Budapest by night!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last night at 8:30pm was Earth Hour. Around the world cities turned off non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour to conserve energy. I went up to Buda Castle with Hungarian and Belgian friends to see the skyline before the lights were turned off. Budapest is especially beautiful at night when all the monuments and buildings along the Danube are alight!

Chain Bridge & St. Stephen's Basilica
Matthias Church
Buda Castle
Performers dancing with fire during Earth Hour

I love Europe...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'm in a cafe across from my flat drinking a glass of sangria and working on a paper. Granted I'm not making much progress on my paper but I'm relaxed ;) Viva la vida!!


Fast, Pray, Love!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last weekend I attended an English-language Lenten retreat at a retreat house in the Buda hills run by the Society of the Divine Word. The Society of the Divine Word was founded by St. Arnold Janssen and is a missionary order of priests and religious sisters (active and cloistered) that minister in 70 countries. The weekend was such a blessing. The Lord is definitely taking good care of me and this retreat was a reminder of His love and generosity! There were 13 other retreatants plus our three fearless leaders - Fr. Fransis, Sister Blandina, and Brother Elmer Fudd. The other retreatants were from around the world and the majority were in Budapest because they had married a Hungarian. I was the only American/North American out of the ten nationalities represented and I was the youngest person by far. Totally reppin' the JPII generation. A couple of the people I met on the retreat live or work on my street so plans are in the works for lunches and finding a place to buy cupcakes in Budapest. While the Catholic church is universal, cupcakes apparently are not :(

Fr. Fransis picked me up from the tram and while we talked in the car I found out he lived in Indianapolis for a year before he was ordained a deacon!! Indonesian priest on mission in Hungary lived an hour from my hometown. Go figure! He spent a pastoral year at an inner-city black parish in Indianapolis.

The best part of the whole weekend was that I had my own room and bathroom. At school I share a small bedroom with two other girls and an even smaller bathroom with five girls. Having two nights of privacy and uninterrupted sleep was bliss. We had Mass and adoration each day, talks on the three pillars of Lent (hence the name of the retreat...a spin off of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, which is totally lame. Don't pay to watch it), confession, lectio divina, and lots of good Hungarian food! I've never eaten pickles as part of a main dish... But basically, I was in retreat junkie heaven. I didn't think I would even find English confessions in Budapest and providentially I found myself on a solid retreat. God is good.

Right now it looks like I'll be extending my European adventures for a bit! I have no summer plans so far, my visa is good until the end of June, and some of my favorite Americans are coming to visit :)

Motley crew minus Sister B :)
Sts. Arnold Janssen & Joseph Freinademetz, SVD

Dear Vienna...part 2

Monday, March 21, 2011

I was determined to roll out of the hostel at 8am so I could get in a full day of sightseeing before my 5pm bus back to Budapest. Two hours later I was finally out the door and on the metro to Schonbrunn Palace, the Habsburg's summer residence. If I didn't already love Vienna, I was completely smitten after visiting Schonbrunn and I decided that I have to go back to Vienna once the palace gardens are in bloom. My pictures don't even do the palace justice. It's so BIG and YELLOW. The gardens are also huge and include a zoo and public swimming pool as well as several monuments. If you have been to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Schonbrunn is like the Biltmore on several steroids. There are 1,400 rooms in the palace if that tells you anything.

Entrance to Schonbrunn, the palace wraps around the courtyard
When can I move in?
Back of Schonbrunn
The Great Parterre from the balcony of the back of the palace
This must be incredible when the trees and flower are blooming!
See you soon, Schonbrunn!
I took the metro back to the city center and climbed the tower of St. Stephen's Cathedral. It was 343 steps and 219 feet high. I thought I was going to die in that tiny tower and no one would find me. The stairs were tight and narrow and twisted straight up. There were a few small windows every so many stairs but it was quite creepy. The view from the top was incredible! There was a gift shop (of course) at the top selling drinks and sinfully overpriced Catholic souvenirs. The man working behind the desk was quite overweight so I was wondering if there was an elevator or something. Nope, he climbs up the stairs too and said he gets asked that question 200 times a day. Ha.

St. Stephen's Cathedral
Roof of the Cathedral
Kärntner Straße
I didn't really like St. Stephen''s the most important church in Vienna and is thus loud and touristy, even worse than St. Peter's in Rome. It's ginormous though, so during Mass you can't hear all the tourists in the back. The nave is something like four or five football fields long and nine stories high. There are 18 altars lining the way to the high altar. You can't walk through the nave unless you are going to mass or pay for an audio tour. Lame. The bones of St. Valentine are somewhere in the church and Mozart considered St. Stephen's his parish when he lived across the street.

Nave and high altar (from Wiki)
Nun :)
New favorite hobby: lighting votive candles in each new country
My last stop was a tour of the Vienna State Opera. The building dates back to the mid 19th century. The Americans bombed the original building during WWII, oops. A building across the street holds all 150,000 costumes and a building further away is where all the props and sets are stored. Everything is trucked in daily from the warehouses and then a huge elevator lifts the trucks up to stage level to unload the sets.

