A Quick Trip to London

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When I first came to Europe three years ago, London was never high on my list and it wasn’t even on it for some time. However with the impending realization that I’ll be leaving Europe at the end of this school year, I began to think that I needed to go, to experience it and to see it. Maybe it goes back to my colonial routes of rejecting the crown, or maybe because I was annoyed that in the English world of Spain everything is British, from the accent and grammar they speak, to the flags and decorations they have around the classroom, or perhaps I was drawn more to different cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Whatever the case was, I have friends in London and I wanted to go while they were still there. A week and a half ago we had a puente/long weekend because of the Féria, so I left for London on Thursday and came back to Jerez on Sunday.

I was really impressed by London, but even more so by the people.  Every interaction I had, whether it was asking for help in the underground, or asking for directions above ground, talking to people on the train, to the staff in a restaurant/bar or to the workers on the ferry, was positive.  It’s left me wondering if everybody in London is that nice or maybe I caught the right people in the right moment of their day.

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It is the people that make up a city, but without buildings and spaces their would be no city, and the buildings and spaces of London really impressed me. It’s a beautiful city that feels as if it’s five cities in one, different buildings juxtapose each other one after the other. Walking along the bank of the Thames you can find the Neo-gothical Big Ben, across the modern London Eye, further along there are various bridges all ranging in different styles from the modern millennium bridge to the iconic gothic revival Tower Bridge; across from the tower bridge on one side of the Thames is the castle of London flanked by skyscrapers; the shard, the walkie-talkie and the gherkin. Each is a unique, individual building that represent the every changing architectural landscape of London.

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I enjoy traveling alone, but having the opportunity to visit friends is also something I enjoy. I stayed with my friend Aoife, who is the best friend of my friend Niamh, who was one of my roommates in Costa Rica and who I spent Christmas with in Ireland three years ago. My other friend is Mike, a friend from Delaware who I did habitat for humanity with spring break sophomore year. He’s living in London and when he took a trip to Andalusia last year he stopped by Jerez and we had lunch together. Aoife was a great host and luckily I was able to combine those two worlds. Friday night Aoife, a friend of hers and me had plans to eat at a steak restaurant, called Flat Iron; 10£ for an amzing steak. It’s the only dish on their menu. It’s located  in the Williamsburg of London, coincidentally right around the block from where Mike lives, so we put our names down and then met with him at his place for about an hour and a half. Once your number is called you have 15 minutes to get there or they give your seat up. It was amazing, one of the best meals in recent memory and it was affordable, cheap for a city like London (but still a lot more than what I’d pay in Jerez). After dinner we met up with Mike and his friends and we went to a divey, but awesome Jazz bar. Hearing something other than live Flamenco Music was nice for a change.

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Saturday we went to Greenwich.  I realized while walking around the Royal Navy College that I had learned about it in one of my architecture classes. While traveling I often stumble upon something that I’ve learned about, not knowing it is where I am and every time a wave of excitement passes over me.  Also in Greenwich is the famous Cutty Sark ship, which up until that point I knew only as a cheap whisky in Spain. I had no idea it was an actual ship.  We also stopped by a cute little craft market with food trucks. For lunch I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. We also went to the oldest pub in Greenwich and one of the oldest in London, the Plume of Feathers. It was established in 1691 and is just outside the touristy part of the city, it’s cozy and friendly, the perfect place to hang out in winter. It was also the first time I saw a pump tap, I don’t know if that’s the proper term, but it was like a lever that the bartender had to pull toward her a few times to fill up the pint. Later that day, Mike and his girlfriend and a friend of Aoife came over to her place and Aoife as the gracious host made a delicious dinner. We hung out and played a board game, ending my time in London.

One thing I was extremely disappointed about was the Natural History Museum. People kept telling me how great it is, how you need to go and even one of the Night at the Museums was filmed there. I expected a lot and it didn’t live up to it. The building is beautiful and when you go inside there’s a glowing orb that you take an escalator through, but that’s where the excitement ends. The rooms were cramped and to me seemed poorly designed, the exhibitions were outdated and have probably been there since the museum opened, all the interactive displays seemed as if they were going to fall apart in need of a new coat of paint, and the displays were dirty and dusty. I remember looking at one of the worlds largest cut diamonds and being amazed at the large smudge over it. The dinosaur skeletons were awesome, but the room they were in didn’t allow you to appreciate them. Maybe I’m just not used to history museums.

