Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Budapest bridges

Digital photo of the Széchenyi Lánchíd
by © FourBees.

With all the hoo-ha over the naming of Budapest's latest Northern MO Danube Bridge and faux-political commentator Stephen Colbert's success in getting 17 million people to vote for 'The Stephen Colbert Bridge' as the new híd-moniker, FourBees decided to re-publish the seminal bee-article on the Bridges of Budapest.

A FourBees historical essay
The world’s great cities are almost always graced with great bridges.
London has Tower Bridge, San Fransisco has the Golden Gate, Florence the Ponte Vecchio and Paris the Pont Neuf.
Budapest has the iconic Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd), but it also has six more road bridges linking Buda and Pest, each with a fascinating tale to tell.
The mighty Danube flows for 2,850km through Europe from Breg in the Black Forest to the Black Sea and passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania on its journey to the swampy delta at Sulina. It is Europe’s second longest river after the Volga.
In Vienna, however, the Danube doesn’t run through the center of the city.

In Budapest the Kék Duna (Blue Danube) as its known cuts right through the heart of the city, both literally and geographically, dividing the hilly residential Buda from the flat commercial Pest and running right up the middle like a gash across a lover’s chest.
The magnificent panorama surrounding the river is the nerve center of the city, the place every tourist visits and swoons at the sight, justifiably listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
To cross the river from Buda to Pest one could use the red metro line, but most choose the more photogenic method, the bridges.
A common Budapest phrase says, “The best thing about living in Pest is the view of Buda,” and it is the fabulous panorama swinging down from the Liberation Monument, past the fairy tale castle and Fisherman’s Bastion all the way to Margit Bridge that makes the view so special.
There was a bridge across the Danube as early as the C15th.

In King Zsigmond’s time, there is record of a pontoon bridge. Musztafa Szokollo, who ruled during the Turkish occupation, built a pontoon using 70 floating boxes.
Nowadays, each híd (bridge) has a totally different character and style.

Árpád Bridge
We start from the northernmost of the city bridges, Árpád híd (although strictly speaking there is one further up, the Újpest vasúti híd, or Újpest Railway Bridge).
Árpád híd, named after the leader of the seven tribes of Magyars who rode into the Carpathian basin in the 9th century, is the longest of the Budapest bridges and one of the youngest.
The authorities decided in 1939 that workers from Óbuda should be able to move more easily to the Angyalföld district and that a bridge was needed.
However, the work was held up by the war, and the bridge was not finished until 1950 when it was named Stalin híd.

Margit Bridge
Árpád híd also offers access to Margit Island on the other end of which is Margit híd.
I visited Visegrád Sanitorium and while there I met two elderly sisters Bozsi and Rózsika, who spent regular cure sessions there and even had a special room to themselves. Bozsi was on Margit híd when the Germans blew it up in November 1944, “I have had stomach and nervous problems ever since,” she said.

She was one of the few survivors of the dramatic incident, black and white pictures of which can be seen in the Margit Bridge subway on the Pest side.
At the time – a Saturday afternoon – the bridge was full of pedestrians, trams and cars and several hundred people were killed.
In fact the explosion was an accident, the charges exploding while the German engineers were still underneath the bridge, setting them.
For a while, a temporary rope bridge, known by locals by the nickname Manci, led from Szent István Park to the island so stressed out Pest folk could still enjoy a walk amongst the trees.
The bend in the middle, commonly known as the könyök (elbow) had to be so designed to take account of the currents coming from either side of Margit Island.
Margit Bridge was the second permanent structure when it was built between 1872 and 1876 by French engineer Ernest Gouin’s company Societé de Construction des Battignolles.
The statues, which you can see from the lower reaches of Margit Island were designed by Parisian sculptor Thabard.

Kossuth Bridge
If you go to the embankment on Kossuth tér, just past the statue of the seated poet Attila József, you can see the place where Kossuth Bridge set off towards Batthyány tér on the other side. The inscription reads: “In this place stood Kossuth Bridge. Our workers’ heroic and self-sacrificing work in eight months built the bridge as a temporary replacement for all the bridges senselessly blown up by the fascists.
On January 18, 1946, on the first anniversary of the last fascist bombing, it was opened to traffic. Its temporary objective completed, it was taken down in 1960.”
The Kossuth Bridge was designed by Károly Széchy and had nine spans, and because of financial constraints, was constructed mainly of metal girders bolted together, standing on eight iron and concrete supports.

