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February 2014

Hiking in the Mecsek Mountains

As the last few days have been a triumph of sunshine, we decided to take advantage of this lovely and unhoped for (though strongly desired) hint of spring (it has been so grey, cloudy and rainy this month!) to explore the part of the Mecsek mountains which are closer to Pécs.

Hungary is essentially a huge plain, centuries of literature celebrate their puszta, but it has no “real” mountains. I grew up between the Dolomites and the Pianura Padana, so I think I can tell the difference between them. People in Pécs are proud of their Mecsek, and indeed they should as it is a beautiful area. However, they are definitely not mountains, at least for our standards (the point is, you don’t need to be an expert climber if you want to get there!).

Hiking in the Mecsek is therefore very pleasant, I’m not saying it’s effortless but it’s easy and opened to anybody, from children to old people (not to mention all those jogging addicts…so many of them! Seriously, why people RUN in the mountains? O__O). You can choose between several trails that will lead you to discover the most charming attractions of the Baranya county. The area is so vast (500 km²) that you might want to cover some of the path by bus (hiking to Orfu and back may be a little demanding). We went for the “easy trail” and walked up to the top of the Misina mountain, where the highest building in Hungary, Pécs TV tower, lays. Apparently, it’s a popular spot for Sundays family pic-nics: the area around the tower is equipped with everything you need for a BBQ and you can even have lunch in the fancy restaurant at the top of tower.

Our only advice: be careful of the mountain markers!

We started off from Pécs, and from the Paulite church we followed the trail marked with a yellow triangle, which leads directly up to the TV tower. The old ruins of the aqueduct (it seems quite ancient but it was actually built around the beginning of the 20th century) is the “official” entrance to the Mecsek park.

Reaching the Misina is easy (1 hour and a half and you get to the top), more difficult is going back. Despite our eagle’s eye, we weren’t able to find the yellow triangles anymore. So we decided that we would just pick something else in yellow (as if the fact that it was yellow would have been enough!). The yellow square made us discover the most beautiful part of the Misina, a solitary sun-dipped forest with meadows of snowdrops! It was incredibly poetic! Moreover, it felt as if spring was really coming (she was joking, the day after it was raining again!) and it was such a happy feeling (everything that can make me forget about my dissertation is to be cherished!).

Unfortunately, the snowdrops forest then became a sort of thick birch wood, the yellow squares turned into yellow circles through slippery and muddy slopes, then it was the turn of the Poland flag to lead us in the beautiful middle of nothing, from which we could only see a huge, white squared tower popping out of the wood not too distant from where we were, and then we were able to finally spot a human being carrying what looked like a heavy tank of water, who kindly (and with many gestures and few incomprehensible Hungarian words) put us back in the right track which, this time, was a green cross.

Now that I think about it, I take back what I said earlier. Hiking the Mecsek is very nice and doesn’t require any unbearable physical effort, UNLESS you get lost and keep following random signs as we did (not our fault if they made the signs vanish and every time you would turn there was a different one). It took us more than four hours, and some pain in the legs, to reach home. Just in time for the sunset!

On our way back we walk as far as Dömörkapu, a scrap of land where there’s an amusement park and also one of the most useless thing i’ve ever seen: a quite wrecked and shaking little train, starting from the little platform in Dömörkapu, and stopping not far from there, leaving people in the middle of nothing…

Hiking back we also came across the famous Hungarian camels and emu that inhabit the Mecsek mountains. No kidding, the city of Pécs has built the city zoo in a small scrap of rocks! And why not? If life gives you lemon, you make a lemonade, if life gives you rock…you build a zoo! My asinity aside (I so wanted to use “asinity” today, and it didn’t really fit in my dissertation), the zoo is funny, and, quite surprisingly for me, a part from groups of families, there were also couples! This is the first time that I see/hear about couple choosing to go on a date to the zoo (Manga and Anime aside).

And with my “not-so-useful” observations about couples and zoos and vanishing mountain markers, I end this post. Next time more news on Pécs!

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Dancing on the ashes of culture

(OUR) SPACE HAS BEEN INVADED !!!

From the Museum Quarter in Vienna, where Klimt and Schiele meet sparkling trash.

Phone… Home…

In the world of Willy Wonka

First of all, listen to this:

Like Proust did with his madelaine, I’m writing this post with the help of a bar of chocolate, so that I can better remember the wonderful time I had exploring the most famous Chocolate Factory in Vienna!

