This is a non-bookish related post, but one that is educational nonetheless! 😉
Now that my Midnight’s Children Read-along has come to an end and I have promised some of you to feature some of my travel pictures of my holiday in Budapest and Vienna last October, I am ready to share my mini travelogue. I have scheduled this post and have seen so many wonderful historical sites and architectural wonders in these two cities that it is not possible to share them all over here. So what I have done is to shortlist my top 15 favourite travel experience and hopefully give you a taste of Budapest and Vienna.
p/s: I promise, after this you will not hear me talking about Budapest and Vienna ever again. 😉 (All photos are mine unless otherwise stated. where I have used an internet photo to better illustrate the place, credits will be given).
So lets begin, at number 15!
Number 15 The Tropicarium (Budapest)
My husband and I have visited the Singapore underwater world before. But because this my little boys’ first special experience, the Tropicarium is included as one of the highlights of our trip at number 15. The Tropicarium is the larget aquarium-terrarium in Central Europe, covering 1000 sq m. It has a rainforest with thunder and rain sound effect every 15 minutes. Its salt water section has an 11 metre-long glass tunnel for intimate views of sand, tiger and brown sharks, clownfish, triggerfish, and wrasses, and stingrays; and with soft new age instrumental music playing in the background and fishes in the tunnel swimming gracefully, no wonder all my boys are mesmerised, including my big “boy”.
Number 14 St. Stephen Basilica (Budapest)
At number 14 it is the St. Stephen Basilica. It took so long to build that Budapestis once joked, when borrowing money, “I’ll pay you back when the basilica is finished”. Work began in 1851 under Jozsef Hild, continued afte rhis death under Miklos Ybl, and finally completd by Joseph Krauser in 1905. At the inaugural ceremony Emperor Franz Josef (Austrian emperor) was seen to glacne anxiously at the dome, whose collapse during a storm in 1868 had set progress back. at 96m, it is exactly the same height as teh done of the Parliament building – both alldue to the putative date of the Magyars’ arrival in Hungary (896AD).
I was awestruck. So much gold. So much frescoes and paintings and carvings. Gilded stucco and bronze mouldings. It is so majestic. Writing this journal retrospectively, I can say the Basilica is the most beautiful churches of all that I have seen in this trip. I sat at the bench directly facing the central nave and looked at the dome and walls for a long while.
It was dark indoors when we visited the church in the evening, so on a good day with better photography skill, it looks like this:
Number 13 Heroes Square and the National Days of Hungary (23 October)
Our trip coincided with the National days of both countries and it has given us an insight to the countries’ national day celebration with display of patriotism (and military prowess) of both countries.
Budapest Remembrance day commemorates the day of the 1956 Uprising, when 30,000 people were killed by Soviet tanks and 200,000 fled the country. On this day, we visited the Heroes Square. The soldiers stood beside an unknown soldier’s tomb for respect, for hours. Standing erect and stiff, they did not bat an eyelid or move a muscle while everyone around them were taking pictures. The Heroes square predates Hungary’s Communist era and was originally laid out for the Millennium Celebrations of 1896.
The Millennium Monument completed in 1929 stands at the heart of the Heroes’ Square to commemorate the 1000-year anniversary of the conquest of the Carpathian Basin by the Lagyars. At the top of the 36m (120 ft) column is a statue of the archangel Gabriel, who allegedly offered St Stephen (István) the crown, signifies Hungary’s conversion to Christianity under King István. At the base of the column there are equestrian statues of Prince Arpad and six of the conquering Magyar Warriors.
The Curvy Colonnades on both left and right lies within live sized statues of Hungarian stateman and monarchs.
Hofburg Palace is a palace located in Vienna, Austria, which has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungaria empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Habsburg’s principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence.
The Hofburg in Vienna is the former imperial residence. From 1438 to 1583 and from 1612 to 1806, it was the seat of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, thereafter the seat of the Emperor of Austria until 1918. Hofburg is now a huge complex of museums, chapel and other public buildings. If we spend one whole day here, we won’t be able to visit everything there is in this complex.
(I can’t locate the source of this pic, argghh!!)
Before advancing to the Hofburg stand the two identical Hofmuseen (Court Museums), i.e. The Kunshistorisches Museum (History of Art Museum) and the Naturhistorisches (Natural History Museum). Designed in pompous neo-Renaissance style, with giant copper domed cupolas and colossal wings, they are both work of Karl Hasenauer and they stare at one another across Maria-Theresien-Platz, with a status of the Empress of the same name, over 4 of her generals, 3 advisers and her doctor (standing). The museums are so gigantic that I couldn’t find a good position to capture both of them in one picture. Here are my best shots:
On my right: the Kunshistorisches Museum.
