Cesky Krumlov, Vienna, Budapest, & Bratislava

Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Jun 04, 2012

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Thursday, April 5, 2012

This past weekend a majority of our USAC group went on the big trip to Cesky Krumlov, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava. The trip was 5 days long and took us to four different countries, now making 10 countries in total that I have been able to see in Europe.

 We left Prague Friday morning and headed for the small remote town of Cesky Krumlov, which has held a great deal of history and importance in the Czech Republic throughout it's history. This trip through USAC would be 5 days long and we would see some of the most historic cities in this part of Europe. Cesky Krumlov is located in Southern Bohemia and has been around since a little before the 1300's. Throughout its storied history it has been home to 4 different royal families, and at one point the home of some of the greatest powers in Europe. The town has many different styles of architecture ranging from Gothic to Baroque and each can be seen throughout the town, if one knows what to look for. One of the most significant pieces of architecture that remains in the Castle and Chateau, which is the largest remaining of these types in all of Bohemia. One interesting note is that the castle is still to this day guarded by 3 bears which live in a mote that outlines the palace structure, it was quite out of place when we first discovered it, but now that I look back upon it I realize how awesome it was. 
We would only be spending one day in Cesky Krumlov and although it is not a large town there are still many significant historical points that one might want to see. When we got there we were able to go on a walking tour of the Castle which was still in great condition and unlike many other castle tours that I have been on as of late, we actually got to see a large portion of this structure, which was a great surprise. As I said earlier the castle has been home to a number of different families throughout history and in turn has gone from being the home of one of the most powerful empires in Europe to an insignificant "hunting palace" throughout its owners and their wishes. The castle much like the town has been reconstructed several times and as is usually the case, has many different styles of architecture that can be easily seen. 
After the tour of the Castle we were able to go and get some lunch which was a nice relief. A small group of us found a nice Czech restaurant where we sat next to an open BBQ which warmed us all up as it was quite cold outside, although nothing like the Prague winters might have you. After Lunch we went and explored a little more of the beautiful city and learned a little more about the history of the place. Later that night we would be going to dinner with the whole USAC group to the Eggenberg Brewery, which is some delightfully tasty Czech Beer; the Eggenberg's being one of the royal and most important families that lived in the Castle and had an empire throughout Bohemia. The food was great traditional Czech Cuisine and the beer made it all the better. Later that night a few of the guys were not that tired yet and wanted to do something after the dinner, rather than go to bed as much of the rest of the group had done. We went out and found an awesome local pub that was recommended to us, it was very small but had a group of local "moms" in there, who in fact were getting quite loud and rowdy as we began to order our beers. As the night went on we saw that there was a piano in the corner of the bar and one of the girls that came with us asked if she could play something on it, and I'm sure that the bar tender would much rather hear someone play the piano, rather than the Czech Moms yelling ha ha. Once she started playing all the moms got extremely excited and quickly grabbed one of the song books and began furiously flipping through it looking for something that they could all play. Nonetheless, after a short while the two groups took turns playing whatever songs they could think of and we sang and drank into the night, it really was one of those simple yet great times that I have found myself in throughout my study abroad experience. 
The next day after sleeping on probably the nicest bed that I have in a very long time, which I was eternally grateful for, the USAC group meandered down to breakfast and gathered our things before heading off on the bus to our next location, which was Vienna. As I am sure many people have heard Vienna has also been home to some of the most powerful empire that the world has ever seen. The city is full of rich history and many beautiful architectural masterpieces, although I could not help but notice the large similarities that the place shared with Prague. As we arrived again around lunch time, we quickly dropped off our things at the hostel, which we could already tell would not be nearly as nice as the place that we stayed in Cesky Krumlov, and headed towards the Schonbrunn Palace. We walked around and learned a great deal about the palace and its history, including its perfectly manicured gardens and fountains, I would have loved to see the place during the summer when everything would be in full bloom, but nonetheless it was quite beautiful and exceptional. After the tour of the Palace grounds we proceeded to head to the local pub/ restaurant for what was to be a traditional Viennese meal. The meal that we had was actually a very common dish called Wiener Schnitzel and of course some local brew. After Lunch we were given a tour of the Imperial city and told a little about the incredible history and importance of the city. Unfortunately, we would only have about 24 hours in Vienna so we had to cram as much sightseeing in as possible, which I took full advantage of I am happy to say. 
 That is one thing about traveling and studying abroad, although I may want to relax some times I know that I might not ever have the opportunity to do what I am doing at any other point in my life, so you push through what ever exhaustion one might have and keep on seeing those sights, which is more important than a few measly hours of sleep. We were given a free night in Vienna to explore the city, after our city tour we went and explored more of the historical points of the city and even came across an awesome bike competition that was being put on by Red Bull, and as I'm sure we all know that when Red Bull is sponsoring something it is usually worth watching, and it most definitely was. Unfortunately for us the weather was not being very cooperative and it began to rain once we got back to the hostel that night, we decided that it would probably be better to stay in and take it a little easier rather than to go out and try and find a club or bar, so we all ordered some pizzas and took any easy night and ate and talked and shared the great experiences that we have all had whilst studying abroad. 
