Kolkata (23 00 hrs) - Delhi (0125 hrs)
13.04.19. Delhi (0945 hrs)-Helsinki(14:45 Hrs)-Hels(17:35 Hrs)-Prague(18:45) -Pra (23:00 hrs)
Budapest (5:30 hrs)
21.04.19. Salzburg/Cesky Krumlov
22.04.19. Cesky Krumlov / Prague
24.04.19. Prague (11 30 hrs) /Helsinki (20:15 hrs)
25.04.19. Delhi (5:00) /Kolkata (9:00)
We reached Kolkata airport within 1 hour from Deshapriya Park, because of the Ma flyover, ! Our flight (by GoAir) will leave for Delhi at 11 pm and reach Delhi at 1.15 am.
Mohua and I reached Delhi in time at T-1B at 1.15 am. But our flight to Prague by Finnair was at 9.30 am (at T-3). The round-trip airfare is only 32,000. There is no other domestic flight which is closer to our international flight time, considering the fact that counter starts functioning at 6.30 am. The gate opens 4 hours before flight time. So we had to wait in the waiting zone at Terminal 3 and could not use lounge facility. We had to walk for 4-5 minutes to reach near T-3, near Gate 1 from T-1B.
Our Plane reached Helsinki 2 hours late, as we were not allowed to use Pakistani Airspace - because of the risk involved. In the process Pakistan loses revenue and more fuel is burnt ! We took a different route along Gujarat and then it took a sharp right turn towards right, to avoid Pakistani airspace. Similar problems were there in Syrian airspace also.
Normally it takes 7.30 hours to reach Finland. Finland is +4.30 hours ahead of India. We reached Finland at 16:30 hours Finland time, in contrast to 14:30 hours - which was the scheduled time.
We met a passenger who is going to Iceland - they have to spend the night in Finland’s capital, Helsinki because of this delay. Our connecting flight is at 17:45 hours – so our waiting time got reduced. The population of Finland is only 5.5 million or 55 Lakh like Singapore and GDP is 232 Billion USD (Per capita income of 50,000 USD). I think Finland has the highest per capita income among all the places which were part of Czarist Russia. The area is 330,000 Sq Km i.e. nearly 4 times the size of West Bengal.
We reached Prague just in time. Our plane left little late (10 minutes) to accommodate 2 people, who were stuck because of this Pakistani air space problem. However unlike India they kept us informed about the reason for being late. They even said they will try to travel fast to make up the delayed departure! We reached Prague or Praha (that is what is written in the airport) only 5 minutes late at 18:50 hours. The immigration was done very fast. It is a small airport. We saw a robot mopping the floor. If you stand in front of it, then it will stop working.
We changed some currency at the airport. They were giving a ridiculous rate of 1 USD =15.85 Kroner . We are forced to exchange a bare minimum of 7 USD x2 for both of us and got (7X15.85)x2=224 Kroner to take the bus/metro. They were trying to persuade us to buy more Kroner. Mohua almost agreed to do it !
There is an airport express bus - which leaves from the airport - the fare is 60 (45 Kroner if you bought it online) and drops you at a central place at Florenc bus station. Or else you can take either bus no. 100 or 119 - which will drop you at the nearest metro station. These buses (100 or 119) basically work as a feeder service.
If you take bus no. 100, then you can avail yellow line metro - Zlicin metro station (line B), which will take you directly to Florenc bus station without any interchange.
But if you take 119 , then you can avail green line metro - Nádraží Veleslavín metro station (line A) and interchange at Mustek station to finally reach Florenc bus station.
You have to pay 32 Koruna (or Rs 96) for the bus + metro combo for the 90 minutes duration. Since we had missed bus no. 100, we took bus no. 119 to go to Nádraží Veleslavín metro station and finally reached Florenc metro station. There is no need to take Airport Express, since it is double the fare of bus+ metro combo and will not be faster.
It was very cold, 3 degree Celsius. Normal temperature varies between 6-16 degree Celsius. We reached Florenc bus station in time at 9.30 pm. The bus station is very near to the Florenc metro station - you have to walk for 2 minutes from the bus station. There are many ticket counters in the bus stations - important ones are - Flix bus, Regio Jet, Eurolines etc. We made a small change in the forex counter (5 USD only) at the bus station at 1 USD= 22.3 Kroner (vs 15.85 in airport) - , i.e 1 Koruna = Rs 3 !!). Flixbus was our default bus company not only this time, but also in my France tour after 5 months. The rates are really good and facilities are world class. Later I learnt that forex rates in the Florenc bus station are very good.
There is Burger King, restaurants run by home grown brands and a departmental store at the bus station. We had one large portion of French Fries at Burger King (49 Kroner = Rs150). The smaller one is 29 Kroner. We bought one big Vegetarian Cheese Panini (Italian sandwich) from the departmental store for 54 Kroner for two of us and water for 22 Kroner (1.5 Litre). We paid 10 Kroner to go to the Bathroom (quite clean). We were short of 1 Kroner in the departmental store - which they waived!
Then we boarded the bus. Everything is spic and span - both the bus and bus station. There is a bathroom in the bus. The bus is very nice. There is wifi and a TV screen behind every seat. They served Cappuccino in the bus. At the bus station there is an automatic coffee vending machine - where you can drop a coin and have coffee - coffee ATM. The exit in Czech language is called Bhaichod !
