COLONIA GÜELL – A visit into an ideal world

Gaudi's Church On Monday a short train ride out of Barcelona, in a north westerly direction, took me to another world:  Colonia Güell.

As the western world evolved into the second phase of the Industrial Revolution the masses were making legitimate demands on improvements to their working conditions. This resulted in social conflicts including violent protests.  In 1890, as a response to these unrests, the Catalan industrialist, Eusebi Güell, established an industrial colony, by moving his textile industry away from the atmosphere of unrest in Barcelona to his Can soler de la Torre property in Santa Coloma de Cervelló.  This was a community fitted out with the most modern technology of the times.  The workers’ houses, alongside the factory, formed an urban centre with cultural and religious facilities.

Factory Manager's Home

Factory Manager’s Home

The Workers' Co-operative

The Workers’ Co-operative

Different leading architects (Berenguer, Rubió and Gaudi) created the Centre Sant  Luis (a cultural centre), the Ateneu Unió (a theatre), the consumers co-operative, the school with the school master’s residence, the secretary’s house, the doctor’s residence and surgery and the parish house as well other outstanding buildings.

In 1908 Gaudi commenced on the construction of the church.  This ambitious project, which included two naves, one upper and one lower, finished off in different towers and ciborium, remained unfinished with only the lower nave completed and popularly called the “crypt” although it is not the resting place of any human remains.  For the first time, however, this building includes practically all of Gaudi’s architectural innovations in one location.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Tower and windows

Tower and windows

Altar & Choir Loft

Altar & Choir Loft

Every element had its function in the Colony in a project that was cheap: the production of corduroy and velvet.  The framework, however, was a model of society inspired in the social Christianity of the times and for the first time, the social and economic life of the worker and his family was guaranteed.

The textile industry ground to a halt in 1973 and the factory was closed down at that time. Life in the Colony continues to thrive with many of the prominent buildings having been turned into private residences.  How unfortunate that those who love to see the works of Gaudí do not come here for his church (Crypt) encapsulates The Sagrada Familia in a much more simplistic and absorbable form.  The pillars, the columns, the stained glass windows, just to mention a few features, are all here: a beautiful miniature, reflecting his creative talents.

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A Gift …

Yesterday I had the most amazing day in the company of an acquaintance, a friend to my dear friend, Susan Cloyd, who is sequestered in her Morristown cottage while recovering from hip surgery.  Susan had written to her friend Xavier and mentioned that I was  in Barcelona.  Xavier, very generously, dedicated a whole day to me.  He picked me up and then aimed his car northwards … I did not know where we were going but it was a treat to have a change of scenery, from the urban metropolis of Barcelona to the verdant rolling hills around Girona.

Our first stop was Monells, Principal Square in Monells Arcaded street in Monellsa beautiful medieval town perfectly preserved. Rothenburg, take note.  You have a long way to go …  Unfortunately I was in over-load with information, so please forgive me Xavier if I misquote.  My memory tells me that it was primarily a Jewish community established in the X century (right?) and in the XV century the very Catholic “Reyes” – Ferdinand and Isabella – expelled everything and everyone that had contributed to the wellbeing of their kingdom: the Jews and the Moors.

Fishing Village of Sant Marti

From Monells we drove through more idyllic pastoral country although I did not see any livestock or shepherds.  I was, however, reminded of the rolling hills of the Beaujolais and Tuscany.  Our next stop was the perfect retreat from the hussle and bussle of the modern world – there was a very evident absence of traffic, wifi and other technological intrusions into one’s tranquility.  We were in the ancient fishing village of Sant Marti d’Empuries.  From the perfectly manicured properties, streets and public square this is hardly a fishing village.  It has been transformed into a very chic resort with not a single fisherman, fishing net or skiff in sight.  The coast on the other

From Sant Martin towards Ampurias

From Sant Martin towards Ampurias

hand was a magnificent backdrop to my reverie.  I imagined the arrival of Levant merchants with their exotic cargo to trade with the Iberians fishermen of old.  A lovely restaurant across the street from the Xth Century church

Church of Sant Marti d'Empuries

Church of Sant Marti d’Empuries

provided sustenance for the body but somehow the surrounding also contributed to sustenance for the spirit and soul.  From time to time, during our meal, the bells of the church were a reminder of the passing of time.  After lunch my intrepid guide lead me toward the Greek-Roman ruins of Ampurias.  Unfortunately it was after closing hours but what I saw through a wired fence made me conclude that this was a site to which I would need to return.