Private boxes 
Main foyer 
Refreshments, anyone?
There you have it - Vienna in a not-so-small nutshell. I conquered Austria all by myself without any mishaps! Liz: 1, Austria: 0. If you aren't already sick of all the pictures, I have 2 albums up on Facebook. Everything was so pretty so I just kept snapping, especially in the churches (what else is new)! Click here and here to see. When I got back to Budapest I only had 2 days of class and then it was the weekend again. Hard life! ;) I do have three midterms this week so it's time to start reading six weeks worth of material. I didn't buy any textbooks so I came to the library when it opened this morning to snag a reserve copy of my marketing book off the shelf.

Fun fact: Wienerschnitzel (Vienna schnitzel) is Austrian, not German!

Until next good, be holy, and love the Lord!


Dear Vienna...part 1

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dear Vienna, are you singing? / Dear Vienna, are you swinging? / Dear Vienna, we were happy like the shades of May / When we got carried away -Owl City

I've been singing this song since I returned from a three day trip to Vienna (Wien) on Tuesday! I returned from Slovakia around 11pm last Saturday and left at 9am Sunday for Vienna. I thought Berlin was fantastic...but Vienna was even better! The building are charming, the streets are impeccably clean, public transit is easy to use, and the weather was FANTASTIC. It was 60 degrees and sunny all three days! I went to Vienna alone, but it was fabulous because I could go see whatever I was interested and stay as long as I wanted...meaning I go could into every Catholic church I saw and pray or go to mass :) My hostel was right next to Naschmarkt, a famous street market that sells fresh produce, spices, crafts, cheese, and baked good. Naschmarkt is a 15 minute walk to the city center so I was in the perfect location for exploring the city on foot! 

Maria Christina's tomb
There aren't any free walking tours in Vienna so I used my travel bible (aka Rick Steves' guide book) for a self-guided walking tour. I have a terrible sense of direction thanks to my father, so I wandered around the city for a good hour until I found the busy road that obviously led to the center of town. I could definitely use a GPS here, haha. I saw the Opera house and later went on a tour inside. There is an opera almost every single day of the year and you can get tickets the day of the performance for 3 euros. The only catch is you have to queue 80 minutes before the show starts and you have to stand through the whole opera. I wasn't able to see an opera but I did go to a free organ concert in St. Peter's, which is the oldest church in the city. I love sacred music, so I was basically in ecstasy while I sat in a beautiful Baroque church in Vienna listening to the organist rock out :) I stopped in Augustinian Church, where the hearts of the Habsburg royalty are kept in a vault and where there is a memorial to Empress Maria Theresa's favorite daughter. Maria Theresa ruled the Habsburg Empire (Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and several other regions) for 40 years. She had 13 children, one being Marie Antoinette!

Tomb of Habsburg ruler
I stopped at Burger King to use the bathroom (the only place I could find with free bathrooms) and noticed a church further down the street - St. Anne's. St. Anne's right hand is there, but it's only displayed on her feast day. I was pleasantly surprised to find Adoration going on and I ended up returning later for Sunday Mass. I continued down to Kartner street, a busy commercialized street and found a small church run by the Knights of Malta where Vespers was being chanted. I went in and stayed for Vespers and Benediction. At this point I realized my trip to Vienna was becoming somewhat of an unexpected pilgrimage - excellent! Next was the Capuchin Church. The first thing I noticed was an icon of Padre Pio on one of the side altars - cue happy dance. Pio is my favorite saint ever. I've been to the town in Italy where he lived out his life and touched his tomb. On my way out of the church a lady approached me and asked if I spoke English and then started to evangelize and ask if I knew about the Miraculous Medal, Divine Mercy, and Sacred Heart. Yes, yes, and yes! Anyway, she gave me a bunch of holy cards and pointed me to the Imperial Crypt of the Habsburgs, which is under the Kapuzinerkirche. It was crazy, there was room after room of ornate bronze tombs! There were 143 tombs total, including 12 emperors and 18 empresses. The imperial collection of relics was also on display. Catholic imagery usually does not contain skulls, but most of the tombs were decorated with crucifixes and skulls wearing crowns.

Tomb of a Habsburg child
Double tomb of Maria Theresa and her husband,  the
smaller tomb is their son's
 I had my first meal at a European McDonald's (be proud Dad!!) and went to St. Peter's for the organ concert. There are free organ concerts every day, I'd highly recommend it if you are going to Vienna! Like I mentioned earlier, St. Peter's is the oldest church in the city and a church has been there since the 4th century, though the present church wasn't constructed until 1702. Unfortunately, many of churches had purple cloths covering the back of their high altars because of the Lenten season. I've been in a lot of beautiful churches, but St. Peter's was quite spectacular. Baroque churches are definitely my favorite.

St. Peter's - stolen from the interwebs (click to enlarge!)