On my left: the Naturhistorisches Museum.
Number 11 Schöbrunn (The Royal Palace) – Austria
Schöbrunn is the summer residence of the Habsburg. Compared with the Hofsburg, Schöbrunn has a short Habsburg history. It only came into imperial ownership in 1569, when Maximilian II (1564-76) bought the property – then known as Katterburg – close to what is now the Meidlinger Tor, as a hunting retreat. His son Matthias (1612 – 19) had the place rebuilt after marauding Hungarians laid it to waste in 1605, and it was he who discovered the natural spring, from which the name Schöbrunn (Beautiful Spring) derives.
After the Habsburg themselves had destroyed the place in anticipation of Turks in 1683, Leopold I (1657-1795) commissioned a new summer palace for his son and heir from Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlack (the architect for Karlkirsche and Prunksaal). Josef I’s successor, Karl VI was only interested in pheasant-shooting at Schöbrunn. Maria Theresia (1740-89) to create the palace and gardens we see today. Her son Josef II was an enthusiastic gardener and built many of the monuments and arch and grow his own tea, coffee and sugar. Napoleon stayed at Schöbrunn in 1805 – 09. However it wasn’t until the reign of Franz Josef I – who as born with the palace in 1830 and died here in 1916 – that Schöbrunn once more occupied centre stage in court life.in November 1918, the last of the Habsburg, Karl I, signed away all hopes of preserving the monarchy in the palace’s Blue Chinese Salon and the place became state property.
Number 10 Trofea Grill (Budapest)
Memories of our dining in Trofea Grill Budapest comes in at number 10.
We came in when the restaurant was fairly empty. Watching the food laid out like that was a sight to behold.
The service is excellent. The waiter speaks little English, but much more than the locals. Breads and buns were served and they were heavenly. Buttery and crunchy, I just want to eat only that. Free flow of wines and beers (I have to pinch myself to believe this). I especially love the unfiltered home-made mulled wine. Fortunately, we are able to walk straight after dinner and found our way back to our apartment safely. 😉
Number 9 Clockwork Vienna
Coming at number 9, it is noteworthy to say on our way out from the underground station, at 10:00pm at night, the cleaners are cleaning every crevices, every inch of the public lift with soap and water. There are not one, but two cleaners. What this picture signifies is that how hardworking and proud of Austrians of their city. Public amenities are clean and maintain to its tip top condition, for this reason it deserves a spot in my chart. 😉
Clean and clockwork Vienna, amazing.
Number 8 – Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)
The Staatsoper was the first public building to be completed on the Ringstrasse in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Viovanni. Designed in heavy Italian Renaissance Style – even the Austrians deferred to Italy as the home of Opera. It has a grandiose exterior with a fine loggia beneath which the audience could draw up in their horse carriages. Compared to other monumental edifices of the Ringstrasse the opera house sits low. It was said the Emperor Franz-Josef concur (agree) with his aides on this issue of the Opera being less spectacular, one of the architects, Eduard Van der Null, hanged himself when he knew about this, his grief-stricken friend and collaborator on the project , August Siccadsburg died two months alter of heart attack; neither architects lived to see the first night of the opening of the Opera (so tragic! One of the many proof of how architects take pride of their work that so much so that they can die for it). Thereafter the Emperor always chose to say the safest words “Es war sehr Schön, es hat mir sehr gefreut” (it was very beautiful, I enjoyed it very much) when asked about the opera (or operahouse). Other magnificent buildings are the Hotel Scaher, Bristol and the Imperial. The Operahouse also house a museum on the ground floor.
Book your standing room by hanging up your scarf!
Number 7 – Great Synagogue (Zsinagóga) (Budapest)
The Doharty ut (street) Great synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and stands supremely at number 7. Built in Byzantine style by the Viennese architect Ludwig Forster in 1854-9, it has three naves and following orthodox tradition, separate galleries for women. Together the naves and galleries can housed 3,000 people, since 1931 it has been home to the Jewish Museum, with relics relating to the history of the city’s Jews.
I was mesmerised by the beauty of the synagogue. Traditionally synagogue do not have long benches, but the benches and the position of the reading platform, reflect elements of Judaic reform in this synagogue. The synagogue is built with the best of European and Oriental Jews architectural characteristics and it gives an aura of both Oriental and European class and elegance. The compound also houses a good collection of Jewish relics in the Jewish Museum and a Memorial Park for victims of the Holocaust.