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Palau de la Musica

Last evening, Tuesday the first of December, I attended the most beautiful concert at the Palacio de Musica in Barcelona.  It was Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle  performed by the Orfeó Català, a choral ensemble that was established in 1801 and its existence became the raison d’être of the Palau.

Lavish surroundings for artistic expression.

Lavish surroundings for artistic expression.

The Palau was built with private money in order to provide a venue for this choir.  The splendour of this concert hall alone is a stimulant that opens all the senses. From the concert my friends and I went to a Tapas bar for an night cap and as we left the bar and looked back at the Palau, we noted that the façade was illuminated in red to commemorate all the victims of HIV and as we walked along Passeo de Gracia, in search of a taxi, more and more public building had their front completely alight in bright red, acknowledging World AIDS day.

December the First Commemoration of AIDS Day

December the First Commemoration of AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is held on the first of December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.

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Mi Barrio – My ‘Hood

Barcelona is such an eclectic city.  I thought that I knew it well and perhaps I did when I last lived here.. So has it changed so much or did I not pay as much attention to the various districts as I am doing now?  In any event the daily walks are eliciting tantalizing sensations in so many different senses:  the unique smells, some of which I remember from times past; the sounds and the colours; even the feelings on the skin are all welcomed sensations. There is a boldness that I do not recall from times past.

There was no graffiti then but there was also less colour and it was a little on the worn-out, grey, Franco-era style.  This was not unlike the patina worn by buildings in post communist era immediately before they rose from the ashes to become shining stars in cities like Berlin, Dresden and Prague, to name a few. Now the buildings appear brighter and every spare wall, or so it seems, is plastered in colours.  Graffiti here is a unique form of art, practiced extensively and I watched several young men with cans of spray paint change the existing images on a brick wall along a popular boulevard.

Art Along the path to the Market

Art Along the path to the Market

It was magical how they flailed the arms that held the cans and transformed the old with colourful fresh new art.  I was told that this is done regularly and have been able to confirm that previous works have, indeed, vanished and been replaced by new and equally dramatic ones.  Last Sunday afternoon I headed for Barceloneta and was amazed by the exquisite IMG_1440sandcastles being built with fountains that flowed and turrets that were ablaze with lights.  I took one picture and then returned about four hours later to see the same castle take on a completely different hue.   IMG_1441As we walked towards the Column of Colón, which marks the end of the long boulevard called Las Ramblas I noticed this brilliant sculpture dedicated to the Olympic games. IMG_1443

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FINALLY …

Hard to believe that I have been living in such bliss, just enjoying the many amazing delights of my surroundings that I have not found the time or inclination to sit at the computer.  Sunday the 8th of November my friend Alicia

Alicia

Alicia

Leonardo, Catalina & Jochen

Beautiful family: Leonardo, Catalina & Jochen

and I flew to Lyon

View from the Rhône River

View from the Rhône River

, an amazing city that I always enjoy visiting. On this occasion Jochen Radke, the main reason for many of my previous visits, has a lovely new addition to his life, son Leonardo, who was born on the 1tth of August.  It was fun showing Alicia some of the more prominent destinations in the city such as the Roman ruins, museums and surrounding areas: Vienne and Perouges. As well as Vienne and Perouges, we made a road trip through the Jura and into Switzerland, stopping off at Morges for lunch

Walk along the shores of Lake Geneva in Morges

Walk along the shores of Lake Geneva in Morges

The food, as always, was delicious and I ate and drank a good deal but all great because one can never eat good food without enjoyment, even if it is more than the required amount for sustenance.for a lovely lunch.  Then we crossed back into France and stopped in Annecy, another favourite destination of mine.

