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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Prague

The Cities in Style...

Two other great East European cities – old favourites among VSOE travellers – also feature on itineraries for 2010.

Prague, like its near-neighbour Dresden – is set on a giant bend in a river. In this case the water is best enjoyed from Charles Bridge, which links the old town with the castle and museums. The bridge is habitually lined with musicians, most of them students at one of the city’s many music colleges. There’s barely a corner of the immaculately preserved Old Town Square, some of it dating back to the 12th century, which doesn’t host some kind of classically elegant performance, suggesting little here has changed despite a difficult 20th century. 

An exceptional number of must-see sights are crammed into a compact space. The winding narrow streets are like Venice without the canals, packed with visitors gazing at remarkable architecture from a huge variety of eras, from medieval through art nouveau to striking contemporary facades. The Municipal House near the main square is a good place to sample local-style cooking such as goulash. Do drop by a micro-brewery to taste the city’s dark beer.

Several days are needed to explore, and it is best to divide the city into manageable sections such as:

  • Prague Castle and Hradcany (including the cathedral, picture gallery and several palaces).
  • The Lesser Town (reached by Charles Bridge, whose monuments should be viewed early in the morning, before the crowds appear).
  • The Jewish Quarter (with its fascinating synagogues and the cemetery, where travellers may mark their visit by placing a stone on a grave).
  • The Old Town (including the main square with its medieval astronomical clock, worth visiting up close, inside the tower).
  • The New Town (around Wenceslas Square, scene of great historical events).

Budapest is not just one, but two vast cities joined across the Danube. Buda’s castle hill faces the broad boulevards of Pest on the opposite bank, linked by the monumental Szechenyi Chain Bridge. The history of this ‘double’ city can be experienced from Roman remains at Aquincum, through the 13th century Royal Palace and steamy Art Nouveau Gellert Baths (or outdoor Szechenyi Furdo, where chess is played  in the pool) to the cool, modern bars and restaurants of hip District IX. The markets are a wonderful experience, full of life and colour.

Organise your visit with care, as distances among attractions can be considerable, especially around the grand Parisian-style boulevards of Pest.

Cultural highlights off the regular beat include:

  • The vast Ethnography Museum. This palace of a building is worth viewing in itself. Add to it the displays, especially on Hungarian life, and it’s a must.
  • The intimate Franz Liszt Memorial: the composer’s apartment turned into a museum, with antique pianos and sheet music on display.
  • The Ludwig Museum of contemporary art – a dynamic showcase for the current Hungarian scene.
  • Train travellers will be intrigued by Nyugati railway station, built in 1877 and infamous for the engine that, some 40 years ago, overshot the buffers and ended up suspended above the street.
 
Venice-Prague-London  

Venice-Prague-London

Explore the glorious Czech capital city Prague. More »
Venice-Budapest-London  

Venice-Budapest-London

Visit the historic city of Budapest, located on the Danube river.  More »
 

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