We reached Budapest just in time at 5.30 am. The name of the bus station is Szent Gellert Templon. It is not the main bus station. From there we took green line metro to get down at Keleti Palyaudvar to take red line metro. The metro fare is 350 Hungarian Forint (or Rs 90) each. We used our forex card to buy it from a machine with the help of a local person.
After getting down at the last metro station, we took a tram to go to my friend Gabor's house. The fare is same i.e. 350 Forint. When you shift from Metro to tram, it is considered as different transport and not part of same system. But for interchange between tram / bus, you don’t have to buy a ticket , provided it is within a stipulated time. There is a ticket vending machine at the tram stop. Interestingly you can buy ticket inside the tram, since there is a machine inside the tram also. We reached Gabor's house by the bus and tram combo by 8.30 am. He stays in a multi storied building - with 4 flats per floor. He stays on the 4th floor. There is no system of security guards. Like Russia, you have to tap (a metallic thing) on the door to open it. He opened it from the 4th floor, without getting down. Gabor has travelled 155 countries - probably the most travelled Hungarian. He calls himself Vandorby meaning wanderer - like the ancients wanderers who acquired knowledge after years of wandering. He appears on TV and is also featured on Radio. He sometimes works as a travel agent also. He said, I must go to Iran, Myanmar. He stays alone.
Today we went to Szentendre by local HEV suburban train on the advice of Gabor.
The suburban station is just beside river Danube. There are some other places nearby - Esztergom, Visegrad , where I was planning to go initially. But we stuck to this place only. We did not find a single Indian tourist in Szentendre .
The easiest way to go there is by HEV suburban train.
Here the name of the Govt run Transport Company is BKK, like CSTC in Kolkata. But HEV is not part of BKK system. So you have to buy single/separate ticket for this suburban train. Since we did not know this, we had to buy the ticket from the ticket checker, inside the train by paying 310 Forint. I do not know if there was any violation of law. ‘Budapest pass’ would not work here.
With the 24-hr Budapest pass - all 3 modes are allowed. It may be noted that if you buy a single ticket (350 Forint) then you can change tram/bus within a stipulated time (and not metro). Or, you can board metro with a single ticket (350 Forint). But interchange between tram/bus AND metro is not allowed as mentioned before. But if you buy "transfer” ticket, then interchange between tram/bus AND metro is allowed. I made a mistake, when coming to Gabor's house in the morning. I should have bought "transfer ticket” to avail the metro + tram & bus combo. He told me to buy “transfer ticket”, but I did not understand what he was saying.
We bought a 24 hour Budapest pass on the advice of Gabor for 1650 Forint each or Rs 400. First we took a tram no 3 from a tram stop in front of his house, to go to a very important tram stop/junction in Budapest - Bosnyak. It is somewhat like Kalighat Metro of Kolkata.
From there we took another tram (no. 1) to go to Batthyany ter (ter means square) to take HEV suburban tram, just beside Buda side of Danube. Most people stay in Pest side. People cross Danube to go to Buda side to see Buda castle and others.
This charming little town, whose name means "Saint Andrew", is known for its well-preserved houses and churches.
Position of Serbs in Hungary has been, historically, far from ideal, and after the persecution in the First and Second World Wars, most of those who survived have migrated back to Serbia (Interestingly Serbia is becoming very popular for Hindi/Bollywood movies, because of special concession given to Bollywood film industry ).
We had a popular dish here - Langos - a type of Pizza with sour cream, Cheese. The base is very soft.
Then we tried to catch a boat to go back to Budapest. But the boat just left in front of our eyes. It leaves from the main square of Szentendre – Fo ter. Therefore we took the suburban train to reach Batthyany ter.
Then we stated walking around Danube and saw the famous Chain Bridge. We saw the famous Parliament building across the river. Then we took the Chain bridge to cross the river .Then we lost our way initially. Ultimately with the help of a person from England (teaches English in Budapest - Sr citizen), we reached our destination. When I asked him, do you know Hungarian ? He said are you mad ! Actually Hungarian is a very complicated language and is not from Latin group (Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese) or any other known group (Slavic Group - Polish, Russian, Czech or Anglo Germanic Group - English, German). Generally people are very nice in Hungary.
The price of things are reasonably cheap compared to West Europe, but definitely not an Indian price – which I was told. Here Petrol is quite expensive 1.3 Euro. The cheapest car apparently costs 20,00,000 Forint or Rs 5 Lakh. It is cheaper than West Europe. In Belgium the minimum bus fare is 3 Euro or Rs 240 vis a vis Rs 120 (1.5 Euro) in Italy. Here it is Rs 90. Almost every tram stop has electronic display of the next tram/bus which will be arriving. It is not common, even in West Europe. I cannot recall it, even in Amsterdam or Brussels or Antwerp. Though it was there in Singapore, even in 2011. The roads are generally good. But not exceptional.
Gabor told me BKK is making loss, like any other public utilities. Public transport is owned by Government and is very efficient and well planned.
He told me per capita income here is 18,500 USD. The size of Hungary is 93,000 Sq Km, only 5,000 sq Km bigger than West Bengal. The population is 98 Lakh or 0.98 million. We did not see any refugee here (though I did see some homeless). He told me after 1956 revolution, they had more of socialism, than communism. There are many things which are of Hungarian origin - safety match, dynamo, carburetor of a car and almost 75% people in Oppenheimer conspiracy were Hungarian.
