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Europe Notes, Part 3: Prague, then Budapest

Prague Castle. Photo by Clay Duda.

What follows is part three of a four-part series of journal entries I typed on my iPhone during a month-long trip across Europe. Read more about our itinerary here, or just read on and learn as you go. That’s kind of what I did. (Also see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

 

Europe Day 14, June 23, 2015:

We’re on the train for Prague. I just finished reading John Perkin’s The World is as You Dream It: Shamanic Teachings from the Amazon and Andes. While I’ve long had a casual fascination with shamanism, this is the first in-depth text I’ve read on the subject. Based on teachings from indigenous shamans in Ecuador (mostly), Perkin’s delivers a western-focused overview on the concept of dream change and why he feels western civilization needs to change its course before invading itself in concrete walls of endless construction and consumerism. While exotic, the core message seems much like common sense from my stance in the world, though he does a good job spelling out those principles and a unique word view through dreams. Unlike fantasies, dreams are the visions and goals that shape each of us, our lives, and the direction of society.

I personally have shared some similar thoughts, though not in so many. Now, the book has me thinking of my own dream and what I hope for the future. My personal dream can be summed up as positive change, first for me and then for others. I think I have done much to act on that dream and make many changes, some good and some we’ll just say were good learning experiences, since my humble beginnings, and now it may be the time to figure how to act more on the second part — helping other realize their own dreams and helping shape the world we live in for a healthier tomorrow.

It should be no secret that our current course is not a sustainable one. Where the middle ground is, or how all our dreams fit together, I have absolutely no idea. But at least I have something to think about. Prague is still a 3.5 hour train ride away.

 

The view from Prague Castle. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 15, June 24, 2015:

My feet are on fire. They’ve been throbbing since pounding pavement in Paris, but the cobblestone walkways of Prague have finally done me in.

We had a chance to explore most of Praha 2, the neighborhood where we’re staying south of Old Town, last night after the rains let up. But while my feet have been burning, my head and throat have gone cold. I have some sort of allergies or minor cold that took hold in Berlin and sends me random bouts of stuffy head, soar throat, and fatigue.

A good night’s sleep last night helped a lot though, and around 11 this morning Melissa and I made for the tourist hot spots. We started with Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral inside. Being the cheap skates that we are we didn’t pay for the tickets to gain full access to the compound, but the medieval architecture and changing of be guards kept us entertained until well after lunch time.

We grabbed a trdelník for breakfast during our uphill hike toward the castle. If you don’t know (and I didn’t) it’s a Bohemian pastry that is basically a spool of bread roasted over an open flame, then they lather the inside with whatever sweet paste you desire. I had caramel. Melissa had vanilla, a sort of custard. From atop the hill Prague Castle offers near-panoramic views of the city and many of the centuries-old landmarks it’s known for.

After we were all castled-out we hoofed it over to the lookout tower, or Petrinske Sady, in the massive park just to the south. Again being cheap is we didn’t pay the ~$8 U.S. to climb to the top (we figured we’d done enough climbing for one morning, and we had plenty more to go). Plus with such great views already from Prague Castle why waste the money? The park was great though, and from that summit we had an easy downhill stroll to the Lennon Wall.

John Lennon is a big deal on Prague, or at least he used to be back during the Soviet days. Kids would gather to vent their frustrations on this wall west of the Vltava River by writing all sorts of things. But today, it’s just mostly Japanese tourists and other tourists scribbling ‘Max and Jenn 4 Ever’ in sharpie marker. It was still cool to see though.

With tunes of Yellow Submarine stuck in our head, we set off back toward Old Town Square across the Charles Bridge, one of the oldest, longest, and most badass stone bridges still in use today. The statues lining the sides and watchtowers are pretty breathtaking and interesting, though I hear most of the original statues have since been replaced with replicas.

