Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Roaming Romania

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
Bucharest, Romania

     We arrived in Romania not really knowing what to expect.  We knew little about Bucharest or the country maybe because it was towards the end of the trip and we hadn’t done our research.  We did know that there was an “express” bus from the airport to the city center and we elected to give it a try.  Not that it’s all about money but $2 vs an estimated $30 via taxi, not to mention the adventure.   One does go through some anxiety because it is not as though the bus driver is calling out each stop.  And despite the express tag there were plenty of stops.  We figured it out, exited the bus and immediately it was “what’s next?”  We took an educated guess, showed the address to a woman who spoke no English and through her hand signals we found our Airbnb.  One of our favorite of the trip actually.  Right in the Old Town, spacious, lacking nothing.  Well one does have to wind their way up to the third floor via a spiral stair case but, hey, what’s perfect.  

Pedestrian Street
Old Town Bucharest, Romania

     One may get a false impression of a city if all one sees is the Old Town, but from our experience it seems to be the most interesting part.  Certainly the most easy to navigate, mostly pedestrian streets so very little traffic, fascinating OLD buildings and plenty of places to eat and get a late afternoon beer.  Bucharest is no exception to this.  We had a day and half to wander the streets and take in the sites.  Unfortunately both times we were there it was a Monday and Tuesday and several of the museums and other highlights were closed.  But the visuals, as Cynthia’s photos show, were stunning.  

CEC Palace
Bucharest, Romania

     We concentrated on three cities in Romania, the capitol of Bucharest and two cities in Transylvania, Brasov and Sighisoara.  We opted not to rent a car so the train was our main means of transport between destinations.  Clean, comfortable and not too expensive.  Romania is a very likable country.  It has the mystery that the name Transylvania evokes, very old and fascinating architecture, and a history that is definitely complicated by their location.  As with many of the Balkan countries they are caught between the East and the West.  The Romans wanted this territory and so did the Turks.  The marauding hordes from further East came as well.  The Nazis occupied Romania during the Second World War and they were “liberated” by the Russians.  “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss”. 

Brasov Main Square from on High
Brasov, Romania
     As our train pulled into the Brasov train station we were a bit worried.  The city seemed a lot larger than we expected and the outlying areas did not look too appealing.  There are quite a few holdovers from the Communist era and large block type buildings are in abundance.  As our cab got closer to the city center we began to relax as the scene much improved.   We passed a beautiful open square which we would eventually get to know well.  Our Airbnb was a 15 minute walk to the center and though not our favorite was certainly adequate.  The first afternoon we walked the old town area and got familiar with the town’s layout.  We entered the walled city via the same entrance that had been used since the 14th century.  We walked the narrowest street in Brasov - String Street - where every window decoration was painted by local young artists.  

String Street
Old Town Brasov, Romania

Romanian Orthodox Church
Brasov, Romania

     They asked please no graffiti but gave a specified location where one could do as they please.  We left our John Hancock's for posterity.  This trip seemed to feature gondola rides and Brasov had theirs.  Not as dramatic as we had experienced in Slovenia but still definitely worth the admission.  It took us high over the city and right next to the Hollywood style sign announcing that you were in Brasov.  We walked the mountain trails and got a needed shot of nature.  

Old Towns Brasov, Romania

     Transylvania has a ring to it and we all know why.  The home of Dracula.  Actually it is the home of Vlad Dracul (Vlad-the Impaler - 1428-1476) who supposedly inspired Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”.  One can’t really go to Romania, or certainly Brasov, without visiting Bran Castle the debatable “home” of the Dracul family.  
Bran Castle
Bran, Romania
     We had liked the taxi driver who gave us the initial ride to our Airbnb so we hired him to take us on a day trip to the castle and another historic site, Rasnov Fortress.  The thing that appealed to me about Bran Castle was that it hadn’t been all spiffed up for the tourists.  The floors creaked, it was definitely not handicap friendly, and one could easily let their imagination wander to times past.  From the outside the castle was dramatic, yet unassuming.  We spent a couple of hours exploring on our own, then moved on to Rasnov Fortress.  
Rasnov Fortress

     Here we had no idea what to expect but were pleasantly surprised.  Built early in the 13th century it was a walled fortress created to keep the invading Turks at bay.  Nothing fancy but real.  There were few other visitors, no created structures just for the tourists, some great views of the surrounding valleys, and an authenticity that stuck with you.  Definitely worth the time.
     From Brasov we moved on, again by train, to Sighisoara.  For some time we called it the S town because we couldn’t pronounce the name.  I must say that by the time we left we were pretty good at it. Sig-hee-sho-a-ra.  Sighisoara turned out to be one of our favorite destinations.  