Magical Annecy, France - always a delight

Magical Annecy, France – always a delight

We walked around and watched the sun set over the lake while the many graceful white swans swam about.  Then we continued back to Lyon for more sustenance.  Who can refuse a tarte aux fruits.  The museums, theatres and public buildings such as court house, churches and libraries are a feast to the eyes.  Unfortunately the bombings in Paris, that took place on Friday, the 13th, generated a three day period of mourning which resulted in all public places being closed.  For this reason we were not able to attend a performance at the Opera house but that is a perfect excuse for having to return to Lyon.

 

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Wow, Wow and More …

This will be a bit of a long post as I have not presented myself here since March, when I was still in Slovakia …  but bear with me.

I returned to Vancouver on the first of April and had a fabulous summer.  The weather was great and the tennis courts, across the street, beckoned.  Having said that, thoughts of moving on have been nudging my mind for a couple of years now and I came to the conclusion: if not now? then when?  I took the plunge, gave notice that I would be vacating the residence that I have had for the past nine years.  I got rid of many belongings that had not seen the light of day since being placed in a closet nine years ago or had not been used for as many years. My treasures were packed by movers and stored and on the 14th of October I flew east to visit my children and amazing grand-children who are the source of so much joy! During this time I would be lying if I did not admit that there were moments of questioning: was I insane? had I really thought through but overall I always came to the same conclusion that I was very content with my decision and the feeling of lightness and freedom returned constantly.

Tow gorgeous souls that are the source of so much joy!

Tow gorgeous souls that are the source of so much joy!

To quote my son-in-law: I am now homeless but to quote a friend: I am now rent-less.  I prefer the second definition although the first does not bother me either.  I feel confident.  I am happy and I look forward to the next adventure.

My decision to vacate my apartment was made less than a week before the 30th of September, the day that I proclaimed to the apartment manager and the world that I was cutting my tethers.  The sorting, packing and re-sorting could not have been done without the help and unconditional support of so many friends.  There were neighbours: Patty Holland who spent half a day shredding documents that were more than ten years old and not even mine.  There was Nora Weber constantly touching base and offering to provide me with meals as well as a bed, when mine was gone.  Florian Gabriel did so much in helping to remove items that had been treasures, which found a new home and would continue to be treasured by another – this knowing somehow lessened the tug to the heart that an item is no longer part of my reality but has now been included in that of another.  Sharon Tillotson, Kucki Low, Margaret Van der Gun and Sharon Martin were always present or in the wings ready to come forward.  I know that I have not mentioned everyone by name and you know who you are.  I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.  The moral, loving and physical support that I received makes me realize what a fortunate person I am in having all these angels in my life.

My home base, for the moment, is Barcelona

Drink from this fountain and you will be guaranteed a return to Barcelona.

Drink from this fountain and you will be guaranteed a return to Barcelona.

and so many more angels have popped up.  My friend Alicia, who has received me with open arms; Jochen in Lyon who awaits my visit; Miran, the Croatian conductor who always remembers me and invites me to concerts and Gunnar in Munich who feels ignored because I do not have a definite date when I will go to visit him.

I arrived on Wednesday the 20th and that week-end I attended a three day workshop with Dr. Joe Dispenza – an absolutely amazing experience.  I thought that  I was  beyond  this type of activity but this one just blew me away.  Then on Monday I met with with a friend from Vancouver.

Marla Hedman

Marla Hedman

Marla Hedman, and she introduced me to an area that was great.  I thought that I knew Barcelona, having lived here, gone to Uni here and returned here on many occasions but I am ALWAYS open to new experiences and I certainly had one with Marla – a lovely, vibrant lady!  Then a relaxed three days getting my bearings straight and on Thursday I met with another friend from the past, Yasmin de la Vega,  and once again had a fabulous time. Interestingly it was in the same “barrio” where Marla and I had been on Monday.  El Club Caribbean in the Raval quarter, which is right next to the Barrio Gotico, was a lovely surprise.

Yasmin and I at Club Caribbean

Yasmin and I at Club Caribbean

Zoë I will need to bring you here.  You will be right at home and the martinis are out of this world!

I am getting settled into life here.  The weather is fabulous with temperatures in the mid twenties; the neighbourhood vibrant and the architecture pulsing with history.  I go for long walks and connect with friends: both here in Spain and other countries.  Alicia and I plan to go to Lyon next week and, no doubt, I will have many more adventures to share so stay tuned!

