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Regensburg Tourism

Earlier this month, I spent an afternoon checking out a bunch of the touristy things I can do without leaving Regensburg.  There’s a lot to see and do right here, and I didn’t want to leave it all unseen before I moved back to the US.  I started with a river cruise.

There are many great river cruises on the Donau (Danube) river, but I specifically wanted a short touristy river ride.   I found one that runs every hour or so during tourism season and runs about 45 minutes for the cost of eight and a half Euros.  At a touch after 11 in the morning, I set sail on the good ship Johannes Kepler.

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It’s rather interesting to see the Stone Bridge from this perspective.  I’ve been all over the surface and around the temporary construction walkways, but this is the first time I was ever underneath the bridge.  By the way, pay attention to that tower with the clock faces on it.  We’ll climb that later!

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Being on the tiny river cruise showed me things about Regensburg that I had never seen before.  For example, I didn’t realize that the villa of King Maximilian II was just walking distance down the river.

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I don’t know who Klara is, but I really hope she had a nice birthday.

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After we docked, I walked a short distance down the riverfront to the Schiffahrtsmuseum, or shipping museum.  Entrance was just three Euros.  The museum itself is contained inside two very old and beautifully restored ships.   The one pictured here is a paddle steamer.

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What would a museum be without tiny models?

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This is part of the engine room of the Ruthof, the paddle steamer which houses this part of the museum.  This stuff is absolutely huge.

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Once back on land, I finally managed to get a photograph of the Boat Captain.  I don’t know this gentleman’s story, but I see him walking around town from time to time.  He’s usually wearing all white, and he’s always  got epaulets on his jacket.  I’ve always wanted a photograph of him, but he was always walking in the other direction.

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I took a very brief detour at the Historic Wurstkuchl to grab some sustenance before I continued on my tourism day. So tasty!

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Next, I went to the museum next to Regensburg’s famous Stone Bridge.  Most of this museum is free, but there’s a tower here which can be climbed for another two Euros.

“Historic stairs” means they’re really old and rickety and made of wood, I guess.

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The top part of this tower used to be someone’s living quarters.  These are the rooms inside.

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The benefit to living at the top of the historic stairs is the view-  this is looking East from the tower.

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This is the view North from the tower.  When the bridge is not being renovated, this must be a fantastic people-watching view.

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Here’s the Western view.  This picture was taken during HerbstDult, hence the ferris wheel visible in the distance.

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One of the more interesting things about climbing the tower is seeing the mechanism that drives the clocks.  This tower has clock faces on three sides, and they’re all driven by a single mechanism.  This amazing little gearbox has long rods which connect to each clock face, and the electric motor beneath.    One motor for all three clocks.

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After climbing down from the tower, I walked around the free part of this museum for a few more minutes.  I’ve always liked that the Wappen, or coat of arms, for Regensburg is a shield with two crossed keys in it.

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Next on my tourism day was  walk up the street to the Kepler Memorial House.  Johannes Kepler lived in Regensburg at the end of his life, and he fell ill and died in this city.  His old house is a museum now, with an entrance price of two Euros and twenty cents.

J-Kep says science is cool!

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They could probably stand to give his bust a good cleaning.

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The entire museum was in German, so I didn’t get much out of the description cards, but I still liked seeing the old equipment in glass cases.

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This globe is utterly fantastic.  Back in those days, they really took the whole “here be sea monsters” thing very seriously, I think.

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After I was done at the Kepler House, I walked over to the Dreieinigkeitskirche, one of Regensburg’s many, many churches.

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Here’s that key logo again.

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…and again with the keys!

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I’m always a little bit fascinated by the incredibly old glass you find in places like this.  These windows are not as crystal clear as modern glass, but the effect is kind of charming.

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While the inside of this church is nice, that’s not why I was here.  I came to the church because for another two Euros, you can climb the tower.  I’ve been meaning to do this one for three years.  This is another place that wasn’t built for tourism-  they actually taped Styrofoam to one of the beams to prevent tourists from knocking their heads.

