Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bratislava - More sights

Bratislava had a mild day (11 deg) with no rain so we were able to get out and about today.

Image 1 - the Michael gate & tower , the only surviving tower from the old city's walls. Plaques mark the sites of the other gates torn down in late 18th century.

Image 2 - the old Town Hall building

Image 3 - one of the elegant buildings around the old town square.

Images 4 & 5 - just 2 of the 4 statues we saw as part of the street art. One fellow emerges from a manhole ("rubberneck") and the other represents a "dandy" who used to flirt and hand out roses to women about a hundred years ago.

Image 6 - chocolate fountain and shelves of confectionary at our coffee stop.

Image 7 - Bratislava Castle overlooking the city and our hotel which is at the foot of the hill.

We've enjoyed this city despite the drab and rundown areas in the "new" city and frequent graffiti vandalism. Some city signs called Bratislava the "little big city". I think it's a nice "big little city" (of about half a million people).

Tomorrow we return by train to Budapest then plane to Treviso , north of Venice.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bratislava - Tea or coffee?

Had an enjoyable meal of local foods at the Bock Bistro located close to the hotel. The trout was delicious, as was the stroganoff with bread dumplings. Tonight was also the time to try the Gundel pancakes (image) after seeing them listed on menus and cafe windows in Budapest. They are really delicate, thin creeps rolled and filled with a ricotta-type cheese filling and served with a light vanilla custard/sauce.

Drinks? There was "Caj zcerstveho zazvoru" (lemon & ginger tea) and "Bezkofeinova kava" (decaf coffee) - accents and critical marks over letters omitted.

Bratislava - First day, with rain

This morning we woke up to a fine and sunny outlook, the best we had seen. It didn't last long, as hazy conditions soon set in. We caught the bus then the metro to the international rail station for a train to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovak Republic. For most of the journey we travelled beside snow covered fields shrouded in fog - it was both eerie and beautiful. At times there was almost a "white out" of fog and snow as far as we could(n't) see. For a while the railway line rain along the banks of the mighty Danube, a foggy white river, not "... The beautiful blue Danube".

Unfortunately we've arrived with the rain so we haven't walked too far. We have seen some attractive streetscapes with fine buildings, the St Martin's Cathedral and the Bratislava Castle / fortress. We look forward to seeing more tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Budapest - outdoors and indoors

Budapest looked just beautiful under a coat of fresh snow and light snow fell on us as we walked out today. We caught the Metro line to "Heroes' Square" at the start of a large recreation area encompassing the zoo, lakes, a pool now in use for skating and a large thermal bath complex. We spent about 3 hours at the baths and it was quite fun - and certainly a unique experience for us - to have snow falling on us as we were immersed in warm pools.

After a massage we went to the beautiful Opera House for a tour, had coffee in a late 19th century coffee house still with "old" if not quite original decorations. Our day concluded with a recital of music from a fine, large pipe organ in a basilica with a wonderful acoustic.

Tomorrow we push on to Bratislava, the capital of Slovak Republic.

Budapest - more language stunners

Seen whilst on the Metro today. Second image is part of an advert for an HP printer. Third image is part of the "you are here" street map with Metro stations. They are just astounding to me.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Budapest - Snow

Woke up this morning, went to the window, and ....... wow! It's snowing. The forecast is for a slightly "warmer" day than yesterday ( 1 vs -3 max temp). Just -2 at the moment and a bit cool. The hill opposite and even our balcony is coated.

We'll rethink today's plans- bathing in the outdoor thermal spa could be an interesting experience but getting in and out will be a challenge.

And ..... it's still snowing. Beautiful.

Budapest - sights and spellings

It's been a long but fruitful day in Budapest today. First we went up
Gellert Hill by bus then by foot to see the impressive Citadel which withstood many sieges. From there we walked down through snowy fields to the river, and on to the Buda castle and palace quarter from where we had wonderful, but somewhat hazy, views of the city.

On top of the mountain is a 700 year old basilica and the "fishermen's bastion" - the section of the old wall defended by fishermen - with its fantastic fairy-tale towers and turrets (see pix 1, 2 and 3). Part of the old fortifications now houses the very elegant Halaszbastya restaurant (the 2nd & 3rd "a" should have an accent which I can't include here).

We crossed the Chain Bridge, went into the St Stephen's Basilica (that's the Stephen as in ... On the feast of Stephen), saw the facade and foyer of the Opera House, and the Great Synagogue - 2nd largest to the biggest in New York.

Dinner was a filling but simple meal of Hungarian Goulash soup, a local wine and a coffee with a slice of delicious Dobo cake. The cafe was simply called "Anna" which was one of the few names we can read on signs. Hungarian words frequently include accents above the letter a, double dots and little "v" marks above letters making them look strange to our eyes. Tomorrow we hope to visit Vajdahunyad castle, swim at the Szechenyi Gyogyfurdo outdoor thermal spa baths, and attend an organ recital. Names of places near us include: "Szabadsad hid" and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky. For us the signage illustrates how different the Hungarian language is to us.

