Two major destinations, three new countries, and, not the least importantly, eight days of almost uninterrupted sunshine – that was the tally of our long-awaited new adventure.
We started with three days in Krakow. On our way from the airport to the hotel upon arrival, Natasha and I had the most vivid flashbacks to our childhood, so East-European- and Soviet-looking the large swathes of the city are. Many edifices of Soviet times remain within what should be called city “center”. The historic core of the city, however, is wholly delightful, with beautiful buildings and streets every step of the way. It is also relatively compact and can be easily covered on foot.
We toured the Royal Castle, stepped into half a dozen of different churches, explored the Jewish Quarter, took a trip to remarkable salt mines a dozen kilometers outside of the city, or simply lingered around the vast Market Square. We also had outstanding dining experiences at practically every eatery that we’ve chosen. Coupled with excellent weather – not hot, not cold, simply sunny and pleasant, – we certainly felt that Krakow loved us. The feeling was – is – mutual.
Our transfer to Budapest was effected by way of a comfortable private van, driven by a friendly middle-aged Slovakian who was more than happy to entertain us in Russian. Since the road from Krakow to Budapest crosses all of Slovakia through the middle from north to south, we had a chance to see quite a bit of that country, too. We also stopped for lunch in the atmospheric town of Banska Bystrica, whose great pedestrian central square is surrounded by buildings that would do honor to any better-known tourist destination.
Budapest turned out to be very different from Krakow, on the opposite side of the large urban center spectrum. Where Krakow’s core retains a small-town, centuries-of-history charm, the Hungarian capital is undeniably big, monumental and 19th-century-planned. It is, nonetheless, a veritable treasure trough of that century’s architecture, with palaces in various “Neo-” styles, common to the architectural boom of the mid-to-late 1800′s, found throughout the central Pest. There are a number of Secessionist – the Austrian-centric branch of Art Nouveau – buildings as well.
Pest, in fact, reminded us of Paris a lot, with its wide boulevards lined by buildings of almost-uniform height, converging on broad squares fronted by impressive palaces.
Buda Castle district is more dramatically positioned, but is less visually arresting from inside. Its main attraction might be the views over the city offered from a number of vantage points. We explored Buda quite a bit too, of course.
Aside from a few churches and a small picture gallery, we did not do much of museum-going in Budapest, preferring instead to walk around and entertain ourselves with “fun” activities such as a trip to the State Opera to see The Swan Lake (yes, we went to the opera but saw a ballet), a visit to the zoo and to an old-fashioned funfair, a morning of soaking at the renowned hot-springs baths, a cruise on the Danube, a browse through the enjoyable covered Market Hall, a folk dance and musical performance… Interestingly, our culinary explorations in Budapest were a notch below those in Krakow, although still quite impressive.
We liked Budapest a lot, too, in a different way than Krakow.
A tremendous trip overall. Detailed entries for Travelog and a picture gallery album will be presented to the public in short order, as usual.
Guess what kind of weather greeted us in London?