Széchenyi Lánchíd – The Chain Bridge
The famous landmark of Budapest, the Széchenyi Lánchíd – Chain Bridge – was commissioned by Count Istvan Széchenyi and was the first of the eight permanent road bridges in the city. Széchenyi asked Frenchman Marc Isambard Brunel for advice on bridge building and in 1832 he went to see William Tierney Clark’s bridge across the Thames at Marlow, England.
Clark was asked to design a bridge for Budapest and another Clark, no relation, Adam was the contractor.
The bridge was built between 1839-49. The lions guarding each end were designed by János Marschalko and local legend has it that the sculptor forgot the tongues and when this was pointed out by a little boy at the opening ceremony, he was so distraught, he committed suicide by jumping off the bridge.
Some people claim there are tongues, but if they are there, they are nigh on impossible to detect, even if you clamber on the graffiti-covered pedestals at the four corners of the bridge.
Count Széchenyi then decide that a tunnel should be built to link the bridge to the Tabán district, on the other side of the Castle hill, and construction began in 1853.
People used to joke that it was built so that the bridge could be dragged into the tunnel during the rain. The inscription in English on the Pest side of the tunnel reads, “To commemorate the only two surviving bridges designed by William Tierney Clark, the Széchenyi chain bridge over the Danube in Budapest and the suspension bridge over the Thames at Marlow, England.”
It is reported, however, that he used the still-standing Hammersmith Bridge as a model for his design.

Elizabeth Bridge
Erzsébet híd was the fourth bridge built, following the Lánchíd, Margit and Ferenc József (now called the Szabadság híd).
In 1885 the government decided to build a bridge between Eskü tér (Oath Square) now called Március 15 tér and the Rudas Baths on the Buda side.
The original plan was to build the Buda side at a slightly northern spot but that would have involved demolition of the Tabán inner city parish church.
After much discussion with church officials, it was agreed to built it heading towards the base of Gellért hill and that is why the road has such a dangerous swing around to the right when leaving the bridge. It was the longest single span bridge in the world until 1926.
However that is not the bridge you will see today – the original was blown up by the retreating German army in January 1945, along with all seven other Danube bridges.
A modern elegant white suspension bridge was built in 1965 with six lanes of traffic. The view from the bridge toward Saint Gellért on his hill is one of the most spectacular vistas in the city.

Liberty Bridge
The name Szabadság híd means Liberty Bridge. Most bridges in Budapest are named after a person and the Liberty Bridge was at one tie called Ferenc József after the Emperor.
The third of the bridges, it was designed by Aurel Czekelius, according to István Feketeházy’s plans and the Emperor himself hammered in the last rivet.

On the top of each pillar is a Turul – the mythical Hungarian bird standing on a golden ball. Its girders are very easy to climb and that may be a reason why it is one of the most popular bridges from which to commit suicide, although maybe it is for more romantic reasons, since the name ‘Szabadság’ suggests release from the cares of the world.
Other bridges are also quite popular for suicides, including the Chain Bridge, and I have even seen a man on the top of difficult-to-scale Erzsébet Bridge. He had climbed up the service ladder inside one of the columns when its little hatch had accidentally been left unlocked.

Petőfi Bridge
Petőfi híd, named after the revolutionary poet, Sándor Petőfi, is possibly the least inspiring of all the Budapest bridges.

It links with Margit Bridge right round at the other end of the Nagy körút, the grand boulevard which rings Pest. Slightly older than Árpád híd, it dates from 1933-37 and was built by Algyay Hubert. Until 1945, the bridge was named after Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s right wing leader and ‘admiral without a sea.’

Lágymányosi Bridge
Lágymányosi híd, which looks like a kind of red toast rack, is the newest of all the bridges and replaced the összekötő vasúti híd (linking railway bridge).
Lágymányosi híd links up with Árpád híd via the great Hungária ring road, an outer version of the grand boulevard.

It was opened in 1996 and has special giant mirrors which light the road evenly.

…and the bridge that never was
There is one more bridge which never got built, for which some may say thank goodness, but which would indeed have been a dramatic sight.
Towards the end of the last century, engineers were discussing how best to reach the top of Gellért Hill.