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I was however impressed by the Victoria and Albert which is right across from the Natural History museum and the Saatchi Gallery, which, with the exhibitions they had, might be one of the best galleries I’ve ever visited. One of the rooms, about the size of a 5 lane gym swimming pool had projections on each of its walls of  thousands of  YouTube videos of people explaining something simultaneously playing. From afar the wall looked like a bunch of little boxes of color, but as you got closer you can see the people’s faces and when you’re right in front of it you can focus on one individual box or person. At the same time the sound of all those videos together was constantly playing in the background creating a very unique feeling as if you’re in a crowd. In the gallery my favorite pieces were created by Daniel Rozin. He had two interactive works that moved according to your position in front of it. They were really fun and I spent 20 or 30 minutes interacting with them.  If you go, make sure to not confuse the Saatchi & Saatchi with the Saatchi Gallery, they’re two distinct places.

The Forgotten City of Andalucia

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Nestled between the Sierra and olive fields as far as the eye can see is Jaén, the forgotten city of Andalucia. Stated by our blahblahcar driver, “You know you’re in Jaén when the road starts deteriorating” and as if on cue we hit a couple of rough patches that rattled the car. There’s no highway to Jaén, at some point only a two lane local road where you hope to not get stuck behind a truck hauling olives. After all, Jaén is the olive capital of Spain.

To say Jaén is forgotten wouldn’t be completely true, to Spaniards it’s known for having the best olives and the highest quality olive oil. It also has a tapas scene that rivals, if not better than Granada. However you wouldn’t go to Jaén just for the tapas nor for just the olives, which is why when you tell somebody you are going to visit or have visited they ask why? with a confused look on their face. If it wasn’t for my friend Mitch living there, I would have never gone.

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Since I’ve heard so many unflattering things of Jaén my expectations were low. I imagined it as a dull, deteriorating city where it’s inhabitants only ate olives and drank olive oil.  That wasn’t the case, but I was told amongst the locals most conversations seemed to always come back to olives, or they were trying to get you to buy into their cooperative. I cannot attest to the validity of this, however I can say that because of my low expectations, Jaén pleasantly surprised me. The city itself isn’t much to write home about, but it has its moments. There is a long tree lined avenue that would be beautiful in Spring time with a nicely laid tram line running through it. Unfortunately there’s no tram. If there was anything that best exemplifies the Spanish government, it is this. In 2009 the city was given money by Andalucia to install the line, just as it was finished the leading political party in Jaén’s government changed and they were against it, so they sold the tram cars to Australia (I think) and since then it has not been operational.

Situated above the city is the castle of Santa Catalina. Part of the Castle route of Jaén, which contains more Castles per square kilometer than any other place in Europe. Santa Catalina is a beautiful, mostly restored castle that was started in 1492 and has now been partly converted into a hotel.  It provides stunning views of the city and the surrounding countryside.  Also in Jaén is a park with grass! something Jerez lacks, with a view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside as well, though not quite the same as being at the castle, it’s more accessible and a nice place in the city center to relax.

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Adding to the experience of Jaén and the reason why we went was seeing Mitch. It was also St. Patrick’s day weekend and there are a lot of Irish there. For a smaller city than Jerez, the atmosphere was good. We met his friends and his roommates and got to see the new life he’s made away from Jerez. As sad as it is to have him gone it was good to see him doing well.

Jaén definitely isn’t the most beautiful city of Andalucia, but it has beautiful aspects about it and if you go, you might just be surprised like I was.

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Birthday In Lisbon

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This year, I decided to spend my birthday in Portugal with Christine.  She went to Madrid to get her ESL certification and teach for the year.  I would have loved to have been home and spend the weekend with my friends and sister in Montauk, but I had already booked my roundtrip ticket in March and they refused to change it (even though I had insurance on it).

So, I arrived to Spain on the first of September and we left for Lisbon on the third.  Lisbon is only a little more than an hour flight from Madrid.  Lisbon is a hidden gem, which is rarely atop ones European bucket list.  It is a beautiful city with a history as rich as any.  Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe, predating many other modern cities.

