Monday, June 27, 2011

The Scenery is looking up or Shakespeare Bloom arrives in Budapest

Sometimes we just have to skip over things. An organ recital in the cathedral where Joseph Listz was a organist and a Hungarian cowboy taking a bullwhip to my sweetheart. The recital was fabulous and the cowboy was flirting with my sweetheart for the amusement of two hundred onlookers. But all this was a prelude to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was not just the bikini clad girls outside my hotel window, the Budapest Hilton but the entire city of Budapest was beyond words. Of course, the girls were a nice touch. Said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest straddles the banks of the Danube. On the Buda side is the Castle District, with its narrow winding streets, old citizen houses and the Castle district of Budapest which reflects a medieval atmosphere. On the other side of the Danube, Pest or the flat side, is Heroes’ Square, the monument square at the end of Andrássy Avenue that sums up the history of Hungary. The millenium memorial commemorates the 1000th anniversary of the arrival of the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. It appears the rich, affluent and tourist lived on the Buda side and the working man lived in Pest. Both sides of the city had its own vibrant and interesting sites, after visiting the socialistic counties of eastern Europe it was refreshing to see a city of well kept streets and beautiful old buildings.
Budapest is the city if spas and geothermal springs. The Gellért SPA is one of the best known and most favored among the thermal baths of Budapest. It is in the same building as Hotel Gellért, which was built in 1918 in art nouveau style. The hotel is at the foot of Gellért Hill where the Citadel is located. It is from the Citadel that the best panorama of Budapest is available, Gellért Hill definitely worth a visit. The old fortress and the statue of Liberty can be seen from far, they are an important part of the cityscape The thermal water was already used in the middle ages, and during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 15th century a bath house was built on this spot. In the Second World War the building was badly damaged, but later it was reconstructed preserving its oriental decoration and atmosphere. Today it has a thermal bath, a swimming pool and an open-air section, supposedly for those girls in Bikinis.
We were lucky to arrive the weekend of the Antique Festival in Pest. The streets were alive with vendors and even a street side opera was going on. We enjoyed the festival and then stumbled our way to a local Hungarian restaurant. The restaurant was crowded with locals and the food was excellent at about one third the cost we would pay in a tourist restaurant. One must advice you about the taxi; always have the restaurant or hotel call for a taxi. The taxis you see standing on the streets are private taxis and you will have to save a lot of euros at local restaurants to make up for the outrageous prices they will charge. Unfortunately I learned this on going to pick up my rental the last day in town.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Ravages of War, your Reporter visits Vukovar, Croatia

The next morning we docked at Vukovar in eastern Croatia. The name
Vukovar means the town on the river Vuka, which is the river that flows
into the Danube here.

Before the war for Croatia's independence Vukovar was a prosperous small
town in the country. The town was an important objective for the
Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. Before the war Serbs and Croats occupied
the town in about equal numbers, then the Yugoslav army set about ethnic
cleansing. After a three month siege in November of 1991, Vukor was
completely destroyed. The towns' beautiful red brick water tower was used
for target practice
by the Yugoslav army, that tower has been left as a symbol of the Croat

Today the town is making a remarkable recovery. We enjoyed
the local beer at a street side café and noticed that a first priority in
their reconstruction was installing ATM machines for the tourists. It
seemed like there
was a "bank-in-the-wall" at every corner. The town did have modern shops and
stores but what was not seen was the
beautiful old architecture from before the war.

The planned bus tour of the day was to Osijek, Croatia which was about two
hours away and is the
economic and cultural centre of the eastern Croatian region. But, I was
one bus ride over my limit, so we soaked in the newly restored atmosphere of

My Sweetheart shopped till she dropped. I carried her back to the ship where there was a party going go. We dined that evening on local cooking and local beer. Of course, finished off with plum brandy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wag the Dog or A Day in Belgrade

The next morning we woke up in Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city lies on the banks of the Danube at the mouth of the Sava River. Our tour bus was waiting to show us the city. Belgrade, which translates in English to the White city, has a population of 1.7 million, making it one of the largest cities of southeastern Europe. It is a beautiful and totally modern city and as I looked out the bus window all I could think of was, OMG, we bombed these people less than twelve years ago. For those who don’t remember the Kosovo War in 1999, NATO’s bombings caused substantial damage to the city. Among the sites were that were bombed were the RTS (Radio, Television of Serbia) building, the Central Committee Building and another government building. Two of the buildings are currently covered with construction tarps, and one, the Central Committee Building, left open for all to see. There is talk of making it a monument. NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo has been the subject of much debate. One criticism was the timing of the NATO intervention, coming as it did on the heels of the Monica Lewinski scandal led many to suspect that the intervention was an opportunistic attempt to distract the American public. One great American movie put it this way:
"Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog."
The Cathedral of Saint Sava is an Orthodox church in Belgrade, it is named after a young monk who became a great leader in the twelfth century . The Cathedral is built on the location where the poor monk’s bones were burned by the Ottoman Turks some 400 years after his death. The Cathedral dominates Belgrade's cityscape, and is the centerpiece of the city. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1935 and today the exterior is complete but work continues on the interior.
After visiting the church, my sweetheart and I enjoyed lunch at a street side patio café. We had a wonderful garlic soup and the Serbian National dish of Ćevapčići, which consists of grilled ground meat patties, that are heavily seasoned. Meals, in Serbia and Bulgaria, are traditionally followed by plum brandy which was perfect on the cool, sunny afternoon.
After the brandy it was time to visit the fort. Fort Kalemegdan is a large fort that has been turned into a urban park in Belgrade. Fort Kalemegdan is the core of the oldest section of Belgrade and for centuries the city population lived only within the walls of the fortress.. The view from the fort is over looked by a large statue of a nude man called “The Victor”. The statue was originally supposed to be placed on a square in the middle of town, but ended up at Fort Kalemegdan after people complained about its nudity. Fortunately he faces out over the cliffs and not back into the park.