Honeymoon Travelogue, Part 2

Budapest

Travel to Budapest was rather unpleasant, though nothing actually went wrong.  EARLY drive to Iraklio, plane to Vienna (via Athens), train to Budapest, metro toward the center of Pest, and we popped out near our hotel.  Our unappealing, rather squalid hotel in which our room was directly off the lobby and there was little or nothing to stop sound coming through in either direction.

So we headed out -- visited St. Stephen's Basilica and watched sunset over the Duna (Danube), and had a great, overpriced Italian meal; we weren't quite ready for Hungarian fare yet. 

Next day, a city tour on an embarrassingly cute open-air bus.  It was frustrating, not enough time anywhere, but a decent overview of the city.  Then over the Chain Bridge, with its lion guardians, and up the funicular to Castle Hill.

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Here was our greatest stroke of blind, dumb luck.  Up on Castle Hill, in Buda, the Budapest Wine Festival was just getting underway!  It's a huge, wonderful event, and what's more it was Friday, so most of the locals were at work!  We bought in, got our wristbands and glasses, and hove to.  The wines were excellent -- I'm amazed I've never heard of Hungarian wines before, I hope we can find them somewhere.  The red wines from the Szekszard region were particularly good. 

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Next day we strolled around Margaret Island and then had lunch at a Belgian brasserie in Buda.

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Then a museum and back over to Pest for dinner.  We finally tried Unicum, the local herb liquor.  I was exposed to new levels of foul.  It's like Jagermeister, but with extra nasty bitter stuff instead of mint.  Laura didn't hate it as much as I did.  Then strolling around Vaci Ut, a pedestrian shopping street.  We stopped for decent wine in a very cool setting -- downstairs, in a converted old shopping mall, very cellar-like and kind of cavernous.

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Next day we explored the Citadella, an originally Austrian fortress on a high hill, bombed like crazy in WWII.  We checked out a photo exhibit on Children in War.  Very, very disturbing; every American should have to see the Afghan and Iraqi sections.  A bit of a downer. The views from the Citadella were great, though, and we learned a lot at the Citadella about Budapest in WWII. 

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Then down to the Gellert baths.  The mixed-sex baths were nothing amazing, just kind of warm.  The single-sex baths were much cooler.  They had a 36-degree (C) pool, a 38-degree pool, a steam room, and an 8-degree pool -- I made the circuit 3-4 times, and I was feeling pretty darn good by the end.  Apparently the locals go there all the time.  If I had something like that close by, I'd never get anything useful done, it's just too relaxing. 

Prague

Then an overnight train to Prague.  We had a sweet 2-person couchette; passport control twice , though, so not a lot of sleep.  Between sleeping on the train and our lackluster digs in Budapest, comfy sleep was on our minds... we lined up a hotel that was way too nice, right next to the Charles Bridge, and headed there.  We couldn't check in yet (about 8AM), so we wandered.  The Charles Bridge was beautiful, with its dozens of creepy Catholic anti-Reformation saint statues.  Old Town Square also beautiful, with big old buildings looming everywhere.  The tourist parts of Prague are just gorgeous, not part of the functioning city at all, just kept in wonderful condition.  It's so Gothic, kind of like a Tim Burton fairy tale. 

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Then we headed to the Josefov (Jewish Quarter, once a Jewish ghetto) and explored the old Jewish cemetery. I had thought Sedlec (see below) would be the most macabre stop on our honeymoon, but I'm no longer sure... the Jewish cemetery stacks them about 12 deep, and all the tombstones for all the hundreds of years of folks are on the surface, teetering every which way and jammed together like crooked teeth. So many gravestones, and all so old.

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Back to the hotel to check in, and when we came out, the streets were thronged .  By now, the tourists were awake and marauding -- we had had no idea how lucky we were to see what we'd seen before the crowds set in.  We had a few beers... beer in Czech is not quite as interesting as I'd hoped.  As in Germany, every bar serves only one brand of beer, and in Czech each brand only brews one or two styles -- a sweet, cloying lighter beer, and a sweeter, more cloying dark beer.  Pilsners are the exception, and they seem nice and refreshing in comparison. 

