Saturday, November 5, 2011

Budapest, Prague, and Vienna

We've slacked on the blog updates. Sorry. Europe was so much more expensive and easy to travel than the Asia portion of our journey that we pretty much sped through the continent. I suppose we'll be speeding a bit through the blog posts as well. When last we met, we had survived radioactive moss and possible wild boar attacks in Chernobyl. Our next destination was decidedly more tame: Budapest, Hungary.

Another overnight train brought us into the city. The city itself is gorgeous. It's always being called the Little Paris of of Central Europe, but at this point I think it's actually more beautiful and cleaner than a lot of Paris itself. On our first day, we went to the Hungarian Museum of Agriculture. It's housed in a former castle, which made the building more interesting than many of the exhibits. In the afternoon, we caught a train to the nearby town of Szentendre to check out a marzipan museum. It had and amazing variety of huge marzipan sculptures, with everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a life-sized Princess Diana.
marzipan lady di

marzipan ninja turtles

greg with marzipan michael Jackson

The star exhibit was the giant Michael Jackson, seen here threatening Greg. The sculpture was so popular that they were actually in the process of making a second when we were there.

The following day we headed to Monument Park, a sort of graveyard for old soviet statues. The park was a bit overpriced and had far fewer exhibits than I was expecting. More interesting than the statues was an old East German made car called a Trabant. Its loud two stroke engine produced about nine times the pollution of its western counterparts, and buyers often had to put up money for the car years before they would actually receive it.

We also checked out the Saturday flea market. It had some really wonderful stuff, but, alas, nothing small and light enough that I could justify hauling it around in my backpack the remainder of the trip.

While the tourist attractions themselves weren't too exciting, Budapest was still a wonderful city to visit. It's very pleasant to walk, it has a very nice streetcar system, people were always happy to speak English (because Hungarian is basically impossible to learn), and we had some of the most amazing and certainly the largest meals of the whole trip there. The food we ate seemed to mostly consist of large quantities of already fattening things breaded and deep fried. Also paprika.

Another overnight train trip (during which we managed to sleep through the entire country of Slovakia) landed us in Prague. In Prague we found that we didn't eat all that much. I think we were still recovering from Hungary.
prague from above

I had been to Prague once before back in 2004, so this was the first city that was a repeat visit for me. It was just as beautiful as last time, but far busier. The old town area was absolutely packed with tourists. This was the first city in which we started to encounter a lot of Americans again. I took Greg on the basic tour: old town square, the Jewish cemetery, the Charles Bridge, Prague castle, and Strahov monastery. At the monastery we visited the Museum of Miniatures. It had amazing tiny works of art viewable only by microscope. You could look at a hair with your eye and see nothing, but through the microscope you'd see an entire menagerie of carefully sculpted animals sitting on the hair.
greg inspects a specimin at museum of miniatures

The next day we took a train to Kutna Hora. We wasted about half the day wandering about lost because of some bad information from the internet. We did the whole trip without any paper guide books, which was nice for keeping of the beaten track but occasionally we were led astray. Once we got back on track we easily found Sedlec Ossuary, the famous bone church. The basic story is that the cemetery got too full and they let an eccentric do what he wanted with the bones to make room. Highlights included a chandelier and a coat of arms.
dome of bones
coat of arms in bone

Before heading down to Austria, we dropped into a Lego museum. It was mostly devoted to pre-made Lego kits rather than creative original designs, which was a bit disappointing, but still made for a good nostalgia trip.

Vienna is not a cheap city, so we booked a room outside of the tourist area, but still near the subway. We were shocked to find that our room was actually an apartment, complete with a kitchen and a shower. Vienna has an awesome old street car system that made traveling to attractions an attraction in itself.
hedge maze

We first visited Schloss Schonbrunn Palace, but declined to go inside because places themselves aren't really our thing. Instead we headed to the back, where they have fun interactive sculptures and a hedge maze.
the narrenturm

Next up was the Narrenturm. This giant circular building used to be an insane asylum. Now the creepy old cells that housed patients contain thoroughly disturbing medical exhibits as part of an anatomy museum. If you've ever wanted to see wax models of STD infected skin and giant skulled skeletons in glass cases while walking in a dizzying, seemingly unending circle, this is the place for you!

The following day we visited the Austrian National Library, which looks exactly like a library should. Then we headed up to an amusement park to see the Ferris Wheel made famous in The Third Man. The wheel cost about ten bucks to ride, so we declined and headed for the world's tallest swing ride, which was just around the corner. We finished off the day by visiting Sigmund Freud's old apartment, where you can see his famous fainting couch among other things.

third man ferris wheel
world's tallest swing ride