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First time in Switzerland!

London Luton Airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Basel and Tuttlingen

Saturday 31st August

I'm teaching in southern Germany for the coming week, but decided to arrive a day early in order to spend a night in Switzerland first. I hadn't been to Switzerland before, so I was keen to make the most of my situation! A full afternoon, evening and night in Basel awaited me.

I arrived at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg after a flight which went smoothly, though I had a middle seat so I didn't get the best view. The airport is in France, right next to the border; in arrivals you turn left for France and right for Switzerland. I turned right and took the bus to the city centre - free for me with my hostel reservation, though nobody checked tickets anyway.

My hostel, Hyve Basel, was a quick and easy walk from the main station. It was a nice and sunny 25 °C outside and I enjoyed the short walk down leafy residential streets.

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I was too early to check in, so I left my bag in the luggage room and headed back out again straight away. I started off with a walk to the main branch of the Basel Historical Museum, via a park where I had a late lunch of coronation chicken rolls and Chinese sesame flour sweet things I had brought with me from the UK.

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I also passed the Neo-Gothic Open Church of Elizabeth and stopped at an intriguing fountain which after a few minutes I realised must have been designed by one of Basel's most famous artists, Jean Tinguely - a kinetic artist, famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. They reminded me a bit of pictures by Heath Robinson.

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The museum is in a converted church and although a bit on the pricey side (15 Swiss francs), it was definitely worth it.

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One of the highlights was a very interesting 'History of Basel in 50 Objects' exhibition. The highlights of this highlight took me from the Celtic settlement which was the first incarnation of Basel (represented here by a painted jar) all the way up to the Carnival procession of 1995 (a mask of a drum major).

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In medieval times Basel was a city of knights, and was famous for its jousting tournaments, which were usually held during the periods of Carnival and Whitsun and were accompanied by processions, dancing and heavy drinking; pictured are a 'pot helmet' and a 'little tournament crown' (put onto the spear tip to blunt it).

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There were several huge fires in Basel during the medieval period, and after an especially bad one in 1417, which destroyed around 250 houses, the town council decreed that all shingle roofs had to be replaced by tiled roofs. The cost of the tiles for the house owners were subsidised by the council. Pictured is a roof tile from around 1510, with the image of a woman engraved on it.

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Up until the late 19th century, Basel was enclosed by city walls. Prior to that century (when the rules were relaxed), the entry of people and goods was tightly controlled at the city gates. The gates were closed at nightfall and if you wanted to get in after that, you had to pay a fee. In addition to that, fines were issued if you weren't back in time for the evening sermon on Sundays and public holidays! Fees and fines were collected using a tall gate collection tin (one dating from 1615 is pictured).

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Fire was not the only thing which ravaged the city of Basel; the plague also made a regular appearance - every 14 years on average. During one particularly terrible outbreak, in 1610-11, 30% of the population of Basel died. The last known outbreak was between 1667-68. The plague remained (understandably) so feared that in the period after this last outbreak, the town's physician had himself painted as a plague doctor, complete with black protective clothing and beaked mask.

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Next up were the cabinet of Basel's executioner (with the tools he kept in it), which was in use between the 15th and 18th centuries, and a wooden Janus face mask from the River Abo in Cameroon - an object collected by missionaries from the Basel Mission (set up in 1815).

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Then I arrived at 1817, where I was met by a two-penny bread roll from that year. Like much of Europe, Basel suffered from a catastrophic harvest that year, caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia; there was widespread hunger, and the price of corn quadrupled.

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In the time before supermarkets, bread used to be delivered to middle-class households every day. Throughout most of the year these deliveries were made from the bakeries via small wagons, handcarts or bicycles, but in snowy winters, 'bread sleds' were used. The one pictured here dates from 1890.

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Aside from the Carnival mask mentioned before, amongst the 20th century items were a Jewish star (representing the fact that Basel was a safe haven for some Jewish refugees during the 2nd World War) and a ballot box from the Basel-Stadt canton (in 1966, Basel-Stadt became the first German-speaking canton in Switzerland to introduce voting rights for women).

