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Bratislava Castle and Old Town architecture

Bratislava


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My only destination today ended up being the castle. I left the hostel with more energy I'd felt since arriving in Basel on the 26th, but this turned out to be premature, because the energy drained out of me on my walk up Castle Hill and has not yet returned.

On my way to Castle Hill I passed St Martin's Cathedral and unexpectedly came across a plaque to Imrich Lichtenfeld, the founder of the martial art Krav Maga and a defender of his Jewish neighbourhood against Fascist gangs in the late 1930s.

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There were some fantastic views of the city and the Danube as I went up Castle Hill.

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However, it was sobering to see the controversial Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (more commonly known as the UFO Bridge due to its flying saucer-shaped observation deck/ restaurant). It's controversial because when it was built in 1972, nearly all of the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town was demolished to create the roadway leading to it.

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The castle was a rather odd experience, mainly because over five public floors about 70-80% of rooms available to walk through were empty, and some others were no entry at all. At times it felt a bit like I was trespassing, although I'd had my ticket checked on entry and after that nobody said anything to me. There were very few other people apart from me inside.

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The ground floor had only the cloakroom and some information about the reconstruction/ refurbishment of the castle. The first floor had the redone music room/ chapel and two rooms which were completely empty except for an antique painted wooden cabinet in one and two large oil paintings and an antique grandfather clock (without the pendulum) in the other. No information given about any of them.

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The second floor had an interesting one-room exhibition of historic prints, watercolours and woodblock prints of the city of Bratislava (known apparently as Pressburg in the 18th and 19th centuries) from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

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The third floor had an exhibition on the part students, artists, musicians and other activists had to play in the Slovak equivalent of the Czech Velvet Revolution, which together caused the downfall of Communism in then-Czechoslovakia in November 1989. It felt a bit strange to think that this momentous historical occasion happened in my lifetime, albeit when I was too young to hear about or remember it.

The third floor also had the entrance to the steps up the original tower, so I went up. Nice panoramic views from the windows, though they were quite small.

I finished up with a look round the basement, as it promised me an exhibition about the Celts in Bratislava and other places in Western Slovakia. Although a bit amateurishly presented, and small, it did have some interesting exhibits, such as gold and silver coin hoards, bone dice, skeletal remains (both human and of the animals they ate), an engraving/scratching of a pig, a tiny metal figure of a dog, and glass, metal, amber and bone jewellery and other personal objects.

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After leaving the main building I re-admired the views over the Danube and the rest of the city. The sun had come out, though it was still very chilly, with biting winds.

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I made the decision then not to go on a day trip the next day, as I felt so sapped of energy, but rather give the City Museum within the Old Town Hall another chance to have their tower open, and to go to the Jewish Museum as well.

Pleased at having made the decision, I decided to go back to the hostel a different way to the one I'd come. The architecture and cobbled streets of the historic centre are a sight to behold, even in chilly February. Similar to Graz, though smaller.

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On an impulse, after seeing someone leave and thus realising it was open, I popped into the 17th century Protestant-turned-Jesuit church next to the Old Town Hall. Lots of marble, and a large oil painting above the altar.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:26 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bridges churches bratislava museum slovakia fortifications river_danube Comments (0)

A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport


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I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

An American encounter in Belgrade

Belgrade


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I arrived safely at my hostel in Belgrade after a seamless three-hour bus journey from Užice. After settling my stuff in and saying hello to the friendly owner and his wonderful massive Italian mastiff (cane corso), I headed out into the sunshine, keen to explore.

My first wanderings took me down some lovely leafy streets, some pedestrianised and some not, and through the even leafier Student Park, which lies next to buildings belonging to the University of Belgrade.

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Then I looked round the Ethnographic Museum next door. They had a wide range of traditional costumes on display - there was some incredible workmanship on show, especially in the embroidery and silver jewellery.

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There were some traditional musical instruments which I found especially interesting; special mention to the bagpipes and what looked like a kind of mandolin with a carved neck.

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The museum seemed smallish at first, but once I'd been round the first big room I went upstairs and found that there were several other rooms leading off it. There were displays about wedding customs, the feast of St George, rural occupations such as rakija (fruit brandy) distilling, tobacco-growing, cattle-herding and river fishing, and urban and rural house interior dioramas set up to look how they would have done in the 19th century.

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Special mention also to a display about slava, which is a family ritual and feast celebrating the day of the patron saint of the family. So important was, and is, slava that in 2014 it was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. One of the house interior dioramas was set up to look like a rural home of the early 20th century set up for their celebration of the slava.

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From the Ethnographic Museum it was a short walk to Republic Square, where I hoped to visit the National Museum. A lot of building work was going on, so much of the square was blocked off, but the museum was still open. It was great all round, with a particularly fine Prehistoric and Celtic collection. Highlights for me were some sculptures found at Lepenski Vir, a major archaeological site of the Mesolithic Iron Gates culture of this part of the Balkans. They are carved from large red sandstone cobbles and are a combination of the realistic and the figurative, very expressionistic in style, representing humans with fishlike features.

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Other highlights in this section were the Celtic Horseman (3rd-4th c. BC; one of the few Celtic statues ever found), the votive Dupljaja Chariot (a Bronze Age masterpiece sculpted from amber), and some other amber objects, this time found at the site of a prehistoric princely tomb in Novi Pazar. The latter included some unique triangular plates, engraved with mythological scenes, which were worn as elaborate head or chest ornaments.

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The sun was still shining as I left the National Museum, rested a little and discovered a group of people gathering for a free walking tour. I don't normally go on walking tours, because I prefer looking round places independently, but on this occasion I though "Why not..." and joined them. How glad I am that I did! I would never have met Barbara otherwise...

