Last Looks

The last time I was in Hamburg, back in late March, I spent some time with Sarah and Tobias.  After lunch, they walked me back to the U-Bahn, and as we said our goodbyes, I had a flash of realization- after that moment, I might not ever see either of them again in my lifetime.

I know it seems like a negative point of view, but it’s a simple truth: In just thirty days, I will be leaving Germany. Sure, I’ll travel to Europe again in the future, but I probably won’t be in Hamburg again.

After that realization, I started noticing it in other places.   Sometimes it’s silly (will this be the last time I buy a fricking heavy six-pack of water from the Getränkemarkt?) but usually it’s a little more bittersweet.

I saw this image in one of those ridiculous Buzzfeed lists, and the sentiment is exactly what I’m talking about, even if the image they chose is terrible:

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For the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition back and about what I’m leaving behind here.  I started making these comparisons in another post a while back, but I’ve got more.

Some of it isn’t great.

  • I won’t miss riding with patient zero on the bus.  Every time the temperature drops even the tiniest amount, there’s hacking and coughing and sniffling like you would not believe.
  • I won’t miss the smokers everywhere.  Standing at the bus stop.  Walking through the city.  I can smell it from half a block away.
  • I won’t miss the crazy spin-art vomit stains on the sidewalk at the end of every weekend.  Most Germans can hold their beer, but this is a college town and Universities are where people test their limits, and then spill those limits all over the sidewalk before passing out.  Walking through the city on a Sunday morning can be a little bit like walking though a slightly squishy minefield.
  • I won’t miss the fucking cobblestone.  I haaaaate  cobblestone.  No, seriously-  cobblestone is charming when you first arrive, but it’s hell to walk on for long periods of time.    I can’t begin to count the number of times that my ankle has turned a bit on a cobblestone step.  It’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself in all this time.
  • I won’t miss the specific style of outdoor chairs that you find at beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating.  See the crossbar halfway up the back?  Those things always dig into my back.   Seriously, they’re the least comfortable seats in the universe.  How to people sit on these for hours?  Oh, right:  The beer functions as a muscle relaxant.damnchairs
  • I won’t miss the random people who seem to do nothing all day except hang out in front of the Bahnhof, or in front of the park directly opposite.  Every city I’ve visited has these people- they’re around the train station with a beer in hand.  Often, it looks like they’re sleeping there, in front of the station.  It’s such a waste-  I won’t ever understand people who don’t have the desire to go other places and do other things.
  • I won’t miss the way Germans line up for things.  At the bakery, or waiting to board a bus, or a train, there’s never a single simple line.   If you’re trying to get off of a bus, you generally have to push through the people waiting to get onto the bus because they don’t stand to one side to let people through.   Germans, by and large, are terrible  at lining up for things.    It’s usually a large cluster of people with no real sense of order.
  • I won’t miss my shower plunger.  I have a standard wood-handled rubber plunger, of the type commonly associated with toilet issues.  This particular plunger has never been used in a toilet, however.  The drain of my shower has been finicky for as long as I’ve lived here, and I keep the plunger in my shower so that whenever I find myself ankle deep in not-draining water, I can plunge the shower drain for a minute and things will even out.  This happens at least once every few weeks, and has for as long as I’ve been here.  I’ve tried the local equivalent to Drano, and I’ve tried a few other things without much success.  I won’t miss having a shower that backs up at random intervals.

But there are things I will  miss.