Clock Tower
Old Town Sighisoara, Romania

     Small with some outstanding architecture.  Medieval towers abound, a clock tower like no other we had seen, stone streets that make Antigua streets seem like smooth pavement.  Those of you who follow our blogs know that we have a habit of running into festivals of one sort or another that we had no idea were happening.  It happened again in Sighisoara.  Though billed as a celebration of Saxon culture it pretty much covered the spectrum.  There was a young girl doing yodeling which I absolutely loved.  She would be an excellent contestant for Romania has Talent!  Cynthia posted a video of her on Facebook.  Check it out!    To contrast with this was a church organ recital, a rocker who billed himself as “Home of the Dragon,” as well as folk dancers and bands. It was quite the show.  From the base beat, even though we were removed from the main square, we heard remnants of the festival until 3 a.m.!!  Sighisoara knows how to party!  

Festival Band
Sighisoara, Romania

     Today is our last day in Romania and for this adventure.  Tomorrow morning at a seriously obnoxious hour we are off to the States.  I do have some reflections.  I mentioned cost before.  Romania is definitely less expensive than some of our other destinations.  We could eat well for $20-$25 unless we overdid it on the booze which we seldom did.  If one is looking for a totally economic trip, Eastern Europe is not necessarily it.  Culturally it is interesting but one does not notice the drastic differences among the population one sees in some cultures (India, SE Asia, Guatemala).  People of color are no where to be seen.  The Romanian Gypsies certainly stand out but unfortunately we saw few of them.  Most of the music one hears would fit in well on an American classic rock station.  The infrastructure is advanced for the most part.  The water is drinkable.  One can flush their toilet paper.  Everyone is on their cell phone.  One can eat pretty much anything without thinking about getting sick.  What makes it appealing to me is its history and age.  Trying to figure out the political intrigue form ancient times to the present is complicated at best. Much of its physical nature has been preserved resulting in areas that defy time.

Old Town Sighisoara, Romania

     We experienced many languages yet found enough people who spoke English to make the traveling not too challenging.  Currencies galore.  Of the 7 countries we visited only two were on the Euro, the rest one had to do the math, and not get stuck with it when you left.  Mass transit was good in every large city we visited.  Unless one is on a group tour (no fun at this point for Cynthia and me), better get to know it.  And finally Eastern Europe is not an unknown destination for travelers.  I think coming in September/October was perfect yet their were still tons of other travelers, especially in Budapest and Dubrovnik.  If there is a reason to have one's own transportation it is to be able to get away and explore unchartered areas.  
     No question Cynthia and I had a great adventure.  All new countries, getting to figure out where we were going and how to get there, meeting some wonderful locals, getting out of our comfort zone (though less than previous trips), and just enjoying life on the road.  Thank you so much for sharing it with us through this blog.  Work it is but pleasure it brings.           

Back Street
Old Town Sighisoara, Romania
All photographs copyright by Cynthia Davis, 2018.  All rights reserved.        