Elsewhere in the museum there was an interesting Enlightenment Cabinet of Curiosities and collection of globes, a fine collection of medieval tapestries, a stunning medieval or Renaissance carved wooden altarpiece, a 13th-century wooden relief of the Virgin & Child from South Tyrol or Graubünden, which was based on a famous Byzantine icon type called the 'Hodegetria' ('She who points the way'), and the remaining fragments of the medieval Danse Macabre murals which Basel was famous for until 1805, when the townspeople decided to knock down the wall it was painted onto and then nearly straight away regretted it. This regret resulted in a number of reproductions of what these murals had looked like - one dating from 1806 was on display. It arranges the Danse Macabre in five rows instead of one long one.

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The tapestry collection is a result of the flowering of this art form within the Late Gothic era in the cities of the Upper Rhine - Basel, Strasbourg and Freiburg. Some have religious themes, but in Basel more tapestries with secular themes remain than do religious ones; they display courtly ideals such as noble knights and elegant lovers, the latter shown in 'Gardens of Love' settings - depictions of earthly paradise. Others show wild men, monsters and other fantastical creatures.

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Included within the tapestry section were displays of two sets of 16th-century playing cards and a set of wonderful medieval stove tiles with reliefs of mythical creatures, a knight on horseback, fighting men, and groups of men and women playing dice.

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I had just headed out of the museum when I realised that I had accidentally missed out the basement, which contains an excellent archaeology section with prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and Alemannic finds. Luckily they let me go back inside and look round it without having to pay again!

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Before leaving I also caught an interesting yet sobering temporary display about the Penan people of Sarawak in Borneo, who have faced massive deforestation of their land since the 1960s.

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I was greeted by bright sunshine when I stepped outside the second time and wandered along picturesque streets to the Spalentor, the main surviving city gate, and then the wonderful Town Hall with its magnificent clock.

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From there I carried on to one of the main bridges across the Rhine. To my surprise, I saw lots of people floating/swimming down the river, carried quite strongly by the current. Most of them had an inflatable tied to them. I thought maybe it was a special event - it's as wide if not a bit wider than the Thames in central London, and surely normally as busy...? Anyway, I was very hot and sweaty by now so I was jealous - the water looked so tempting! It looked a lot cleaner than the Thames.

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After crossing the bridge I walked along the riverside, which was lovely. Lots of leafy trees, bicycles leaning against railings, picturesque buildings and people relaxing in the sunshine.

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After nabbing a cold drink and a 25% off slice of quiche from a small supermarket, I crossed back over via a different bridge.

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I was on a special mission I'd decided on as soon as I'd noticed it on Google Maps a few days before; a walk down the road to the St Alban Tor, another of the old city gates. It didn't look like visitors could go inside it, let alone up it, but I got a picture or two of it anyway. My hometown is St Albans, England, so it was a novelty to see references to St Alban - the protomartyr of Britain - abroad.

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It was past 7pm by now and my feet and back were protesting, so after buying my ticket to Tuttlingen for the next day from the train station, I headed back to the hostel. I had my quiche for dinner (I would have liked a proper meal, but Switzerland does seem as expensive as people say!) in the courtyard, retrieved my rucksack from the luggage room, picked up my key and retired to bed early in my dorm.

Sunday 1st September

I arrived at the hotel in Tuttlingen OK today after a 6-minute train ride from the Swiss Basel station to the German one, another train for an hour and a quarter to a small German city called Singen, and lastly an hour on a rail replacement bus from there to Tuttlingen. Lots of lovely scenery; we ran alongside the Rhine for a decent proportion of the longer train journey, and when not next to the Rhine I saw rolling farmland with heavily forested hills behind.

The hotel is in the middle of the town centre, which is nice - easy to explore the place once my teaching partner 'M' and I finish school each day. We'll have the earliest finish yet to a school day, at 12:30, so there'll be plenty of time to explore!

Update from 28/05/2022: It turns out that swimming/ wearing inflatables and letting the current take you between certain bridges on the Rhine is a very popular pastime in Basel in summer months - so it wasn't a special occasion at all, but rather an everyday one...