Here are a few pics of my neighbourhood:  the wide boulevards, the ocean, Parc Clot which was once a railway station and reminds me of a Roman aqueduct, a Calatrava bridge that is two blocks away  etc. etc.Barcelona Beach Paseo

Parc Clot

Parc Clot

IMG_0912

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More Reconnections …

On Wednesday the 11th I left Devinska and headed into Bratislava to catch a bus which would deliver me to the Vienna airport in under an hour.  I had made a dry run the day before and calculated the route and schedule of commuter bus that would deliver me to the bus terminal for the one o’clock departure for the airport.  As I waited at the bus stop in Devinska, what had been a “Scottish Mist” quickly turned into a drizzle.  I was getting wet and the bus was not coming.  But I have a guardian angel always at my side and this time it was in the form of dear friend, Maria Dojčakova.

Miracles seldom occur in the lives of those who do not consider them possible. There could be a miracle waiting for you this minute. Please make room for it in your thinking.

Miracles seldom occur in the lives of those who do not consider them possible. There could be a miracle waiting for you this minute. Please make room for it in your thinking.

I called her asking her to please order a taxi for me.  It turned out that my taxi was Maria in her reliable little red Peugeot.  It was such a good feeling to see her smiling face through the windshield and she delivered me in perfect time to the bus terminal.  I am so blessed and grateful.  My flight from Vienna to Geneva went smoothly although I was a little concerned that I did not have much time to connect from the flight to a train ride which would deliver me to Lyon.  But once again an angel appeared.  A lovely young woman, named Petra, living in Lausanne, came to the rescue as did Easy Jet.  The flight was 15 minutes early and Petra cut through the crowds like a hot knife in butter.  She delivered me to the train platform and I was on my way.  My dear friend, Jochen was working so I was on my own.  I took a taxi from the train station and found myself in the same neighbourhood where I had been a little over two years ago.  I dumped my suitcase and went looking for dinner.  The buildings all looked familiar and I found myself in front of the Brasserie des Ecoles.  It was a venue that Jochen and I had frequented on numerous occasions and I recalled that the food was good.  Is the food ever “not good” in France, especially in Lyon, its gourmet capital?  The sign on the door said open until 23:00 and the tables and chairs on the terrace

Brasserie des Ecoles

Brasserie des Ecoles

had been put to rest for the night but patrons were still entering and not being refused.  It was well after closing time when I left and walked past a trompe d’oeil, which I remembered from my last visit to Lyon and specifically to this area, Crooix Rousse.  Now it was time to call it a day.  I went to sleep with appreciation and gratitude in my heart, fully convince that tomorrow will bring more miracles into my life.  And Thursday morning was a bright sunny day so while Jochen was still sleeping i went off to take a picture of that amazing mural which I had passed last night.  I wanted to take a picture of it and I

Trompe d'Oeil in Croix Rousse, Lyon

Trompe d’Oeil in Croix Rousse, Lyon

was not alone.  In the evening Jochen and I picked up Gunnar Klein, a dear friend of mine, living in Munich but who had spent some time in Vancouver, which is where I met him.  We drove around the city to show Gunnar some of the sights but unfortunately it was already dark.  Then we went to another lovely Brasserie

Grand Café de la Soierie

Grand Café de la Soierie

and had yet again some fabulous food.  There was duck and pork belly as well as fish quenelles smothered in lobster sauce and all of it was washed down by some unforgettable  French wine.  The meal ended with smooth crème caramel and tarte tatin. A quick trip in the car and we were at Jochen’s lovely apartment where we enjoyed a chilled glass of Freixenet and Merci chocolates.  The finale to this memorable evening was a drive to Gunnar’s hotel where we left my dear friend until we meet again … Perhaps in Munich?  Life is good … it is always filled with Miracles, which I count on!

Gunnar, Csilla & Jochen

Gunnar, Csilla & Jochen

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More of Now …

Since my return from Hungary I have been on a continuous merry-go-round and it has been such fun.  The 91st Birthday celebrations were fabulous and last week, while heading out for a hike I fell upon a tourist information office that was, not only full of info but also had bicycles for rent.  It felt like winning a lottery because there are so many trails that criss-cross between Slovakia and Austria with ruins, castles, monuments and beautiful flood lands of both the Danube and the Morava Rivers.

