Phi Phi

July 1 is the mid-year bank holiday in Thailand and this means a long weekend! Despite the fact that this is the rainy season in much of the country, on Saturday morning I was at Suvarnabhumi Airport (point A on map below) to catch the 9:25 flight to Krabi (B) and by noon I had checked into my hotel for the three-day weekend.

Main entrance to Sheraton Krabi

Main entrance to Sheraton Krabi

Beach at Sheraton Krabi

Beach at Sheraton Krabi

My Saturday afternoon

My Saturday afternoon

Hotel pool

Hotel pool

Krabi is a province on the west coast of southern Thailand, due east of Phuket on the Andaman Sea. Krabi is known for its beaches, for the limestone islands off its shore, and for the many coral reefs that are popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. As a tourist destination, Krabi is less developed and less well-known than Phuket and Samui, although more and more travelers are making their way here, particularly the Chinese.

The weather turned out to be fine except for a couple of short showers on Monday afternoon. Saturday afternoon was spent in a hammock near the hotel’s beach, but on Sunday I joined about 30 other people on a speed boat from Krabi’s Ao Nang beach (point A on map below) to journey south into the Andaman Sea to visit the Phi Phi archipelago. The archipelago is part of the Hadnopparattara-Ko Phi Phi National Park and it consists of six islands: Ko Mai Phai (B), Ko Yung (C), Ko Phi Phi Don (D), Ko Phi Phi Leh (E), Ko Bida Noi (F), and Ko Bida Nok (G).

After about 45 minutes, our boat reached Ko Mai Phai, also known as Bamboo Island, a small limestone island with a beautiful white sand beach, clear warm water, and a coral reef close to shore. We spent about 45 minutes on the island before embarking for Phi Phi Leh, the second largest island in the Phi Phi archipelago. Along the way, we passed Camel Rock whose name clearly derives from its shape.

Camel Rock

Camel Rock

Beach at Ko Mai Phai

Beach at Ko Mai Phai

Our first stop on Phi Phi Leh was Maya Beach, which is where the movie The Beach, in which Leonardo DiCaprio starred, was filmed in 1999. This beautiful beach is sheltered on three sides by 300 to 400 hundred foot tall cliffs. This stop is incredibly popular — there had to be 30 to 40 tourists boats and longtails parked along the edge and close to 1,000 people on the 700 foot long beach. I was impressed by how our captain was able to back the speedboat into a narrow space between two other boats while avoiding all the anchor lines.

Speedboats moored at Maya Beach

Speedboats moored at Maya Beach

We next motored through Pileh lagoon, a shallow reef lagoon surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. The water is crystal clear and tropical fish and coral can easily be seen with the naked eye. There was literally a procession of boats in and out of this beautiful inlet.

Procession into Pileh Lagoon

Procession into Pileh Lagoon

Entrance into Pileh Lagoon

Entrance into Pileh Lagoon

From Pileh, we sailed up to Viking Cave, which takes its name from paintings of ancient ships on the cave’s walls. Currently, the cave is used by entrepreneurs who place bamboo in the cave on which swallows build their collagen-rich nests. These nests are ultimately harvested and sold as the main ingredient for Bird’s Nest soup. Perhaps it was just the time of day, but I did not see a single swallow anywhere near this cave.

Viking Cave

Viking Cave

Long-tailed Monkeys

Long-tailed Monkeys

We next stopped at Monkey Bay, home, not surprisingly, to a large troop of monkeys. There were about a half-dozen on the shore or on nearby cliffs pretty much ignoring the people in the boats who were taking their pictures.

The boat arrived at Ko Phi Phi Don, the largest island in the chain and the only one with permanent residents. The community traces its roots back to Muslim fishermen who settled here in the 1940s and it is still predominately Muslim. The island was apparently devastated during the December 2004 tsunami that hit Phuket and the islands in the Andaman Sea, although it has since rebuilt. We had lunch at an open-air, beachfront restaurant in Ton Sai Bay on the southern portion of the island.

Ton Sai Bay on Ko Phi Phi Don

Ton Sai Bay on Ko Phi Phi Don

After lunch, the boat anchored in the bay above two coral reefs for about an hour for snorkeling. The ship’s crew threw a lot of bread into the water, so the sea was quickly teeming with small fish. I do not know what species of fish they were, most likely nothing very exotic, but they were primarily black and yellow striped fish with the occasional solid blue one. In any event, it was fun to be surrounded by these schools of tropical fish.

Happy Independence Day!

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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First Car, First Love

The 37th Vintage Car Concours was held this weekend at the Future Park Mall in Pathum Thani, a suburb directly north of Bangkok and not too far from Don Mueang, Bangkok’s second airport. I have had a busy couple of weeks, so an hour or two looking at classic cars seemed like a pleasant way to spend part of the day. I arrived at this mall (point B on map below) just after noon yesterday, watched the new Superman movie, and then wandered down to the car show where over 100 vehicles worth nearly $15 million were on exhibit.

The theme of the show was “First Car, First Love” and this is something to which I can easily relate. I may not recall all the cars that I have ever owned or leased, but the first one — a  royal blue 1969 Ford Mustang fastback — is forever embedded in my memory. While this car had few creature comforts — power steering and power brakes with a simple black vinyl interior, but no air conditioning, no power windows, no fancy wheels, not even an FM radio (although I did have an aftermarket eight-track tape player installed!) — it nevertheless provided me with tremendous freedom and independence. This car was a significant step on my pathway to adulthood.

