these plaques all saying he same thing in about 20 different languages. They read "Forever let this place be a cry of despare and a warning to Humanity. Where the Nazi's murdered about one and a half million Men, Women and children, mainly Jews from various Countries in Europe. Auschwitz - Birkenau 1940 - 1945"

Now onto a happier note…….The Salt mine.

You begin your tour by taking a stair well down almost 400 steps to the first level of the mine which is almost 1100 feet below the surface. This is a view looking down the center of the stair well. It took about 20 minutes to get down there. Thank god there was an elevator up!

This shot shows some of the mechanical mechanisms that were used to lift items up and down the mine.

This shot shows some models representing the job of manually burning off the Methane gas that would collect at the ceiling of the mine. As you can imagine this was a fairly dangerous job.

More mechanical mechanisms developed after the horse was brought down to provide additional muscle.

Tom turning on of the hoists to lift a barrel of salt.

A shot down one of the mine shafts used to route water out of the mine. Water must be managed well as it can erode the salt shafts in an undesirable way.

A very elaborate grand ballroom all carved out of salt.

One of the many detailed carvings in the walls of the grand ballroom all carved out of the salt walls.

One of the staircases in the lowest levels of the mine.

Well that’s it from Krakow. It was a blur as we were only here for two days and one night and we were very busy trying to get everything in. Next we travel by overnight train to Budapest. I will catch up with you all again as soon as I can.

Do Widzenia

Posted by Trainwater 08:25 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Prague & Cresky Krumlov Czech Republic

The most beautiful city I have ever seen.......so far

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Hello from Prague,

Where to begin? First I must tell you that Prague (or Praha as it is spelled locally) is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. You need to understand we are really into history and architecture. In most places we have been we would see a building here and then a while later you would see another building there that were truly beautiful well preserved examples of building art. However, in Prague it is like almost every building you look at is a well persevered example. You find yourself saying “look at that” about once per minute until you hit saturation.

We stayed at a hotel very near the old town square (I will include some pictures from the square below). It happened to be the weekend when Scotland was in town to play the Czech Republic in the qualification rounds for the European championships so there were about 20,000 Scot’s in town with their kilts and drinking and singing. We had been on the road for a while so the first day was dedicated to some housekeeping chores like laundry and I needed a haircut. We then set out to discover the city at Prague castle which is the largest in Europe. We attended a classical organ and violin concert in the beautiful Dominican church St. Giles where the organ is from 1732 and enjoying some traditional Czech food and local beers at several local restaurants. We also traveled to Cresky Krumlov which is a small mid evil town also incredibly well preserved about 2 hours by car South of Prague. There is no way I can impart just how many beautiful buildings we saw here in these few photos. I would say if you love old architecture from the 14th to the 18th century being here is as close to feeling like you are living in that time as I have found. Well let me get to the pictures and show just how beautiful these two cities are………

This is an overview of the city of Prague from the Prague castle. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and with 1.3 million people is its largest city. You can see how it is positioned on the Vltava River. It’s has been called the city of a hundred spires.

The next four pictures are from the Prague Castle Cathedral which was amazingly beautiful example of the overall castle architecture. The castle has a long history dating back to 890 when the castle was founded. It has been the where Kings of Bohemia, Roman Emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic have ruled.

Above is another shot of the Vltava River with the Opera house dominating the string of beautiful buildings along the river front.

Here is my funny street scene for Prague. When a group of mildly intoxicated Scotsman meets a group of parading Hare Krishna’s well… a street dance ensued.

This is the Astronomical clock on the old town city hall building. The clock dates back to 1410 and shows the phases of the sun and moon, the current astrological signs and, oh yes…the time.

These next photos are just selected street scenes from our wondering around the city. Many of these are not famous buildings just another beautiful building in Prague.

These next three photos were taken in the old town square where we stayed in the early evening. The large church in the last photo is Our Lady of Tyn church founded in 1385. Looking at it from the square just after the lights came on looked truly unreal…almost like a movie set then you realize…WOW! This is real!