Friday, October 12, 2018

Meandering Through Montenegro

Bay of Kotor

     Oh my God, a border!  As we left Croatia in our rental car we actually came to a border crossing where one had to hand over their passport.  And the line of cars was not short.  An hour later we entered Montenegro for the first time.  Our destination was Kotor, which is at the very end of the Bay of Kotor, a crooked pencil shaped inlet that goes on for miles.  As we drove along the road got narrower with the beautiful inlet on our right and dramatic mountains on our left.  We decided against the ferry and continued through several smaller towns whose focus clearly was on tourism.  As we arrived in Kotor our usual search began for our Airbnb.  The road was so narrow at this point a wrong move would put one in the water.  When we finally found it we were pleased as the view from the front terrace was fabulous and it had all the basic requirements.  
     Kotor is known for its Old City.  Though not new to us at this point we still enjoy the atmosphere, architecture, age, and scene that accompanies the narrow byways.  On our first morning, instead of jumping right into the Old City, we decided to take advantage of our car and drive to the Lovcen National Park.  The park itself didn’t get outstanding reviews but the road trip between Kotor and the Park did.  Our friends Richard and Sylvia had highly recommended Montenegro (which they traversed by motorcycle) and now we could see why.  The road was incredible including the long-haired goats determined to block our way.

Sharing the Highway
Montenegran Long-haired Goats
Road from Kotor to Njegos Mausoleum, Montenegro

     As one went up, up, up traversing the many switchbacks and the one lane road the views just got more astounding.  Looking over the steep drop off, first came the beautiful Bay of Kotor with the backdrop the shear rock mountain side.  When one gets high enough the distant view turns into the endless Adriatic Sea.  Quite the thrill.  I, of course, wanted to pull over at every semi-possible opportunity but Cynthia, being a bit more sane, insisted on waiting for the safest spot.  Plentiful they were not.  

Road from Kotor to Njegos Mausoleum
as indicated on the GPS

     By the time we reached the Njegos Mausoleum, which is the culmination of the Park road, the temperature had dropped and we were partially enshrouded in clouds.  We decided it was time for a break and luckily found a place to park the car.  Not that there were that many people there but again it was a one lane road with nowhere to go and certainly no “assigned parking”.  We looked around, had a great bowl of soup, and marveled at the deciduous trees showing off their fall colors. 
     We took a different route back to Kotor and passed through Cetinje, the former royal capital of Montenegro.  We took a leisurely stroll through the main walkway of the town and the fact that Montenegro is a poor country began to be apparent.  Museums closed, buildings that had once seen glory days were sadly neglected, and it clearly didn’t have that revitalizing shot of tourist dollars to spruce it up.  We enjoyed our peruse of the town but found little reason to return.  Nor did Cynthia find anything worth photographing.
  We are finding this Eastern European trip is not inexpensive.  The Airbnb’s are a great value so we don’t feel we are getting gouged on that front ($45-$75 a night out the door) as a decent hotel is over $100 per the Trip Advisor research I have done (yes, hostels (hostiles) are less).  

One of Our Airbnb's
Prague, Czech Republic

     But the restaurants.  Cynthia and I have been spoiled by India and South East Asia where two people can easily eat out for $10.  And eat well.  Not so in Eastern Europe.  $20 to $50 is standard, usually closer to the higher end of the scale (can’t kick the wine or beer with dinner habit).  Now I realize that in the States this is not a huge amount but when one is doing it every day it certainly adds up.  We are eating one meal out as we always have breakfast “at home” and usually don’t do lunch.  This is a preamble to a situation that I couldn’t imagine happening in many places.  We were short on Euro when we went to the “Relax Restaurant and Bar”.  It was very low key and we were ready to save a bit of money on our meal.  When it came time to pay I handed our waitress a credit card.  “Sorry, cash only.”  We didn’t have it.  I offered the 10 Euro we had and my drivers license and said we would return with the rest.  She just smiled, said don’t worry about it, pay tomorrow.  She didn’t even want the !0 Euro or the drivers license!  The trust did our hearts good.   
     If one goes to Montenegro watch out for the speed traps.  They were plentiful.  And the speed limit is rarely over 60 kph (38 mph).  We were heading to the Ostrog Monastery and suddenly there is a policeman standing in the middle of the road waving a stop sign.  Rats!!  72 in a 60.  I did my polite best and saw not a smile from the cop.  In the end he took pity and off we went, at the agonizingly slow 38 mph!  Well, it all turned out to be worth it.  The drive was beautiful with the colors popping out of the rocks forming the mountain sides.  As mentioned our destination was the Ostrog Monastery, which turned out to be a totally unique place.  

