Sunday, June 29, 2014

Budapest - St. Stephen's and Various Memorials to the Dead

Greetings Earthlings!  We're back in Oregon with better bandwidth.  I will now show you some of the things we saw in Budapest.
This is a monument to the Hungarian people killed by the Arrow Cross militia.  They unleashed a short reign of terror towards the end of WWII in Hungary.  These shoes commemorate the Jewish people who were lined up at the river's edge and shot.  Their bodies were pushed into the Danube.  This is a difficult thing to see. 

Here is the statue commemorating the life of Imre Nagy.  He was a politician who sought less repression from the Soviets in the late 1950s.  In return, the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1958, imprisoned Mr. Nagy and killed him two years later.  He remains a hero to the Hungarian people to this day.  His memorial is just off of Freedom Square.

This is the only Soviet war memorial still in Budapest, which is in the middle of Freedom Square.  It memorializes the deaths of the Russian soldiers who died liberating Budapest from the Germans in WWII.  This completely ignores the point that Hungary and Germany were allies.  However, why let facts interfere with a good war memorial.  Anyway, this memorial replaced an earlier monument the Hungarians had erected to mourn the loss of much of their territory and populace after WWI, as a result of the Treaty of Trianon.  The treaty terms were dictated by the west and Hungary was forced to accept its terms.  

Also in Freedom Square is Ronald Reagan.  His statue went up in 2011 to commemorate his role in ending communism.

We saw the above on our way to St. Stephen's Basilica, which is one of the most amazing things we have ever seen.  However, before entering the Basilica we saw these people, dancing in front of the steps of the church.  I would like to draw your attention to the shoes being worn by the young man front row, over to the right.  My hat is off to anyone who can dance in those heels.  We have no idea why they were there.

St. Stephen's is named in honor of Stephen, the first king of Hungary (975-1038).  His good right hand is housed in the reliquary there. 

On the inside, it's visually overwhelming with the gold, the paint, the marble, the sheer size of it.

The organ pipes.


There is much history in Hungary.  The New York Times had an article yesterday about what might have happened if Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated.  The author went down a path of thinking that the Hapsburg empire would not have gone up in the flames of WWI. Without WWI, Germany might not have been so vulnerable to Hitler's leadership.  It's an interesting article.  Also worth looking at is an interactive map of how the national boundaries have changed in Europe over the years. 
There will be several Budapest posts.  For those of you with limited bandwidth, I'm trying not to kill your browser with too many photos in one post.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spending the Night in Frankfurt

Aaargh.  We departed Budapest late.  Upon landing in Frankfurt, there were no available gates, so buses were deployed to get us into the airport.  We missed our connecting flight to Calgary. 
When we were waiting to deplane, three people who leaped up and got in front of everyone, were met at the airplane by a mini-van.  One wonders if they were couriers, spies, or what. 
Anyway, there were no available flights, so we are overnighting in Frankfurt at the Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch. It's enormous.  It's really nice, it's one of those places where you abandon your luggage at the front door and they bring it to you later.  I managed to get one picture of the bed before the luggage exploded.  There is actual counter space in the bathroom, with two sinks.  One could fit 4 people in the shower if so inclined.  Since it was Lufthansa's fault that we missed the Air Canada flight, they are paying for all of this.

Still, I would rather be on the way home.  My lower back is not liking the sitting on beds anymore; it would like to be in my recliner.   Today's key learnings are these:
  • Try to avoid code shares when traveling internationally.  You want to be the responsibility of a single airline.  Additionally, their software does not always interface seamlessly.  When we first went to Lufthansa to re-ticket, the gate agent only saw us going as far as Calgary in her system, and was taking the position that we were on our own to get from Calgary to Seattle.  Fortunately the supervisor interceded and corrected her thought process.
  • NEVER accept an international layover of less than two hours.  Stuff happens.  Today we had the late plane and we had an unexpected customs gate.  Even if the plane had been on time, the one hour we had would have been tight.  Our (incorrect) thinking was that we would not have to go through passport control - but we did, even while staying in the secured area of the airport.
So, we're in a nice hotel; we're not sleeping in the airport; things could be so much worse.  We should be back in Seattle tomorrow, instead of today.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Buda and Pest

The force of the hotel internet, like that of most RV parks, is weak.  After ruthlessly culling photos from day one in Budapest, I still had 33 photos to upload.  Not gonna happen in this hotel!  So, I suppose that a complete showing of what we have seen will have to wait until we return home.  I will say, that Budapest exceeded expectations.  It is a really cool place. Three places we have been are as follows. 

Saint Stephen's Basilica

Matthias Church

The Hungarian Parliament

Buda and Pest used to be separate cities, separated by the Danube.  The Danube was the border between the Holy Roman Empire and the barbarians.  The cities merged in 1873.  Buda has the hills, Pest does not.  This has been contested territory forever.  Attila the Hun was here as well as the Tartars and the Magyars.  American history seems a little puny in comparison.
We are up and out to spend the day in airplanes tomorrow.  We'll sleep over at the airport Doubletree Wednesday night, and then drive to Oregon the next day to pick up the RV.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Prague to Budapest - the Last Two Days

We're back on the internet - with some time to write a few things down.  We're currently in Budapest, but first I must close out the bike tour reporting.

June 20

We rode from Osli to Gyor.  It was about 28 miles through Hungarian corn and wheat fields.   There are storks here.  We saw them on Vienna to Prague, as well, but this was the first time one was close enough to get a picture of it.  I was standing in the road when I took this, the nest is right along the side of the street in a small village.  They are great huge birds with great huge nests to match.