These next photos are of Cresky Krumlov where we spent a day. The castle was founded in the early 13th century and has been owned and traded through several families over the years with the Rosenberg family being the longest single owner. The building itself is interesting as all of the block like decoration is painted on the buildings which are basically flat. They were very into cemetery believing it brought balance and contentment so if a room has a door on one side but not the other…they just painted one on the other side. The picture with fire below was where we had lunch…roast pig’s knee…yum!

Well that’s it for Prague and Cresky Krumlov. Sadly after four days we must travel on to Krakow to see the Salt mine and the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I will catch up with you all as soon as we can.


Posted by Trainwater 09:57 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Berlin Germany

A City of Contradiction

Hello from Berlin,

Actually I am writing this on the train and we have already crossed into the Czech Republic but this entry is about Berlin where we have spent the past three days. Berlin is to me a city of contrast. In many ways Berlin is a modern vibrant city with a lot of beautiful architecture, great food and friendly people and at the same time a city with some very deep scars in its past. The good news is that the city seems to be willing to openly examining its past and has erected many monuments and museums to its history leading up to and during World War II. Berlin is also a very socially liberal city and has some very bohemian areas with really fun people. We had always heard about the Berlin Cabaret scene and after some investigation found a very small cabaret that you wouldn’t take your mom to but was very fun. They had comedy, magic, music and a bit of nudity all pretty tastefully done and you got the sense you could have been sitting there hearing these acts in the 1920’s.

The weather has been ideal on this trip. We are beginning to wonder why anyone would vacation during the summer. We were a bit tired of the same old Brats, Schnitzel and beer and decided to go Italian and American food during our time in Berlin. We found great food pretty easy to find and the atmosphere was very nice. Well I feel like I’m rambling which means I should get to the photo’s so here we go……………

This is photo of the Berlin Cathedral in the distance. Like St. Petersburg Berlin has several rivers that run through the city and in one area they actually form an island that has come to be known as Museum Island for all the museums that are on it.

This is my funny street scene entry for Berlin. This guy has a gas grill with brats and sausages hanging from those straps around his neck and of course an umbrella to keep him in the shade. Kind of like a wearable hotdog stand.

This is the German History Museum where we spent a very informative afternoon. They have a chronological history of Germany from before their conflicts with Rome up through the re-unification of Germany.

This is a Catholic church that was built by Frederick The Great so the Catholic minority would have a place to worship even though he and most Germans were Protestant. He was an educated leader of the city who wanted to make sure his citizens were enlighten and so he made libraries and other science information available to all people.

Here is Susan standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate on the East Berlin side.

This is another picture of the Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower built by the Russians and East Germans after the War. The TV tower has a restaurant that rotates once per hour and is probably the best preserved example of architecture during the cold war. We went up in the tower and it was like stepping back into 1966.

This is a picture of the city from the TV tower restaurant.

These next two pictures are of the inside of the Berlin Cathedral.

This is a subway station from the cold war times called a “Ghost Station” these were stations that were simply walled off when East and West Berlin were segregated. It was said that many East Germans could hear the trains from West Berlin and sometimes people talking behind these blocked off walls but of course could not get to them.

This is the memorial to the burning of the books in the square across the street from Humboldt University . It is a square hole in the ground with empty book shelves. Simple but moving.

This monument, near one of the local train stations, is dedicated to the Jewish families that were brought to the station and made to pay for their trips to the concentration camps.

This is a very large memorial to the Jews that lost their lives in the Holocaust. It is made up of 2,711 cement towers of varying sizes and heights and angles. When you walk among them it is sobering.

This is a mural to promote Socialism located on the old Luftwaffe building. Just about 30 yards away from here in an open area farmer’s conducted a peaceful protest simply holding hands and singing songs to protest the reduced value of their crops after WWII. The East German police opened fire and they were all brutally killed.

This is the last remaining section of the Berlin wall preserved near the Museum of Terror that is dedicated to the rise of the Nazi party and holocaust. These remains are the basement of what became the SS headquarters where some medical experimentation was performed on prisoners.

This was the famed “Checkpoint Charlie” which was one of three gates between East and West Berlin.