Ostrog Monestary

     It is reminiscent in ways of the monasteries we visited in Spiti, India.  Built in seemingly impossible locations basically glued to the side of a sheer cliff.  As we ascended the mountain by car we saw people walking up the mountain trail carrying their belongings.  What on Earth?  We parked the car in the provided lot, saw that we still had a serious climb ahead of us, and stopped to ask the lot attendant about our the best route back to Kotor.  He spoke virtually no English but motioned that we could still go further up the road even though there was a barrier.  He managed to say the word “old” and we got it.  Seniors were allowed to drive up another 1/2 mile and park nearer the monastery.  So much for our youthful look!  
     Though the monastery itself was impressive it was the scene that got to Cynthia and me.  The faithful took this place seriously.  Families with their children, older people, a scattering of the young were all there.  It was a pilgrimage for many.  They would bring their blankets, food and whatever other essentials they needed and set up camp right on the concrete area in front of the monastery.  Blankets apparently were supplied to the needy free of charge.  Pretty much any place that was sleepable was taken.  

The Pilgrimage
Ostrog Monestary, Montenegro

     I did read that one could rent a dorm room but hundreds were just making it on their own.  No restaurants so bring what you want to eat.  No roof so be prepared for the rain and sun.  It was a captivating scene and Cynthia and I basically hung out and wondered.  The line to get into the monestary itself was long and we decided to take a pass.  To us what was fascinating was outside and the inside could remain a mystery.  
St. Luke's Orthodox Church
Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

     The morning we left Kotor for our return to Dubrovnik and our flight to Romania we cruised the Old City of Kotor.  Really enjoyable.  Not crowded, old fort walls that ascend an almost sheer cliff, the classic narrow lanes where the stone paths are made of stones that are as smooth as a baby’s butt.  Hundreds of years of footsteps have done that.  And, oh yes, the cats.  Strange to focus in on that but it was unavoidable.  Cats galore and Cynthia loves them.  We came upon one bench that held no fewer than eight cats all entwined.  

A Passel of Cats
Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

     We saw collection buckets that asked for help in feeding the cats and our conclusion was they needed a bucket to get some cat neutering done!  Still fun to see them all, especially the predominant calicos.     
  We exited our one-night-stand room near the Dubrovnik airport at 4:30 a.m. to make our early flight from Dubrovnik to Bucharest, Romania, our last destination on the trip.  More from the land of Vlad Dracul in our next and final blog.  As always thanks for reading!

Old Town Kotor, Montenegro
All photographs copyright by Cynthia Davis, 2018.  All rights reserved.   

Friday, October 5, 2018

Surely Slovenia, Doubtful Dubrovnik

Bled Castle
Bled, Slovenia

     Talk about a breath of fresh air.  That was Slovenia.  We had spent the initial part of our trip in big cities.  Charming and alive yes, but busy as cities will be.  We left Budapest sitting in the front seat of the big bus.  The windshield went on forever though at the beginning there wasn’t much to see.  As we thought we were entering Slovenia (within the European union it is hard to tell when one is crossing a border) the topography began to change.  Hills and green forests.  
Ljubljana, Slovenia

     As we approached the Slovenian capitol of Ljubljana I immediately had a good feeling about the city.  Few cars, no high rises, a general feeling of calmness.  We had been given directions on how to walk to our apartment from the bus station, so we did.  We soon discovered that the entire “old city” is pedestrian only.  Though the capitol of the country, the city has the feel of a small town.  We spent two days browsing the streets, checking out the mandatory castle, and doing some pleasant window shopping.  

Ljubljanica River
Ljubljana, Slovenia

     As we checked in to our Airbnb I told the host we hoped to rent a car but that my license had been stolen.  I said I had an international license and my passport but wasn’t sure if that was enough.  She immediately said “let me call the agency”.  She did and they indicated no problem with renting the car.  One worry removed.   Slovenia is a small country.  In fact they say on a clear day, from the top of the castle tower, one can see 1/3 of the country!  In the ensuing days we saw a lot of it.  Slovenia is such a treasure.  The Eastern part of the Alps, named the Julian Alps after the man himself, touch the Western border of the country.  If one likes site seeing, lakes, hiking, biking, skiing, motorcycle riding, or just chilling Slovenia has it.  We experienced friendly people who, for the most part, spoke English (lucky us).  