1972 Ford Pinto Wagon

1972 Ford Pinto Wagon

In retrospect, I am glad that I reached driving age before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo that forever changed the dynamics of the oil and automotive industries. I fondly recall the pony and muscle cars that my friends and I drove including a Pontiac GTO, a Chevy 396 SS, an AMX, a Mercury Cougar, and an Oldsmobile 442. With the end of cheap and abundant gasoline supplies, the auto industry responded by manufacturing some truly horrible and uninspired vehicles throughout the 1970s and 1980s. I was horrified to see one of these specimens, an orange 1972 Ford Pinto two-door wagon with faux wood paneling, at this weekend’s vintage car show. While over 40 years-old, it nevertheless boggles the mind to think of this as a classic. Perhaps it is just me, but I also have a hard time even imagining that anyone could ascribe “First Car, First Love” to this car.

Other vehicles, however, were unequivocally in line with this theme. Although there were only a handful of U.S. made cars in the show, two of my all-time favorites — the 1955 Thunderbird and the 1965 Mustang — were prominently displayed.

1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955 Ford Thunderbird

1965 Ford Mustang

1965 Ford Mustang

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has six automobiles in its permanent collection and examples of two of them were on exhibit: a red 1964 Jaguar E-type roadster (the XK-E in the U.S.) and several Volkswagen Beetles. With its long, sleek, powerful but graceful lines, the Jaguar is arguably the most beautiful automobile ever made. The original Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche, is not a classic beauty but it is an affirmation of the fun, economy, youth, and independence that a car can deliver.

1964 Jaguar E-Type

1964 Jaguar E-Type

1957 Beetle

1957 Beetle

1967 Beetle Cabriolet

1967 Beetle Cabriolet

1963 with Split Rear Window

1963 with Split Rear Window

Three beautifully restored Austin 7s, one of the U.K.’s most popular pre-war vehicles, were shown. The Austin 7 was smaller than Ford’s Model T — it weighed 800 pounds vs. 1,200 pounds for the Model T and had a wheelbase of 75 inches vs. 100 inches for the Model T. The Austin was powered by a 747 cc engine that could produce 10.5 horsepower, half that of the Ford.

1929 Austin 7

1929 Austin 7

1930 Austin 7 Tourer

1930 Austin 7 Tourer

Beginning in the Depression years, auto makers began integrating fenders into auto bodies and fully closed sedans slowly took over the market. The industry began to consolidate and many manufacturers were bought our by their competitors or simply went out of business. Among the vehicles displayed from now defunct brands were a 1929 Singer, a 1936 Morris 8, a 1948 Wolseley 4/50 sedan, and a 1949 Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane with its rear hinged, suicide doors. The pre-war German DKW F5 and the post-war Citroën Traction Avant were early front-wheel drive cars.

1929 SInger

1929 Singer

1936 DKW F5

1936 DKW F5

1936 Morris 8

1936 Morris 8 Series II

1948 Wolseley 4/50 Sedan

1948 Wolseley 4/50 Sedan

1949 Siddeley Hurricane

1949 Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane

1953  Citroën  11CV

1953 Citroën Traction Avant (11CV) Sedan

Although MG did produce coupés and sedans, it was most well-known for its sporty and affordable roadsters. A 1937 MG VA, a 1947 MG TC, a 1948 Triumph roadster, a 1949 Jaguar XK120, two 1955 MG TFs, a 1960 MG A, and a 1969 MG B were all on display at the show. As I looked at these vehicles, it was so easy to understand why a roadster, particularly a red one, is a man’s quintessential mid-life crisis purchase.

1937 MG VA

1937 MG VA

1947 MG TC

1947 MG TC

1948 Triumph Roadster

1948 Triumph Roadster

1949 Jaguar XK120

1949 Jaguar XK120

1955 MG TF

1955 MG TF

1955 MG TF

1955 MG TF

1960 MG A

1960 MG A

1969 MG B

1969 MG B

A classic car show would not be complete without a large contingent of old Mercedes, and there were indeed many beautiful Benz sedans, coupés and convertibles in Pathum Thani. The earliest model was a convertible from 1950. When you see how the convertible tops on these old models stack high above the trunk when open, it is easy to appreciate the modern engineering that allows the top to fold upon itself into the body of the vehicle. On the 1950s vintage Mercedes convertibles, the rear-view mirrors actually swiveled above the windshield so that the driver could see over the large rear stack.

1950 Mercedes-Benz 170V

1950 Mercedes-Benz 170V

Convertible stack on 1950 170V

Convertible stack on 1950 M-B 170V

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300B Convertible

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300B Convertible

1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster

1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster

1958 Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet

1958 Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet

1959 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Sedan

1959 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Sedan

1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE Coupé

1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE Coupé

1972 Mercedes-Benz 250CE Coupé

1972 Mercedes-Benz 250CE Coupé

A scattering of models from other brands were also on exhibit. My favorites are pictured below.

Hit Rod from 1930 Ford Model A

Hot Rod from 1930 Ford Model A

1956 BMW 503 Coupé

1956 BMW 503 Coupé

1960 Renault Dauphine

1960 Renault Dauphine

1965 Alfa Romeo 2600 Coupé

1965 Alfa Romeo 2600 Coupé

1967 VW Karmann Ghia

1967 VW Karmann Ghia

1970 Volvo P1800

1970 Volvo P1800

Manheim Thailand

On Thursday evening, our friends at Manheim Thailand hosted a reception at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong hotel to celebrate their 10th year anniversary of business in Thailand. Several hundred people attended this event and Thirty Plus, semi-finalists in last year’s Thailand’s Got Talent competition, provided live entertainment. Manheim raised 100,000 baht for a local charity through a live auction at this event.

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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Magyarország

Here are a few more highlights from my recent travels in Hungary.

