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Semana Santa: Budapest, Prague, and Copenhagen (Copenh-again?)

29 Mar 2016

I’m back in Spain after Semana Santa! I’ve been traveling since last Thursday and have been to Budapest, Prague, and back to Copenhagen. It seems to me that all of Spain gets a vacation week for Easter, as in all three of the cities I visited, I’ve seen massive Spanish tour groups (and slyly listened to pick up some info from their tour guides along the way). My trip brought me first to Budapest for four nights, then Prague for three, and then Copenhagen for another four nights before returning to Madrid yesterday.

In Budapest, I arrived mighty early, a number of hours before my boyfriend arrived to visit me from the USA. I busied myself throughout the day with buying groceries, checking into our Airbnb, and trying to read a bit of my book before getting too excited and heading back to the airport to wait for him. By the time his plane arrived and we got back into the center of town, we had just enough time to munch on some jamón, chorizo, and manchego that I had brought along with me.

The next few days, we had a whirlwind of a tour of Budapest, meeting up with friends from Bowdoin for dinner at a Georgian restaurant (the country, not the state!) before heading out to a bar and then ruin pub, walking to the Budapest palace-turned-art museum for beautiful views of the city, and visiting the House of Terror, a museum outlining the fascist and communist rule in Budapest in the 20th century. We visited Parliament as well as the Gellert Baths, beautiful thermal baths in the southern part of the city on the Buda side known for looking like a Greek or Roman building on the inside.

One of my favorite activities was going caving under Budapest. Because of the way Budapest was formed over thermal water years and years ago, there are many cavernous areas now home to a large amateur and expert caving community. Peter and I were lucky enough to participate in a guided tour one morning throughout some of these caves, climbing through crevices through which you must shimmy your body through with your arm raised above your head in order to fit. It was an unbelievably unique experience.

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Peter and I after caving in our super cool jumpsuits!

Another place we visited on a less-than-wonderful tour was the Opera House. I am a total sucker for opera houses in their grandeur that sends you back to an age of couples in evening dresses and tuxedos out on the town, but for whatever reason, it seemed as though we could’ve bought 3€ tickets to the opera in order to explore and not actually see an opera and had a better experience than the guided tour we went on. Regardless, it was absolutely beautiful!

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Hungarian State Opera House.

After four wonderful nights in Budapest, we took a day train up to Prague for a remaining three nights before Peter would head back to the States and I’d fly to Copenhagen to see my family. We didn’t end up loving Prague as much as Budapest; while Prague is beautiful and old and historic, it’s FILLED with tourists and Budapest just felt as though it had more authentic “life” to it. Our apartment was located right near Old Town Square, the heart of Prague’s most touristy district.

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Old Town Square in Prague.

 We spent lots of time wandering through Prague and made sure to hit the most famous spots, such as the St. Vitus Cathedral near the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and Wenceslas Square. 

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Peter and I in front of Charles Bridge.

Throughout our whole trip, we had a bit of trouble determining what kinds of food translated into “dumplings” in English. While in Budapest at the Georgian restaurant, we were served dumplings that seemed (in my understanding of dumplings) most similar to dumplings I’d been served in the states, some kind of doughy outside with a meat or soupy filling on the inside. Once in Prague though, we were served two different kinds of “dumplings” – one that seemed like a harder gnocchi type pasta, and another (more frequently!) that I still can’t figure out! They were sometimes made of bread, sometimes of potato, but had a very weird, mysterious, non-doughy consistency.

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Typical Czech food: meat, some kind of sauerkraut, and the mysterious dumplings!

While in Prague, we did go to a classical music concert, but I made sure that it wasn’t a touristy one! From past travel experiences, I know that Prague as well as other cities such as Vienna often hold concerts that rotate on a weekly or biweekly basis specifically for tourists with standard and often overplayed compositions by Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi. In my research prior to Semana Santa, I realized that a Czech violinist would be performing Janacek, Franck, and Paganini at a small church north of the touristy center of Prague and couldn’t resist buying tickets! The concert was fabulous and filled with mostly elderly residents of Prague – a sure way to know that it was the real deal.

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A view of the river running through Prague at night.

After a week with Peter, I sadly had to let him fly back to the USA, but was able to fly up to Copenhagen for a second visit this semester, this time with my parents! I did a lot of the same things as I did last time, such as visiting the glass market, Torvehallerne, multiple times and walking through Christiania. This time, I saw much more of Christiania, as we walked through with Danish family friends that brought us into the residential portions and a pay-by-weight buffet of home cooked food. I also stayed right on Nyhavn and saw some sunny weather – a big deal for Copenhagen!

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Nyhavn on a rare sunny day.

I continued the weekend with a trip to the Carlsberg Brewery with my dad, where we saw the world’s largest collection of beer bottles (over 16,000 on display!) and learned about the history of Carlsberg Beer. The beer collection has bottles from around the world with a focus on historical Carlsberg bottles, but bottles representing many countries worldwide.

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Here I am in front of the Carlsberg beer collection.

On our last night, we paid a visit to the Copenhagen Street Food market for some delicious food and drinks before heading back to our apartment for a quiet evening in and a morning departure. My family heads to Budapest now for the next few days and I’ll be heading to Krakow this weekend to spend the weekend with them, so check back next week for a post on my first experience in Poland!

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