Touring Bruges on foot (or in a boot)

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the world’s most charming cities, Bruges, Belgium.

Our host at Maison Le Dragon was very obliging and served breakfast a half hour early to accommodate our touring schedule.  Boris is off to see battle sites from WWI.  I was scheduled to do my very first balloon tour, but it was cancelled due to weather.  Actually, after our minibus and canal tours yesterday I noted so many places I wanted to go in Bruges that I am glad I have the day free to tour the city.  It is raining and my foot is in a boot due to surgery, but I will not be deterred.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium. When you see an interesting passageway don’t you just want to walk right down it.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium. The only McDonald’s in a UNESCO protected building.

I started by walking back to Market Square and then down one of the main shopping streets to see the large Saturday Market our host had told us about.  I got to the end of the street and ran into building and road construction.  Fortunately, the tourist information center was also right there so I popped in and found out the market was just on the other side of all the construction.

The market had everything you might need from meats and vegetables to wallpaper.  I didn’t stay too long.  I wandered back down different streets, passing some of the white houses we had heard about on the tour.  These homes have been around for centuries.  Originally, private donors sponsored this housing for the poor.  Each cluster has a prayer room and chapel and the only requirement to live there was daily attendance of services.  They are now operated by the government; there are still about 50 of these homes in Bruges.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Jerusalem Church, the only private church in Belgium. Note the white government housing on the street.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. More government housing in Bruges.

My next stop was St. John’s Hospital.  Sint-Janshospitaal was established in the 12th century as one of Europe’s oldest hostels.  It was designed for both the sick and as a refuge for travelers.  It continued to serve as a hospital until 1978.   St. John’s sits opposite the Church of Our Lady.  The hospital’s wards from the 13th and 14th centuries now house the works of art.  I entered through the side courtyard and noted the various buildings obviously added over time.

In the museum, you buy tickets to the Hospital Museum and the Church of Our Lady.  A small portion of the church is open to the public while a large portion of the church is under construction.  The sections of the church containing the tombs and altar are open as a museum and require a ticket for entry.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior of St. John’s Hospital as seen from the bridge/canal.

The art in the hospital museum was beyond beautiful.  There were several lovely altar screens, the most impressive of which was the Mythical Marriage of St. Catherine by Hans Memling which is on display in the hospital chapel.  However, my favorite display was the one of the most beautiful pieces of painted art I have ever seen, the Shrine of St. Ursula.  The shrine features the city of Cologne, Germany as it appeared in the 15th century.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. This large altar piece, the Mythical Marriage of St. Catherine, is on display in the chapel of St. John’s Hospital, Bruges.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautifully painted Shrine of St. Ursula on display in St. John’s Hospital, Bruges.

Another area you can tour is the hospital apothecary; it is open shorter hours so check before your visit.  The Apothecary has remained unchanged since the 17th century.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Apothecary at St. John’s Hospital, Bruges.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Apothecary at St. John’s Hospital, Bruges.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Church of Our Lady from the courtyard of St. John’s Hospital.

My next visit was to the Church of Our Lady just across the street.  The most noteworthy piece of art in the church museum is the sculpture of Mother with Child by Michelangelo Buonarroti.  I particularly liked the church’s stained glass and the ancient tombs.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen  Michaelangelo Buonarroti’s Mother with Child in the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium

The nobles who lived in the adjacent residence had their own access to the church.  The Lords of Gruuthuse attended religious services from the private chapel.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Private church access for the Lords of Gruuthuse to the Church of Our Lady.

The choir of the Church of Our Lady features the tombs of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, Maria of Burgundy.  Maria’s tomb is older and in the Gothic style featuring pious angels.  Charles’ tomb is in the Renaissance style and features courtesans.  Although Charles died first, his remains were not released until half a century after his daughter’s death.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceremonial tombs of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and his daughter, Maria of Burgundy.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A Natasha selfie on the Maria Bridge with St. John’s Hospital in the background.

 

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Headed to Bruges, Belgium

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Bruges, Belgium

This morning after a nice breakfast at the Waldorf in Covent Garden, London, I separated our clothing.  We are going to store some of our things at the hotel while we travel to Bruges, Belgium for a long weekend.  When Boris asked me to come along on this business trip, he suggested I find a new place to visit while we were in Europe that was just a short plane ride away.  Since we didn’t have that much time and Eurostar was running some promotions, I decided to pick a place we could go by train and avoid the time hassles of getting to and at the airport.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along a canal in Bruges, Belgium.

I have never been to Belgium and Brussels is just two hours by train from London.  Boris has been to Brussels, so we are making a transfer there and taking a local train on to Bruges.  There are WWI battlefields nearby, so Boris has planned a day out to visit those sites while I take a balloon ride over the city and nearby countryside.  We’ll tour together on the other days.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Market Square in Bruges, Belgium.