  • I’ll miss having a vibrant concert scene just one hour away, or three, or six.  Many of my trips have started with concert plans.  I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall in London twice now.  Many of the bands I want to see play in Berlin, or Cologne, or Hamburg.  Sometimes they even come to Munich or Nuremberg.    The concert scene is a little more dead in Florida, alas.
  • I’ll miss this view, as seen from Neupfarrplatz in the Regensburg Altstadt:
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  • I’ll miss the Deutsche Bahn.  From Regensburg, a single train will take me to Prague in four hours.  Salzburg in four hours.  Berlin in six hours.  Frankfurt in three hours.  Anywhere else in continental Europe is within reach, as long as I’ve got the time.  The trains here are fabulous.
  • I’ll miss my crazy-fast Internet.  The picture below is a photograph of my screen when I did a speed test.  I’ve never used anything this fast back in the US.  I know it’s possible, but in South Florida, it’s mostly DSL and Comcast cable broadband, and it’s nothing like the blazing fast speeds I’ve been enjoying here for the last three years.
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  • I’ll miss the dogs everywhere!  Germans take dogs with them on the bus, on the train, into restaurants, and pretty much everywhere that will allow it.  Little dogs wearing sweaters are just adorable, and they always make me smile.
  • I’ll miss the bakeries.  The bread and pastries and pretzels here are beyond compare.  Apfeltaschen and Butterbreze and Kurbis Krusti… nom nom nom.
  • I’ll miss the scalp massages that are a regular part of any haircut here, during the shampoo portion of the visit.  When you get a haircut in the states, they’ll wash your hair but they never linger  on the shampooing like they do here.  It’s really heavenly.
  • I’ll dearly miss a few very close friends.    My social life in Germany has been fairly limited, but I have made a few friends who will be part of my world in some fashion for the rest of my life.  I’ll be back to Germany to see them.

Of course, all the things that I will and won’t miss have their balance:  Things that I’m really looking forward to back in the United States.  In just thirty days, I’ll have access to some really wonderful things.

  • I’m looking forward to screens on my windows so I can open them without getting those little bugs that like my laptop screen so much.  And no more indoor mosquitoes when it’s warm!
  • I’m looking forward to electronic dishwashers.  After three years of hand-washing everything, it’ll be nice to just let the machine do it.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to having an actual in-sink disposal unit again.  I don’t have that here.  If I have something that I need to dispose of here, I have only two real options:  The trash or the toilet.  Yes, I’ve actually flushed away expired apple sauce here.
  • I’m looking forward to having a full sized kitchen again.  My refrigerator here doesn’t even come up to my waist.  The freezer is roughly the size of a shoebox.  I have roughly ten inches of counter space in the form of a drainboard.  There are four cabinets overhead for dishes and food storage alike.    It’s more of a kitchenette.
  • I’m looking forward to Golden Oreos.  And other cookies.  While Germany excels in cakes and pastries and other baked goods, they really can’t seem to figure out cookies.  With a few very limited exceptions (primarily Oreos and Subway cookies,) I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the cookies here.  I’m looking forward to that American cookie aisle in the grocery store again.
  • And while I’m on the subject of the grocery story, I’m looking forward to shopping on Sundays!  Or after 8pm, for that matter.    I’m so tired of having to do all of my grocery shopping in the two hours after work or on Saturday afternoons.  I miss the flexibility of being able to do whim-based grocery shopping at 2am on any random Thursday!
  • I’m looking forward to having a car!  Right now, when I do my grocery shopping, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in a single trip.  I miss being able to get a ton of groceries and load them into my car.   I miss being able to travel to places that are outside of public transportation range without walking or biking to get there.
  • I’m looking forward to American-style customer service.  Sometimes it can almost be a mythic challenge to get the attention of a waitress here.
  • I’m looking forward to reliable cellular signal again.  The only place I ever had weak signal in South Florida was the men’s room at work.  (And let’s face it, that’s the one place I really don’t want to take a call anyway.)  Here, on the other hand, I see my phone drop down to Edge speeds all the time-  on the way to or from work, on the train, or just walking down the street on a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m looking forward to video without significant Geo-blocking.  I can’t count the number of times a friend has posted a link to something on Ye Olde YouTubes, and I’ve clicked the link to see this little angry-maker:
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    Annoying, isn’t it?  GEMA is a music licensing entity whose sole function seems to be making Americans so angry that they want to kick puppies.  To get around it here, you need to use data redirection techniques-  either a browser plugin or a VPN.    The same thing applies to Pandora, to Netflix, to Hulu.  Even the Daily Show and the Colbert Report geo-block now, although they didn’t when I first arrived to Germany.    Geo-blocking is a pain in the butt, and I’m glad that I’ll have less of it to deal with.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to go about my day to day life without needing translation help.  I’m looking forward to being able to sign an apartment lease without someone parsing the bullet points for me.  I’m looking forward to being able to understand all my junk mail without bringing it to a friend to review.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my family! I have a three year old niece and I’m going to be back in time for her fourth birthday.  I’ve only been there for a handful of the days of her life so far, and I’m looking foward to changing that.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m looking forward to having brunches at the Moonlite Diner, lunches with my coworkers, movie dates with my favorite girl… I can’t wait to get back to my life.

