Winter in Europe Part IV- New Year’s Eve in Prague & Budapest

Time for the next installment of our Winter in Europe! We are getting ready to wrap up our time here in Prague and move onto new adventures so here is the update on the last few weeks.

The week of New Year’s was a nice slow week here in Prague the weather got pretty cold and we turned our attention into more indoor pursuits. I went a saw the Swan Lake ballet at the National Theatre and it was what dreams are made of. I booked the last seat in theatre for a Tuesday night production in the worst seats available so my ticket was only around $16 (USD). Every other night production was sold out so I was happy with my cheap poor viewing ticket. The venue itself was breathtaking, it is a stunning neo-Renaissance building dating from 1868-83. The rich red and gold decor and detail created the perfect backdrop for a magical evening at the ballet.

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Swan Lake ballet in Prague

During the week we also went to the Veletrzni Palac (Trade Fair Palace/ National museum) which is right around the corner from our apartment. It holds an interesting collection of Czech and international modern and contemporary art, including works of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and many more. The building itself is an odd and unassuming. At the time of construction in 1928 it was the largest building of its kind in the world and the first Functionalist building in Prague. It is a single huge rectangular block which I found extremely unappealing and hard to believe these masterpieces were held in such a building. The museum is very large and we spent hours wandering the floors, stopping to take a lunch break at their cafe which was excellent. I have an interesting take on museums, most people can’t stand to go with me because of it. I move very quickly through a museum scanning more than anything and only stop and take the time at pieces that catch my interest. Once something catching my interest though I stand and can stand there for a very long period of time. A now here’s the truth I stopped and was interested in only a few things in the museum. That didn’t stop Tommy though his eye was caught over and over again so I spent most the time that day trying to move Tommy along quicker. I think this sums the museum up nicely I gave it a shoulder shrug but appreciated it while Tommy was wrapped up and fascinated, so take that for a mixed review.

However! on the ground floor of the museum was Mucha’s Slav Epic collection on temporary display. Of all the art I’ve seen around the world and the countless museums I’ve been too I really think this collection might be my absolute favorite. It was truly truly amazing and a must see. Here is the description from the gallery website:

“The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej) is a series of twenty monumental canvases (the largest measuring over 6 by 8 metres) depicting the history of the Slav people and civilisation. Mucha conceived it as a monument for all the Slavonic peoples and he devoted the latter half of his artistic career to the realisation of this work. The idea of the work was formed in 1899, while Mucha was working on the design for the interior of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian government for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. In preparation for the assignment he travelled widely through the Balkans, researching their history and customs as well as observing the lives of the Southern Slavs in the regions that had been annexed by Austria-Hungary two decades earlier. From this experience sprang the inspiration for a new project – the creation of ‘an epic for all the Slavonic peoples’ that would portray the ‘joys and sorrows’ of his own nation and those of all the other Slavs.”

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Mucha Slav Epic Collection

New Year’s eve in Prague

New Year’s eve in Prague is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life and probably will ever experience again.

We made dinner at home and then went for a fancy drink at the American bar at the Municipal house. They were holding a huge party in the banquet halls of the Municipal house and they had large buffet tables, dancing and a few different bands celebrating. The streets were jammed packed and people from all over the world flooded the streets. After a drink we walked around Old Town square and avoided getting hit with fireworks going off everywhere. People were openly drinking in the streets and anyone could shoot off fireworks of all sizes anywhere they felt like it. Did it feel safe? No, not at all. Was it an incredible experience? Absolutely. We found out later Steven Colbert was in Old Town square as well that night so we could have been standing right next to him.

As we stood in the square it began to snow and turned the magic up on the whole evening. We made our way across the jam packed Charles bridge and through the streets to another bridge to watch as it turned midnight. When it hit 12 fireworks went off all around us in every direction. It was a 360 degree firework display, people shooting them off far away, right in front of us and as far as you could see. The castles and the Charles bridge were light up with fireworks and the display lasted on and on into the night. After midnight we made our way home though Letna park and dodged fireworks and people with bottles of champagne partying everywhere. It was quite a way to bring in 2016.

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Budapest

The weekend after New Year’s we rented a car and drove five hours to Budapest, Hungary. I compared the train versus driving option a lot and in the end the time and money for both ended up to be about the same. The only trouble was on the way home we hit heavy snow and it made the drive back long and difficult. So the seven hour train ride versus five hour drive turned out to be about the same.  The drive took us through three countries with three different languages and three different currencies. Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

However, driving gave up the chance (for better for worse) to stop in Brno for the Ossuary. The underground 17th century ossuary was rediscovered in 2001 in the historical centre of the city and was only opened to the public in 2012. It is estimated that the ossuary holds the remains of over 50 thousand people which makes it the second-largest ossuary in Europe. The unassuming entrance of the ossuary is directly beside the entrance to the St. James church and for an entrance fee you can wander around the narrow rows of bones and skulls. I started to walk in and immediately felt panic. The walls were top to bottom made of human bones and the displays of human skulls stacked on top of one another was unsettling. While I found it fascinating it was certainly not somewhere I wanted to linger and did a quick museum pace tour through the narrow hallways and made my way back up into the streets after only a few minutes.

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Brno ossuary and my unhappy face

We knew it was going to be cold that weekend and planned for it but it certainly made sightseeing difficult. It was about 10 degrees F all weekend and made traveling from sight to sight difficult. Luckily, Budapest is known for being a spa town with thermal baths throughout the city.

We arrived mid-day on Saturday and walked around town for as long as we could stand it. We booked a hotel on the Pest side of the river and crossed the chain bridge into the Buda side. The architecture in Budapest is a collection of baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and Art Nouveau buildings and home to the world famous Parliament building.

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Budapest Parliament

During our weekend in Budapest we went to two thermal baths and explored the city on foot and through the public bus system. Budapest is also called the city of spas, one of the few large cities in the world rich in thermal water. Visitors can choose from many baths throughout the city and it provided the perfect way between sightseeing to warm up enough to take in the city.  We visited the Turkish bath, Rudas bath in the morning. Rudas bath was established as early as the 16th century, during the time of the Turkish occupation. Its central part includes an octagonal pool covered by a large diameter dome. If you go in the morning between 9-12pm you get a discounted rate into the baths and have two options on the main pools or a separate ticket for the roof top city view bath. We opted for the main baths and spent the morning dipping with fellow visitors in the six different temperature pools and warming up in the sauna and steam rooms. The baths are co-ed and have a range of people from all walks of life in them. It is a fascinating experience and the perfect way to warm up for a day of freezing cold sightseeing.

In the evening we also visited the Gellert bath, a famous Art Nouveau spa at the Gellert hotel. The baths were built in 1912 and 1918 and its center piece in the columned Roman style pool. The pools are a maze of saunas, outdoor pools, heated pools and steam rooms filled with tourists and local alike. The Gellert bath was a perfect combination of two of the city’s specialties, the healing waters and the Art Nouveau architecture.

Between the baths we spent our day sightseeing and saw a lot in a short amount of time. I think the weekend is best described through photos and won’t go into too many details since it was so cold my memories are frozen.

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Basilica of St. Stephen
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Parliament at night

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Great Synagogue
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Seriously, I was freezing
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Gellert bath
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