The Schokomuseum is a treat you do not want to miss if you’re really into chocolate (as we are!) The museum is situated on the ground floor of the factory proper, which is the headquarter of renowned Austrian chocolate brand Heindl, which produces the worldwide famous Sisi Talers and Mozart Balls (but not just that!).

We took advantage of the guided tour in English (available only twice a week, so plan ahead!) to explore not only the museum, which is dedicated to the noble history of chocolate but also the chocolate processing area. The most delicious thing to know about the tour (and one of the reasons why we got there in the first place) is that every single explanation comes with platters of chocolate bonbons, chocolate bananas, chocolate wafers and hazelnut brittles which make the didactic moment immediately more appealing! The best part of our tour is when we got to sing along with the Oompa Loompas! Ahahah… just kidding…silly us! The best moment was when we were given THE spoon, a magical ceremony that marked the beginning of the seize of the Chocolate Fountains, which were towering over the last room where a cacao plantation was recreated. There were three of them, and each one with a different kind of chocolate (milk, white and dark) and all of them made our mouth water.

So, if you are in Vienna and you don’t care gaining some weight (how could you, while in the land of Sacher?) the Chocolate Museum is really worth a visit!

Princess for an afternoon

Scönbrunn Palace
Scönbrunn Palace

This december I finally managed to fulfill one of my childhood dreams, actually a dream shared by many girls (at least those of my generation, not sure about what little girls want nowadays.. maybe their model is Barbie or Peppa Pig…), that of becoming a princess.

The Gloriette
The Gloriette

Actually, to be precise, as a child, I wanted to be like Sailor Moon, have superpowers and an awesome talking cat (not Doraemon but Luna). But being a princess came second in my wish list. I spent several years wishing that Santa Claus would bring me Sailor Moon’s magical sceptre, and the old man really took his time since my sceptre, equipped with three lunar rings, was delivered to me only last year, for my 24th birthday… mostly as a joke. Anyway, the fact that my sceptre finally arrived has revived my hopes about getting a talking cat in the near future…

Back to the topic, this Christmas holiday I was finally able to cross out from my wish list N.2, “being a princess.” Having decided to stop in Vienna for a couple of days, a visit to the Schönbrunn castle was a must-do. The castle lies in the west outskirt of Vienna, in an area that is now called Hietzing, that you can comfortably reach by metro (Line U4).

Needless to say, as one of the royal palaces, Schönbrunn and its gardens are HUGE. Although everything is built and decorated in a very elaborated rococò style, I have to admit that it’s beautiful. There are many wonderful palaces and castles in the world, and you might have had the chance to visit many of them, e.g. during school trips, so why Schönbrunn should be any different?

Of course it’s because of Sissi! Who cares about the rest of the Austrian nobility, I want Sissi! Everybody wants Sissi! Indeed, the castle is advertised with big posters, leaflets, etc., and every one of them has paintings of the princess printed all over. They sell special “Sissi tickets” and for those who are lucky to be still young, you can dress up as Sissi and walk around the castle, playing prince and princess. The new generations should be grateful to the ingenious minds of the Schönbrunn marketing team, or whatever it is that manage the palace’s publicity (wicked!). Actually, I couldn’t get to trick the lady at the counter (at least not with my ID) to sell me a ticket to play Sissi with the rest of the kids, but visiting the castle was good enough (though I still believe that I would have enjoyed my visit a lot more looking fabulous in an princess’s dress!).

As I wrote in my previous post for Budapest, the weather was the main problem. Winter makes everything annoyingly grey! Schönbrunn has fantastic gardens, full of flowers, big trees, bushes, fountains, squirrells and ducks, etc. so taking a stroll there in winter might not be that breathtaking… No doubts, spring and summer are the best season to visit. There was definitely a reason if Schönbrunn was the SUMMER residence of Sissi! Anyway, we were in Vienna, and I was in Sissi’s palace, so complaining was out of question! Being there was a privilege and the spirit was “be positive and let’s make the best out of this trip!”
The main entrance looks imperial, with golden eagles staring down at you from high pillars. Once through the gate, a wide, white gravel road leads you to the royal residence, which tricks you because from the outside it looks rather plain, but you just need to peep through the windows and you realise how Baroque’s exaggerations are profusely lavished. As for the gardens, it was winter (as I cannot get tired of saying), so all the trees in the garden were completely naked. However, it was very cool to notice the royal gardeners’ technique in pruning the vegetation. Everything was awfully geometric, as if the boughs had been cut with the help of a ruler.

Lure the Squirrel!
Lure the Squirrel!
Spot the Duck!
Spot the Duck!