Pannonhalma

Our first stop in Hungary was at the Pannonhalma Archabbey (point A on map below). Founded in 996 as a Benedictine monastery and located atop a 900 foot hill, the monastery was rebuilt and expanded many times throughout the centuries. It was designated an archabbey in 1541 and was fortified to protect it from the Ottoman Turks.

The archabbey complex today contains a Basilica with a Crypt that date back to the early 13th century, a Cloisters, a Library with 360,000 volumes including some of the earliest written Hungarian volumes, and a Baroque Refectory (dining room). A nearby arboretum contains over 400 varieties of plants, trees, and bushes.

The Benedictine monks began producing wine in 996 and continued until the end of World War II when the vineyards were confiscated by the Communist state. In 2000, the church re-acquired some of the old vineyards and began planting grapes; currently 90 acres are under cultivation. The first harvest from the newly planted vines was in 2003.

Pannonhalma Archabbey

Fortified walls at Pannonhalma Archabbey

Cross at Pannonhalma Archabbey

Cross at Pannonhalma Archabbey

 Hertelendy Kastély

Built about 100 years ago, the Hertelendy Kastély Hotel (B) has to be the top luxury hotel outside of Budapest. Located 50 miles from Lake Balaton in Hungary’s wine region, this property has its own airstrip, driving range and putting green. Guests can ride its Freiberger horses, play tennis, ride in a hot air balloon, or learn to shoot skeet. The property has a thermal spring that feeds a small lake and spa. We only spent one night here and that was nowhere near enough.

Front view

Stately front entrance

Back with pool

Pool in the back

Dining Room

Dining Room

Skeet instruction

Skeet instruction

Korda Film Studio

After three years of planning and construction, the Korda Film Studios (C) opened in 2007 in the wine-making village of Etyek, about 15-20 miles west of Budapest. The studio has six sound stages and two backlots.

On one backlot is a set from New York City with a full Brooklyn street complete with four-story facades on both sides, a movie theater, a bank, a restaurant, a repair shop, freight loading docks, and fire escapes. This set cost $1 million to build and it was used for the movie Hellboy 2. On the second backlot is a set from 15th century Italy with courtyards, a piazza, and Vatican facade. The recently cancelled Showtime series The Borgias, starring Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI, was filmed here. While both sets look incredibly real, nothing is real. Metal looking bars are simply covered and painted plastic tubing and brick facades are simply textured and painted wood.

The view from behind

The view from behind

New York facade

New York facade

Power Company with scaffolding visible through front doors

Scaffolding visible through front doors

New York street

New York street set

Roman homes

Roman homes

Behind the set used for The Borgias

Behind the set used for The Borgias

The set used for The Borgias

15th Century Italy

The set used for The Borgias

The set used for The Borgias

Lázár Equestrian Park

Lázár Equestrian Park is located in rolling hills about 25 miles northeast of Budapest. After a delicious traditional Hungarian lunch with musical entertainment, we watched a fabulous horse show that displayed the talents of the Hungarian cavalrymen. After seeing the accuracy of the mounted archers and spear throwers, I had a true appreciation for the 10th century Latin saying “Sagittis hungarorum libera nos Domine” (“Lord save us from the arrows of Hungarians.”)

To me, however, the highlight of the show was the demonstration of what is called the “Puszta Five.” The rider controls five galloping horses while standing on the backs of the two in the rear. There was also a woman rider who rode side-saddle emulating the Empress Elizabeth, who was reputed to be the world’s leading horsewoman of her time. In the early 19th century, few women rode horses and those that did, like Sisi, rode in long skirts or dresses to keep their femininity.

Stand up rider behind five galloping horses

Puszta Five

Sidesaddle rider with dancing horse

Sidesaddle with dancing horse

Cavalryman sleeping on horse

Cavalryman with whip

Cavalryman with whip

Cavalryman sleeping on horse

Budapest

Walking in Budapest is perhaps the best way to truly appreciate the beauty of the city’s architecture. Andrássy Avenue is a one and one-half mile long road that runs from Heroes’ Square to the City Park near the Danube. The street dates back to 1872 and it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2002. The Budapest Metro, the first subway in continental Europe (the London Underground is older), runs beneath Andrássy.

Column with Archangel Gabriel

Cenotaph, Archangel Gabriel, and the Magyar Chieftains

Heroes’ Square sits at the northeastern end of Andrássy. The highlight of the square is the Millennium Memorial, which honors the 9th century founders of Hungary and other key historical figures. a large stone cenotaph dedicated to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence” sits in front of a tall column topped by a statue of the Archangel Gabriel. Statues of the seven Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin are at the base of this column.

Two semi-circular colonnades are located behind the column. Each colonnade has seven statues of other important historical Hungarians.

Atop the left side colonnade is a statue of a man driving a chariot using a snake as a whip representing War. On this colonnade are statutes of Saint Stephen I (the first King of Hungary from 1000 to 1038), Saint Ladislaus I (King from 1077-1095), Coloman (King from 1095 to 1116), Andrew II (King from 1205 to 1235), Béla IV (King from 1235 to 1270), Charles I (King from 1312 to 1342), and Louis I (King from 1342 to 1382).

Atop the right side colonnade is a statue of a woman in a chariot holding a palm frond representing Peace.On this colonnade are statutes of John Hunyadi (general and statesman), Matthias Corvinus (King from 1458 to 1490), István Bocskay (Prince of Transylvania), Gabriel Bethlen (Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary from 1620 to 1621), Imre Thököly (Prince of Transylvania, and Vassal King of Upper Hungary), Francis II Rákóczi (Prince of Transylvania), and Lajos Kossuth (first Governor-President of Hungary).

