Life Is A Fairy Tale- Hungary and Croatia

“It’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life.  I do wonder what can have happened to me!  When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now her I am in the middle of one!  There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought!  

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Leaving Vienna behind, I boarded a bus for Budapest, knowing very little about the city and what adventure awaited me.  I arrived late afternoon, so headed out to explore Sunday night life.  FYI- there isn’t much to Sunday night life.  Most places were closed so I walked around, found grocery store and a lovely little vegan restaurant and called it a night.  The Academy Awards were on in a few hours and I needed to be awake by 3:30 AM to watch them.  It was certainly a different experience watching them in Hungary.  They played without commercials and during the breaks, they showed clips from nominated films…..in Hungarian.
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My first day was a long, long, long walk around the city.  I headed up to St. Stephen’s Cathedral to orient myself and then planned my three prong attack.  First prong- down the avenue to Heroe’s Square which passes the Opera, their Times Square (couldn’t tell where that was) and their Broadway (also couldn’t tell its location).  A walk back on the side streets introduced me to the beautiful old Hungarian mansions.  These are enormous homes that looked so amazing on the outside that I wanted to grab one and restore it to its original glory.  Prong two took me towards Parliament, one of the most gorgeous buildings I have ever seen.  And I don’t say that lightly.  I also passed the very sanitized Holocaust Memorial built by the city which had a beautiful Living Memorial in front of it, filled with actual items such as suitcases, shoes and photographs from the victims.  This isn’t sponsored by the city but is a very real reminder of the people and not just the event.  Final prong was back towards my hotel through the Jewish Quarter and the second largest synagogue in the world.  In the back, they have a silver tree that has the name of a victim carved in each of its leaves.
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The next day in Budapest was over the river Danube on the Pest side.  Budapest used to be three cities that merged into one.  There was a big hill calling to me to climb and I wasn’t going to let it down.  Of course, I took the steep side of Gellert Hill up and the meandering side down.  At the top, in addition to amazing views of the city, I found the Liberty Statue and the Citadel.  One of the things I love so much about Budapest is how they handled life after the Soviets.  They gathered up all of the statues left behind when the Soviets left and stuck them in a part, in the middle of nowhere.  Well done.  I then spent an hour walking around the park trying to find a small park within it.  Disgusted, I gave up and headed over to Fisherman’s Bastion for some more breathtaking views of the city.  I had one last stop to make- their Central Market.  This market had more paprika that I have ever seen in one place!  Oddly enough, I finished the night with some of the best pizza I have had in a long time and went back to pack.  I had a bus to catch and a new country to see.
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After Budapest, I took a bus to Zagreb, Croatia for a night, a city which provided me an absolute nothing in terms of adventure.  A quick night’s sleep and it was time for a drive down the coast of Croatia.  And by drive, I mean ride in a small bus enjoying the scenery of what is possibly the most beautiful country I have seen.  We did get to stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a few hours so I got a bonus country visit along the way.  I arrived in Dubrovnik later in the evening and was dropped at the entrance of the Old Town, or King’s Landing from Game of Thrones.  It was so surreal to be here.   My well planned direct route to my apartment hit a snag when I discovered that Robin Hood was being filmed at the end of my street and my route became much longer- a great workout up the steep stairs when you are carrying your luggage on your back!  If I thought Croatia itself was spectacular, Dubrovnik elevated it even higher.  The water was an amazing clear blue or green depending upon the time of day and the sky was as clear as I have ever seen.  After a quick dinner, I went back to my apartment to make a plan.
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I headed out the next with a clear purpose…… which was quickly sidelined when the fairy tale began.  I happened upon some of the crew in a quiet nook of the city and they let me hang with them for some time while they filmed (provided I didn’t take photos).  I was fascinated.  I had heard that filming a movie is a hurry up and wait process with lots of down time, but I had no idea.  I was torn, I wanted to see Dubrovnik, but I also wanted to watch the filming.  Dubrovnik won (or did it?) and I say my goodbyes.  I made it all the way to the Ancient City Walls before I met the Drone Crew.  Of course, I had to watch with them for a bit.  I can’t wait to see those segments in the film.  In four hours, I had progressed about 200 yards, so again, I said goodbye and moved on…..another 200 yards.  Here, I ran into the Splinter Crew filming stunt scenes along the wall.  Another hour went by and I said goodbye.  One of my new friends pointed to another section of the wall and said, “we will be there around 2:00.”  Ugh.  Finally, I made my way around the wall, with the beautiful Aegean Sea on one side and the red tiled rooftops of the Old Town on the other.  It really was like walking through King’s Landing.  But, 2:00 was approaching and I had a job to do.  I arrived not long after they did and made my way to the highest point where they had set up the cable for the camera.  After about an hour or so, a crew member pointed out that the wall had long since closed and tourists were supposed to be off the wall.  Clearly he didn’t understand my role.  Wait, nope he did.  He then said, “but you are welcome to stay as long as you want.”  The shot wasn’t going well, so I called it quits around 6:00.
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The next day in Dubrovnik was going to be different.  Today, I was committed to my plan.  I woke early and headed to the outside of the wall, along the Aegean.  Along the way, the rigging crew from the night before saw me and yelled to me about that day’s location, another attempt at our shot the night before.  Not to be strayed, I stuck to my plan….for a few hours at least.  I did manage to make my way along the outside of the wall and enjoy some peace. Dubrovnik is a lot like Venice, filled with Day Trippers.  It gets crazy during the day, but is quite lovely at night.  And this day was Saturday and was a noticeable difference from Thursday and Friday.  I needed that place to hide from the hordes of tour groups!  Making my way back, I ran into another film friend who called me over to chat.  I really think these people were so desperate to talk to anyone that wasn’t on the crew that they settled for me!   After another hour or so, I decided it was time to go back and pack.  I had places to go.
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Croatia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, although some of my new local friends assured me that if you headed inland, it became a very different country.  I stuck with the fairy tale.  And at risk of offending all of the other countries I have visited, Croatians are the nicest people I have encountered.  They are so friendly and welcoming.  It is definitely on my list of top places I have visited.  Even though a good portion of it was spent living in Nottingham with Robin Hood and Little John.
But, it was time for a new country, my last in Europe for the time.  Athens, Greece, here I come!

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