Tag Archives: budget

Christmas Interlude: Malta I

I haven’t written anything in quite a while! I’ve been extremely busy with my vacation-turned-Masters-degree trip to Europe ūüė¶ :D.

Well, I’ve finally got a break for Christmas and enjoyed it with a few good friends in the Mediterranean on the island of Malta. At less than ¬£90 round trip, the flight there was a really good price. I used Thompson airlines, which offered a holiday service to the island and was allowed one checked bag and one carryon. Some of us stayed at a really cheap hotel that checked in at about 115 Euro for the full 7 days. The weather was beautiful and sunny: a wonderful >10 degrees more than London’s frigid 8-10¬įC. My hotel, nor the other hotel used by others in my group provided complimentary wi-fi, but free wifi was easy to find at numerous cafes and food stands along the coast where we stayed in Sliema. In the first few days, I was able to visit other cities (really little communities more than distinct cities) of Valleta, San Giljan (St. Julian), and Gzira.¬†In Malta, the official languages are Maltese and English. Many of the signs were written in English to my simultaneous relief and chagrin. I learned the word for “street” in Maltese is “Triq,” which prefixes streets’ proper name (Triq Tas-Sliema = Sliema Street). ¬†In Malta, tourism is a big source of GDP. There were lots of hotels, tours, and cheap easy transportation to and from the airport.

The Island’s history is filled with conquest and occupation including that of the Spanish, the Knights Hospitaller, French, and the British. Many of the things to which I have grown accustomed in the UK were present in Malta such driving on the left, and the chunky three-prong wall socket. There were traces of Arab and European (mainly Italian) influences in the language and family names. Being a 98% Roman Catholic country, the people proudly referred to themselves in a cultural and national way as “Catholic” and crucifixes visibly graced their shops and public buildings. Churches dominated the landscape, with domes and bell towers on almost every horizon and their monuments regularly consisted of crosses and hagiography, with almost every other site bearing a name related to Christ or the saints.

On Christmas day at noon, the entire country it seemed was awash with the sounds of bells in celebration of the Christian high feast. It was a really beautiful experience, that really filled me, as a student of political science, with awe at a modern Western democracy so actively claiming a visible religious identity. Even when we went to watch a movie, the theatre featured a Christmas choir with the most melodic voices! -> I’ve attached a short vid!

In the short while I was there I learned so much about Malta’s history and elements it shared with other countries. Many older Maltese churches had two bell towers with a clock on each, one with the right time and the other with the wrong time, historically, to fool the devil about what time the mass was to be held. You should be able to see this architectural phenomenon in some of the photos I’ve uploaded.

One of the coolest things about visiting places with such a rich and ancient history as Malta is its ability to recall its past through preservation and awareness, while at the same time introducing modern conveniences into the process. For example, you’ll see shiny metal elevators running on electricity alongside ancient limestone fortresses or a gargantuan oil rig sitting for repairs in the middle of a centuries-old harbour.

Budapest continued

I learned some interesting things about Hungary and Budapest on my tour through the city.
Like the Czech Republic, Hungary too had a king that was canonised as the first confessor king. St Stephen I of Hungary is recognized as the first king and the founder of Hungary. He, also like the Czech royal St. Wenceslas had a royal family member who was also canonised, his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary.

The Holy Crown of Hungary

An interesting tradition in Hungary exists wherein the Crown of St. Stephen I was regarded as a distinct legal person and was the true head of state, or the state itself, and that the king ruled in the name of the crown. The crown was a coronation crown and was used only for that purpose. It could only be touched by two people: the person who placed the crown on a pillow and the Archbishop of Esztergom, who allow possessed the right to crown the king. The object alone conferred legality (with the authority of the archiepiscopal coronation) on the kings of Hungary.

The Hungarian Parliament Building (Orsz√°gh√°z)

I think that buildings that house the seat of government are always intended to be beautiful, or at least impressive in an effort to convey the majesty of the state to citizens and visitors alike. Hungary proved to be no exception to this with its marvellous Orsz√°gh√°z (Hungarian for “house of the country”). The Hungarian Parliament Building sits majestically on the eastern bank of the Danube.

  • architectural¬†style: Gothic Revival
  • one of Budapest’s tallest buildings
  • largest building in Hungary

Fun fact:

For a time, the Hungarian throne was inherited through agnatic seniority. This succession arrangement prefers the male siblings of the last monarch in order of age to his sons and the sons of this brothers by age. It is the form used in the Saudi Arabian line of succession today.


It was such an interesting feeling to wake up refreshed from a great night’s sleep miles away from where I had closed my eyes. The Hungarian sun peeked eagerly though the edges of my window shutters, bidding me to explore another of Europe’s most interesting cities. At one point, an Ottoman administrative centre and at another, a royal metropolis, the city plays host to a myriad of syntheses. Turkish and oriental designs amidst imposing baroque provide a vibrant architectural symphony almost as rich as the city’s historical ethnic diversity. Even its name and borders give testament to such prominent combinations. In 1873 the cities of Buda and Pest were united to form the present-day jurisdiction we know as Budapest. Situated on both sides of the Danube, the city has historically been a large centre of culture, trade, industry, and subsequently political influence. Here, we once again view the mark of the Hapsburgs, who reclaimed the territory from the Ottomans in 1686. Under their rule, the city witnessed a general increase in population and development.