An additional, positive side of having leaf-less trees was that squirrels had no place to hide! Mwhahahahah! On the contrary, ducks had a smorgasbord (I really wanted to use this word! By the way, it means “plenty” in English, but in Sweden it is a table full of slices of bread and butter…) of dead leaves to camouflage with. So we spent the afternoon playing “Lure the Squirrel” and “Spot the Duck.” Better than “Where’s Wally?” 😛

As you can see, with a little imagination everything can look lovely, you just need to change the lenses through which you’re seeing the world. A bit like a mental and spiritual Photoshop. And…talking about Photoshop, here’s the pictures that I, Queen and Master of CS6 and Paint (more Paint that Photoshop actually), have created for my readers. I’ve decided that, instead of describing, I would show you my own, personal Schönbrunn. You’ll definitely love it! (if you don’t, than you don’t understand art :P)

How it was…

…and how I “felt” it!

So, the point of this post is, go to Schönbrunn, they have Sissi! (even in winter)

An afternoon at the Belvedere

Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere: Disappointment!

As you might have noticed, I love Art Nouveau, but above all, I love Gustav Klimt. It was impossible for me not to visit Vienna without going on a pilgrimage to honour the master! Among all the museums in Vienna that host various pieces of his work, we went for the Belvedere, since it has the largest collection of Klimt’s paintings.

The Belvedere is indeed an incredibly beautiful schloss (actually, there’s more than one!) well worth a visit even if you could not care less about the expositions inside. And actually, this is how it was. I went there for Klimt, I left happy to have seen the palace.

There are no words to express my sad disappointment. First of all, let’s make it clear what “largest collection” means. If you think of Klimt your mind might immediately picture “The Kiss,” which has become so “commercial” that you can buy mugs, ties, ombrellas and bandanas with its print on them!

Klimt, Der Kuss
Klimt, Der Kuss
Klimt, Water Serpents I
Klimt, Water Serpents I

Or, if you don’t know “The Kiss,” you might at least think of women and gold. I’m almost 100% sure you don’t think of trees. Gustav Klimt, the artist who painted trees…wtf! No! So when they lure you in the Belvedere saying that you will get to see his largest collection, beware that it’s more than half paintings of landscapes/trees which nobody really knows and nobody really care to see (the room was empty) and some of the glorious pieces that made him immortal (overly crowded room), and among them, of course, “The Kiss.” Disappointment again? Oh yes. The light design was so so soooo bad that it didn’t feel like a was really standing in front of a painting, rather, it felt more like staring with expectations at badly illuminated cheap prints to magically turn into real paintings. At least they had “Water Serpents I” !!!!

So, to sum up: go there for the Belvedere and if it’s winter, for the mulled wine they sell in the Christmas markets scattered around the gardens. As for Klimt…mmm…you’re better off looking at his paintings from your high school art book.

Art Nouveau Tour in Vienna

Since we decided to spend just three days in Vienna on our way back to Italy, we opted to select a very specific “tour” for each day, namely an Art Nouveau walk through the Austrian capital on the first day, the Imperial Vienna with Schönbrunn Castle on the second, and a wonderful and delicious exploration of the world of chocolate on our last day.

On the web you can find tons of information about almost any part of Vienna you would like to visit, anyway, as for the buildings in Art Nouveau style (a part from everything related to Klimt) I think that the guides by Maximilian Just were the best.

I hate squeezing in too many sights in a few-day trip (come on, it’s a holiday, not a tour-de-force!) so we decided to follow what we might call the “Secession Metro Line,” since in almost every stops of this line there’s something significant built in the Art Nouveau style. Here’s our itinerary along the U4:

1. Karlsplatz is quite beautiful, and the ex-metro station was designed by Otto Wagner.

2. Hietzing We tried to see the metro station built exclusively for the Emperor Franz Joseph (apparently, it should have been really nice…) but restoration works were ongoing! Maybe you’ll be more lucky!

3. Unter St. Veit This part of Vienna was quite …let’s say, “peculiar” to visit. I wanted to see Wagner’s Kirche am Steinhof, which is one of the most amazing churches in Liberty style. I didn’t know that it would have been that far, isolated, “oh-my-god-I-think-I’m-lost-somewhere-on-the-hills.” Just reading the “how to get there” instruction might not be enough! If you want to know how to get there, keep reading: when you exit the station, cross the zebra and then look for bus stop 47A or 48A (remember the “A,” it’s important!). Once you hop on, find a seat and relax, it will take at least half an hour to arrive. It’s almost at the end of the line…and in between there are several stops. If you are watching through the window and you see that the fancy historical buildings are getting fewer and fewer, the centre is disappearing and you start going up the hills, with more trees than houses, don’t worry, you’re on the right track! The church is a “hospital chapel” (defining it “chapel” doesn’t make it justice!) which is located in a huge (seriously, it’s incredibly large!) green area on the hills.

