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There was the usual confusion and disorientation that occurs when one travels overnight. This resulted in me almost missing my connection from Amsterdam to Budapest after I stood for too long in the wrong line for a boarding pass. But I made it to my very nice hotel room overlooking the Danube.
The Danube, by the way, isn’t entirely blue. It’s more of a slate gray. Also from my window I can see Castle Hill, including the Royal Palace, the famous Chain Bridge, part of Gelert Hill, and other parts of Buda. Hilly Buda is on the west side of the river, while flat Pest, where I’m located, is on the east. I can remember this because of a trick that Debbie told to me. Buda-Pest reads the way it does on a map: Buda on the left and Pest on the right, with the north-south Danube in between.
Debbie and I had fun trying to communicate with each other for free over the internet, using Skype. We’ve still got some kinks to work out, but we did manage to talk.
My work schedule appears to be very busy; I don’t think I’ll have very much time for sightseeing other than a few hours on Saturday and all day Sunday. As an effort towards making the most of this, I took a long 2+ hour walk to see the sights. I started by walking across the famous 1840’s era Chain Bridge, which had entertainment and other outdoor festivities at both ends. Heading north along the river, I had a great view of the Parliament Building, famous for its gothic style. I also went onto Margaret Island, a large island in the Danube, connected to both banks by a bridge. There’s a running track all the way around the island, so I’ll be spending at least a few of my mornings there.
For my morning run I managed to get back to Margaret Island where I did two circuits. The nice soft rubberized track is there for almost the entire circumference, which is a bit more than 3 miles. It’s a few miles to get there and back, and it was getting warm, but what a nice run it was.
My all-day Sunday sightseeing began with a walk across the Elizabeth Bridge and then up, up, up Gellert Hill. There are many paths, but they all seem to lead to the top, and they’re all steep. At the top is the Citadella, or Citadel, a fortress built during the 1848-1849 War of Independence. Also at the top is the Liberation Monument, a statue commemorating liberation from the Soviets. Budapest abounds in statues; there are probably more of them than people here. I’m mostly just kidding, but this one is queen of them all. You can see her from everywhere in the city and she’s huge. The views from the citadel are also the best around. I explored a bit, and then headed down the opposite side.
At the base of the hill on that opposite side is the Gellert Hotel, which includes a spa and famous baths. Although it was very hot, and I could have used one, I wasn’t sure of the clothing requirements, and therefore didn’t partake. I did see the outdoor pools, where bathing suits were, I noticed, indeed required.
I then walked around Gellert Hill and over to, and up Castle Hill. Did I mention that it was hot? This was about the time that Debbie would start calling it a Death March. I somehow managed to stay vertical, and spent a few hours exploring the shops and architecture at the top. There are all sorts of churches and museums. I certainly could have spent more time there, but it was time to go over to see the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace, aka Buda Castle, is very impressive. It was partially destroyed during World War II, but has been mostly restored. It’s humongous – took me a whole week to walk around the dang thing.
Budapest is an incredibly beautiful city. It’s almost hard to believe that my father’s family is from here, with some possibly still around. “Your name is Hungarian, no?” Every group I met with had at least one person ask me about my background. They all seemed interested to hear about my family. I only wish I could have told them more.
I did get to try some traditional Hungarian foods: Chicken Paprikas (not too different than Debbie’s, except maybe a bit spicier), Goulash, and of course lots of bakery.
Work was even busier than I had expected, so there would be no more sightseeing in Budapest. I did manage to spend the second to last evening at the Spoon Café, which is a boat more or less permanently moored in the Danube. Two of my clients, Gabor Barta and Krisztian Molnar took me there. It was a beautiful setting as the sun set in the Buda hills and the Buda Castle and Chain Bridge lights came on as darkness enveloped us. Pretty good Hungarian food there too.
Somehow I couldn’t help but notice: the Hungarian women I worked with were extremely beautiful. Since Debbie may read this, I’ll try not to notice such things in Prague. Yes, Budapest was great – I only wish I had had more time there. Now on to Prague.
