In July 2012 we went to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Here are some of the photos from our trip.

KRAKOW AND KOJSZOWKA POLAND
  My brother Charles and his wife Ania (below) have a summer cottage near Krakow in a village called Kojszowka. We stayed with them for five days.

After the long flight from Boston they took us into Krakow to take in the old town square, Sukiennice, to find a shady cafe and to drink a beer (piwo).

We looked around the town and then went on to Ania's favorite restaurant in Florianska.

Later to their home in Kojszowka for a splendid barbecue, cooked by Charles, and ate it in the garden.

One problem I did not appreciate at first was that wearing sunscreen and handing cell phone cameras back and forth resulted in a smeary camera lens.

A couple of hazy photos below result from accumulated sunscreen on the lens.

We wandered around  this fine old city.

On that first day, in the heat of the car, the Belgium chocolates we brought as a gift, melted!  But we ate them anyway.

 

We walked by a wall where we saw this colorful display.

In Kojszowka, Charles had set up a hammock for his lazy brother to hang out!

Kojszowka has a hundred or so homes. Farming and timber industries are the main activities.

Poland is rapidly modernizing but, as a tourist, it was nice to see this horse and cart.. 

I also saw people scything in small fields.

On a morning walk around the village we were invited to join with the Radwan family.

We had coffee, cakes and vodka!

See what I mean about the sunscreen on my cell phone camera lens!

On Sunday Frances and Ania went to the local catholic church. Later we went to see the Wieliczka salt mines. Impressive, immense, deep and amazing.

On our way home a storm brought down a tree across the road but men with chainsaws soon cleared the road..

We also drove up the hill to visit an older couple who treated us to a fruit drink (sliwka) and gave us a large cottage cheese.  Frances loved it when the husband arrived on the scene with his cow. (Photo by Charles taken a year earlier; old man has now passed away, in the field with his cow I am told)

In Krakow by the Vistula river and Wawel castle.

Charles and Ania were great hosts and, among other things, gave us the cooler and more convenient bedroom.

One day they drove us to Zakopane to see the high Tatras from below and, after cable car rides, from quite high up.

 

Sad to say no photos from that trip, I think our cameras may have been low on juice.

But before Zakopane we took a smaller chair lift to another mountain and I really enjoyed looking down on the hill, trees and fields.

One evening in Krakow we ate at a restaurant called Awiw in the old Jewish area of Kazimierz.

The music was provided by a band of Romanian gypsies. See photo.

BUDAPEST HUNGARY
  Charles and Ania took us to the Krakow airport for an early morning flight to Budapest.  We were told that Lufthansa, our airline, had a bad repurtation for losing luggage. And they did lose it!

So we reported the lost luggage and took a taxi to our hotel.  

We were pleased to find that the Sofitel Chain Bridge Hotel had a view of the Chain Bridge from our room.  Nice in the day and spectacular at night.

Lost bags arrived at the hotel around 8 p.m by which time we had walked our legs off in Buda across the Chain Bridge from our hotel in Pest and shot lots of photos some of which are shown below.

From river level the Danube is brown, but from this angle it was the

BLUE DANUBE.

We rode up the funicular, wandered around Buda hill and castle and dined at a deserted restaurant in a beautiful courtyard.  We had got up at 5a.m so we felt it was dinnertime by 6 pm, but the waiter when we left said he hoped we enjoyed out lunch!  Hungarians eat late, we found.

By the time we walked back down the hill and across the bridge to our hotel we were dragging!

From in front of our hotel the Buda Hill looked great.

On our first full day in Budapest we mastered the subway system (very easy) found where the main train station was for our planned trip on July 14 to Bratislava, bought train tickets (not so easy but after a one hour wait we got two round trip tickets for a total of about $50); and then we went on to Heroes Square (see right) and the National Museum.

These statues of the Magyars arriving in Hungary are impressive.  We found the hot baths we swam in later in the week.

We found this Restaurant on Karpatia with Lajos Sarkozi and his traditional gipsy music.

Yes we bought the band's CD after they serenaded us at our table.

All our meals in Hungary were great!.

Another day in another restaurant.

The smiling man was playing diners' requests on some kind of zither. 

Lots of fun.

We saw the Houses of Parliament from Buda Hill and later on from a river cruise (see below).

We overheard tour guides telling that this was modelled after the Britsh Houses of Parliament but with the dome instead of towers and it is two feet longer! 