I love the amenities of the Eurostar-seperate departure lounge, on-board wifi, etc.  It is a quick two-hour trip to Brussels via the chunnel.  The Chunnel is the shortened name for the Channel Tunnel that links the United Kingdom with northern France.  Twenty-three miles of the chunnel are underwater.  Construction began in 1988 and it opened for train service in 1994.  The train travels at about 99 miles per hour.  I took my first ride on Eurostar through the chunnel 20 years ago when Rocky was very young and the only route was London to/from Paris.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted in Bruges, Belgium. Natasha loves to photograph windows and doors.

We had a little trouble in the Brussels station because there was very little signage in English.  The train tables I looked up online didn’t match up with what we were seeing.  There are frequent trains to Bruges, but we wanted to make sure that we took a direct one.  The station workers were not very friendly, but they were helpful.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle Square in Bruges, Belgium.

We took the train to Bruges.  Unfortunately, the cab stop is not marked and the waiting area is out in the open.  Be prepared to brave the weather.  It had been raining so all the cabs were busy in town.  We waited about 45 minutes, but finally made it to our hotel after dark.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel, Maison Le Dragon, is named for the weathervane on top.

We are staying at Maison Le Dragon, named for the dragon weathervane on top of the building.  It is just outside the heart of the city, a few minutes walk to the main square.  There are only a few rooms rented out in this elegant former residence and the owner is very attentive.  After settling in our room, we followed his excellent restaurant recommendation and walked down to Bistro Christophe.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The salon in our hotel in Bruges, Maison Le Dragon.

There was only an hour window for breakfast the next morning but it was a “wow” experience and worth arranging your schedule around.  Multiple courses, fresh breads and cheeses, egg dishes, and lots of beverage options were among the highlights.  After breakfast, we walked the few minutes to the main square.  The architecture is Flemish and enchanting.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium

There were lots of people milling around the square.  Students and locals offer free group tours of the city for tips.  Given my boot, Boris suggested we take the minibus tour.  It will get us to places like the windmills that would be a little far for me to walk.  It was a full bus, but a small group.  Headphones allow you to take the tour in the language of your choice.  Both the side windows and the roof are glass so you get some great views.  If you are limited on time, have mobility issues, or don’t mind spending a little money to get some history and a great overview, I can recommend this tour.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris on our minibus tour of Bruges, Belgium

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Glass on the side windows and roof meant we had great views on our minibus tour.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. There is every kind of museum you can think of in Bruges, including the fries museum.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Windmills line the outer ring of the city in Bruges, Belgium.

Bruges has multiple cultural options, including many museums.  I love to eat them, but do I know the history of Belgium fries?  I can learn all about them at the Friet Museum.  Returning to the square, we decided to take a tour of the Historium which is housed right on the Market Square.  It is a Disney-like (or want to be) show with animatronics and video set in multiple rooms that you walk through on timed intervals.  It is intended to give you a bit of the history of Bruges through the telling of a 1435 love story based on a Jan van Eyck painting.  The set-up anticipates large crowds.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Market Square from the Historium terrace in Bruges, Belgium.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colorful buildings and sidewalk cafes on the Market Square in Bruges, Belgium.

Both Boris and I thought it was expensive and a waste of time and money.  You learn very little history. Of course we are jaded Americans, raised on Disney-style entertainment.  The Historium wants to be something innovative and special, but I think it misses the mark.  Best part of the experience was the view from the building balcony.  Afterwards we tried the virtual reality booth on the ground floor.  That was a little better.  My advice is to skip the Historium.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Another perspective on the Market Square in Bruges as seen from our lunch seats at the sidewalk cafe.

Back on the Market Square, we decided to stop for lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes.  I enjoyed wonderful seafood in Bruges, especially the mussels that are one of their specialties.  Stick with the chocolate, waffles, fries, and seafood in Bruges and you can’t go wrong.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium

After lunch we decided to see Bruges from a different perspective.  We took the short 30-minute canal tour which leaves from five different locations around the heart of the city.  They squeeze as many people as possible into the small boats so you’ll get to know the other guests.  It was a bit awkward in the boot, but I made it work.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Bridges and Swans on our canal tour in Bruges, Belgium.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Bruges, Belgium

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Photo @Jean Janssen. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges’ canals, also referred to as Reie, sit at the site of original city walls.  They were named for the River Roya which flowed here around the original fortifications.  We took the tour that left from the Nepomucenus Bridge along the Dijver Canal.  The exit is just across the bridge and a few yards from our hotel.  After the canal tour, we headed back to Maison Le Dragon for a late afternoon nap before dinner.

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Natasha and Boris at Den Dijver along the canal in Bruges, Belgium.

 

We had dinner along the Canal at Den Dijver, a restaurant named for the canal it overlooks.  We enjoyed a wonderful collection of fresh steamed seafood, appetizers, and dessert.  Bruges’ most scenic spot is along this canal just past the street our hotel sits on.  After dinner I walked back and took a few photographs before we ended our first full day in Bruges.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rozenhoedkaai in Bruges, Belgium. In the Middle Ages, wreaths were sold on this spot.

