So Long, Farewell, Auf-Wiedersehen, Goodbyyyye….

Typical Secession Decoration on building near cathedral

Without being too melodramatic about it I feel quite heavy hearted in saying goodbye to Budapest, for the past week or two I’ve been incrementally ‘detaching’ myself in preparation for the rude shock of returning to Brisbane…and focusing on the joy I’ll have in being with my family again as the only downside of being here was that I missed them all soooooooooo much… home is where the heart is and as long as my family are in Brisbane I guess (sigh) that’s where you’ll find me… It’s just such a shame we didn’t have the foresight to move to a cooler, greener part of Australia when the kids were little, then I’m sure I’d be over the moon to come back… Graeme too is a little sad we’re leaving but in his usual non-plussed style is happy to get back to Brisbane (though, believe it or not, he’s not crazy about the heat either…). We’re both missing the hustle and bustle of the kids coming and going around us and, as you can imagine, we’re both keen to see Charlotte and get our hands on little Max – and to see our pet dog, Samli – though I’m not quite sure in which order Graeme would prioritise the above…

These 6 months have gone by so quickly and we haven’t even seen or done a fraction of what there is to see and do in Budapest but being here wasn’t about cramming as much as possible into that time-frame, it was more about the experience of just being here, enjoying the weather and scenery, and for me, spending as much time as possible outdoors and soaking up as much of ‘life’ over here as possible – and half the pleasure was having the luxury of taking my time doing it… JOY…

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So far… She’s still a grand old dame

Most visitors to Budapest would agree that it is a strikingly unique city – it’s certainly a recurring sentiment I have whenever I’m out and about – the only other city I can compare it with is Paris: both cities are situated either side of a major waterway – Budapest on the Danube, Paris on the Seine – these rivers are at the heart of both cities with their districts coiling concentrically from them. Whilst Paris was almost totally rebuilt from slums from 1853 under the execution of Baron Haussmann, during the period 1867 – 1900 a metropolisgrew‘ out of Buda and Pest’s settlements and villages, wineries, docks, fish markets, market gardens, hills and swamps – coincidentally an architect by the name of Alajos Hauszmann produced 39 major works for Budapest during the same period. This era saw the grand boulevards, impressive railway stations and ring roads come into being and gave birth to the extensive metro systems of both cities (Budapest having the first electrified underground metro in Europe). Of the 10 or so European cities I’ve visited – other than Paris – I’ve seen very little in the way of layout, architecture and extensive grand boulevards that resemble Budapest.

Budapest feels like a BIG European city, it has 23 districts – in comparison Paris has 20 and Prague has 10. Budapest has no central business district like Brisbane and whilst the inner city does house a lot of private firms, government departments and ministries, you’ll find them scattered amongst office buildings and numerous 5 storey apartment houses (4m high ceilings) that make up the majority of buildings in Budapest – most of them built from the mid 1860’s to 1914. In fact, apartment buildings from this era make up over 80% of housing in Budapest, so, look up or down any street in Budapest as far as the eye can see and you’ll see apartment houses, with mixed retail/office on the bottom, ranging in style from Secession, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and a mish mash of all these styles put together plus a decent sprinkling of baroque and rococo – seriously these buildings run the gamut of being so breathtakingly beautiful with their intricate ornate features to be being absolutely butt ugly.

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So far… Blessings – big and small

 

Max

This gorgeous little baby bear is Max who finally arrived on 17 January 2017. The only thing that made me sad about being over here in Budapest was that we’d miss Max’s birth and wouldn’t be around to help Babette in those first crucial weeks after delivery – especially as Babette and Dave had to move house 4 days after Max was born… the best-laid plans of mice and men blah, blah, blah… Big thanks to Wendy, Dave’s mum, who spent one week with them and was a tremendous help to them both – as was Kristy. However, it’s probably best that I wasn’t around because we might have had a battle of grandmas with both Wendy and I hovering about at the same time… I’m telling you I am soooooooo looking forward to getting my hands on that baby and seeing Charlotte as well, as she was so super excited about having a brother or sister. As you can imagine, it’s not just the grandchildren that we’re looking forward to seeing but the whole family as well… By the way, this post will probably be longer than usual – I’d intended doing a post about 1 ½ weeks ago but I’ve had nothing but trouble again with uploading stuff to my website blah, blah, blah…

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So far… it’s oh so quiet – in Zagreb!