Spurred on by the tourist office, people were asked to make suggestions on how to reach the peak.
Some suggested a funicular, others a cogwheel railway in place of what is now Hegyalja út. However the most interesting proposal was put forward by János Ruppenthal, who suggested building a giant steel tower where Irányi utca leads out onto Belgrád rakpart.
From this tower a bridge would lead right to the summit of Gellért Hill.
On the bridge two carriages similar to the Castle District’s Funicular would travel up and down the still relatively steep climb giving a gorgeous, if rather terrifying view to passengers.
On the lower portion of the iron girders, a ramp would be built for pedestrians to make the breath-taking and spine-tingling walk.
A lift would lead up the tower but if people wanted to save money they could stagger up on foot. The design was to be similar to the Ferenc József bridge (Szabadság híd) although lacking its dainty character. It was in fact, positively clumsy.
An article appeared in the Vasárnapi Ujság (Sunday News) and then the storm broke. Experts and laymen all rose up against this “mindless plan” which would “for eternity disfigure our world city, whose glorious sights have so often invigorated visitors from home and abroad.”
Ruppenthal suggested it would be useful for tourists, and mentioned how people had baulked at the Eiffel Tower’s construction. City leaders debated but rejected the idea. The reason given was “that was Paris, this is Budapest,” and the case was closed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Budapest riots - bugger all else to do

Link to Ferenc Gyurcsány's blog story here

I read this morning of the cock-up (or was it planned? Conspiracies-Theories Inc.) leaked speech by Hungo-PM Ferenc Gyurcsány (clevely spelled Joorchaani on the BBC to aid gormless reporters' hapless efforts at pronunciation, methinks, confirmed next day by their spelling of a Budapest photographer's name as 'Bolash' which we imagine must be kretin-spel-as-u-speke for Balázs) to the Socialist (MSZP) party in May which caused a riot in Budapest's Szabadság tér and at the Magyar TV headquarters.
"Nem baj, hogy kikerült a hangfelvétel. Mert a magyar politika igazi kérdése ma már nem az, ki, mikor nem mondott igazat, hanem az, ki tudja ezt abbahagyni. Ki az, aki őszintén, néhol szenvedélyesen, néhol szabad szájúan szembe mer nézni az elmúlt 16 év hazugságaival és féligazságaival"

"It's not a problem that the tape was leaked. The real question in Hungarian politics is not who lied and when, but who can stop all this. Who can -with honesty and passion, sometimes gobsmacked - face up to the lies and half-truths of the past 16 years," Feri Gyurcsány wrote on his blog (unfortunately named 'amoeba' - for IQ level? facial expressions?) alongside a transcript the dreary speech which went on for about three hours and was as long-winded as the Pope's rant in Regensburg, aside from a few juicy bits to keep party officials awake.
"Nincsen sok választás. Azért nincsen, mert elkúrtuk. Nem kicsit, nagyon. Európában ilyen böszmeséget még ország nem csinált, mint amit mi csináltunk. Meg lehet magyarázni. Nyilvánvalóan végighazudtuk az utolsó másfél-két évet. Teljesen világos volt, hogy amit mondunk, az nem igaz"...he banged on.....(I'll translate if anyone's that bothered) showing what a potty-mouthed PM he is and also,
"Elkúrtuk. Nem kicsit, nagyon (We fucked up, not a little, bigtime)
following with
"Bassza meg, ugyan nem értek egyet, de elengedem" and
"Hogy nem kell lehajtani a fejét ebben a kurva országban. Hogy nem kell beszarni Orbán Viktortól, meg a jobboldaltól és tanulja most már meg magát nem ő hozzájuk mérni, hanem a világhoz." stb stb.
And so it went on with a stream of foul language, showing that Gyurcsány (or ocsmány as I prefer to call him - look it up) might have made millions in dodgy deals after the change of system but he remains a paraszt (peasant) in mentality. Can you imagine the saintly assassin Blair using such vulgar language?

I have three thoughts after seeing pictures of the riots.

1. It was not politically motivated, but carried out by Fradi (Ferencváros) football fans who were bored out of their minds with nothing to ruck about since their crap team was relegated, demoted and humiliated, unsurprisingly, for more dodgy dealings.

You can even hear them on the TV reports bellowing football chants 'Ria, ria, Hungaria'...

2. It's actually a Hungarian Tourist Board promotion to get people to go to Budapest for the 50th anniversary of 1956, because nothing else of interest has happened in Budapest in the last 50 years.
You can read all the over-excited expat blogs and reports from Budapest stating "It was the first such unrest to take place in Hungary since the fall of communism and the establishment of democracy in the late 1980s."

What rioting was there in 1990?
People were far too bored and bovine and full of lard and lager to even fart let alone rumble.

3. Gyurcsány needs to wash his mouth out.

In the early nineties, I worked for an utterly miserable 18 months as a correspondent from the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, being the only one in the Budapest Week editorial office who spoke Hungarian.
It was horrible.
Sleazy and depressing.
The slimeball American editor hired me to get scoops and even offered me a budget to take politicians to dinner in a pathetic, quasi-Mata Hari effort to get an inside (ooer matron) story.....YUK.
I spent most of the time running around the kocsma-lined corridors of power, pursued by lager-soaked, chain-smoking MSZP and MDF politicians from shithole-backwaters like Nyíregyháza who had to spend a week in the big city and were 'lonely' without wifey for company.
Perhaps I'd like to go out to dinner with them and brighten up their sad, pathetic existence?

Perhaps I'd like to boil my head.
The sad thing is Gyurcsány is not even a vague resemblance of a Socialist.
His party does nothing for minorities and nothing for the elderly and sick.
He lives in a mansion and drives around in a poncy car.
Compare with cuddly red Ken Livingstone going to work on the tube.
The SZDSZ (Free Democrats) could be the best option for the future but regular Hungarians in the street hate the SZDSZ as they think the party is full of poofs and Jews. Too liberal and dangerously 'cosmopolitan' you see.
Opposition leader Viktor Orbán (Fidesz) is just as vile as Ocsmány, or possibly even more vile and more of a hypocrite as he claims to have God on his side.
Hungarian politics gives me a nauseous headache with extra bilious attack on the side.

"About 150 people were injured in Hungary's worst violence since the fall of communism."

Somebody remind me what Hungarians did during the 'fall of communism'.

Perhaps the BBC, Grauniad, Washington Post etc are getting mixed up with Bucharest.....

Remember to book your place at the Anniversary of the October 23 1956 Revolution - tickets direct from Magyar Turizmus.

Anyway, at least expat journos are happy.

They now have something to do after 15 years of mind-numbing boredom.
And, since it's all about honesty, I admit I'm only tottering down the gruesome, painful memory lane to my dark days in the Hungarian Parliament because I want a few more links to my sad little blog.
I shouldn't even be wasting my time on this drivel, I have a book deadline to meet.
Nobody outside the Carpathian Basin is interested in what goes on in Hungary and corresponding from Budapest is a fruitless, pointless task.

Now I have vented my spleen, I need to lie down in a darkened room now, to shift this hideous migraine.
A © FourBees digital picture of the Soviet war memorial (defaced by Fradi fans, bored with making offensive "Fuck Slovakia" banners to wave at their crap football team's meaningless matches) in Szabadság tér (Freedom - tee hee - Square).
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Bored in Brno?: To Visit Brno

Check out this fine blog on Brno
Culture capital of Central Europe
NvB: Bored in Brno?: To Visit Brno

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bleedin' Zeeland

A huge, solid, meaty (humanchild) turd bobbed past me as I was doing my 28 laps of breast-stroke back and forth in the water just off the coast of Zeeland (south Holland). Yum, yum - how organic.
©FourBees turdwatch


Mummie bee has the greenest fingers in Somerset.
It is actually FourBees' secret ambition to escape the sleazy world of journalism, grow herbs by the sea in northern Portugal and never have to go near a whining, creaking laptop ever, ever again.
One of my favourite plants in Bee-Senior's ever-burgeoning, if a tad overgrown and rambling garden is Common Borage (Borago officinalis ) which has the most gorgeous blue petals and many medicinal properties.
Common Borage is believed to have originated in Aleppo, northwest Syria.
Some herbalists believe Borage's Latin name Borago comes from a corruption of corago, a combination of cor (heart) and ago (I bring) to denote its cordial, healing effect on the heart.
In Mediterranean countries, where it grows prolifically and with as much weedlike enthusiasm as in Queen Bee's garden, it is spelled borrage possibly from the Italian borra or French bourra meaning hair or wool, in reference to the thick covering of white hairs on the whole plant.
Borage is good for improving the mood.

The 17th century diarist John Evelyn wrote, 'Sprigs of Borage are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student.'
Culpepper added that the plant is 'useful in putrid and pestilent fever, the venom of serpents, jaundice, consumption, sore throat and rheumatism'.
Bacon confided that it 'hath an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie'.
We could all do with some of that as the gloomy, long days of winter approacheth.
Recent studies have found that the bodacious borage - also known as Starflower - contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which can kill brain, breast and prostate cancer cells.
I find the petals make an elegant addition to salads.
They have a subtle watery cucumber flavour which also creates an interesting sauce for delicate white fish such as sole or plaice.

