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Budapest, Vienna and Prague

View from the Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, on the Buda bank of the Danube.

Just back from three cities that I missed on previous visits to Europe: Budapest, Vienna and Prague. We started with Budapest, a city I’ve long wanted to see. Hungary’s capital has magnificent architecture, all the more stunning at night when many buildings are illuminated; a rich history; and it is a city of hot-spring spas. My only disappointment was discovering that the Danube is brown-grey, not blue.

House of Terror, 60 Andrassy Boulevard, Budapest

Housed in a neo-renaissance residence on stately Andrassy Boulevard, Budapest’s House of Terror is a chilling memorial to the victims of the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary, including those detained, interrogated, tortured and killed in its basement. The fascist Arrow Cross Party called the building the “House of Loyalty.”  When Hungary came under under Soviet occupation in 1945, 60 Andrassy Boulevard housed the State Security Authority, which orchestrated a network of informers that watched Hungarians in factories, in offices, at universities and in theatres, recording their every move.

Schloss Schonbrunn,  the summer residence of the Habsburgs in Vienna, was the favourite

Gardens of Schloss Schonbrunn in Vienna.

home of Empress Maria Theresa, who received the palace as a wedding gift from her father in 1736. Maria Theresa is a woman I greatly admire; a strong ruler who forged alliances with other European houses through her children’s marriages (she had 16 sons and daughters), she knew exactly what she wanted–which is the key to getting it. Later, Schonbrunn was the playground of the free-spirited Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi) who was assassinated in 1898.

Ed had visited Vienna before, but on this trip he explored some of the Viennese landmarks

The Wiener Riesenrad.

in one of his favourite films, The Third Man. Set in post-World-War II Vienna, the city takes on a life of its own in this 1949 movie, adapted from a Graham Greene novel, and starring Orsen Welles, Trevor Howard and Joseph Cotten. Ed tracked down the Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sachertorte, and the Cafe Mozart, two important settings in the film. And he took a spin on the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel in Prater Park where a pivotal scene was shot.

Our hotel in Prague was built on land close to Prague Castle that is leased from the monks of St. Norbert’s Monastery. The good monks operate the Strahov Monastic Brewery. Ed took this photo (below) of one of the brewery’s trucks, which advertises its current fall lager with the curious name of Antidepressant. A waiter at the brewery pub assured us that the lager is made with herbs that prevent depression. “Drink all you want,” he said. “No side effects.”

Ed, on The Third Man trail.

Note the brewery’s website at the bottom of the image on the truck: The word “pivo” is Czech and Polish (Polish uses w’s instead of v’s) for “beer.” Var means “maker,” therefore “pivovar” means “beer maker.”  Ed’s surname, Piwowarczyk, translates into “son of a beer maker.” Which makes him well qualified to sample the suds in the countries we visited.

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