Recently I was privileged to enjoy a 10-day Imperial Europe tour that spanned Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. And what a connoisseur’s delight it was of history, architecture, music, art, food and drink – a whole millennium’s worth!
We started off in Munich, the capital of Bavaria – and famous for its beer halls and, of course, Hitler’s early political gambits. But there’s much more to this old city than that: the Olympic stadium, the world-class Technical Museum, the Glockenspiel clock atop the town hall in the Marienplatz square, the Children’s Museum, the Volksbad public baths … and, of course, delicious sausage and beer. I was particularly taken with the bockwurst and paprika wurst that we purchased at a market stall.
On our way from Munich to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, we stopped off in the historic town of Regensburg. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its medieval, Gothic-style cathedral is one of the most impressive in Germany. This church, which took over 250 years to complete, contains over 100 images of its patron saint, St Peter, as well as the beautiful stained-glass windows for which it is especially famous.
Across the border we also stopped in Pilsen, the Czech city famous for its breweries (and from where the pilsener style of brewing takes its name.) It’s a must-see place for any lover of the modern, clear style of beer.
Prague is one of Europe’s most breathtaking destinations, and it has blossomed since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. While we had the option of a lunchtime river cruise, we chose instead to explore this incredible city’s Old Town. Highlights included the 1 000-year-old Prague Castle, the largest complex in the world and containing St Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica and more, as well as the old cobbled town square and its Astronomical Clock.
This masterpiece medieval clock was not used to tell time – instead, it marks the phases of the moon, the seasons and Christian holidays. Every hour it tells a brief (and eerie) mechanical morality play, with the 12 Apostles looking down on 15th Century symbols of evil: death, vanity, corruption and greed.
Then it was goodbye to Bohemia and on through Moravia to Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, for breakfast and a whistle-stop visit. Lunch – soup and sausage, washed down with beer – was enjoyed in Brno, Slovenia, before we arrived in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
The twin towns of Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River and only combined into one city in 1940, represent a cornucopia of architectural styles and cultures, from one of the oldest Jewish Quarters in Europe to the influences of conquering Mongols and Tartars. A, ancient crossroads of Europe, Budapest is easily one of its most fascinating cities.
We also took in a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building, centred around a stunning, 16-sided dome hall that is one of Hungary’s most venerated historical sites, and visited the nearby town of Szentendre. Originally settled in the 18th Century by Serb refugees, it’s all cobbled lanes, pastel buildings and tall Orthodox church spires – and at the Hungarian Open Air Museum, one can step into Hungarian country life of centuries ago.
From there we travelled to Vienna, one of the most elegant cities of the world, the focal point of the Habsburg dynasty and the wellspring of much Western culture. A mixture of nostalgic romanticism of the past and quirky modern life, imperial cultural treasures and musical highlights, hospitable and welcoming Vienna has a lot to offer the visitor.
The home also of Johann Strauss and Mozart, the rock stars of their day, a particular highlight for me was a concert with dinner at the Vienna Palace – a timeless connoisseur’s treat in the very place where they made their names. Virtuoso musicians, superb opera singers and enchanting ballet soloists presented and evening full of Viennese charm, with swinging waltzes, polkas, arias and duets of the highest standard.
After Vienna we travelled down the Danube Valley to the charming city of Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace. We visited the world-famous Mirabell Gardens, immortalised in the movie The Sound of Music. We also took an excursion to the local mountaintops, which included a visit to Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest near Berchtesgaden, before ending at our starting point, Munich.
The sadness that it all had to come to an end was tempered by the knowledge that my fellow travellers and I had immersed ourselves in the historical and cultural essence of five of Europe’s oldest nations, seen unique places and enjoyed the very best experiences they had to offer.
• Theresa Szejwallo is the managing director of Trafalgar, which offers the Imperial Europe tour. Trafalgar is offering a fantastic discount of R3 000 per couple off the tour price, for bookings made before 30 April 2012. For further information, please visit www.trafalgartours.co.za
Issued by marcusbrewster on behalf of Trafalgar Tours.
For further information please contact Alexa Holtzhausen on firstname.lastname@example.org or (011) 022 9711