Tour of Prague, Budapest, Vienna & New York, May 2004 February 7, 2017 elizabeth.wasson PRAGUE: We decided this was the year to begin exploring Eastern Europe, and chose Vienna as an entry point because there were good fares from the U.S. on Austrian Air, and Paul had never been there. We spent a couple of days taking in sights in Vienna before boarding a train to Prague, in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the memory card in our camera which contained most of our photos from Vienna and Prague was damaged, and we lost hundreds of pictures. What follows is mostly from our last day in Prague, when we had replaced the card. PRAGUE: From the bell tower of St. Vitus Church. In the center, the Charles Bridge, and beyond, Nove Mesto. PRAGUE: The many blocks of beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in Prague were a delight; but of the dozens of photos we took of such buildings, this is the only one that made it home, showing two heavily burdened men holding up a balcony. PRAGUE: Another ornate building decorated in a quite different style. PRAGUE: The Stavoske (State) Opera Theatre, where it is said that Mozart’s Don Giovanni was first performed in 1787, just four years after the theatre opened. PRAGUE: Prague is famous in musical history, and on this trip we were determined to attend an opera in each of the three European cities we visited. In Prague it was a rarely performed work by Czech national composer Antonin Dvorak: Vanda (1875), in which a heroic queen of the Bohemian people sacrifices both love and life for her nation in the struggle against Germanic invaders. The production was disappointingly undramatic, but the music was gorgeous, as was the lavish National Theatre, a ten-minute walk from our rented apartment. PRAGUE: The cast of Vanda taking a bow. Note the overwhelmingly male orchestra. In Vienna we had seen Don Giovanni conducted at the Volksoper by a woman, but gender equality hadn’t penetrated here yet. BUDAPEST: Budapest is struggling economically more than Prague, but it has less of the air of a theme park. You’re always aware of being in a real, serious city not entirely populated by tourists. View from a tour boat in the middle of the Danube river. The rear of the Parliament building faces the river. On the left is scaffolding for restoration work. BUDAPEST: We stayed in the Opera Apartments, located near Oktagon, but with some street noise. Above, the courtyard of the Opera Apartments (actually about a ten-minute walk from the opera house). BUDAPEST:A bed in our apartment (loft with another bed above). BUDAPEST: Just down the street was a handy convenience store which turned out to be owned by the famed old banking concern of Rothschild. Having our own refrigerator and hot plate helped us save money on breakfast food we bought here. “Non-Stop” means “24/7.” BUDAPEST: On our first day we took a quick tour of some major attractions, including a walk about half-way down the length of the leafy park of Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) in the middle of the Danube. BUDAPEST: Leaf canopy in the wooded park on Margaret Island, in the Danube River BUDAPEST: Sculpture of the famed Hungarian composer Bela Bartok in the park on Margaret island. BUDAPEST: Bust of the famous Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, in the park on Margaret Island. BUDAPEST: Of course Hungary’s most famous composer is Ferenc (Franz) Liszt, and we saw several statues of him, like this on in the park on Margaret Island. BUDAPEST: Ferenc (Franz) Liszt in front of the Hungarian State Opera House. BUDAPEST: But the most striking sculpture of the great pianist and composer is on the street named after him: Liszt Ferenc tér. At night this pleasant street throbs with the sound of pop music as young people throng the cafes that line it. BUDAPEST: This little St. Michael’s Church was built in the 12th century, destroyed by the Turks in the 16th, and completely rebuilt in 1930-33. BUDAPEST: Approaching St. Michael’s church from the side (in the foreground, Paula Elliot). BUDAPEST: The carving over the door shows an angel, rather than the usual figure of Christ, weighing out the sins of humanity at the Last Judgment. Note the demon at work on the angel’s left (your right), where the damned are always located. BUDAPEST: Ruins of the 13th century ruin of a Dominocan cloister on “Margaret Island” in the Danube River, named after the daughter of King Bela IV (1235-1270), who lived here. 13-14th century. It is this site which gives the island its name. BUDAPEST: Most of the attractions on the island are less historical than recreational. BUDAPEST: Like this small zoo. BUDAPEST: On the same outing we ducked briefly into the imposing St. Stephen’s Basilica on the Pest side of the river. 