One of my favorite elements for old Prague sculptures and buildings are the accents of gold that illuminate your world on a dreary, cloudy day. There was a lot of Japanese tourists, in fact, that really got a kick out of a golden penis on a statues of a boy at Prague Castle. My theory is the whole statue was made of gold and then plated with pewter, and now only the dick shines gold because of all the handsy tourists.

After playing tourist well into late afternoon we hopped a train back to or hostel for a little R&R before dinnertime. And that’s where we are now.

 

Prague Castle, at left. Photo by Clay Duda.

Prague Castle. Photo by Clay Duda.

The John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 16, June 25, 2015:

Last night we hit up a spot called Krok Zpet, a nice little restaurant within walking distance of our hostel but off the tourist main drags. Strangely we had the place to our selves, but the service was outstanding and the food was even better. I couldn’t recommend this place more. After dinner we set up in our room and polished off a bottle of cheap pinot grigio and called it a night.

This morning we didn’t set the alarm and slept in well past 10 a.m. We were a little slow moving after, but eventually we got up and headed out for the day. First we strolled down to the New Town Hall, but we didn’t pay the 50 crowns to get in because, well, we’re cheap asses. Afterwards we caught a tram down to Vyšehrad, an old age cathedral and cemetery which some once very important Czechs now call home.

The Collegiate Church of St. Peter and St. Paul sits on top of a hill in the middle of a park south of old Prague. The cathedral is breathtaking and the headstones are intricate and amazing. We paid the 50 crowns, about $2 U.S., to get in here. It’s one of the oldest churches around, from what I hear, with its roots dating back to 1070. Best of all, unlike that cathedral in Prague castle, the place wasn’t overrun with tourists.

Outside of old town I also got my first glimmer of Prague as a real city and not just a tourist trap with awesome architecture. After touring the church Melissa and I unfolded our hammock and kicked back in the park next door for a nice nap before heading back to town for drinks and, later, dinner.

Tonight we eat at Platina, an upscale joint near the Charles Bridge that still cost us less than $30 U.S. for entrees and drinks. Not bad, Prague.

Tomorrow we’re hopping the train for Budapest to meet up with our old friend Zoltan. Prague was quant, but I think Pest is where the action is. We’ll see.

Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Clay Duda.

Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 17, June 26, 2015:

We spent most of the day riding a train out of Bohemia toward Budapest. We arrived just before 7 p.m. and our old friend Zoltán met us at the train platform. We dropped our bags at his placed, grabbed a quick bite, and headed for the top of Gellért Hill, a park and old fortress on the Buda side of the river that offers near panoramic views of the city below.

Zoltan, a bonafide moonlighting tour guide with a certificate and all, gave us a crash-course in Hungarian history and pointed out many spots around the city we planned to visit over the weekend.

The night went by fast since we got such a late start, and after spending a bit of time strolling around on the hilltop it was already nearly 11 p.m. So we caught a bus back down and took the metro back to his apartment in northern Pest, a neighborhood when translated means ‘the land of angels’ and we called it a night.

Parliament building in Budapest. Photo by Clay Duda.

Hero Square in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 18, June 27, 2015:

Where to start?!? We tore across the city today. This morning we started out in Városliget Park and took a gander at the historic Hungarian boathouse there, built in the 1800’s, then the castle, which is really four mini-castles modeled after actual larger castles in various regions around Hungary.

After that, we galloped over to Hero Square and laid eyes on statues of some of the most important men in Hungarian history, including the first king who carries a double cross — one for ruling in heaven and one for ruling on earth, or something like that. We’d come to see his likeness at historical places all over town. Go figure.

Hero Square sits at the top of the Andrássy út, a log avenue with plenty of historical significance that leads strait to the main train station and city center near the Danube River. So we walked a long ways down and marveled at the immaculate architecture, most of which was built in the 1800s.

