I have visited three cities in Poland – Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw and I have stumbled across some interesting stories. This one from Warsaw…
Category Archives: Hungary
On February 16th 2015 I was on the final day of a short break to Warsaw in Poland…
I woke early the next morning so made good use of the time before breakfast by reading the complimentary guide books supplied by the Tourist Information Office.
I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this because I have seen it so many times but there on the first page of the ‘Warsaw Top Ten’ guide was the description, Warsaw – Paris of the East.
After Venice it seems that it is the city that more than most other cities want to associate themselves. I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Melbourne of the North but, when it comes to Paris, even without leaving Europe we have:
Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Riga, Latvia; Saint Petersburg, Russia. As if to make doubly sure, in a belt and braces sort of way, Saint Petersburg doubles up in this respect by also calling itself the ‘Venice of the North’ even though it has competition for this particular title from Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh (which good measure also calls itself the Athens of the North) and even Birmingham amongst others.
I am unable to find anywhere that calls itself the London of the East, or North, South or West for that matter but by way of compensation there are twenty-eight villages in England called Little London including one only two miles or so from where I live which is a hamlet with just a handful of farm cottages, a pub, a railway crossing, a caravan site and a farm shop but no Little London road sign.
Exciting isn’t it? It suddenly reminded me of the small village of Twenty in South Lincolnshire. Twenty has a road sign to identify it and a local wag had added the tag line “Twenty – Twinned with the Moon – No Atmosphere”.
By coincidence Twenty is just about five miles from the town of Spalding where I used to work and an area of the town called … wait for it… Little London.
Including Warsaw I have had the good fortune to visit five of these alternative Paris cities, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Riga and Prague and I have to say that I can find very little similarity in any of these places with the real thing. Prague would have to come closest I would have to say but only on the basis that they have a sort of Eiffel Tower.
Beyond Europe there are a few more but the most bizarre of all surely has to be Beirut! Paris itself if often called the City of Lovers or the City of Light but I have never heard of it calling itself the Beirut of the West and I am fairly certain that it is most unlikely ever to do so.
In addition to the French capital there are of course a number of places that are officially called Paris including nine in the United States – in Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and one that was even the title of a film – Paris, Texas. There is one missing from this list however and the one that is most Paris like of all, the one at EPCOT World Showcase in Disney World Florida. Three other U.S. cities have at some time been called the Paris of the West – Denver, Detroit and San Francisco but these all seem just as unlikely to me as Shanghai in China!
There is also a Paris in Ontario in Canada and the city of Montreal in French speaking Québec has unsurprisingly also been dubbed the Paris of the West.
Paris at Disneyworld in Florida…
The lock down goes on so I continue to look at my photograph albums and back posts. On 20th January 2008 I was in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary…
We left the hotel early this morning to take full advantage of the unexpectedly good weather.
On the other side of the Liberty Bridge was the Market Square and the covered central market building. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the temperature was several degrees above average for this time of the year. Today we were going to concentrate on Pest but with an eye on the blue skies had a mind to return to Buda for photo opportunities that had eluded us yesterday.
This meant that time was an issue so there was no time to dawdle about. From the market we walked through the streets of the city, past the Hungarian National Museum and down a long road that went past some very fine buildings and wide boulevards. In the nineteenth century Budapest earned the tag of Paris of the East and looking around it was easy to see why.
After the creation of Budapest as one great city, there was a rush of construction and Pest was extensively rebuilt in the image of Vienna including a great central park with magnificent fountains and lakes and all of this frantic reconstruction reached a fanatical peak to coincide with Budapest’s millennium anniversary celebrations of the original settlement of the Magyars. We were beginning to realise that two days was hopelessly inadequate to appreciate this really fine City.
Moving swiftly on and next it was St Stephen’s Basilica which at ninety-six metres high is the tallest building in Budapest. Actually the Hungarian Parliament building is also ninety-six metres high which might sound a bit of a coincidence but in fact quite deliberate because the number ninety-six refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896. It is all very symbolic.
Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation.
A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction from the winning plan was started in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the one thousandth anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and completed in 1904. It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Roumania and Argentina.
It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building. Louis Kossuth led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square. At the other end is a statue of Imre Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero, who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control and was executed for treason in 1958.
I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other city I have visited.
We would have liked to have stayed longer on this side of the but because in contrast to the previous day the sun was shining we wanted to return to Buda to see this at its best as well. We crossed the Chain Bridge for a final time and in Adam Clark Terrace took a ride on a funicular back to the Royal Place.
At the top we were approached by a charming man who tried to persuade us to join a two hour sightseeing tour with his specially prepared English narrative and commentary. He was very polite and quite amusing and if we had had the time we would have willingly have joined him.
First it was back to the Matthias Church and this time spend more time at the Fisherman’s Bastion which is a viewing terrace with seven towers that represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896 and has magnificent views over the Danube.
From the Castle Hill our route took us once more past the statue of St Gellért who was allegedly murdered on this spot in the eleventh century because of his Christian beliefs. The story goes that they put him into a barrel and rolled him down the hill and into the Danube. It could be true, but on the other hand…
We ended our tour at the Liberty Monument before working our way back down Gellért Hill to the Hotel to collect our luggage and prepare for the journey home.
Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 1st November 2014 I was visiting the Hungarian Capital of Budapest on the River Danube for a second time…
The River Danube is the twenty-ninth longest river in the world and flows through ten countries, which is more than any other river in the World except the Congo in Central Africa, which also runs through ten countries. The River Mississippi in the USA runs through or borders ten different States.
