Attending church abroad

I’ve been abroad for almost six weeks, and in that time I’ve visited many different churches, mostly for sightseeing, but I’ve also been to four Sunday services. Only one of those was English speaking; I’ve also attended Polish-speaking Lutheran service, a High Mass in German and a service in Spanish, in San Sebastian de la Gomera. I know a few words of Polish, and a similar amount of German so I wasn’t able to follow most of the services in those languages, but I still felt welcome there. I feel more comfortable with Spanish, so I felt like I got the gist of the sermon and knew what was happening during the service.

In Vienna, many of the churches have a special programme of music for Sunday services. I attended the Augustinerkirche which was the Imperial church of the Habsburgs, and the music was by Haydn and Mozart. There was a choir and orchestra and the music was beautiful.

The English-speaking service I attended was in Bratislava, at the International Church there. They gave me a very warm welcome and invited me for coffee in a nearby bookshop after the service. The people I met were kind and friendly and it felt as if I was part of their community.

My church attendance abroad has been a positive experience. Faith is really important to me, and I feel that even though I don’t always understand the language, I’m still sharing in an experience with the other members of the congregation.

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A visit to Mozart’s grave

It was quite a nice day in Vienna yesterday. I’d gone to Schonbrunn Palace Gardens in the morning, had some lunch, but wasn’t quite sure what to do for an afternoon activity. After some thought, I decided to visit Mozart’s grave; something I’d originally planned to do when I first decided to come here.

I’m staying in the 15th district near the Johnstrasse U-bahn station, so I took the U3 line to Zippererstrasse and walked from there which took around 15 minutes. The cemetery is quite easy to find.

The exact location of Mozart’s grave is unknown. Under the reforms brought in by Emperor Joseph II in 1784 everyone was buried in an unmarked grave so the monument most likely isn’t in the exact spot where he was laid to rest.

Mozart was only 35 when he died; much too young by anyone’s standards. He’d been performing and composing music for most of his life, and the works he produced remain among the best-loved music of all time. I felt quite moved as I stood at the grave, thinking about how much his music has meant to me over the years and has inspired and comforted me when I’ve been in need of help.

La Traviata at the Vienna State Opera

Last night I went to the Opera in Vienna and it was wonderful.

I’d found out that while normal-priced tickets to the Vienna State Opera can be expensive, tickets for the standing area which cost between 3 and 4 euro go on sale 80 minutes before the start of each evening’s performance. It’s advisable to get there early, so I arrived at about ten past five and there were already quite a few people ahead of me in the queue. The box office opened after I’d waited for around an hour, and twenty minutes later I had my bargain ticket for one of the world’s most well-known operas.

There are three ticket options: Parterre, Balcony and Galerie. Parterre is closest to the stage, and costs 4 euro. I’d heard that the view from the Parterre area can be quite restricted, so I opted for the highest tier, the Galerie which costs 3 euro. Once I got my ticket, I headed upstairs along with everyone else. It’s advisable to bring a scarf to tie around the railing to mark your spot in the standing area once you get there. You also have to check in your coat (and backpack if you have one) which is free. There’s the opportunity to have a wander round and take some photos while waiting for the performance to start.

La Traviata is the story of Parisian courtesan Violetta, and her love Alfredo. The opera starts with Violetta throwing a party in Paris to which Alfredo comes. He tells Violetta that he’s been in love with her for a year and visited her often during her recent illness. They get together, and move to the French countryside where they live happily until Alfredo’s father visits Violetta and tells her the relationship between them is bringing shame to Alfredo’s family. Violetta reluctantly agrees to break up with Alfredo. Eventually, he finds out the truth behind what happened between them and attempts a reconciliation, but by then Violetta is dying of consumption and it’s too late. She dies at the very end of the opera.

Both the music and story of La Traviata are very moving, and it was wonderful to experience a performance of the opera in such an iconic place. Vienna is a city that’s well known for it’s musical heritage and I’m happy that I went to the Opera here.

Koszonom, Budapest

I left Budapest yesterday and I’m now staying in Vienna, where I’ll be until next Wednesday.

I enjoyed my stay in Budapest. It’s a really beautiful city, and on the whole the people I met were friendly and helpful. The hostel I stayed in at first wasn’t great, but that was actually a blessing in disguise because I booked an Airbnb for my remaining nights there, and got to meet a lovely Hungarian family.

I could write so much about what I did and saw there, because it feels like I packed a lot into a week. In this post though, I’m just going to pick a few of my highlights.

St Stephen’s Basilica

The interior of this building is stunning, and was even more beautiful because they still have the nativity scene and Christmas decorations (they stay up until Candlemas, which is on 2nd February). They have the mummified hand of St Stephen on display and you can pay extra to have the display box light up so you can see the hand more clearly.