Slovenia Countryside

  One day we just drove.  No particular destination.  Small one lane roads dominated.  We came upon farms hidden away in secluded valleys, a cemetery like we had never seen before (so orderly, flowers at every grave, tucked into the shadow of the small church), and farm animals roaming the roads.  Smiles on our faces the entire time.  We found our way to a well known Slovenian lake, Lake Bohinj. The books say one of the most beautiful lakes in the world (heard that before?).  We thought it was.  On the edge of the lake is a winter ski resort that has a gondola that had been recommended to us.  Up we went.  Fantastic is all I can say.  The view of the lake and the Alps beyond was just incredible.  Again, Cynthia’s photo will have to tell the tale.

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

  When leaving the Alps we drove drove over a pass where every hairpin turn is numbered.  50 of them.  Reminded us so much of our experience negotiating those corners on motor cycle when we did the Western Alps.  Not for the faint of heart.  At the top of the pass one sees the image of a  “maiden” carved in the rock and a hole in the mountain letting light shine through in such an unlikely place.  Very cool.  

Julian Alps

     The road brought us to the Adriatic Sea, a body of water neither of us had ever seen.  We started our Adriatic adventure in Piran, Slovenia and then moved on to Rovinj, Croatia and then to Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Beautiful?  No doubt.  

Piran, Slovenia

Piran Night Scene, Slovenia

     We started small (Piran) and moved to larger, capped by Dubrovnik.  Our first experience with Croatia was Rovinj.  The scene was lively but certainly not overwhelming.  We explored the charming back streets and discovered our favorite beer (Tomislav) at a seaside bar.  

Back Street
Rohinj, Croatia

     On our final evening we got really lucky.  As we rounded a corner entering the main square we came upon a large group of people all in costume.  What's this we wondered.  It soon became apparent that we had stumbled upon an international folk dancing exhibition featuring dancers from all over Eastern Europe.  We loved it.  From the oldsters to the raucous youngsters.  We stood, clapped with the crowd, and finally just had to sit on the pavement.  

Folk Dancers
Rohinj, Croatia

Folk Dancers
Rohinj, Croatia

     As mentioned earlier we have been rolling with the reality that we are in tourist destinations.  In Dubrovnik I think we hit the wall.  Literally.  It is the walled city and is indeed fascinating (Unesco World Heritage Site). For centuries it kept out the invading forces from the East.  No such luck with the tourists. Oh my God.  Tourist cruise ships with thousands on board make this a destination.  I haven’t seen hordes of people like this since the glory days of the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  In fairness one can escape it by taking the totally obscure back lanes but that only goes so far.  I guess they filmed scenes for Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik and one can even do a tour of those locations.  Excuse me if I take a pass.  

Old City
Dubrovnik, Croatia

     I am a bit negative here only because I was really looking forward to Dubrovnik and we found the seemingly unending crowds make it almost untenable.  On the upside we loved our little apartment.  We came from a one night stand in Pula, Croatia where there is an airport, and stayed in a true dive.  Christ i wish I could still do the hostel scene, but I just can’t.  To me it is truly hostile.  So glad it was only one night.  We didn’t even meet any fun young hippies.  The place was a ghost town.  So when we arrived in Dubrovnik we were thrilled with our digs.   Cynthia claims we are maintaining our “buns of steel” that we have developed in our Paxanax home as our trek home from the Old City was up, up and a bit more up.  Luckily, no problem.  As is usually the case once one gets a bit more familiar with a place everything seems more comfortable.  True with Dubrovnik.  We walked the wall which gave us a great perspective of both the terra-cotta colored town and the sea beyond.  

Terra Cotta Roofs
Old City, Dubrovnik, Croatia

     Found a hide-a-way little bar that has the Adriatic’s pounding waves providing the sound.  The crowds didn’t disappear but we found more secluded spots that weren’t so overrun.  
     One interesting footnote on Dubrovnik.  During Croatia's war of independence in 1991 Dubrovnik's Old City was bombed.  The ensuing outrage from the international community caused a public relations disaster for Serbia and Montenegro who were the perpetrators.  Diplomatic and economic isolation were the result.  