Posted by 3Traveller 14:14 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bridges churches buildings trains airport germany museum buses switzerland basel explorations river_rhine Comments (2)

A very special day in Užice

Užice


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

There were one or two more normal classes first thing and then the next couple of hours were taken up with final rehearsals and getting ready for the Show. The Show went really well - both classes put on a great performance. My class did a tweaked version of Modern Cinderella and the other class did a reverse-gender version of Romeo and Juliet.

The school day finished early so that people (including us) could go to view a special event in one of the town squares - the school leavers' dance performance! I hadn't heard of it before, but it turns out that this traditional event is synchronised in several countries across the Balkans; the school leavers from every secondary school in every town come together to dance the same dance at the same time in one massive group in a public square. There was a commentator and introducer speaking over the loudspeaker and I think it was being televised too. We went along with some students and teachers from 'our' school to watch. It started in decorous and well co-ordinated fashion, with white umbrellas and basic ballroom steps; as time went on it became gradually less and less decorous and co-ordinated... The umbrellas were dispensed with, the music changed, the group broke up into smaller ones and the celebrations became more raucous, though not in a negative manner. It was a very joyful event and I felt very lucky and privileged to have been at the school on just the right day to have had the chance to see it.

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Eventually M and I moved on in order to get started on the rest of our programme for the afternoon... We bought some lunch from a mini-market first, and then split up, each of us with a group of eager now-ex-students keen to show us around. M wanted to get his hair cut, so his group took him to a barber; mine took me to a tiny but interesting house museum first. It was built by a rich merchant in the second half of the 19th century and reminded me quite a lot of the National Revival house museums in Bulgaria. The Ottoman influence was clear.

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Next up for me was the Church of St George, a small and pretty Orthodox church with an incredibly beautiful interior. My guides said that they had never been inside before, which I found interesting.

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My last stop before both groups met up again was at a cultural centre, where we had Turkish coffee and one of my guides told my fortune from the coffee grounds, reminding herself of the meanings from her phone.

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Once we had met up again, some of each group had to go home but others remained. They took us to the Old Town, which is the name of the archaeological remains of a 14th century fortress dramatically set on a steep, rocky hill a little outside of the city centre. We walked alongside the River Đetinja to get there. It was interesting to wander round the ruins, and from the top there were absolutely fantastic views of the winding valley and river, the town and the hills beyond. The sun had properly come out now so it was a very hot day.

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More people had to go after that, so only a couple remained. We were taken further along the river and through at least one tunnel to a bridge where we could see a waterfall. We had passed through outskirts of the city and it felt properly in the countryside; very green and lovely. The river ran clear and I was tempted to paddle and/or swim.

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That was our last stop of the day, so after walking back into town and saying our goodbyes we took a taxi to our hotel. I was knackered and in need of a rest - my fitbit said that I had taken 26,000 steps so far today, so I'm not surprised!

Tomorrow we both take the bus to Belgrade. M will go straight to the airport, but I've arranged a night in Belgrade so I can have a good look round some of the city before I fly back on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:06 Archived in Serbia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges serbia traditions explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church house_museum užice serbian_cuisine Comments (4)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Prague

Prague

Update from April 2021: It turns out that the statue was of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the co-founder and first President of Czechoslovakia, and 7th March was his birthday. That explains the military ceremony I saw in front of his statue...

Time for a wander through the Old and New Towns to Prague Castle!

It was cloudy to begin with but the sun started to come out as I crossed the Vltava River via the famous 14th-century Charles Bridge.

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I took my time crossing, taking in the views and admiring some of the statues along each side.

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The latter included the 17th-century statue of St John of Nepomuk, who is said to bring good luck to those who touch him. Parts of the metal plinth decoration were shiny from years of people's touches.

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On the New Town end of the bridge I crossed a small canal.

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From there I passed through the archway of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and made my way gradually up the hill to the castle. The architecture was just as impressive as in the Old Town. It was exhilarating to wander up the cobbled streets in the cold sunshine, trams passing by, colour on all sides.

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Eventually I reached the foot of the castle complex. A violinist serenaded passers-by as I stopped for a little rest and had a look at a little war memorial set into the wall.

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Before reaching the castle entrance at the very top of the hill, there was a terrace with some stunning views over the city.