Aerial view of main square Zagreb

Zagreb as a short stay destination sounded appealing. The idea was to go to a small capital city that wasn’t as popular as the major hot spots in Europe. Zagreb fit the bill as most tourists coming to Croatia go to Dubrovnik and the beautiful islands off the Dalmatian coast and in comparison ignore Zagreb because it cannot compete with the Dalmatian coast…as it turned out the train trip here was a good indicator of how popular Zagreb is at this time of year – we practically had an entire carriage all to ourselves during the 7 hour trip! In comparison, the trip to Innsbruck last week was chock a block full with people standing in the aisles and in between carriages (we were guaranteed a place on the train as we’d reserved our seats – but a lot of people don’t reserve seats because you have to pay to do so).

We were told by a local that we came at a good time because the place was like a madhouse leading up to Christmas and over the New Year period and now the locals have all gone skiing. First impressions of Zagreb were neutral – it looks like a typical, pretty, small European city, that, at first glance has no outstanding features. I have to say right here that I arrived in Zagreb with a very, bad cold and if it had been up to me I would have been glad to cancel the trip – but we’d pre-paid our train tickets and hotel 4 weeks ago so I knew Graeme wouldn’t have been too keen to cancel… Our hotel, The Hotel Esplanade Zagreb, is a beautiful 5 star luxurious old world hotel that is just a pleasure to be in – so from the moment I realised how gorgeous it was I would’ve been quite happy to not leave the hotel for our entire stay – the bar area and dining room have the best atmosphere and the staff just can’t do enough for you…

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Zagreb is made up of the lower town which is the larger inner city and the upper town – the old town – with the entire population of the Zagreb county being only 1.2 million people! The Sava River runs through the southern part of the city but it’s not at the heart of the city and therefore its banks are not particularly pedestrianised like Prague or Budapest and its bridges are modern and nothing special…however the Sava River in Ljubljana, in Slovenia, is the star of that city – but back to Zagreb… It’s a pleasant city to wander through with lovely parks and buildings and heaps and heaps and heaps of museums – which we didn’t go near because you could easily spend half a day in just one museum alone and you’d hardly get to see anything of the city when we only had 2.5 days here…

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So far…In and out of Innsbruck

Alps behind us

Yes! Innsbruck… Only 7 comfortable, leisurely hours by train with Railjet – seriously too easy… If only travel was this easy within Australia… But back to Innsbruck – which is the capital of the Tyrol Region in Western Austria. Innsbruck is famous as a ski centre as it is surrounded by the Alps and includes the well known ski resort of Kitzbühel. In 1964 & 1976 Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics and this is how I first heard of Innsbruck because I just LOVE watching the Winter Olympics. In those days the Olympic coverage to Australia came via the BBC and therefore the coverage was excellent – besides Olympic events the BBC did lots of stories about Innsbruck and the pictures relayed to us throughout a hot, sweaty summer looked like something straight out of the Walt Disney studios – a fairytale…

Graeme is on holidays these first 2 weeks of January – as are a lot of people throughout Europe which means that there is no hiding from them but thankfully the majority of tourists have gone to major cities and we chose to come to Innsbruck hoping that only die hard skiers would be here – but more than anything I wanted to be somewhere breathtakingly beautiful. As it turned out there hasn’t been much snow around this year and most of the skiers around are locals. Graeme read in a local magazine that there used to be so much snow in Innsbruck that the locals could ski down from the mountains right up to their front door…

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So far…it’s a no show for snow….