Graffiti on Bombed Out Building
Dubrovnik, Croatia

  Croatia has some 10,000 islands off its coast of which only about 80 are inhabited.  We took a day cruise on a smallish replica merchant ship that took us to 3 of the islands near Dubrovnik.  Maybe 75 people so it was manageable.  We did a lot of walking on the islands, the crew served a very satisfying lunch, the two musicians knew songs from every country imaginable (Take Me Home, Country Roads) and when we returned we were done for the day.  Wouldn’t have missed Dubrovnik but frankly we were ready to move on.  

"Karnaka," our ship for the day
Dubrovnik, Croatia

     Our next adventures will be in Montenegro and Romania.  2/3 done with our trip.  We’ve learned a lot about the history of Eastern Europe, enjoyed their people, been a bit surprised at the prices, liked their cities and loved their varied nature.  One, maybe two more blogs to come.  As always thanks for reading! 

All photographs copyright by Cynthia Davis, 2018.  All rights reserved.   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Vienna, Buda and the Pest 
Vienna, Austria
The Old and the New

     Curb appeal is worth a lot.  First impressions are important.  It carries one along with a positive attitude.  Looking forward to what one will find.  As mentioned in a previous blog we have been staying in Airbnb’s the entire trip to this point.  Our Vienna digs had no curb appeal.  Budapest, on the other hand, had it in spades.  When arriving in Vienna via shuttle we were arriving at our first drop off destination and I remember thinking, Jeez, I hope this isn’t our place.  Well, it was.  We had to wait over 1/2 hour next to the garbage cans at the entrance for our host to show.  Not fun.  Then it took 2 days to finally say “well this place isn’t so bad”. 

Franz Liszt Academy of Music
Entrance to our pedestrian walkway
Budapest, Hungary

     In Budapest as we were searching for our apartment we were greeted by a startling array of blooming flower beds.  Then we walked along a tree-lined pedestrian walkway filled with restaurants and sidewalk cafes.  Did we love the apartment?  Immediately.  I would say the same thing applies to our love of the two cities, Vienna and Budapest.  So far I feel somewhat spoiled by Prague.  At least in terms of expectations.  We arrived in Vienna and it didn’t take long to realize that it is a big city with all the trappings.  Traffic big time, the noise that goes along with it, and the all expensive Euro as its currency.  It’s true that Vienna has such a charming ring to its name.  And before I get too ingrained in a negative narration I must say we only spent two full days there.  In short, I liked it but didn’t love it.  We saw some incredible art, attended a performance that we absolutely loved, and saw awe inspiring architecture.  The tourist scene is intense but we rolled with that.  

Gustav Klimt
Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria

     Vienna was the home of Gustav Klimt and he is, for good reason, their pride and joy.  Well, he and Mozart.  We wanted to indulge in both of these magnificent artists and we certainly managed to satiate that desire.  We visited both the Leopold and the Belvedere museums as they, in their permanent collections, have the most extensive works by Klimt.  Along the way one learns of the interesting upheaval that was happening in the art scene at the turn of the 20th century.  There was actually a rebellion of sorts that was led by the already famous Klimt.  He and other fellow artists at the time created the Vienna Succession, allowing artists to break away from what they considered the staid past and the control the old guard had over the art scene.  Who was also a member of the succession?  Remember Egon Schiele?  So we were able to indulge ourselves in Klimt and see his most famous painting, The Kiss.  

"The Kiss", detail
Gustav Klimt
Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria

     Cynthia had a reproduction of this painting in her room since she was a teenager.  We loved the live painting and the emotion it brought seeing it.  The Belvedere Museum also had a much more extensive collection of the works of Schiele and I came to appreciate him much more.  