If it wasn’t for all the hospital buildings scattered around and the plaques to remember the Holocaust, it would be a very nice pine forest. The history of the place is indeed extremely creepy, during the WWII it was used to get rid of the “unwanted guests” so having mixed feelings while visiting the church, I guess, is quite normal and understandable.

Anyway, the church is awesome! It’s the religious counterpart to the beautiful building of the Secession (if you like the genre, of course…and also if you’re not particularly into Art Nouveau. Giacomo is not really a fan, he’s more of a Baroque admirer, but he was able to appreciate it (or to pretend to appreciate it…still not sure :P).

Am Steinhof Church. For other pictures see the photogallery!
Am Steinhof Church. For other pictures see the photogallery!

 

The church is usually closed so if you want to get inside here’s the details:

 

 

If you happen to be walking around Naschmarkt area (U4 stop: Kettenbrückengasse), there are some very interesting buildings in Linke Wienzeile (needless to mention, they’re all in Art Nouveau style!). To this list I add a quick stop at the “Angel Apotheke” right behind St. Stephen’s Dom (impressive but still no gothic match to Milan’s Dom) and an entire afternoon enjoying the Klimt collection inside the Belvedere.

The entrance to the Secession
The entrance to the Secession

Last but not least, the Museum of the Secession, in fiery white and flaming gold which, for no apparent reason (nonsense! madness!) has been turned into a gallery of modern art (the horror!).

Why, Vienna, did you have to move the works of art of the Secession in modern or baroque buildings and put modern nonsense on canvas in the beautiful now ex-museum of the Secession???

Anyway, there you have your awesome “One-day Art Nouveau walk” in Vienna!

Cruising the Danube by night

To celebrate our first time in Budapest, and to pay homage to the Emperor of all European rivers, we decided to spend our last evening in the Hungarian capital by going on a cruise on the Danube. We sailed with Legenda and had a great time!
I need to mention some fun-facts about our evening on the cruise (I really have to. My evil and judgmental nature compels me to do so!):

1) On the cruise you could order any one drink for free. There was a woman sat next to me who remarked quite aloud: “I love champagne! I can ONLY drink champagne!” (ohohoh i’m so sophisticated! Ok, I added this last one). As we are common people we got beer…
2) The audio-guide was available in several languages, and in all of them was very, very, very patriotic! Not only it gave information about what we were seeing on the river banks but it provided us with a long list of notable historical achievements of the Hungarian people. Unfortunately, and I’m really ashamed about this, I can only remember Laszlo Biro, since I’m a huge purchaser of biros (and was also mentioned in my User’s guide to Hungary).
3) When we were passing the Citadel, the related anecdote was hilarious: St. Gerard was trying to spread the Lord’s word and the people of Budapest rewarded him by sending him rolling down the hill (not sure if he made it out alive) in a barrel. Afterwards, however, they named the hill after him.

 

And now, prepare to be amazed! Sit back, relax and enjoy our creation! 1, 2, 3, roll!

Recipe for a weekend in Budapest

Budapest is an awesome city: lively, beautiful and very exciting! For a weekend in Budapest these are our recommendations:

Fisherman's bastion
Fisherman’s bastion

– Visit of the old city of Buda. It is a very nice walk on the hills, from which you’ll get an astounding view of the Parliament and of the majestic river Danube (especially at night).

-The Fisherman’s Bastion is an absolute must-see! Instead of taking the bus or the cableway, it’s better to walk. From the Metro stop of Batthyány tér (M2) just follow the directions which will take you up the hills and will let you discover the towers and arches one step at a time through the park. It’s even more magical and charming at night: every stone is so sparkling, as if it was made of gold! (soooo awesoooome! Better than the Disney castle!)

-Heroes’ Square: it’s one of the symbols of the city. Every statue represents one of the chiefs of the ancient tribes that first settled in the territory of modern Hungary.
Right behind the square there’s Vajdahunyad Castle, surrounded by a small lake and totally immersed in the beautiful city park. Better go there in spring, though, since in winter they simply pull down some lever and poof! The lake is empty!