The first settlement on the territory of Budapest is by Celtic tribes. During the 1st century AD, the Roman fortification on the territory of present day Óbuda (now part of Budapest) gradually developed into the town of Aquincum which became the capital city of the province of Lower Pannonia in AD 106. In the beginning Aquincum was only a Roman military settlement and then it gradually turned into a civil settlement. It was the main centre of the Pannonian Region, becoming the most important commercial point.
The Roman Ruins in Aquincum, have been dated around the 2nd and 3rd century AD. The archaeologists during the excavation works found lot of objects and monuments. In the past the city had paved streets and lavish houses with fountains, courtyards and pavements in mosaic. At the north-west of Aquincum is the amphitheatre, in which are still visible the cells in which the lions were kept during the gladiators’ fights. The capacity of this structure was about 16,000 people.
The Romans even founded a fortress known as Contra Aquincum on the other side of the river which is assumed to have developed into the later town of Pest. This marked the eastern border of the empire, and was gradually given up by Rome during the early 4th century, becoming part of the Hun empire for a few decades.
Once the horse-riding Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived in the Carpathian Basin in 896 AD, Óbuda served as the seat of the Magyar high-chieftain (or prince) King Álmos realised that converting to Christianity is the key to survival in Europe. The Christian Kingdom of Hungary was founded by the crowning of his son, Szt. István (Saint Stephan) on 1 January 1001. St Stephan became an omnipresent national symbol. In the following centuries, Buda emerged as the most important royal seat.
In 1241 the Mongol Empire conquered the territory along with large parts of Europe - this short but devastating conquest of the country is still remembered as Tatár-járás .
Medieval Hungary reached its zenith under King Matthias (Matthias Corvinus), whose patronage of arts and sciences made Hungary, a notable power at the time, the first European country which adopted the renaissance from Italy. However, after residing in Buda for decades, he stayed in Vienna in 1485 for the last 5 years of his life, after defeating the Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III (penultimate emperor to be crowned by the Pope, and the last to be crowned in Rome) and occupied Lower Austria.
In 1541, Buda and Pest fell to the Ottoman Empire. Central Hungary constituted an integral part of the Ottoman Empire for 145 years till 1686.
The expulsion of the Turks from Hungary began with the victory of Christian forces, under the command of King of Poland John III Sobieski over Ottoman armies, laying siege to the city of Vienna in 1683.
The Habsburg Empire, centred in Austria, conquered Hungary on its way to becoming a major European power in 1686. The Ottomans formally ceded most of the territory they had conquered in the Kingdom of Hungary to the Habsburg Monarchy via the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.
Marks of these two cultures are still part of everyday life in Budapest. The Turks, under their occupation, constructed many thermal baths and some of them are still in function nowadays.
After the Anti-Habsburg revolution in 1848–49, the 1867 Compromise, with a weakened Vienna, made Buda the capital of a near-autonomous Hungary, comprising half of the newly created Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
The following half century marked by peaceful development counts among the most successful times in the history of the country as well as its capital.
With the 1873 unification of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda, the city of Budapest was officially created. The two parts of the city were already connected by the first permanent bridge across the Danube since 1849 - the magnificent Chain Bridge.
It saw a leap in terms of industrialization, urbanization. It even aimed at rivalling with Vienna - in 1896, marking a thousand year of Hungary, offered the perfect excuse for large-scale projects such as the Parliament, Vajdahunyad Castle or the Grand Boulevard. Budapest transformed to a world city during these decades, enriched by Austrian, Jewish, Slovakian, Serbian, Croatian, Roman and other cultural influence. This age is remembered with the rule of Franz Joseph I who died in 1916 after 68 years on the throne.
Neither the Habsburg empire nor Hungary survived World War I, in their previous form - leaving Budapest as the capital of a now formally independent Hungary which lost 2/3rd of its territories and most of its ethnicities, as well as a few million Hungarian speakers, to neighbouring countries like Slovakia. In fact we met one such lady in Gabor's house. Hungarians, who make up about 10 percent of Slovakia’s 5.5 million people. During the interwar years under the rule of regent Miklós Horthy, Hungary became an ally of Germany. Near the end of World War II, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary, after it attempted to negotiate peace with the Allies. While practically all of 400,000 Jews on the countryside were murdered by German Nazis and their Hungarian sympathizers, air raids and a terrible 3-month siege towards the end of World War II, resulted in the death of over 38,000 civilians and destruction of much of the once lively city.
After the war, Budapest slowly recovered under hard-line Communist government under the dictatorial rule of Mátyás Rákosi. The city was, however, also the main site of the 1956 uprising which was successful in installing a reform-oriented communist government of Imre Nagy. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev felt Hungary was slipping from Moscow's rule and the Soviets installed János Kádár as the leader of the communist state who, after over 30 years of controversial rule, was elected out of leadership in 1988 by the central committee.
The peaceful 1989 'system change' was achieved as a compromise between reformist party forces and the opposition, notably a young leader, the current PM, Viktor Orbán. Finally the country joined the European Union in 2004.
According to Professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Hungary is no longer a democracy. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister and de facto supreme leader in reality he has demolished liberal democracy in his country over the last decade. Adding insult to injury, he has used European taxpayers’ money to consolidate his illiberal regime. …the EU must show that it will defend democracy in its own member states. Otherwise, all the fine words of Article 2 of its basic treaty will be worth nothing.