Next day, we headed for the Castle, up a hill on the west bank of the Vltava.  St. Vitus' Cathedral was the highlight.  It's massive, dominates the skyline.  On one side, a particularly cute mural depicts Judgment Day; Jesus judging, angels raising the blessed from their coffins, bodies and all.  That's right, Freakin' Holy Zombies!

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The tower view was something else, really panoramic.  Oh, and at the castle we saw the room where the Second Defenestration took place, the one in which all 3 of the Catholics exwindowated survived by falling in a pile of dung.

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We hit a very authentic beer hall and then caught a concert at St. George's Cathedral -- a beautiful atmosphere for some nice music.  Then Kampa Island and the John Lennon Wall.

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We headed back across the Vltava. On the way back, some drunk tourists narrowly avoided a fight with some drunk locals.  After that, a really nasty fight broke out at the first restaurant we tried, so we headed elsewhere.  The fairy tale was starting to show some signs of wear.  But we found a nice pizza place with ok beer and forgot all about it. 

Next day, we caught a train out to Kutna Hora.  The main point of the trip was to visit the Ossuary (bone church, Kost Nice) at Sedlec.  We got to the ossuary -- originally a monastery building -- and poked around.  Outside, there were large numbers of regular burials, in which the person of honor gets to remain in the ground.  In Sedlec this is considered boring. 

Inside... I defer to pictures.  Words can't get very far... I guess it helps to know that a large graveyard was started here early last millenium after somebody or other brought back some earth from Golgotha and it was considered a lucky place to be dead.  Then the Black Plague, and tons more corpses.  Eventually, there were so many corpses that they were just kind of hanging around, so they decided to decorate the place with them -- that is, with the bones from more than 40,000 distinct people. 

It's a monument to something, I'm not really sure what, when you get right down to it.  Lovecraft, Poe, Giger... this is their happy place.

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We had a humorous "Mexican" lunch in Kutna Hora and missed our train back... caught the next one, watched a sunset, and had a remarkable Italian dinner on the Vltava.  Then the "Ghost Tour", which was far too cheesy for words. 

Next day, we got up early and enjoyed some more quiet time around town before the tourists flooded in.  Then we explored some more modern parts of the city.  We ate lunch at Novomestsky Brewery, the first brewpub in Prague (and the best beer we had in Prague).  Then we got a private tour of Old Town Hall... we learned that, like Seattle, Prague had once been built on a lower level.  Flooding forced them to rebuild the city at a higher level, on sand brought down the Vltava.  

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Some observations of Prague:

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Munich

Travel day, a 7-hour train.  We played Asshole for most of that time with a couple of Aussies.  In Munich, we saw some of the sights (Frauenkirche, town hall) and then popped into the Hofbrauhaus, on probably its single busiest day of the year (the day before the beginning of Oktoberfest).  Wow.  Throngs.  Good strudel, good helles lager.

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In the morning, we got to the fest at 9:15AM, hoping to get a seat in the tent where they crack the first keg, at noon.  Hahahahahaha .  We tried three different tents and were starting to get desperate when we happened on the Spaten tent, which is one of the less popular ones.  We grabbed an empty table and prepared to wait.  Some German kids sat down with us, and soon we were surrounded by a bunch of chainsmoking teenagers... for 2 hours.  The smoke haze was thick by the time they brought the first beer.  It was good, but we moved on quickly. 

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The fest was fun... much better than the tents was the beer carousel, which turns slowly and hands out excellent Franziskaner weissbier.  We took the ferris wheel for some nice views of the fest. 

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At some point we managed to finagle our way inside a restaurant, and we asked a couple of guys if we could join them at their table.  They turned out to be brewers -- the head brewer for Brooklyn Brewing and a former Pike Brewing brewer -- and we whiled away an hour or two with them, in style, on some anonymous company's tab.  After that the details get a little hazy, but I'm sure we had a great time. :)

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The next day we were woken up by a band marching past our window.  We looked out and saw a parade as far as we could see.  It snaked through town, in a loop, for 4-5 hours!  We explored a bit more, saw some more Munich sights (including the Glockenspiel... best skipped, only because it sucks) and had one last fabulous meal at Weisses Brauhaus.

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That's the trip; our perfect honeymoon.

 

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