Day 762: Budapest

About 100 miles eastward along the Danube from Bratislava is Budapest.  Originally two cities, Buda and Pest were combined into a single municipality in 1873.  The site was a Celtic settlement and then a Roman city.  The Magyars arrived in the ninth century.

Laetitia arranged with a local guide for a city tour and, when that was finished, took her group to the Budapest History Museum and the National Gallery.  Then they went to the small museum located in the Music Academy, where Franz Liszt once lived in a first floor apartment and attended a concert performed on one of Liszt’s pianos.  In late afternoon, they went to Budapest’s Central Market Hall where numerous stalls on three floors offer spices (especially paprika), pastries, clothing, meats, candies, produce, and souvenirs.

The first course at dinner that evening was goulash, not the hamburger-helper-like egg-noodle laden stew that’s often served in the United States but a tasty meat and vegetable soup heavily laced with paprika.  Before she led this tour, Laetitia’s grandmother urged her to strike a blow against culinary counterfeits, so she wrote the following limerick:

If the thick stew you’re served as goulash
Has hamburger and noodles, b’gosh,
The real thing’s not thick, a
Soup spiced with paprika
That I think you’ll find has more panache.

Day 761: Bratislava

Continue eastward for 35 miles on the Danube and you arrive in Bratislava, just across the border from Austria in Slovakia.  During its turbulent history and pre-history, the city has been home to many ethnic groups, including Germans, Hungarians, Moravians, Slovaks, Czechs, Jews, and Celts.  During its tenure as part of the Habsburg Empire, It was called Pressburg and was the capital of Hungary.

Laetitia took her group to Bratislava Castle.  An accidental fire destroyed it in 1811.  When it was rebuilt during the middle of the twentieth century some of its original Gothic and Renaissance features were retained.  It now houses a museum.

Afterwards, Laetitia took her group to a staged wedding done with traditional Slavic costumes, food and songs.  The script was well-enough constructed so that non-native speakers could follow it and included humor, flirtation, rivalry and other elements commonly used to spice up the plots of both real and soap operas.  The wedding party had well trained voices.  The bride and groom had soprano and tenor voices, respectively, and the contralto who sang menacingly as the female rival gave an especially fine performance even though her face was mostly covered with a balaclava to make her appear even more sinister.  She received a standing ovation and “Brava” in unison from the enthusiastic audience.  Her performance spawned the limerick of the day.

The contralto clad in balaclava
For her songs earned a spirited “Brava”
From the crowd in elation
And a standing ovation
At the staged wedding in Bratislava.

Day 760: Schönbrunn Palace

Translated “Schönbrunn” means beautiful spring, but as with many places named for features of nature that have long since vanished, no source of gushing pristine water is in evidence, though apparently an artesian well once supplied water for use by the court.  During the era when the horse was a major mode of transportation, the stench of manure, brought out by the summer heat, made city dwelling unpleasant.  Thus, those that had the means to do so fled to a summer residence in the country.  Schönbrunn Schloss, the Rococo palace with its 1,441 rooms and acres of formal gardens was where the Habsburgs spent their summers.

Laetitia arranged for her group to take a tour of the palace and grounds with a local guide.  Afterwards she took them to a puppet theater that featured a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, with recorded music, of course.  That evening they went to a performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, at the Vienna State Opera House.  It was beautifully sung but was otherwise an odd production.  The set for the Venusberg, the magical grotto where Tannhäuser led a sensual life before struggling to leave it behind, resembled a nineteenth century bordello.  Instead of following the pilgrims to Rome to seek the Pope’s absolution Tannhäuser was in an insane asylum.  He only imagined going to Rome and instead of pilgrims his companions were the other denizens of the Asylum dressed as though they were on a zombie pub crawl.  Late nineteenth century Vienna was the time of Freud, but Laetitia found the Freudian theme lame.  She enjoyed the opera most when she closed her eyes and listened to the music.  The up side was that it gave Laetitia the limerick of the day.

Somehow it just didn’t seem mellow
The Venusberg as a bordello
And the zombie pub crawl
Did somehow appall
As the fate of that Tannhäuser fellow.

Day 759: Melk to Wien

Both Melk and Vienna are on the Danube.  Thus, Laetitia decided to book passage for her group to traverse the 54 miles between them on an excursion boat.  Their route took them through the Wachau Valley past vineyards and the picturesque towns of Krems and Spitz.  Above Dürnstein, they could see the ruin of Kuenringer Castle, where King Richard I (Lionheart) of England was imprisoned for a time after being captured and held for ransom by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, after one of the crusades.  Upon arrival in Vienna, there was time for a stop at Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel for something sweet before going to the hotel.  Located near the Hofburg Palace from which the Habsburgs ruled their far-flung empire, Demel was once the supplier of pastries and chocolates to the royal family.  The Habsburgs built their empire mostly through strategic marriages rather than military conquests.  Empress Maria Theresa had sixteen children that included Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, Maria Amalia, Duchess of Parma, and Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II.  The Habsburgs also had a penchant for marrying close relatives and ultimately suffered from hemophilia and other genetic disorders associated from inbreeding.  That consideration led Laetitia to the limerick of the day.

The Hapsburgs, it’s surely been said,
Built their empire by going to bed,
With royal heirs by the dozens
Who often wed cousins
And suffered from being inbred.