To say that Hungary is no longer a democracy is a stark claim, and I have thought, read and looked hard before making it. Often people apply the term that Orbán has himself used approvingly: ‘illiberal democracy’. But illiberal democracy is a contradiction in terms. That label may usefully describe a transitional phase in the erosion of a liberal democracy, such as we see in Poland, but Hungary is way beyond that. This year, Freedom House downgraded it to the status of ‘partly free’ country, the only EU member state to earn that dishonour. The most neutral description I can find is that this is a ‘hybrid regime’, neither democracy nor dictatorship.
The ruling party, Fidesz, has so completely penetrated the State administration that this is, again, a one-party State. On a recent visit to Budapest, I was given numerous examples of how governmental powers are routinely used for purposes of political control. The State administration favours Orbán’s cronies and family members with government contracts, punishes independent media owners and NGOs or Opposition supporters with arbitrary tax investigations, uses State resources for Fidesz propaganda in elections, and even refuses local planning permissions to an architect known for his anti-Fidesz views.
Fidesz has effectively demolished the independence of the judiciary, as documented in an extensive report by Judith Sargentini for the European Parliament. It has also changed the electoral law. Much of the media, already dominated by owners closely tied to the Orbán regime, have now been consolidated in a so-called Press and Media Foundation, effectively a pro-government cartel. Hungary has sunk down the World Press Freedom index to 87th this year. A former student of mine has described to me what it’s like trying to campaign for an Opposition party when you get almost no media coverage.
A new law on NGOs, similar to Vladimir Putin’s, has effectively forced out the international operations of the Open Society Foundations of George Soros, the Jewish philanthropist, against whom Orbán’s regime stirs up hatred, with propaganda imagery recalling the worst periods of European history. The Soros-funded Central European University is being compelled to move to Vienna .
All this is done while keeping the outward appearance of a liberal democracy complying with European standards.
The biggest scandal is that he uses EU funds as a means of enhancing his illiberal control, as well as generously rewarding friends and relations. Hungary receives more than €3 billion net a year from the EU, equivalent to just under 3 per cent of GDP. These funds flow directly through the party-State to those whom Fidesz favours. Reports by Transparency International and the European Commission have found that in about 50 per cent of public procurement procedures there was only 1 tender and these procedures are riddled with corruption.
Then the EU must stop this tragic farce of its own funds being used to undermine European values. It should appoint as European Public Prosecutor the Romanian, Laura Codruta Kövesi, who knows exactly what post-communist, east European corruption looks like, and make signing up to scrutiny by that European Public Prosecutor a condition for receipt of those funds. It should also move to distribute more EU funding directly to local government and civil society, rather than letting it be used as a huge slush fund by a corrupt party-State……What the EU does about Hungary matters not just for Hungarians but for Europe as a whole. The continent of Europe may have many different kinds of regime, but the European Union must be a community of democracies.
After reaching home we went to sleep. One of Gabor’s friends stayed back in his home for the night.
In the morning we had jam - strawberry, apricot, various kinds of Cheese, some food from Georgia, sweet from Palestine - somewhat like Mihidana. Then Gabor finally explained the places which we should go, with his city map.
Orientation of Budapest
Buda-Pest consists of Buda in the West of Danube and Pest in the East.
West ----- BUDA PEST ------ East. It is in the order in which it is written. Previously they were separate. Then there is also Obuda in the North as mentioned before. It was under Roman empire. There is a ruined amphitheatre there. There are some other Roman ruins in Obuda. Now all 3 have merged into Budapest. The reference point for the city of Budapest are Chain bridge or Széchenyi Lánchíd (pronounced “laance heed”) and Elizabeth bridge or Erzsébet hid. Apart from these 2 - Deak square (not very far from Chain or Elizabeth Bridge – in fact Deak Square is in between Elizabeth and Chan Bridge) and Keleti are very important landmarks. The bridges from North to South are : Chain bridge, Elizabeth Bridge and then Liberty bridge. If you follow these 3 bridges, you cannot get lost. It is not very far from each other. This is the main orientation of Budapest. Before going to Budapest you should familiarize yourself with these 5 places and Bosnyak.
Turkish bought the culture of Thermal bath or Hamam here.
First we went to Jeszenák János utca tram stop. They pronounce J as Y. Then we went to Buda region from there - which is the hilly region, by catching a bus. Pest is basically plain land. From Buda hills, we took bus number 27 to go to the Citadel. There is no entry fee for going to Citadel. There is a wonderful view of the city from Citadel. We met a Moroccan lady there. She stays near Tetouan - which is not very far from Chefchaouen. She looks just like European and knows French. She was travelling alone. She seems to be at least 50.
Again we took bus no 27 to go to the same place and then we started walking towards Buda Castle - Matthias Church and Fisherman's bastion. Very near to Chain bridge is Deak Square or Deak Ferenc Ter - from where you take funicular to go to Buda Castle hill or you can take bus no. 16 from Deak square to go to Buda castle hill / Matthias church. However we took a different route to reach the Castle. Buda hills is a huge area - where there are Matthias church (after King Matthias), restaurant, fisherman's bastion. The marriage of Beatrice of Naples with Matthias happened here in 1476. This was basically a fisherman's village.