For lunch we caught the metro back to Hero Square and cut over to Paprika, a traditional Hungarian restaurant that’s easy on the wallet. We all said cheers to a shot of pálinka, a fruit-flavored liquor usually reserved for special occasions. I guess this is a special occasion. Zoltán had apricot, I had elderberry, and Melissa had cherry.

After the we backtracked on the metro toward the city center and toured around the parliament building, which is amazing and huge and amazing, right on the banks of the Danube. Then we took a tram to Margaret Island and sat in front of a fountain that burped and chirped spouts of water in choreographed movements to the sounds of children songs. What fun, and a much needed break for my poor feet!

Then we upped the hill in Buda to the Castle District and saw the royal palace and Matthias Church. We also spent half an hour wandering around the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, a 100-meter-long network of caves where Dracula was imprisoned and tortured after being capture by King Matthias. But these days it’s a little cheesier than it is haunting, but if you get turned around a couple of times that moment can still hit you. By the time we made it back to street level I was glad to be above ground.

So that’s a hectic day at a glance. I know missed I few things, but hey, we’re gearing up for the night. The plan is to hit a ruin pub, “basically a bar in a rundown building,” as Zoltán put it, then go to an open-air club by the Danube. Right now we’re eating hot salami sandwiches and chugging OJ. Got to go.

Tourists at Buda Castle. Photo by Clay Duda.

Lake Balaton, Hungary. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 19, June 28, 2015:

I’m on a boat!

We’re cruising across Lake Balaton in a speedboat toward the north shore. Actually, we just arrived… I’ll update later.

I’m on a boat again!

We’re heading back to the south shore. Today really wasn’t the best day for a lake day, but what are you going to do? It’s been overcast and cool all day, which is nice, but not exactly swimming weather. We caught some rain on the boat ride back to Siofok. We spent the afternoon wandering up and down the hill in Tihany to an old church and historic village on the hilltop. Zoltán says its one of many UNESCO world heritage sites we’ve been gallivanting around the last few days.

Op, we’re docking again…

Now on the train back to Budapest, the sun finally decides to peak it’s head from behind the clouds. That bastard. I think I need a nap.

Széchényi, a traditional Hungarian bath house in Budapest. Photo by Clay Duda.

Europe Day 20, June 29, 2015:

It’s Monday, and that means Zoltán had to work and we were on our own for the first time since arriving in Budapest. We had errands to run. He wrote us directions.

We slept in, then we went to the market to get some basics for the next few days: cereal, lunchmeat, bread, orange juice, and wine. From there we schlepped over to the Keleti train station and made reservations for or train to Sofia, Bulgaria. They were booked on first class private sleepers, so we’ll have to bunk in a room with four other on the 20 hour trip. We leave tomorrow at 7:10 p.m.

We ate lunch in the park then went into Széchényi, a traditional Hungarian bath built back in the 1800s. We launched in the thermal waters and saunaed and swam and lounged some more. Turns out you’re supposed to get in the hot water and then jump into the cold pools so, I don’t know, the bacteria is ‘zapped’ out of you, but that we didn’t do. We just did Jacuzzi time and enjoyed ourselves.

After that we were hungry, so we bought a langos from a street vender outside. I don’t remember if I told you before, but a langos is basically a fried pastry shaped like a pizza with sour cream and cheese on top. It’s pretty damn good, but this one wasn’t near as good as the one we had out at Balaton yesterday.

We met back with Zoltán for dinner at a little sandwich place near the central train station called Tejivó. I got a mangalica sausage sub, a type of Hungarian pig that’s super fancy and proprietary, and I can see why. I’m told it’s known around Europe for its damn-goodness, and it’s damn good. A few drinks at Cheho and now we’re back ready to crash out for the night. A few more to-dos tomorrow and maybe a little fun and we’re off to Bulgaria.

>> Continue on to Part 4: Bulgaria

Budapest. Photo by Clay Duda.

Budapest. Photo by Clay Duda.

>> Continue on to Part 4: Bulgaria

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.