Tomorrow we will take our bathers (swim suits) to the pool but are not sure if that is the custom. If could be an interesting morning!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Budapest - in to Eastern Europe

After a week in the Veneto region of Italy we took a Ryanair flight from Treviso, just north of Venice, to Budapest. The flight was interesting as it was almost aggressively commercial. The backs of the seats carried ads for food services and luggage lockers all had ads on them. During the flight the PA broadcast ads and promoted Ryanair scratchie cards. The plane left 15 mins early and arrived 30 mind early.

We passed over snow covered landscapes until we had nearly reached Budapest where there is just a remnant of old snow. First impressions were dial during the trip on from the airport , but the city proper is impressive and interesting.

We say some of the lit buildings along the the Danube before eating at a 170 year old restaurant and enjoying local dishes to the sound of a brilliant ensemble of cembalon, 2 violins and bass. The cembalon player was a real master of his instrument. For the first time this trip we have really felt as if we are in a strange country where we can't read signs or understand what is written. We're looking forward to 2 days of exploration before taking the train to Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. .

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dolomites - In the snow

After almost a month since anything but a fleeting and distant glimpse of snow, we have finally seen it under ideal conditions.

Giacinto and Egidia, our very generous hosts in Conegliano, (in the Veneto), took us into the Dolomites, a special part of the Alps where jagged peaks of the mineral dolomite abound. Snow had fallen overnight but today was fine and sunny , with barely any breeze. Once above the low-lying fog we had just wonderful views of peaks and ridges, forests and fields with a blanket of thick, fresh snow.

In 2009 we had a picnic lunch beside a lake at Misurina. Today the lake was frozen and close to it the ski-tows were running for the Nordic skiers. Parked cars had almost been buried and men were clearing house entries and some roofs of snow. A little lower down the mountains we had lunch at Auronzo di Cadore and walked the streets feeling that although we missed a "White Christmas" we had certainly experienced a gentle and beautiful "white winter".

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Conegliano - veggie tales

Those who know me will be amused, even puzzled, by today's images as I'm not a big eater of salad vegetables. Here in Conegliano (a small city in the Veneto region north of Venice) and surrounding towns "Radiccho is King" at this time of the year. Radicchio comes in many shapes, colours and sizes, most of which are unknown to us. Radicchio di Treviso is the prestige variety. It is served sliced like coleslaw or whole looking like a tray of little octopus marinated in oil, salt and peppercorns. Towns have tastings, exhibitions and even "radicchio week"! We have had radicchio served to us at most meals (except breakfast) and we see people eating it in cafes in the towns we visit. I tasted some to be polite but it didn't win me over , so I'll stick to my old favourites.

PS Egidia , our host and friend, shook her head in disbelief and said I must be the only person in Treviso province not eating and enjoying radicchio at the moment.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Florence - farewell

After 3 days in and around Florence (way too short) we leave this morning for Conegliano in the region of Veneto.

We find the Duomo in the centre of the city to be our magnet. Day and night we are attracted to it and captivated, even overwhelmed, by its splendour. It's amazing to ponder the vision and faith of the people who started the enormous building project knowing that they and generations of descendants would not see it finished. Their plans included features for which the technology was not yet developed.

As seen here, even at night this is an impressive building.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Florence - beautiful city

Yesterday we left Rome and travelled north to Florence, capital city of Tuscany. It has been an enjoyable return visit for us as memories of the 2009 visit are strong.

* image 1 - morning refreshment (a glass of Prosecco) traveling at 240 kph on the train

* image 2 - lunch of home made Tuscan soups, bread and local wine in a small kitchen

* images 3 & 4 - the Duomo in the late afternoon sun, and at night. A magnificent building. We are captivated each time we see it.

* image 5 - Florentine beefsteak and Chianti at the "Zio Gigi" cafe ("uncle Gigi")

We've had a lot of night rain but only intermittent drizzle by day so the weather has not been a problem.

Our small hotel has a plaque on the outside wall announcing that the famous painter Rafael lived here in 1505. We are not only walking in history but sleeping in it as well.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rome - Arrivederci Roma

We couldn't connect last night so our "farewell to Rome" is a day late as we are now in Florence. Again it was a big day, but Rome has south to be seen. I wish we had a pedometer to track our movements as Wendy have racked up a couple of hundred kilometres walking.

Pictured are some of the attractions visited.
* The "Ara Pacis" erected by Caesar Augustus 2000 years ago to celebrate an unprecedented period of peace during his reign.
* The steps leading up to Trinita on the mount church - not many people sitting on the steps because of rain.
* Michelangelo's massive memorial to Pope Julius and close-up of Moses
* The chains believed to be those used to shackle St Peter during his final imprisonment.
* Cliche shot - the Colosseum on a rainy day.

Surprise of the day: catching a "gypsy" with her hand in my pocket after a suspicious bump on boarding a metro train. Nothing lost as pocket only had handkerchief (clean) and a folded map.

Just as well we had dinner at a small place very close to the hotel as a thunderstorm and wind brought lashing rain on and off for an hour.

Said a sad farewell to Mary and Carlo, our wonderful hosts at Hotel Welrome.