A Travellerspoint blog


- Marty Way

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It would be wrong to attempt to encapsulate, in a few words, the robustness of a 150 year old city, with great architecture, art and turbulent political history. Budapest was officially founded in 1873 with the merger of the cities of Pest, Buda and Obuda, however origins of Budapest can be traced back the Celts who occupied the plains of Hungary in the fourth century BC.

It is obvious that Budapest is a popular venue for the film industry. We have come across two filming locations just in our random travels. Apparently, production costs are lower here and history has blessed the city with streetscapes of visual variety. A scene shot in Budapest can be easily purported to be in Paris or Moscow (the quip is: ‘If you come from Moscow, it looks like Paris. If you come from Paris, it looks like Moscow.”)

We’ll just say that we left the best city, on the itinerary, to last and at some point we will be back here. Hungarians exude a patriotic pride and resoluteness about the future.

What follows are trip notes on the locations that we visited and can comment on:

Tosca-A night at the Hungarian National Opera

The opera was performed in Italian with subtitles in Hungarian so I figured I’d better read the synopsis. “Tosca,” by Giacomo Puccini, is all about impending revolution and totalitarianism. Tosca and Cavaradossi, through no fault of their own, are tragic victims of an external fight for power, while Scarpia is a distinctly negative character, who has his own sense of justice.
In a nutshell: everyone dies in the end. Along the way there is amore, deception, self-serving lies, betrayal, rage, jealousy, political upheaval and death; all the ingredients for a night’s entertainment.54BB767F-556E-44DD-9543-635CBE0250AB.jpeg9B98A899-61AF-4F5B-929F-0C58ADCE4A2E.jpeg
I can’t say that we are rabid opera fans, but our apartment is very close to the Hungarian National Opera House, so we figured, why not indulge in something culturally uplifting? (It couldn’t hurt). Besides, if the action was slow on stage (a stabbing or something), one could get lost the rapt pleasure of gazing at the baroque opulence of the Opera house.7BA905B5-97DC-449D-893B-232CBC7778B1.jpeg3F8E7EF8-ED51-47FF-A9CE-707EBA6A8EF8.jpeg
There was a curtain-call after each act, then a lengthy intermission. During intermission, patrons could go outside, onto the promenade on the roof, walk among statues of famous composers, and take in the city lights.A322F734-D341-4371-92F1-16813E9055D4.jpeg

Gellert Baths

The Gellert Baths, is the perfect venue for one of those ‘constructive relaxation’ days that should grace every itinerary. The Gellert on the ‘buda’, side of the Danube River in Budapest, is famous for thermal pools containing curative water from the Gellert hills mineral hot springs.
The facility also features, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and sauna with adjacent cold-water plunge tank.B43F7072-79FB-46CB-882A-9B87094F8AC0.jpeg018D2B90-0944-4953-AF2F-BEEC47CCD600.jpegB818CC33-5861-4343-B2C3-096B150F7AE1.jpeg
The Gellert Baths were opened in 1918. The main hall catches your attention immediately with its gallery and glass roof built in art-nouveau style.

Grocery Shopping in the Great Food Hall

The Great Food Hall in Budapest is worth a visit even if you are not interested in food (and who’s not interested in food?). Every edible imaginable is available on the main floor. This is the place to buy paprika, that staple of Hungarian cooking. Vendors selling textiles and leathers are on the second level.E7112E21-B51F-4826-9DD6-B9813E4266D8.jpeg133B59F2-0BF4-4E58-9C54-03FC6075AEA0.jpeg
We bought a few groceries. We carry with us, an insulated bag with a small ration of wine, bread, cheese, wine, sausage, eggs, wine, pasta, peanut butter and wine. It’s provisions for breakfast, an afternoon snack or enough to concoct a meal if we don’t want to eat out.

Szechenyi Baths

The Szechenyi Baths are the perfect venue for one of those ‘constructive relaxation’ days that should grace every itinerary. (Yes, we were at the Gellert Baths two days ago. Do you see a pattern developing here?)06BBC14C-D72B-41CD-A645-9DD32CA5BEC0.jpegB8D56D19-941E-441C-9257-36457058338A.jpeg. The outdoor thermal pools are the big attraction; the perfect place be pummelled by a soothing cascade of water, be whirled by the current in a circular stream, or just sit and admire body art.
The Szechenyi Baths were built in 1913 and include 18 pools and 10 saunas

New York Cafe

We don’t advocate walking willingly into tourist traps, but some are too good to be avoided. The New York Cafe, in Budapest, is one such place.
Yes, there is coffee and 16 kinds of cake on the menu, but it’s the setting draws people in. E3C6B032-0D3A-41A5-8EB5-39830A7B42A5.jpeg95DE1CEC-4827-4782-BBFA-C74EEB4E10DD


The decor is an opulent Italian Renaissance style.
The New York Life Insurance Company opened its European headquarters here in 1894 and decided to build their own coffee house inside.