In Lisbon we stayed at one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in, Goodmorning Lisbon.  The staff were amazing, the way it was decorated was awesome, and they had the most amazing free breakfast; eggs, fresh cooked waffles, fruit, juice, sandwiches; they also had awesome nightly events. Even better was that we met a bunch of awesome people

.  When we first got to Lisbon our room wasn’t ready, so we decided to get food. At the same time we were sitting down for food 3 Aussies, Monety, Declan and George were as well, so we decided to sit and eat together.  They would become our friends throughout our time there.  I later found out they were going to Porto the same day as me (Christine wasn’t) and staying at the same hostel! Anyway, after lunch Christine and I explored the city, we walked down to the shore, wandered and weaved our way through old medieval streets to the Cathedral. We climbed to the top, which gave us amazing views of the city. IMG_4980There, we met a super friendly security guard who told us about a huge market on the weekend and friended us on Facebook to help us if we needed.  The thing about Portuguese people is they are extremely friendly; friendliness with strangers that makes you weary about somebody.  After the Cathedral we toured the castle with some people we met along the way.  The castle was built in the mid-11th century, during the Moorish period on a hill in the middle of the city.  The castle wasn’t anything special and definitely not the coolest I’ve seen, but it had amazing views of the city.

Later that night, the hostel had a tapas night, with 6-7 different tapas cooked incredibly by one of the hostel workers/chef.  At first it didn’t seem like there would be enough for everyone because we were only getting small tastes, but by the end he was bringing over the pans with what was left.  We didn’t do much after that, just kind of relaxed and took it easy. While we were going up to bed, we met 2 Australian chicks, Jodi and Cat, who had just gotten into Lisbon.  We would hang also hang out with them the rest of the trip.

The day before my birthday…

We woke up and had the amazing hostel breakfast with another friend and dorm mate, Wax.  After breakfast we did a free walking tour of the city.  The tour guide was awesome, but like most walking tours I do, I don’t really remember much now.  It doesn’t help that I’m writing this a month later.  Some things I remember are that, for a 20 year period the capital of Portugal
was moved to Brazil and with it went the king, during this time the church convinced the citizens to murder Jewish people to gain acceptance into heaven, around 3,000 people were killed.  There is a church in the center, itsIMG_5001 interior gets painted red by the people as a way of remembering this event.  There are also two monuments outside of the church.  Another thing is that Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the 18th century destroying 85% of the city.  After the tour we got lunch with some other people from the tour at a Portuguese buffet.  Christine decided to put the Portuguese super insanely hot meat sauce on her salad and eat it, which prevented her from eating anything else. I on the other hand, got plate after plate of insanely delicious meat and other foods.  IMG_5015

After lunch we went to the famous district of Belem. Belem is only a couple of miles from Lisbon and is the place where many of the great Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages of discovery.  There are a few things to do and see in Belem.  There you can find the famous Belem Tower, a fortified lighthouse that was built to defend one of Belem’s other famous historical building, the Monastery of Jeronimos.  The tower was cool to see, but it wasn’t anything special, if you wanted to go into it you had to pay, we didn’t.  The monastery is IMG_5027a massive structure that takes up the space of about two city blocks.  We only went into the church.  The church was beautiful and had incredible vaulted ceilings.  Belem is also home to the world famous pastry of Belem.  It’s like a tart kind of thing that you can find all throughout Lisbon and Portugal, but Belem’s is the original and the best.  The recipe has been secretly guarded for more than 150 years.

Afterwards I went with Wax to this strange art exhibition called House of Psychotic Women.  I probably would have never went on my own, but he was really excited about going so I went along.  The artwork was inspired by several films; the female protagonist and their distorted contact with reality.  It was pretty interesting and there was free wine.

Later in the evening the hostel hosted a free sangria night, which we all of course attended.  We played drinking games which eventually turned into a hostel wide karaoke night of 90s music.  It was cool to see so many people from different countries singing the same songs.  At 12, prompted by Christine, they sung happy birthday to me and then we went out.

Birthday Day!

