Prague and Budapest for the Puente!

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PRAGUE

Last week Katie and I had the entire week off work due to three different Spanish holidays that were conveniently placed in the same week.  Thank you Spain.  We decided to take advantage of our long break and traveled to Prague and Budapest. We spent the first three days in Prague, which I think may be my favorite city we've visited thus far.  We were both completely enchanted by the city.  The buildings were gorgeous, the Charles Bridge was stunning, the Christmas markets were up and running, and the food was delicious.

We spent our first day we spent the morning visiting the Prague Castle, which is the biggest castle complex in the world! Then we wandered around the Old Town Square and discovered the gothic Tyn Church and the oldest functioning Astronomical clock.  The Old Town Square was where we spent a lot of our time because it’s where we found the Christmas markets and delicious street food. We had mulled wine, delicious sausages, and chocolate covered bananas and strawberries, yummm!  We also visited the Lennon Wall, which is filled with graffiti inspired by John Lennon and lyrics from some Beatles songs.  Since I knew the wall was famous but never knew why, I did some research and learned that the wall came to be in the 1980s and was created by the "Lennonism" movement in response to the Communist regime. The wall is continuously being repainted and added to, but always represents the youth ideals of love and peace. In the afternoon we decided to take a boat tour down the Vlatava river, which was a good way to get our bearings and see the entire city from a different perspective.

We took a free walking tour on our second day, which was FABULOUS. The guide was extremely knowledgeable, engaging, and funny.  We learned a lot about the cities history while seeing all of the sites. We learned more about the history of the Old Town Square, visited the Jewish Quarter, saw the Rodulfinum which is home to the philharmonic orchestra, and more.  After the tour we went to the Mucha museum.  Alphonse Mucha was a Czech Art Nouveau painter who became very well known for this distinct style.  It was a small museum but his artwork was beautiful and worth seeing. At night we went to a Christmas concert and then met up with a friend of mine from high school who was studying abroad in Prague and we happened to run into while on our walking tour earlier!

On our last day we visited the Jewish quarter, we’d been through the area on our walking tour but hadn’t been able to go inside the buildings so we went back.  The Jewish Quarter is the area of the city that used to be the Jewish ghetto. The three main places we visited were the Spanish Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. The Spanish Synagogue was built in the 19th century with an incredibly beautiful Moorish interior.  The Pinkas synagogue is now a memorial to Holocaust victims. Its walls are completely covered with the names of victims and there is a room that displays artwork created by children while they were at the Terezin labor camp during the Holocaust.  The Old Jewish Cemetery was very powerful and dates back to the 1400s. Although there are 12,000 tombstones, it’s believed that there could actually be up to 100,000 burials because the tombs are layered.  We ended our time in this area at an adorable Jewish café where we enjoyed some Jewish treats such as rugelach and coffee.  In the afternoon we met up with four girls from CIEE that were in Katie’s orientation group, one of whom went to Conn and I was friendly with. We were all very cold so we retreated to a café to swap stories about the towns we’re living in and warm up with some hot chocolate. We were sad to leave Prague the next morning, but were excited for Budapest our next adventure! 

-Sarah

BUDAPEST 

Sarah and I found Budapest to be a very interesting city. We were happy to find out that our research had paid off and that our hotel was in a great location, we were in easy walking distance to most of the major sites. We stayed on the Pest (pronounced Pesht since we were informed that Pest sounded too much like an annoying bug).  On our first full day we decided to take a city walking tour since we had loved the walking tour in Prague. Turns out the walking tours in Budapest were more of sitting and listening to the history of Budapest and Hungary instead of walking and seeing the major sites. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the old Castle district of the Buda side of the city. We saw the palace, the old Matthias Church, and a great balcony with the most spectacular view of the city. We also visited one of the Christmas Markets and indulged in some apple cider. 

The next day we walked up the fancy shopping street and admired the architecturally stunning Opera House. We ended up at the Terror Museum, which to no surprise was very creepy and scary. However we learned a lot about the Nazis and their involvement in Hungary. We thought it only fitting to take the Jewish walking tour after that. Turns out all of the walking tours in Budapest are nothing to write home about. We left after seeing the major synagogue…and decided to skip the Communist walking tour the next day…

On Friday we had appointments at the Széchenyi Bath house. Traveling can be so stressful….massages seemed like a necessity. Sarah and I had side-by-side massages, it was like we were on our honeymoon or something. Afterwards we tested both the indoor and outdoor baths. It was a very interesting place. I always love a jacuzzi so it was fun. And we definitely saw some of Hungary’s finest… 

On our last night we strolled through the Christmas Markets once more to get some more of the delicious street food. We then attended a wonderful classical concert at Matthias Church. It was spectacular to sit inside this beautiful and old church at night and enjoy the music. We had a great time visiting Hungary! Happy Holidays everyone!

-Katie
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