Heroes' Square
Heroes’ Square

-Midday stop: If you’re enjoying Heroes’ Square and its surroundings, we recommend a very nice place to have lunch. Paprika Restaurant is barely a five-minute walk from the square and it serves delicious typical Hungarian cuisine! Still droodling if I think about it! 😛

-Walk along the Danube with its famous bridges: Liberty Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge and in particular the Chain Bridge, which is a spectacular sight. As a matter of fact, all three bridges were severely damaged during the bombings of the WWII, so they had to rebuild them afterwards…

-Cruise on the Danube by night. More awesomeness! More details in the next post!

The Parliament from the cruise ship
The Parliament from the cruise ship

– The WAMP! Kaleidoscopic event organised by local designers and artists ….check out their website! We got the right day by chance, and it was not bad! It might have been better if we were not comparing the stands with all the other Christmasy stalls around the city.

-Of course, the thermal baths!!!! They are so many that there’s one for everybody (not literally).

So….go to Budapest (preferably in warm seasons)! It’s incredible (all year round)!

 

Groove on!

Silvia and Giacomo

Winter Holidays in the ex Austro-Hungarian Empire

Christmas time was approaching faster than we envisaged, and we hadn’t decided where to spend our holidays yet. Being stationed in Pécs, a beautiful city in the south of Hungary, our first thought was to take out of the drawer our old project and tour the medieval castles located in the marvellous Romanian region of Transylvania. Family matters, however, impended over us, and so we decided to turn our back to Transylvania and start our journey back to Italy. The city of Pécs, though the fifth largest city in the whole of Hungary, has no international airport, and the Communist regime left the country with an extremely centralised system of railways. This means that in order for you to leave the country by train, you need perforce to go to Budapest first, and then take another train to your final destination. Fortunately, trains are rather cheap in Hungary (so that is not really a great deal) but fines are not, so make sure you buy the right ticket and have your papers in order!

Anyway, we were aware that we had to stop in Budapest, at least to change train, so we decided to seize the opportunity and spend a few days there, since we hadn’t have the chance to properly visit the capital yet. It takes 3 hours to get from Pécs to Budapest on an Intercity train, since you have pass through the entire width of Hungary, south to north. The journey is fine, though, and the sight very pleasant and relaxing (if you are travelling with enough daylight to see out of passengers windows). The capital of Hungary has three train stations, Keleti, Nyugati and Deli, each of them end of the line, so you’d better make sure to know which one is yours, or you’ll risk to get lost even before starting to visit the city!

Nyugati Train Station, designed by Monsieur Eiffel, the very same who designed the famous Tower in Paris.
Nyugati Train Station, designed by Monsieur Eiffel, the very same who designed the famous Tower in Paris.
Keleti Train Station
Keleti Train Station

We had a wonderful time in Budapest. The climate was not exactly warm, but still, it was December and that was really just a small nuisance.  I’ll make sure to write down more accurately about some of the best venues of the city in the upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

Once explored Budapest, it seemed to us just normal to go and pay a visit to the other half of the old Habsburg Empire, and therefore we bought a ticket for Vienna. Now, there’s one more strange thing you need to know about Hungarian Railways: they only sell return tickets for international travels. I mean, you don’t have to actually get back, simply they won’t sell you a one way ticket to Vienna. Because of that, there’s a lot of ticket-beggars, asking for your ticket to get back to Budapest. If you don’t plan to get back within the week, and if you feel you need a karma-boost, then it won’t do you any harm to hand over your tickets. You could try to sell them, but I’m not sure it is legal, and they probably will not want to pay any money for what they could get for free…

The weather in Vienna was fiercer than in Budapest, but then again we managed, and it wasn’t a great drawback. We just made sure the refill often our mugs with mulled wine from one of the innumerable Christmas markets that crowded the city centre!

Me enjoying mulled wine!
Me enjoying mulled wine!

We (mostly Silvia) decided to spend our days in Vienna looking for every outstanding bit of Art Nouveau in the city, and we undertook that task pretty thoroughly. Then, I won a visit at Schönbrunn Schloss, though it has to be said that winter is not the appropriate time of the year to enjoy the famed gardens of the castle… As a final treat, we visited an establishment we were both extremely excited about: the Chocolate Museum! A proper post about that will follow, suffice it to say it was a proper Chocolate Factory, though unfortunately lacking of any oompa loompas.

By then, our time was running short, and so we had to buy our final ticket on a night train to Venice. At first we shared our small den with an elderly couple, but by the time we arrived at Salzburg they dismounted from the train, and so we could colonise all the cabin, stretch out and peacefully sleep, waiting for the train to bring us home.

Giacomo

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