Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bratislava, Slovakia: 48°10'N

I slept until 10:30am today, which is late comparative to the older people on the boat who sleep until like 6am. Grams had talked to the stewardess, who had kindly asked if I was all right. Later, she told me that her mother would soak a rag in vinegar to help with high blood pressure and to drink Coke and chocolate with low blood pressure. At lunch, Peter arrived wearing a typical “dad tourist shirt”. A bright pink Hawaiian shirt, I almost sat at a different table- it was that bad. We arrived Bratislava around 2pm, which gave me plenty of time to rest before our city tour.

The city tour was a combination of a bus tour and a walking tour. The bus first took us up to the top of the city known as the “Beverly Hills of Bratislava”. The guide explained that this is where most of the wealthy people live because there are such amazing views of the city. We drove past where the US ambassadors house is, which looked like a smaller version of The White House. I automatically started to think about me as an ambassador because I could live in a fabulous house, although I don’t know if I would want to be an ambassador for a random country such as this. Every house up there seemed to have the newest Mercedes or BMW. It was a complete opposite of what we just saw in Budapest where there were older models of the cars. At the very top of the hills of Bratislava, there was a castle called: Bratislava Castle (who would’ve thought huh). There was an amazing few of the city and the Danube River. You could see both Vienna and Budapest from there. It was cool to see wind generators in the far distance. Surrounding the castle grounds were marvelous gardens with flowers of every color. It was a beautiful contrast with the white castle walls.

Flowers in the castle gardens

View of Bratislava Castle

Close up of the castle

From the castle, we went down into Downtown Bratislava where most of the restaurants and shops are. In order to get there, we had to walk through “Old City” which held many medieval architecture and halls.  It is so interesting to hear about the history from these places in Europe because in The US, our history only goes back until the 18th century really. But here, it goes all the back to the beginning of time, with many of the structures still here dating from 3rd or 4th century. There was even a castle in Old City where the cannon ball from when Napoleon took over, was still in the wall. It was mind blowing. It was also cool to see and hear about the different history of Slovakia, like when the Nazi Regime was here and what damages they did to the city.
 We walked through the town and tasted Gelato and bought souvenirs. This city had a lot less people walking around, which meant fewer tourists. Although I am a tourist, I’d rather not LOOK like a tourist. There was a hookah bar and Grams just stared at it in amazement, like it was a bomb or something. We went back to the boat shortly after because everyone was getting tired and cranky (well except me because I slept so long). So far this vacation has been very fast paced-I’m going to need a vacation after this vacation.
It seemed as though Slovakia came and went because after a show with opera singers and traditional dancers, it was time to cast off. The rain has followed us almost the entire trip so far. We left Newark in rain, arrived in Munich with rain, arrived in Budapest with rain, and now in Vienna, Austria it looks like rain.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Budapest, Hungary: 47.506851

         The day for departure for the Danube River cruise came and I had no idea what to expect. This trip ended up coming at a good time and although I felt like I was running away, I felt that maybe I did need to run away for a little bit. After almost ten hours to Budapest on two different flights, I was happy to be on solid ground (at least for the 15 minute car ride to the boat). After being on a few cruise ships in my life, I was used to pulling up to the port and having this glorious ship where you have to look up to see the deck. But this was the complete opposite. It was not a ship, but a boat that I would call home for the next week.

As we ‘checked in” to our rooms, we were greeted like royalty with warm, lemon scented towels. Grams (Grandmother), Katie (cousin), Peter (brother), and I were shown to our rooms. My eyes automatically went wide when I realized there was one bed for Peter and I. I quickly shot a glance to the stewardess who assured me she would have it fixed by dinner. Crisis averted- thank god.

We got settled and we were ready to go for the city walking tour. Now personally, I would rather walk around on my own and get lost (which isn’t that hard for me to do), than to be on a walking tour with a bunch of old people. But I stuck it up and we walked along the Danube (until I got bored and wandered off with Katie for a little bit). Budapest (pronounced budah-pesh I found out after a man awkwardly corrected me on the tour) seems like its stuck in time. On the Buda side, there were large castles, and beautiful churches, like Atthias Church, with architecture that has withheld time. But on the Pest side, it’s a little run down.
Outside of Atthias Church
Atthias Church Congregation Hall

There was a lot of construction and there are no high rises like back in The States. It seems as though tourists come here, but the Hungarians stay away. The more “modern” buildings look like they’re from the ‘80’s. But the tour guides keep telling us about how Hungary never wins any wars. Different countries always come (whether asked or not) and then they never leave. So a lot of their buildings and structures have been torn down or bombed or damaged. The Parliament Building was one of the buildings, which has stood the tests of time. We were told the symmetrical building has the same amount of chambers on either side. However, one side of the building is decorated with red to symbolize blood (when it comes into contact with oxygen) and the other side is decorated with blue to also symbolize blood (when it is in our body).
Budapest Parliament Building at Night
In front of the Parliament Building, there is a memorial dedicated to when 600 Jewish Hungarians were shot by Nazi soldiers during WWII. The artist recreated the scene by sculpting 60 pairs of shoes on the riverside. We were told that he looked at old photographs of the event and he could tell exactly the type of shoes the people were wearing. The tour guide said that the reason why the Nazi’s didn’t allow the Jews to be shot into the river with their shoes, were because at the time, shoes could be resold for a good amount of money. Now, I’ve seen a great deal of Holocaust memorials but none of them, to me, were as powerful as this one. The shoes had such detail and it was so sad to picture the people being shot right into the Danube with blood flowing through the water.

Grams, Katie, and I went to see the famous Budapest Thermal Baths. Because of all the water, I was afraid to take my camera (it not being waterproof and all....) so I don't have pictures of this trip. Anyway, the baths are known throughout the world for having healing powers. The locals use it as a sort of medicine. Apparently, doctors can order the bath water and they use it in their medicine practices. It has been said to help the symptoms of RA and arthritis. I didn’t really know what to except going there. The first thing you see when you walk into this large building is sorta like a courtyard. It has three huge baths there with three different temperatures. It seemed like a large community pool where people could cool off on such a hot day. Surrounding the courtyard where these other buildings that housed the rest of the baths. Altogether, there were 18 pools with different temperature baths. History says, that when the Huns had come to Budapest and were searching for oil, they found a spring instead. While they were searching the ground, they hit a hot spring filled with many minerals. The water coming out of the springs is 146 degrees, so it gets mixed with mineral water to make it cooler temperatures. It was cool because each pool was a slightly different temperature so it was fun to go into each one. The water felt like I was stepping into salt water, but I felt purified after I came back to the boat and took a shower. I think I got very dehydrated though because after dinner, and many glasses of wine, I started to get a really bad headache. Of course on every trip I take I have to have some sort of medical issue, so I took it in stride. I went to bed early to hopefully sleep it off.