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Natasha does Downton Abbey-Bampton Village, Highclere Castle, and Dinner at Rules

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Highclere Castle, England

Today is my full-day excursion out of London.  I’ll need to be back for dinner with Steve at Rules in Covent Garden near our hotel.  Originally I was going to visit Buckingham Palace which is just about to close for the season with the Queen’s return from Balmoral. However, when the Highclere Castle visit opened up I jumped at the chance since it has been impossible to get in on my last several visits to London.  I will have to save the palace for another visit.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of Highclere Castle from the gardens in fall.

We are departing from the Victoria Coach Station, not to be confused with the underground or train station.  Since I am in the boot, they recommended I take a cab over and I was glad I did because the station was not in the same place as where my Harry Potter bus tour left from last summer.  They are all in the same general area, but it is easy to go to the wrong place, lots of people did.  Some arrived late and really flustered; not the way to start your day.  One guest had to make her own way to the first stop on the tour and join us there.

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Natasha at Highclere Castle

We have a small group today.  I learned that they are about to start filming a Downton Abbey movie and Highclere Castle was set to be closed to tourists.  However, filming was delayed one week so they decided to open up for a few extra days.  I just got lucky in spotting the offering.  Our guide said there are usually 60+ people on a double decker bus headed out there (and that is just one tour group).  Today we are on a regular bus with just over 20 people.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Oxford, England.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Oxford, England

Our first stop is the only one that is not Downton Abbey-related.  We are stopping in Oxford.  I have never been and am exciting about seeing the architecture.  I also watch a BBC show set there, Endeavor, so it will be a fun way to start the day.  We had a comfort stop in the city museum and then our guide gave us a very brief walking tour of the city.  I enjoyed seeing all the colleges and the historic buildings.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Oxford, England

This is also the place we grab lunch.  The husband of one of the guests had taken her wallet out of her bag to get some cash before she left and had forgot to replace it.  She only let me buy her a drink.  Fortunately, her husband is picking her up at the bus station or I am not sure how she would have gotten back to her hotel.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bampton Village residence which serves as the Crowley House in the Downton Abbey series.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen St. Mary’s Church in Bampton Village which serves as the Downton Village church in the Downton Abbey series.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bampton Village Square.

Next we are off to Bampton Village which served as Downton Village for the television show.  The iconic church, church yard, Crowley House, and hospital are all right there next to the square.  The “hospital” is actually the community library and vestry and has a small gift shop in it.  We also toured inside the church where the wedding (and Edith’s almost wedding) were filmed.  It all looked pretty normal the day we were there.   Only thing we spotted were a few divots where film equipment or sets had previously been placed.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Bampton Village Library and Vestry which serves as the hospital facade in the Downton Abbey series.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen  Church yard in Bampton village

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Church interior, Bampton Village

Leaving Bampton Village, we are headed to Highclere Castle in Newbury, Hampshire, England, the stately home of the Crowley family in the television series Downton Abbey.  The series author is Julian Fellows a friend of the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, the owner of Highclere.  When the owner was in financial trouble and in danger of losing the property, Fellows suggested setting the series there and giving up filming rights to provide a funding stream to save the castle.  It has been successful.  With a steady stream of visitors, money is being putting back in to preserve and restore the castle.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. This landing strip is so close to the road that there is a traffic light to halt traffic during a landing or take off.

In route, we saw something I had never seen.  There was a stop light in the roadway to hold traffic when planes from the near military airfield were landing or taking off.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Highclere Castle

We visited the castle in the late afternoon.  It will be closing for the season today.  We first toured the interior (no photos allowed), then had tea in the downstairs tea room, and finally toured the grounds.  There is a very nice gift shop on property.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The older main entrance to Highclere Castle

The castle has an older main entrance from an earlier era that is still standing and can be seen from the back side when you tour near the gift shop.  Inside, there are two main staircases.  Most of the rooms are used during filming.  However, scenes shot in Lady Mary’s bedroom or below stairs are filmed in a studio due to the ceiling height in the castle which can not accommodate all the necessary equipment.  There are some additional rooms in the castle which are never seen on the show.

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©Jean Janssen Highclere Castle

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Jawdaws Castle sits on the grounds of Highclere Castle. The view from this folly, built in 1743 by Robert Herbert, is of the main house.  Robert was the uncle of Henry Herbert who became the first Earl of Carnarvon in 1793.

The interior furnishings are a little shabby, showing the effects of the financial problems the property had previously been experiencing.   The castle furniture is the same that is used during filming.  The thing that stuck me is how the rooms are exactly the same as how they appear on screen, but the actual spaces are a lot smaller.  The magic of film is that it makes everything seem so much bigger.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the gardens at Highclere Castle.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the grounds at Highclere Castle.

