Tihany

Tihany

Tihany…

I was here in April 2009. Tihany village lies near the narrowest point of the eighty-mile-long Lake Balaton. The little lake behind the village (see the video below) is a geological anomaly that is 25 m higher than the real one. The stone jetty below the Benedictine abbey is on the eastern side of the peninsula. The hazy Balaton is a light, smoothie green. We had lunch below the crest of the great lake view beside the abbey (apatság) and then we got the ferry to the south shore.

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This short drone video (courtesy of Zoltán Tóth) is well worth watching.

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Old Parish and Helvick

Old Parish and Helvick

This is the Irish south coast, in the nominally Irish-speaking part of Co. Waterford that centres on An Rinn (‘Ring’, which translates as headland or promontory). The road signs are all in Irish, the schools teach through that medium, but most of the people there use English most of the time. Nevertheless if a visitor wants to speak the language, he or she will be accommodated. They all know it and can show it off. In any pub or café the language can typically be overheard.

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The Old Parish (Sean Phobal) area, it is locally believed, was the first Christian parish in Ireland, in late Roman times, and indeed this part of the south coast was the first Christian part of the island. Many of the gravestone inscriptions are wholly or partly in Irish.

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One of the roads to Helvick Head from Old Parish is known as Sea View or Radharc na mara. Helvick is a place name of obvious Scandinavian origin and the rocky shelf to which the name refers can still be seen beyond where the fishing harbour wall meets the hill.

 

Notes on Budapest, November 2018

Notes on Budapest, November 2018

23rd November, Friday

Ninety percent of the passengers on the plane were women. Christmas market excitement was at fever pitch in the hen house. Our young taxi driver was very talkative and I wanted to go back into the language at the deep end. After checking in at the Opera Residence apartments, JP and I went to the Pótkulcs bar near Nyugati station. Michael caught up with us there. The staff were sour and unpleasant. The Kőbányai beer and the atmosphere were OK.

 

24th November, Saturday

We had lunch in the Central Kávéház and dessert in Café Gerbeaud before the clockwise walking tour continued.

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Over in Buda, I should have cut out everything between Bécsi kapu (the Vienna gate) and Szent István körút, as inessential. Darkness fell but back in Pest I guided the lads as far as Beckett’s on Liszt Ferenc tér.

I’m deep in action on a secret mission,
Contact’s broken down
Time drags by, I’m above suspicion,
There’s a voice on the telephone

When I got there, the lads were on high stools. I paid my respects to Declan and he put up a pint on the house.

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At two in the morning we were the last to leave but the goulash (& bread) had been excellent trunking. We had slipped away for a while to explore other places in the rain but Szimpla Kert had a young queue and Kuplung and Fekete Kutya seemed to be gone. We only had the one in Kisüzem. Lower lighting might help there. It’s brighter than this stock photo suggests.

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25th November, Sunday

Half past eleven, I was first into Beckett’s for the full Irish (breakfast). More rain. Having an earlier flight, Michael left in a taxi for the airport after that.

 

After the basilica, JP and I passed more time in one of the three elegant Café Vians before heading to the airport ourselves. The same taxi driver picked us up. Same non-stop chat.

 

Soaked in Slovakia – 24h in Bratislava

Soaked in Slovakia – 24h in Bratislava

Dr. John Flynn

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19th June, Sunday

Bratislava near nine, Sunday night. I’m in a café, the Papillon, off Hlavné námestie, the main square in the old town, with a pot of tea. The kitchen’s closed but there’s a terrific downpour outside and I’ll have to wait until it stops, to find food, which will most likely be of the fast variety. The Earl Grey (“Early Grey” on the menu) is nice, actually, and I wasn’t that hungry to begin with but must eat something before bed. Up early, I’ll go around the Staré mesto (old town) again and maybe get into some churches. At the Hotel Tatra I managed to sleep a couple of hours in a big room. It’s a four-star and makes a change from the box room at the Strasser in Graz.