© FourBees-gone-all-green digital photo
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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brussels blogging

Blogs based in Bruxelles - especially the expat blogs - are incredibly banal.
They confirm the fact that in Belgium, nobody does any work or anything interesting, they just eat and eat and drink, pop back to EU-land for ten minutes, have a coffee, then rush back to the brasserie for more nouriture and windbagging.
Chips, chips, chips
Blanche, Blanche, Blanche
Waffle, waffle, waffle
Leffe blonde, Leffe blonde, Leffe blonde

moules-frites, moules-frites, moules-frites
Gouda, Gouda, Gouda
Blah, Blah, Blah

Moët et Chandon, Moët et Chandon, Moët et Chandon
Berlaymont, Berlaymont, Berlaymont
Duvel, Duvel, Duvel
Crème fraiche, crème fraiche, crème fraiche
mouton, mouton, mouton
Yawn, yawn, yawn

In relation to Bruxelles blogs, this blog is extraordinarily riveting, entertaining and amusing.

The cartoon above sums it up and is by Dave Walker
who also shows his work here

Can you tell what a stinker of a mood FourBees is in this fine morning?
Pass the mogadon, Maud

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Brno - the city of laughter and forgetting

I've been thinking a lot about Brno recently.
It's my favourite city in the Czech Republic as I spent my salad days here studying Czech language and literature in the early eighties.
As a homage to this fine city, FourBees offers a travel article written perhaps eight years ago for a Budapest newspaper and updated more recently for an inflight magazine.
Bear in mind that some of the venues may have changed, however I hope the atmosphere has been captured.

Brno: so much more than an anagram
A FourBees travel article

Brno; the name might sound like a crossword anagram and the town always gets overlooked, lurking in the shade of big sister Prague but look again.
Brno is not the elusive 'next Prague'.
Along with ‘shimmering sunsets’ and ‘bustling old town centres’ this clichéd label hangs like a dead weight on many towns, some deserving, some dreading.
Those seeking fairytale castles, cobbled backstreets and what some American visitors dub, 'Disneyland with beer', should head for Ljubljana, Krakow, Tallinn or even Bratislava.
Brno will never be the new Prague, and, knowing Brno, it doesn’t want to be.
Brno is very much its own town.
A vibrant yet traditional Czech city, this capital of Moravia has stunning architecture to match big Bohemian sister Prague, a gorgeous lake a tram ride away and, despite the name sounding a bit brown and dull, Brno has an exciting, beery bar scene, but without the heaving crowds.

Brno also has its fair share of cultural icons; it is the birthplace of Milan Kundera, everyone’s favourite Czech writer and home to composer Leoš Janaček.
Playwright Karel Čapek, creator of the word ‘robot’ went to high school here and Bohumil Hrabal, author of the charming, ironic Closely Observed Trains (‘Ostre sledované vlaky’ filmed by Jiři Menzel in 1966) was born nearby.
And did you know that Bren guns come from Brno, where they were designed and Enfield, the location of the British Royal Small Arms Factory where they were assembled?
In the 19th century, Brno embraced the industrial revolution with great enthusiasm and the city was nicknamed the 'Manchester of Moravia' however Brno is also a very green city with lots of parks and lakes where visitors can chill out.
Brno is just the right size for a weekend visit.

Ryanair begins bargain flights to Brno from Stansted this year on March 24, 2005.
Only two and a half hours away from the UK by plane, Brno is filled with fascinating monuments, beautiful churches, creepy crypts and enough pivnices (beer halls), vinárnas (wine bars), kavárnas (coffee houses), cukrárnas (cake shops) and restauraces (self-explanatory) -all situated within walking distance of the friendly pedestrian zone main square - to keep you satisfied and well-fed rather than fed-up on a refreshing break.