The grounds were lovely and some of the flowers were still in bloom.  For a while I just sat on a bench and enjoyed a view of the castle.  When we were getting close to time to depart I took a comfort stop and realized I was actually the last guest to leave the grounds for the season.

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Natasha, the last guest to exit Highclere Castle for the season.

Traffic into London was horrible and I was late to meet Boris at Rules in Covent Garden for dinner.  I had to get off the bus, then take the Tube, and then navigate around Covent Garden in the dark to find the restaurant.  I changed for dinner in the restaurant bathroom. Rules was established in 1798 and is the oldest restaurant in London.  The food is traditionally British and is as outstanding as the setting.  The menu changes seasonally and includes a lot of game.  A nice British family sat next to us, enjoying the mum’s birthday dinner.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Heading back into London we had a view of Windsor Castle.

I had urged Boris to push the reservation back, but he didn’t.  Once he got over the late start to our evening, we both had a wonderful time.  The choice of Rules was in keeping with the theme for the day; scenes from Downton Abbey were shot at the restaurant.  Since the restaurant is close to our hotel, we were able to walk back after dinner.

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Rules interior. We sat at the two-top next to the booth.

Tomorrow will be an early start to our weekend.  We are taking the Eurostar to Belgium.

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A fall trip to London and Bruges, with a little Downton Abbey thrown in

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statue of Rameses II in the British Museum. London

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Photo © Jean Janssen. Walking down the Strand from the hotel I passed Charing Cross Station.

Boris had business in London and I tagged along for the week.  He is off for a couple a days over the weekend so we are going to take the Eurostar over to Bruges, Belgium for a few days.  We were there in September when the weather was just beginning to turn away from the summer warmth.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Traflagar Square at dusk on my way to the theater.

We are staying at the Waldorf in Covent Garden with easy access to the theaters.  I did a little research prior to going but didn’t purchase tickets this time.  Since I was underwhelmed with the musical offerings, I decided just to buy play tickets at the discount booth in Leicester Square.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

I arrived a day after Boris and traveled into town during the morning rush hour.  I arrived at the hotel in time to make breakfast and then walked down to the square to get my theater tickets.  I am still just a few months post surgery, so I am wearing a boot when walking around.  After some sightseeing in the neighborhood, I returned to the hotel to rest my foot and unpack.

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Photo © Jean Janssen. The set for Apologia at Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall

The executive lounge tea at the Waldorf was substantial enough to make a meal of with scones and tea sandwiches.  I made that my pre-theater dining.  Tonight I am seeing Apologia featuring American actress Stockard Channing and Downton Abbey alum Laura Carmichael (Edith).  Laura did a pretty good American accent.  Boris was back by the time I returned.  He will be pretty busy the next couple of days so I am on my own.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The British Museum, London

I really wanted to try to see some places I had not visited before on this trip to London.  I have always wanted to see the Egyptian exhibits at the British Museum ever since I started reading the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.  So day two, I started my day there after a walk from the hotel.  It was early on a Tuesday morning and the crowds had not yet arrived, so I was in quickly after the security check.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Great Court in the British Museum joins together the various buildings that make up the museum and serves as its busy central hub.

I passed through the original entrance foyer and bought a guide book before entering the Great Court.  You could spend days here, so I decided to identify those areas I really wanted to visit and save my guide book for a return visit to see more.  I started in the ancient Egyptian area on the ground floor, just to the left from the Great Court.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the British Museum, London.

The museum is a photographer’s dream.  First thing I saw was the Rosetta Stone, not easy to photograph with the hordes of people admiring it and the reflection off the glass.  Get close enough and study it and you see how impressive it truly is.  The collection is amazing, but you are also wonder why are these artifacts are here rather than where they were found (or at least in the same country).  Times have changed and exhibits like these would now be found in their native homelands.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The head and arm of a statue of Amenhotep III in the British Museum. London.

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Photo @Jean Janssen. In the British Museum, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the British Museum. London

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. These ladies had the right idea. They brought their own stools and could sit and read about what they were seeing as they toured through the British Museum, London.

Next I went upstairs to visit the exhibits containing the mummies and the decorations of the tombs.  This was the most crowded place I visited in the museum.  By this time there was also lots of school groups.  Each child wore a vest like we would see on someone directing traffic in the states.  It is a pretty good idea in regard to safety, but with so many children in vests it would be hard to identify a particular child.

