Month: May 2014

Budapest

Budapest is a city of stark contrasts– a beautiful city center aside very old weathered neighborhoods. The current city is three old cities that have grown together. Buda is situated on the hilly side of the Danube, opposite of very flat commercial Pest. The third, Óbuda is the site of the ancient roman settlement, Aquincum.

Modern, post-soviet Budapest (1991–present) is in the midst of a high-pace revitalization. The areas closest to the river are all rebuilt.   As of right now, there remain many visible markers from the past.  On one stretch are 150-year old mansions (some are currently undergoing restoration) dating from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Not far away you can still find buildings with bullet holes from the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

In ways more apparent than in other European cities, the sidewalks are littered; the homeless sleep in doorways; and there are tell-tale signs that some of the buildings are aching for repair– such as a sign alerting pedestrians to falling rock near Keleti train station.

We enjoyed the city and the mix of sights!

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Király utca

Király utca connected the square where we stayed to the sights, so we seemed to walk this street a lot. Bars and restaurants are densely located within the area.

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Astoria + Katona József utca

We stopped at Bomo Art, A handmade paper store in the Astoria neighborhood. That morning we had trekked across town to Bookstation, where they sell new and used English language books.  The book seller pointed us toward a section of Hungarian writers: Sándor Kányádi is a Hungarian poet, —- the other is a book of short stories, many involving food, written by Gyula Krúdy set in Budapest in the 1900’s.

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 Antiques at Falk Miksa utca

We detoured along Falk Miksa utca, a street lined with Hungarian antique shops.
The trinkets and textiles were seen at Anna Antikvitás.
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Hungarian Parliament

A few monuments near Országház, the Hungarian Parliament—–

The white wave sculpture lists the bracelet numbers of Hungarians who died in concentration camps—-a unique piece of public art and beautiful commemoration. The plaque near the Shoes on the Danube Bank reads “In Memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45” .

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Szent Istiván Bazilika

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Sunday morning at Szchéneyi Baths budapestszc3txtWhen the Romans first settled Budapest they discovered underground thermal springs and created the first thermal bath in the area. We visited Széchenyi fürdő  on Sunday morning, it was cool– about 55° and rainy. When we walked in we could see the steam rising from the outdoor bath. Inside, are beautiful rooms with steaming baths, saunas and hot steam rooms – and even cold pools to refresh! After going in and out of all of those different temperature pools I felt so clear and rejuvenated. Many people stay up to 3 hours!
We didn’t notice the smell of chlorine; Afterwards we spotted a sign that chemicals are not used to treat the water. The water is boiling when it leaves the thermal spring and is cooled at various temperatures. The pools are intended to be naturally healing. Yes, it really is a bath!

They suggest a hot soapy shower before and after.  The hot springs are the reason Budapest was settled by the Romans and the spas are a must see! We knew in advance that the baths were among the few places open in Budapest on Sundays. They are also open through the winter.

 

Várhegy, Castle Hill
Our last night in Budapest, we walked across Szecheny Chain bridge, to Várhegy, Castle Hill.  Buda is considered quiet and residential compared to Pest. It is the site of the royal palace and offices of the Hungarian president. You might have seen Budapest and didn’t know it– It is in the Katy Perry Firework video. It was shot in Budapest and the dance scene is in the courtyard of the Buda Castle.

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Language

We didn’t know just how much Hungarian we would need to find our way around. It turned out that the city was easy to navigate as an english speaker. The Hungarians were encountered were impressively multilingual. The Hungarians we interacted with (such as our Airbnb host) spoke perfect conversational english.

One thing that we found interesting, related to language— is that Hungarian is similar to Finnish. The languages are Uralic, derived from the ancestral proximity to the Ural Mountains.  Many older Hungarians speak German, and the younger crowd speaks english. I still tried to learn a few new words on the train,  and the numbers 1-10.  

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Our trip to Budapest greatly intrigued us for future visits to other Eastern European cities. It will be a complete (and welcome) surprise if we are ever back in Budapest, and we greatly enjoyed the city.   The train from Budapest was nine-hours to Würzburg. It was a long train ride, with one brief transfer at St Pölten, Austria. The weekend was a fun change of pace for us.

You can read about our Airbnb apartment in Budapest  here.

 

Links

We booked tickets the day after Easter, thanks to this must read article! My European Ritual / NYT.com

More photos and an overview of Széchenyi Baths

A good (and humorous) YouTube video tour by a likable American tourist

A top music hit in Germany in Austria (On the radio every five minutes) on Bayern 3–
this song by George Ezra – Budapest Music Video

Katy Perry’s Firework Music Video

 

 

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Budapest II

We had fun in the neighborhood where we stayed in the city. Budapest is divided into 23 districts.  We booked an apartment for the weekend using Airbnb. The website allows travelers to search for a private rental and book online. We have found some great, unique accommodations. Like this apartment in Budapest!

We stayed in District VI: A neighborhood outside of the center, but not far from the main sights in District V and within walking distance of Budapest Keleti train station.