Dual-Monarchial City

As you would have read in an earlier post of mine, the Hapsburgs ruled the Austrian Empire. That is, until 1867, when the empire was internally reconstituted as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Hapsburgs ruled Hungary as King of Hungary, a crown distinct from their Austrian one. This led to the Hungarian capital achieving more autonomy in its affairs.

HŇĎs√∂k Tere (Heroes’ Square)

Millennium Monument

In Budapest’s Heroes’ Square stands an impressive construction I had only seen in glancing travel photos before. The Millennium Monument stands as a testament to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our [Hungary’s] national independence.” It features seven kings from medieval Hungary, the Renaissance King Matthias, and Janos Hunyadi, who fought the 15th-century invading Ottoman armies. The Archangel Gabriel stands atop the column centrepiece and holds the Holy Crown of Hungary in one hand and the other, the Hungarian Apostolic Cross (a Latin cross with an additional bar).

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence Monument

This other interesting resident at the site is dedicated to the Hungarian revolution against Soviet oppression in 1956. Hundreds lost their lives in a failed attempt at declaring independence from the Communists when over 2,000 tanks and numerous divisions of the Russian army were sent to crush the insurrection. This monument is quite different from others I’ve seen and is built where the statue of Josef Stalin was once erected when the Communists bulldozed a catholic church that stood on the site. The rusted steel pillars are arranged to form the triangular blade of a knife. It is an abstract, ultramodern monument.

Video Post: My First Night Train (Prague to Budapest)

Although it would be my last time traveling through the Prague subway, I was so excited that I would be traveling on my first night train! My next stop was Budapest, Hungary, and although there were many earlier trips I could have chosen, I decided to pay the 14 euro reservation fee for a bed in a¬†couchette on the overnight train. I don’t know what the full fare would have been, but I’m happy I had a Eurail pass and didn’t have to worry about that :-). My main reason was to cut lodging costs. I needed to get to Hungary and I needed to sleep: night train solves all. Cheaper than the cost of a hostel stay, I was able to save all around on money and time and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in backpacking.

The only negative in my plan was the long wait I had in the train station between my last scheduled daylight activity and the train that left almost at midnight. Being closer to the North pole in the summer meant that the “day” was much longer throughout all my European adventure than it would have been in Florida at the time. At least, that sounds like something I remember from high school geography that sounds like it’s right!

Well, after paying to use the restroom and finding that one of them had been closed for the night (I have no idea why, if you have to pay to enter any way), and being offered narcotics while thinking that I had lost my luggage to a closed storage facility, I finally saw my train on the arrivals board!

Given permission to board the train, I searched the door tags for my room and found to my surprise that the other bed would be left unoccupied that night. I made a video of my exploring the amenities offered in the sleeping cabin that I hope will convey the comfort and utter awesomeness I felt that night!

Video Post:The Prague Castle Complex

Parts of this sprawling medieval castle compound, the largest Europe, can be spotted at almost any point in the old city.

 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². [1]

Although collectively referred to as “the castle,” the many buildings that make up this mega-fortified mini-town include at least four churches, four palaces, over five gardens, and is home to shops, government offices, and museums.¬†Today, the castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and represents as the historical and political centre of Prague and the Czech state.

One of the churches: Basilica dedicated to St. George

  • Main¬†Architectural¬†Style: Romanesque / Baroque (facade)
  • Extras: Benedictine Convent
    • Abbess possessed the right to crown the Queen consort of Bohemia
  • Royal/Sacred tombs:
    • Prince Vratislav
    • Boleslav II
    • St. Ludmila
St. George’s Basilica, Prague, Czech Republic – See if you can spot it in the video!

The Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslaus and St. Adalbert

  • Main¬†architectural¬†style: Gothic
  • Designations:
    • Roman Catholic Cathedral, Seat of Archbishop of Prague
    • Basilica
  • Famous:
    • Biggest Church in Czech Republic
  • Curiosities:
    • The church is owned by the Czech government
    • St. Wenceslas:
      • One of a small group of royals to have been canonised by the Catholic Church
      • He is one of the patron saints of the Czech state
      • He is the “good King Wenceslas” mentioned in the¬†1853 Christmas carol by John Neale
      • He died a Duke of Bohemia, but was raised to the dignity of a king after his death by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I
St. Vitus – Prague, Czech Republic

I didn’t have enough crowns (Czech money) left to purchase a trip up the bell tower and they wouldn’t take credit cards or Euro. Everywhere else took Euro (with a slight fee), but those volunteer girl guards weren’t budging for poor littles tourists like myself. ūüė¶

Video I made of walk through much of castle complex: