14 July 2006

The end of our 2006 trip

If there's anyone left reading this blog, we would like to thankyou for travelling with us. We hope it was interesting for you. We had a fantastic time, although perhaps we would not try to fit some much in - we came back absolutely exhausted! Hopefully you understand why we were always behind with uploading our entries.

Everywhere we travelled was absolutely facinating. The two pleasant suprises of the trip were Avignon and Budapest: Avignon was a pleasant break after busy Paris, and the warm Provencal weather was a treat. Budapest was a beautiful city with so much to explore and experience.

We'll have to visit both Paris and Budapest again before two long, but there are also many other parts of Europe, and the rest of the world, that are also beckoning...

We had so much good food while we were away, but one thing we couldn't find was decent Asian foods. It was so nice to treat ourselves with a very good Thai meal back in Australia: We're so lucky to have such a wealth of good restaurants. It's a shame that such fantastic pastries and cakes are so difficult to get here... or perhaps it's good for our waistlines that it is.

12 July 2006

The cities compared

Here's a light-hearted take on some of the best and worst things about the cities we visited. Do you think we got it wrong? Comment at let us know!


  • Lots of long lines to get into any tourist attraction.
  • Indifferent shop assistants.
  • Châtelet - Les Halles RER station at night.
  • As historic and grand as it is, the palace at Versailles was a little disappointing: Huge crowds and grand but mostly empty rooms.


  • Vegetarian food is hard to find.
  • Everything is closed for a couple of hours at lunch.


  • Amazing history.
  • Beautiful canals.
  • No cars.
  • Some fantastic masks and Murano glass, if you look.
  • Huge crowds between the main tourist spots: San Marco, Rialto and Ferrovia.
  • The smell of the canals.
  • Everything is overpriced.
  • The service in most shops, restaurants and cafes is appauling.


  • Very efficient public transport, especially the U-Bahn.
  • Locals are friendly.
  • Schönbrunn Palace is beautiful and very well presented.
  • Very clean: The only city in Europe we visited where there weren't awful drain smells!
  • The Hundertwasserhaus and Kunsthaus.
  • Lots of vegetarian restaurants.
  • Shops have restrictive opening hours.
  • Most of the architecture is dull.


  • Nice examples of art nouveau architecture around the city.
  • Locals who are thrilled that you take an interest in the history of their city.
  • The historic city center is easy to get around by foot.
  • Most cafes and restaurants are aiming at the 'beer and chips brigade' (i.e., British backpackers).
  • Bratislava Castle is virtually a shell.
  • Soviet-style archtecture that looks completely out of place.
  • Huge communist-era housing estates.


  • Fantastic fin de siècle architecture everywhere.
  • History everywhere - fantastic National Museum.
  • Good public transport: Fun contrast between the histroic M1 and the communist-era M2 and M3.
  • The thermal baths.
  • Everyone we met was amazingly polite and helpful.
  • The State Opera.
  • Azerbaijani food at Maquis des Salade.
  • Less expensive than the rest of Europe.
  • Problem with air pollution.
  • Trying to change the 20000 Forint notes the ATMS give you.

24 June 2006

Day 28 - Flying home

We got up before dawn this morning for our taxi ride to the airport. The taxi driver decided the best thing to do in the thin traffic was to drive at 120 km/h in 60 km/h zones, swerve wildly around the one or two cars we encountered, and race the traffic lights. We'd given him no indication we were in a hurry. After checking in at the airport, we wandered around looking at the few duty free shops (but didn't buy anything) and then tried to calculate a perfect combination of bottled waters and snacks we could buy to get rid of our remaining forints. Evan nearly succeeded, coming away with only 200 (about 50c).

The first leg of the trip took us back to Vienna, then came the long haul to Kuala Lumpur. David wasn't doing too well, still suffering from fever and unable to sleep at all. At Kuala Lumpur, we were given the usual 20 minutes to get off the plane and then get back on, so our visit to the duty free shops was brief and purposeful. David, half asleep, decided on an impulse to get a huge 1 kg box of Guylian chocolates, only discovering later what a pain it was to carry around.

We arrived in Sydney early in the morning. When we arrived at the baggage collection area, they started to make announcements listing the names of passengers whose baggage had been left in Vienna. Every few minutes more names would be added and we expected that ours would be among them - not that we would have minded too much: There was nothing in our bags we needed immediately. But no, we got our baggage and made our way through customs - alot more painful than any border control in Europe - to the domestic terminal. After the short hop to Canberra we were met by David's grandma and John, but were too exhausted from the flight to talk a lot about the trip. We were glad to be home, and looking forward to a couple of days' rest to readjust to Australian time.

23 June 2006

Day 27 - Hungarian Parliament Building

David was unfortunately still sick this morning. Evan arranged for a doctor to come and pay a house call and afterwards walked to the local pharmacy (luckily very close by an Andrassy Utca) to get some supplies. Buying brandname medicines was not difficult but explaining to the pharmacist that I wanted carbon was a little more difficult. After trying a range of descriptions, Evan simply wrote a large 'C' on a piece of paper handed to him by the pharmacist who then understood immediately. Thank heavens for the universal language of science (and those chemistry classes Evan never thought he'd use)!

After setting David up for the day, Evan headed towards the Parliament Building down by the Danube. On the way there, he discovered a bookshop selling an Hungarian cookbook, in English, that could not be had for love or money in Australia. Our previous attempts to get it had ended up with finding people who were prepared to sell it for about USD 300. It was, however, yet another book to take home in an already heavy suitcase.