After spending some time, we took bus no. 16 from Buda Castle (not 16A, which we took mistakenly) to go to Deak Square. First metro in continental Europe started in Deak Square. The first one was in London (which was not part of Continent, then). The metro at Deak Square is just below the surface - there is no elevator or escalator – may be just 15-20 ft. They retained the old world charm. Even the train compartments have retained old world charm. It is different from other compartments of the metro. Deak square is a very important junction. It is yellow line - line 1. The yellow line is known locally as "the small underground" ("a kisföldalatti"), while the M2, M3 and M4 are called "metró". After one stop, to the West is the last stop at Vosomorty Ter stop and the last stop to the East is Mexikoi. From Deak Square after few stops towards East is Hosok ter or Hero squre. Hero square is a very important landmark of Budapest. The square is huge - noted for its iconic statue complex - featuring the 7 chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes. There is a big Corinthian pillar. There is a museum on one side and church on another side. Today the museum is closed. In the year 1896 this square was constructed to mark the 1000th anniversary of the victory of Magyar (they say Major) at Carpathian basin (Carpathian mountain is to the East of Hungary in Romania). Construction was mostly completed in 1900. When the monument was originally constructed, Hungary was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus the last 5 spaces for statues on the left of the colonnade were reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty.
Just behind the Square is a beautiful City Park. Inside the park there is a wonderful Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a moat around it. There is a small Jaki Chapel inside. The architecture of the citadel is unique. The structure has 3 distinct wings, one Gothic, one Romanesque and one Baroque.
After spending some time in the park, we took line 1 – yellow line, to reach Deak Square. Then we started walking along the Pedestrian Street. On the way we saw Elizabeth Bridge.
Mohua bought some souvenirs at Vaci Utca. The road is called Vaci Utca (Utca means road) . It starts near Vorosmarty ter and runs parallel to river Danube. We had Goulash or Goylash – the national dish of Hungary. Goulash is of 2 types - Goulash with bread (soup with bread) or Goulash with main dish (with mashed potato). I had half soup with bread for 1190 Forint. It looked somewhat like Borscht soup of Russia though the taste is different but good. The restaurant is very nice. Someone was playing music. Mohua had inch 12 pizza for 2250 Forint. I had some pizza too. There is 13% service charge. We paid around 3600 in total Forint or Rs 900.
We came back to Deak Square. From there we took bus no. 7 to go to Bosnyak and then by tram to reach home at 10.45 pm. Today another friend of Gabor has come. She is from that part of Slovakia. She is Hungarian and speaks Hungarian, but lives in Slovakia ! She also knows Slovak language. The territory that is now Slovakia had been part of the Hungarian kingdom for centuries and the region’s ruling class and landowners were overwhelmingly Hungarian, while the peasantry was Slovak. A part of Hungary was annexed to Slovakia after the 1920 treaty of Trianon, which set the boundaries of modern Hungary (by the victorious allies, after World War I). The new borders left large Hungarian minorities in many surrounding states, including in the newly created Czechoslovakia. After the Second World War, thousands of Hungarians were deported from Czechoslovakia for cooperating with the Germans. Today, after the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993 and the creation of Slovakia, many of the towns and villages of southern Slovakia are still overwhelmingly Hungarian.
We chatted till 1 am. She is very lively. Her daughter studies in Romania. She will go to Romania tomorrow to meet her daughter. She will spend the night here.
Today I left alone. Mohua was having pain in her feet. She chatted with Gabor. I took tram no. 3 to go to Bosnyak square. At Bosnyak square, I got the 24 hour pass from the electronic ticket machine at the bus stop (first change the option to English from Hungarian. I did not know it initially. I did not know that English option was there) with my international credit card (not forex card). I was not too sure, if my international credit card would work in this machine. I took a bus to go to Astoria to see the famous Great Synagogue. It is one of the biggest synagogues after New York, outside Israel. It was constructed in the year 1859. Gabor said it is not great from inside. So I did not go inside, basically because of the large queue. I was using an interesting software map – maps.me – it was suggested by Gabor, it works without internet. First you have to download it in your phone (in a place where there is internet connection) and keep your “GPS on”.
From there I went to "Ruined pub” on Gabor's suggestion. It has become very famous here. It had reconstructed a ruined or derelict house into a pub. The theme of this pub is “ruined pub”. Here you will find old TV, old radio set, Gramophone etc. Later this idea was copied in Berlin.
Then I went to see the opera house, walking. There are daily shows in the opera house - 3 pm and 5 pm. I went inside the opera house. It is really grand in nature. From there I went to Basilica of St Stephen, walking. It was started in 1851 and was finally finished on 1905 (the main dome was heavily damaged in 1868). All these are within walking distance.
Finally I walked to see the Parliament house of Hungary - the most famous building in Hungary. Again for this, I did not take any bus - though I had full-day free bus pass. The Hungarian Parliament is just beside river Danube. Inaugurated in 1904, the Parliament of Budapest or the Országház -- is the creation of architect Imre Steindl, who ironically went blind before its completion, leaving him unable to appreciate his finished masterpiece. Construction started in 1885 when Steindl was a healthy 46-year-old, but nearly 20 years later, his eyesight had significantly deteriorated. There are 691 decorated rooms, 28 entrances inside the Parliament. It is a huge complex. It looks different, from different sides. The dome of the main Parliament building is 96 meters high, which symbolizes the year of the settlement of Hungary - 896. There are 365 towers throughout the building, one for each day of the year. The Holy Crown of Hungary or the Crown of St. Stephen, has been displayed in the central Dome Hall from the year 2000. The lavish decor incorporates Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival architecture. While the front facing façade overlooks the river Danube, nowadays the official main entrance is positioned on Kossuth Lajos Square, which is effectively the back of the building. It is one of the largest parliament buildings in the world.