Posted by WayWayFar 18:05 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Paprika- the temptress

-Marty Way

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Paprika isn’t like other spices. On its own it is subdued, introverted, quietly prescient. Sprinkle it onto a salad or deviled egg and it poses as a mere pop of colour. But invite it to a cooking soiree with other guest ingredients, add a little liquid, turn up the heat and you have something quite different. A peppery flavour emerges from behind a mystical scarlet veil and pulsates rhythmically to ever increasing crescendos. Then paprika makes licentious advances to all favours around it, enticing them into the bed-chambers of the palate, and all the sheets get ruffled. So, does this maverick of Hungarian spices get invited to the next cooking party? Oh yes.


So, what do you need for a solid foundation in Hungarian cuisine? Take 1/4 c of butter or lard, 2 large onions, diced, 1 clove of garlic, diced, 5 tbsp of paprika and 2 c of water. Caramelize the onions and garlic in the butter or lard, add the paprika and use the water to keep things fluid.

You should now feel great power because you now have simmering within your arsenal, the Hungarian the equivalent of a roux. You can now go boldly forth to conquer goulash, stews, chicken paprikash…or put it in your porridge for goodness sake. The temptress paprika awaits.

Unbeknown to you, the paprika languishing on your spice rack has been waiting for you to grow up; to come of culinary age. Oh sure, you’ve patronized it; tossing its cheerful orange speckle onto your salads; but all the while you sensed a latent mystique, a reddish sultriness. Don’t be bashful, add some liquid, turn up the heat and lock the door.

Posted by WayWayFar 07:22 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

‘The Krakus Mound Touches the Sky’…Nobody Ever Said That

- Marty Way

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I hadn’t been up a mountain for a few weeks and, I’ll admit it, I was pining for a little elevation. I reached to top of the escarpment and there it was- the Krakus Mound. For a site with such royal pedigree, its first impression was…well… modest. F204E082-4241-45F4-AF1F-3896A7783ADF.jpeg

The Krakus Mound was thought to be the burial site of King Krakus, who ruled the territory during the 1400s. The city of Krakow was named after the much-revered king. Krakus didn’t start out as royalty but achieved princedom in a rather unconventional way…he slew a fire-breathing dragon.

According to legend, a dragon was becoming a nuisance in the kingdom, eating livestock and snacking on the occasional serf. The king offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to any henchman who could dispatch the dragon. Several knights tried, but the dragon’s fiery breath heated up their armour, reducing them to a sizzling sauté of nobleman.

Krakus was a cobbler with a different plan. He created a fake sheep, stuffed with sheep-skins and sulphur. When the dragon snarfed down the fake sheep, he soon needed to drink water, so it slithered to the river and began drinking water. The water made the sheep-skins expanded in the dragon’s stomach… so much so that the dragon exploded like a balloon. So, Krakus was proclaimed a hero and married the princess. (He also collected some of the hide from the dragon and made unique dragon-skin shoes for his new bride…because she was into shoes).

That’s a pretty good back-story, you have to admit; just the sort of legend that gets one immortalized under a lofty burial mound. Well…it’s not true. (The burial site, that is. The dragon story stands). An archeological excavation in the 1930 revealed artifacts from the eighth and tenth centuries but no human remains. So the Krakus Mound is one of two ancient mounds, the oldest manmade structures in Krakow…the other is nearby Wanda Mound.

So, is the Krakus Mound worth a visit and the ascent? Absolutely. Trekking up the 16 meters of elevation to the summit, reveals panoramic views of Krakow.CE09CD03-3E5B-4A48-A6E3-552DEB35CC17.jpeg55A33268-1192-4D83-9826-F738871E7D90.jpegF43845BB-1678-4996-B503-ABA36015E405.jpeg

Posted by WayWayFar 19:13 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Highlights of Krakow

-Marty Way

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Those planning to include Krakow in their itinerary have probably found, in their research, that Krakow is a progressive, modern city with rich history dating back to the 1400s. The streets in the medieval ‘old town’ are arranged in a grid pattern, indicating some city planning, which was unusual in that era.

Online touristic research will also reveal a salt mine that must be visited and Kraków’s proximity to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. The district of Kazmierz may show up as a very trendy place to visit. There may even be a mountain to climb, called the Krakus Mound, from which to get splendid views of the city.
What follows are my casual trip notes.