Evan arrived at the Parliament about an hour before the next English tour--tours were available in a range of languages including Hebrew. They were free for EU citizens but not for the rest, so Evan bought his ticket and had a look around the surrounding streets. Out the front of the Parliament there was a memorial to those massacred in the 1956 uprising, including a Hungarian flag with a hole in the centre (symbolising liberation from the 'foreign' communist regime by removing its coat of arms). Across the road from the Parliament one of the grand old buildings had smallish iron balls arranged in an interesting pattern all over romanesque architecture. They were clearly former bullet holes from the massacre of those who challenged the regime in 1956.

A memorial to those who died in the 1956 uprising, with the Parliament in the background.

The Parliament Building itself was very Victorian and was based on the Houses of Parliament in London. It had the standard gaudy grandness--acres of gold leaf, gothic revival vaulted ceilings etc, and some interesting porcelain statues all over the place symbolising an idealised view of the typical Hungarians at the time. There were the standard two chambers. Near the entrance the tour group was shown a model of the Parliament Building made by a family during the communist times out what appeared to be match sticks. It was so big that the to get it out of their apartment, the authorities had to pull a wall down. The family was rewarded for their patriotism with a new apartment.

The Upper House.

The matchstick parliament.

In the lobby of the Upper House, we were shown the apparently famous numbered brass cigar holders. Members would put their cigars down in a numbered slot to go and hear speeches being made. If the speaker was good, the cigar would burn down and his oratory would be said to be 'worth a Cuban cigar'.

In the central dome, the group was shown St Stephen's crown and other crown jewels in a solid glass case. This is the famous crown with the cross bent at an angle. Why it is bent is a mystery--it may just have been broken at one point but has now become iconic. While we allowed to use flash photography anywhere else in the building, we were asked not to use it on the crown jewels, but of course a handful of people completely ignored this. Tourists!

The Crown of St Stephen, with its distinctive bent cross.

After the Parliament, even did some shopping at Lush, taking advantage of the exchange rate to get some good deals and bath ballistics to cheer David up. It was then back to the hotel for an early night.

The Lush store on Szt. István Krt.

22 June 2006

Day 26 - Gellért Baths

We started the morning by trying out the thermal baths. Budapest has many, and we decided to try the famous Gellért Baths because of its very grand Art Nouveau architecture (our guide book says it is like "taking a bath in a cathedral"). We took a plunge in the thermal baths and had a swim in the swimming pools, which perhaps better suited the very hot weather.

The Gellért Baths.

Taking the tram back into Pest, David wasn't feeling very well and had to get off. We stopped into the nearest store to have a drink to rehydrate and to rest for a moment. We made our way back to the hotel so David could lie down. This was made especially difficult by the traffic chaos that George Bush was still causing.

David spent most of the afternoon in bed, doing his best to recover. Evan went out and did a little shopping. Later that evening, feeling a little better, we had dinner at a cheap vegetarian restaurant, Govinda's.

21 June 2006

Day 25 - Buda Hills and Statue Park

We ventured across the other side of the Danube for the first time today. We took a tram over Margaret Bridge to Moszkva tér, and another tram a few stops to the lowest station of the cogwheel railway. This is a train line that goes up the steep slope up into the Buda Hills. This unusual train line counts as public transport, and so was covered by our Budapest Cards.

Getting off at the highest station, Széchenyi Mountain, we walked over to the nearby Children's Railway. This railway is run by the Young Pioneers, originally a Communist Party affiliated youth organisation. Today the Young Pioneers are apolitical and similar in many ways to the Scouts.

Everyone running the railway (except the train driver) is aged between 10 and 14: The ticket seller, signalman, ticket inspector... It's quite remarkable.

Evan in front of the Children's Railway station at Széchenyi Mountain.

A train on the Children's Railway.

We took the train up to the highest point in the mountains, János-hegy. From this station, we walked up to the lookout and then took the chair-lift back down the mountains, which was relaxing and had a good view of the city. We caught a bus back to Moszkva tér, where we had lunch in Mammut (a large shopping centre).

The lookout at János-hegy.

The view from the chair-lift.

Next, we needed to take a tram and then a bus out to Szoborpark, or Statue Park. This park, far out in the suburbs of Budapest is a remarkable place. At the fall of communism in Hungary, communist statues were rounded up and relocated here. The park, situated under tall electricity pylons, is hardly glamourous, and it's a bit neglected. No doubt the exisitance of this park is controversial for many people.

The statues and plaques here are interesting. Many are Hungarian-Soviet 'friendship memorials'. Others are statues of figures such as Lenin, and Marx and Engels. A few, perhaps the most controversial, are memorials to those who died fighting against the revoluntionaries in 1956.


This statue is interesting. It was created in 1951 as a memorial to Ilja Afonoszejevis Ostapenko, a captain in the Soviet Red Army. It was placed on the highway leading out from Budapest to Vienna, and greeted people as they arrived. After the fall of communism, locals didn't want to get rid of their friendly, waving statue!

Back in the city, the tram we caught didn't cross back into Pest as we expected it to (there were lots of announcements, but they were in Hungarian, so we didn't understand). We had to catch a tram at the next bridge. Then, at the main metro station, Deák Ferenc tér, the platforms for the M1 were closed. Leaving the station to walk down to the next station, we noticed that many of the roads in the centre of the city were closed off. The source of all this inconvience, it turned out, was that George Bush was in town. That explained the US flags we'd seem around.

Now that our hotel has a kitchen - and after all the expensive restaurants we've been eating at - we went to a supermarket to buy some things to make ourselves dinner. While there we bought ourselves a bottle Tokaji (Tokay) 6 puttonyos (ie. very sweet) wine and a bottle of Unicum.