Sunday, December 19, 2010

Running Santas, Sand Nativity and a Snowy Beach - Jesolo, Italy

Each December, running Santas, or Babbo Natale in Italian, take to the streets and beach in Jesolo for the annual Babbo Natale Run. There is a 2.5K family run and a 10K competitive run. The only requirement - you must don a Santa suit!

Nativity displays or presepi are an important part of the Christmas to Epiphany season in Italy. An unusual nativity is displayed in Jesolo's Piazza Guglielmo Marconi - a nativity sand sculpture made by top international sand sculpture artists. This year's 9th edition winds through a picturesque itinerary through the streets of Bethlehem until reaching the grotto with the Sacred family.

Works representing Pope John Paul II, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope John XXIII have been exhibited during the past editions.  This year's edition is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa and protagonist of the struggle against apartheid and donations from the exhibit will go to the construction of two school buildings and some administrative offices in the village of Mfadena (Cameroon). 

With a surprise dusting of snow just in time for this year's run, the day was picture perfect in the snow, sand and sun. 

Natale di Luce in una Cometa di Vetro - Murano, Italy

Murano is an island in the Venice lagoon, easily reached from Venice by vaporetto.  Murano’s reputation as a center for glass-making was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glass-makers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass.

The process of making Murano glass is rather complex. Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking technique. The glass is made from silica, which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval wherein the glass is soft before it hardens completely. This is when the glass-master can shape the material.

Natale di Vetro (Christmas of Glass) is an annual Christmas celebration in Murano, Italy, beginning on St. Nicholas Day and lasting one month. Simone Cenedese designed a glass sculpture for the 2008 Natale di Vetro celebration, and this stunningly beautiful work of art is on permanent display at Campo Santo Stefano. Titled “Natale di luce in una cometa di vetro,” (Christmas of light in a glass comet) this blue glass sculpture has become Murano’s symbol of Christmas.

During Natale di Vetro, several of the larger glass-works are open to the public, allowing anyone an opportunity to experience the glass artisans honing their craft.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Paris, France

Known as both the City of Light and the City of Love, Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Paris at Christmas, decked out in its holiday finery, makes it even more beautiful than usual.

Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe stands at the top of the Champs-Élysées and honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.

Underneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. Interred here on Armistice Day 1920, it has the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins' fire was extinguished in the year 394. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified, now from both World Wars. A ceremony is held there every November 11th on the anniversary of the armistice signed between France and Germany in 1918.

Climb the 284 stairs to the top for panoramic views of Paris and the Place de l'Étoile, or Square of the Star, where 12 straight avenues lead directly to the Arc. The square is surrounded by two streets forming a circle around it: the rue de Presbourg and the rue de Tilsitt which have been so named since 1864, after diplomatic successes of Napoleon I which led to the signing of the Treaty of Presbourg in 1805 and the Treaties of Tilsit in 1807.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is known in France as La plus belle avenue du monde (the most beautiful avenue in the world). Champs-Élysées runs for 2 kilometers from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. The chestnut box trees are strung with blue lights and the Grande Roue de Paris (wandering ferris wheel) lights up the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk of Luxor. Paris' largest Christmas market stretches along the Champs-Élysées with the many wooden stalls selling vin chaud (hot mulled wine), roast chestnuts and other traditional Parisian holiday treats.

Musée du Louvre
The museum is housed in the Palais du Louvre, which began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are still visible. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace.

In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed the Grand Louvre plan to renovate the building and relocate the Finance Ministry, allowing displays throughout the building. Architect I. M. Pei was awarded the project and proposed a glass pyramid to stand over a new entrance in the main court, the Cour Napoléon. The pyramid and its underground lobby were inaugurated on October 15, 1988.

La Pyramide Inversée can be admired from the Carrousel du Louvre and serves as a skylight for the underground entrance to the museum. Directly below the tip of the downwards-pointing glass pyramid, a small stone pyramid is stationed on the floor, as if mirroring the larger structure above: The tips of the two pyramids almost touch.

Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe. It stands majestically on the Ile d la Cité with Pope Alexander III laying the first stone in 1163.