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This is another historical stairway, I think.

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Near the top, there’s a sign asking that you don’t touch the bell.

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It’s quite tempting, though.  This is an amazing old church bell.

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Why do I climb all these towers?  For the views, of course.    This is what the city’s main cathedral and the other clock tower look like from this church tower.

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Panning a little bit to the left, you can see another very, very old tower.   This city’s full of ‘em.

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On my walk to the next touristy location in my day, I stumbled across some furries having a date.  At least I think that’s what was going on here.

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For my last stop of the day, I went to the Regensburg Historisches Museum, for an admission price of five Euros.  The last time I was there was the first full day I was in this city, back on November 13, 2011.  At the time, I knew absolutely no German at all, so I was completely lost.  It turns out that even with some knowledge of the language under my belt, the museum didn’t seem all that different to me.

I didn’t remember seeing these stained glass windows last time, though.

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I did remember seeing the Jewish headstones before.  There have been several Jewish settlements over the centuries in this city, and most of them have been forced out or simply eradicated.  Some of the old headstones survived and were brought to the museum.

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A big medieval city demands big medieval swords.

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I said before that museums love their models, and this is another fine example of that.

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Here’s what I spent on my tourism day, not including food:

€8,50 – River Cruise
€3,00 – Schiffahrtsmuseum
€2,00 – Museum and tower next to the Stone Bridge.
€2,20 – Kepler Memorial House
€2,00 – Dreieinigkeitskirche Tower
€5,00 – Historisches Museum

Grand total:  €22,70.   Not bad for an entire day out, with sun, boats, stairway climbing, history, and culture.

Have you ever been a tourist in your own town?  What did you see?

 

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Cairo

For my last trip outside of Germany before I move back to the US, I chose Cairo.  I have a very long list of places that I still want to go and see, but the pyramids have long been near the top of my “gotta see that!” list.  Egypt has had a rough time with their tourism industry since the revolution a few years ago, so I took advantage of the amazing prices and set up the trip to my 26th country.

Between the hits to Egypt’s tourism, the fact that July and August are the low season there and the exchange rate in my favor, everything was very affordable.    I booked four nights at a luxury hotel with a balcony overlooking the Nile river for about $750 US dollars, and booked tours of the pyramids and whatnot before I set out.

Arriving to the Cairo airport is somewhat chaotic.  If you’re a US citizen visiting just to be a tourist, you have to pay $25 in US dollars for the entry visa that they stick in your passport.

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I’m glad that I chose to book the tours with hotel pick-up, because it turns out that navigating Cairo woud have been extraordinarily difficult for me.  For one thing, the Metro stations at Tahrir Square and Giza are both closed and have been for quite some time due to the revolution.   For another thing, I don’t speak Arabic.  I also can’t read the Arabic numerals that are displayed on signs there.  The first time I saw an Egyptian license plate, I thought it was hand-written.  Then I saw a dozen more and I realized this is just how they look.

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Traffic in Cairo is absolutely insane.   The white lines on the highway are seen as a casual suggestion, and drivers weave in and out of each other’s lanes with abandon.  The drivers use their car horns constantly, almost like a form of echolocation, like bats in flight.  The car signals told other drivers where they were at all times.

People on foot cross the road- even the highways- without a care for the cars that are moving past.  People stop in the right-most lanes and get out of their cars.  There’s rubble on the outer edges of the highways, and random smoldering piles of rock that might have been fires a while before I got there.

I’ve never seen anything like it.  Here’s a YouTube video that showcases it pretty well, I think.  For more, just search YouTube for “Cairo traffic.”  It’s absolutely amazing.

Once I was checked into the hotel, I had about two hours to try to shake off my usual travel headache before I was picked up again for my first event.  I took some time to thoroughly enjoy the view from my balcony overlooking the Nile.  After dark, the Nile river comes alive with activity-  neon trimmed party boats, loud music, and street vendors are everywhere.

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My first touristy event was a Nile river dinner cruise, with entertainment.  The food was very good.  I liked the sea bass quite a lot.