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We have been relying on TripAdvisor and our travel guide for recommendations, and it has given us plenty of good, established places. When our host, a local, offered us a few of his favorite restaurants, we were ecstatic.  We have been missing our usual standby, Citypages, the Twin Cities weekly entertainment newspaper.

At the time we traveled to Budapest, the exchange was 221 Forint = 1 USD. 36 hours of food (and alcohol) in Budapest ran us about 28,000Ft (~125$USD). Which was significantly more favorable than the euro.

 

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We went to a couple places in trendy Gozsdu Udvar which was recommended by our host: Budapest Spiler and Kolor. 

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One of our favorite places was Szimpla Kert, a “ruin” bar, is in a dilapidated apartment building in what was once within the walled jewish ghetto of Budapest.  There are several bars in the area that follow this counter-model, but Szimpla Kert is easily the most well-known.  It is a combination bar, coffeeshop, music venue and cinema. And it is sort of a retro-funhouse filled with soviet era miscellany. One room felt like a 60’s beauty salon, another with old tv’s playing 8-bit 80’s video games. Throughout the venue were reel-to-reels with old films spliced together. (A guy planting a tree, a tour of Prague in the 70’s, folk dancers).  We had A LOT of fun at this bar—  It is huge, and felt pretty much like it sounds: walking through a dilapidated stone building where every room is a quirky new lounge.

 

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Sunday- after our deep soak at Széchenyi baths.  I had been looking for a place to try Lángos, Hungarian street food:  A deep-fried dough topped with cheese and sour cream.

 

 

The Markets
Budapest is known for Nagycsarnok ” Great Market Hall” with seemingly endless stalls of produce, pastry, cheeses and meats on the ground floor.  Above are Hungarian trinkets and souvenirs, and cooked food.

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The neighborhood we stayed in had a small market  which felt a lot more improvisational than the Great Market, and more true to where Budapest locals actually shop.  We had eyed a sketchy building across the square, which we thought was abandoned.  The morning we left I went out early to see more of the neighborhood and discovered it was a weekday market!

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Links

Make Langós
Make Somlói

DRESDEN

We really enjoyed visiting Dresden. It is the capitol city of the German state of Saxony and it’s complex history remains a focus of it’s incredible city center. We decided to drive to Dresden from Würzburg.  It is 370km on the Autobahn, about a 3-hr drive.

 

History of Dresden
For centuries Dresden was royal ground.  Augustus der Starke “Augustus II the Strong” and his son developed Dresden from a medieval city to a regal one  —  their legacy is mainly art, architecture, opera, and porcelain — the defining elements that we see today.  Saxony became a free state in 1918.

WWII: It is the unfortunate events of the 20thC that are most familiar. Near the end of the war Dresden was the target of a two-day saturation bombing by US/British bombers and was nearly reduced to ash. Criticism remains, in regard to the intensity of explosives used and devastating impact to a civilian population, without (at the time) a military presence.

GDR era: Dresden was a strong industrial city in the GDR (former East Germany) and the city recovered and reconstructed during this time— some with the original building plans. To de-emphasize the city’s bourgeois history, leaders elected to bulldoze a portion of destroyed palaces and churches– We passed through a corridor of GDR era infrastructure on the way to the hotel.

Since Reunification, revitalization has picked up.  Frauenkirche was completed in 2005. Restoration of the Neumarkt and Zwinger Orangerie are currently underway.

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Friday Afternoon

Innere Altstadt “Inner Old Town”

Our first stop in Dresden was the Innere Altstadt, a 10-minute walk from our hotel.  We stopped for lunch at Cafe Aha and shared a table with an Austrian college student on spring break.  She suggested that we walk the city at night. We (Derek and I) both agreed that day-or-night Dresden’s Altstadt, with it’s dark Baroque-style buildings along the Elbe River, was especially beautiful.  It is not easy to translate the sensory experience of Dresden, but I will say that there is equally a liveliness to this part of the city and a quiet depth — which may be why it is so compelling.

 

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We stepped into Frauenkirche “Church of our Lady”.  Missing from the Dresden skyline for 60-years, the rebuilding of this 18th century cathedral was community driven, and holds a special meaning to many residents. Afterwards, we spent an hour in the late afternoon soaking up the Zwinger. You can see those posts here and here.

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Inner Neustadt “Inner New Town”

At the end of the day, we crossed the river into the Inner Neustadt (meaning Inner New Town) neighborhood.  We stopped to snap a pic of Goldener Reiter (below) and headed toward the Aussere Neustadt (meaning outer New Town), just as the nightlife in the area was picking up–

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Äußere Neustadt “Outer New Town”

The first thing we noticed was the contrast to the ornamental Altstadt.  Aussere Nuestadt was a punk-style paradise.  We stopped at the cross of Louisenstrasse and Alaunstrasse where people were sitting on curbs, drinking, smoking, and partying (in the chill way that most Germans do).   Aussere Neustadt had an attitude that felt authentic.  While areas around the center have become the focus of urban renewal, this neighborhood is mostly alternative: A high concentration of bars, street food, layers of graffiti– and off the main streets, boarded up buildings.