Museum of Fine Art

This was a recommendation from my host’s son and I’m glad I visited here. They have an extensive collection of European Art from the 13th to 16th centuries, included are works by Flemish, German and Italian artists. The paintings are beautiful. I think it’s awesome that artists in the 13th century created beautiful work that we can still admire today.

Gellert Baths

I knew I was going to visit some baths in Budapest but couldn’t decide between them. In the end I chose Gellert after a friend said she’d been there and really enjoyed. The baths are attached to the Gellert Hotel, which is on the Buda side.

I spent about 3 hours here. The thermal pools are warm and soothing and I spent a bit of time in the steam room and sauna. The decor is stunning and it’s a lovely place to relax.

Cave church

I came here on the same day as I visited Gellert, as it’s just opposite the entrance to the baths. It’s a beautiful place. It was founded by an order of Pauline monks who had been expelled from Hungary during the reign of Joseph II, but returned in 1934. It was closed during the Communist era, but reopened again after the fall of Communism. It’s a working church so tourists can only visit outside Mass times.

‘Koszonom’ means ‘thank you’ in Hungarian, and I’m grateful for my experiences there, for the kind Hungarians I met and for the memories I’ve taken away.

Szentendre

I intended to come here for the day, but as it happens I’m staying here overnight. I’d booked a hostel in Budapest which seemed like good value for money, was in a central location, and had reasonably positive TripAdvisor reviews. The place looked ok when I arrived, but after a few nights I’d had enough. The place was dilapidated and dirty, and some of the other (male) guests made me feel really uncomfortable (for a woman travelling solo safety has to be the top priority). I decided to check out early, spend a night in Szentendre and find an Air BnB for my remaining 3 nights in Budapest (which I’ve done).

Szentendre is 15 km from Budapest and it takes about 40 minutes to get there by train. It’s very pretty and it’s easy to see why so many tourists come to visit. There’s a lot to see around the town, but I’ve focused on two attractions: the Christmas museum and shop, and Szamos Marzipan Cafe (there’s a Marzipan Museum attached to the cafe but I didn’t go inside).

I had coffee and cake in the Marzipan Cafe after arriving here; the cake was chocolate layered with Marzipan and coffee cream and was delicious. It took me a long time to decide what I wanted and I may go back tomorrow to try some more cake before I leave.

I also went to the Christmas museum and shop which was beautiful. I loved the Christmas trees and decorations inside. They had displays of ornaments from years gone by, and there’s the opportunity to buy a little souvenir. I bought a couple of small things as I don’t have much room in my luggage.

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Szentendre is a quaint town and well worth visiting. It’s a short journey from Budapest, the transport is very inexpensive (my return ticket was 670 forints) and it’s a refreshing experience after the hustle and bustle of Budapest.

Bikram yoga in Budapest

I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now and find it really helps me to relax and be more focused in general. Recently, my practice had fallen by the wayside because I was so busy in the weeks before I left Belfast. I wanted to get back to it because I noticed my body (especially my back) was starting to ache and I really needed a good stretch.

I’d wanted to try Bikram yoga for a very long time, but had never actually made it to a class. So when I found out that there’s a Bikram studio here in Budapest that offers classes in English, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. The studio is centrally located on the Pest side, near the Astoria metro station so it’s easy to find.

The studio has a really good deal for newbies; a ten day pass for 3000 forints (about £8.30). If you don’t have a yoga mat you can hire one for 300 forints (the mat hire is free for your first class) and towel rental is also 300 forints.

Bikram yoga’s also known as hot yoga, as the practice room is heated to between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius. At first when I went in the temperature was a lovely contrast to the cold outside, but by the end of the class I was glad to feel a cool breeze coming from outside. During the 90 minute class, the teacher took us through a series of 26 asanas, some of which I found more challenging than others although I didn’t struggle with the balance poses as much as I usually do. After the class, it was time for a well deserved shower and some food. My body felt so much looser, my back is less painful and I found it easier to relax afterwards. Today I’m also feeling the benefits mentally, as I’ve been more focused and productive.

I had a positive experience of my first Bikram yoga class and will definitely go back.

The lost things

I’ve lost a few things on this journey so far. I left my thermal gloves in a bathroom on my first evening in Wroclaw, but I brought a back up pair (black leather Thinsulate) that I’ve been wearing ever since.

Other things I have misplaced include two pens, a scallop shell I brought for good luck, and a coaster from a bar we visited on our sailing holiday in Majorca. Those items aren’t necessarily ‘essential’, but to me they had sentimental value and I hope I find them again.