"Reclining Woman"
Egon Schiele
Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria

     Sunday night we indulged once again.  For Cynthia’s birthday and our anniversary I had sprung for tickets to the Schönbrunn Palace Strauss and Mozart concert.  After having an early dinner at an unassuming Indian restaurant we strolled the grounds of the palace, got lost in the garden maze, gazed at the numerous statues, and generally reflected on the “have and have nots” that was represented by the opulence of the palace.  

Mozart and Strauss Concert
önbrunn Palace
Vienna, Austria

     Though divisions in wealth and prestige may not be as extreme as they were in earlier times they certainly do still exist.  On our last day in Vienna we did take a self-styled walking tour and experienced much of the beauty that city holds.  Again, we were in and out of the city quickly and we don’t profess to getting a full immersion.  

Schönbrunn Palace
Vienna, Austria
     A very fast and smooth train ride brought us from Vienna to Budapest.  We are getting good at the Metro systems and found our way, via public transport, to our apartment which again we absolutely loved.  Budapest is a city that would take time to get to know, but we definitely left with positive feelings.  Again, it is a big city.  Much of it is upscale.  The people are on the streets, enjoying life in the cafes and bars.  There are many neighborhoods where the streets are pedestrian only, but traffic is a reality.  The city is divided by the Danube River into two distinct sections, Buda and Pest.  

Pest from Buda
Budapest, Hungary

     We spent one full day exploring the castle, cafes and the incredible Matthias church of Buda.  The views of the Danube and Pest are definitely impressive as most of Buda sits high on a hill rising from the river.  One of the purely tourist things we did was take a late afternoon boat cruise on the Danube getting a lesson on the many stunning structures that line the shore.  The perfect past time for soothing the well worn feet.   

Matthias Church
Budapest, Hungary

Matthias Church Interior
Budapest, Hungary
     Budapest is known for its night life.  I would love to say that we partied hard in the Ruin Pubs that the city is famous for but that would be a lie.  But even without doing that one can absorb the feeling that a party is on going.  It was still warm (apparently unseasonably so) and the tables of the street-side restaurants, cafes and bars were packed.  And not just with tourists.  The locals seem to love hitting the street and that is where so much of the life is found.  
     On our last day in Budapest we visited the astounding Parliament Building of which all Hungarians are quite proud.  I will let Cynthia’s photo show you why.  

Hungarian Parliament
Budapest, Hungary
     Then we visited the House of Terror which was my idea and a bad one.  it was just a bummer both in presentation and content.  One does get some appreciation for the ungodly bad luck of the Hungarians.  First the Nazi’s came and occupied.  And here lies the ultimate irony.  The Russians were the ones who came and liberated Budapest.  At first the population was ecstatic.  But then what?  The liberators proceeded to occupy the country in a very authoritarian fashion for forty years until the break up of the Soviet Union in 1989.  Today it seems the Communists are hated every bit as much as the Nazis.   

St. Stephen's Basillica
Budapest, Hungary

     I did have one bummer experience in Budapest.  We were coming up to the street from the underground and I felt a slight tug on my “man purse”.  I reacted quite quickly but not quickly enough.  My wallet had been stolen from its zippered pouch by an incredibly skilled pick pocket.  It Immediately bummed me right out.  One the loss of the wallet, two that I let it happen.  Luckily theIr take was relatively minimal.  About $40 US (10,000 Hungarian HUFs) and my driver’s license.  No credit card, no passport.  Still, it took me some time to come to peace with it.  The driver’s license may complicate renting cars but we will just have to find a way around that.  What they didn’t get is much more important than what they did get.  On my travels over these many years I have been hit by 3 professional pick pockets.  Guatemala City, Buenos Aires, and Budapest.  One on them was successful.  May a pox invade their sacred sack!!!

St. Stephen's Basillica
Budapest, Hungary
     Our next destination will be Slovenia.  Best known to my fellow Americans as the home country of our first lady, Melania Trump.  We are looking forward to a quieter scene and hopefully renting a car in order to explore the countryside.  Both Cynthia and I are extremely upbeat, having a very satisfying experience, and eager to see what happens next.  Again, thank you for interest in the blog and we will report in again from Croatia.     

All photographs copyright by Cynthia Davis, 2018.  All rights reserved.