I arrived in my Prague with a sinking dreaded feeling that I had made a mistake – going abroad alone. What was wrong with me? Why was I doing this?
In between the Facebook updates I was posting this question had been knawing at me, chewing over slowly in the back of my brain.
When people asked me why I was going, I was telling them I had ‘cabin fever’ and ‘itchy feet’ and I needed to go. When they asked why alone i was unsure on how to respond, because I didn’t know the answer at the time. It was as though my unconscious had driven my hand to book the flights and interrail pass and I had no part in it. But that’s not exactly an answer you can give in conversation.
Some Travel Spiel
Prague is a cluster of medieval-era buildings circled around the Vlatava river and the town itself that has suffered serious floods in the past, particularly to the precious Charles bridge, which is beautiful but better to visit at night as during the day it’s full of tourists and people trying to sell you shit.
Great place for drinking as it’s cheap and cheerful, as I found out one night when I did a pub crawl and met 2 Amercian soldiers based in Germany. I ended up chatting to him about his time in the Middle East and his experience in dealing with Isis. Pretty interesting conversation to be having at 1am on the Charles bridge…
Interesting fact I learned on a tour of the town hall that displays the famous astronomical clock and holds the 12 apostles that rotate within the clock tower (one for each hour), is the famous executioner, Jan Mydlar, who lived in Prague. He was so good with the axe that Henry the 8th requested him to travel to England to behead one of his wives! Also, nestled amongst the 12 apostles is the grim reaper holding an hourglass, the message is clear – time will eventually run out for us all…
On a more positive note, the great thing about Prague is that all the attractions are near and close together and you can do a lot there in a short space of time.
I started in Vienna in a wind tunnel, it was like a tornado had fecking ripped through the square in front of St. Stephens church, and I struggled to get a concert ticket from a street seller – his leaflets were flying everywhere!
Then he tried to ask me out for a coffee which was awkward considering I had just told him I was in Vienna for only 3 nights.
The weather was shit in Vienna, but the Mozart concert I went to made up for that.
The walk after the show was kinda magical – there’s something fairytale about walking through the streets of Vienna at night. Grand Romanesque buildings lit up – the perfect backdrop to a love story that you could get lost in and forget about your 9-5 job back home, and the crazy landlord that wants to kick you out of your room for not paying extortionate rent.
As I write this I’m on a train in Croatia, at some point we’ll be crossing the Bosnian border where apparently authorities will board and invetisgate our passports and items and such…not that it matters. The Croatian countryside scenery is enough to pass the 6 hours I’ve got on the train.
On with Vienna, the Schonbrunn palace in Vienna is the top tourist trap (I mean, place) to visit, it attracts a few million gawking people each year. Bring your own food if you wish to go as I paid 8 euro for a fucking tea and pastry. In Irish, it’s a dear hole.
The National Library is worth a visit and less touristy. If you love the Trinity library you’ll definetely love this place. Floor to ceiling of book shelves and massive globes depicting countries as the were perceived hundreds of years ago, the globes have been sitting in the main library since the 18th century. It houses over 200,000 books from as early as the 4th century and the more rarer collections are stored between 18 to 22 degrees under special lighting. The National Library has enjoyed donations from the likes of Hillary Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and if preserving precious ancient manuscripts and whatnot is your thing you can donate too.
If you’re a musical connoisseur, then you’ll love Mozart’s apartment, which is just behind St. Stephen’s basilica. You can stand in the very room where he composed some of his most famous musical pieces and learn about his entrepreneurial endeavours and how he booked venues and arranged performances out of his own pocket. It’s rumoured that Casanova attended one of Mozart’s operas, Il Giovanni, in Prague, when he was there researching for his autobiography. It’s also rumoured that Mozart was poisoned by a jealous rival and didn’t die of natural causes…
The Sigmund Freud museum is worth checking out but I would advise waiting until his apartment has been renovated as it’s closed at the moment to tourists until completion.
Besides this, you can see furniture from his waiting room where patients would wait to go in and see him. He was an avid collectors of antiquities and these are all on display. Some are shockingly enough from the Egyptian era and must have to cost a small fortune – the bloke was fucking rich!
He was one of the founders of psychotherapy, who back then he called ‘the talking cure’, dealing mainly with young ladies from aristocratic backgrounds who suffered bouts of ‘hysteria’.
Of particular interest was learning about some of his theories, one was girl’s having ‘penis envy’ and being jealous of boys because they have a penis. Yeah, that was educational…
Another musical biggie was Beethoven and you can visit the spa (or what passed for a spa in those days) he retreated his tortured self to, to hid away from the world and compose amongst nature and you can learn about the long walks he used to take for inspiration etc. The location is on the outskirts of Vienna, near the mountains where a natural spring allowed for rejuvenation for tired souls such as Beethoven’s. It was also interesting to note he learned piano under the tutelage of Mozart, and his method of using vibrations to ‘hear’ the music as he was turning deaf to continue creating music. His poor hearing meant he avoided social situations and people in general, as it made him self conscious considering his occupation, I couldn’t help feeling sad for him.
Vienna has housed some of the greatest minds in history and as well as that, there’s also the Opera House. They have walking tours if you want to see the place without paying 70 euro for a performanc ticket or 4 euro to stand for 2.5 to 3 hours.
Vienna is expensive in general, but similar price in Dublin so wouldn’t be too shocking for Irish visitors.
Budapest was a different animal. It was hotter, cheaper and (joy!), the tourist attractions were closer together. The Gate brudge is a good place to start as it has St. Stephen’s basilica, Buda castle and Fisherman’s Bastion nearby as well as the national art gallery and museum.
My personal favourite is the Museum of Fine Arts which houses some of the most exquisite (although disturbing) art pieces I’ve ever witnessed – from the medieval to renaissance period and have sections from countries such as Italy, Germany and Hungary itself. The basement has the best part – Egyptian mummies! And multiple sarcophaguses – it was the most impressive Egyptian collection I’d ever seen! The spoils had been excavated by Hungarian and Polish archaeologists in a place called Gahmud and so they had a sort of natural claim to them. I highly recommend this place if you have a deep, inner squealing anthropologist bursting to get out.
The baths are also worth doing, I highly recommend doing as hangover cure. Enough said.
The Pest side of Budapest is more densely populated and more flat to walk on whereas Buda is hilly and more naturitstic. Take a river cruise at night if you have little time in this city as an audio guide tour will tell you the facts of the main buildings that sit on the banks (the parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion, the museum and Buda castle) while also getting the romantic chills fròm the way the buildings light up at night.
The Ruin bar district is great too. Upon one drinking night there, I watched a little person spank a few British tourists with a belt and then more people joined in – you just never know what you’re gonna see in Budapest man!
I waited in a queue for 10 minutes to get a seat at the prestigious New York cafe where I paid a whopping 7 euro 50 cent for a tea. Worth visiting at least to feel posh and pretend you’re rich, the small quartet playing classical music was a nice touch too and the interior decor is Greek and Romanesque in the sistene-style chapel paintings upon the ceilings. Has a jazzy 30’s or 40’s feel to it too which adds a hint of sophistication 😉
Next stop: Croatia.
Tip: if you’re interrailing and trying to get to Zagreb from Budapest, forget it. The trains worked out that it would take me over 12 hours to get there. Save yourself the trouble and buy a bus ticket for about 25 to 35 euro and get there in 5 hours. You might be held up at the Hungarian-Croatian border for a while as they’ll be checking everyone’s passports but it’s worth it.