The Danube starts in the Black Forest in Germany and then runs like a European timeline through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and the Ukraine before it finishes its journey by discharging its memories into the Black Sea at the Danube Delta. On route it passes through the four capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.
Budapest did not become a single city until the official amalgamation on 17th November 1873 of right-bank Buda and Óbuda together with Pest on the left bank. This was seen as a supremely symbolic event that marked a union between Western and Eastern Europe and the city became the second capital of Austria-Hungary.
Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).
I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when I was two years old with a dodgy home haircut, a nautical jumper, velveteen shorts and a firm grip on the family cat.
In this year there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.
In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance because it provided a convenient link from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in which British banks and business had a significant financial interest.
The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the entire British fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the upstarts.
The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day. Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century of Benjamin Disraeli and Napoleon III and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.
Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there. The liberal government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October this had seemed to be completely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees. Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.
From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but paradoxically was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing. The President of the United States Dweight D Eisenhower was dealing with both issues at the same time and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the bombastic actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt he found himself severely compromised.
It was also rather a nasty concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower insisted on a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt. Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957. In Britain Anthony Eden promptly resigned, in France there was a political crisis, a period of instability and the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958.
The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World Superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.
Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.
This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989. In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the certain end of the world.
During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…
The five of us debated entrance to the Parliament building. Even with half price entrance fees (2,000 Florints) for citizens of the European Union there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm to visit the interior and after a show of hands it was only Sue and I that paid up and waited in line to go inside while the others made their various ways back to the Hotel Gellért.
The forty minute tour took us up wide open staircases, through elaborately decorated corridors, magnificently appointed state rooms and into the debating chambers but the highlight was the central dome (ninety-six metres high, remember) and in pride of place the fabulous crown of Saint Stephen.
On arrival in Prague we joined others in a mini-bus taxi that took us efficiently to the city and our hotel for a very reasonable rate. A good taxi ride, most unexpected, what an excellent start!
The hotel was first class and we had an interesting room in a converted attic that was clean and spacious but with a lot of what I thought were unnecessary instructions on how guests shouldn’t move the furniture around, I mean, unless they were practising Feng Shui and were particularly picky about the bed facing a special direction or something why would anybody want to?
The receptionist was very helpful but gave far more information about the city than anyone could possibly cope with in one go and forgetting most of it almost immediately as it went in one ear and straight out of the other left the hotel to find somewhere for an evening meal.
Because it was late we decided not to go too far and found a charming little restaurant in an adjacent street and sat outside on an uneven pavement at a dangerously unstable table and ordered a first meal in Prague.
After a generous beef Stroganoff (always one of my favourites) we walked around for a while had another drink and then went back to the hotel. We found the way back without a problem, but once inside the labyrinth of stairs got completely lost. We had missed the correct route in the confusing warren of corridors and were in completely the wrong part of the hotel. We sorted it out after a while, went to bed and slept well.
In the morning there was a good breakfast with the usual cold buffet full of continental offerings but with some unusual hot items in addition. There were sausages but unfortunately they were frankfurters and I am afraid that I just do not like frankfurters because of that horrible rubbery chewy consistency. Not much chance of a superior Lincolnshire sausage here because it is close to Germany of course and clearly under the Teutonic influence when it comes to bangers.
The weather was overcast but seemed to be ever so slowly improving so we left the umbrellas behind and went out into the city. Our first planned destination was the City’s old town, which was reached by crossing the Charles Bridge and I know that it was overcast and there was no sun to help cheer things up but the famous statues were dull and grimy and seemed to me to be desperately in need of a good scrub. There must be enough tourist revenues pouring in to fund the process and I am sure that the city authorities are thinking about it but they really need to get on with the job.
I have an idea to help them. One statue, St John Nepomuk, is supposed to bring luck to those who touch it and it is polished bright where tourists rub their hands on it. If the City spread the word that touching any statue would bring similar good fortune then they would all be gleaming clean in no time at all.
Actually I found this statue a bit surprising because poor old John Nepomuk didn’t seem to have a great deal of luck himself in his lifetime as he was a Jesuit priest who was tortured and killed by King Wenceslas in 1393 and his body was thrown into the river. Because of his aquatic final resting place he is regarded as a protector from floods but he must have been off duty in August 2003 when the city endured its worst floods for two hundred years and forty thousand people were evacuated and the cost of repairing the damage ran into billions.
The streets were busy and we walked until reaching the old town, which opened up into a spacious and welcoming central square and it was free of traffic so we were able to wander aimlessly around looking ever upwards and admiring the buildings that surrounded it.
In the centre is the Jan Hus monument, a religious reformer who was burnt at the stake for his beliefs. I was beginning to detect a gruesome pattern here. In the Middle Ages there always came a time where persisting with a point of view became dangerous to life and limb and poor old Jan obviously did not get his timing right, a bit like Thomas More and his out of touch views on King Henry’s wedding plans.
It was about half past ten so we sat at a pavement café and had a Staropramen, which is an agreeable Czech beer and surveyed the sky and speculated about whether the sun would come out. Although it was early I don’t think anyone in Prague would have found this early drinking unusual because according to the Economist, in a poll in 2006, the people of the Czech republic are the biggest alcohol consuming nation in the World.
The weather didn’t look very promising but we strained my eyes searching for spreading patches of blue. They appeared sometimes but always to be cruelly snatched away just when things seemed to be improving. We optimistically assured ourselves that it would definitely be out by the afternoon.
Does anyone know what they are? I don’t…