After spending some time here in this complex, it is time to move. The view of the Parliament building from Pest, is not like the view from Buda, since it is not a hilly region.
Gabor told me to go to an old market near Danube. I went there taking tram number 2. If you take tram number 2, then you will run parallel to Danube and have a grand view of Danube - it is probably better idea to take this tram ride, than pricey hop on hop off bus. Remember most of the important sites are near Danube. The old market is just beside the Liberty bridge tram stop. It looks like an organized Hogg or New Market of Kolkata. The prices are much cheaper here, than the pedestrian street. You get almost everything here - souvenir, vegetables, fruits, cheese, salami, sausage, meat etc. Paprika is the most important commodity of Hungary. It is almost like a national symbol. You will get Paprika souvenirs all around. In fact I bought a Paprika paste. After buying some other stuff, I took the metro to go to the Keleti metro station and another metro to Ors ve Ter. Then finally I took tram no. 3 to go to Gabor’s house.
He was waiting for me to take me to a Thermal bath (or kind of Hamam). There are 9 Thermal baths in Budapest. The one in the centre of Budapest is most beautiful and also expensive. It is the influence of Turkish rule in Hungary. He gave me a pair of shorts to me. He is over 6 ft and travels mostly by cycle. I went to Paskal (Thermal bath centre) by a trolley bus and he went by cycle. We reached there at 6.15 pm. It is not very far from his house. We kept our luggage in a locker. A plastic wrist band with magnetic tape was wrapped around my wrist. It was swiped to enter the place. He paid Rs 500 for me, since I am not a member. He did not allow me to pay!!
First we went to the hot swimming pool (only 3.5 ft height I guess). After spending 5 minutes, we went to steam sauna. This is my first experience in Sauna. Initially I had some breathing problems. After sometime I got acclimatized. Then, after some time, I went to a small tank (hot). He went to the colder tank. From there we went to a dry Sauna. It is really hot ! It was almost unbearable. After some time, we went to a hot swimming pool. There are some places in the pool, from where hot water stream is falling on the pool, through a hose pipe. He took us at that particular place. At another place, hot water stream is coming from below. It was really very refreshing and great fun. It closes at 8 pm. There is no separate place for men and women here.
In the morning, before the breakfast, I bought some items from a super market near his house for him – since we almost finished everything, Gabor had in his house. But he refused to take it and said “you take it to Vienna - it is very expensive, not like Budapest !!”
In the supermarket, I found, things are much cheaper compared to restaurant. But in restaurants, expect to pay a minimum of 7 Euro for a lunch/dinner. There are many Tescos here. I did not see Carrefour (French Co.). I bought Banana, bread, fruits, biscuit, sausage, egg from Tesco. There is a local departmental store also - from where Gabor buys. Hungarian Sausage (called Kolbash) is similar to what I had in Kalman Cold store in Kolkata. Kalman Cold storage after all was started by a Hungarian. Kalman is a common name in Hungary. It is really good. The price of sausage/salami is around Rs 800/900/1200. The chicken costs around Rs 200. Orange juice costs around 220 Forint or Rs 55 - which is much cheaper than India. He told us to have a particular salami - which I did not get.
While coming from Thermal bath, he bought it for us (on hearing that I did not get it) and put it in our bag and did not allow us to pay!! Here we did not go to any exchange for changing currency. We got it exchanged from him. When we were coming back, he exchanged the remaining Forint against Dollar from him!!!
One of my sister’s friends went to Holloko – which is around 1 hour from Budapest towards North near Slovakian border. It is also a very nice place – which you may go, if you have time.
As we had to catch a bus from Nepliget bus station at 10 pm, we had a quick dinner. But we were late (9.15 pm) and Gabor CARRIED OUR LUGGAGE to the tram stop, otherwise we would have missed the bus to Vienna !!!
We got down from the tram at Ecseri tram stop and we were supposed to take a metro to Nepliget station – which is nearby. But we heard, the metro is not plying. Somehow we got the right bus with the help of a good Samaritan. Even after reaching Nepliget it was difficult to find the bus station. Somehow we reached the bus station or autobusz palyaudvar at 9.56 minute! We could not thank Gabor, for what he had done - because you thank a human being, but not a super human!
We reached Hauptbahnhof (tram stop and Bus station) or Südtiroler Platz (Red line Subway station. Metro is called U-Bahn) ,Vienna (they call it Wien) at 12.50 am at night. There were only 6 people in the bus ! It was quite late, so there were hardly any people in the streets. It was difficult to find the hostel initially. I forgot to download the Vienna map in maps.me. But it is very near to the bus station – 2 minutes walk. Ultimately, after lot of effort we finally reached our destination.
The most important Cathedral/church of Vienna - St Stephen’s Cathedral is at Stephansplatz. This is the place where one should come first, after visiting Belvedere museum. All other important tourist places of Vienna are nearby – walking distance mostly.