This post has changed pretty drastically from where it started.  I originally intended to talk about the emotional impact of leaving a place, and I wound up just making another bulleted list.  I guess for the poignant emotional stuff, I’ll have to turn the floor over to the inimitable Peter Cincotti.  This is the song that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks, and it’s almost exactly how I feel: 

What do you look forward to the most when you go home?

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Munich Flughafen Besucherpark

Almost every time I’ve gone to or from the Munich airport in the last few years, I’ve used a route that includes a train between Regensburg and Freising, and bus 635 that goes from the Freising Hauptbahnhof to the Munich airport a few times each hour.  One of the stops on bus 635 is the München Flughafen Besucherpark, or Munich Airport Visitor’s Park.  I could see from passing by that it had a bunch of old aircraft to look at, and an observation hill that looked over the airport, and I made a promise to myself to actually stop when I had time, instead of just noticing it on the way to or from the airport.

That opportunity finally struck in July, when I had a ticket to go into Munich to see Sarah from Regensblog in the ESME summer concert.   The show was in the evening, so I set out a little bit earlier in the day.  Instead of taking the train all the way into Munich right away, I stopped in Freising, got on the old 635, and hopped off at the stop for the Besucherpark.

The bus stops are next to the S-Bahn stops, and there’s a little bit of a walk between public transport and the visitor park.  If you drive there, you get to park closer, but you miss out on some of the groovy trail decorations.  I especially like the nod to the Statue of Liberty in this one.

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Getting a little bit closer, there’s a helicopter on a stick!  I wonder if this exhibit is sponsored by a roadside assistance company of some sort… maybe ADAC?  This air rescue helicopter was stationed at the Munich hospital 36 years ago, and was retired here in the visitor’s park.

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This is the bit that got my attention from the bus as it passed by-  the Lockheed L-1049 G Super Constellation.  This is an original Super Constellation from 1955, with Lufthansa’s classic livery colors.  This was the first aircraft to have a pressurized cabin, and it was the first aircraft that Lufthansa used for transatlantic flights.

For a euro, you can go up into the aircraft.

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Passengers had quite a bit more room in the 1950s!

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There are fewer seats than in a modern aircraft, but the space per seat is much greater.

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They left the auto pilot on!

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Next up, there’s a Swissair Douglas DC-3.   This one was closed up when I visited, but the DC-3 has a reputation for being a great cargo plane.

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The Junkers Ju 52 was used for airmail service to South America and for exploration flights in the 1930s.

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This is the back of the Junkers Ju 52, also referred to sometimes as Auntie Ju.  The obseration hill and stairway are visible in the background.

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There were historical broadcasts playing inside the Ju 52, but I didn’t stick around to hear them.

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This is the cockpit of the Junkers Ju 52.  Vintage 1930s technology!

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At the top of the observation hill, you can see all the aircraft from above.  You’ll need another euro to get through the turnstiles at the bottom of the hill.

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From the observation hill, you can also see the entire airport spread out in front of you.  Lots of people brought their kids up here, and there are coin operated telescopes to get a closer view.  I saw one guy with enormous binoculars and a notepad writing down every aircraft type he spotted.  Interesting hobby, I  think.

I watched several aircraft taking off and landing before I climbed back down.

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The Besucherpark is designed to be family friendly.  It even has a pretty good sized play area for the smaller children.

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Naturally, there’s a restaurant and a souvenir shop on the premises.

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The restaurant is named Tante Ju’s, which is the German for Auntie Ju’s, named after the Junkers Ju 52 aircraft pictured above.

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Once I was done at the visitor’s park, I walked back to where I started and took the S-Bahn the rest of the way into the city for a nice burger and a concert.  That’s another story, though.

The Visitor’s Park can be reached by Bus 635 from the airport or Freising, or it can be reached by the Munich S-Bahn (S1 or S8 to Besucherpark, about 40 minutes from the main station.)