18th Century BUDAPEST: We spent some time exploring the grounds in front of the Parliament building. Here is the front of the building, which faces away from the Danube. BUDAPEST: The dome of parliament. BUDAPEST: On the grounds of Parliament are two memorials to the 1956 uprising which was crushed by Soviet tanks. BUDAPEST: Text of sign: Memorial of the 1956, Budapest. This memorial is a symbolic grave. Here, on this square, several hundreds of people fell dead onto the ground due to the killer blows of a firing squad on October 25, 1956. Honour on remembrance to the victims! BUDAPEST: This Hungarian flag has a hole in it because on October 23, 1956 the revolutionists, those Hungarian who revolted against the Soviet Union, tore out of it the foreign coat of arms that symbolized the power of the Soviet Union and Communism. Since then this flag has symbolized the freedom of the Hungarian nation. BUDAPEST: Another view of Parliament, from a boat on the river. BUDAPEST: We didn’t get a chance to explore the Ethnographic Museum across the street from Parliament. BUDAPEST: Shot from the furnicular railway tram that lifts passengers up Castle Hill. We walked across the Lanc hid (Chain Bridge) from Pest to Buda. BUDAPEST: This tram hauls visitors up the steep incline from the banks of the Danube to the top of Castile Hill in Buda. In the background, the Chain Bridge BUDAPEST: Another time we took the slower route of walking Varfok utca through Vienna Gate and by the National Archives building (above). BUDAPEST: Dome shape is typical of church towers in this region. BUDAPEST: This vast complex now houses several museums, including the National Gallery. BUDAPEST: This decorative fountain is located in the streets atop the Palace. BUDAPEST: Neo-Gothic Matthias Church, rebuilt 1896, located on Castle Hill. Emeperor Franz Joseph and Elizabeth were crowned here in 1867 to the music of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Coronation Mass. BUDAPEST: This monument is located just in front of the Matthias Church. Note the typically Hungarian polychrome tile roof on the church spire. BUDAPEST: Hungary’s violent history is reflected in the damage from guns visible in the wall of this building north of the the Royal Palace. BUDAPEST: While visiting here we ran into a couple we had taken a Jewish Quarter tour with in Prague, and they recommended the nearby Rivalda Cafe, where we had an excellent lunch. It is located in a former Carmelite convent. BUDAPEST: This woman seemed to be trying to capture the dying light as dusk fell to work on her knitting. BUDAPEST: St. Anne’s Church on the square at Moszkva ter. Typical Hungarian church architecture. Originally built 14th century. BUDAPEST: Because of the ubiquity of George Pullman’s Pullman train cars, his name has spread around the globe. This store is located near the waterfront bordering the Danube, on a street at the foot of Castle Hill. BUDAPEST: Typical ornate Budapest house facade, featuring human and lion heads. BUDAPEST: Hungary is still struggling to recover from the decades of Communist neglect and vandalism of their historic buildings. The Duna Palota (Danube Palace) at Zrnyi utca is somewhat run-down, and one can see where Communist imagery has been torn roughly off the facade. Spectacular performances by the national folk ensemble are held here. BUDAPEST: During the Communist era, Eastern Bloc states formed big national folk troupes to promote indigenous culture. This troupe now entertains tourists with a highly choreographed show thoughtfully based on Hungarian dance and music traditions. Historical illustrations are projected int he background. BUDAPEST: One evening when we were out walking we saw a flower-decorated car obviously headed for a wedding, and not long after encountered the wedding party on the sidewalk. Their photographer urged us to snap a shot, but unfortunately the bridal pair’s backs were turned. BUDAPEST: Our favorite restaurant in Budapest, Jkai