The legendary gargoyles actually serve as drain pipes and have carried rain from the roof of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame for more than six hundred years. Through the years they allowed rainwater to fall free of the cathedral, thus preventing damage to the masonry. Some believing in superstition claim that the grotesque figures frighten away evil spirits along with serving its practical duty.

During Christmas, Notre Dame hosts Paris' Christmas tree on its forecourt, which is more than twenty feet high and is covered with lights and embellished with beautiful decorations.

Trocadero Christmas Village
The Trocadero Christmas Village opposite the Eiffel Tower offers Parisians and tourists alike the opportunity to soak up a little Christmas spirit. Visit the 120 chalets for a wide selection of gifts, treats and decorations for the holiday season.

Not to be missed is the outdoor ice skating rink. Nothing is more romantic than skating hand-in-hand at dusk as the Eiffel Tower twinkles near by! Warm up afterward with some vin chaud while admiring the Eiffel Tower hourly light show.

Bateaux Parisiens Seine River Cruise
Bateaux Parisiens cruises along the Seine River with the illuminated buildings and bridges of Paris passing by all the way from the Eiffel Tower to the Ile d la Cité. The cruise begins with the song 'I love Paris in the summer' playing. To learn History along the way, plug in your audio-guide and the host will also provide lesser-known stories: famous lovers met in this town house…dancing the tango along the banks of the Seine...

Eiffel Tower
Originally built to impress spectators at the 1889 World's Fair, the Eiffel Tower was meant to be a temporary addition to the Paris skyline. Still in working order, the double-decker elevators and mechanisms from 1900 were automated in 1986.

Three levels of the tower can be visited. The first level, at 187 feet, has a post office, restaurant, shops, cinema and cafe. The second level is at 376 feet. On a clear day from the third level, 905 feet above the ground, its possible to see for 45 miles!

The Tower has been re-painted 18 times since its initial construction, an average of once every seven years. It has changed color several times, passing from red-brown to yellow-ochre, then to chestnut brown and finally to the bronze of today, slightly shaded off towards the top to ensure that the color is perceived to be the same all the way up as it stands against the Paris sky. Sixty tons of paint are necessary to cover the Tower's surface, as well as 50 kilometers of security cords, 5 acres of protection netting, 1500 brushes, 5000 sanding disks, 1500 sets of work clothes…and more than a year for a team of 25 painters to paint the Tower from top to bottom. 

If it's literally freezing with a wind chill, like on our visit, warm up in the cafe with a hot chocolate and watch the latest team of painters paint the Tower from top to bottom.

Galeries Lafayette
The Galeries Lafayette is a 10-story department store. The store's unique Belle Epoque architecture, which features a dramatic colored glass dome and an ornate Art Nouveau staircase offering dizzying perspectives, contributed to the department store being named a Paris city heritage site.

Don't miss the Galeries Lafayette for holiday lights and windows that arguably rival those of New York department stores. Classic American musicals are being celebrated in the windows of Galeries Lafayette for Christmas 2010. Blonde haired dolls wearing Santa suits, gold clogs, and red tams are the Radio City Rockettes, teddy bears in bathing suits with snorkels and fins dancing away to the tunes of Mamma Mia, and a mannequin with a snow white Afro sitting on a huge shiny red Christmas ornament belting out Life is a Cabaret Ol' Chum are some of the highlights of the singing windows. The theme is called Show Chaud Noel. Inside, the famous 20 meter tree under the glass dome is gorgeous as ever this year with gold, turquoise, violet and pink balls.

Galette des Rois
The galette des Rois (King cake) is found in Paris at Christmas time. Its most notable feature is the hidden fève (prize), usually a porcelain figurine, in the cake. Whoever finds the fève in their slice of cake gets to wear a paper crown and be King (or Queen) for the day.  I can imagine that in the U.S. a hard, pointy figurine baked into a cake would be considered a safety risk, but that’s not at all the case here in France, with lines of galette-hungry customers snaking out of every bakery that you pass. Tim found one of these porcelain collectibles in his cake and was king for the day! Of course, we only learned of the tradition after he thought a piece of the mixer had fallen into his cake. Definitely a memorable experience!