Freedom Bridge

Freedom Bridge

I continued on my hike across a foot bridge that was completed in 2012, replacing a wooden bridge built back in the 18th Century and destroyed in 1939.  The bridge, called the Freedom Bridge to remember all those that lost their lives while attempting to cross the river to freedom, leads directly to Schlosshof a beautiful summer residence of Empress Maria Theresa of Habsburg, the mother of the doomed young Marie Antoinette. It is a beautiful clear sunny day as I gain sight of the castle, more like a manor house with stunning

Schlosshof, Austria

Schlosshof, Austria

formal gardens.  I will return for a closer view on Saturday, when I am on a bicycle.  The grounds open in March but since it is still very early in the season, access is only from the back which is about four kilometres away.  Enough for today.  A bicycle ride on Thursday to test the gear and also the operator … Gear needs a little attention from the service department and operator’s rear end needs some callouses.  Our regular pub on Friday evening was celebrating one of the musicians birthday.  Vlasco, a guitarist was in full form. The establishment was serving up platters of pogača and roast pork

Birthday Feast

Birthday Feast

knuckle with fresh bread, mustard, horseradish and pickled hot peppers.  There was no shortage of food, drink or revelry.  Saturday morning was the start of a full 45km day or cycling.  It started out with a cross over the Freedom bridge, past Schlosshof and through some beautiful floodplains of the Danube Schlosshof,  to Engelhartstetten, Stepenreuth and over the Danube

Cyclist routes

Cyclist routes

River to Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. There are significant Roman ruins here from a settlement called Carnuntum and built from 37-14 BC. However, yours truly was absolutely exhausted.  With less than three hours left of daylight I headed back taking the same route As on the outbound journey in the morning. All in all, it was a most satisfying day and the ruins would wait for another visit, which I am confident will take place. Now it was time for a nice hot meal and a good soak in the tub.

Morava floodplains

Morava floodplains

Sunday offered another super day for cycling so I took off early in the morning and this time stayed on the eastern shore of the Morava biking northward on the Slovak side of the border. Here again the flood plains of the Morava, on this clear sunny day with birds chirping and wild swans swimming in the shallow flood channels, created a mood of peace and tranquility. My destination was the northern town of Vysoka Pri Morava and then a quick ride eastward to Zohor. I have now pedalled for 20 km and am getting hungry and thirsty. Aha, a sign VIP Pub welcomes cyclists  … A quick stop offers cold beer but no food! I have quenched my thirst and pedalled southward to Devinske Jazero, not certain what I will find but it is closer to home and in the worst case scenario there is food in the fridge. Suddenly I see a group of bikers going through a gate and when I arrive at the gate there before me is a biker’s haven:

Stareho Bicykla

Stareho Bicykla

cyclists, bikes, food and drink. I immediately dismount, order food, a beer and rest.  The rest is mostly for my bottom which is now VERY tender. I console myself with the fact that there is only about six to seven kilometres left before a relaxing hot bath!  Ah the miracles that a hot bath will do for a weary body.  I am regenerated and connect via Facetime with Jochen.  We chat briefly about getting together and he asks me to give him a quarter of an hour to “make plans”.  When he calls back he informs me me that he has made reservations for me to fly to Geneva where I am to catch a train to Lyon, France.  We will spend a few days in Lyon and then fly together to London so that I may meet his partner, Catalina and also

Catalina & Jochen

Catalina & Jochen

visit with Elena, his dear ex.  From London I fly back to Vienna a week later.  The bonus to all of this is that Gunnar Klein, another dear friend living in Munich, will be in Lyon on business so that I will be able to see him as well.  This whole trip is a generous gift from Jochen.  Csilla, you are such a fortunate being; blessed with so many loving friends.  No doubt I will have a great deal to write about in the next ten days.  Blessings to all of you …

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Then & Now …

As previously mentioned, I have arrived. I am in Pitvaros, the ancestral area of my paternal grand-parents and less than 39 km. from my birthplace, Mako.