We found our first craft beer store in Germany! And decided to walk the neighborhood for a while (actually I had a really gross blackberry cider, bad choice). Then we grabbed a late dinner at Curry & Co. customized curry wurst! They won the national currywurst competition a couple years ago. We stopped in a couple more bars and made our way home.   I learned a new term from Derek: “Ostalgie”, nostalgic symbols of the GDR, The crosswalk light above is an example!

 

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Next post: Dresden, Cont..

 

Links

“Ostalgie”, Symbols of Nostalgia for East Germany

 Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical account of the Dresden Bombings, for the readers

 

(Click to enlarge)

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MORE DRESDEN

Saturday 11am

We had a laid-back agenda for Saturday, and our first stop was Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) to see Dresden’s collection of masterpieces.

Next, we stepped into Kruezkirche “Church of the Holy Cross”. This church was in the Altmarkt “Old Market” (Frauenkirche was in the Neumarkt) and has been modified many times; It has burned down 5x since it was built in 1168! In the most recent renovation, the building was kept intentionally spare.  I wish my photos had turned out better, but a there are a few below that show this incredible space, a great synthesis between Baroque and 60s modern.

 

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Saturday 5pm

The rain picked up on Saturday afternoon, just as we were walking to the Aussere Neustadt.  We detoured past the Yenidze, (below) a cigarette factory in the 1900s— toward the Elbe River Banks, which it turns out, aside from having the best views, is where the fun is at.  We saw some guys chilling their beer in one of the fountains, good idea!

Next, warm coffee under the overhang at Cafe Continental. We were tempted over to the Kunstofpassage (literally, art passage), a courtyard of buildings decorated by artists with quirky shops, etc. Perhaps the most known is the musical building that plays when it rains!  Possibly just in theory, we determined!

 

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Finally, Astronautalis!
Derek spotted a concert poster that MN hip hop artist Astronautalis would be in Dresden the following weekend. Small world. It seems he likes to travel and is a pretty good travel writer! He is blogging while performing on his European tour.  It got us listening to some of his music.  Read  about Astronautalis’ adventures in Prague or watch a video of him riding around the Czech Republic on a motorcycle and drinking a beer!

 

 

Well, that is our trip.  Again, we really like Dresden!

 

(Click to enlarge)


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Dresden: Frauenkirche

When Dresden was bombed near the end of WWII the oldest part of the city, the Innere Altstadt, was most affected.  Two days after the bombing began, Frauenkirche  “Church of our Lady” collapsed. From 1945 – 1993 the center of Dresden was a pile of stone and ash. (Image of the ruins)

Socialist War Memorial

It was a political decision to not rebuild the church (religious structures were not the responsibility of the state). Residents appealed that the rubble should not be discarded as planned, and Frauenkirche was left alone as a reminder of the atrocities of war.

Reconstruction

In 1993, reconstruction of Frauenkirche began– mainly from ambitious fundraising and the intent of Dresden’s residents to restore the structure.  It was finished in 2005.   Pieces of the rubble were removed piece-by-piece and catalogued. Of the millions of fragments of original stones, close to 3800 were incorporated into the rebuild.  The stones from the original structure are darkest, due to the high iron content in Saxon sandstone. The church is a replica of the original.  In other words, it is nearly new.

Pieces of the alter were salvaged.  The interior is painted to resemble the marble and granite pillars. Frauenkirche’s intricate wooden doors were remastered from wedding photos taken long ago. Some aspects, such as the organ, were not restored. The renewed structure is said to symbolize the possibility of rebirth.

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Our visit 

We stopped at Frauenkirche our first day in Dresden.  Derek climbed the tower to look over the city and I visited the interior.    Afterwards a friend recommended that we stop at the café near the cathedral for Eierschecke, a Saxon specialty.  It is an egg-custard cake, sort of like cheesecake, but not overly sweet!  I was wondering how it was made and found a recipe in U.S. measurements, here  —

 

Eierschecke

For the Dough:
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup Sugar
1 Egg
Pinch of Salt
1/2 package Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup Milk, lukewarm

For the Quark Filling:
17 ounces (500g) Quark
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
Zest from 1 Lemon

For the Topping:
2 cups Milk
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
3 Eggs Yolks
3 Eggs Whites
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean

 

In a small bowl, combine the yeast and half of the milk. Mix in 2 tablespoons of the flour and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Allow this mixture to sit in a warm place for 1 hour.

Combine remaining dough ingredients then add in the yeast mixture. Mix until a smooth dough forms, then knead by hand. Allow dough to sit in a warm place until double in volume.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

Grease a baking sheet or a Spring-Form pan. Roll out dough to fit the size of the baking sheet. Transfer dough to pan.

Mix Quark with sugar, eggs, and lemon zest. Mix until creamy.

Spread quark mixture evenly over dough.

For the topping, combine milk, butter, egg yolks, and sugar. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean and add seeds to milk mixture. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously. Allow to cool.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

When the milk mixture has cooled to room temperature, gradually (and gently) fold into the egg whites. Spread this mixture evenly over the cake.

Bake cake for around 40 minutes or until a golden brown crust develops on the top of the cake.

Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely.

 

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