To see all our pictures of Paris, visit

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Château de Versailles

Originally a small royal hunting lodge, this structure became the core of the new palace, or Château de Versailles. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

A visit to the chateau begins with the Grand Apartments, which are known as the grand apartment du roi and the grand apartment de la reine (the private apartments of the king and queen respectively). These are richly decorated with colored marbles, stone and wood carvings, murals, velvet, silver and gilded furniture. Beginning with the Salon d'Hercule, each room is dedicated to an Olympian deity.

The Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) connects the apartment of the king with the apartment of the queen and is where the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was ratified, ending World War I. Here seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arched windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the Galerie des Glaces.

Not to be missed, even on a crisp winter day, are the Gardens of Versailles. In addition to the meticulous manicured lawns, parterres of flowers, and sculptures are the fountains, which are located throughout the garden. Dating from the time of Louis XIV and still using much of the same network of hydraulics as was used during the Ancien Régime, the fountains contribute to making the gardens of Versailles unique.

The Bassin de Latone, constructed between 1668–1670, depicts an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Latona and her children, Apollo and Diana, being tormented with mud slung by Lycian peasants, who refused to let her and her children drink from their pond, appealed to Zeus who responded by turning the Lycians into frogs.

With a length of 1,500 meters and a width of 62 meters, the Grand Canal, which was built between 1668 and 1671, was the setting for Louis XIV's many boating parties. On a clear, crisp day, it's the perfect place to purchase a delicious topped baked potato from a hot potato vendor and enjoy the picturesque gardens and glistening golden chateau.

We were lucky to plan our visit with the Les Feeries de la  Reine at Marie-Antoinette's Estate. The Queen gathered her favorites and staged refined, elegant fêtes where courtiers tried to seduce her with fireworks, trying to outdo each other’s wittiness and inventiveness. Fireworks, water effects and characters made of light glitter on the pond between the Dairy and the Mill, and illuminate the Queen’s splendid houses. It was the perfect end to a perfect day in Versailles!

To see all of our pictures of Versailles, visit

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zürich, Switzerland

Zürich's Christmas atmosphere is simply captivating with snow-capped Alps framing Lake Zürich and a plethora of holiday lights and Christmas trees in every square!

Zürcher Christkindlimarkt, located at RailCity, is Europe's biggest indoor market with more than 160 wooden market stalls tempt shoppers with colorful handcrafted trinkets, delicious St. Nicholas pastries, gourmet chocolates, butter cookies and mulled Glühwein wine. A 50' Christmas tree steals the show adorned with an array of 5000 sparkling Swarovski Christmas ornaments.

Located behind RailCity, the Live On Ice skating rink is set up against the backdrop of the Swiss National Museum. Hundreds of Christmas trees, a fondue tent, mulled wine and a cosy panoramic lounge keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Next, stroll over to Werdmühleplatz to take in the Singing Christmas Tree concert. Children from local schools stand on a tiered stage, arranged and decorated to look like a Christmas tree, and sing Christmas carols and other popular songs. A small Christmas market is also in the square.

Bahnhofstrasse is Zürich's main downtown street and one of the world's most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues. This year, new Christmas lighting known as “Lucy”, gives a special brilliance to the world-famous Bahnhofstrasse. Thousands of LEDs create moving clouds of light and gentle showers of luminescence.

The twin towers of the Grossmünster are regarded as perhaps the most recognized landmark in Zurich.The two towers were first erected between 1487 and 1492. Originally, they had high wooden steeples, which were destroyed by fire in 1781, following which the present neo-Gothic tops were added.

Across the Limmat River stands St. Peter Church. The steeple's clock face has a diameter of 8.7 meters,  was built in 1534 and is the largest church clock face in Europe.

A short walk from St. Peter is the Fraumünster abbey, founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zürich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority.

Don't miss the beautiful guild houses all throughout the Old Town. There are fourteen historical Zünfte (guilds) under the system established in 1336 with the "guild revolution" of Rudolf Brun. They are the 13 guilds that predated 1336, plus the Gesellschaft zur Constaffel, originally consisting of the city's nobles. Perhaps most beautiful, especially decorated in twinkling Christmas lights, is the Hotel Savoy, formerly two guilds, tanners and shoemakers, united in 1877.