Then we went to the famous Mirabell Garden or Schloss Mirabell, walking. It is not a hilly terrain. The shooting of Sound of Music took place here. This is now used as a marriage ceremonial hall . Then we went to the house of Mozart - . Here you cannot take pictures. So we did not go there, since Mozart's birth place (Mozart Wohnhaus) is just across the river. It is also more interesting, according to Lonely Planet. Mozart was born (1 year before Battle of Plassey in India i.e. in the year 1756) in Mozart Wohnhaus.
His family moved to this bigger house - Mozarthaus, when he was 17 in 1773. From 1773 to 1787, the Mozart family lived at the so-called "Dance Master's House", standing on today's 8 Makartplatz.
The house on the 9 Getreidegasse where Mozart was born, was simply too small for the family or to host social gatherings appropriately. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived at the Mozarthaus on 8 Makartplatz until he moved to Vienna in 1781. The entry fee is 11 Euro. But the combo fare for the both the places are 18 Euro. I took some pictures from outside.
So went across the river to reach his birth place - almost beside the river.
The 5 eras in classical music, along with the main composers, are:
a) Baroque period (1600-1770)—Bach, Vivaldi, Handel. The early music of Haydn came under this era. This era was preceded by European church music and the Renaissance period.
b) Classical period (1770-1815)—Later Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven. While Haydn is considered a bridge between the baroque and classical eras, Beethoven is seen as a bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras
c) Romantic period (1815-1910)—Later-day Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Johannes Brahms
d) Modern period (1910-1975) Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten, Arnold Schoenberg,Charles Ives. Some people feel that though he lived before this era, Wagner’s style of composition had a major influence on modern composers.
e) Contemporary period (1975 onwards)—Philip Glass, Terry Riley, John Adams, Karl Jenkins, John Tavener.
(To know more read - https://narenmusicnotes
Then we went to Residenzplatz, also in old town walking. There is Salzburg Cathedral or Salzburger Dom - the 17th century Baroque cathedral in Residenzplatz. Of its numerous churches, this cathedral is Salzburg's most important sacred building - with its mighty dome and two towers. Then we went to see Festungsberg - the signature landmark of Salzburg. Festungsberg is a mountain. Its summit at about 1,778 ft, is the site of Hohensalzburg Fortress. You can go there by the funicular . The Return fare of the funicular is 10 Euro (one side is 8 Euro). We took the funicular. The view from the top is majestic. We saw the snow capped hill from there. We met a Bengali couple over there - they stay in UK and the guy had studied in my school in Kolkata !! The lady was in Punjab, New Zealand, Switzerland and finally settled in Edinburg. Her husband stays in Leeds. They have a house in Leeds instead of Edinburg is Edinburg is very expensive. They have come here during Easter holiday. They said they are a weekend couple! They are both Professors of Chemistry. She has passed from Kalyani University. We spent some time together.
Tomorrow we had planned to go to Sound of Music Tour - it takes place 2 times a day - one at 9 am and another at 2 pm. There is a separate tour to Hallstatt. When we were done with our day tour, it was already late. All the travel agents shop were closed. Just beside the river there is a company called Bob's Special tour - https://www.bobstours.com/som.php. They do both the tours in one day. There is another tour company called Panorama tour. They also do the tours together. Their office is at Mozartplatz – which will be difficult to go in the morning. So we zeroed in on Bob’s Special tour. So I took their number from the signboard of their office and contacted them over whatsapp. I told them I am planning to do Hallstatt + Sound of music tour tomorrow. They told us to “come tomorrow morning - online booking is not possible”.
Here sausage is very popular, like our Roll - you will find it everywhere. The sausages come in all shapes and sizes and are made using a variety of meats, with pork and veal being the most popular. The local food here lacks variety. If you want to buy it - they will ask "Sauce or Ketchup ?". Sauce is basically English mustard. The sausage is placed inside a burger or bread. We had sausage from one of the numerous Wurstelstand kiosks on the street. I had Käsekrainer Frankfurter (While we name it after Frankfurt, most of Germany calls it Wiener (Vienna) sausage, and in Ukraine, they call the same sausage the Salzburg sausage. Producers in Germany are only allowed to call their product Frankfurter, if it’s produced in Frankfurt. Therefore most of Germany calls it Vienna sausage ) and Bosna/Bosner. In fact Bosna and Bernerwürstel were invented in Salzburg. I had Bratwursteln yesterday. It is nothing great. It tasted like Chicken sausage- which I hate! Hungarian sausage (Kolbas) is much better.
Then we returned to our hostel to keep the luggage inside our room. The hostel has got many awards. It was manned by a Vietnamese boy - who is working during his summer holiday. His Vietnamese parents came here to study long back from Vietnam and stayed back. There is also a Vietnamese departmental store nearby. It is open till 10 pm. There are many Vietnamese here. We tried to change some Euro/Dollar to Koruna. Czech Republic is famous for scam related to foreign exchange. The first place we went (and we thought that is the only place in the small village), were charging quite ridiculous rates. I did not exchange it - just in case there is another office. Mohua as usual bought it at that ridiculous rate (22.5 Koruna = 1 Euro) without exploring. I saw another office after 100 metres and the difference is almost 10% lower than the first one (24.5 Koruna=1 Euro) ! The spread between buy and sell is 4 ! You have to see if the commission written in the board is 0. Otherwise you have to pay this commission over and above the exchange rate. The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 member states. Currently, the euro (€) is the official currency of 19 out of 27 EU member countries
We will leave for Prague tomorrow in the morning.