Number 6 – Holocaust Memorial Shoes (Budapest)
At the edge of the Danube River embankment in Budapest we saw dozens of shoes cast in iron, marked the spot where hundreds of Jewish adults and children were machine-gunned by the Fascist Arrow Cross and their bodies thrown into the Danube. Before being massacred, they were made to remove their coats and footwear, which were earmarked for use by German civilians. The poignant scene of the shoes was very sad, one that made me cried.
– Overlooking the Royal Palace –
It was heartbreaking to see all these metal shoes lined up on the banks and I stared dumbfounded on one shoe which may have fitted a 3 to 5-year-old little boy.
What would be their last thoughts when they look across the beautiful Chain Bridge, the Royal Palace and the Danube in front of them?
Number 5 – Schatzkmmer (The Treasury) – Vienna
Schatzkmmer in German translates as Treasury (Chamber/Vault). In old times, feudal rulers would keep their most precious belongings in a guarded vault, most often in the basement of their castle. The Imperial Treasury Schatzkammer in Vienna is located in the Hofburg Palace, the entrance is at the Schweizer Hof (Swiss Courtyard). This Schatzkammer houses a collection of 1,000 years of treasures. The Treasury is divided into two sections – Secular and Ecclesiastical.
Schatzkmmer has always been my husband’s idea. What made me reluctant to visit this place was because of the entrance fee of €12 per head. After the Austria national day, every museum we visited will require entrance fee. It didn’t disappoint though. The Schatzkmmer provides an insight into the opulence and national treasure of the Austrian royal family. These are the 10 most notable treasures:
Insigna and mementoes of Habsburgs:- From the 15th century onwards, very briefly, the Habsburgs ruled as Holy Roman Emperors. In 1804, Franz II pre-empted the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire by two years, declaring himself Franz I, Emperor of Austria, and using the stunning golden Crown of Rudolf II, studded with diamonds, rubies, pearls and at the very top, a huge Sapphire, as the Austrian imperial crown. It sits in Room 2. During the coronation, it was given to the new king along with the sceptre (Reichszepter) and the Imperial Orb (Reichsapfel). The Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, especially the Imperial Crown, were all kept 1424–1796 in Nuremberg, Franconia — and could only leave the city for the coronation.
Room 5, The Cradle of the King of Rome
An overwrought, silver-gilt cradle with silk and velvet trimmings, made in 1811 by the City of Paris for Napoleon’s son – known variously as Duke of Reichstadt or “King of Rome” – by his second wife Marie Louise, daughter of the emperor Franz I. Napoleon’s famous mascot, the eagle, looks over the insignia alphabet N. The poor boy must have had nightmares from the golden eagle that hovers over the cot, and it comes as no surprise that this sickly, sensitive child died of Tuberculosis at the age of 21.
The following picture is the largest cut emerald in the world, the 2680-carat Colombian emerald the size of fist, which was carved into a salt cellar in Prague in 1641 and stands centre stage.
Room 8 contains the “Inalienable heirlooms”, two pieces collected by Ferdinand I, which the Habsburgs were very keen to hold onto; a giant 4th century agate dish, stolen from Constantinople in 1204 and thought to be the Holy Grail, a sacred symbol of Christ; and a giant narwhal tooth which was thought to be the horn of a unicorn.
The Agate bowl and The Coronation Mantle
Ecclesiastical Room (Geistliche Schatzkmmer)
Room 4, the stars reliquaries is the one purporting to contain the nail that pierced the right hand of Christ; and the Golden Goblet.
The Burgundian Treasures
The last four rooms (13 – 16) of the Schatzkmmer contain the substantial dowry that came into Habsburg hands in 1477, when the emperor Maximilian I married the only daughter and heiress of the Duke of Burgundy. By doing so, Maximilian I also became Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the exclusive Burgundian order of chivalry founded in 1430. The final room contains amazing collection of 15th century gold embroidered Mass robes covered in portraits of saints. The embroidery is so fine that it looks like a painting!
There are plenty more of treasures to see, but these are the featured top 10 of the Treasury.
Number 4 Széchényi Furdö (Bath) – Budapest
The Romans enjoys a good bath and build some of the early bathhouses (without the Baroque exterior) in Budapest. During their occupation, the Ottomans played a vital role in development of Budapest’s baths. The next golden age of bathing occured in the late 19th and early 20th century, as spas became a trend in Europe. Budapest’s existing bath is dressed up in a new magnificience and splendid buildings such as neo-Baroque Széchényi Baths and Art Nouveau Géllert. In Communist era it was neglected, recent investment got them up to today’s splendour once more.