The male statue of War

The male statue of War

The female statue of Peace

The female statue of Peace

Saint Stephen I

King Saint Stephen I

John Hunyadi

General John Hunyadi

Saint Ladislaus I

King Saint Ladislaus I

Matthias Corvinus

King Matthias Corvinus

King Coloman I

King Coloman

István Bocskay

Prince István Bocskay

King Andrew II

King Andrew II

Gabriel Bethlen

King Gabriel Bethlen

King Béla IV

King Béla IV

Imre Thököly

Prince Imre Thököly

King Charles I

King Charles I

Francis II Rákóczi

Prince Francis II Rákóczi

King  Louis I

King Louis I

Lajos Kossuth

Governor-President Lajos Kossuth

The Palace of Art is on the right side of Heroes’ Square and the Museum of Fine Arts is on the left. The Palace of Art was built in the late 1890s while the Museum of Fine Arts was constructed in the early 1900s. The Palace of Art is a contemporary art museum while the Museum of Fine Arts collects and shows international arts ranging from the Ancient Egyptians and classical antiquities to Old Master paintings and art from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

Palace of Art

Palace of Art

Spectacular Neo-Renaissance mansions and townhouses with highly decorated facades line the street on the way to City Park. This portion of Andrássy is one of Budapest’s main shopping venues with most of the high-end retailers, e.g., Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc. located here. The Hungarian State Opera House, the Franz Liszt Square, and the Academy of Music are also located on this thoroughfare.

Hungarian State Opera House

Hungarian State Opera House

St. Stephen’s Basilica is just off of Andrássy at City Park. The neo-classical church was built between 1851 and 1905 and it is named in honor of Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Among the relics in the church is St. Stephen’s incorruptible right hand, known as the Holy Right. The 1,000 year old mummified hand is housed in a miniature gold and glass shrine that resembles the 13th-century Matthias Church located across the Danube in Buda.

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Calliope

Calliope, our magnificently pampered 11 year-old black lab, entered the local pet hospital last Saturday. She succumbed to renal failure on Tuesday, and she was cremated at a nearby Buddhist temple on Wednesday. We acquired Calliope from a co-worker, friend, and lab enthusiast in 2002 when we lived in Orchard Park. She accompanied us to Fort Worth in 2007 and to Bangkok in 2011. She had a sweet disposition, she loved to swim, and she was a fabulous companion; she will be missed.

Calloipe as a puppy

Calliope as a puppy

Calliope and me in our younger days

Calliope and me in 2002

In the snow in Orchard Park

In the snow in Orchard Park

Calliope in her pool

In her pool in Fort Worth

Calliope opening her Christmas present

Calliope opening her Christmas present

Success!

Success!

Chasing her ball

Chasing her toy

Singular focus

Singular focus

Success

Got it!

At Doggie Doo in Bangkok

At Doggie Doo in Bangkok

Kop Khun Krab and Köszönöm.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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Danube River Cruise

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, its largest city, and the seventh largest city in the EU. Budapest was formed in 1873 with the merger of the cities of Buda, on the hilly, west side of the Danube, and Pest, on the flat, east side of the Danube. People, however, have lived in the present day capital since at least the first century AD when the Romans established a military outpost here. The Hungarians arrived in the late 9th century when the Magyars migrated into the Carpathian Basin.

The absolute highlight of the recent trip to Hungary was a dinner cruise along the Danube River. Meals on dinner cruises are often disappointing, but this was not true on this one. We had our choices of several soups, appetizers, main courses and desserts, all of which were as delicious as they were beautifully presented.

Shrimp with garlic in white wine sauce

Shrimp with garlic in white wine sauce

Cold citrus soup

Cold citrus soup

Beef steak in tomato ragout served with roasted potatoes and ruccola

Steak in tomato ragout with roasted potatoes

Panna cotta topped with forest fruit rose jam

Panna cotta topped with forest fruit rose jam

We boarded our boat on the east side of the river (point A on map below) and then headed north on the river. On the starboard, we passed the Hungarian Parliament (B) before the ship turned around at Margaret Island (C). As the boat went south, we passed Matthias Church (D), Buda Castle (E) and the Liberty Statue (F). Just past the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (G), the ship turned around. As we once again went north, we sailed past the Palace of Arts (H), the National Theater (I), and Corvinus University of Budapest (J). The eight-mile round trip was repeated several times as the sun set and the buildings along the river became illuminated.

Hungarian Parliament

At night, the Hungarian Parliament building shines like a jewel and it should since half a million gemstones and 88 pounds of gold (as well as 40 million bricks) were used in its construction; the Hungarian Crown Jewels are also kept here. At 879 feet long, 404 feet wide, and 315 feet tall this Gothic Revival building is the largest and tallest structure in Budapest. There are 242 sculptures of former kings, rulers, and military leaders on its internal and external walls and nearly 700 rooms and 10 courtyards within them. Construction took nearly two decades from groundbreaking in 1885 to completion in 1904.

Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube

Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube

Matthias Church

Officially the Church of Our Lady, the Matthias Church in the hills of Buda soars over the Danube. St. Steven founded the church in 1015, but the current Gothic structure was erected in the late 14th century during the reign of Matthias I, King of Hungary. King Matthias was twice married in the church, first to Catherine of Poděbrady and, after her death, to Beatrice of Naples. Coronations for several Habsburg emperors including Charles IV, the last Habsburg ruler, took place in Matthias Church.