 

This area of the museum was particularly fascinating to me.  I have been to Egypt and visited the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza at a time when it was safe for Americans to do so.  Even then, we went with armed guards.  The light show on the sphinx was really impressive.  This visit of the Egyptian exhibits at the British Museum was a wonderful compliment to my travel to Egypt.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen In the British Museum, London

 

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Photo ©Jean Janssen In the British Museum

From here I went on to the less crowded exhibits on Ancient Greece and Rome on both the upper and lower floors.  Like the Egyptian exhibits, the smaller artifacts were in glass cases on the second floor, while the large exhibits were on the ground floor.  Some of the pieces were quite massive requiring a whole room of multiple stories to house a single treasure.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statue of a crouching Aphrodite in the British Museum, London.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Nereid Monument, the British Museum, London

 

After my touring I was ready for a break and stopped by the fish and chips shop near the entrance for lunch.  They had the traditional take-away and a few place to sit inside with table service.  They even sold Dr. Pepper, which I never expected to see in London.  There are some nice shops across from the museum as well.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fish and Chips shop near the British Museum, London

In route to the museum this morning, I stopped by the Fortune Theater and picked up a same-day discount ticket to see The Woman In Black one of the longest-running shows in London.  It has been running in the West End for 28 years and is currently at the Fortune Theater just behind my hotel.  I saw the matinee performance and then caught tea at the hotel before my evening show, The Play That Went Wrong at the Duchess Theater, even closer to my hotel.  The last two shows were at the older, smaller, intimate theaters that I so love in London.  London theaters also have ice cream intermissions right in the theater.  In two days, I have seen a drama, a triller and a comedy, all at discounted prices.  Excellent.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The stage set for the opening of The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theater, London.

Tomorrow is Downton Abbey day with a visit to Brampton Village, Highclere Castle, and dinner at Rules.  I’ll be getting an early start.  Until then…

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Budapest Revisited

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary.

Because of the problem with my foot we were unable to participate in some of the cool tours that Uniworld is offering as alternatives to the panoramic tour.  You could go on a walking tour of the city, including the Market Hall which is fascinating and a ride on the subway.  Since I have never been on the Budapest underground, this would have been my choice.  You could also do a bike ride around the city.  I don’t ride much, but for those that do this is also an excellent way to experience the city.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Headed up castle hill, these are the steps leading up to the Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Mathias Church, Budapest

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mathias Church, Castle Hill, Budapest. Love the tile roof.

Having been to Budapest many times, see Highlights of Budapest, I wasn’t sure how much of what I was going to see would be new.  However, it was interesting to me to see how much the city has been cleaned up (buildings) and restored.  We started as most do by going to the Buda side of the Danube to the Castle district.  Our bus dropped us off and we wandered in with the guide.  On my first trip to Budapest, this is the area where we stayed in the Hilton which was incorporated into the ruins of a Dominican Monastery.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Stephen’s Statute in Trinity Square on Castle Hill, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Decorative manhole cover, Budapest.

As we headed toward the square and the church passing museums, shops, and cafes, our guide pointed out her recommendations on where we might spend our free time in the castle district.  We waited in the shade while she bought our tickets to view the inside the church and walk along the walls of the Fishermen’s Bastion.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Interior of St. Mathias Church on Castle Hill, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mathias Church, Budapest

On my first visit to Budapest, the church was closed.  I saw the interior the next time, mostly black with scaffolding around as the restoration was in progress.  Last time, we finally saw it with the restoration of the interior complete.  Seeing it now, all clean on the outside and with color restored on the inside I am glad for those earlier visits so I can appreciate how much work has been done to get it to this state.  St. Mathias Church is over 700 years old and the site of many coronations.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Trinity Square, St. Stephen’s Statute, and the Fishermen’s Bastion that replaced the castle walls which once stood at this spot.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Danube, Pest, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the Chain Bridge from the Fishermen’s Bastion, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Danube, Parliament Building, St. Margaret’s Island, and St. Margaret’s Bridge from the Fishermen’s Bastion, Budapest.

After the interior visit, we walked along Fishermen’s Bastion and took in the views of Pest and the Danube.  We then had free time to explore the Castle District.  I bought a few gifts and then made it to the store where they sell hand-embroidered items.  According to our guide, there is only one of these shops left in the castle district; the others have been replaced by those selling cheaper, machine made knockoffs.  I also missed the Herend store that sold my pottery, although the fine pieces are still available.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking back at St. Mathias’ Church and St. Stephen’s Statute from the Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking along the Fishermen’s Bastion and down the steps on Castle Hill. The Danube is in the distance.

Boris bought a huge bow with a quiver and arrows.  I have no idea how we are going to get this home.  It is too long for my large rolling duffle bag and too delicate to be checked.  However he does it, Boris somehow gets this stuff home, although not always in pristine condition.  Leaving the Castle District, we saw wonderful public transport options for residents and visitors alike.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beautiful architecture is all over the city of Budapest, now clean and restored to its former glory.

Back on the bus, we crossed back over the Danube to the Pest side (the castle district is on the hilly, Buda side).  These were once two cities.  For most of the rest of the tour, my pictures were taken from inside the bus so please excuse the glare and reflections off the glass.  I pointed out the highlights along the Danube in my previous post.  For the rest of our bus tour, we drove through Pest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dohany Street Great Synagogue, Budapest.