The Visitor’s Park and viewing hill are accessible around the clock, year round, and the information center, shop, and historical aircraft have the following hours: March to October, 9:30am-6pm.   November to February, 10am-5pm.   Tante Ju’s Restaurant is open daily 9:30am to 6pm.

And according to the website, there’s minigolf there too, but I never saw it.

Have you ever been to the München Flughafen Besucherpark?

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Bratislava

Caveat:  Many of the pictures in this post might look a little familiar if you read Confuzzledom, because Bev and Jan went to Bratislava the day after I did, and they took the same free walking tour that I did.  We saw a lot of the same things, and even had (delicious traditional) lunch in the same tourist-trap restaurant.  She was much faster about getting her Bratislava post up than I was, however.

The last time I was in Vienna, I took a day trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  Bratislava is only about an hour away from Vienna by regular commuter train, and you can even take a boat along the Danube river to get there.

If your only exposure to Bratislava before now is based on the movie Eurotrip, then this is what you’ll expect the city to look like.  These are actual screen captures from the Bratislava section of a very funny movie that gets traveling through Europe dead wrong.

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Bratislava is far from the post-Communism wasteland depicted in the movie- it’s actually a really pleasant little town. Outside of the center it’s nothing too pretty, but the old part of the city is compact and lovely.

I felt like the center of the city bears marked similarities to Prague, which makes sense if you consider that prior to the Velvet Divorce in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country.

Here’s a fountain in Hviezdoslav Square, a pretty little central area in the city.

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Hviezdoslav Square is named after Pavol Hviezdoslav, a Slovak poet.

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Slovak National Theatre.  Check.

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I meant to check out this place, but didn’t have the chance.  Not a wardrobe in sight!

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Bratislava is filled with amazing statues in random places.  This Man At Work, named Čumil, is very popular.  He is sometimes referred to as The Peeper, because he’s checkin’ out the ladies.

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Of course Man At Work is so low to the ground that he’s been run over a few times.  The sign helps his visibility a little bit.

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Several of the statues are actually owned by restaurants, like this one.  This is a statue of  Schöner Náci, a carpet cleaner who reportedly dressed in a black suit and top hat during the communist days of the city, offering gifts to pretty women.

There was also a well known statue called the Paparazzi statue in Bratislava- it peeked around a corner with a camera.  I asked my tour guide about it, but the Paparazzi statue was owned by a restaurant of the same name, and both restaurant and statue are now gone.

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The Roland Fountain (Rolandova fontána)  was commissioned by Hungarian King Maximilian in 1527, and was the first fountain in Bratislava.

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Here’s another one of Bratislava’s great statues.  It’s a deliberately unflattering image of a Napoleonic soldier, because Bratislavans have a long memory when it comes to Napoleon’s siege.

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See the black metal ball to the left of the window in this tower?  That’s a cannonball.  This is the old Town Hall tower, and the cannonball is meant to be a reminder of Napoleon’s impact, no pun intended, on the city of Bratislava.

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These Berlin Bears are all over Europe.  I’ve seen more in Berlin than anywhere else, of course, but they’ve made it to other cities.  This one has the coat of arms of Bratislava on the paw on the right (the one that looks like a little castle), and the coat of arms of Slovakia containing the double-barred cross on the left paw.

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This is the tower of Michael’s Gate, one of the four original main gates to the city.  The distinctive roof is made of copper.  I thought I had taken a picture where you can see both the tower and the gateway beneath it in one shot, but I guess I only got it in separate photos.

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This is the old city gate at the base of the tower from the previous photo.  Michael’s Gate was constructed in the 14th century.

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Next to the tower is the thinnest store in the city of Bratislava.  It’s been many things over the years, but right now, it’s a Döner Kebab stand.    I imagine you can fit almost two people in there at once, but they weren’t open when I walked by so I couldn’t tell you for sure.

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That long flat buiding on the hill in the left half of this photo is Bratislava Castle.  I didn’t get any closer than this.  The building on the right is just a picturesque church.

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This is the Church Of St. Elisabeth, also known as the Blue Church.  I can’t imagine why they call it that.

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This church is built in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style by Ödön Lechner, a Hungarian architect who was nicknamed the “Hungarian Gaudí“.