Barbara was a lovely American lady from South Carolina who got talking with me as we waited for the guide to arrive. "Are you from New Zealand, or just been there?" was her first question, as she spotted my 'Sweet As' t-shirt... Only been there, I answered. Back in 2009. The t-shirt was a gift though! We hit it off straight away, talking about our various travels around the world (amongst other things). Our conversation continued as the tour began and we walked around Stari Grad (the Old Town), including Belgrade Fortress and the park surrounding it.

The tour was a good one. Unfortunately I've forgotten the name of our guide now, but she was very nice, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and had a couple of surprises up her sleeve for us! Within the Old Town we stopped at the statue of Đura Jakšić, a Serbian poet, dramatist and painter, for a shot of rakija, and a few streets away from there she gave us a micro-introduction to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.

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Within the lush green park surrounding the fortress she handed round some colour print-outs of some Yugoslavian 5 billion dinar notes for us to keep if we wanted to.

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Belgrade Fortress was very impressive, as were the views from it! We didn't have as long to look round as if we'd gone independently, of course, and we didn't actually go inside any of the buildings, but the grounds were still very pleasant to walk round.

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We walked a loop round the fortress boundary, so we had some wonderful views of the city, the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, and some terraces below where we stood.

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The colourful spire of Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church stood out as we made our way round.

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The tour finished once we had finished our loop. Barbara and I were both pretty knackered by then, plus it was late afternoon by now, so we agreed to make our way back to the centre and have dinner together, stopping at Barbara's hotel first so she could get something. We passed by a statue of Gavrilo Princip on our way.

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At dinner I noticed again the similarity of Serbian cuisine to Bulgarian (the Ottoman influence across the Balkans). I had some cheesy stuffed peppers, kebabs (long grilled mince fingers on sticks) and chips, with sour cream as a side and some rakija to go with it - the glass of the latter arrived on ice.

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Barbara and I parted ways after dinner. I'm absolutely kicking myself for not getting her details! Barbara, if you happen to see this and remember our afternoon/evening, and would like to get back in touch, send me a message! I had a fantastic time in your company and it would be great to meet up again at some point!

Back at my hostel, I tried and failed to check in to my flight online using Dave's iPhone - frustrating, as I knew that if I had to check in and get my boarding pass at the airport instead, I'd have to pay a fee. Unfortunately, this is what I was forced to do in the end, as there weren't any computers or printer at the hostel, and it was too late in the day for any internet café to be open. My flight was at 10:15 the following morning, so I was going to be up too early in the morning for that too.

The flight itself was fine, though I didn't get a window seat!

Posted by 3Traveller 18:36 Archived in Serbia Tagged museum hostel serbia belgrade explorations fortifications orthodox_church river_danube traditional_customs serbian_cuisine Comments (3)

Hailstorm in the heat of August...!

Budapest


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The morning started the sight of a boat in the shape of a sightseeing bus going down the Danube...

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...it continued with the poignant sight of the 'Shoes on the Danube' sculpture. This consists of lots of metal shoes right on the edge of the river; this is in memory of the Hungarian Jews who were shot and thrown into the river by the fascist Arrow Cross Militia in 1944.

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After I crossed the bridge I waited quite a long time for the funicular up the side of Castle Hill. Once I got to the top, I took some photos of the wonderful view and then went in search of the Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum.

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The Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum is on the site of Budapest's first apothecary, dating from 1681. I found it easily and had a look round - it was small but interesting, with books of medicinal plants dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, an 18th century book about the preparation of medicines, ceramic jars used as water, spice and medicinal plant holders, a preserved human head, a preserved bat and 18th century pharmacy equipment such as scales, a microscope, distilling equipment and strangely shaped glass tubes.

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Then I went on to the Hungarian National Gallery, but before I went inside I noticed an archery stand outside, so I had a go on that; I got a bullseye, which won me five extra arrows. When I finished, the chap in charge asked me if I had a bow at home! For a second I was confused because with his thick accent, I though he was asking if I had a ball at home. I was really hot and sweaty by now so I had a very tasty and refreshing iced coffee from a stand nearby.

There were some lovely views from in front of the gallery.

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The gallery was very big and contained nearly all Hungarian artists' work; 20th century and 19th century paintings, medieval Gothic painted wooden altars, 20th century graphic art including posters, some very old stone carvings/ inscriptions on loan from the National Museum, nude stone sculptures from the 20th century and more. Photos weren't allowed, so I only managed to get one or two.

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When I left the gallery I found that it was a little bit cooler and raindrops were just starting to fall. It was still warm and humid though - just a little less hot than before. I power walked to some shelter beneath a tree and arrived just as the rain got harder. More people joined me and then the wind suddenly picked up and the rain became torrential. The wind started blowing the toilet assistant's outdoor ticket desk across the courtyard so I and one or two others stopped it for her; we then made a run for the toilet to take cover, as the tree no longer provided any shelter.

After twenty minutes or so the rain died down a bit, so I made my way up the stairs and into the funicular building. I travelled down the hill in it, with three other people. Just as we got to the bottom the rain became torrential again... and then ice started hitting the windows! The biggest hailstones I've ever seen. One of the last things I expected to see in August... we remained in the funicular carriage for about twenty minutes before making a run for the entrance/ exit building. There I remained for another decent period of time until the hail and rain died down. Eventually I left and crossed the bridge - the sun had now come out.

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After getting some money out I stopped at Aldi to buy something to cook for dinner. I chose some gnocchi and a jar of bolognese sauce - quick and easy; I was knackered and my legs were hurting, so I didn't want to stand up for any longer than strictly necessary.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:56 Archived in Hungary Tagged art budapest museum hungary funicular fortifications river_danube extreme_weather Comments (0)

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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