The Centre is Pitvaros

The Centre is Pitvaros

In small villages in eastern Europe, hospitality is expressed with food. My cousin’s wife, Milka, could not offer me enough. The most often used expression was “would you like something to eat?”.  If the answer was negative then she moved to the next stage which was to offer something specifically. To refuse a dish that had been especially cooked or baked is the equivalent of refusing hospitality, an insult! I am quite certain that I gained a minimum of five kilos but Milka was happy and so was I. Now that I am back in Slovakia, I can focus on cutting back and slimming down. Or can I? I am off to Senec tomorrow to celebrate another cousin’s 81st Birthday. But back to Pitvaros.
Thursday and Friday Milka spent in the kitchen cooking and baking because her two children and their families were coming for dinner on Saturday. My contribution was rather feeble, a little mixing, a little peeling but the brunt of the work was carried out by Milka. I kept telling her that she was cooking for an army.

The revellers

The revellers

All nine

All nine

On Saturday the families arrived shortly after ten. There were nine of us and the consumption started upon their arrival with pogacsa and so it went until they left after four in the afternoon. Needless to say, I lost count of all the courses but could easily have fasted for the next 72 hours.

When I departed on Tuesday morning I was loaded down with all kinds of delicacies. A bus ride to Szeged and then a two and one half hour train ride to Budapest led me to re-connecting with Tibor Gottfried, my “piece of gold”, to quote John Taylor. Tibor

The big cheese and the gold mine

The big cheese and the gold mine

was the head installer, trainer at Immobiliser Hungaria Kft. But he was so much more. He was my right hand, my advisor, my friend, a man of integrity,and we had lost touch after I left Hungary in 2001. It was so lovely to sit across the table from Tibor and catch up.  I was truly grateful that this opportunity had been made available to me.  We shared many happy memories as well as some more recent losses.  After a pleasant visit Tibor drove me up to the castle hill for my next connection with nostalgia, a visit with Ildiko Takács.  I would have recognized Ildi on the street, even though fourteen years have passed.  It was great to see her and I nope that our next visit will be sooner than fourteen years from now.

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Sunday …

Yesterday, St. Valentine’s Day, was a beautiful day, full of hearts.  And then came Sunday.

Hearts filled with Luv

Hearts filled with Luv

Sunday the 15th was a brilliant say so I decided to go back to Devin and take anther look at the castle. It was a beautiful four kilometre walk along the shore of the Morava river. Unfortunately the castle is under restoration and work has been stopped due to lack of funds but the outside and grounds were most impressive, both the medieval castle

Devin Castle

Devin Castle

but also some Roman foundations from the 4th and 5th Century AD. Devin is at the confluence of the Danube and the Morava and the castle overlooks the meeting of these waterways.

Foundations of Roman Buildings

Foundations of Roman Buildings

On one side is Slovakia and on the other Austria and the latter represented freedom from the oppression of communism. There is a monument commemorating the loss of 400 courages  lives; the lives of people who were trying to get to the other side, to freedom. No doubt  they believed in dreams and the right to happiness. As I walked along the cliff, looking down at the water and then across at the other side it all looked the same and yet … to many Slovaks the two sides were a world apart; geographically so little distance but politically, economically and socially incomparable.

On Monday I headed east to meet up with John Taylor, who is now living in Lučenec but he wanted me to get off in Zvolen. I remembered Zvolen from my trips to Levoča, when I worked in Budapest. The drive to Lučenec, a town very close to the Hungarian border, brought back many memories. Lučenec, once a very prosperous town with a significant Jewish population as evidenced by this crumbling but, nevertheless, majestic synagogue.

Lučenec Synagogue

Lučenec Synagogue

The building numbers among just four synagogues built by Hungarian architect Lipot Baumhorn (1860-1932), whose other structures grace Amsterdam, Brussels and Tel Aviv.

The town of Lučenec was a delight; full of many surprises which included a gift shop, THEN and NOW, run by two very amenable Dutch gentlemen.

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Two Dutch & One Englishman make ...

Two Dutch & One Englishman make …

 

Then it was across the border to Salgotarján, Hungary, courtesy of  John Taylor.  A bus ride to Budapest was immediately followed by a train ride to Békéscsaba. Then I took a two and one half hour bus ride to Pitvaros and was now at my destination in Hungary!

 

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