Budapest

In May last year we took a whirlwind, or so it seemed, journey to Budapest, the capital of Hungary.  Under pressure of a deadline for Opinions Post I finally wrote an article about it: Budapest: Majestic City With a Wart–now with its own page.

Great Market Hall in Budapest

Great Market Hall with glazed tile roof

Read about some of our other travels within central Europe on our Environs page.

Pig and Masopust in Prague

Masopust like Carnival means good-bye meat.  Perhaps more it means another excuse to party in the winter time.  I know Prague makes the most of it with a whole series of local festivals only loosely connected to the upcoming Lent.  In our research, however, we learned that the charm of a public Pig Slaughter Festival is now an event of the past.

In January I happened to see an announcement of a “Pork Festival” at Namesti Miru near us.  Always up for good street food I put it on my calendar for Saturday lunch. That day appeared with very iffy weather but the square was only two tram stops away so we went. By the time we arrived it was snowing, which added to the charm. Despite the weather there was a good crowd that seemed to be enjoying themselves.

winter pork festival, Prague We did a circle of the booths to pick something to buy. As usual there were no signs in English so we chose a sausage that we could point to rather than pronounce. There was a large selection of pork dishes as well as a beer tent and a small stage with musicians.

Sausage making at Prague festivalThe most popular booth had two pig carcasses hanging and sausage stuffing going on.  Here is a quote from the news report: “We’re making jtrnice – mainly from pork entrails – bits of liver, lungs and pork stock with bread, onions, garlic and other seasoning. We mince it and press it into casings made from pork guts.”

 

Two days later we happened to spot another news article that announced the centuries old tradition of pig slaughtering feasts were now considered outlawed by new European hygiene standards. Farmers can only butcher for their own home consumption; sharing with friends and neighbours would be subject to a huge fine ($16,000).  The fest that we went to was sponsored by the city government and was a sanitized version with no slaughtering on the premises. This type of event especially appeals to the older generation now living in the city. It brings back memories of their youth in the villages. The true winter pig/pork, bacon/ham festivals are declining but still popular through most countries of Europe. They pre-date Christianity, going back to pagan fertility rites.  In Czech villages they act as a family home-coming celebration, much like the American Thanksgiving.

Czech folk art by Josef Lada: Hog slaughter This painting is by Josef Lada, the Czech Norman Rockwell.

It starts with a squealing pig strung up by its hind legs and dispatched by the butcher. Next the women wade in for the ingredients to blood soup, goulash with entrails, head cheese and, of course sausages. Finally different cuts are taken for curing and preserving and the best pieces are roasted for that day of partying.

I have written a great deal about the benefits of eating locally produced meat and vegetables.  Now Brussels bureaucrats are forcing their point of view that pork produced in large factories is better for you than that raised in the field next door.  Our experience watching lambs and kids grow and frolic from our veranda in Paros and then later in the year buying the meat from our neighbor proves this wrong in our mind.  One often reads in the news of recall of contaminated meat from factories or warehouses but not any accounts of bad food that has personally passed the inspection of a local farmer and that you buy in a local market.

I give a lot of travel advice and right now I strongly urge people to look for local festivals and events and participate before they are legislated out of existence or are smothered by worry-wart do-gooders who take the fun out of life.  Another example is greased pig chases. I remember them fondly at the “Aloha Daze” events of my childhood community in Oregon, USA. Today doing a Google search everything I find is past tense from years ago.

I think all travelers enjoy reading travel adventures written during a past era when every where was more interesting than today. Tomorrow may be more sanitary and “correct” than today but will probably be less interesting and exciting. We used to say we want to travel while we are young enough to enjoy it, now we say get out and travel before the bureaucrats homogenize all culture.

butcher with pig slaughter: folk art at Prague festivalNow back to Masopust and Prague:  each neighborhood has its own version of the pig festival and masked parade.  The first one we went to was on a VERY cold day in Karlin.  I am hoping the effigy shown in the left photo was a dig at the EU regulations.

Since then we have seen many roasted pig heads used as decoration and many people in costumes drinking as they walk down the street.  Karin was even accosted on Mostecka street by  Charles Bridge.  It’s all good fun.

 

The short version was originally published as Are We Losing The Charm of Pig Slaughter? on Blogcritics.

Pig's head decoration roast in PragueMasopast parade old town PragueHearted in parade, Prague

Source of News Report quote

Krumlov House

Cesky Krumov House HostelTwo years ago Karin also did a photo-journalism report on the hostel in which we stayed.  We recommend it highly because we had a spacious, comfortable and interesting room and the owner and staff were very helpful and friendly.  What more can you want!

Hostel Krumlov House was voted Best Atmosphere in Europe by Hostelbookers customers in 2010 and won this year’s 2012 HOSCARS (Hostel Oscars) for the Czech Republic!

They have an excellent web site and Facebook fan page

Karin’s photos and comments:  Cesky Krumlov House Hostel

 

Travelling Out of Prague

It was always our intention during our winter stay in Prague 2011/2012 to take several side trips to surrounding cities in the Czech Republic as well as surrounding countries.  We have done some of that but not as much as we had envisioned.  Prague itself is just too addictive, I guess.

So look up to the menu line in the header.  See the new page titled ENVIRONS and click on it after you read the travel advisory below.

One thing we learned during this last train trip is that it does not pay to walk up to the ticket window and just tell them you want a ticket to your destination.  It turns out that doing that cost us twice the amount we paid on the return journey by buying three separate tickets.  It seems that part of our itinerary was along the route that Czech Trains competes with Student Agency Trains so they had a special rate for that portion that we didn’t get by buying the one ticket.  The sad part is that we only discovered this when the train depot in Klodzko, Poland would not sell us a ticket to Prague but only to the border.  This was very disconcerting at the time but the kind English speakers at our hotel found out that we could just get on the train and by the next ticket from the conductor.  We were worried about being stranded somewhere but it all worked out quite easy as well as cheaper.

RegioJet:  Student Agency trainsBy the way we saw one of the Student Agency trains and decided to try them for our next journey in the limited directions that they go.  We have read that they are quite good and thus forcing the national railway to improve.  The guy in the photo is Radim Jančura, owner of Student Agency.  I bet he gets a kick out of having his own train set.

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