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The entertainment was a band, then a Tannoura dance show, then a bellydancer.  The Tannoura is vaguely related to the Sufi Whirling Dervishes, and the man never stopped spinning.  Here’s a short clip of the show.

The next morning, I woke up early for my tour of the Giza Necropolis, including the pyramids and the Sphinx.    I also took a quick daytime picture from my balcony.    That tower in the left third of the picture is Cairo Tower, which has an observation deck at the top and a revolving restaurant just below that.  I’ll come back to that later in the post.

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I ganked this map of the Giza Necropolis from Wikipedia, because it shows a lot of important detail.  The first thing that I didn’t realize before this trip is that there are more pyramids in Giza than the three big ones that everyone notices.  If you look carefully, there’s three smaller ones next to the Pyramid of Khufu, which is referred to as the Great Pyramid.  There’s also another three smaller pyramids next to the Pyramid of Menkaure, and several other smaller pyramids in the Necropolis.  There are 138 known pyramids throughout Egypt, and a whole bunch of them are right there in Giza.

Also, each of the three largest pyramids is connected to a temple by a causeway.  One of these is still intact today and is visible to the naked eye.  The others are a little harder to spot.

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Here’s the Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu.  This is the largest of the three on the Giza plateau.  The Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889.

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On arrival, I sat with my guide Khaled for a few minutes at the base of the Great Pyramid while he discussed the construction and history of the pyramids with me.  This picture is looking straight up the North face of the Great Pyramid.

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This photograph is looking back at the city of Giza from the base of the Great Pyramid.    Giza comes very, very close to the pyramids on one side.  The other side is the start of thousands of miles of Sahara Desert.

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The Pyramid of Khafre is the only one of the pyramids in Giza to still retain a portion of its limestone casing.  Supposedly, all three of the big pyramids were at one time fully covered in this polished limestone, with gold capstones.    That must have been quite a sight.

Khafre also looks larger than Khufu to the naked eye, but that’s because it’s on a higher elevation.  It is actually smaller in both height and width.

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I had the chance to descend into the burial chamber of one of the smaller pyramids next to Khufu.  The attendants were happy to take my picture as I climbed back up.  They’ve mounted handrails into the tunnel because the pathway down is not steps; it’s a ridged wooden plank to give you traction as you climb or descend.    This photograph is only moments before I whanged my head coming out of the entrance:  The Curse of the Pharaohs takes many forms.

You can choose to go into the Great Pyramid, but it’s another 200 Egyptian Pounds (about $30) and I decided that one musty burial chamber was enough for me.

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Khaled took me into one of the smaller structures near the pyramids- this was a small structure supposedly built for one of the architects of the pyramids.  Here, Khaled is pointing out the cartouches-  the symbols inside the oval with a crossbar on the left side.

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Each cartouche is the name of someone royal.  In most cases, it refers to those who are buried inside the pyramids.  I do not recall which was which here.

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Khaled made me do traditional silly tourist pictures with the pyramids, but I steadfastly refused to do a jumping picture.  I’m not a fan of pictures of people jumping in front of landmarks.

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One of my options was a camel ride from behind the Pyramid of Menkaure around the outer edge of the Necropolis to the Sphinx.    I’d never been on a camel before, so I was game.  My thoughts are as follows:  1) It’s a damn good thing I brought sunscreen, because this was actually a camel ride in the desert.  2) Camels are not a smooth ride.  It takes a little while to get used to the rhythm.

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I think this is how camels say hello.

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One of the advantages of taking the camel ride was that I got a really phenomenal view of all the pyramids lined up.   This photograph contains nine pyramids.

From this perspective, the Pyramids of Queens are the three small ones in front, with Menkaure right behind them.  The Pyramid of Khafre is next to the right, and the Pyramid of Khufu is just to the right of that one.  You can also make out three of the smaller pyramids to the right of Khufu.

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After about 45 minutes on camel-back, we arrived to the Sphinx.  This is the interior of the Temple of the Sphinx, with very old alabaster flooring.  Supposedly, this temple had a roof at some point.