There was a competition and the second and third place winners' designs were built, although to a smaller scale and used as offices.

We caught this cruise as it was leaving and had great views of all the sights up and down the river.

 

On our last evening in Budapest we went for walk along the river front. 

Cool breezes but beautiful.

Like my wife.

No photos of our visit to the hot baths but that was an experience with large numbers of men and women young and old having fun in the very large and many sectioned baths.

I was pleased to see a couple of groups of men playing chess on waterproof chess boards on the edge of the pool.

BRATISLAVA, MODRA AND ROVINKA

SLOVAKIA

On July 14 we took the early morning train from Budapest to Bratislava.

Nice train ride close to the Danube in many places. 

At the Bratislava station there were Ivan Horak Jr. with his smiling wife, Renata, and daughters Beata and Andrea, waiting to greet us. 

They had an intensive day of sightseeing planned, so the first question was "What time train will you take back to Budapest"?

We agreed the late train would be OK, so off we went.

Wonderful that we could make this trip after all these years.  When Frances and I made our previous trip to Bratislava Renata was about the same age as her daughter Andrea is now!

Frances and I were in Bratislava 24 years ago when it was still under the communist rule.  Ivan Jr. is the son of my pen friend Ing Ivan Horak from my Tanzania days.

In 1988 Ivan Jr had recently married Renata. 

Ivan Sr. died three years ago so it was very nice of the Horak family to host their father's old pen friend.

Changes since our last visit were amazing.  The new Slovakia is booming.

The first stop was the famous blue church. (Saint Elizabeth)

Frances bought some post cards although on this trip we used our cell phone photos and emails to keep in touch with the family.

But not everyone has email and we did not have everyones email addresses with us.  So we sent a few cards.  Frances also wanted a picture of Bratislava for her doctor whose parents came from there.

It is part of the holiday tradition to sit drinking coffee, writing cards to say

"Wish you were here".

While all of the Horaks speak English, the most proficient is Andrea (left) who was the official translator and who kindly stayed with us all day, from meeting us to seeing us off at the train station in the evening. This despite the fact that on the following day she was travelling to France for a language course.

This photo is at a cafe on the bank of the Danube.  It was a hot sunny day.

We walked into this courtyard where George was dealing with the dragon.

This statue is said to be the most photographed in Bratislava.

I never asked why the sign is in English.  But as an Englishman I knew that the right pose was to slouch against the pole.

We drove to Modra, the old home of the Horak family.

There my pen friend Ing Ivan Horak is buried.

As you can see he died on June 7, 2009. 

On our way to Modra we stopped off at a very fine restaurant to enjoy traditional Slovak food.

From Modra we were taken a few miles north to the Red Stone Castle.

The castle is an amazing place and we had the good fortune to be shown around by Andrea who has a summer job as a guide at the castle.  She picked up a big ring of keys and showed us the many wonders of the castle.  It really was very interesting and well worth a visit. 

I have many photos but this web site would be too slow to load if I included them all.

Having our own personal guide was an extra bonus. 

Thanks Andrea!

The cellars are particularly large and impressive.

Back in Rovinka, where the Horaks now live, (a near suburb of Bratislava), we sat in their very modern kitchen and ate goodies including a wonderful cake (not in photo),

prepared by Renata.

We were also given a nice souvenir of our time in Bratislava (right on table). 

Then we were taken to the station to catch the last train to Budapest. 

We had a great day with the Horaks in Bratislava, Modra and Rovinka.  But by the time we got back to Budapest and our hotel we were ready for bed!  Here I am on the Berlin to Budapest train. 

I am clutching one of four books we took with us on Poland, Prague, Budapest and this one on the Czech and Slovak republics with a good section on Bratislava.  I had also enjoyed reading about Bratislava (and much of Europe) in the Patrick Fermor books, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water".

 

I am not religious but we went to a lot of churches on this trip. It is a part of trips to old cities in Europe as so much fine architecture, painting, sculpture, stained glass and history is evident in these old churches.

But it was a bit too much when on the Sunday after our trip to Bratislava, back in Budapest,  accompanying Frances to Mass, I endured two sermons in Hungarian!

The first after we discovered we were, by mistake, in a Hungarian Orthodox (Mary is Dead) church  and then, again, at the catholic Central Parish Church that we had originally planned to attend.

POPOVICE AND PRAGUE

CZECH REPUBLIC

We flew on to Prague via Munich, giving Lufthansa another chance to lose our bags. Which they did!

