Both containing remnants of the Hapsburg Empire and looking toward Vienna for both leadership and menacing competition, the cities of Prague and Budapest are often compared with each other due to their similar history and proximity. Having now traveled to both (gorgeous) cities, I can understand the comparison but am no closer to picking a favorite.
Crossing the chain bridge onto the Buda side of the city, my first night in Budapest amazed me. Having gone in with a blank slate and unsure of what to expect, the evening backdrop of magnificent buildings all lite up against the flowing Danube river still sticks in my mind as one of the most gorgeous cities I have experienced in Central Europe.
We started our day with a walking tour (my standard when traveling to a new city – I recommend trying to find one of the free ones offered in nearly every western city). I discovered that Hungarians have basically been conquered by one neighboring empire after another, the most recent being Russia under the Soviet Communist bloc, making their sense of humor one of irony and fairly cynical.
Similarly, the Czech Republic shares a sorted past, more recently breaking from the communist Czechoslovakia into the modern, Baroque feeling the city shares today. While the Charles Bridge does not share the size and magnificence of Budapest’s Chain bridge, Prague’s old town and castle complex are definite highlights for those visiting the city.
Having already experienced the beauty of Budapest, Prague seemed smaller, more intimate, but also more touristy. I am not sure how Prague has grown into such a ‘must do’ city while Budapest has seemingly been saved from the mass crowds of American’s and Brits on a stag night out, but the difference is evident and takes away from the romanticism of the city. I suppose part of this is also due to the fact that we chose to visit Prague during Easter weekend, so this may be an unfair comparison.
Fun fact: Easter tradition for Czech’s? Other than spending time with their families, there is a ‘whipping’ tradition. Pictured above are sticks sold at Easter markets scattered all over the city (#1 fav thing about this trip). Tradition has it that the boys or men of the village purchase these and knock on their neighbors door and ‘whip’ the women bringing them “1 more year of beauty”. Luckily there is retaliation for such behavior; the women then dump water on the men. All ends well, however, after such scuffles, the men are then invited in to share Easter chocolates and cakes.
These donut rolls (still haven’t figured out the local word for them) are slowly roasted over a wood burning fire and produce not only a lovely aroma throughout the markets in town but taste amazing. We basically subsided on donut rolls, cart sausage and local ‘pivo’ or beer.
Czech’s are especially proud of their lager taking credit for the creation of the type of beer called ‘pilsner’. Created in 1842 from the town of Plzeň or Pilsen the ‘pilsner’ recipe has since been used as a template for light beers around the world. You can easily take a day trip from Prague and try the stuff straight from the source. They have a special ‘unfiltered’ version of the beer that is distinctively more wheaty and comes straight from the oak barrels they use to ferment the beer
So which city takes the cake? I suppose you will just have to travel to both and make the determination for yourself.