HU 498

Matthias Church (Church of Our Lady)

Buda Castle

Perched 160 feet above the Danube, Castle Hill has been the home to kings of Hungary since 1265 when King Béla IV built the first royal residence on this site. The oldest part of the Buda Castle dates back to the 14th century when the initial residence was rebuilt. Additions, renovations, and expansions continued until the Ottoman Turks overran Buda in the early 16th century. Much of the palace was destroyed in the siege of 1686 when Christian forces expelled the Turks.

In the early 1700s, the Habsburgs demolished the ruins of the former palace and began working on a Baroque palace. Construction, however, was stopped after just a few years because of lack of funds. In the middle of the century, work began again and the palace was finally completed in 1769. Extensive rebuilding and renovation occurred in the 1850s and again between 1875 and 1912.

During the Soviet’s siege of Budapest at the end of World War II, Buda Castle was the last major stronghold of Axis forces in Hungary. The Soviet artillery bombardment and subsequent fires once again reduced the castle to ruins. Under the post-war Communist government, reconstruction took place from 1950 to 1962. Today, Buda Castle is a UN designated World Heritage site and home to three museums and the National Library.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Liberty Statue

Liberty Statue

Liberty Statue

The Liberty Statue was built in 1947 to commemorate the liberation of Hungary by the Soviets from the Nazis. The 46 foot tall bronze statue of a lady holding a palm leaf sits atop an 85 foot tall base on Gellert Hill and faces south along the Danube.

The initial inscription on the base of the statue read “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes by the grateful Hungarian people.” Disillusionment with Soviet rule, however, lead to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 that was ruthlessly crushed within weeks by a Soviet invasion. After the transition to democracy in 1989, the inscription on the memorial was changed to read “To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.” Liberty Statue is also called Freedom Statue.

Budapest University of Technology and Economics

The Budapest University of Technology and Economics was the first of two universities that we passed along the river. Founded in 1782, the school was the first in Europe to train engineers at a university level. In 1956, students and faculty from this university were among the leaders in the failed revolution. Currently, 24,000 students are enrolled here.

Budapest University of Technology and Economics

Budapest University of Technology and Economics

Palace of Arts and the National Theater

The Palace of Arts and National Theater sit side by side on the eastern shore of the Danube River. The Palace of Arts is a cultural center built to celebrate Hungary’s rich cultural heritage. The building was constructed in 2005 and it contains the Bartók National Concert Hall that seats 1,700; the Festival Theater that is a venue for dram, dance, chamber music, and jazz performances; and the Ludwig Museum, an art museum with works by contemporary Hungarian and international artists.

The current National Theater building is located just north of the Palace of Arts. Construction on this building began in 1998 and was completed in 2000. There are three stages within the theater; the main stage seats 619, while the two smaller stage — the Gobbi Hiller stage and the Kaszás Atilla stage — can be configured to seat up to 200 and 100 people, respectively. The National Theater has been an institution in Budapest since 1837.

Palace of Arts

Palace of Arts

National Theater

National Theater

Corvinus University of Budapest

The Corvinus University was the second university that we passed as we completed a circuit along the river. This university was founded in 1920 as the Faculty of Economics of the Royal Hungarian University. In 1953, its name was changed to the Karl Marx University of Economic Sciences, clearly not the best move. In 1990, after the end of Communist rule, the name was changed to the Budapest University of Economic Science. In 2004, it took its current name in honor of King Matthias Corvinus (King Matthias I). Currently, 18,000 students are enrolled here.

HU 560

Main building at Corvinus University, formerly Budapest’s Customs House

Kop Khun Krab and Köszönöm.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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Palaces

Esterházy Palace & Winery

The Esterházys were wealthy Hungarian nobility, the largest landowners during the reign of the Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and the most influential aristocratic family in the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1626, Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor and a member of the House of Habsburg, bestowed the title Count on Nikolaus Esterházy. In 1687, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, grandson of Ferdinand II and grandfather of the Empress Maria Theresa, elevated Nikolaus’ son, Paul Esterházy, to Prince of Galántha (a town in current day Slovakia).

The family had several residence, including the Forchtenstein Castle in Austria and Eszterháza Palace in Hungary, but their main residence was Schloss Esterházy. Located in Eisenstadt, the capital of Burgenland, 35 miles south of Vienna and seven miles north of the present Hungarian border, the original building dates back to the late 1200s. In 1371, King Louis I of Hungary took ownership of the property and developed it into a medieval castle city. In 1626, the Emperor Ferdinand II gave the property to Count Nikolaus Esterházy, and Count Paul inherited the property in 1652 when his older brother, Count Ladislaus, died in battle.

Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, Austria

Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, Austria

The current baroque palace is the result of a major rebuild that took place between 1663 and 1672. One highlight of this reconstruction was the creation of an ornate three-story tall banquet room that was ultimately converted into an acoustically perfect concert hall. The hall is known as Haydnsaal in honor of the Austrian classical composer Joseph Haydn who worked for the Esterházy family as Kapellmeister, or Music Director, from 1761 to 1790. Many of his works were first played in this venue. On the front facade of the palace are eighteen sandstone busts of the Hungarian rulers from Stephen I (1000 to 1038) to Leopold I (1655 to 1705); there are additional portraits in this series in Haydnsaal.

On the ceiling of Haydnsaal are three huge frescoes that were painted by Carpoforo Tencall, a Swiss Baroque painter, in the 1670s. The three frescoes and six rectangular panels that surround them — two on each side, one in the front and one in the rear — depict scenes from the story “Cupid and Psyche” contained in Apuleius’ satirical novel Metamorphoses. The prominent center panel shows the marriage of Cupid and Psyche in the presence of the gods.