Of course, no trip to Zürich would be complete without dining on fondue. Restaurant Le Dézaley, famous for their array of fondues (cheese, chinoise, and bourguignonne). The moto Le vin se boit au Dézaley "pure le matin, a midi sans eau, le soir comme le bon Dieu l'a fait. (The wine in Dézaley drinks himself, purely in the morning, at noon with no water in the evening God has made him such) adorns the walls of the restaurant.

We dined on both the famous family secret recipe cheese fondue and the chinoise fondue. The chinoise is a Court Bouillon. Veal, beef, and chicken are dipped to cook in the broth and then dipped into an array of dipping sauces. At meal's end, the much flavored broth is served with or without sherry wine.

The history of fondue is centuries old. In the Alps, the herdsmen were cut off from much of the environment. The staple foods, which could be easily produced there, were bread and cheese and thus came about the fondue.

In Switzerland, the cheese fondue holds status of a National Court and many customs and habits have grown up around it. Thus, it is as common custom a participant who loses his piece of bread, buys a round of white wine, brandy, or the like, or gets up to sing a song.

To view all our pictures of  Zürich, visit

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Colosseum and Roman Forum - Rome, Italy

The Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, was started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian and completed around 80 AD under Titus. The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).

The Colosseum had been completed up to the third story by the time of Vespasian's death in 79. The top level was finished and the building inaugurated by his son, Titus, in 80. Dio Cassius recounts that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games of the amphitheatre. The building was remodelled further under Vespasian's younger son, the newly designated Emperor Domitian, who constructed the hypogeum, a series of underground tunnels used to house animals and slaves.

Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

The arena itself was 83 meters by 48 meters (272 ft by 157 ft / 280 by 163 Roman feet). It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground"). Little now remains of the original arena floor, but the hypogeum is still clearly visible. It consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like. Separate tunnels were provided for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins to permit them to enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds.

The Palatine Hill, the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and one of the most ancient parts of the city overlooks the Foro Romano on one side and Circus Maximus on the other. The Palatine was once the home of emperors and aristocrats. The ruins range from the simple house in which Augustus was thought to have lived, to the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana, which were wings of a luxurious palace built by Domitian.

According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, known as the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf that kept them alive. According to this legend, the shepherd Faustulus found the infants, and with his wife Acca Larentia raised the children. When they were older, the boys killed their great-uncle (who seized the throne from their father), and they both decided to build a new city of their own on the banks of the River Tiber. Suddenly, they had a violent argument with each other and in the end Romulus killed his twin brother Remus. This is how "Rome" got its name - from Romulus.

The Foro Romano was the ceremonial center of ancient Rome; a market with emperors renovating old buildings and erecting new temples and monuments.

Many of the Forum's temples date to the periods of the Kingdom and the Republic, although most were destroyed and rebuilt several times. The ruins within the Forum clearly show how urban spaces were used during the Roman age. My favorites in the Forum include the following major monuments, buildings, and ancient ruins:

One of the most fully intact buildings is the Curia Julia, or Senate House, a stark brick building. The relief panels knows as the Plutei of Trajan, commissioned by either Trajan or Hadrian to decorate the Rostra, can be seen inside.

My personal favorite is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, begun in 141 by the Emperor Antoninus Pius and was initially dedicated to his deceased and deified wife, Faustina the Elder. When Antoninus Pius was deified after his death in 161, the temple was re-dedicated jointly to Antoninus and Faustina at the instigation of his successor, Marcus Aurelius. It's strong foundation, columns, and rigid lattice ceiling kept it so well preserved that numerous attempts to pull the abandoned temple down were unsuccessful. The marks of steel cables pulling upon the columns scar those columns to this day.

The circular Temple of Vesta was one of ancient Rome's most sacred shrines and was dedicated to the goddess of fire. The flame, kept alive by the six Vestal Virgins, symbolized the perpetuity of the state and its extinction prophesied doom for the city. The Vestal Virgins were selected when they were between six and ten years old and served for thirty years. They were buried alive if they lost their virginity and whipped by the high priest if the sacred flame died out.