We passed by many of the city highlights we have toured on previous visits to the city like the Dohany Street Great Synagogue and the Hungarian Jewish Museum; the beautiful Opera House; and my favorite museum in the city, the House of Terror.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Budapest Opera House.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. House of Terror Museum, Budapest. Home of the Nazis and the Communist Secret Police and now my favorite museum in the city.   It is an interactive, modern Museum that is very well done

We drove through the city enjoying the beautiful architecture.  Each visit we see more of the city restored.  We made our only other stop of the afternoon at Hero’s Square.  You can also reach the square by metro; the M1 metro line opened in 1896 and is one of the world’s oldest lines.  Hero’s Square sits at the entrance to the city park and includes the Millennium Monument to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest  of 895.  It was dedicated a year late in 1896, but was not full completed until 1929.  It is one of the most visited spots in the city.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hero’s Square with the Millennium Monument, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Detail on some of the statuary on the Millennium Monument, Hero’s Square, Budapest.

We had to dodge some pretty serious traffic that travels around the square to reach the monument from our bus.  As always, there were lots of tourists at Hero’s Square.  Some Japanese women were taking staged pictures with scarves; I am not sure exactly what it was supposed to look like.  There was also a group of young, partially-clothed men on a beer bike that made a stop at the square (although I think it was to use the toilet across the street in one of the museums).  We have these drink bikes in Houston-pedal while you tour and consume alcohol-but I have never seen one with a whole beer barrel on the front.  According to our guide, the barrel is full when they start.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A beer barrel bike at Hero’s Square in Budapest.

Returning to the bus, we toured the beautiful city park, home to many museums, the Budapest Zoo, the Vajdajunyad Castle, and the famous bath houses.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the Budapest Zoo, City Park.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exhibits within the Budapest Zoo, City Park.

When visiting the bath houses, you can use a co-ed facility or the single-sex options.  Most bath houses are moving to co-ed.  Traditionally, in the single-sex facilities, the bathers do not wear a swimsuit, although wearing swimsuits is on the rise.  On single-sex days or in same-sex sections, men are usually handed drawstring loincloths and women apron-like garments to wear.  The thermal baths are indoors.  Some of the baths in Budapest offer outdoor areas with waterfalls and whirlpools.  The facilities often offer spa services.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Szechenyi Bath, City Park, Budapest

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Main entrance to the Szechenyi Bath, City Park, Budapest.

The 18-pool Szechenyi Bath in the City Park is open every day of the year.  The facilities are co-ed and a swimsuit is required.  Just before leaving the park, we passed by the Vajahunyad Castle and the ice skating rink with a new concert facility nearby.  We had come full circle and were now back at Hero’s Square.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vajdajunyad Castle, City Park, Budapest.

We once again passed by the avenues of beautiful architecture and marveled at the restoration that has taken place in this city.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Budapest, Hungary

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Budapest, Hungary

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Budapest, Hungary

Before retuning to the ship, we passed by some of the buildings on the waterfront which we saw from the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill.  We also passed by a street leading to St. Stephen’s Basilica.  Then it was back to The Whale where we left our bus and returned to the ship to finish our packing.  We have to leave our bags out at 3 am and be ready to depart the ship at 3:45 in the morning for our early flight.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest.

There was one more folkloric performance on board; this one from an Hungarian troop featuring musicians, singers, and dancers.  Afterwards is dinner before we head up to the sun deck for our twilight tour of Budapest on the Danube.

 

 

We were at the table with Carl and Lyle and Carl’s parents and the matte d’ asked if we minded if another person joined us.  He was traveling alone and was rather shy.  We were surprised because it was the last night of the cruise, but I thought perhaps someone from the next sailing had been able to come aboard early.  To our surprise, the “shy single gentleman” was the captain.  He is not shy or single.

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Our table with the Captain

Carl, Lyle, and his parents are in suites and the Captain had missed an earlier dinner with them so I am sure this is why we were singled out.  It was interesting to hear about his early naval training under the communist regime.  He clearly thinks the current training is not strict enough.  When I asked about how me met his wife, with a sly smile he commented on how a tall, handsome naval officer in a white uniform always attracted a lot of young ladies.  Boris told him that the last a captain that had flirted with this wife had sunk his ship.  (He is talking about the time I met the Costa Cruise Line Captain that had run the Concordia aground and then abandoned ship.)

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Natasha with the Captain

We left the dock while we were still at dinner and twilight had just come.  Just before we reached the Parliament building we went up to the Sun Deck and I took pictures of the views of Budapest from the Danube.  As it was our last night, we stayed up late and enjoyed the beautiful evening and the lights of the city.  It was enchanting.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Buda Castle, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gellert Hill, the Liberty Monument, and the Freedom Bridge, Budapest.

I highly recommend a tour of these Eastern European cities and the cruise of the Danube (particularly the Iron Gates).  I would go sooner rather than later before they lose that distinctive character and become westernized.  Today, you can still experience a taste of that history that has shaped their world view. –Natasha

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Budapest from the Danube-a tour in pictures by day and night

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Photo ©Jean Janssen View of the Parliament Building from the Danube. Budapest, Hungry.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A side view of the Parliament building, Budapest.

