Monthly Archives: March 2017

H is for Hungary

For many people Hungary is Budapest, beginning or end point for the 14 day river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and vice versa.  It is a great city and well worth a few days to explore properly.  Once part of the huge Austro-Hungarian empire, Budapest has some impressive buildings including their Parliament Houses based on the British House of Parliament and has bridges between western and eastern cultures.  You can stroll along the Danube and stop for coffee and cake, indulge in the local goulash and soups or relax in a Turkish bath.

Pearl Bridge Budapest

One of the great things to do in Budapest is to stroll the riverbank and check out the connections between Hungary and Australia, and be reminded of the contribution of Hungarian nationals – Rubik of the cube is just one.  Cross the Pearl Bridge to the Buda side  (Buda is high on the hill, Pest is flat and the main part of the city) and take the funicular up to the top – or climb if you are fit!

The beautiful St Mattias Church is well worth a wander, and the Fisherman’s Bastion will give you spectacular views over Pest and especially of the river and the houses of parliament.  But go further into the city of Buda and you will be rewarded with little shops and ruins of the castle and views over to the hills beyond the city.

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In Pest the market is a focal point.  You can get anything and everything there.  The Hungarian florint is still used and Hungary is still amazing value for money.  Pick up paprika to spice up your cooking, or indulge in beautiful handcrafted embroideries in the shops along the main shopping street.  Heroes Square does its best to impress and is surrounded by museums to help explain their history.  Some impressive statues.  The Turkish baths are nearby.

The Jewish synagogue is a fascinating visit.  Hire a guide to get all the lowdown on the history, and have a look at the garden around the back which is a memorial as well as a pleasant retreat.   If you are a music buff the Opera House runs tours you can take to see the fading grandeur of this building.

Away from the city there are spa towns to explore like Lake Heviz  and the town on Lake Balaton Tihany with its Benedictine monastery.

The Hungarians are friendly and welcoming.  Allow several days to get to know the city, and several more to explore beyond.

 

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G is for Germany

Germany is many things to many people.  Depending on your age, your nationality and your interests, it might be a place you would avoid like the plague, can’t wait to see, or go to for a specific thing only.

For me, Germany has family connections several generations back when my father’s great grandfather came from Silesia, then part of Germany, to begin a new life in South Australia.  Whilst I did not get to Silesia (now a part of Poland) on my travels, I did come to really like and appreciate Germany a great deal.

I spent a month travelling through Germany.  What is most notable is the difference between north and south.  The northerners don’t count the southerners as Germans! They are Bavarians!   You will also discover that things you see in the south are not necessarily to be found in the north.  Buy wood carvings in the south; they don’t exist in the north.  And where France has a patisserie on every corner, in Germany it is an apothecary – a chemist!

While there are lots of differences, there are many things to recommend a visit to Germany.  The precision engineering is to be seen everywhere, on the autobahns, in the railway system, and in the car manufacturing.   Even the factory design will amaze you at the BMW headquarters in Munich.  That know how has been put to great use reconstructing towns and village destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  You would almost not know it had happened so well recreated have towns been.

History buffs will love the flamboyant castles of Ludwig II in Bavaria. Neuschwanstein Castle ( the one Disney modelled his Fantasyland castle after) is just up the road from his father’s castle Hohenschwangau.  And his other castles, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee are worth a look as well.  Near to Neuschwanstein is Oberammergau, the town which hosts the Passion play every ten years in thanks for being spared the plague in the middle ages.
Another kind of history is to be found at Dachau with a visit to the concentration camp there.  A truly sobering reminder of what humans are capable of doing to each other.  You will also find WWII history in Nuremburg, which is a beautiful medieval town in its own right, and has the added layer of the rallies.

Neuschwanstein jpeg

If it is scenery you are after, Germany has it in spades.  The Alps will inspire you, the Romantic road charm you – my favourite place is Rothenburg – a walled city frozen in time and just delightful.  Check out the Christmas shop, open all year round.

Rothenburg

The Rhine is the lifeblood of trade and much of tourism in Germany and the cruise along the river will show you dramatic gorges, castles and vineyards.

And for those of you with a literary bent, see the statue of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or the Bremen Town musicians in the north and visit Gutenberg’s  original printing press in Mainz.

Bremen town musicians

Germans also know how to party.  Join the Oktoberfest (held in September!) in Munich, and if you are not travelling at the right time for that, any beerhall will show you strong ladies carrying up to eight steins at a time.

Beer cellars

One of the joys of travel is stumbling across something unexpected.  I was in Trier for a few hours en route to somewhere else and discovered the city was celebrating 1000 years as a city (it was a while ago!)  I stopped and had a glass of wine in its honour, and got to see the Roman Porta Negra or Black Gate also in Trier.
I climbed to the top of the tower of the thirteenth century Cologne Cathedral to see the views  and discovered the stone set at the top to mark its completion 632 years later!   And the locals in the very upmarket bars are very happy to disport amazing hair styles and colours.

Cologne cathedral and bridge

I have barely touched what there is to see and do in Germany.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer.

F is for France

 

France has long been a favourite destination for travellers from all over the world, and with good reason.

Whilst Paris is inundated with 3 million plus visitors a year, it still manages to keep a sense of itself.  Thoroughly sophisticated and surprisingly outdoorsy for a northern capital, Paris delights in its local markets – fabulous cheeses, fresh crusty baguettes that are simply never eaten the next day, and fabulous patisseries that are a feast for the eyes as much as the tastebuds.

The tourist and traveller alike will see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, go to see a show at the Moulin Rouge and  visit the Louvre.  But a traveller also will grab a local train or bus and find green spaces, explore the amazing cemeteries to see the resting places of famous French figures and lots of cats,  walk the streets of the local neighbourhoods and eat at the bistros that will serve local food.  Take a walk around the Left Bank, sip a coffee and people watch.

paris-by-night-notre-dame

Beyond Paris explore the Loire Valley for chateaux like Chenenceau and Amboise;  drop in to see the gothic cathedral in Chartres or closer to Paris do the combined Versailles and Monet’s garden tour.  Yes this is touristy, but absolutely worth it for both places.

History lovers will check out the battlefields of World War I and the landing beaches of World War II in the north.

caen-landing-beaches

Those wanting more spiritual succour will visit the beautiful Mont St Michel, see where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake or visit Lisieux Basilica or the Bayeux tapestry which isn’t a tapestry at all.   Explore the Celtic connections with Wales, Ireland and Scotland in Brittany.

For remote, untouched villages and towns the Massif Central will give you a glimpse into life as it has been for centuries.  Just make sure your brakes are really good as it is a steep climb to most of the villages.  Bordeaux on the coast offers entrée to the wineries of the region;  and if wine is your thing, Beaune will do the same on the Swiss side.

In the south, the Roman influence is strong.  Visit Pont Du Gard, Nimes, Avignon for the fourteenth century papal place and bump into Roman arenas where the local kids play soccer.  Rub shoulders with film stars in Cannes if you are there at the festival time, explore the English Promenade in Nice and get lost in the wilderness of the Camargue and explore Carcassonne,  a fabulous walled city.  And lavender fields abound in the perfume making areas.

carcasonne

So much to do.  So much to see.  So much to taste.  Get amongst it.