Main Market Square and St. Mary’s Basilica

Visitors to Krakow will,for sure, pass through the Main Market Square. It is the most obvious starting point.
St. Mary’s Basilica, famous for its carved alter-piece is adjacent to the square. It is worth the eight Polish Zloty ($CAD2.500 to see the interior of the church and the alter-piece.AA7C485E-BFAC-45CA-84D3-283F0674F4ED.jpeg3A638F19-716F-4BDD-BBAB-E5005D674951.jpeg
There is compelling street art, shops and horse-drawn carriages for hire. CBB63ADB-6F17-4D55-BAB3-FA79BC10E6DA.jpegBA305998-9712-4D08-A815-9B1748DF9E46.jpegThe Wawel Royal Castle is a short walk from the main square.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Rock salt was mined from the Wieliczka mine since the 1300s but the operation was ceased in 1996. It now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and daily tours are conducted in the first three levels of the mine.
The three-hour tour begins by having patrons descend 384 stairs to a shaft 60 meters underground. As the tour progresses along its four kilometre trek through complex wooden structures that occasionally open up into massive vaults hewn from solid salt, transformed into chapels, underground reservoirs and interpretive displays.E6078D15-6D01-411C-87AF-3341D6680065.jpegD043F1A5-9C1C-4535-ADF2-D8797B49B12D.jpegA8EDEFFA-CE53-4F9E-A3B2-1CDB518CA24B.jpeg
The tour takes patrons to 130 meters underground but the mine has tunnels as deep as 400 meters. In its 700 years of operation 300 kilometres of tunnels were excavated in the mine.

Auschwitz and Berkenau

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. That is the rationale for making museums of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Berkenau.
The basic structures at both sites have survived and the tour is augmented by exhibits about the victims of the atrocities; chiefly the Jews, but also the Poles, Gypsies and Russians. There are exhibits of the apparatus of the camps as well as the personal belongings of left behind by the victims.
Although it is a sobering acknowledgement of a dark passage of human history the museum posits hope that humanity never again attempts genocide. (How are we humans doing?)

Kazmierz District

Kazmierz, the historical Jewish district is experiencing a renaissance with excellent hotels, restaurants, bars, public art and engaging street art. A young crowd keeps the bars and street life lively into the wee hours on weekends. (It is where we stayed)

The the nearby Courland Boulevard parallels the Vistula river for kilometers, for those who want a scenic walk, jog or cycle. The Father Bernatek’s Bridge has sculptures of acrobats within it rigging. ACE4B1EE-2740-4126-A79F-8932013708DC.jpeg790C49BA-D6B5-4922-AA07-5D63845FF003.jpegCEBF3FA0-E74A-4AA8-893B-F1770DF870B0.jpegWhen the bridge bounces, from pedestrian traffic crossing the bridge, the acrobats move.

The historic buildings (synagogs, markets, residences) are being repurposed for contemporary use, but with respectful acknowledgment of their historical significance.

Mid twentieth-century history was not kind to this area. Much of the Jewish population of Kazmierz either successfully evacuated or fell victim to the Nazis from 1940 to 1945 and the area was ghettoized. Here prisoners were assembled daily by their Nazi captors and a selection ritual sent some prisoners to slave labour and others to concentration camps. This is the venue of Stephen Spielberg’s movie, ‘Shindler’s List.’ Shindler’s factory is just down the road.

The Krakus Mound

This archeological site will be described in a separate posting.

Posted by WayWayFar 18:57 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

The Trabant-the German Car You Didn’t Know About

- Marty Way

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The Trabant was the only car manufactured in East Germany from 1957 to 1990. It was to the automobile industry what the dandelion is to grand floral bouquets. For 33 years, the design of the Trabant (“companion” in translation) never changed. If you ordered a one, you could expect it to be delivered in 10 to 13 years.A98DE326-516B-40F2-92E2-2F283618986D.jpeg

The Trabant ran hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and broke down frequently, but any proletarian who flipped up the hood would find an engine he/she could fix him/her self. Its two-cylinder, 594 cc, two-stroke engine, delivered 26 horses of power and smoked like a chainsaw when it was started. The car cruised comfortably at 60 km/hr, but if pushed (with lots of running room and maybe a little down hill) could reach 90 km/hr…but the engine would be screaming.

Body of the Trabant was a composite (duroplast) of shredded-cotton (rumoured to be recycled Soviet military uniforms) and resin pressed together to form outside panels. The panels were glued together to make the car-body, then bolted to the chassis.

So, did the subtle lines of a Trabant send a flush of Adrenalin into the carburetor of the proletarian heart? Did she ever have’ fun fun fun ‘til her daddy took the Trabi away?’ We’ll never know. But a fraulein’s heart was never set aflutter by the smoky rev of a Trabi. There was no inertia, no being pressed into the seat, no euphoria, no primitive pressure in the loins. Besides, even topped-up with 22 litres of fuel, joy-riding the Trabi was brief.

Are there East German boomers, Gen-Xer and Millennials who were conceived in the back seat of a Trabant? We’ll never know, but who could fault motorists for succumbing to a lively commingle to spark a few BTUs of heat? Because the Trabi didn’t make any heat.76E0F4EC-9D06-48BB-A6BC-EAA88AF28756





So, what is it about this car that is strangely alluring? Maybe its those little fins at the back, reminiscent of the North American land-yachts of the 1950s and 60s. It could be the all function-no fashion demeanour of the Trabant; an unapologetic way to get from points A to B without walking. Here is clunky simplicity; a communist artifact that says: “It’s car, comrade. It works. What more you need?”

Whatever it is, Trabants are in demand by car collectors. The Trabi has become a symbol of the economic suppression behind the former iron curtain.

Posted by WayWayFar 06:46 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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