This time they left our bags in Budapest.  So our friends the Kozels (Jaroslav and Maria) had to wait while we watched the last bag come off the carousel, report our loss and request delivery to the Kozels house in Popovice (right). 

Maria helped us by instructing the delivery people on how to get to Popovice.

Their Popovice home is very private and spacious with lots of history.

The heads of the horse and cow on the wall in the photo above are to record where the family had stables and barns, and the pig, below right, is to celebrate grandfathers pig. 

This was Maria's family home. After communism ended she was able to get it back and they modernized it;  adding geothermal heat and a covered swimming pool.

There are also orchards and vegetable gardens and we dined off fresh fruit and veggies.

We were provided with great meals in the home, shown around the town and taken out for meals, One intriguing statue (right) in a nearby town is of this ghostly woman walking through the wall.

We were entertained with stories of how Jaro and Maria first met and how little time it took Jaro to ask Maria to marry him, and the reaction of Maria's parents.

We also learned of the years they lived in Prague before we met them in Tanzania.

Jaro and Maria drove us North of Prague, almost into Germany, to Novy Bor, where we bought wine and liqueur glasses from the local glass factory. We watched a glass blowing demo and bought the glass vase produced by the blower.  (See below). 

Here Jaro and Maria are in a restaurant serving coffee and cakes on a sunny afternoon. With seniors dancing to the old tunes.

Jaro was very happy!

Our glass blower making our vase.

Some of the tempting cakes in the cafe above.

We enjoyed remembering our time in Tanzania so long ago; this included a few things we did not know about each other then! 

We talked about a lot of things, not that we solved anything, but enjoyed the discussion.

 

Maria, with a smile I still remember from Dar es Salaam.

 

On the right, daughter Katia, born in Tanzania.

PRAGUE Jaro and Maria drove us into the city so that we could enjoy the bright lights of Prague for a few days. We stayed at the the Hotel Rokoko.

Our hotel was about half way down the Wenceslas Square (actually a long rectangle) and right opposite the Europa Hotel. 

We were in a great location to watch and listen to life below in the square.

It got a bit noisy at times.

Here is one of the protest demonstrations at the Wenceslas statue.

Here is the statue

And here is Frances photographing the statue.

Walking from Wenceslas Square in Prague New Town into the Old Town, one of the most fascinating sights is the astronomical clock on the City Hall.

Crowds gather on the hour to watch the figures perform and, when the clock has done its stuff, a live trumpeter appears above to serenade visitors from each of the four sides of the tower.

There are old squares, old buildings and old churches all over Prague and the winding streets guarantee you will get lost! 

We got lost almost every time we attempted to walk through; but who cares, everywhere you go the sights are great.

The Charles Bridge is one of the top tourist destinations and the crowds are certainly there. 

The statues along the sides of the bridge are great. 

There are street performers, artists and musicians at numerous locations along the bridge.

The walk from Wenceslas Square to the Castle is one of the greatest walks in a medieval town still possible in Europe.

Charles bridge again.

And again!

Here is Frances on the bridge.

We climbed up to Prague castle, one of the great places to visit in Europe, and went around the exhibits and cathedral.

Frances took this photo to send to Jane Goreham who gave me the cap in honor of my  traditional Dark and Stormy drinks at our July 4th celebration.

We found a quiet cafe at the castle to read up on all the things in Prague we had not yet seen.

We visited the Jewish part of town with the old synagogue and amazingly crammed graveyard.  This resulted from the Jews being limited to a small plot for their cemetery and so graves are piled as many as 15 deep.

I can't remember what this fine old door was hiding. 

It may have been part of St. Agnes Convent. (Dating back to the 12th century but not tenanted for a hundred years or so)

But the convent had a section where the National Gallery had the most amazing exibition of 12th through 14th century art. 

We were just blown away by the number and quality of paintings and sculptures. 

I have 20 or so more photos that I will keep on my computer.

HOME  We flew back from Prague via Frankfurt and although our bags were the last ones off the plane in Boston, Lufthansa failed to lose them this time.

So we got back home and nobody had broken into our house.   The flowers were blooming and so were the weeds.

It was a really nice trip and we very much appreciate those who shared their local knowledge with us.

Thanks then to Charles and Ania in Krakow and Kojszowka;  Jaroslav and Maria Kozel in Prague and Popovice and the Horak family in Bratislava, Modra and Rovinka..

Our thanks to all who made our trip possible!

  The end for now anyway.