I, Anthony, must apologise for the interruption to blog transmissions. I am not really sure why it has taken so long to produce this blog entry, but is has been over a month since I started writing it. We have been busy travelling, but that is not a real excuse as we have travelled and blogged successfully for over five years. I started the blog a couple of days after my birthday and can therefore only assume that reaching this milestone has had a greater effect than I anticipated. Well, finally here it is…….
Breathless, with suitcases in tow, we pause at the top of a yet another flight of steps. A peal of church bells ringing out, possibly to celebrate our ascension from the river to within striking distance of our hotel perched high over the city. We have covered 2 km. / 1.2 miles in three hours, including standing in the cold for an hour, our route blocked by an implacable policeman. He was one of hundreds if not thousands deployed across the city today seemingly to make our hotel arrival one of the more unusual we have had. This is all thanks to the visit of President Erdoğan of Turkey. Our taxi driver said the traffic jams were worse than when President Putin visited last week, the whole citadel has been closed off until President Erdoğan departs. I hope they do not linger over coffee.
Oh where are we? Forgot to mention that! we are in Budapest Hungary, visiting here for the first time and taking our tally of countries visited to 100. Last month with my 65th birthday fast approaching and both of us sitting on 99 countries visited for an extended period, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and as a birthday present treat myself to a new country or two. So a meander along cities on the Danube for a week seemed like a plan which included staying the the Hilton Budapest which was built incorporating parts of a ruined 13th century Dominican monastery, has great Danube views, is within the walls of the old castle on the Buda side of the river and yes the castle is a UNSECO world heritage site.
While I chose the location to visit, Anne has done the research and developed a plan for our stay here and the next cities we plan to visit over the coming week or so as part of my birthday indulgence. I really should do more preparatory research as, as we leave the airport, I spy a collection of Russian commercial planes, TU154, TU134, IL18 Yak 40 and others I do not recognise. It is a Malev Hungarian Airline museum, a missed opportunity, next time as we always say. Hungarians drive with a confidence that belies in my view some of the potential consequences, but as always it seems to work for locals.
We were lucky enough to pass the Museum of Fine Arts which had two special exhibitions, one called “Rubens, Van Dyck and the Splendour of Flemish Painting” and the other “Rembrandt and his Pupils”. Too good an opportunity to pass up. Both exhibitions are well curated with a wealth of background information on the eras in which the artists lived and the cultural, political and religious influences that shaped their world in the late 1600’s. The exhibitions may not have all the artists most famous works, but are drawn from many galleries around Europe especially from the Principality of Liechtenstein. We are able to wander through uncrowded galleries and admire their works and those of their protégés. I learned about Rubens time in Italy and his work during the counter reformation period when back in the Flemish region.
The tiny portraits of those who died here adorn the wall of the building now housing the “House of Terror” museum which was used by both the Gestapo during WW2 and the the Soviet backed security authority which was known as the AVH and was feared across Budapest. Neither of us have a desire to enter, but are moved by a woman who places a candle above one of the portraits and then stands for a few moments in remembrance. Although it is now history, these people died in my lifetime.
For my birthday Anne has booked lunch on the Pest side of the river at a Michelin starred restaurant called Borkonyha Winekitchen where we spend a few hours working our way through a five course degustation menu which was matched with Hungarian wines. I am introduced to new grape varieties including Furmint and Cserszegi fűszeres that I had never heard of and providing an education in food and wine matching, I cannot think of a finer way to spend my birthday, thank you Anne.
Our second port of call along the Danube is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which when we visited Prague some years ago did not even exist as a country and therefore is new to us. After a short train journey we find an interesting and compact old city dominated by Bratislava castle.
The river is as impressive as before but the old city is primarily located on one bank. As we wander around the city on Remembrance Sunday we come across a memorial covered in wreathes and poppies. A reminder of all those Slovaks and Czechs who fought with the Allies in WW2.
We enjoy the architecture of the old city and while our stay is short we would come back if we were headed this way.
Our last stop on the Danube is Vienna for one night and the weather was with us again allowing an afternoon stroll through the city, cold but bright.
A perfect end to the first part of my birthday treat and now we are ready for the second part.