The Schlossberg hill is a genuine attraction in Graz and I’m glad I checked the city…

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An afternoon in Salzburg

An afternoon in Salzburg

August 2018

Had an afternoon to pass in Salzburg on my way to Munich from Linz. Though the thronged Getreide Gasse as always shows anthills to be only in their infancy (I gave it a miss), elsewhere is generally more relaxed and you can hear Mozart seeping out of windows, both chorally and instrumentally. Drank two beers in the Zipfer Bierhaus, which I knew was an interesting place from previous visits in spring and summer 2015. Given the hot day, I sat inside at one of the round tables near the counter, where it was cool.

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Most other customers sat outside the front entrance. I was near the staff, who were particularly relaxed and friendly, but one cannot point a camera in their faces. There seemed to be a buzz around a shift change between three and four. It was a pity I had to leave before five o’clock.

 

 

Regensburg

Regensburg

August 2018

There’s a lot to see in Regensburg but not much to do at night. I know it was only a Tuesday but, given the amount of tourists, I’m surprised the town wants to shut down by eleven, like a curfew. I was having an acceptable homemade dunkel at the Weissbräuhaus when the waitress told me, Ich muss kassieren. No problem but I added I wanted to try the helles (lighter-coloured) version before I left.

Whatever it was that I got, it wasn’t even cold. The receipt suggested a different drink altogether (“Alt. Bayr.”) but given the suspicious delay in bringing the drink, I don’t believe it was a mistake. Just throw something out to him, we’re closing early. The last bottle on the shelf.

Anyway, I left it there. I wasn’t going to be bothered giving grief to the waitress and I’d heard enough of the Himmler inside, pontificating behind the counter whenever she went near him. Pity I tipped her before I tasted it, though. In contrast, the sweet girl with the very pretty dark eyes at the Ratskeller (where I’d had a meal, earlier) well deserved hers.

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I told her it was her luck too that the ticket machine at the train station in Freising was very temperamental about the banknotes it would accept. A girl beside me there had offered twice to swap notes but I already had a fistful of them. Ended up with too many coins in the change, having had to fire in a twenty to cover the last two euro of the fare. Getting to Freising from Munich airport was easy, quick and cheap on the 635 bus. The train onward then cut the Munich to Regensburg journey in half.

As well as the many cobbled alleys here, there are numerous pedestrianised streets but for some reason cars are still allowed to drive down them, albeit relatively slowly. Another thing to look over your shoulder for is the cyclists, especially at night when it becomes evident that having a light on one’s bike is, for many here, not an example of Germanic order.

The Ratskeller has a lovely bottle of beer on the menu. It’s called Regensburger Bruckmandl. Blue label. 33 cl. Quite strong too. Three of them combined with evening heat to make crossing the Steinernebrücke (over and back) not something I’d have liked to do in a hurry.

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At Regensburg the Danube has divided in three. The setting sun and the greenery made up for the never-ending works on the old bridge.

 

The Snows of Prague

The Snows of Prague

2018

Having had to cancel a visit to southern Bohemia in January due to the death of a relative, I soon booked a replacement trip to Prague for a couple of nights in early March, thinking it would be simpler just to go there. Three friends of mine then decided to come along and I found us a hotel in the Malá Strana district below the Castle. This was the Hotel Čertovka, named after a finger of the Voltava river (‘Devil’s Stream’).

I also bought the Pocket Rough Guide to Prague and continued to learn some Czech off the web, such as:

Velké pivo, prosím (‘A large beer, please’);

Už jsem zaplatil (‘I’ve already paid’);

podvod (‘scam’);

Došlo k nedorozumění (‘There was a misunderstanding’);

and

Přišel jsem sem kvůli Švejkovi (‘I came here because of Švejk’).

Unlike in Budapest, the Czechs haven’t followed the Hungarian example of making their money-changing kiosks a state monopoly but instead they allow a free-for-all that is open to blatant fiddling. Some of the taxis remain dodgy in both places. Anyway, I’d carry a card and, apart from the beer, there were several of the pretty and historic locations I particularly wanted to see.

