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My friend was disappointed that the Town Hall was closed for renovations, but she did point out a few interesting details.

The facade of Town Hall has been renovated to show four styles of architecture.  However, I can't identify them for you!

The facade of Town Hall has been renovated to show four styles of architecture. However, I can't identify them for you!

These old pieces of iron on the wall by the entrance to the town hall's courtyard designated the allowed lengths for daggers (left) and swords (right).

These old pieces of iron on the wall by the entrance to the courtyard designated the allowed lengths for daggers (left) and swords (right).

Legend says that a corrupt official in Bratislava’s town hall refused to help a widow in distress.  He denied that he could provide help by saying, “may the devil take me away if I am lying.”  Well, the devil showed up and carried him off!  The official tried to grabbed hold of the wall to protect himself — he was unsuccessful but his image appeared on the wall (to the right of the window) as a warning to future officials of the dangers of corruption.

corruption-warning

I spent the last day of my trip in Bratislava visiting a friend from many years ago with whom I recently reconnected.  In 1994, I visited her shortly after she moved to Bratislava and this visit came just months before she returns to the United States.  I once had a roommate who referred to her “instant-tea friends” — just add water and what seems dried out becomes full-strength.  This visit definitely demonstrated that we are instant tea friends.  We spent most of our time catching up on the past 10 years.  But we did manage to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing.

The tower behind me is part of the only remaining gate from the old city wall.

The tower behind me is part of the only remaining gate from the old city wall.

Souvenir stalls and a church on the main square.

Souvenir stalls and a church on the main square.

I love how the man in this billboard looks like he is peering over the old city wall.

I love how the man in this billboard looks like he is peering over the old city wall.

Here are a few more photos from Hungary that I really liked but didn’t fit any particular theme…

This shop selling tourist souvenirs -including many varieties of paprika - was covered in dried peppers

This shop selling tourist souvenirs -including many varieties of paprika - was covered in dried peppers

A stream in the town of Eger

A stream in the town of Eger

A close-up of the iron gate at the Pannonholma Monastery.

A close-up of the iron gate at the Pannonholma Monastery.

The city of Budapest actually started as two cities, Buda and Pest, located across from each other on the Danube River.  Buda Castle sits high on a hill, providing great views of both sides of the city.  The castle now houses the Budapest History Museum (which we didn’t go into).  We did walk along the top of the hill to St. Matthias Church (unfortunately closed for renovations) and the Fisherman’s Bastion — where we sat in a cafe and listed to a group of musicians playing gypsy music.

Buda Castle viewed from the Pest side of the city.

Buda Castle viewed from the Pest side of the city.

Lions guard this bridge, built in 1820, across the Danube River.

Lions guard this bridge, built in 1820, across the Danube River.

The tiled roof of St. Matthias Church

The tiled roof of St. Matthias Church

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion

In 1994, while visiting a friend who lives in Bratislava, we drove for Budapest for a day.  On that trip, we drove around the city and my friend pointed out various interesting buildings and sites.  The only place we stopped was at Buda Castle on a hill overlooking the city.  Ever since that day, I have wanted to return to see more of the city — and was looking forward to doing so on this trip.  However, we ended up spending very little time in Budapest.  In fact, the only place I went was Buda Castle!  We did plan to go to the Parliament building, but arrived just after the morning English-language tour and weren’t able to return for the afternoon tour.

I enjoyed this trip to Hungary because I was able to get out of the capital and see so many places out in the countryside.  By staying with a family, I was able to see a side of Hungary most tourists don’t get to see.  So I don’t regret that I still haven’t seen much of Budapest.  After all, it gives me a reason to go back to Budapest again!

The Danube River flowing through Budapest

The Danube River flowing through Budapest

The Parliament building viewed from across the river.

The Parliament building viewed from across the river.

On my last full day in Hungary, we visited Pannonhalma, the oldest Benedictine monastery in Hungary.  The monastery was founded in 996, over 1000 years ago.  The abbey, built in 1486, is in the late Romaneque/early Gothic style.  I much prefer the simplicity and soaring arches of this style to the elaborate sculptures and frou-frou of Baroque churches.  We took an English-language tour of the monastery, then a Hungarian language tour of the monastery’s winery in the afternoon.  After evening prayer, sung by the monks, we got a behind the scenes tour with my friend’s cousin who attended school there.  Fifty monks still live at the monastery so of course their quarters were off limits, but we did get to see the boarding school classrooms and gym and the monk’s dining room (which is in a Baroque hall).