tr 3. The entrance is modest, but worth seeking out. We liked it so much we dined there twice. The thick volume on the table is the menu. BUDAPEST: On our last day in Budapest, Paula decided to try the famous Gellert Baths at the Hotel Gellert, where we also sampled the rich (but not outstanding) pastries. BUDAPEST: Around to the right is the entrance to the famous Gellert Baths. Note the ornate Art Nouveau decor. BUDAPEST: These women at the entrance to the famous Gellert Baths seem to be toweling off after a good soak. BUDAPEST: The Szabadsag (Independence) Bridge near the Gellert Baths. BUDAPEST: Although traces of the Communist era have been erased from most of Budapest, a number of interesting period sculptures have been relocated to the “Statue Park” south of the city. A statue of Lenin greets visitors at the entrance to this mini-theme park. At the ticket booth you can buy satirical anticommunist t-shirts and CD’s of “Communism’s Greatest Hits.” BUDAPEST: After the fall of the Communist government the Hungarians moved some of the more interesting sculpture of the era to this park south of Budapest and turned it into a sort of tongue-in-cheek “theme park” of Communism. BUDAPEST: The power of collective action inspired by Communist leadership. BUDAPEST: Victory over fascism. BUDAPEST: A dramatically striding revolutionary waving a flag. BUDAPEST: Soldier with flag BUDAPEST: Another Lenin. BUDAPEST: This figure looks as if it had crashed through the wall behind like a cartoon character. BUDAPEST: A much more serious approach to the memory of the Communist era is taken in the powerful House of Terror on Andrassy Boulevard. There is an exhibit about the Hungarian Facsist “Arrow Cross” party and another on Raoul Wallenberg and his rescue of Jews (including many children) from the Nazis; but most of the museum is given over to a powerful series of displays depicting the exiles, tortures, and murders carried out by the Communists. The building, formerly the property of wealthy Jews, was used both by the Arrow Cross and later by the State Secret Police as headquarters. A Soviet tank fills the central atrium. Photography is not allowed. BUDAPEST: The museum is brilliantly laid out, with a different approach in each room. One room is papered with secret police files, another covered with the photos of victims, and a third with photos of the torturers and bureaucrats who ran the state apparatus of oppression. A large carpet depicts the Gulag Archipelago, with selected memorabilia springing up out of some of the camps on pedestals. Two warnings to visitors: this is a museum primarily aimed at Hungarians–only a little English-language documentation is available on sheets of paper that can be picked up in most rooms; and a very slow elevator causes a huge traffic jam on the top floor where people ride down to the torture cells in the basement. If there are crowds waiting, try going down the stairs instead. But it’s not to be missed: from both the historical and artistic perspectives, it’s very powerful. BUDAPEST: On our last night we attended the opera, paying less for third-balcony seats to Verdi’s Otello than we were to pay a few days later in New York to go to a movie. Statues of famous composers stand along the top of the opera house. BUDAPEST: View from the cheap seats (some of the action was hidden from us down on stage left.) The interior was just as gorgeous as the opera house in Prague, but the production was far more lavish. Lighting, costumes, and sets reminded us of 19th-century paintings. BUDAPEST: Couple in traditional Jewish dress on the Sabbath. Most Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the waning months of World War II, but a small community and many foreign visitors sustain what is still the largest synagogue in Europe. BUDAPEST: The Great Synagogue is very impressive. BUDAPEST: Security was tight. There is an attached museum which we didn’t have time to explore. BUDAPEST: The largest operating synagogue in Europe, testimony to the once-flourishing Jewish community in Hungary, largely destroyed during World War II. BUDAPEST: Detail of the ceiling ornamentation. BUDAPEST: Interior of the synagogue. We were moved to read in the guestbook here, written in French: “Mother and Father–exiled. I came.” BUDAPEST: The dome over the altar. VIENNA: This part of the Schloss Belvedere was built 1721-1723 