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On the way to Sintra

We woke up and of course had breakfast at the hostel.  After breakfast, Christine, Wax, new friends Harry and Sean (who were also in our dorm), and I went to the street fair (the one the security guard from the Cathedral told us about) hoping to find cheap stuff.  It was more like an outdoor goodwill.  There you could find a strange assortment of all types of items; sometimes, it looked as if they decided to clean out their car, but instead of throwing it away, see if anybody would buy it.  It was cool to experience, but I didn’t find anything.  After the fair, Christine
and I departed from the others and went to Sintra.  We didn’t enough time to see al that we wanted to in Sintra (there is a lot to see), so we settled on going to the Quinta de Regaleira.  Quinta is an estate with a large palace surrounded by a park that rivals park Guell.  Throughout the park you can find elaborate structures of varying architectural styles reflecting different types of ideologies

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On the way to the estate we ran into a friend (Crystal) we met on the walking tour.  We spent about 2.5 hours touring the gardens.  In the gardens is a 27m well down into the earth.  It’s more like a tower with stairs.  We spent about 40 minutes at the top taking pictures from all different angles.
The park closed at 6:30, but at 7 there was a small fado concert in the basement of the chapel in the park.  Small, maybe less than 15 people were there, more couldn’t even fit. Fado is a type of music specific to Portugal.  It IMG_5107consists of a women singer and two guitar players.  They are usually sad, but can be happy as well.  The concert was awesome, and even though we couldn’t understand what was being said, the women singing conveyed her emotions so well we didn’t have to, we could feel it.  She had one of the most mesmerizing voices I’ve ever heard.

We got back to Lisbon at 8:33 hoping to stop by the supermarket and grab some food and drinks.  We didn’t want to take too much time eating and didn’t want to spend a lot on food, however the supermarket closed at 8:30.  So, we walked around for a bit and ended up finding this cheap bar-like restaurant.  For my birthday dinner I got a hamburger.  We ended up at the hostel around 10 and started drinking with the others.  Played some games and went out with a bunch of people from the hostel.

My Last Full Day….

IMG_5260Missed breakfast, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway.  Christine left before noon, she was going back to Madrid to start
her course.  I went with Harry and Sean to Caiscais.  Caiscais is a beautiful, quaint beach town like 45min on train from Lisbon.  We chilled at the beach for the first couple hours, then went for a walk and saw the cliffside, tried to get food at this place recommended to us, but it was closed until 7:30 (we hadn’t eaten anything all day).  So, we got hotdogs and went back to the beach and played some cards and when the place opened went there for dinner.  The fish there was fresh caught that day, prepared and cooked by little Old Portuguese women.

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Lisbon was an awesome city.  We met so many cool people and did so many amazing things.  It’s also one of the hilliest cities I’ve ever walked around. Somehow it feels like you’re always going uphill.  My next stop had even more, Porto!

A Troubled Past, A Bright Future: Budapest

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My last stop of the journey.  I was in Budapest from April 3rd to the 7th and could have stayed had I had my suitcases.  My first thought upon arriving was, that it looked like a dirty Vienna; It’s hard for any city to match its beauty and cleanliness. However, Budapest is so much more than what you can see; it’s like an onion, each corner, each monument, each layer reveals something new and interesting about the city and its tumultuous past.  This combined with an amazing night life, makes Budapest a truly remarkable city.

There’s a lot to see in Budapest during the day and during the night.  This will be about my day experiences and another one will follow about my night ones.   I arrived  to Budapest via train from Vienna.  I then made my way to the hostel via metro and tram.  I stayed at a hostel called Carpe Noctem Vitae and the first thing they did was sit me down and ask me  what I wanted to see, if I knew where anything was, gave me recommendations and show me where things were.  This was really awesome and I’ve never had a hostel do anything like that.  They told me my best option at that time (late afternoon) was to walk to Heroes Square and wander around the park; so that is what I did.

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Heroes Square is located at the end of the world famous Andrassy Avenue and at the beginning of city park.  Andrassy Avenue, like Heroes Square is a World Heritage Site.  It was built in 1885 and is lined with eclectic Neo-Renaissance palaces and houses.  It was considered to be a masterpiece of public planning and public transport was prohibited to preserve its character; this gave birth to the idea of the first ever subway line in Continental Europe, it opened in 1896.  The stations and the cars have transcended time and are they same as they were when it
first opened.  They are incredibly beautiful stations.Buda1 Stepping out of them is like stepping into the past.