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Even the inside is mostly blue!

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It kind of looks like a wedding cake, don’t you think?

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Ödön Lechner also designed this building next to the Blue Church, in the same style.  This is the Gymnázium Grösslingová, and if I remember correctly, it’s being used as a school now.

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Also across the street from the Blue Church, on the other side, is this creepy abandoned Communist-era hospital.

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I can’t actually remember the deal with this statue, but I thought it was neat looking.

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After the tour, I stopped at a recommended local restaurant for a lunch of traditional Slovakian food. I can’t for the life of me remember what this dish is called, but it basically tasted like macaroni and cheese with bacon.  It was utterly delicious.

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I walked past this stately building on my way back to the train station to leave the city.  This is Grassalkovich Palace, the residence of the President of Slovakia.

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Have you ever been to Slovakia?

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Budapest, Part 2

I mentioned earlier that Budapest was much, much larger than I expected.  This is reflected in the amount of photographs I took over the span of a few days in the city.   On one of our mornings in the city, we went to the Central Market Hall, the largest and oldest covered market of the city.

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There’s something very much like this in Frankfurt, Germany-  lots of places to buy fresh meat, cheese, vegetables.  In short, a regular market hall.

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Fresh produce was everywhere.

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There were some fascinating vendors of Tokaji, or Hungarian wine. The blown-glass dragon decanter was particularly amazing.

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I also thought the trident-toting devil decanter was quite fetching.

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I get why you might want a Russian doll painted with Barack Obama, Gene Simmons, Freddie Mercury, or even Angela Merkel, but who on Earth would want a Bin Laden doll?  Unless you were fresh out of paper targets for the gun range, I mean.

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The Market Hall is a daytime visit.  In the evening, we tried to check out one of Budapest’s famous Ruin Pubs.  These are formerly abandoned buildings that have been converted into giant bar complexes.  We went to Szimpla, one of the most well known.

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The decor was interesting, part junkyard and part Maker Faire.

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There were multiple bars inside the building, set on two levels.  There were lots of places to sit and enjoy your drink.

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Movies were projected on some of the walls, and music was played in other areas.

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Some of the chairs were made from former cars.  The place has an incredibly interesting atmosphere.

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I know a bunch of people who would have loved Szimpla if only for the random bikes hanging everywhere.

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This giant plastic kangaroo near the front entrance was a big hit.  Lots of people stopped to take a quick ride.

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I mentioned in the previous post that Budapest has many fun statues.  Here’s Janene and Chris with the Fat Policeman.  Locals say that if you rub his belly, you’ll eat well.  We didn’t need the help though, because the food in Budapest was amazing.

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The Kiskiralylany Szobor (Little Princess Statue) is apparently very popular.  I think it’s her crown that draws people in.

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This girl with her playful dog are a recent addition, placed on the promenade by artist David Raffai in 2007.

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I’ve saved my favorite for last:  Peter Falk and a beagle.   This Columbo statue was placed to honor Falk because of his Hungarian ancestry.  There is conjecture that his great grandfather was Miksa Falk, a Hungarian writer and politician.

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This led to some great puns as we walked the length of the city to find this Falking statue.  It was right by Cafe Picard, where we stopped for a Falking delicious lunch.  Make it so!

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Have you ever been to a Ruin Pub?  How did you like it?

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Budapest, Part I

Chris and Janene, good friends from back in Florida, told me that they were going to be in Budapest, so I timed one of my own trips to spend a few days hanging with them.  They flew in from Florida, and I took the train into Keleti station on the same day.

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One of the first things I learned as I arrived in Budapest was that the city is much, much, much larger than I thought it would be.  The next thing I learned is that Budapest is actually made up of two cities- Buda and Pest.  The cities are separated by the Danube river, and were united into one larger city in 1873.

I spent much more time in Pest than I did in Buda.  Keleti Station, seen below, is on the Pest side.  So was my hotel, and many of the other things seen in this post.

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There are a large number of photographs in this post, in no particular order,  Starting with the Budapest Opera.

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This is one of the stations in the Millennium Underground Railway, or M1.  Built between 1894 and 1896, this is the oldest line in the Budapest Metro, and the second oldest underground metro in the world.  The oldest metro is in the London Underground.