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A little further up, in the big square in front of the complex, I unexpectedly caught a small military ceremony in front of a statue. I'm not sure what the occasion was... it's not a public holiday today.

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Immediately after that I unexpectedly caught another military ceremony... the Changing of the Guard. I stood near Matthias Gate (the entrance to the courtyard) - I saw soldiers marching in, couldn't see much of what subsequently happened within the courtyard, but did get a good view of when the guards came back out to change positions within their pillboxes by the Gate. (No pictures of the ceremony, unfortunately, as I only took videos and I can't load them here without them already being on YouTube or Vimeo.)

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My first stop within the castle complex was the magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic St Vitus Cathedral.

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Work began on the present-day cathedral in 1344, but it wasn't finished and consecrated until 1929! The more modern blends seamlessly into the old; examples of the new include some of the many stained glass windows, such as the Creation Rose Window (Frantisek Kysela: 1925) and those within a series of chapels in the Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral. The New Archbishop Chapel contains one designed by the Art Nouveau decorative artist Alphonse Mucha in 1930, which shows Christianity being introduced to the Slavic peoples via Saints Cyril & Methodius (I remember these two from my time in Bulgaria).

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My other favourite stained glass windows, both old and new, include the following:

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I spent quite a while just wandering around, taking in the beauty and the atmospheric nature of my surroundings.

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Special mention to the stunning St Wenceslas Chapel, focal point and cult centre of the cathedral; I admired the 14th-century wall paintings of the Passion Cycle, amongst other magnificent decoration.

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On my exit from the cathedral I had a good look at the decoration of the chapel's exterior entrance.

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My ticket allowed me entrance to four attractions within Prague Castle. With St Vitus Cathedral being the first, the Old Royal Palace next door took my fancy next. Of special interest to me was the room in which the most famous Defenestration of Prague took place, in 1618 (the spark which ignited the Thirty Years' War). I was interested to find out that the victims actually survived - I'd always assumed that they'd died in the fall. We weren't allowed to take photos here or in the adjoining rooms, but we were in the nearby Vladislav Hall.

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My next stop was St George's Basilica; founded in 920, enlarged in 973 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1147, it's one of the oldest buildings in the castle complex.

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After that I moved on to the Golden Lane, which is a street of small historic houses first built for castle guards in the 16th century. Craftsmen moved into the houses after about half a century - including goldsmiths, who gave the street its name. These craftsmen in turn left, however, and in the 19th century the street became a slum, inhabited by poor workers and artists. The houses were lived in right up to 1939 - the writer Franz Kafka lived in one of them for a couple of years during the First World War. Most of them are souvenir shops now, but there were a couple of museum houses too, set up to look how they did when craftsmen or notable inhabitants were living in them over the last couple of hundred years.

Before I had a look at any of the houses, however, I looked round the medieval armoury museum and a former dungeon, both of which are contained within 14th-century fortifications accessed through Golden Lane.

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In one of the long underground corridors in the fortifications I got to try out a crossbow!

Once back up at ground level I walked down the Golden Lane, peering in at the museum houses.

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Before I left the castle grounds I managed some photos of an amazing view over the castle gardens and the city beyond.

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A cat kept tabs on me from a first floor window as I retraced my steps down the hill to the river and Old Town.

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I was knackered by now, and hungry because I hadn't had any lunch, so although it was only about 4pm I decided to have a very early dinner at a restaurant there and then, with the plan to subsequently get a sandwich or other bakery item from a supermarket to have at the hostel later. I decided on Czech goulash with dumplings and red onion - I was surprised at the dumplings, as they were more like slices of bread than the dumplings I've had elsewhere, but it was all very tasty anyway.

I passed through the Old Town Square on my way back to the hostel. Street performers were there in giant fluffy panda and gorilla suits, playing around with members of the public who wanted photos with them. They were very amusing, but I didn't hang around for long as I was so keen to get back and flop at the hostel. The famous astronomical clock is to one side of the square, but I decided to leave that until the next day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:25 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged bridges churches prague museum czech_republic explorations fortifications changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (1)

Back in Graz

Deutschlandsberg and Graz


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It was another beautiful sunny day as I said goodbye to Deutschlandsberg and took the train back to Graz.

