Monday, July 23, 2018

The capitals

Right now, I am on a train somewhere in Hungary. I know we haven’t crossed the border into Austria yet because the place names are ones that I could never hope to pronounce. It is early morning, and low-hanging gray clouds cover the tops of the hills.

With Carl in Prague. The Danube River and Prague Castle
are in the background.
I have spent the last week exploring central Europe with Carl. We made it to Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest. With our careers both being so tied to the ocean, we rarely get to see inland areas unless on vacation, so we took the chance while we were already in Europe and did just that. The trip was a much-needed reprieve for both of us, time away from the normal stressors of work and family.

Each of the central European capitals has its own unique highlights and is steeped in history. We visited Prague Castle, a centuries-old fortress that served as the capital of Bohemia, then Czechoslovakia, and now the modern Czech Republic. We explored the old city of Bratislava and walked the coronation route of ancient Moravian kings. We toured the Habsburg palace in Vienna and visited Mozart’s house. We climbed Gellért Hill in Budapest, toured the Hungarian History Museum, and drove to an artists’ town in the Pilis Mountains.

Devin Castle, overlooking the Danube and Morava Rivers
outside Bratislava
By far my favorite stop on this vacation was Devín Castle, just a short bus ride outside of Bratislava. The castle overlooks the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers, and it dates from the seventh century AD. The elevated, strategic site was first settled by Celts, then Romans, then the Moravian king in the 800s. It was further built up during the thirteenth century under the Hungarian empire and during the sixteenth century to stave off invasion by the Ottomans. Much of the castle was destroyed in 1809 by Napoleon’s retreating army, and during the 20th century, the castle overlooked the Iron Curtain, with the Danube and Morava Rivers separating communist Czechoslovakia from democratic Austria.

Whenever I travel, I try to imagine what it would be like to live in the place where I am, both in modern times and in the past. Standing atop the cliff in Devín, exposed to the wind and overlooking the rivers, it was easy to imagine ancient kings surveying their kingdom, but it was also easy to envision communist forces patrolling the Danube bank. The site was powerful to experience.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my week exploring and learning the history of central Europe with Carl. We parted ways in Budapest, and while he flies back to the U.S., I’m headed north to Germany for the work portion of this work/personal trip. I miss him terribly, but my time in Germany should be productive. I will keep you updated as my travels continue!

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