Monday, August 04, 2014

Eastern Facades: A Photoverview of Eastern European Highlights -- Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Krakow, St. Petersburg

Statue of Mozart, Vienna
With 139gb of photographs clogging external hard drives, I'm always happy to relive past excursions when prompted by a friend or relative's exciting travel plans.

Such is the case here, as a friend will soon be going on a European trip that will include Prague, in the Czech Republic, and Vienna, Austria.

I was in Prague back in 2004, Vienna more recently and three other great Eastern European cities over the past decade: Krakow, Poland; St. Petersburg, Russia and Budapest, Hungary.

So I thought I would compile some photos of each, accompanied by brief remembrances of each city, although this is not meant as an in-depth Travel Guide such as I recently re-posted about London.

For much better insights, I recommend, where Rick's tips on the best things to see and do in each European country and major city can now be seen for free. (The Rick Steves guide books are still quite worthwhile for deeper knowledge and guidance on any specific destination.)

With the note that all photographs here were taken by me, Seth Arkin, I'll throw in a page break before displaying the photos. (i.e. If seeing this post among others on, you'll need to click the prompt below to see more; irrelevant if you're seeing the entire post.)

A city of royalty, art, music and cake. There are three main palaces, all worthwhile, but the Hofburg--for its Imperial Apartments and Treasury--and the Belvedere, which now serves as an art museum featuring great works by Gustav Klimt (including "The Kiss") slightly outweigh Schönbrunn as tourist options. The central area is lovely to walk through, with two magnificent churches--St. Stephen's and St. Peter's--deserving an inside look. The Kunsthistorisches is a truly remarkable art museum, the Secession Building has a great Klimt frieze and Sacher Torte (chocolate cake) should be savored at Cafe Sacher, Cafe Demel or both. Other highlights include the State Opera House, City Hall, Karlskirche (another church) and music concerts featuring Strauss and Mozart.

Vienna Opera House
Graben pedestrian street near St. Stephen's Cathedral. The Trzesniewski Buffet is well-worth finding.
The ornate Kunsthistorisches art museum. Some of the archway paintings are by Klimt; more of his work is housed elsewhere.
From the Treasury in the Hofburg Palace.
Sacher Torte, from Cafe Sacher, which claims to have created it. But so does Cafe Demel.
Schönbrunn Palace
Upper Belvedere Palace, housing an art museum featuring Klimt's "The Kiss."
There is also Lower Belvedere, which confusingly is at the North End of the palace complex.
The Secession Building, referencing a group of rebel artists, including Gustav Klimt, whose Beethoven Frieze adorns the basement.
Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, a nice place for a waltz.
St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Peter's Church, a.k.a. Peterskirche
Inside St. Peter's Church

The Old Town Square has many beautiful buildings, with Týn Church dominating one end and the Astronomical Clock adorning the spired-building on the other. Ungelt Jazz & Blues Club is a cool place to know about, on a street behind the big church. Charles Bridge has a bunch of sculptures, and connects the Old Town with the area around Prague Castle. The Jewish Quarter is notable for an old cemetery, long predating the devastation of the Holocaust. I also remember the building claiming to be Franz Kafka's birthplace, with a restaurant deep in the basement. And Frank Gehry's "Fred & Ginger" building is a cool late-20th Century addition. I didn't get to the Mucha Museum but now wish I had. The Black Light IMAGE Theatre is rather unique and supposedly emblematic of tourist entertainment in Prague.

Old Town Square
Týn Church
Astronomical Clock
Charles Bridge tower
Franz Kafka birthplace, or so it claims (I think). Small exposition on first floor; restaurant in basement.
Wenceslas Square

Dancing Building, a.k.a. Fred & Ginger, by Frank Gehry
Jewish Cemetery
Prague Castle
National Theatre
A building in Old Town Square

The Parliament Building is the most striking, inside and out, while the Great Synagogue is the most glorious structure of its kind I've ever seen. Great Market Hall is great for watching locals buying and selling produce and other wares and the Opera House is even more ornate than Vienna's. Up the funicular on the Buda side, the castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion are top sights. Széchenyi Baths are cool for cooling off, and a cruise along the Danube is a must.

Hungarian Parliament
Great Market Hall
Budapest Opera House
Castle Hill Funicular
Statue of Stephen I and Fisherman's Bastion
Széchenyi Baths
Heroes Square
Vajdahunyad Castle
Buda Castle
The Great Synagogue, a.k.a. Dohány Street Synagogue

I had read good things about Krakow, but didn't know anyone who had personally visited before I did, so I was rather amazed by how much I loved it, particularly the Main Market Square and just strolling around the Old Town (Stare Miasto) and Wawel Castle & Cathedral grounds. St. Mary's Basilica has one of the most amazing church interiors I've ever seen, and the historic synagogues in Kazimierz are just as moving. The Schindler Factory Building & Museum is a grim reminder of the Holocaust, with a day tour to Auschwitz obviously much more so.

In the Main Market Square; Cloth Hall and tower.
St. Mary's Basilica

Wawel Cathedral
Building in Stare Miestro (Old Town)
St. Florian's Gate
Old Cemetery
Schindler Factory, now housing a museum dedicated to Krakow before and after the Holocaust
U Muniaka Jazz Club, one of two fine jazz clubs in or near the main square. Harris Piano Jazz Bar is the other.
Church of St. Adalbert, with origins dating back to the 10th century

St. Petersburg
The two glorious sights here are the Hermitage Museum--one of the world's best art collections housed in the splendiferous Winter Palace of Russian emperors of old--and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, whose magnificent mosaics make of an interior as amazing as the exterior. There are some other grand cathedrals and many stately--and oft oversized--buildings.

Hermitage, Winter Palace
Inside the Hermitage, Michelangelo sculpture at front
The Raphael Stanzas, re-creations of paintings by Raphael
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan
The Mariinsky Theater, known for housing some of the world's greatest ballets
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
St. Isaac's Cathedral
St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

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