This is a photo of Hitler in the early days before he was elected Chancellor in the same Hof Brau in Munich where we had lunch about 2 weeks ago. It still looks exactly like this..... less the scary people with bad mustaches of course.

These two pictures show the Brandenburg gate today vs. how it was just after the war separating East and West Berlin.

These two pictures show the Art academy both today vs. how it looked when Hitler used this courtyard for his large Nazi gatherings in the early 1930’s it seemed very odd to stand where these events occured.

Well that’s it for now. I will try to catch up with you all before we leave Prague. Berlin is definitely a city that I would visit again. We had a great time and although some of the history is very sad and gruesome it has been the location for so much history that changed the world. I guess that is it for Germany as I think about it now we have had a great time here and I know much more about the history ad the people than I knew before.


Posted by Trainwater 13:31 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

St. Petersburg Russia

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Hello from Russia

We have had a great time here in St. Petersburg Russia over the past three days. The time has flown by and now we are faced with re-packing to travel back to Berlin for the last few days in Germany tomorrow. We have had some interesting food and met some interesting people while in Russia. We have had some Pierogi’s which is a dough filled with various options…in our case we chose rabbit and onion. (yes we actually thought that was our best option). We have tried Russian Borsht soup which (thankfully) doesn’t taste as much like beats as it looks like it might along with several other items which we were not quite certain of either the pronunciation or the content. The good news is that the city and the buildings are beautiful. The city is on the Neva River and has many inland canals thus the nickname of Venice of the North. The weather has really been ideal with cool crisp but clear days with moderately cold nights. Things are expensive here if you do the Ruble to dollar conversions seemingly even more so than elsewhere in Europe. The two highlights of our touring the city were St. Isaac’s Cathedral and, of course, the world famous Hermitage museum housed in the Royal Winter Palace. I had a very hard time trying to narrow down the enormous number of pictures I took here to just the ones I decided to include in this journal entry. It is just a beautiful city.

The outside of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Taking over 40 years to complete beginning in 1786 was beautiful from the outside but even more impressive inside.

This is a picture of the inside of the cathedral.

Those large green columns look to be made of solid green Malakite but they were among the first to employ a new process of overlaying thin veneer’s of Malakite over metal substructures.

The dome of St. Isaac’s is beautifully adorned. In the center is a sculpture of a dove and all of the subjects on the dome’s murals are looking at it.

The doors of the church on the North, South and West entrances are amazing. Each one is intricately carved depicting early scenes and events as well as important figures in the early days of Christianity in Europe.

Another alter within St. Isaac’s Cathedral

This building was simply called the “Main Headquarters” building. After getting busted for taking a picture of a policeman I quit asking questions.

The next few pictures were taken while on a boat tour. I do not recall what each of them were but I hope it will give you an idea of the city.

This building is the Engineering Palace. Yes, I did remember the name of that building since I felt it was extremely appropriate! 

This is a picture of the Church of the Savior on Blood or sometimes called Church on Spilt Blood as it was built on the location of the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

Susan and I pausing near one of the canal’s in St. Petersburg.

Ahhh a man and his bear is a special relationship that you just don’t see too often on the streets in the USA.

This is the Alexander Column and was built in 1834 to commemorate Alexander I victory over Napolean.

This is only a partial view of the Hermitage museum inside the Winter Palace…It’s Huge! They say if you spent one minute looking at each item in the museum 24/7 it would take you over 8 years to get through it all…and we did in a day 

This is known as the wax person and is a replica of Peter the Great and was made from moulds take from his body after death and utilizes not only is original clothing and thrown but also his real hair. A bit macabre but hey… we are after realism here.

OK so here’s the deal folks……It is way after midnight here and there is no way I can do the Hermitage museum justice with the few photos I can include here so I will include these and let you peruse them. My hope is that you will see that the building alone is a work of art not to mention the exhibits included there from the entire list of major artist in European history. Enjoy


Well I guess that’s it for now… Berlin is next then we are off to Prague, Krakow and Budapest. We will catch up when we can.

Posted by Trainwater 15:05 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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