The white marble Arch of Septimius Severus at the northeast end of the Forum is a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the two campaigns against Parthia (modern day Iran and Iraq) of 194/195 and 197-199.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube with a unification on November 17, 1873 of right (west)-bank Buda and Óbuda with left (east)-bank Pest. Having spent all of our time on the Pest side of the Danube on our first trip, we decided to explore the hilly Buda side of the Danube.

Caving Under Budapest
Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is famous for its thermal baths, but only a few know that the hot water rushing up from deep underground created something else too. In the limestone mountains, under Budapest, the heated water formed a huge cave system, which is thought to be more than 100 km long. So we donned our overalls, helmet and head lamp to crawl (literally) in the second longest cave of Hungary, the Pál-völgyi–Mátyás-hegyi cave system, which is a real labyrinth system situated mostly under the elegant residences of Budapest. The 2 1/2 hour long tour leads on unbuilt, natural parts of the cave, with the supervision of professional caving guides. Be prepared to crawl, scramble and creep many times throughout this tour. I definitely do not recommend it if you are claustrophobic.

 Wine Tasting Beneath Budapest
The stone Faust Wine Cellar is part of the vast labyrinth system winding underneath Buda Castle. The inhabitants of the castle carved the labyrinth out of the chalk stone to provide escape during a siege in the middle ages. The cellar offers a wide selection of Hungarian wines from the country's best wine growing regions as well as traditional fruit brandies called pálinka. 

Gábor Nagy is the wine sommelier of Faust Wine Cellar and has a wonderful knowledge about each of the wines he serves. I tasted the white lovers and Tim tasted the red lovers. I started off with the pálinka. My white lovers tasting included a dry Egri Királyleányka from 2009, Villányi Chardonnay from 2008, Somoi Aranyhegy Olaszrizling from 2007, the Tokaji Tiszavirág "Mayfly" Cuvee from 2008 and the limited edition Tokaji Aszú from 1993. Each wine was simply better than the one before it.

Tokaji Aszú is the world-famous wine that is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem. The original meaning of the Hungarian word aszú was "dried", but the term aszú came to be associated with the type of wine made with botrytised (i.e. "nobly" rotten) grapes. Aszú berries are individually picked, then collected in huge vats and trampled into the consistency of paste known as aszú dough. Must or wine is poured on the aszú dough and left for 24–48 hours, stirred occasionally. The wine is racked off into wooden casks or vats where fermentation is completed and the aszú wine is to mature. The casks are stored in a cool environment, and are not tightly closed, so a slow fermentation process continues in the cask, usually for several years. The concentration of aszú was traditionally defined by the number of puttony of dough added to a Gönc cask (136 liter barrel) of must. Nowadays the puttony number is based on the content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Aszú ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos. Unlike most other wines, alcohol content of aszú typically runs higher than 14%. Annual production of aszú is less than one percent of the region's total output.

Tim's red lovers tasting also started with the pálinka, followed by Pannonhalmi Rose from 2009, the Villányi Pinot Noir (our least favorite with a strong taste of vegetables) from 2005, the Villányi A Cuvee from 2000, and the Tokaji Szamorodni from 1999, which was the least sweet Hungarian dessert wine.

The Tokaji Szamorodni type of wine was initially known as főbor (prime wine), but from the 1820s Polish merchants popularized the name samorodny ("the way it was grown" or "made by itself"). What sets Szamorodni apart from ordinary wines is that it is made from bunches of grapes which contain a high proportion of botrytised grapes. Szamorodni is typically higher in alcohol than ordinary wine. Szamorodni often contains up to 100-120 g of residual sugar and thus is termed édes (sweet). However, when the bunches contain less botrytised grapes, the residual sugar content is much lower, resulting in a száraz (dry) wine. Its alcohol content is typically 14%.

I left the wine cellar with a bottle of each the Tokaji Tiszavirág "Mayfly" Cuvee from 2008 and the limited edition Tokaji Aszú (5 puttonyos) from 1993, both sweet Hungarian dessert wines.

Buda Castle District
The whole Castle District in Buda, with its ample historic sights and wonderful panorama of the Danunbe and Pestm is part of UNESCO's World Heritage Site.

The Halászbástya or Fisherman's Bastion is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902 on the plans of Frigyes Schulek. Its seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. A bronze statue of Stephen I of Hungary mounted on a horse, erected in 1906, stands between the Bastion and the Matthias Church.

The oldest part of the present-day Buda Castle was built in the 14th century by Prince Stephen, Duke of Slavonia, the younger brother of King Louis I of Hungary. The Gothic palace of King Louis I was arranged around a narrow courtyard next to Stephen's Tower. King Sigismund of Hungary greatly enlarged the palace. During his long reign it became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. The last phase of grand-scale building activity happened under King Matthias Corvinus, when Italian humanists, artists and craftsmen arrived at Buda. The Hungarian capital became the first center of Renaissance north of the Alps.

The spectacular Matthias Fountain (Mátyás-kút) decorates the western forecourt of the palace. It shows a group of hunters lead by King Matthias Corvinus together with hounds, a killed deer, Galeotto Marzio with a hawk and Szép Ilonka with a doe.

To view all our pictures of Budapest, click here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Visegrád, Hungary

Visegrád is a small town on the right bank of the Danube in the Danube Bend. Visegrád is famous for the remains of the early Renaissance summer palace of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and the citadel or "upper castle."

The citadel, atop a 328 meter high hill, was originally built in a triangular shape and had two towers. It dates back to the 13th century and was home to Hungarian kings. It  later became their summer residence. New wings and an external wall were built during the Angevin period. Around 1400 King Sigismund also had a third curtain wall constructed and enlarged the palace buildings. At the end of the 15th century, King Matthias Corvinus had the interior part of the castle renovated. The upper castle also served for the safekeeping of the Hungarian royal insignia between the 14th century and 1526.

The hexagonal Solomon Tower was built in 1258. Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, was imprisoned here between 1462-74.

To view all our pictures of Visegrád, click here.

Szentendre, Hungary

Szentendre is a small town at the foot of the Pilis Hill along the Danube Bend. Szentendere was part of the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire under Ulcisia Castra from the 2nd centuty AD. In the 13th century the Mongols and then the Turks in the 15-16th century destroyed the town. It was rebuilt in Baroque style in the 17th century and has preserved the townscape since. After the Turks left mainly Serbian refugees settled down then Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans, Greeks and Romanians. Each ethnic group had establsihed its own town part adding a versatility to the townscape. 

In the Main Square (Fő tér) is the Baroque cross that was erected in 1763 to commemorate the fact that plague avoided the town. The Baroque-Rococo Blagovestenska church also stands tall in the Main Square, built in the mid 18th century by settlers living in the Greek quarter next to the church. Above its wooden gate are frescoes of St. Helene and St Constantine. 

Winding streets lead off from the Main Square packed with museums, restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Stop by any of the shops to find Tokaji wine, pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy), Hungarian paprika, and goose liver.

Stop by the Labirintus Restaurant in the National Wine Museum for a delicious Hungarian meal. You can dine in three different rooms: in the Tokaji Room in the cool cellar, in the Kupa Room on the ground level, or in the Vadász (Hunter's) Room on the first level. In The 220 year old cellar system, you can taste and buy fine Tokaji wines.

We dined in the Kupa Room which hosts just 24 people. Its countryside atmosphere is reached through the exhibition of authentic objects from the every-day life of the village. Try the garlic soup in the rye bread bowl and the turkey breast stuffed with peach and camembert. 

Don't miss a stop in the Szabó Marzipan Museum, where you can follow the process of confectioner work and marzipan handicraft. The display cases have marzipan creations of many Disney characters, a 2 meter tall Michael Jackson made of white chocolate, a Princess Diana, the 160 cm long Hungarian Parliament building, and a wedding cake so large that it would need 970 eggs, 25 liters of cream, 15 kg of butter, 35 kg of sugar, 15 kg of chocolate, 20 kg of flour, and 10 kg of icing. 

To view all our pictures of Szentendre, click here