Since the first tiny glimpse of snow in mid November I have been waiting and waiting AND waiting for it to snow in earnest but to my ever increasing frustration it’s just not happening!!!! When we were coming home from Prague almost 3 weeks ago we saw a lot of snow around the ski areas of the Czech Republic and of course I got excited thinking that Budapest was not far off from receiving a decent cover of snow…

To twist the knife even further it’s been bright, clear and sunny every day – all day – for at least one month. How on earth is it ever going to snow if there isn’t even a hint of cloud on the horizon!!! It makes me feel really, really, really sad because it is a complete and utter reminder of global warming… and a terrifying reminder of how much hotter Brisbane is yet to become and worse still how much shorter our already brief and precious cool season is getting. Our friend Mark is moving to the UK for good and among his reasons for moving is the milder summers there… I sooooooo totally get that…

Despite there being no snow I naturally take advantage of this mixture of sunshine and lovely cool weather to be outdoors (within 30 seconds of hitting the pavement my nose starts running and when the weather goes below zero my eyes begin watering – for me it’s a very small price to pay, and so far keeping warm has not been a problem) – I cannot remember the last time the weather has allowed me to spend sooooo much time outdoors for such an extended period of time – and with every minute spent outdoors I am conscious of this. Often I’ll walk along the streets and remind myself ‘I am actually walking outdoors like it was a completely normal thing for me to do…’. I’m hoping these memories and images will serve me well when I recall them once I’m back in Brisbane trying to dodge the heat and humidity… Our average daily temperatures fluctuate between 2° and -2° and often it is -4°, so you can imagine why I’m having a hard time understanding why it is not snowing when the temperatures are so low, especially when our temperatures throughout the nights are at least -4° and often -6° and -7°…

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So far…see Prague and sigh…

Christmas Tree PragueAfter our not so enjoyable trip to Geneva I was a bit ambivalent about setting off for Prague – at best our expectations were quite low…

As a matter of fact the only thing I was really looking forward to was the 7 hour train trip there so that I could at least see the countryside of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Seven hours on a train may seem like a long time for some but for me it was relaxing as well as enjoyable, it’s easy to get up and stretch your legs and walk around a bit and as a bonus you get to see some lovely sights, like the ruined castle of Visegrad, streams rushing through quaint little villages and snow covered ski fields all from the comfort of your cushy seat in a heated train compartment without a care in the world… Seriously, why would you drive or fly???

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, which is north/west of Slovakia, which is directly north of Hungary. These first 2 countries were formerly known as Czechoslovakia – I remember many people throughout my school years thought that they could trip you up in a spelling competition by asking you to spell Czechoslovakia, but because I was a wog, therefore being exposed to really long and weird sounding words my whole life AND I was a good speller, I was the only one in the class who always nailed it!

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So far…enjoying nestling in

img_1740Autumn is the purrrrrfect time for nestling in, getting comfy and cosy somewhere that feels real cushy… whether that’s in a café just people watching (or in my case tourist-watching) or at home in your favourite lounge chair with a cup of tea and a good book…

Just when we thought the deep freeze was about to descend upon us with the first, very brief snowfall of the year falling last Wednesday and temperatures getting down to 1° and 2° when suddenly it warmed up again these last 4 days with daily temperatures going from 7°-13°. We have become quite expert at dressing up for the cold weather when we go outdoors, if the temperature ranges from 1°- 4° I put my thermal underwear on – it’s very stretchy and clingy and has a lot of elastine in it and once it’s on all my wobbly bits disappear and I feel like I’ve been cling-wrapped to within an inch of my life – I swear to God this stuff is better than Spanx or any kind of shape-wear you can think of… of course, there is a downside to all this slinkiness because heaven help me if I have to go to the toilet as this stuff has to be peeled off of me which is no easy feat…so, I end up spending 99% of my time in the loo undressing and then dressing up again…so let me tell you that I seriously think twice before allowing even a single drop of water to pass my lips…

So, these last 4 days, not having to wear my thermals, has been nothing less than exhilarating… I felt soooo light walking down the street with every single step I took – it’s just so amazing how ‘weighed’ down you can feel wearing so many layers of clothing – and we haven’t even gone heavy duty yet, as I still haven’t had to put my Big, Thick, woolen winter coat on… I’ll say it again, so far, the hardest thing to get used to – when wanting to go outdoors – is having to wear thick, heavy, water-repellant boots everyday and generally concentrating on how warm we need to dress. We dress in layers – and despite most of these layers being thin items of clothing – I still feel ‘weighed’ down and sort of ‘suffocated’ by them in comparison to the one thin layer of clothing I live in 99% of the time in Brisbane… but it’s still a very small price to pay for being here…