by Johann Lukas von Hildebrant for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Now home of the Austrian Gallery. VIENNA: The carriage entrance on the south facade of the palace. VIENNA: This side of the palace faces the long garden which slopes down to the Lower Belvedere. VIENNA: Many museums were closed on Mondays, so we headed for one that wasn’t: The Schönbrunn Palace on the edge of the city. This sprawling estate was the summer home of the Hapsburgs who ruled over the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I. It’s a major tourist attraction, where you can watch strudel being made or–less authentic–buy a “Hapsburger.” VIENNA: The Palace is well worth touring with one of the free audioguides, but–as usual–no photographs of the ornate interior are allowed. We were free to photograph the extensive formal gardens. VIENNA: Many of the exhibits center on the life of the Empress Elisabeth (Sissy), married rather unhappily to Franz Josef I and assassinated by an anarchist in 1898, mythologized today in popular culture to the point of being made the heroine of a hit musical. A more important contributor to the decor of the palace was the 18th-century Empress Maria Theresia. VIENNA: A small plot in front of the palace. VIENNA: This bird had no respect for the garden’s formality. VIENNA: Concord disarms War. The Hapsburg’s fancied themselves diplomatic keepers of the peace, whatever the rest of the world may have thought of them, as this statuary group testifies. VIENNA: In the castle gardens this statue reflects the Hapsburgs’ love for the arts. Apollo is accompanied by symbols of music, theater, and dance. VIENNA: The Gloriette on the hill behind the Palace exists mainly to provide views–of the Palace. Today it overlooks a popular concert venue in the rear gardens. VIENNA: We proceeded by subway and tram to the KunstHausWien (Vienna Art House) at Untere Weissgerberstrasse 13, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser VIENNA: Designed by the eccentric 20th-century artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser VIENNA: The artist’s abhorrence of straight lines is reflected in the curving pavement outside and the comically wilting traffic barriers separating the sidewalk from the street (foreground). VIENNA: Inside the visitor is greeted with a fountain which–thanks to a series of strategically placed jets–cascades up. The museum is filled with striking paintings, weavings, sculpture, and other works by the prolific Hundertwasser, who lived for most of his life in New Zealand, but who is much beloved in his native Austria. VIENNA: Nearby is an apartment block designed by the same artist: Hundertwasserhaus. VIENNA: VIENNA: The typically curving paving of the courtyard reflects Hundertwasser’s distaste for straight lines. VIENNA: A restroom in the shopping center adjacent to Hundertwasserhaus, designed to match Hundertwasser’s quirky architectural style. VIENNA: We concluded our tour of Vienna with the thrill of hearing pianist Alfred Brendel and his cellist son Adrian play an all-Beethoven concert the famed Musikverein concert hall as part of the annual Vienna Festival. We saw a lot of other splendid sights in Vienna, but the photographs fell victim to our broken memory card. One more good reason to go back. NEW YORK: Back through London to New York, to visit a few days with daughter Megan and her boyfriend Steve. Walking down the street in their Soho neighborhood. NEW YORK: They took us to a local Tribeca community garden. NEW YORK: One bit of this whimsical garden. A good stereotype-breaker for people who think Manhattan is all impersonal, towering skyscrapers. NEW YORK: On another walk we came across this Picasso sculpture on the grounds of New York University in Greenwich Village. NEW YORK: From the deck of the Staten Island Ferry. NEW YORK: Ellis Island, now a museum of American immigration. NEW YORK: The ferry docks are being extensively redeveloped as a major tourist attraction, but the crumbling older piers have meanwhile sprung a small forest of young trees among their planks. NEW YORK: We also took the three-hour Circle Line tour around Manhattan, which gave us a much clearer image of the island, including its famed southern skyline. NEW YORK: The Wall Street area. NEW YORK: One last view of the skyline. From the Staten Island Ferry All photos copyright Paul Brians.