OS 195

Haydnsaal at Schloss Esterházy

The marriage of Cupid and Psyche

The marriage of Cupid and Psyche

The cellar in the inner courtyard at Esterházy Palace contains the largest wine museum in Austria. Among the museum’s exhibits are several huge wine barrels, wine presses, and other wine making instruments. Wine making at Esterházy dates back to 1758 when Pinot Noir vines from Burgundy were planted in Burgenland. The superb quality of the wine even back then is reflected in the palace’s records from 1789 that show that Joseph Haydn took a portion of his salary in wine.

Wheelbarrow and grape press

Wheelbarrow and grape press

Large wine barrel

Large wine barrel

The modern Esterházy Winery is a short drive from the palace. This winery has 160 acres of vineyards that grow Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as well as the Austrian varieties Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch and it produces 250,000 bottles annually. Located in the heart of the Neusiedlersee–Hügelland wine region and blessed with a unique terroir, Esterházy produces superb wines — classical reds; crisp, dry whites; special, reserve cask aged wines; and world-famous sweet ones. After a tour of the winery, we were able to sample a wide variety of these distinctive wines.

Esterházy Winery

Esterházy Winery

Single cru wines aging in oak

Single cru wines aging in oak

Stainless steel fermenting tanks

Stainless steel fermenting tanks

Oak fermenting tanks

Oak fermenting tanks

Bottling machinery

Bottling machinery

Labelling equipment

Labeling equipment

Schönbrunn Palace

As impressive as Schloss Esterházy was, it paled in comparison to the Schönbrunn Palace that we visited the next day. Located in Vienna just three miles northeast of the Hofburg palace, Schönbrunn was the summer residence for the Habsburgs. This former imperial palace and its gardens occupy 435 acres that were originally acquired in 1569 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. Construction of the current palace was begun by Emperor Leopold I in 1696, but it was only partially completed when he died nine years later. It wasn’t until 1780 during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa that construction was completed.

Front view of Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

Front view of Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

The palace has 1,441 rooms and, during the Habsburg’s time, over a 1,000 people would be in residence. Currently, 40 of these rooms, including the apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and his empress, Elizabeth (Sisi), are open to the public. Unfortunately, no pictures can be taken inside the residence.

Behind the palace is a large park, known as the Great Parterre, with numerous symmetrical gardens from the central axis of the palace. The flower gardens, which were not yet planted or in bloom, are flanked by 32 sculptures of Greek and Roman deities and historical figures. The park contains several pools, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, a hedge maze, a labyrinth, and a zoo.

Roman God Mercury

Roman God Mercury

Priestess of Goddess Ceres

Priestess of Goddess Ceres

The Great Hunter Meleager, one of the Argonauts with the head of the slain him Calydonian boar

The Argonaut Meleager

At the far end of the Great Parterre along the central axis from the palace is the Neptune Fountain. Neptune stands in a shell-shaped chariot with a his trident in his left hand in the middle of this large and impressive fountain. To his right, the sea-goddess Thetis kneels imploring Neptune to look with favor upon Achilles as he battles the Trojans. At the base of the fountain are four Tritons, half-man and half-fish creatures, two of whom are riding the hippocampi (sea-horses) that draw Neptune’s chariot.

Neptune's Fountain

Neptune’s Fountain

Behind the fountain, paths on both the left and the right sides zig-zag up a 200 foot hill to the Gloriette, a focal point for the garden and palace below. Built in 1775 under the direction of Maria Theresa, the Gloriette consists of a glass-enclosed triumphal arch in the center flanked on each side by arcaded wings. Atop the center arch is an imperial eagle with a gold laurel crown in its beak sitting on a golden globe and surrounded by trophies of war, e.g., shields and helmets. The Gloriette was designed to glorify Habsburg power and to honor the soldiers who had given their lives for the empire in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

The Gloriette was designed and dedicated as a monument to the Just War, which according to St. Thomas Aquinas is one that:

  • Occurs for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain;
  • Is waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state;
  • Has peace as a central motive even in the midst of violence.

The Habsburgs used the Gloriette as a hall for festivals and for dining. While the Gloriette was destroyed during the Second World War, it was quickly rebuilt after the war. Visitors can enjoy refreshments in the café in the center section and ascend to observation platforms on the roof for a panoramic view of Vienna.

The Glorietta and Neptune's Fountain

The Gloriette and Neptune’s Fountain

The Glorietta

The Gloriette

Imperial Eagle and inscription "Emperor Joseph II and Empress Maria Theresa, Erected 1775"

Imperial Eagle atop Gloriette with inscription “Emperor Joseph II and Empress Maria Theresa, Erected 1775”

Schönbrunn Palace from the Glorietta

Schönbrunn Palace and the Great Parterre from the Gloriette with St. Stephen’s Church in the distance

35,000 Bins

Over the past few weeks, trash cans have been appearing on the sidewalks of Bangkok! While this might not seem like a big deal to people in most countries, it is truly remarkable since there were never any here. As a result, people typically have discarded trash any place they could, e.g., in fountains, in planters, on window or door sills, etc. The refuse in Bangkok takes away from the beauty of the city and stands in sharp contrast to the cleanliness found in most other S.E. Asian cities, most notably Singapore and Hong Kong. According to the local newspapers, 35,000 trash containers have been placed on sidewalks throughout the city since late April. Sometimes seemingly small things really do matter.

Kop Khun Krab and Danke.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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Royal Wine Tour

At just before midnight on May 4, I boarded an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna along with 60 colleagues, dealers, and their family members. We spent seven days and six nights in Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary enjoying the sights and sampling some of their best wines and foods.