Heroe’s square commemorates the thousandth year anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895.  At the center of the square is the Millennium Monument (erected in the 1930s) topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel.  Around the base of the monument are statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes and behind the monument is a massive semi circular colonnade with statues of famous men who madetheir mark on Hungarian history.  It’s a powerful sight to behold.

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Szechenyi Bath

After this I walked around the park and saw the Szechenyi Bath, well the outside.  The next day I will go in them for a party.  The Szechenyi Bath is the largest thermal bath in Europe.   On top of being the biggest, aesthetically it is one of the most beautiful.  Budapest is home to many baths because thermal springs that run under the city. After this, I walked around Vajdahunyad Castle, which is also located in the park.  The Castle isn’t a real castle.  It was built, like Heroe’s square for the Millennium Exhibition.  The castle copies several features of landmark  Buda4buildings from different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary and displays different architectural styles; Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance.  It was originally temporary and made of wood and cardboard, but because it was so popular with the citizens, it was rebuilt from stone and brick from 1904 to 1908.  Like Kruezenstein Castle, it is a beautiful fake castle.  After some walking, I then took the metro to the Hungarian Parliament building.  It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.  To make it even better, the sky was splashed with red, orange and yellow hues and the moon, which was full was rising just behind it.  Unfortunately, they are putting in a subway line, so you have to stand behind a fence and can’t see the Danube river.  Later that night I did a ruin bar pub crawl.

Second day in the city

With difficulty I woke up early after a crazy night to go on a walking tour of the city.  It started at 10:30 am.  It started at St. Stephens Basilica.  The Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Hungary, with the other being the Hungarian Parliament building.  They are the same height at 96m to represent equality between church and state.

Something I learned, Budapest is actually two cities divided. Buda7 Buda is the left side of the city and is the old town.  Here, Castle Hill is located along with many Roman ruins; Pest is the newer other side of the city.  For most of history the two sides were divided and never actually one.  It wasn’t until a bridge was built in 1849, funded by Count Szechenyi, did the two sides become connected.  Even then it took about another 30 years for the city to become unified.

The tour lasted a little over three hours and for once, it was a beautiful day.  We walked and stopped at places on the Pest side and then made our way to Castle Hill.  It’s kind of a misleading name because there’s not actually a castle on the hill.  There is a church called Mathias Church and the famous Fisherman’s Bastion and some other buildings.  Mathias Church is not monumental, but it is extremely beautiful.  It is built in the Gothic style in white stone, which contrasts amazingly with its beautifully decorated diamond shaped roof tiles in a range of colors.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a large white tower and terrace complex in front of the church and looks over the Pest side of the city.  It was completed in 1905 and gets its name from the fish market that used to be held there.  The tower section looks like a sand castle. Something else I learned was that you should touch all the statues in Budapest.  Each one has some certain charm or magical powers that you will get if you rub them.  For example, If you rub the policeman’s belly (pictured above) you will have good luck and if you rub his mustache you will make great love.  So touch them all.

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Mathias Church

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McDonalds

At the start of the tour I became friends with a kid named Brad who was also doing the tour.  He happened to also be staying at the same hostel as me.  After the tour was finished, we wandered around Castle Hill and walked through the Buda side of the city.  We ate lunch at a typical Hungarian place recommended by the guide.  We both had really good beef goulash with Hungarian pasta, which is awesome.  It’s like rice, but not.  After lunch, we stopped at Gyungati Station, a large wrought iron and glass train station built in the 19th century by Eiffel Company of Paris.  The building is surprisingly home to what is dubbed as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world.  Afterwards we made our way to the Terror Museum.