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I'm at A&O Hostel Graz Hauptbahnhof, where I stayed last Saturday. Since I got back here I've had another lovely walk around the historic centre, taking in the sunshine, beautiful architecture and the view from the Murinsel, a tiny manmade island on the river Mur.

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I also went to the Dom, admired the Gothic and Baroque interior and lit a candle.

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I also admired a fresco on one of the exterior walls which is kept behind glass because of its historical importance; although religious in theme, it contains the earliest depiction of the city of Graz. Unfortunately my photos of it didn't turn out well due to the reflections on the glass.

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Tomorrow I spend the night in Klagenfurt before I fly to Hamburg and take the train from there to Lübeck on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:28 Archived in Austria Tagged bridges art trains austria cathedral hostel graz unesco_world_heritage_site deutschlandsberg Comments (2)

Stunning view of Budapest

Budapest


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Today there were two main destinations; the Ethnography Museum and St Stephen's Basilica.

On my walk across the Parliament square to the museum I admired the fountain and caught a small changing of the guard ceremony. I wished I could paddle in the fountain - it was a very hot day.

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The museum had a magnificently decorated interior which was lovely to look at and although the place wasn't quite as big as I was expecting, it had some interesting displays; my favourites were the traditional musical instruments (which included ocarinas, a double flute, bagpipes and a rough-looking folk violoncello that was beaten with a wooden stick), traditional toys and old photos of children playing with them, different costumes worn by mummers at Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and at Carnival, a collection of objects associated with the traditional fairs and a collection of more everyday items such as a bear trap, a bird-catching cage and some wicker and wooden beehives.

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After leaving the museum I had a sandwich for lunch in Parliament Square and then went to St Stephen's Basilica via the Danube. Although I didn't need to cross the river to get to the Basilica, I couldn't resist some photos from the bridge anyway... The views are so beautiful. I got an unexpected bonus on the bridge, as well - I discovered a vent in each side wall that blew out cool air from below! Given the heat and humidity, this was incredibly welcome. I couldn't believe that other people weren't already there. Due to the angle, the cool air wasn't noticeable unless you stood next to the wall and leaned forward a bit, so maybe that was why.

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The streets surrounding the Basilica are very grand and impressive.

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St Stephen's Basilica is named after the first king of Hungary and is the most important church in the country. It is stunning both on the outside and the inside and views from the top of the dome are fantastic. I enjoyed looking at all the decoration and architecture of the interior and lit a candle before moving into a another room - a chapel containing 'The Holy Right', the mummified right hand of St Stephen. It was housed in a very fancy silver and gold, cathedral-shaped container, but was very difficult to see properly.

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After that I took the lift up to the top of the dome. The 360 degree panoramic view of the city was amazing.

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I rested in my dorm for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at an Azerbaijani, Russian and Hungarian restaurant with a Russian girl from my dorm. Azerbaijani soup and stew went down a treat. Following this we went for a walk down the road to get a drink. First we went into a convenience store - I was under the impression we were buying drinks to take back to the hostel with us, but when she saw that I had a bottle of Coke Light instead of something alcoholic, she looked disappointed and said that she had wanted us to drink alcohol together and that since I was only getting a Coke, she wasn't going to get anything at all. Okayyyyy... If they'd had something I liked then I would have got alcohol, but all they had was beer, which I hate.

She was desperate to go to a club, but I didn't feel like it because I was knackered and in any case wasn't dressed up for it. We decided to go to have a drink or two together at a bar instead, so I took her to a place I'd passed on my way back from the basilica earlier. I ordered a cocktail and then asked what she was having... she said that she wasn't going to have anything! I thought she wanted to a drink together...?! Oh well - I didn't say anything about that, I just enjoyed my wonderful cocktail. It was genuinely one of the best pina coladas I've ever had!

We headed back after that as the Russian girl said she didn't fancy staying out any more and I was always going back to the hostel after my drink anyway.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Hungary Tagged bridges budapest basilica museum hungary cocktails changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site river_danube traditional_customs Comments (0)

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