We stopped at St. Jacobs which is a church on a pilgrimage route.  It was built initially in the early 1200s, and managed to survive the Tartar destruction in the 1250's, but was seriously damaged in the Turkish wars in 1529 and 1683.  How's that for antiquity?  The walls are original.  It has been restored several times through the centuries.  Today it functions as a parish church and a way station for the pilgrims.

We had a bike path on the way in to Gyor, which was good because there were a lot of big trucks on the road.  We also got to see some local livestock.  These cows are huge and they have big horns.

Gyor is also a spa town.  We stayed at a historic hotel.  Historic translates to "there is no elevator."  Remember the hotel in the movie The Shining?  This reminded me of that hotel.  We didn't see the twins, but it would not have surprised me if we had.

One interesting feature of the room was that there were two doors.  Jim is looking at the inner door, and the outer one is still closed.  It was weird.

We had the farewell dinner in Gyor.  It's a pretty city.  And they had this on the menu!

June 21

This was the last riding day of the tour.  Jiri took pity on us and started the route on the top of the hill, instead of putting us on a climb with no warm up.  I was very appreciative of that.  We rode along the road, and then along a bike path to Panonhalma, which is an active monastery dating from 996.  One their responsibilities was maintaining a library and education.  They've had some ups and downs through the centuries.  Being from the US, we're accustomed to the idea of separation of church and state.  In Europe, this was not the case for a very long time, and it's interesting to see the intertwining of church and royalty throughout the centuries. Several kings were involved in the founding and running of the monastery.

The library.  Look at the ceiling and the dome, below.

After the monastery there was lunch.  I love the presentation on this trout.

After lunch there was a van transfer to Buda and our hotel.  This is the view out the window of the hotel room.  That is the Hungarian Parliament building across the river, which is the most extraordinary structure we have seen yet.  There will be pictures!

Thus ends my reportage of riding the bikes in the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Prague to Budapest - First Five Days

Greeting Earthlings!  I am popping up for a burst transmission from Hungary.  We have been many places since I last posted.  This will be a summation of several days.

June 15

We rode from Prague toward Telc.  Those of you paying attention will remember that we were in Telc on the first tour.  This time we rode from a different direction, so it was like a new ride for us.  This is somewhere in the Czech country side.  The poppies and the blue blooming things were just lovely.

This is the village where some of us ended our ride for the day  I didn't write it down in time, so its name is forever lost to me.  However, they did have a very nice church.

June 16

We rode in the area around Telc, up to an old castle.  Since it was Monday, it was closed.  All castles are closed on Mondays in the CZ.

Milano (driver) and Jiri (guide) had put together a Czech picnic.  In the foil are brie-like cheeses.  One leaves them near the fire to melt and cook some, and then you dump their golden oozing goodness onto salad.

There were also sausages, cooked on sticks, over the fire.  They, too, were very good.  You slice them a little so they don't explode when they start boiling on the inside.

June 17

We rode 45 miles through the country side to a beautiful hotel near the Czech and Austrian borders.  It was in a lovely setting next to a lake.  After dinner the group was taken out for wine tasting.  Jim and I decided to forgo the wine tasting in exchange for a restful evening.  Some of our party were worse for wear the next day.  We were pretty happy with our decision, the vintner was providing really big pours.

This was taken in the bar/cafe on the hotel grounds.  Bowling is popular in the CZ.  I would not have predicted this.

June 18

This was a very full day.  We were up and out to the castle in Lednice.  We were there with Alena, but on that visit we only visited the gardens.   This time we were able to go in.

It's a Lichtenstein castle; as you will recall they traveled extensively and brought back elements of other places that they liked.  The last major renovation of this castle was to turn it into a English hunting lodge style.  Look at the wood work.  This was all done by hand.

The spiral staircase is unbelievable.

After the castle tour we had a one hour van transfer to a bike path in Slovakia.  It was along an old border security force patrol road.  These are dragon's teeth - their purpose is to stop the movement of tanks. 

We rode about 28 miles, and then had another van transfer from Slovakia, through Austria, and into Hungary.  Traffic at the Austrian/Hungarian border was unbelievable.  We did not get in until 7 pm after 2.5 hours in the van.  We were tired.   This is the courtyard of our hotel.

June 19
We're in Sopron, Hungary.  It's a really old town in Hungary.  Like Trebon, it's a spa town.  It's also known as the world's capital of dentistry.  Due to their low rates, many people come here for dental work.  We were wondering about why we were seeing so many signs for dentists, many of whom specialize in implants.   After yesterday, Jim and I decided a break from the bike would be good.  Sopron is just cuter than a bug, so we decided to take the day and walk through town.
There is a church.  There is always a church.

It's just gorgeous inside.  Look at that.

I zoomed in on the angel.  I love the way her head tilts back and she reaches up.

This part of the world was part of the Roman Empire.  Jim is standing by the foundations of part of the Roman wall around the city, which was built in the 3rd century.  They built stuff to last.

These are fortifications.  The opening is a port through which weapons were discharged.  As technology changed, they would change the shape of the ports.

The old wall meanders through the Old Town.  Along the way we came across some excellent graffiti on a new wall.  This is Berlin before the wall came down.  I think it alludes to the divided neighborhoods.

This is the Brezhnev/Honeker kiss.   It became famous after being painted on the Berlin Wall.  The artist captured it well here.

Here we have an homage to Picasso.  He was not a favorite of the Communists.  If the taggers in Tucson could turn out work like this, we might stop calling them vandals, and call them artists instead.

So, now we are caught up.  Tomorrow we are up and out to a new location.  We have two more days of riding.  I think that will be enough for me on that bike.