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The Terror Museum or “House of Terror” was witness to and part of two shameful and tragic Periods during Hungary’s 20th century history.  In 1944, during the gruesome domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the building was known as the “House of Loyalty” and was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis.  Then between 1945 and 1956, the communist terror organizations, the AVO and its successor took residence there.  The basement of the building was a prison and was the scene of torture and death of thousands of people.  The cellars remain; which makes it very unsettling to walk through; there was a room no bigger than a person; a padded room whose pads were faded and worn; solitary confinement, which was only big enough to kneel in and a room with some type of torture stand still in it.  It’s was a very uncomfortable somber feeling walking through that basement.  Overall, the museum was really well done and informative.  It commemorates the victims of terror, it also a memento, reminding us of the dreadful acts of terrorist dictatorships.  Somehow, after that experience, I took a short, but well needed nap in the hostel and went out later that night to a party in Szechenyi Bath.

Third day in the City

After another crazy night out, I got up, this time not too early, had Mexican food with my friend Robbie (he was staying in my dorm) and then we met Brad for the Communist walking tour at 2:30. Different than the tour I did on the second day, this one focused on….. Budapest’s communist history.  Now, I don’t really remember too much from the tour because there was so much information.   One thing I learned was that if you walk across the bridge statue by the Parliament building, you become a new person.  I attempted this and to this day I am still feeling the effects of my new found persona.

Buda10In a square known as Freedom square you will find the juxtaposition of buildings unlike anywhere in the world.  For one, the square is called Freedom Square; and in this square is one of the few remaining Soviet monuments; an obelisk crowned with a five pointed Communist star and on the base a crest showing the Soviet hammer and sickle.  It represents the soldiers in the Red Army who died from 1944-45 during the liberation of Budapest.  As you may guess, most Hungarians aren’t fond of the monument and want it torn down, but the government won’t do it.  Just last year, Putin visited the monument and placed wreaths at the base to commemorate the fallen soldiers.   Secondly, there is another statue on the other side of the park that is suppose to commemorate the victims of Nazi occupation; it was put up in the cover of darkness by the government.  The statue is of the Archangel Gabriel, an elongated figure with wings standing in front of a classical colonnade with some columns broken.  It is equally as despised as the communist statue and the people also want it removed.  The reason for this is because the government views itself as a victim during that time, while others believe they were a willing collaborator.  Finally, to tie Freedom Square together, right behind the communist statue is the US Embassy and for some reason a statue of Ronald Reagan.  After visiting Freedom Square on the tour, we stopped at the shoes monument.  It is located in front of the Parliament building next to the river.  It is a memorial to the Jews during WW2, who shot into the river.  The reason for shoes is because shoes were a commodity during the war, so they were forced to take them off before being murdered.    Each statue, is a copy of a pair from someone who was killed.  Simple, but extremely moving.  It is one of the most powerful memorials I have seen.

After the tour, I walked around the city with Brad (the kid I might the day before) and some other people I met.  We had intended to go to the top of the Basilica, but it was closed.  We wandered around and found some Easter markets.  Stopped at the Buda13Synagogue with intent to go inside, but it was also closed (due to Passover).  It is the largest one in Europe and one of the largest in the world.  Fun fact! I saw  both the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest synagogue in Europe, which is located in the town of Pilsen, Czech Republic.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t go into either one of them.  We then stumbled upon this really cool covered food truck area where we had a beer.  Later that night we went out to one of the ruin pubs.

Last day in the city

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On my last day I did some fun activities.  I should mention that my flight was a 6 am the next morning.  Robbie and I started the day by going to the only other communist statue in the city.  It is atop the hill in Buda.  In our condition, it was a struggle to get there, but we were well rewarded with amazing views of the city.  The reason why it’s still there and tolerated is because the people decided they liked the statue and had the flag with the communist star, which was in the women’s hands replaced with a feather; it’s now called the freedom statue.  After this, Robbie went back to the hostel to nap and I went to the Rudas Bath.  It One of the oldest in Hungary, it was built in 1550 during the time of Ottoman rule.  The main feature is an octagonal pool covered with a Turkish dome.  It featured smaller pools with various tempartures as well as a sauna of differing heat and steam rooms. It was extremely relaxing and I could Buda15have stayed there all day, if I weren’t hungover. I was dying of heat and dehydrating after about an hour and a half.  I also had to get back to the hostel by 6 because I was doing a beer bike with Robbie and some other people.