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The Sphinx is missing forehead ornamentation, a beard, and its nose.  I’ve seen the beard in the British Museum in London.  It’s not clear what happened to the forehead ornamentation.  As for the nose, one popular theory says that it was accidentally shot off by French soldiers.  Damn you, Napoleon!

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The pyramid over the left shoulder of the Sphinx is the Great Pyramid.    The Great Pyramid is so large that I didn’t see the Sphinx at all until late in the day, despite walking around the other sides of the pyramid.

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The Giza Necropolis was the highlight of my Cairo trip, but that didn’t stop me from seeing other things.  I mentioned the Cairo Tower earlier-  this is the front entrance.

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Here’s a closer view of the entire tower.

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From the viewing platform on the top of Cairo Tower, the views are fairly spectacular.  Here’s one view along the Nile.

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Cairo is a very dense city.  It  has an estimated population of 12 million people, and when you include Giza and the remaining surrounding metropolitan area, it has a population of nearly 22 million people.  That’s roughly a fourth of the residents of the entire country.

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On a clear day, you can even see the pyramids from Cairo Tower.  On a hazy day, you can still see them- just not clearly.

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This is Tahrir Square.  It’s not really square, as far as I can tell. This is where  the most well known protests of the Egyptian revolution took place.

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This is an area of the city adjacent to Tahrir Square.  The reddish building is the Egyptian Museum.  I’m not sure what the burnt out building next to it is.

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Here’s a closer picture of that burnt out building, taken on my walk to the Egyptian Museum.   There were quite a few burnt out buildings in Cairo, signs of the struggle there over the last few years.

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When I was walking to the Egyptian Museum, I walked past four tanks and some barbed wire.  This isn’t a very good picture because I was trying not to be super obvious that I was taking a picture.  My goal here was to attract as little attention from the armed soldiers as possible.  There were a lot of armed soldiers around Cairo, and it was disconcerting.    To get into the museum, or the Cairo Tower, there were security checkpoints with metal detectors.  To get into my hotel, I had to get past the bomb sniffing dog and a metal detector.

I never really felt comfortable or safe while walking around Cairo.  I only felt safe in the touristy areas, behind  the metal detectors.

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On my third night in Cairo, I went to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show.  It was somewhat cheesy, but they used lasers on the Great Pyramid, so I liked it.   The whole thing is done from a very comfortable deck overlooking all three pyramids and the Sphinx.

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I will close this post with a picture taken from a moving car on my way out to the Pyramid Sound & Light Show-  this was taken just before sunset with an iPhone.  I rather wish I had taken the dSLR out for this part of the evening.

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Have you ever been to the Pyramids in Giza?

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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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Krakow, Poland

I knew early on that I needed to get to Poland at some point during my stay here.   For one thing, I wanted to visit every country that borders Germany, and Poland was the last shared border country on that list.  For another thing, my father’s father was born in Warsaw, so I’m partly Polish.

If I was going to visit Poland, I had to choose a city.  My top two choices were Krakow and Warsaw, and everything I had read indicated that Warsaw wasn’t all that different from any other major city.  Off to Krakow I went!

My hotel was only two short blocks from the Main Market Square.  This is the largest medieval European square, covering roughly 40,000 square meters.  Plus, it has a giant head.

Not pictured:  Me, re-enacting that scene from Clash of the Titans.

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In the middle of the Market Square is a building called the Cloth Hall.  The original structure dates back to the 13th century, but it was rebuilt in the 16th century after the previous iteration was destroyed by fire.

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Inside the cloth hall are rows of merchants, mostly selling to tourists.

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The Market Square has a ton of pigeons.  They were creepy as hell.

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One more view of the Cloth Hall, this time from the back and with a nifty fountain in view.

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This is a slightly different view of the same building.  This view shows the Town Hall tower, which you can climb.

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If you should choose to climb it, be aware that the steps in this tower are very tall steps, and the passageway is very narrow.  Good view from the top, though.

