Olomouc is a town of about 100,000 people in Moravia, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. It has a lot of the things that the big cities have – a town square, old buildings, churches by the dozen, a UNESCO site, drunks and beggars – but is much less crowded (with either).
We spent two nights there to have a look around en route from Krakow to Budapest. It was a great decision. The big attractions are the Astronomical Clock and The Holy Trinity Column, both in the main square, and St Wenceslas Cathedral. Everything is within easy walking distance, including the railway station.
We walked the entire old town and were back in the square in time for the 12 o’clock performance by the Astronomical Clock. This was a bit of a fizzer – not much action, and everything happening very slowly. We later found out that the sign on the clock read “part of clock is shut down for repair”. I guess though that a clock that is wound up by hand will be no match for electronic wizardry when it comes to putting on a show.
Arriving in Budapest by train means every
Budapest - Castle Hill
The view from the cheap seats.
taxi-driving con artist has a chance to try and hook you before you leave the station. Fortunately we had been wised up by our landlady-to-be and we found the place to get a fixed-price taxi. Before long we were at B & B Bellevue, and had received our detailed (and slightly tedious) instructions about everything from how many times to turn the key in the front door to where to buy transport tickets to where to eat.
Budapest has some of the most magnificent architecture we have ever seen. Other cities – including Sydney – have their standouts, but for the number of incredible buildings in such a setting on either side of the Danube Budapest would have to be right up at the top.
It’s not all architecture, though. The numerous posters for Billy Ray Cyrus’s forthcoming concert are testament to the cultural heart of this city.
We wandered around the Castle District, with Buda Castle, the Mathias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion interspersed with pleasant old streets and houses and, of course, fantastic views of the Danube and Pest on its far side.
We toured the Parliament, guided by a stern yet faintly humorous
daughter of the revolution. The building, with its 500 -plus rooms and kilos of gold leaf, is incredible. The cigar rests outside the parliamentary chamber – the length of the ash showing how interesting the speech was – showed a lighter side.
St Stephen’s Basilica is a another highlight, partly for the magnificent classicist building, but mainly for the preserved right hand of St Stephen himself, kept, funnily enough, in the “Chapel of the Right Hand”. I wonder if his left hand knows about this.
Of course the backdrop to so much of this scenery is the brown and murky Danube River. To take the weight off our aching feet we took a river cruise for an hour or so. The commentary added a little bit to our sparse knowledge of Budapest, and the scenery was of course fantastic. The complimentary beer went down pretty well too.
On our last night in the city we had dinner up on Castle Hill and watched from the Fisherman’s Bastion as the lights came on along the Danube. It was a wonderful sight, shared as it was with drunks and couples making out. Naturally we were doing neither.
being initially a bit confronting, especially if you arrive by train, Budapest proved easy to handle and easy to like. When we were leaving, on a silky smooth train to Vienna, we realized that in our time here we had barely scratched the surface of this amazing place.
So we duly arrived in Vienna, to complete the Austro-Hungary double. It’s another city full of incredible buildings with, due to sensible height restrictions and planning laws, no newer skyscrapers to overwhelm them.
In the centre of Vienna stands the enormous Hofburg Palace. One of the parts of the Palace contains the Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School. Tickets to performances are apparently scarce, but to cash in a bit more they sell tickets to their morning exercise. For 12 Euros you can watch some white horses canter, trot or otherwise wander around the arena, taking the occasional shit. It’s interesting to be in the arena and see where it all happens, but the excitement dies down pretty quickly.
Otherwise we spent a day admiring the sights – the Opera House, the Museum Quarter, St Stephen’s Cathedral, taking tram no. 2 to God knows where (but not around
the old town centre as we had expected).
We also discovered the joy of a Wurstel mit senf (sausage sandwich) and beer lunch. People who know of these things will understand the pleasure of a beer belch laden with the flavour of fried fatty meat product.
The following day we ventured outside the centre and visited the Vienna Museum, St Charles’ Church and the Lower and Upper Belvedere.
The Belvederes sit just outside city centre. The Lower Belvedere was Prince Eugene of Savoy’s first summer residence, but apparently things went pretty well as he later built the Upper Belvedere, and the magnificent gardens that separate them.
Today they are more galleries than museums, with a lot of Austria’s prized artworks contained within them. But the sense of the aristocracy is still there, and visiting the spaces is a very interesting few hours.
We had no chance to really see enough of either Budapest or Vienna in the short time we were there. They were really enjoyable though, and we had a damn good if exhausting time trying.
Next we are heading back into the Czech Republic for a few more days – stay tuned.
Not sure if this is a new push-up bra or a wrestling hold...
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