A beer bike, is a bike that can hold up to 14 people and a lot of beer.  We had 10 people and 40 liters of beer to drink in a magnificent and 2 hour tour around Budapest.  It was incredibly fun and I met some really cool people.  It finished at 8 and afterwards we went back to the hostel and met up with the hostel because they were going to an open mic night.  Robbie was pumped because he was going to preform.  We went to the bar, drank and I listened to others preform.  Robbie was amazing, the best one there and there were some good people.  Because my flight was at 6 am, I decided to not sleep and stay out until 3:30, which is when I left to go back to the hostel;  packed my things and take a 4 am taxi to the airport.  Coincidentally, one of the guys in my dorm, was taking the same flight back to Mardrid as me, so we shared a cab together.  Exhausted and drunk I boarded the plane; ending an amazing Semana Santa in Austria and Hungary.

Added Bonus: The pronunciation of Pest is like “pesht”, so Budapest is actually pronounced like “Budapesht.”  It blew my mind when I first heard it.

Castle day!….kind of

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On my third and final day in Austria I went to visit Kruezenstein Castle (pictured above) and had plans to see Lichtenstein Castle.  Kruezenstein Castle is located a few kilometers from Vienna on a wooded hilltop in the town of Leobendorf.  To get there you have to spend an hour or so on public transport and then take a leisurely 30-35 minute walk through a sleepy town and some woods.  

TheVIenna16 castle is absolutely stunning, I have never seen anything like it before, it’s as if it was taken straight from a German fairy-tale and put into a Disney movie.  The building is in such an amazing condition it’s hard to believe it’s actually a castle.  Well, that’s because it really isn’t, it was built as show castle, with no purpose to live in it.  It is also fairly new.  Occupying the site of a previously destroyed castle, Kruezenstein was started in 1870 and finished in 1906 by Count Wilszek.  It is a collection of medieval structures from all over Europe purchased by the Count.  He created an aesthetically looking romanticized version of a castle.  In order to see the interior of the castle you had to purchase a guided tour and I’m glad I did.  The interior was just as gorgeous and filled with many medieval trinkets.

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I went into the tour knowing it was in German (because I read about it beforehand) and that they give you a piece of paper with some information.  However, when we started the tour I was in a group with about 4 or 5 others who preferred it in English, so the guide started it in English, until….. a German family came 5 minutes later.  He did his best to provide some information in English throughout the tour and I was very thankful for that.

Count Wilszek having nearly an unlimmited amount of money purchased all kinds of different medieval parts.  In the courtyard, on onside is a Loggia (balcony) from northern Italy, on the other side is a 500 year old Gothic balcony which was part of a church in Slovakia, also, a half timbered wall from Nurmberg and a well made of wellstone from Venice.  Inside, there is an armory with an amazing display of armaments; all of which are around 500 years old, a festival and banquet hall, a library, a stained-glassed chapel and a kitchen, with a massive 7 meter long oak table.  Also in the kitchen is a grill designed by Leonardo da Vinci.  The armory boasts one of the largest private collections of antique armaments and unique items from times of war.  One of the coolest aspects were the weapons of the poor; they Vienna15ingenuously created weapons from field tools.  Crude, but menacing.  Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures inside the rooms.

*As you can see by my pictures, it was of course cloudy.  It seems to be a common theme throughout this trip. As I’m writing this, it is also cloudy and starting to storm.

After my interesting and awesome experience at the Kruezenstein Castle, I had the thirst to see another.  Lichtenstein Castle is another castle on the outskirts of Vienna, but in the complete opposite direction of Kruezenstein.  They have tours until 4 o’clock and like Kruezenstein it’s the only way to see the interior.  I thought I would be able to make it there by three since it was about 1:30 ish.  However, it took a little over an hour and a half by train just to get to the station.  From the station you then have to take a bus.  This is where my story comes to an end.  I figured, even though I couldn’t do a tour it would still be cool to see the castle.  When I arrived to the station, it started to rain, again, I waited for 15 minutes and didn’t see the bus I neededm so I decided to go back.  I was sick of the rain, didn’t feel like waiting any more and didn’t want to walk around in the rain.  I wasn’t upset because it was an afterthought and I still had a nice time on the trains.  It’s an amazing way to experience more of a city.

*Right outside my window now there are some really intense lightening bolts coming down.