Budapest has been one of my favorite cities in Europe for many years now after Boris suggested we visit with Rocky on a self-directed land tour of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest.  Prague had been as amazing as I had hoped and Budapest had been the surprise.  It was before many of the buildings in Budapest had been restored and I am so glad to have seen the before, so I can now really appreciate the after.  This is my fourth visit to Budapest and I have seen many changes.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cave Church along the Danube, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Budapest.

There is not much left of the communist feel.  However, I have not visited other parts of Hungary.  Word is that the leadership puts all the money into Budapest with its strong attraction for tourists and the rest of the country is suffering.  I may need to venture farther afield next time.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, the Gellert Monument, Budapest

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Freedom Bridge with Gellert Hill and the Liberty Monument in the background, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cave Church along the Danube, Budapest.

There is nothing like viewing this city from the water, certainly the best concentrated scenery of our river cruise.  Capitalizing on that, our captain will go up and down the Danube by day and we will do it again tonight.  If you go to Budapest, you must do a tour by boat.  I recommend two boat tours, one by day and one by night.  In case you can not get there, here is my tour of Budapest from the Danube in pictures.  Enjoy.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Buda Castle, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Pillar of the Chain Bridge, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Castle Hill near the funicular, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Mathias Church, and the Hilton Hotel incorporated into the ruins of a Dominican Monastery (where Natasha stayed on her first trip to Budapest).

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, the Parliament Building from the side, Budapest. The boat flies the fly of the country we are visiting. You see the Hungarian flag in the shot.

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Natasha at the Parliament Building, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, St. Margaret’s Bridge, with Margaret Island in the background.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Danube, the Royal Palace (Buda Castle) with the Chain Bridge in the foreground, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. We are docked at “The Whale” next to the old train station.

We are docked at The Whale (Baina), the glass structure next to the old train station.  The Whale was under construction during my last visit.  It is now complete, but far from full.  Intended to house galleries, markets, shops, and cafes, the rent is so expensive that it is not fully occupied.  After docking, they are offering several tour options for the afternoon.  I’ll put those in a separate post and also encourage you to check out my previous posts on Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Parliament Building, Budapest.

But before I close, we have to take the tour again by night.  This city photographs so beautifully in the fading twilight, that you may see a few of the buildings repeated.  All worth another look.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Buda Castle, The Royal Palace, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. St. Mathias Church, the Fishermen’s Bastion, and the Hilton, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A side view of the Parliament Building, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Buda Castle, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Chain Bridge, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Buda Castle and the funicular, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Freedom Bridge (green by day), Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Detail of the Freedom Bridge, just before going underneath, Budapest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gellert Hill, the Liberty Monument, and the Freedom Bridge, Budapest.

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Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Along the Danube.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dockside in Vukovar, Croatia.

Today we reach another country in our westerly river trek on the Danube, Croatia.  We are docked at Vukovar (wolf) on the border with Serbia and the site of great destruction during the Yugoslav wars.  The 87-day siege of the town in 1991 was the most horrific in Europe since 1945; Vukovar was the first European town to be destroyed since the end of WWII.  The invading army met with much resistance from the Croatian civilian population.  We passed out of city on the major roadway though Vukovar called “the tank graveyard street” because it was once littered with 110 tanks destroyed by ingenious methods by lightly-armed Croatians.

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The water tower in Vukovar, Croatia, shelled more than 600 times in the war for independence. The facade will remain while the scaffolding shows where a museum is under construction.

Ultimately, hundreds of Croatian soldiers and civilians were massacred and the area was ethically cleansed of over 20,000 non-Sebians.  The city water tower, built in the late 60s, once housed a restaurant on top and was a popular spot for viewing the city before the outbreak of the conflict.  During the siege, it was a frequent target of artillery and took over 600 shots.  The tower still stands and has been kept as a memorial to the fallen citizens.  The tower is currently under restoration; the exterior will remain the same, but the interior will house a museum.  Vukovar remained in Serbian control until 1998.  On the anniversary of the occupation, November 18, citizens light candles and float them on the Danube.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Close up of the water tower in Vukovar, Serbia.

The Vukovar Hosptial Massacre was perhaps one of most vicious acts of the war.  Near the end of the war, the Croatian forces negotiated an evacuation of the the local hospital.  The Serbian forces ultimately refused to give the Red Cross access, removed the patients to a nearly farm, beat them for several hours,  and then shot them all.  The hospital patients ranged in age from 6 months old to 74 years old. They were buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 1992.

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Photo @Jean Janssen. Vukovar, Croatia

Today the population of Vukovar in 60% Croatian and 40% Serbian.  The town has never regained its earlier prosperity.  Unemployment in Croatia hovers around 15%; it is 20% in Vukovar.  Vukovar is located where the Vuka River meets the Danube.  It is Croatia’s largest river port. Some of the people are “yugo-nostalgic” and still learning to be free.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Memorial at the port of Vukovar.