Opened in 1913, Széchényi Furdö is a vast complex of indoors and outdoor pools, which include Hungary’s deepest and hottest thermal baths. There are 16 pools in all, including the various medicinal sections, we have soaked in 5 different ones that day. Budapest is blessed with natural hot springs and these pools are filled up by hot springs which flows endlessly to the surface.
We were at the outdoor and indoor pools for 5 hours and my boys just absolutely love it!
Széchényi Bath from the right view, the powerjet whirlpool at the centre
Number 3 View of the Danube from Fishermen Bastion (Budapest)
Holding out at number 3 deservingly is the Fishermen Bastion in Budapest. Visitors swarmed the Bastion, whose turrets offer the most picturesque views of Pest (recall Budapest is made up of two cities, Buda and Pest, and Pest is at the east bank of Danube River). It was built in Neo-Romanesque style by Frigyes Schulek as a monument to the Guild of Fishermen in 1895.
Between the windows and balconies of the bastion, in every direction, visitors are treated to a beautiful scenic view of city Pest from the tower. There is the parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the many bridges. I felt like I am in fairy land and on top of the world. It is one of the highlights of our trip.
What is equally impressive is the structure of the Fishermen Bastion itself. It reminds me of Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty’s castle, although not as high. It is fortunate that we could go anywhere within the Bastion on Hungary National Day. On normal days we would have to pay to go up the upper level of the Bastion, by the look of the turnstiles that are installed at every entrance.
Number 2 – Zentralfriedhof – The Central Cemetery (Vienna)
At number 2 spots is the Central Cemetery of Vienna. In a city where some people still keep a separate savings account in order to ensure an appropriately lavish funeral, it comes as little surprise that the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, with dead population of 2.5 million, is one of the biggest cemeteries in Europe.
It is Autumn, with falling leaves and a feeling of good season coming to past, and also a-life-that-would-soon-come-to-past feeling about the whole place, it makes me think about death….. and also about living.
To be here is a childhood wish of mine as we went hunting for a section called The Enrengräber (Tombs of Honour), in Gruppe 32A section. Close to the main gate 2, towards the central church of Dr. Karl Lueger Kirche (church) on the left, lie the tombs of Vienna’s great musicians.
Centre stage is memorial to Mozart (The green status), topped by a woman trying to stop a load of books from falling off. The exact location of Mozart’s body was never found, it was a guess of somewhere in the St Marxer Friedhof. W.A. Mozart (1756-91) died very young at an untimely death at age 35.
Mozart died in the night of December 4-5, 1791, after suffering the rheumatic fever for two weeks. His funeral services took place in Stephansdom but Mozart was given a pauper’s burial in an unmarked mass grave with no one present but the gravediggers. This seem a cruel end for someone considered by many to have been the greatest composer ever, but the reality is during Emperor Josef II’s reforms, mass burials were the rule; only the very wealthy could afford to have a family vault, and tending of individual graves was unknown. In 1844, Mozart’s wife returned to try to locate the grave but with no success. The graves are emptied every 8 years and many guessed that he would have buried 3 or 4 rows down the St Marxer Friedhof cemetery’s central monument cross.
The thought of Mozart’s unmarked grave makes me sad and I thought it was a tragic end for Vienna’s most celebrated musician.
Behind the memorial in respectful distance is Ludwig Van Beethoven’s tomb (1770 – 1827). Then Franz Schubert, followed by Johannes Strauss Jr., whose famous composition is the Blue Danube Waltz and whose members of the musician Strauss family are buried at the same section of Zentralfriedhof. Johannes Brahms tomb follows after Strauss Jr.
Being there in front of Beethoven’s tomb is definitely surreal, one that I have to pinch myself to believe it. The feeling of standing in front of these larger than life composers and musicians, whose music are played over and over again around the world; is soooo…. unbelievable and it is such an amazing feeling.
At number 1 ….. *Drum roll*…..
… is none other than the Prunksaal (The Austrian National Library Imperial Hall). Obssessed with all bookish things and places, the Prunksaal will be a permanent feature in my bookish dreams.
This is my Christmas treat to you all and I hope you enjoy it, and I promise you this will be the last time you will ever hear about Budapest or Vienna from me. 😉
MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!