Even though we haven’t had any serious downpours of rain yet (like we experienced in Geneva) it still requires more of an effort to go outdoors because you have to choose your clothing wisely – waterproof jackets and umbrellas on top of the 3 layers of clothing you already have on plus a vest, plus a thick scarf, plus gloves, plus a hat blah, blah, blah… So, on the days, mornings or afternoons when there is no rain forecast you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m out wandering the streets – I think I could live here for 5 years and still not see or discover all there is to see in Budapest…

Apart from wandering the streets, I’ve been doing some socialising as well. Since being here I’ve joined an ex-patriot organisation and went to a readers group about 3 weeks ago. This group meets once a month and there were about 9 of us at this meeting, ranging in ages from 30 years up to 68 years – other than 3 Hungarians there was an American, a German, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, a Moldavian and myself from Australia. The book we discussed was ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Alexander Solzhenitsyn which, as you can imagine, prompted a really interesting exchange on communism – since arriving here it had been a couple of months since I’d had a really decent, engaging conversation with anyone other than Graeme and it was just soooooo good to interact with these intelligent, interesting and extremely well-educated people. At home in Brisbane, I’m surrounded by people all the time – true, it’s mostly my grown-up kids (they are actually really interesting to talk to) – so I’m used to having many varied conversations with them as well as with my friends and I never realised just what an integral part of my life these regular, stimulating, conversations were – until now…

Through this organisation I also joined a ‘women only coffee group’ where, last week, I met for coffee with a French translator. She has been living in Budapest for 3 years, she works from home so therefore it doesn’t matter where she lives and after having lived in Paris for 10 years, this woman decided to move to Budapest. It never fails to amaze me how lucky Europeans are, in that they can just work and move so freely from one country to another – for this French woman and the other Europeans I met at the readers group, this ability to move freely between countries is a very normal thing for them to do and they don’t even question or wonder about it… to me, it’s almost like a dream…

Last week I received an email from the lady who runs ‘Urban Sketchers Budapest’, inviting me to join them on a sketch crawl this last Saturday – how this lady found me, I had no idea – but she wrote to me from my contact on this blog. I was quite intimidated to join them as I’ve never actually been on a sketch crawl but I gathered up my courage and turned up at the allotted destination (a new performing arts centre) just before 10am. By 10:15am there were 8 of us and we agreed to start our sketching – everyone just goes off and finds something they would like to sketch, as our destination was the performing arts centre we were to sketch something in and around that – and then at 1pm we would meet back inside the cafe in the arts centre to share our sketches. I was a bit nervous so I picked a really easy single vanishing point perspective of the front of the building to draw, I barely put two lines down when I was joined by a latecomer sketcher, who was fascinated to learn that I came from Australia. She was very keen to know my opinions on Hungarian life compared to Australian life and we became engaged in a conversation which, after about one hour, led us inside to the cafe where we continued until we were joined by the other sketchers at 1pm!! So, my fears and newly bolstered courage to ‘bare my soul’ to these other sketchers was all for nothing because I didn’t end up sketching at all! It turns out this woman, Zsuzsanna, teaches English and was researching foreigners staying in Budapest when she came across my blog, saw that I was interested in sketching and contacted me via my blog to join them… Small world…