Our flight landed at Flughafen Wien-Schwechat, the Vienna International Airport (point A on map below), around 6 a.m. on Sunday. After clearing customs and gathering our luggage, we boarded the largest bus in Hungary — a double-decker that seats 77 people — for a short-ride to the Ambassador Hotel in the Neuer Markt section of Vienna, less than a quarter of a mile from the Hofburg Palace. Although we arrived too early to check in to our rooms, the hotel provided a marvelous breakfast for the group in one of its function rooms.

Ambassador Hotel in Neuer Markt Square

Ambassador Hotel in Neuer Markt

Baroque Donner Fountain in Neuer Markt Square

Baroque Donner Fountain in Neuer Markt

After breakfast we had about 90 minutes to wander through central Vienna before we reboarded the bus for a one-hour ride south to Eisenstadt (B). Here, we first toured the Esterházy Palace and then ended the day at the Esterházy Winery.

On Monday, our itinerary took us to the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (C) and then to Vrakúň, Slovakia (D) where we had dinner and spent the night. On Tuesday, we made our first stop in Hungary at the Pannonhalma Archabbey (E). After a traditional Hungarian lunch in Pannonhalma, we rode down to Tihany, a peninsula in Lake Balaton, where a ferry took us across the largest lake in Central Europe. Our destination was the Konyári Winery (F) located in the hills above the southern shore of Lake Balaton. János Konyári, the owner of the vineyard and Hungary’s winemaker of the year in 2008, hosted a dinner and wine tasting and we then proceeded to Hertelendy Kastély (G) where we stayed through mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, our gigantic motorcoach made its way to the small wine-making town of Villány (H) in far southern Hungary, about 10 miles north of Croatia, where we stayed at the Gere Hotel and Wine Spa and toured Attila Gere’s Winery. After breakfast on Thursday, we headed north to Eytek (I) and ultimately to central Budapest (J) where we took a nearly three-hour dinner cruise on the Danube. On Friday, we began the day with a walking/shopping tour in Budapest before going to the Lázár Equestarian Park (K) where we ate lunch and then watched a fascinating display of Hungarian horsemanship. Later that evening, we went to the Torley winery where we had a tour of its cellars and then dinner. Along the way to the airport on Saturday, we had another Hungarian lunch at Sari Csárda (L) and then stopped at an outlet mall in Parndorf, Austria (M) for even more shopping.

Vienna

Vienna, the capital of Austria and its largest city, is simply stunning from historical, cultural, and architectural perspectives. As home to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Mahler, Vienna’s musical heritage is second to none. The buildings are generally low-rise — most under eight stories — but richly designed and highly ornate, while the streets and gardens are replete with statues and fountains.

The Kärntner Straße is a half-mile pedestrian walkway from Vienna’s State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper) at the southern end to St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) on the northern end. Construction of the Noe-Renaissance-style opera house began in 1863 and the first performance, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, took place in 1869 with Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, the Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), in attendance. Although the building suffered extensive damage from Allied bombs near the end of World War II, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1955.

Vienna’s State Opera House

Rear of Vienna’s State Opera House

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of Austria and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. The first church on this site was built in 1137, but much of it was destroyed by a fire in 1258. A second church was built after the fire and additions were added for the next 250 years. The cathedral was also damaged during the war, not by bombs but instead by fires that were set by looters as the Germans retreated and the Russians entered the city.

The limestone cathedral is 350 feet long and 131 feet wide. The 445 foot tall south tower and the multi-colored tile roof make this one of Vienna’s most recognizable landmarks. Catacombs with the remains of over 11,000 people are located at the northern edge of the church.

The cathedral’s original pulpit, called the Capistran Chancel, is now located outside at the entrance to the underground tombs. It was from this pulpit that Giovanni da Capistrano, a Franciscan friar, and János Hunyadi, a Hungarian general, preached a crusade in 1456 to raise an army to assist Belgrade in repelling the siege by the Ottoman Turks. Above the pulpit is an 18th century statue of St. Francis standing atop a defeated Muslim Turk.

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Capistran Chantal

The Capistran Chancel and St. Francis

The Pestsäule sculpture

The Pestsäule sculpture

One of the most prominent pieces of sculpture in the city is the plague column, or Pestsäule, on Graben, a high-end pedestrian mall near Stephansdom. In 1679, Emperor Leopold I vowed to build a mercy column if God would end the epidemic afflicting the city. The Baroque sculpture, inaugurated in 1693, depicts a tower of angels in clouds above the coat of arms of the Hungarian Empire.

From 1279 through 1918, the Hofburg Palace was the center of the House of Habsburg, the dynasty that included the Holy Roman Emperors; the Kings of Romans, Hungary, Bohemia, Spain, Portugal, and Galicia and Lodomeria; the Dukes and Archdukes of Austria; and the Grand Prince of Transylvania. In 1938, Hitler proclaimed the political annexation of Austria into the Third Reich from the palace’s New Castle wing. The palace is currently the official residence of the president of Austria as well as home to several museums, the Spanish Riding School and its famed Lipizzaner stallions, churches, the national library, and a convention center. It would take the better part of a day, which unfortunately we did not have, to tour these large and magnificent buildings and gardens.

Map of Hofburg Palace

Map of Hofburg Palace, Source: http://hofburg.wien.info/en/map.html

Statue of Emperor Joseph II in Josefsplatz at Hofburg Palace

Statue of Emperor Joseph II in Josefsplatz

St. Michael's Wing (Michaelerplatz) at Hofburg Palace

St. Michael’s Wing (Michaelerplatz)

Albertina Museum

Albertina Museum

Hofburg Palace's Burggarten and Museums

Hofburg Palace’s Burggarten and Museums

The remains of 145 members of the Habsburg dynasty, including those of Franz Joseph, Maria Theresa, Sisi, and 11 other emperors and 16 other empresses, are entombed in the crypt beneath the modest-looking Capuchin Church in nearby Neuer Markt Square.