That next morning we woke up and got on the bus and headed to the other side of Vienna in order to see Belvederes Palace. This palace was also perfectly manicured as one can imagine with every little branch and blade of grass in place. Again, I wish that I would have had the opportunity to see it in the summer, but despite that it was still a beautiful place and I am glad I had the opportunity to go there. After the tour of the Belvedere Palace we had some free time until 1:30 so some of the group went and explored a Museum that had some very interesting and very weird art. Vienna is known for its art scene and although I can too appreciate great art, I have a hard time appreciating something that looks like I made when I was 4 years old. After the exploration of the art museum we wandered around for a little while longer before getting back on the bus and heading for Hungary.
On the way to Budapest we stopped at Pannonhalma, the oldest Abby in Hungary. For someone who has gone to private catholic school for the first 13 years of my life, it was kind of like going a little back into my past, in a weird somewhat resentful but newly appreciated kind of way; if that makes any sense at all. I really do like the history that Monastery's have because they are often the oldest forms of knowledge and history that a civilization has, and often probably one of the most important in terms of history. We had a very nice monk tour us around the monastery and he was very insightful into the meaning behind being a monk and the Benedictine branch of Catholicism. The monastery itself was incredibly beautiful and overall I really enjoyed being there, it brought me back to my childhood in a way and really showed me how full circle I have come since those years at Salesian Elementary. 
After the Monastery we proceeded to go to Budapest, which I quickly realized a couple of things, for one the Hungarian Language is extremely difficult to understand or even pronounce, with it being nothing like any of the other central European languages and it being closest in relation to Finnish. The other thing that I learned was just how beautiful Budapest and Hungary in general are, and having Richard (one of the program directors) who is a Hungarian on this trip was very nice. He is extremely proud of his heritage and I really appreciated all of the information that he had to offer on the historic city. Budapest reminded me a little of Istanbul and all of the other central European countries that I have been to mixed together. We arrived in Budapest later in the afternoon so once we dropped our things off at the Hotel, which was very nice, and went for a little exploration. We didn't have much time before we were scheduled to meet up with the group and go for a city walk and to dinner. We went to a traditional Hungarian restaurant for dinner which served very good soup with some goulash afterwards, and of course as is tradition we had an assortment of the finest Hungarian wines, as Hungary is known throughout the world for having some of the best wine. 
The next day we went to the spas in the morning after a short walk through the city. The Hungarian Spas are very well known throughout the community and are frequented mainly by the elderly who see it as not only relaxing but therapeutic. We stayed at the spas for a good amount of time and with a wide variety of different pools and activities one may do I can see the appeal for the Hungarian people. The complex had over 10 pools as well as many saunas and steam rooms, they also offered massages and aerobic exercises. We went around to a couple of the different hot tubs and pools enjoying the time we had to relax and just take a breath. 
After the pools we went on a couple of walks throughout the city with Richard showing us the local markets, where I had an amazing kebab on a plate meal that was amazing. Later we walked around and went to a couple of different churches as well as the opera house. The architecture of Budapest was incredibly beautiful and it was a testament to the people of Budapest who had to survive and fight through many wars and over-takings. I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the city as well as harmonious composition that they city had with not only the Danub river but with nature itself. After exploring the market area we headed back to the hotel for a short period before going on another walk this time to the Cave Church that over looks the river, as well as climbing up that same mountain to the monument that overlooks the city and provides great views of all of Buda & Pest. 
That night Kinsey, Jan, Courtney, and I went out to dinner to a very good Hungarian restaurant and had some very good food. I had crispy duck with a goulash soup and some potatoes, and it was all very tasty. After dinner we meandered our way back to the hotel and passed out from a long day of activities, and a great amount of discovery throughout this amazing city. 
The next morning we woke up and caught the bus early for our last day on the trip in which we would be visiting Bratislava, one of the most troubled cities throughout the communist era and the capital of Slovakia. We did not have much time in Bratislava but the time we did have was spent exploring the city as well as having a traditional Slovakian meal. One thing that I did notice in Bratislava was that Slovakian is a mixture of Croatian and Czech, it uses words from both languages and was easier to understand using the little Croatian that I know to communicate with the locals. The Old part of the city was very beautiful and it had the usual central European feel to it, unfortunately however, the outer parts of the city vividly depicted the communist era with the blocks of tall ugly apartment buildings, it really was a shame to see such a beautiful area succumbed to such horrible buildings. After our time in Bratislava we made our way to Devin Castle where we explored the ancient ruins of the castle and learned a little about the history of the area. 
After 5 days of traveling I was quite exhausted and one could imagine, although very grateful for the opportunity I had to see all of those unique yet very beautiful places. I look forward to returning to some of the places that I have seen as well as those that I have not yet had the chance. It was a great experience and will be something that I never forget.
Niko Zivanovich 
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