A good base is the Hotel Santon, situated up by the dam at Brno’s lake resort.
It’s a step back in time to the Eastern Bloc era, when workers’ holiday homes provided affordable accommodation with all kinds of amenities thrown in to keep the family happy while papa sampled the many varieties of Czech pivo - the best beer in the world.
The style has not changed since and there is a swimming pool, sauna, gym, tennis courts, two TV rooms and, during peak season, one of the best buffet breakfasts in central Europe. However, these offerings pale into insignificance beside the gorgeous Brno lake (Brnenská Přehrada) which stretches up eight miles to the lost-in-time hamlet of Veverská Bityská.
We started walking along the bank, passing dozens of beer gardens, nestling amongst the trees and headed towards the castle, whose turrets peeped out from behind treetops.
After three miles, the road petered out and we passed the Zouvalka mini landing point, continuing past triangular summer houses, their shaded gardens packed with Czech families barbecuing sausages and drinking beer.
Staggering into Veverská Bityská in the afternoon sun, we felt well-deserving of refreshment. The Na Mestecku pub and restaurant was packed with aging, bulging gentlemen cyclists who we had encountered en route, whizzing past us in the forest in a blur of lurid lycra.
They were all chugging back half litres of Starobrno beer for nine Czech koruna (or CZK - €0.29) and were obviously strong believers in the Czech maxim 'Pívo délá pékná telá' (Beer makes beautiful bodies).
'Are you still crying over your Queen Diana?'
I hadn’t expected such a probing question after hacking my way through the Moravian undergrowth for several hours.
The questioner was an elderly Czech gentleman in an elegant suit and tie, who, by the tell-tale markings on his paper tab, placed on the table by the Starobrno beer mats, was now onto his sixth half-litre of the afternoon. Perhaps he mistook the beads of sweat dotting my cheeks for tears.
The bar was filled with young bikers sharing tables with ancient uncles, including my new friend with the belated Princess Diana obsession, but then again, in Veverská Bityská there was a Twilight Zone atmosphere and the sense that time had stood still for quite a while.
For 120CZK (€4), we bought two tickets on the swift and silent boat back to Brno dam.
The scenic ride took just over an hour, passing canoeists, windsurfers, anglers and river snakes winding leisurely through the green water and startled fish.
From our Commie-nostalgia hotel, we walked past a wacky restaurant inside a TU154 jet plane and took the No 3 tram which trundled for 15 minutes through what appeared to be Brno locals’ allotments, before arriving at the Česká stop in the old town centre.
Česká is Brno’s most famous street and favourite meeting place where you can find the famous Stopka pivnice, now somewhat of a tourist trap, but still parading the faded facade, covered with sgraffito swirls and figures engraved into the plaster.
The main square, Náměstí Svoboda has altered little since I studied here in 1982, it’s a vast open space criss-crossed by tram lines.
Now however, a large McDonalds offers a quick meal instead of the derelict Sputnik buffet, whose sausage aroma used to waft all the way across to the Pipi Grill opposite, now replaced also by a swanky cukrarna, although the four Mamlases, grimacing Atlases, created by Germano Wanderley in 1928, are still straining to support the building.
Nearby, the Capuchine monastery’s crypt displays the mummified bodies of 150 monks, preserved naturally since 1784 in the dry atmosphere.
Baron Trenck lies here, amongst other ghoulish nobility, many of whom, we noticed, were buried with their boots on.
Dominating the cityscape is Peter and Paul church whose bells ring noon each day at 11am in honour of a famous victory over the Swedes in 1645; they rang for midday early and caught the invaders out.
On a higher hill, but hidden by trees, the Špilberk castle (hrad), founded in the early 13th century was often used as a residence for Czech kings.
In the 18th century, the castle was made into a military fortress with a prison later called the Prison of Nations because of its international guest list of rebels against the oppressive Habsburg regime.
The prison was closed in 1853, but again put to use by the occupying Nazis in WWII. These can be visited and offer a chilling reminder of the horrors of war.
The cobbled, sloping Cabbage market (Zelný trh) has been Brno’s trading centre since the 13th century. The strange, blobby Parnas fountain was designed in 1695 by Viennese architect JB Fischer von Erlach.
Vegetables played a significant part in Brno’s history, as monk and botanist Gregor Mendel made pioneering discoveries on genetics working with the common garden pea and a hive of bees in the 19th century in the Augustine monastery laboratory that you can still visit at the Mendelianum museum.
Brno has some great restaurants; U Prumyslovky on Verveři, leading north out of town, has a wonderful spacious dining room with high ceilings to absorb the inevitable smoke clouds. Knedliky or dumplings are an acquired taste and long walks around the river are necessary after the traditional pork, dumpling and sauerkraut special.
The unique Becherovka liqueur, with a cinnamon twist to the heady alcoholic kick, costs only 10CZK (€0.33) a shot here and an important aid to digestion after such sturdy cuisine.
The Špalíček restaurant, looking out over the comings and goings on the Cabbage market square, should be visited at least once for authentic Czech dining experience.
For liquid refreshment look no further than Pivnice Pegas at Jakubská 4, with its own micro-brewery inside and the usual beer bar residents of students and old codgers, still holding out against the few tourists who venture to this undiscovered gem of a city.
Slightly out of town, in a leafy suburb, the wonderful Rosnička (Tree Frog) Bar was a rather chi-chi wine bar back in 1982, but has since been taken over by beer and accompanying hairy, oily bikers.
However it was very reassuring to discover it was still there and still open, and even more amazing that I could navigate my way through suburbia to find it, given the enthusiastic sampling of local Czech wines – and beers - that went on in those days.