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This is Heroes Square.  If you take a good tour, you’ll get a lot of very interesting explanations for each of the statues.

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We kept seeing Budapest information staffers-  they were always around to help tourists find their way.  Stylish wheels, too!

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This sign was very amusing.  We expect signs to point us to attractions and restrooms, but free Wi-Fi?  Amazing.

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Thermal baths are located in various places around the city.  This is the front entrance to Széchenyi Baths.

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This is the view inside Széchenyi BathsSzéchenyi is reportedly the largest spa in Europe, with multiple pools and saunas.

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This… was some delicious freshly made strudel from the First Strudel House of Pest, just down the street from St. Stephen’s Basilica.  One of them is apple, the other rhubarb.  So, so delicious.

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The streets around the Basilica are lined with places to eat.

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Here’s a far view of the Buda Castle Funicular, taken from the Chain Bridge.

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This is the Chain Bridge, locally named Széchenyi lánchíd.  The large building to the left is the Buda Castle, which has been converted to a museum.

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Here’s a close-up of the Funicular I showed earlier.

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This is the view from the top of the Funicular, looking back over the Chain Bridge into Pest.

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This is another area on the Buda side of the river, Fisherman’s Bastion and lookout terrace.

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The Fisherman’s Bastion provides amazing views of the Pest side of the river, including the Hungarian Parliament.

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This church at Fisherman’s Bastion is called the Matthias Church.  Several coronations occurred here.  It’s under reconstruction at the moment.

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Many religions are represented in Budapest.  On the Pest side of the river is the Dohány Street Synagogue, a Jewish synagogue built in the 1850s with 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 for women.)

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The most well known of the churches in Budapest is St. Stephen’s Basilica, known locally as Szent István-bazilika.

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Yes, you can climb it.

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From the top, there’s a pretty fantastic view back toward Buda.

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I never did figure out which building this is, but it’s nifty looking.  I thought perhaps it was the Museum of Applied Arts, but they’re not quite the same patterns.

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This is the inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica.  We went there for an organ concert.

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Here’s the organist, Miklós Teleki.  He was pretty good.

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When we left the concert, this is how the Basilica was lit up.  I did absolutely no color processing to this photo- I simply cropped and resized it.  This is how it looked without the camera.

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There were lots of interesting statues around Budapest.  The man standing on the bridge is Imre Nagy. Nagy was chosen by the people to become the new Prime Minister during an uprising in 1956. When the Soviet troops invaded he was arrested and executed along with thousands of others.

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When we walked past the Hungarian Parliament, we caught a changing of the guard ceremony.  It was very ceremonial, with lots of spinning rifles and whatnot.

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When we were at the top of the Funicular, we caught a similar changing of the guard ceremony, but this was a different set of guards.    The dark uniforms above are at the Parliament, while the light brown uniforms seen here are at Buda Castle.

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This giant bird is a Turul.  The Turul is considered a divine messenger, and it’s heavily woven into the origin mythology of the Magyar people.  I was looking for this Turul statue because on the train into Budapest, I saw an enormous Turul statue on a mountain near Tatabánya.  It was so large that it was easy to find information about it- it was the last of three giant Turul statues.  It’s the largest bird statue in the world, and the largest bronze statue in Central Europe.

This Turul, sitting in front of Buda Castle, is not nearly so large as the one on the mountain.  It was still pretty big though.

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In one of the earlier photos showing the city, you might have noticed a ferris wheel.   This is how it looks at night.

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This is how St. Stephen’s Basilica looks from that same ferris wheel during the daytime.

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The love locks phenomenon is everywhere.  The “Big Nose Hearts Big Face” one made me laugh.  And the big silver one next to it says “Michu Pich & Laddi Waddie,”  which is kind of great.

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I have a difficult time believing they can really transport a patient with this ambulance.

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While we were walking toward our evening entertainment, we briefly followed this pair of children.  I couldn’t resist snapping a photograph on the sly, because these two look like the flashback sequence of every buddy comedy movie I’ve ever seen.  In a movie, this night would surely be followed immediately by a “fifteen years later” caption.

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Have you ever been to Budapest?  Which side did you prefer, Buda or Pest?

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