Our bus is at 8 am and will reach Prague around 11 am. In Prague we are staying in an airbnb owned by a saint from Iskcon. Their house is in Lipanska. There was an auto check-in facility in their Airbnb. A lock box is hanging on a lamp post in front of his house. You have to use your phone data to get the password . With the right password the lockbox opens and you take the key from the box and then you open the main (wooden) door of the building. I was bit confused how to open it. After some time, a person in that house (who is also a member of Iskcon - his name is Madhusudan) helped us to open the door. In our room there is a numbering lock - not like this. We had a quick prasad /lunch beside the pooja/worship room. Jola , my Polish friend had come from Poznan, Poland to meet us. We decided through whatsapp to meet at 4 pm, near their house. They were staying in a studio apartment in a 15 storied building, very near to our Airbnb - as per our plan. They booked through booking.com. So we had some time left after the lunch.
Understand Czech Republic
Prague is regarded by many as one of Europe's most charming, colorful and beautiful cities. Prague was founded in the later 9th century and soon became the seat of Bohemian kings, some of whom ruled as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. The city thrived under the rule of Charles IV, who ordered the building of the New Town in the 14th century - many of the city's most important attractions date back to that age. The Charles bridge was constructed during his period.The city also went under Habsburg rule and became the capital of a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, after World War I, the city became the capital of Czechoslovakia.
Prague can be divided into 4 parts. The main river is Vltava river. On the Western side is Castle district (or Hrad-cany) & Mala Strana (Lesser Town) - which is not very far from Castle district. Mala Strana is basically beside the Charles bridge.
On the Eastern side is Nove Mesto (New town) and Stare Mesto (Old town)
Today Mohua stayed back and will perform some kirtan/puja in the morning with Frantisek. She had vegetarian lunch at Gouranga restaurant. Mohua later said there were many people in the restaurant! The food is also good according to Mohua. Frantisek takes his bicycle to do Propaganda/prachar / send the message of Krishna to various people around the city. I saw few white Czech people/saints who had been initiated. Mohua joined Jola later in the afternoon.
Since Hradcany is on the top of a hill , like Salzburg, the view is superb. Inside the Prague castle you can enter without a ticket. But they won’t let you inside most of the places. There is an absolutely stunning Gothic Katedrála sv. Víta or St Vitus Cathedral or loosely Prague Castle (which is a Roman Catholic metropolitan cathedral - constructed over a period of 600 years - one of the most richly endowed cathedrals of Europe - it was pivotal to the cultural life of Prague), old Prison, wonderful building, workers quarter, museum, gallery, manuscript inside the Castle. PLEASE TRY TO BREAK THIS SENTENCE UP. Too many or-s and brackets cause confusion. The construction started in 1344 AD. You can go to the old Royal Palace - inside the castle. It was the seat of Czech kings.
Then I went to the Golden Lanes. It is a picturesque street of colourful houses inside the grounds of the city’s castle. One of the most popular areas of the castle grounds, the street is full of history and legends , originally served as dwellings for the castle guards in 16th century - where there were Doctor chambers, taverns. It takes its name from the goldsmiths that lived there in the 17th century. Although the lane was temporarily called the Street of Alchemists, alchemists had never worked or lived there. Many of the houses are now souvenir shops, and there is a museum of medieval armoury within the former 14th century fortification, accessible from Golden Lane.
The tiny houses were occupied until World War II. Prague is the city of Franz Kafka. A sister of his rented house no, 22 in the summer of 1916; Kafka used this house to write for approximately one year. Jaroslav Seifert, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984 lived there in 1929. Golden Lane is connected with Dalibor Tower, which used to be a prison.
The appearance of a 16th century dwelling is best demonstrated by house No. 13 and house No. 14. In house no. 14 there lived before World War II, a famous fortune-teller "Madame de Thebes", whose clientele was both local and from overseas as is documented in her correspondence. Because of her predictions of a near fall of the Third Reich, she was arrested by the German secret police and died during an interrogation.
There is a wonderful pvt museum inside the castle at Lobkowicz Palace – The palace was built in the second half of the 16th century by the Czech nobleman Jaroslav of Pernštejn (1528–1569). In 1939, the occupying Nazi forces confiscated the Palace, along with all other Lobkowicz family properties. The Palace was returned in 1945, only to be seized again, after the Communist takeover in 1948. The palace was returned to the ownership of the Lobkowicz family in 2002. You have to pay 690 Koruna to go inside. I skipped it. It will take half a day to see the whole castle.
Today our plane will leave at 11.30 am. We planned to leave little early and decided to take tram no. 26 to a place very near the airport. But unfortunately their route had been changed. So we got down from the tram after some time to go to Florenc metro Station: since there is a airport express bus (60 Kroner) stop near Florenc metro Station. Initially we faced a lot of problems, since there is no metro station where there is an elevator / staircase. You have to use escalator - Mohua is scared of that. We would have almost missed the plane, since we were getting delayed. Thankfully somebody helped Mohua to ride the escalator. Normally in most metros in Europe, there is an elevator to make it convenient for disabled. When we reached airport, only 1.30 hours was left !
We reached Delhi at 5.20 am and our connecting flight to Kolkata was at 9 am. We had to change airports, which is quite far. Because of Pakistan airspace problem, the plane left little late - otherwise we would have missed the flight.