Work has been so busy that as of my first couple of days, I haven’t seen much of Prague at all. I did get to see some of it during the rides to and from work, and on my morning run. But not much. This weekend will be different; I plan to see a lot.
I did have an interesting cultural experience. Public transportation is always a cultural experience for me, and Prague turns out to be no different. While I was able to walk, albeit a long walk, to work in Budapest, it’s much too far to walk in Prague. Taxis are a bit of a pain too, so I resolved to take the tram, which is a slow rapid transit type of thing. After asking a bazillion questions (where do I catch it, which one, what direction, how do I buy a ticket, how do I stamp it, etc), I somehow got everything right (at least the first time) and got to work ok.
I FINALLY got caught up with work, just in time for the weekend. Czech this out: I worked with Ludvik Cermak (from Pilsen by the way, and he pronounced it, “Chermock”), I’ve been eating livance, bread dumplings with roast duck and cabbage, bread dumplings with weiner schnitzel and stew, and so on. Didn’t like that pun about czeching it out? OK – no more. I should note, however, that in the news here, there was a Czech Scientist and an American Scientist studying bears in Alaska. A whole family of bears came upon them and ate them completely up. Authorities tracked the bears down and killed them. Then they opened up the female bear up, and found the American still alive inside. Of course he said, “The Czech’s in the male.” Sorry, I lied about the puns.
It was bound to happen. After about 19 miles of being mostly lost and running on mostly cobblestone streets and sidewalks, I was in my final mile nearing the hotel, and crash! Yes, I tripped on a cobblestone. No, I didn’t hurt myself – I landed mostly on my hands. My biggest concern was whether anyone saw me. As I was running, I couldn’t help but observe that whereas Budapest seemed to have more statues than people, Prague seems to have more castles than people.
Some musical pieces seem to describe places very well: think of Appalachian Spring by Copland, the New World Symphony by Dvorak and the Hungarian Dances by Brahms. But none are better than the Moldau by Smetana. When I hear this music, I can feel in my bones that I’m in Prague. Each time I turn on the TV here, that music is playing as part of the hotel channel, which is just an ad for the establishment here. But I always let it play for a while – I never tire of it, and it really gets me in that “Pragean” mood.
Moldau, by the way, is the English/German way of saying the name of the river that runs through Prague. The Czechs call it Vltava. I can’t for the life of me figure out how they get from an English word from these Czech spellings. Wenceslas Square is Vaclavske Namesti, Charles Bridge is Karluv Most, and of course Old Town Square is Staromestske Namesti. Either Czechs can’t spell, or we can’t pronounce these places. Maybe both.
One would hope that with place names such as those, that at least street signs would be helpful. They are, unfortunately, non-existent. And, according to Czech law, there aren’t any streets at all that go straight. I think I saw some tourists that were still lost from the 12th century. I myself got as lost as I’ve been for many years during this morning’s run. But I couldn’t think of any better place on the planet to be lost in.
Yes, Prague is simply not believable. It’s castle upon castle. Almost any one of the buildings here would be a fantastic historical sight in and of it’s own. And there are THOUSANDS of them. Each one is unique in character, history and beauty.
After my run in which I saw a whole lot of Prague, I saw a whole lot of it again by taking a city tour. It was pretty good, but I probably could have managed on my own too. We drove through New Town (new being relative here – it was built in the 14th century) and through some other parts, and then walked around Prague Castle and the Castle District, the Lesser Town District, the Charles Bridge, and finally Old Town, including Old Town Square. During the tour, I heard a lot about Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic. I mentioned to the guide that I had attended St. Wenceslas School and church. “Oh”, she said. (Not really – she was actually very interested.)
After resting up, I decided to walk over to Wenceslas Square in New Town, since I had only seen that by bus. The statue of Wenceslas is one of the most imposing I’ve seen anywhere – except maybe the Statue of Liberty, and perhaps Budapest’s Liberation Monument. But the setting here is really great.
I also walked over to Charles Square, and then over to the Charles Bridge and back again through Old Town.