I slept in and got lunch at Naschmarkt and then ate it in the square in front of Karlskirche, a church dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo. There is a huge reflecting pool and plaza in front of the church with tons of locals, college students, and tourists relaxing on benches. It was 6 euros to go in the church so I just admired from outside. The church was built after the last plague in Vienna because St. Charles is the patron saint of those with the plague.

St. Charles Borromeo Church
 I spent most of the day in Hofburg Palace, where the Habsburgs lived in the Imperial Apartments. To get to the apartments I had to go through a museum with all the silverware and dishes the Habsburgs used. They fed up to 5,000 people so the sheer amount of cutlery and dishes they had to have was incredible. In addition, there were varying types of dishes depending on who was eating and what the event was. The Empress even had a special set of dining ware just for her yacht and entire trunks of tea service for traveling. I managed to sneak a few pictures of the Imperial luxe! I also have a newfound obsession with Empress Elisabeth, aka Sisi. A lot of landmarks in Hungary are named after her since she was also Queen of Hungary. She is especially known for her beauty and vanity. She was kind of a tragic nutcase but she was fabulous! I saw an exhibit with many of her dresses and jewels. She has inspired operas, musicals, and films.

Hofburg Palace - St. Michael's Square entrance
Empress Elisabeth's ("Sisi") rooms
Oh, to be a Habsburg!
When I came out of the Palace I was somewhere in the Palace complex but I was totally lost and couldn't find myself on the map. However, I did find the Minoriten Church! It's the Italian National Church so there were awesome altars and frescos of favorite Italian saints - Anthony of Padua, Francis of Assisi, Pio, and Catherine of Siena. Actually now that I think about it, I've seen all of their tombs except for Anthony :)

Mary <3
High altar in Minoriten Church 
St. Anthony Chapel (flanked by St. Joseph & St. Rita)
I ended my second day in Vienna with Mass & confession. I might have gone to Mass at 5pm and at 6pm because I wanted to go to both St. Peter's and St. Stephen's Basilica...hehe. There's an adoration chapel in St. Stephen's and the chapel was totally packed, it was great! I think the priest that heard my confession was more interested in knowing why I am an American living in Budapest and visiting Austria than my sins ;)

Sidenote: Mozart's name and image is plastered on just about anything, even chocolates. Ah, marketing!



Thursday, March 17, 2011

I spent the first 2 days of my weekend in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Bratislava is about two hours from Budapest and borders Austria and Hungary, sitting on the banks of the Danube River. It is the largest city in Slovakia but the population is only 431,000. It's still huge in comparison to Kokomo or Bloomington, but tiny compared to Budapest (around 2 million in the city). Bratislava used to the be capital of the kingdom of Hungary and was part of the Habsburg Monarchy territories. There are still a lot of prejudices and tensions between Slovaks and Hungarians. Many ethnic Hungarians suddenly found themselves living in Slovakia when the borders of the Austro-Hungarian empire were re-drawn. Like Hungary, Slovakia was under communist rule until 1989-1990 but nowadays the city center is very charming with colorful buildings and cobblestone roads.

Bratislava is definitely very Catholic - I saw 6 or 7 churches in the city center alone, often with two churches being on the same street with one building in between them. The most unusual church was the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (represent!) more popularly known as the "Blue Church." It looks like a cross between the Disney castle and blue marshmallows with rhinestones. Even the pews inside the church were painted baby blue.

Blue Church - Art Nouveau style
Blue pews!
We took a self-guided walk through Old Town, which was a run-down ghost town during communist rule. Once democracy was restored the government began to spruce up this part of town and now it's filled with cute cafes, shops, and even designer clothing stores.

Michael Street & St. Michael's Gate (the yellow tower)
Main Square  
Cartoonish statue of French officer - revenge on Napoleon 
Cannonball embedded in Old Town Hall - remnants of Napleonic times 
"Peeper" - lots of silly statues in the city
Halusky is a traditional Slovak dish, not so tasty... 
When we got back to our hostel it turned out we were in the room with a creepy older guy that smelled really bad. I complained to the front desk and they moved us to a brand new room with a private bathroom. We were with four other guys but they were also exchange students and didn't smell. Score. One of the guys was from Cyprus - major kudos if you can tell me where Cyprus is without looking at a map. I'm definitely going to know my world geography better after studying abroad, haha.

Courtyard by our hostel
UFO bridge built by Communists that ruined the skyline

We probably should have just gone back to Budapest Friday night because we saw all the main sights in a few hours but our return bus wasn't until 7:45pm on Saturday. It actually worked out perfectly because my friend knew about the ruins of a castle built in the 8th or 9th century just outside of the city. So we slept in, got pastries for breakfast, and then took a bus outside of town. Devin Castle is nestled between the Carpathian mountains and the Danube - made for a perfect picnic and nap in the sun :)

Devin Castle
Our picnic spot 
Slovakian countryside (that's Amaelle, my friend from Belgium)
Part of Devin Castle
 Update on the rest of my weekend in Wien (Vienna) coming up next!! :) You can view all my pictures from Slovakia here!