Leaving Vukovar and as we made our way to Osijek, you could still see the evidence of the war in the buildings that have not been reconstructed.  Our guide said the war was not about the religious differences, but power, territory, and access to the sea.  Reaching the countryside, I noted how lush and green is was, a sign of rebirth.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The fort at Osijek with festival preparations.

Osijek is not far from Vukovar.  We are one day early for a festival taking place in the city and the rides, food, and drink booths were being constructed at the fort’s entrance during our visit.  We are visiting the fort and old city.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Osijek, Croatia.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Osijek, Croatia

The Old Town is part of the Tvrda, or citadel.  The Hapsburgs built the fort on the bank of the River Drava when they drove out the Ottomans.  “It is the best-preserved and largest ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the foreground is the Former Guard House, now the Archeological Museum. In the background is St. Michael’s church, built by the Jesuits on the site of an old mosque.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Within the fort, Tvrda at Osijek, Croatia.

Once in the fort we went to one of the smaller churches for an organ concert.  The music was lovely and it gave me the chance to sit and admire the church furnishings.  After that it was a comfort stop and local wine and snacks in the church courtyard.  Boris hit the gift shop.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Choir Loft with our organ from the concert.

We didn’t get any free time just to wander around the Tvrda.  I would have preferred that to the food and wine break.  I did stop to take pictures as we wandered through to the square where the German/Austrian influence of the Hapsburgs is definitely seen.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tvrda, Osijeck, Croatia.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tvrda, Osijek, Croatia

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tvrda, Osijek, Croatia

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The square in Tvrda complete with outdoor dining. Beyond the fountain is a Plague Statute.

We had a better view of the outer walls of the fort as we left Osijek and crossed the Drava River into another province of Croatia.  I thought the guide in the church was little to heavy on the gift request, but the next stop was worse.  While the owner was entertaining, the sole purpose was to purchase souvenirs.  That stop was not on our cruise itinerary.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the fort as we left Tvrda and Osijek.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fortifications on the other side of the River Drava, Croatia.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Folk art and one of Boris’ purchases in Croatia.

I enjoyed our drive through the countryside to our unique final stop.  We will be welcomed into the home of a local family and share a traditional lunch.  The tour group is divided into smaller groups of 8-10.  Our host family knew very little English so our tour guide went along to translate.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Steeple and a stork nest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen In the Croatian countryside.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. This newly-consructed straw house is someone’s weekend home. Croatia.

Stefen and his wife Olga welcomed us to their home.  The dining room was right by the door to the garden; it also had a small kitchen and seating area in it.  However, this was not the kitchen where the food had been prepared.  It was brought from another area of the house.  Most of these home owners also operate a bed and breakfast and it is possible that the room were were in is part of their rental unit.

We enjoyed asking questions of our hosts. Stefen is from Croatia; Olga is originally from Bosnia.  They did not share a religion when they married.  Stefen said the family takes on the religion of the husband as the head of the household.  I write that “Stefen said” but actually it was the translator that shared his thoughts and answers to our questions.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Olga had made a variety of homemade desserts.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the farm.

We started with a tomato soup with meat.  Boris ate two whole bowls.  It was all homemade, simple, hardy, and tasty.  Next was bread, then fried chicken, and four sides dishes and salads.  It was not about presentation; we ate family style.  They also served bottled water, a homemade cherry juice (very sweet and very good), and wine.  Stefen asked if we wanted to try his homemade wine.  We said yes, and I asked if he would join us.  Up until then, the couple just served us.  Stefen seemed very pleased to be asked to sit with us.  After serving dessert, Olga joined us too.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The hosts’ farm is self-sustaining.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stefen and Boris bond over farming. No common language required.

Since they had told us about their life, Stefen asked about us.  Everyone was hesitant, so I told them about Boris and I.  Then Boris shared pictures of the crops he grows.  Stefen loved it.  After everyone had shared their story, Stefen took us out to see their farm and he and Boris headed out into the fields.  All too soon the visit was over.  Certainly the highlight of our day.  The personal interaction was wonderful.  It was a genuine experience.  We were treated like family and didn’t feel touristic at all.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Carl enjoyed our hosts’ garden.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hosts’ fruit trees.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our Croatian hosts in their garden.

After this special afternoon we went back to the boat.  As we had earlier in the day, we passed typical Croatian houses.  A narrow side faced the street.  The lots were narrow and deep.  A long porch ran the length of the house.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A typical Croatian-style home.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Street view of a Croatian-style home.

Seaside Croatian cities and towns enjoy revenue from tourists.  They would certainly like to encourage tourism in this area of the country as well.  Of course, it is a completely different experience.  (Boris and I have visited sea coast cities in Croatia several times.)  There are language barriers, but for an authentic experience I encourage your visit.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Eastern Croatian countryside.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Osijek, Croatia.

Tomorrow is the last country on our tour and our final destination, Budapest, Hungary.

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