Archive for October, 2012

June 20–The Delegation Savors The Last Day in the Balkans

October 22, 2012

Our last day in Budapest.  The morning was on our own, some enjoying museums, others experiencing the famous Thermal Baths.  At noon we met M.P. Agnes Ostolykan at a small shop of creative Roma fashions, near Saint Stevens Basilica on the Pest side.  The skirts and jackets had color and flair, and we spent an hour trying them on.  From the shop we had a quick lunch of Hungarian goulash at a nearby café, and then we visited the famous Herend Porcelain showroom.  The displays were dazzling, as were the prices.  A quick stop for afternoon refreshment was at the popular confectioners shop, Gerbeaud, and then another visit to a Hungarian fashion boutique.

The last evening for our Delegation was done up in style, as we dined at the Hilton Hotel on Castle Hill.  Even better, our table was near the wall which overlooks the Danube and the city below.  As the sun went down, the Mathias church spires, Fisherman’s towers, and the Parliament building across the river were flood lit, a fantastic sight.  We dined while listening to romantic music played by four Roma musicians.  Budapest does not get better than this.

The last evening for our Delegation was done up in style, as we dined at the Hilton Hotel on Castle Hill.  Even better, our table was near the wall which overlooks the Danube and the city below.  As the sun went down, the Mathias church spires, Fisherman’s towers, and the Parliament building across the river were flood lit, a fantastic sight.  We dined while listening to romantic music played by four Roma musicians.  Budapest does not get better than this.

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June 18–Leaving Ljubjana — Quick Visit to Zagreb–then the Majestic City of Budapest

October 21, 2012

By 8:00 A.M. we were ready for the 350 mile drive to Budapest.  This included a couple of “comfort” stops at modern gas station-convenience stores where we can buy ice creams etc.  The lunch stop was in the Croatian capital city Zagreb.  We took photos of the Catholic cathedral and peeked inside, and our local guide took us to a nearby open market place offering a few handicrafts but mostly fruits, veggies and meats.  I bought some little black cherries and three big ripe green figs.  We walked past their government buildings and a colorful St. Marks church with bright tiled roof.

Lidija guided us to a traditional restaurant, Didov San, where we had the usual starters of salami, prosciutto, cheese slices, olives, and buttery cheese, and fried bread balls. Then shredded cabbage and tomato salad.  Entrée: grilled turkey breast and fried potato slices, followed by walnut cake, coffee and tea.

We left Zagreb around 2 P.M. and traveled on, stopping awhile at the Hungary border where we all had to show our passports, and we got into Budapest around 8 P.M.  The country side is flat, with a distant mountain range, lots of green crops, corn rows, bushy trees, but not many houses.  There were a few little tractors.  Villages and towns are more Austrian-looking with churches and tall spires, and not as many of the Adriatic red tile roofs.

Sadly, it was a while getting to our hotel, which is several miles from the Danube, and the poor driver went round and round on the one way streets.  It seems that their GPS failed them, and some roads were blocked off with yellow ribbons because Bruce Willis is in the city making a movie.  Finally Lydija and Ivan hired a taxi to lead the way to the hotel, which is on a narrow one way street.  Buildings are not too interesting from the outside, but the interior of the Hotel Palazzo Zichy is new, sophisticated and a blend of very modern with saved touches of the original 19th c. building.  Very dark gray walls with brocade pattern in the same gray, and beige on some walls, the dining room has wine upholstered chairs and napkins.

We were hot and tired, and gathered in the lounge for free drinks.  There was a discussion about what to do with the rest of the evening. Then most of us grabbed taxies (three cars) and rode across the Danube to the Buda side and up to Castle Hill, where we were left off at the base of the grand 700 year old gothic Mathias church, and the Fishermens Towers, and walls and arches, all lit up.  And there were grand vistas across the Danube to the amazing Parliament building, also lit.  So, we took photos and walked aimlessly in the direction of the Hapsburg Palace.  The entry to the Palace courtyard, a beautifully decorated arch, was lit up, so we went in and it was the most delightful moment, looking across the vast cobblestone courtyard at enormous buildings wrapping all four sides with an elegant Grand Portico. We imagined golden carriages dropping off royal guests back in the 1800s; and a man was playing a crude box of a guitar and singing romantic songs from the 1940s.  It was magical.  And again, a balmy comfortable evening so it was idyllic.  After taking our fill of photographs, we found taxis and returned to the hotel.

Ljubljana, Slovakia June 17–The Delegation Spends an Evening Experiencing the Charm

October 21, 2012

Sunday, June 17: Ljubljana, Slovakia.

This is such a pleasant city, and not overwhelmingly large. Of course there is the large modern business and shopping district, but there is also a nicely preserved, large older part on the other side of the river which cuts through the city.  There, historic buildings from Austrian and earlier Renaissance periods are preserved and the streets are vehicle-free, just bicycles and skaters.  Clean and not too crowded, the people seem friendly, and it is just enjoyable to be here.  On the hot (80s) summer days, there are outdoor seating areas beside most cafes and restaurants, with people enjoying their meals al fresco.  Gelato stands are popular. The one on the main square featured 24 flavors including cantaloupe, coconut, and varieties of berries and other fruits.  Nearby is a crepe vendor.

So, this morning we walked a few blocks from our hotel, passing expensive shops with high fashions, back to the central square near the big pink Catholic Church.

Our local guide, a knowledgeable young lady named Helena, told us about the buildings and the city’s history, took us into the Cathedral, and let us do a little shopping.  Our lunch was at Gostina Sestica, a traditional and touristy restaurant, where we had mushroom soup, the usual shredded cabbage salad, veal in cream sauce with mashed potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and a nut-cream layered cake, coffee and tea.In the afternoon we got on the van and went to the suburbs, where we had a meeting with Dorijan (pronounced “Dorian”) Marsic, Director of a de-mining company called International Trust Fund (ITF) to Enhance Human Security.  This organization raises funds and provides services and coordination for the actual de-mining contractors.  ITF works with the USA and various governments.  They have cleared Serbia and Slovenia, but are still working on places (off limits to people) in Croatia and Bosnia.  Mr. Marsic was leaving soon to survey the needs for de-mining in Libya.

Returning to Ljubljana, a group of us walked to the Funicular near the Pink Catholic Church Square, and ascended a nearly vertical hillside to the city’s castle.  An informative video showed that the site had been first a Neolithic settlement, which evolved into a Roman fortress, a Slavic village, and finally a real castle built by Germans in the 14th century.  Later, it was possessed by Turks, then Austrians and now it is a center for art and music.

After our Castle tour, we rode back down and walked along the river, bought ham and cheese crepes and gelatos and indulged in people-watching on a balmy summer evening.