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The old town hall’s tower is still standing, even though the rest of the town hall is gone.  There’s a brass sculpture next to the tower showing what the original structure looked like.

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All the extra crap in that last picture is because there was an enormous stage set up in the Square for some big event while I was there.  Lots of live music, some of which was even good.

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…but I digress.  In the main square, there are often a bunch of these walking around in various languages:

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Pick one and follow them.  They cover a lot of interesting topics.  Most of the free tours will lead you down this street, past the McDonald’s and toward St. Florian’s Gate.

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St. Florian’s Gate is part of the city’s defensive walls from the 13th century.  There used to be a moat, but that’s gone now. There were originally 47 observation towers and seven gates, because Krakow was a medieval fortress at the time.

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Near the gate is this excellent statue of Jay Garrick the Roman god Mercury.

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Through the gate is the Barbican, a circular fortification which was originally connected to the main gate.  Barbican is not the name of the building, it’s the name of the type of structure- but I don’t think the locals call it by another name.

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Let’s go back to the Market Square, because I’m not done there.  In one corner is this pretty nifty church, the Church of St. Mary, sometimes referred to as St. Mary’s Basilica.  The church is not parallel to the square, and the towers are not uniform.  The reason for the different towers is that the smaller tower is a bell tower, and the higher tower has always belonged to the city and was used as a watchtower.

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Every hour, on the hour, a small window is opened in the watchtower, and a short trumpet signal called the Hejnał mariacki is played.  The trumpeter then opens a different window and repeats the call.  This is done four times in all, in four directions which roughly correspond to the direction of the four main Krakow city gates.

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The tune breaks off very abruptly.  It is not known with certainty why this is so, but one of the most persistent legends is that it is cut off to commemorate a 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city.  Here’s a short video of the trumpet signal.

In another corner of the Market Square is another amazing (but much, much smaller) church called St. Adalbert’s Church. Legend says this is the location where St. Adalbert used to preach.

Every night, the Royal Chamber Orchestra does an amazing one hour concert in this church.  The baroque dome gives it excellent acoustics, and the show is well worth seeing.   The program alternates, and when I saw it, the song  included such venerable classics as Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and Horner’s “Love Theme from Titanic.”

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Walking south out of the main Market Square, along Grodzka, you eventually come to an intersection with two more interesting churches visible.    I can’t remember the name of this one.

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This one is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Franciscan church.

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Across the street from the Franciscan church is the Bishop’s Palace, where Pope John Paul II stayed whenever he was in the city.  They even decked out the window he used to hang out of to permanently commemorate this.

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Between the two churches is another interesting sculpture showing where the Church of All Saints stood in the past.

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At this point in the post, the “walking around the city” narrative sort of breaks down, because the last few pictures aren’t in a straight line.  For example, this is the former Collegium Physicum, the location for the faculties of pharmacology, physiology, physics, chemistry, and geology.  Lots of science was done here.

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…and this is the Collegium Maius, the oldest existing building of the Jagiellonian University.  I didn’t get to see that wonderful clock in motion, but my city map said it runs at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm every day.

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This the real gold roof of the cathedral on Wawel Hill, near the castle.  It’s plated though, and not solid gold, because that would be too heavy.

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I took a brief stop in Wawal Castle to view Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine.  It was smaller than I expected.  The classics almost always are.  Alas, photographs were forbidden.  After I was done looking at the painting, I noticed this fascinating giant balloon from the courtyard.

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This is the Hiflyer.  It’s based a reasonable walk from the city center, and as long as the weather is good, they’re flying.  They recommend calling ahead just to be sure, but a reservation isn’t necessary.  The balloon is more or less stationary, because it’s tethered to a single place on the ground.

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The “basket” for this is actually a very large metal ring, with an open center for the cable that pulls you back down at the end of your flight.

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Going up at dusk affords you some pretty spectacular views of the area.  This direction shows Wawel Hill, including the castle.