Getting there
From March, Ryanair (Tel: +44 871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com) offers return flights from Stansted from £37, including taxes and internet discount.
From Brussels, it’s easiest to fly to Vienna (Vienna-Brno 130km, Prague-Brno 200km) then take the train from Vienna’s Westbahnhof. SN Brussels airlines (Tel: 070 35 1111, www.flysn.com) has returns from E200.

Staying there

Hotel Santon
Přistavní 38, BrnoTel: +420 546 221 536, Fax: +420 546 210 004, hotel website.
Take the No. 1 tram from Hlávni Nadraži (Main Railway station) for fifteen minutes to the Přistaviště stop, then walk towards the lake. Look for the Letadla bar - a jet plane sitting beside the road.


Zahradnická 19Tel: +420 543 427 310A communist-era high-rise hotel, two tram stops from the Railway station heading towards the Výstaviště (exhibition grounds), south west of the town centre. Clean rooms, triangular (pyramid-style) at the top, good breakfasts. Excellent location for exploring the town, yet quiet. There is a good vinárna or wine bar (T: 420 543 232 316) in the cellar.

You can also stay upstairs at the Pegas (micro-brewery) if your legs give out after enthusiastic beer sampling. Jakubská 4, Tel: +420 542 210 104. Beer hall open daily 9.00-24.00.

Eating and Drinking

Pegas pivnice on Jakubská 4, a smoky beer hall with its own micro-brewery -Pegas website
Stopka (Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice) Ceská 5, Tel: +420 542 211 094. Open daily 10.00-23.00.
Špalíček on Cabbage Market (Zelný trh 12, Tel: +420 542 211 526. Open daily 11.00-23.00.
Rosnička (Tree Frog) Bar, at Jana Nečasé 1 in the leafy suburb of Brno-Žabovřesky, Tel: 420 549 240 160. Rosnička website. Restaurant open Monday to Friday 11.00—mdnight, Saturday & Sunday noon—midnight. Vinárna open Monday to Thursday 18.00—01.00, Friday 18.00—02.00, Saturday 19.00—02.00, Sunday closed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

BlogDay 2006 - the morning after

[a rare photo of FourBees prowling her office, just before deadline day]

Sorry Baby Bees, I only just realised it was Blog Day 2006 on the morning after.
I was working hard, writing away and never looked up from my sweaty keyboard to check on how the outside (cyber) world was coping in my absence.
In a pathetic attempt to join the party after everyone has long gone home to bed, here is my list of five (new to me) blogs which I check out regularly, when I'm in a blogging mood and not in an almighty, deadline approacheth, 'don't bother me just hand over the Cote D'Or and the Typhoo then leave well alone' mood.

Nuda v Brne An entirely not boring blog about Brno, a place where it is impossible to be even the slightest bit at a loss for something to do.
Cuochi di Carta who kindly gave me a mention yesterday. Nice, clean site with a good use of white space and some enticing recipes. By the way, you should be able to leave a comment on my blog, unless I've buggered it up good and proper...
Tasca da Elvira Gorgeous blog about the most fabulous country, Portugal. Great links. Sob.
Foxy Librarian For some reason, the (Lucida?) font sets my teeth on edge but anyone who posts quotations by Dorothy Parker and an homage to the Battleaxe (my embittered and beastly self being a prime example of one), is alright by me.
Ginger Pixel A talented photographer and redhead from Ireland.

Now, back to the grindstone, churning out the copy, before the EU-tyrant gets home and starts cracking the Magyar Puszta whip....oh the pain, the pain, the glorious pain.