Friday June 14, 2013


Budapest, first time you see it, is a big surprise. It’s actually two cities – hilly Buda and flat Pest – that grew up facing each other across the blue (currently brown) Danube, and finally got married. Budapest is the capital of Hungary (you knew that, didn’t you?) – one of those Eastern-Bloc countries that suffered under 45 years of grumpy, grey communism. And we tend to think of them as backward nations. Budapest is not only surprisingly elegant – it used to be the trendsetting city of Europe.

(Incidentally, Prague, which we’ll get to later this week, is the same – and what we now call the Czech Republic used to be one of the seven most developed nations, famous for its engineering, manufacturing and architecture.)

Anyway, we arrived in surprising Budapest a couple of days ago, and enjoyed a sightseeing tour which took in the historic Buda Castle (with some up-high views of the twin cities) … the 500-year-old Matthias Church … the famous Chain Bridge … St Stephen’s Basilica … and the distinctive Fisherman’s Bastion, from which we looked directly across the Danube at the glorious, lacy Houses of Parliament.

There were no Amadeus cruise-ships marooned here in the still-obviously-flooded waters of the Danube, so we overnighted in a nice hotel. Then, next morning, we bid a sad (and tearful) “Viszlat!” (Hungarian for goodbye) to Andreea and Mirela (the two Romanian girls from the Princess who had cared for us brilliantly from Holland to Hungary).

We also bid a sad goodbye to half our Kiwi group – who had an early-morning transfer to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport for stage #1 of their long homebound flight.

The past two-and-a-half flood-affected weeks have not been without their challenges, but we’ve had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience in pretty-near perfect weather (despite the high-water) – and we’ve got memories and photos to prove it!

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The rest of us (11 in total) left later that same morning in a minibus-&-trailer for the Czech Republic – juddering our way along a tired concrete highway, with autobahn stops for morning tea, lunch and loos, arriving early afternoon in Brno (pronounced Brrr-no, roll your ‘r’s) where another lovely surprise awaited us.

You’ve never heard of Brno, have you? (Come on – tell the truth!) Well, we hadn’t either, prior to planning this trip. But we ain’t gonna forget it in a hurry! The Republic’s second largest city (400,000) has a delightful 11th century historical centre. And we spent the loveliest, sunniest, carefree-est afternoon poking around in the Capuchin Crypt (where monkish mummies have been laid-out bizarrely on the floor for centuries) … the magnificent Baroque St Peter & Paul Cathedral which dominates the city … the Cabbage Market (where the locals buy their fruit-&-veg) … and the huge Freedom Square, where we were treated to a youthful big-band blasting appreciative crowds with toe-tapping jazz, and traditional-costumed locals performing colourful folksongs-and-dances.

It was brilliant – no exaggeration! And we Kiwis were fair buzzing when we checked into our rooms at the stunningly renovated Brno Palace – the best and most modern hotel in town.

NEXT THREE DAYS: We farewelled Brno this morning, and ventured out again on the juddery concrete highway – our destination this time: Prague, golden capital of the Czech Republic. The show ain’t over yet, folks, so don’t go away …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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