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On my last evening in town, I stopped at one of the restaurants in the main market square and I had these fresh pierogies.    I love pierogies, and having a chance to have freshly made ones in Poland is not to be missed.  These were so, so delicious.

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Have you ever been to Krakow?  Have you ever had a pierogi?

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Hot Air Ballooning Over Bavaria

We interrupt this barrage of travel posts to bring you a post about something that I did a little closer to town.  Thanks to my partner-in-crime Jenny and her fiancé Robert, I had the opportunity to go hot air ballooning.  They wanted to try this, and if enough people joined in, the balloon company would come to us instead of us going to them.  Arrangements were made, weather was checked, and on the very last Saturday in May, the balloon company traveled to us in the afternoon.

The first order of business was setting up.  We were all enlisted to help set up the balloon and basket.  The actual balloon was packed into a giant canvas bag.  Most of the material is a very lightweight nylon, but the material closest to the hot air burners is a slightly more flame retardant canvas blend.

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First the balloon has to be inflated.  It’s connected to the basket, and pulled out over a large field.

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I large gasoline powered fan is used to begin the inflation of the balloon chamber.  Two of us had to hold the mouth of the balloon open at first.

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After enough  inflation is done with the fan, the flame jets can be used to heat the air inside to give it lift.

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The burners actually have very fine control-  they can do hotter blue flame or cooler (but more visible and thus cooler looking) yellow flame.

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Lift off was quite subtle-  there’s no acceleration like an airplane.  One minute you’re on the ground, and the next you simply aren’t on the ground any more. Once we were aloft, the navigation was simply based on which way the wind was blowing.  The blue vehicle with the white trailer is the balloonist’s partner following along from the ground.     They kept in contact via nearly functional radios.

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Once we were fully aloft, the view was pretty spectacular.  There was, surprisingly, no wind noise at all because we were moving at the speed of the wind.  It was very quiet, except for the occasional use of the burner to adjust our altitude.  It also wasn’t cold, to my surprise, because of the burners.  Incidentally, the plume of steam coming up from the ground in the far distance is a nuclear power plant.

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In this part of Germany, there are really only a few larger cities.  Most of Bavaria is really just villages of various sizes surrounded by fields of crops.  This was only fifteen or twenty kilometers outside of the center of Regensburg.  I’m not actually sure what village we’re looking at in this photograph.  From above, they all kind of look alike.

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This field, I am told, is where the Battle of Regensburg took place in 1809.  This is where Napoleon was shot in the ankle, apparently.

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Fields of solar panels are a common sight in Germany.  I didn’t realize until we were directly above one that sheep sometimes graze in between the panels.  Much easier than using a lawnmower around the solar panels, I imagine.

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Just after we passed the field of solar panels and sheep, two trains passed, one in each direction.  The first one was a longer Munich to Prague commuter line, and the next was a shorter commuter train which probably only went from Landshut to Munich.   The furthest wagon to the left is the engine, and the second from last is a two level wagon with upper deck seats.  The other three wagons all contain compartments of six seats each, which is much less fun than the double-decker wagon, but is much much quieter.

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After a while in the air, we had to look for a place to land.  This is the tricky part-  you have no steering other than the wind, and you want to avoid crops and powerlines.  Ideally, you need another field of just-grass.   While we were looking for a place to land, we passed fairly low over this village.  Lots of people came out to wave at us and shout things.   Most people are kind of fascinated to see a hot air balloon, particularly one this close.

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As we approached an ideal landing spot, the sun was low on the horizon and we got some pretty neat perspectives.

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After landing successfully at the edge of a crop field, we were joined by some neighborhood children who wanted to watch us break down and pack the balloon.

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Once the enclosure was completely deflated, the balloonist scrunched it together to prepare it to go back into the canvas bag.

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Last, but certainly not least, our wicker steed was ready to be disassembled and put back into the trailer.  This is the point at which a carload of random dudes wearing Lederhosen pulled up and helped us muscle the thing back into the trailer.  Bavaria is a ridiculous and hilariously fun place at times.

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Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?