These included the buildings in which the Thirty Years War was hatched, both in the planning and attempted execution of the Catholic imperial messengers who were shot out a palace window, and also the balcony where, on a snowy morning in 1948, Klement Gottwald emerged to emcee the communist take-over for a massive crowd below.

The latter moment provides the anecdote of the un-purged hat that opens one of Milan Kundera’s philosophico-sexual entertainments, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Gottwald was later voted the worst-ever Czech in a TV poll, part of a light entertainment format imported and licensed from the BBC.

I wasn’t too pushed about taking in the Kafka museum, as it happens. The insect fancier Vladimir Nabokov once spent an entire essay wondering exactly what kind of beetle Gregor Samsa had turned into in Metamorphosis but the real answer lies in the equivalent of the birds-of-a-feather proverb in the Irish language. Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile (‘A beetle recognises another beetle’).

23rd February, Friday

All day it felt a bit like snow. There seems to be Siberian weather on the way. I picked up my order of Czech crowns at the bank (2,500 of them for €104). The lady asked me was I was going to Prague. Two of my travelling companions were in a nearby café. P. mentioned a story about an inebriated NGO type crashing his new NGO jeep into a Bosnian brothel in a snowstorm.

25th February, Sunday

An east wind has been blowing for days and there’s no frost tonight but they seem to be promising us some kind of repeat of White ’47 for the coming week. At the moment Thursday looks like the worst of it but we’ll see. A lot of snow may be under the bridge by then.

26th February, Monday

The worst of it is forecast for Thursday evening to Friday morning and I’m hoping we can get up and away before that. So far, it’s cold out but nothing drastic. Plenty of people in town this afternoon went bare-headed.

27th February, Tuesday

A flake or two swirled as I arrived to pick up my father from the day centre at half past three but it was an hour later before the first sprinkling of snow. Around six there was a real shower of it that left the roofs and plants white for a starry night.

28th February, Wednesday

Still starry at half past five this morning but by half nine a thin blanket had fallen. The sun was shining then, as it did on and off, between snow showers, or during them. Sights of the day and night:

(1) empty wine shelves in Frank’s supermarket (N. told me one woman went off with a crate of it);

(2) a snowboarder down the quay, towed by a car (a fall didn’t deter him).

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I knew our hopes of travelling were snookered. I went into town tonight so I could take photos, including one I have of the old bridge, even though it’s not Charles (Karlův Most).

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1st March, Thursday

Half past six, it was snowing in the dark. Up at half eight, I knew we’d be going nowhere but looking online was still a formality. On the south coast, we just couldn’t risk a 400 km round trip in this weather for a likely flight cancellation.

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I emailed the hotel again to confirm we would not be needing the taxi at the airport in Prague. In reply, regret was expressed that we would not be travelling on this occasion. The greedy owner is still determined to charge all four of us for both nights, thus ensuring that we won’t ever be back to give that hotel another chance.

A large green tractor noisily swerved in at Frank’s but a bank girl emerged from the shop (“They have no bread or milk in there!”), whereupon the tractor roared off down the road again. There was no milk in the local Spar either.

Our scheduled 13.40 Ryanair flight got away from Dublin after all, at 16.27, thirteen minutes inside the three hours needed for a delay refund. It may have been the last of the few planes to get off the ground today. Before dark I walked to town and took more photos.

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2nd March, Friday

An awful lot of snow has fallen. I don’t remember anything like it before. Some of us may never see it again.

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Those cheeky Czech chappies are not only charging us for both nights plus an extra little cut of three euros – city tax, I guess – but now they have also told Booking.com that we were a no-show after I’d flagged a weather problem a day in advance and then emailed early yesterday to let them cancel the airport taxi pick-up in good time. Kipling has an answer for countries that claim they are not in Eastern Europe. East is east… Anyway, I was out photographing more of the best of our snowy settlement. This place here really should market its old town, its Altstadt (or Staré Město), snow or no snow.

 

Then I slipped into Downey’s for an hour or so. The young chap who was the sole customer there before me said he had left one of the pubs on the town square when the messing got too much (“lads dancing… fellas firing snowballs in the door…”). Then it turned out that he too should have been away in Prague this weekend, with a stag party.

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