Over coffee the sketchers – 2 men and 7 women including me – shared their sketches and discussed anything and everything to do with sketching, drawing, supplies and the tools they used. I found it all fascinating and enlightening and, of course, they were all really talented sketchers/drawers. It’s amazing the different styles and techniques that people use and it’s clear to see how much we can all learn from each other. Apart from sketch talk, I also had a really interesting chat with another of the lady sketchers. Her name is Isabel and 8 months ago she moved from Chicago to Budapest to retire here. She moved to America with her family when she was 11 years old when the 1956 revolution erupted in Hungary and was never happy there. Her husband is Chinese, he is an ethnomusicologist – a person who studies music in it’s cultural context (in Hungary like Kodály and Bártok), in his case he is studying Chinese music – they met while he was working in America and only became an American citizen so he could marry Isabel but he never really liked America either. They both agreed that they didn’t want to retire in America, however they also realised that they couldn’t retire in China either as even though they had lived there for 10 years, Isabel, despite being a language teacher, found the language so extremely difficult and complex to learn… And so as Isabel’s husband loved Hungary and with her daughter living in London, it was a no-brainer that they chose to retire in Budapest. Isabel’s husband is still working overseas so for the past 8 months she has been here by herself organising the renovation of their apartment here in Budapest and she says she was very pleased to meet me (as I was pleased to meet her) and she’d like to contact me so we can meet again. Hopefully I’ll hear from her soon as we had a lot to chat about…

I guess that about sums things up from me – I haven’t taken manyimg_1742 pictures lately, I just wasn’t in the mood… but we did go over to Buda again and up the hills to Hüvosvölgy (Graeme calls it Hooterville because he just can’t get his tongue around that word – or any Hungarian word for that matter…) where we went for some long walks in and around the village – so pretty – where I couldn’t help myself and stuck my nose in someone’s front yard and was rewarded with a bag of apples by the owner for my troubles…

So far…Geneva, done and dusted…

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There’s probably nothing I can tell you about Geneva that hasn’t already been said…so, I’m not even going to try suffice it to say that it’s all true plus some more…

The city of Geneva is spread out in a semi-circle around the lake. The old town – across the lake from where we stayed – is the main shopping district with all the well know designer brands and of course lots of names I haven’t even heard of – all with gorgeous window displays… Geneva is the home of watches and timepieces – truly works of art – we even went to a watch exhibition and I voted on my favourite watch. It is also a very wealthy city and this is evident in the cost of food and goods here, during our short stay here we have spent well over $300 on feeding ourselves and we’ve only been eating at McDonalds and buying takeaway sandwiches and coffees… Even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t have eaten at any decent looking restaurants or bistros because we just weren’t dressed appropriately enough as our cheap flights here stipulated hand luggage only and there is only so much you can fit in a backpack…

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So far…another long weekend and good riddance to daylight savings

img_1345This is the second weekend in a row that we’ve had a long weekend over here – last weekend, when we were in Malmö, was the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution – over 2,500 Hungarians lost their lives revolting against the Hungarian Peoples Republic (essentially a communist government) and its Soviet directed policies. In the months leading up to 23 October throughout Budapest large posters of photos have been placed in the actual locations, squares and streets where resistance activity and fighting occurred – these black and white photos showed buildings being destroyed, people tearing down Soviet statues and memorials, lynchings, molotov cocktails being thrown at Soviet tanks by children, people being fired at from Soviet tanks and also the very short lived but sheer exhilaration of the people in having reclaimed their freedom from the oppressive regime of the day… And it’s quite surreal to be standing in the very same street or square where all this revolutionary activity took place… In walking around Budapest we are constantly reminded of the wars and revolutions that have taken place in Hungary as there are so many statues and memorials of these very brave people who had given their lives (often depicting the gruesome way in which they were killed or died) in the fight for freedom against their various oppressors.

The 1956 revolution was quashed by Soviet forces invading the country and tragically the Hungarian people had hell to pay for their short lived taste of freedom – if life was tough before the revolution, it was almost unbearable afterwards as mass arrests and denunciations continued for years where people lived their lives in a police state that promoted fear and mistrust – of never knowing when you or a loved one were going to be turned in for having ‘anti-socialist’ ideas . During the 17 day duration of the Hungarian Revolution over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country while the borders were open – among them my parents – once the Soviets moved in the borders were closed and remained shut (which meant that it was almost impossible to leave the country – you either escaped or rare extenuating circumstances allowed you to leave) until 1989 when communism collapsed… Happy days are here again…

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