Prague Palace of books

For a change we decided to go on an organised excursion and were so very glad that we did. It was very different and we learnt so much.

As I have said before we particularly enjoy walking around a new destination and/or using the hop-on hop-off bus. In a new town or city walking means that one sees so much more of the daily activities and facilities eg The Palace of Books shop we discovered in Prague and which no one else on our tour saw. Another advantage is that it gives an opportunity to speak to the locals and we have found that usually the younger people are friendlier but this may be because more of them are able to speak English. This is even more profound in the E. European countries as few older persons have had the opportunity to travel. The bus is a wonderful way to learn about a place and its main attractions especially if you have limited time. We have found both of these methods of exploring a place to be very senior citizen friendly as you do it at your own pace.

Prague Palace of booksThe biggest bookshop we have ever seen

We seldom go on organised excursions partly for the above reasons and partly because they are expensive, especially for South Africans or those from countries with high exchange rates. When we were in Europe in May 2017 the Rand to the Euro was about 14:1 and most excursions cost around 75-100 Euros per person. Each excursion required a minimum of 10 people for it to take place and most had been cancelled due to this requirement not being met. This was largely due to the fact that our particular cruise had the 2 very distinct groups – the 80 Spaniards who had come with everything booked for themselves with their own guides and the other 30 of us.

We made an exception for a day trip to a farm which bred and trained Lipizzaner horses. Our excursion to the farm originally had 8 people booked but this became 7 on the morning of the outing as 1of us had succumbed to the ‘tummy bug’. As we arrived at the stop where we were to wait for our transport, one of the Australian ladies went a pale green and decided to return to the boat where she spent a rather miserable day, sadly. We in turn had a lovely day.

 Trevor and friends waiting for tour bus

Trevor with friends Pamela and Veronica

We left about a half hour later than planned as the driver of our small bus got stuck in traffic. We had been told that we would be going through agricultural areas of Hungary and the main crop was Paprika. Personally, I have to say that I could not see any cultivated plants nor any farm animals so not sure where the agricultural activity was. What we did see were large fields of grass and a few trees. Clearly I was missing something!

The farm was about an hour’s travel south west of Budapest. On the way we stopped for a tour of the town of Kecskemét, a lovely stop. As we approached Kecskemét our tour guide, a middle-aged Hungarian lady, told us about the town’s coat-of-arms which has (a) “gortt” on it. So we started guessing – a god? something in gold? what could it be? The bus stops outside the József Katona Theatre and she points out the coat-of-arms above the main door and we saw a goat!! The Hungarian word for goat is ‘kecske’ so all becomes clear. Outside the theatre is a stunning sculpture called the Column of the Holy Trinity and is a memorial to those who died of the Plague or Black Death in the 14th Century.

 Holy Trinity Statue honouring Black Plague victimsColumn of the Holy Trinity

Jzsef Katona TheaterJozsef Katona Theatre 

We walked down to a beautiful town square surrounded by the City Hall, 3 churches – 2 Roman Catholic and an Orthodox, 2 schools and a Synagogue which is now a museum. The centre of the Square had well maintained gardens. Each hour, on the hour, bells in the town hall tower ring out the hour with a portion of a composition by Zoltan Kodaly, a composer from the town. We returned later  to the Town Square to listen to the bells. There were 2 or 3 minutes to go and there were quite a few people waiting for midday. What a disappointment. The sound was lovely but not that special as we realised that it was actually a recording being played so was not as resonant as the bells would have been.

City Hall bellsCity Hall with its bells

Monument to Kodaly Zoltan composerMonument to Kodaly Zoltan

It was 11:45 so we decided to explore some of the town first. Down the main road is a large intersection with a small memorial to the heroes of the 1956 Revolution built in the 1990s following liberation from the USSR and Socialism. This is much smaller than and far less imposing than the memorial in Budapest but it is very inspiring.

Kscekemet memorial for 1956 rebellionMemorial to the heroes of the 1956 Revolution

Behind the memorial on the same corner is a large school also known as the New College. Its front entrance is large and open making it feel welcoming. On another corner is the Cifrapalota which now houses the Art Gallery. It is a wonderful example of Art Deco architecture beautifully decorated with ceramic plant and flower designs. In the centre of the intersection was a beautiful fountain and it seemed to be a meeting place as there were a number of people sitting on its edges chatting. 

Ceramic Art on Cifro polata bldgThe Cifrpalota with beautiful ceramic murals

From there we crossed to the Franciscan Church which was built in the 14th Century in Romanesque style but over the years it has been reconstructed until it was finished in its current Baroque style. Until 1564 it was used by both Protestanta and Catholics. Along the left hand side of the entrance was a large sculpture of the Crucifixion with statues of 2 women and an apostle at the foot of the Cross. Attached to the side of the church is a small  building of grey stone which is the only part of the original church, with its wooden tower, which still stands. On the inside wall around the courtyard were memorial or ‘thank you’ plaques, some going back more than 100 years. The number of them was truly mind-boggling. Built into one part of the wall is a beautiful crypt with a statue of Christ and woman in prayer. A very peaceful place to visit.

Domed roof of churchThe domed ceiling of the Church

Crypt of Mother MaryCrypt of the Virgin Mary

Kscekemet thank you plaques 2Thank you plaques

Original tower of St Michaels ChurchThe original bell tower of the church 

Inside the CathedralInside the Church

Opposite the Franciscan church was the Szent Miklós RC church also known as The Big Church because it is the biggest church building in Hungary with an imposing 73m tower. It is the oldest church building in Kecskemét built in the mid-17th Century in the style of King Lous XIV of France.

St Miklos ChurchThe tower of St Miklos Church

We walked down another street past the Orthodox Church built by the small Greek Community with a museum in its yard and the Synagogue which was a house when purchased by the Jews in 1814. Today it houses the fascinating Hungarian Photography Museum which contains a great collection of cameras and historic photographs. The restored ceiling features Jewish theme and, like so many of the buildings, the walls are beautiful with paintings and decorations from tile chips. The roofs are made of tiles designed into beautiful shapes and colours like so common in Eastern Europe.

Calvinist ChurchThe Orthodox Church with its Onion Dome 

On our way back to the bus we went via the other RC church which also includes a small monastery. There was beautiful music being played and we were able to see their beautiful gardens but could not go in as there was a service taking place. Just outside the church is a shrine to  Zoltan Kodaly, the town’s composer, made of brown marble and inlaid with gold lettering. There are 3 reliefs of Biblical scenes.

Sculpture for the PsalmsThe reverse of the Zoltan Memorial with the 3 Scriptures

The time we spent in Kecskemét was truly special and a worthwhile stop if you go to Hungary. From there the bus took us to Tanyacsãrda Farm to see the Lipizzaners.