Capuchin Church

Capuchin Church in Neuer Markt

Postmodern Haas House across from Stephansdom

Postmodern Haas House

Figaro

While walking in Sala Daeng the other day, I came upon an interesting, retro-looking, two-door convertible that I had never seen before. The car turned out to be a Nissan Figaro; Nissan made only 20,000 of these in 1991 and all were initially sold in Japan but then exported as used vehicles to other right-hand drive countries such as the UK and, evidently, Thailand.

1991 Nissan Figaro, Front

1991 Nissan Figaro, Front

1991 Nissan Figaro, Rear

1991 Nissan Figaro, Rear

The Figaro was built on the Nissan Micra platform with a one liter engine that produces 75 horsepower, 78 lb.-feet of torque, and a top speed of 106 mph. The 1,800 pound vehicle came equipped with a 3 speed automatic transmission, leather seating, air conditioning, two cup holders, and a CD player. The middle-section of car’s top retracts into the trunk while the side sections around the windows remain in place. Surprisingly, the car has four seats — two in the front and two in the rear that are apparently for small children, midgets, or double amputees.

Leviathan: Incompetent or Corrupt? Yes.

For those of you who remember the late 1960’s television show Hogan’s Heroes, we now seem to have the Sgt. Schultz Administration! Unfortunately, this is not a comedy but a tragedy, not just for the four Americans killed in Benghazi but also for the American people.

The Sgt. Schultz President -- I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!

Obama, Clinton, and Holder emulate Sgt. Schultz: “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”

Kop Khun Krab, Danke, Ďakujem, and Köszönöm.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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Phang Nga Bay

June Bahtra 3

June Bahtra 3

Ten days ago, I returned to Thailand from a three-week visit to North America; the next morning, I was back at the airport for a 80 minute flight down to Phuket for our three-day National Dealer Meeting. During the second day, 25 of us went on a six-hour excursion to Phang Nga Bay. We left our hotel on the east side of the island (point A) just after 10 a.m. for a one hour, 30 mile van ride to the Yacht Haven Marina (B) where we boarded the June Bahtra 3 (also known as Jit Jai), a 60 foot long, traditional Siamese Junk. The skipper took us southeast through the channel that separates the island of Phuket from the mainland and then he headed north into Phang Nga Bay.

Phang Nga is a province in southern Thailand on the west side of the Malay peninsula and directly north of Phuket. The two provinces are connected by a bridge on highway 402.

Ko Tapu, also known as the James Bond Island

Ko Tapu, also known as the James Bond Island

Phang Nga Bay is a 150 square mile bay in the Andaman Sea that contains the Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park. The park consists of a large number of limestone islands, the most famous of which is Ko Tapu (C). Now known as the James Bond Island, Ko Tapu is a 66 foot tall, needle-shaped island that was featured in the film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Caves, archaeological sites, and many native species of birds, reptiles and mammal make the islands in Phang Nga Bay a popular tourist destination. Over the years, mildly acidic water has dissolved the limestone base of the islands creating caves and what are known as karst overhangs. Many people head out to the islands on boats from which they then launch canoes or kayaks to paddle near the limestone cliffs and explore the caves. The coral reefs and native fish also attract scuba divers and snorkelers.

Kayakers under a karst overhang

Kayakers under a karst overhang

After we sailed past Ko Tapu, we transferred to a smaller craft that took us to Ko Panyee (D), a community established in the late 1700s by Muslim fishermen from Indonesia. Since non-Thais could not own land, the Muslim fishermen constructed homes on stilts near an island in Phang Nga Bay. Back in September 2011, I wrote about this island after seeing a short video (reposted below) made by TMB, a local bank that challenges its people and its clients to “Make THE Difference” by “Thinking Differently”. As we approached Ko Panyee, the golden dome of local mosque, built on the nearby island, glistened in the mid-day sun. The mosque is clearly a focal point for the approximately 1,700 residents of this settlement.

The sea taxi to Ko Panyi

The sea taxi to Ko Panyee

Mosque on Ko Panyi from Phang Nga Bay

Mosque on Ko Panyee from Phang Nga Bay

At the entrance from the boat dock into Ko Panyee is a sign spelling out “The Rules of Panyee Village.” Fines are specified for:

  • Littering — 500 baht (about $17)
  • Riding a bicycle in the market between 11 a.m. and 3:00 pm — 500 baht
  • Bringing a dog into the village — 2,000 baht (about $68)
  • Bringing a meat pig into the village — 2,000 baht
  • Bringing alcohol into the village — 5,000 baht ($170) AND one goat!

We spent an hour or so sampling some of the local foods and sweets as we walked through this sea-based community. We also visited the floating soccer pitch that was originally built by local youngsters and that is the focus of the inspirational TMB film. The field is remarkably stable thanks to a series of interlocking floats that surround it.

Ko Panyi's floating soccer field

Ko Panyee’s floating soccer field

On the soccer field

On the soccer field

During our return to the June Bahtra 3, the sea taxi took us through a natural, karst tunnel formation in one of the islands. Once we were back on the June Bahtra 3, the crew provided a late buffet lunch. We then relaxed as the junk leisurely cruised back to the marina. As the sun set over the Andaman Sea, we joined the rest of the meeting participants for a delicious seafood feast at the Lotus restaurant (E) on the western shore of Phuket.

HKY 150

Through the natural karst tunnel under an island

June Bahtra 3

June Bahtra 3

Phuket beach as sunsets on Andaman Sea

Phuket beach at sunset on Andaman Sea

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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