I said I wouldn’t notice the Czech women. But I lied about this too. They are beautiful as well, and - let me put this as delicately as possible – they all have those big boobs. It took a while, but a few days later I was thinking about this statement when the irony hit me like a falling piano. Here I was, a wild and crazy guy from America looking at those big Czech breasts.
For my second long run in two consecutive days I pulled the “get lost in Prague” trick again. At least I didn’t trip on a cobblestone this time. I found my way north, up through Letenske Park, where I ran yesterday, and into Stromovska Park. It’s a woodsy place, but there’s also a canal and another river running through. Lots of good running there.
Having spent a day exploring Prague, I had it figured that I’d seen it all and had booked a trip to a castle outside of town, somewhere in the hills of Bohemia. Sounded good until the morning, when I started thinking that I’d had enough of tours; I’d be fine with exploring inside of Prague on my own some more. So I canceled. There had to be at least a couple more things to see.
After about an hour of walking (mostly up), I arrived at Prague Castle once again. I felt there was more to see, and I had an unused ticket for a climb to the top of St. Vitas Cathedral, all 300 to 400 stairs or whatever. The cathedral wasn’t open, so I had some time to kill. I walked up some more to Strahovsky Klaster, a monastery up in the hills. They have a famous old library, and the inside of the church looks almost like the Sistine chapel. No photography, of course.
After some further exploration of the Hrdcany, or Castle District (there’s that Czech spelling again), I squeezed my way between the throngs of people, and into St. Vitas for the climb up the tower. I pulled out my ticket and realized it was the wrong one – it was a used one from something else from yesterday. Yes, I could’ve bought one, but when I thought about it, I determined that it just wasn’t to be.
I’ve learned that it’s not pronounced “boo-ka-rest” as I thought, it’s really “bew-ka-rest”. Keep this in mind if you ever go there.
The Romanian people I’ve been meeting with all have heavy 5-oclock shadows, and thick, bushy mustaches and eyebrows. And you should see the men. I’m 100% kidding about this. I did really work with one lady who had a pronounced ‘widow’s peak’. That’s the Dracula hairdo look with the pointy area of the hairline. Kinda the opposite of what I have.
Getting to and from work is an adventure each and every time. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, and they are about the only way for me to get across town from the hotel. There is only one rule for driving here: there are no rules. That’s not entirely true – there really are a few traffic laws that are followed, such as: always turn left from the right lane, speed up if the traffic ahead of you is slowing down, and use the horn a lot in the event that you happen to be traveling toward oncoming traffic in their lane or if you happen to be going the wrong way on a one-way street. For some odd reason, the traffic really does stop for traffic signals. Go figure.
I’m staying right across the street from the Palace of Parliament, one of the world’s largest buildings. I can see it from my hotel window. It was started by the communist regime and finished after they were overthrown. It took me 15 minutes to run around it this morning. The running here is ok by the way – but there’s lots of air pollution. The funny thing is that the Marriott hotel that I’m staying in appears to be built in the same style as the palace (it’s very fancy) and is almost as big. It’s actually a bit too ostentatious for my taste.
Having gotten used to running circuits around the palace and the adjacent park, I finally decided to be a bit more adventurous for my last run in Bucharest. I went around the palace and kept going down a long boulevard, stumbling my way into the city center. I guess I hadn’t seen it from the many different routes I’d taken by taxi. It’s fairly interesting with a fountain, a central square, and commercial activity all around. My run also took me for several miles along a canal that bisects the city. Pretty decent running, but I’ll be happy when I’m running at home again. I did also head back to the hotel to get the camera. Took a couple of the city center, got one more of the palace, and some of me running in the park as well. In the evening I did some more exploring of the city center when there were more people around. Their ‘old town’ area has some shops and restaurants, but it’s pretty run down. I saw some of the still-present bullet-holes in the buildings from the revolution that occurred here in the late 80’s. the square in the middle does have a nice fountain and is surrounded by more modern shopping, not to mention advertisements.
I think they’re going to let me go home now, based on my mostly good behavior. I’ll try to stay good so I don’t have to come back.
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