The abbey (main church) in the Pannonholma Monastery

The abbey (main church) in the Pannonholma Monastery

Looking up at the arches and frescoes on the abbey's ceiling

Looking up at the arches and frescoes on the abbey's ceiling

Arches along the interior wall of the abbey

Arches along the interior wall of the abbey

The monastery's library with a Baroque dome.

The monastery's library with a Baroque dome.

We spent two nights and one day in the Hungarian countryside visiting my friend’s uncle and aunt and another cousin.  Once more I was fed amazingly delicious Hungarian food.  Two Hungarian words that I quickly learned were finom (excellent, pronounced like “phenom”) and eleg (enough)!  In the morning, we relaxed in the sunroom and I looked through a coffee table book with beautiful photographs of Hungary.  In the afternoon, we went to a nearby hot springs spa.  This one was part of a resort and had a variety of small and large pools with different temperatures of water and different levels of minerals in the water.  It also had an echo pool, an aromatic pool, a diving pool and a water slide.  I felt a kid playing in a water park!  We even had a beer sauna — the beer was poured on the hot rocks, we didn’t get to drink it.  In the evening, we visited a local wine cellar.  Several regions in Hungary produce wine and there are small and large wineries every where.  The wine cellar was actually closed on Monday but the owner left a key with my friend’s cousin and left out six bottles of wine for us to taste.  We also got to see the production facility, which has a real cellar.

The outdoor pools at the hot springs spa.  The white pile on the hill is salt that has been removed from the water.

The outdoor pools at the hot springs spa. The white pile on the hill is salt that has been removed from the water.

After the spa, we had dessert at a cafe in Eger.  Cake soaked in rum and covered with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

After the spa, we had dessert at a cafe in Eger. Cake soaked in rum and covered with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

The actual cellar at the wine cellar with casks of wine.

The actual cellar at the wine cellar with casks of wine.

Different varieties of wine grapes

Different varieties of wine grapes

On Sunday, one of my friend’s cousins and his daughter took us to Lake Balaton, the “Hungarian Sea.”  Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe and a popular vacation spot for Hungarians and tourists from other countries.  The original plan was to go sailing, but it was a chilly day so instead we saw the sights along the north shore of the lake.  We walked through a marina, ate lunch at a restaurant on a hill overlooking the lake, visited a small museum in what claims to be the oldest mill in Hungary (dating back to the 10th century on that site), stopped at Tihany Abbey, and walked the grounds of a former noble estate.  We finished with an early evening swim in a man-made lake fed by a hot spring.  The water temperature was 86 degrees F (30 degrees C).  Lovely!

Lake Balaton with Tihany Abbey on the hill

Lake Balaton with Tihany Abbey on the hill

Water wheel at the old mill

Water wheel at the old mill

Vineyards along the north shore of Lake Balaton

Vineyards along the north shore of Lake Balaton

The hot springs lake where we took our evening swim

The hot springs lake where we took our evening swim

I traveled in Austria and Hungary with a couple who are friends from Seattle.  We planned the visit around a trip they were making to visit relatives in Budapest.  In Austria, we were tourists; in Hungary, we were family guests.  My friend’s relatives housed us, fed us, and took us out of Budapest to the countryside for various trips and adventures.  As a result, it was a very special trip.  I greatly appreciated their hospitality and generosity in letting me tag along!

One of the cousin's sons is a Viking re-enactor.  He let us try on his gear.  The chainmail was handmade and has 20,000 loops.

One of the cousin's sons is a Viking re-enactor. He let us try on his gear. The chainmail was handmade and has 20,000 loops.

Thirty relatives attended a family party on Saturday that featured goulash cooked over a wood fire.  Yum!

Thirty relatives attended a family party on Saturday that featured goulash cooked over a wood fire. Yum!

The abbey at Melk — yet another really old Benedictine monastery in Austria — was founded in 1089.  A school was founded at the monastery in the 12th century and still educates high school students today.  The monastery has an extensive library (my favorite spot) and was also a major site for the production of manuscripts.  We visited Melk on the drive back from Salzburg to Budapest in the pouring rain.  We were able to take an English tour of the monastery’s museum but didn’t walk through the grounds.

On this trip I learned that Baroque churches and monasteries are almost always painted yellow.

On this trip I learned that Baroque churches and monasteries are almost always painted yellow.

Lots of old books!

Lots of old books!

Looking up a stairwell in the monastery building.

Looking up a stairwell in the monastery building.