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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Study tours

Austria and Hungary: After the Habsburgs--Authoritarianism and Democracy

June 3-13, 2018

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From the fifteenth to the twentieth century, the Habsburg Empire was an extraordinary experiment in cultural diversity, stability, and political decentralization. However, when the monarchy collapsed at the end of World War I, the region embarked on a period of chaotic changes: new states, including Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, rose and fell; wars broke out; and democracies turned into dictatorships (and vice versa). At various times in the past 100 years, Habsburg lands have been dominated by Germany, the Soviet Union, and the European Union.

Cornell Government Department professor Valerie Bunce will illuminate for us this region's tumultuous politics of the past hundred years as we explore the Austro-Hungarian Empire's three most important cities—Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.

These modern capitals are rich repositories of Habsburg art, architecture, music, and cuisine. As we enjoy their cultural offerings, we'll learn about each city's distinctive history, modern politics, and hopes for the future.

Valerie Bunce

Valerie Bunce is the Aaron Binenkorb Professor of International Studies and Professor of Government. Her primary fields are comparative politics and international relations, and her research and teaching address comparative democratization, international democracy promotion (primarily by the U.S.), and inter-ethnic... > more

Program notes

  • Download the program itinerary.
  • Double occupancy: $8,315 per person.
  • Single supplement: $1,375 per person.
  • See What's included?
  • See Travel links and resources.
  • Activity level: Slightly strenuous. May require extended walking over uneven ground as well as the ability to climb stairs and to stand for considerable periods of time.

Preliminary itinerary

June 4: Arrive in Prague

Upon arrival, transfer by private vehicle and driver from the airport to the hotel.

Gather this evening for a festive welcome dinner to mark the beginning of the tour.

Intercontinental Prague or similar (D)

June 5: Prague

After breakfast, begin a full-day guided tour of Prague, beginning with a stop at the Schwarzenberg Palace.

Continue on to the Prague Castle (Hradcani), the largest ancient castle in the world, built on the steeply sloping hill above the river. A place of coronation and residence of kings and emperors, the castle is the symbol of Prague. The huge complex includes St. Vitus Cathedral, St. Wenceslaus Chapel, the baroque Matthias Gate, and the Renaissance Garden, planted in the sixteenth century. Also included will be a stop at the Belevedere, Queen Anne's Summer Palace.

Next, visit Prague's wonderful UNESCO-listed Old Town, which radiates out from a large marketplace on the Vltava. Originally the town had a moat and a wall with thirteen gates. Admire the Town Hall, established in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town authorities. The fifteenth-century astronomical clock at the bottom of the clock tower is complete with astrological signs and two of the apostles appearing on the hour.

Make a stop at Charles Bridge. There are seventeen beautiful arched stone bridges over the Vltava River running through Prague. The fourteenth-century Charles (Karel) Bridge, designed in the Gothic style, was used for almost five and a half centuries before becoming a pedestrian-only bridge after WWII. The bridge is graced with thirty baroque statues added in the eighteenth century, including a bronze of St. John of Nepomuk, who was thrown over the bridge to his death for refusing to tell the king what the queen said in confession.

Located on the left bank of the Vltava and connected to the Old Town by the Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, or Lesser Town, was created in 1257 from some of the settlements at the foot of Prague Castle. Its lovely baroque architecture, cobbled streets, fine churches, and burghers' mansions make the area a great place to stroll and shop. In Mala Strana, visit the Church of Our Lady Victorious and the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

Intercontinental Prague or similar (B, L, D)

June 6: Prague

Continue touring Prague after breakfast today. Visit the Estates Theater, built in a beautiful neo-classical building that has been at the heart of Prague's cultural scene since its conception. Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in the pastel green horseshoe-shaped theater, which was featured in the movie Amadeus.

The Estates Theater is part of Prague's elegant National Theater, where opera, ballet, and plays are performed. Its exterior is crowned with sculpture, and its performance hall has a golden curtain to match the gilded box seats surrounding the stage.

In the afternoon, make a stop at the Vila Bertramka before dinner at Café Imperial.

Intercontinental Prague or similar (B, D)

June 7: Prague / Ceske Budejovice / Vienna, Austria

After breakfast at the hotel, venture outside of Prague to the city of Ceske Budejovice. Located in the center of Southern Bohemia, Ceske Budejovice is best known as the hometown of the original Budweiser beer. Its Old Town Square is surrounded with beautiful baroque houses and churches, mainly built after a fire in 1641 nearly wiped out the original town. Ceske Budejovice was founded as a royal town in the thirteenth century, and beer has been brewed here ever since.

Continue on to the elegant city of Vienna. Capital and largest city of Austria, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. Vienna was indisputably the center of the musical world In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was either the birthplace or residence of such greats as Hayden, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Schonberg and, of course the Strauss family—famous for popularizing the Viennese Waltz. Vienna's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dinner tonight will be at one of the Grinzing establishments in the The Grinzing Tavern District, originally an eleventh century village where many of the inhabitants made their own wine. As in many rural Austrian regions, the unique wines were served in little wine bars called Heurigen. By the late nineteenth century, the area had been annexed by Vienna, and as time went on, it became famous for its wealth of Heurigen. Today Grinzing is a popular tourist spot.

Bristol Hotel or similar (B, D)

June 8: Vienna

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel and then set out for a full day of touring today, beginning with a drive along Ringstrasse, the heart of UNESCO-listed Old Town Vienna.

Vienna's Ringstrasse ("Ring Road") took the place of the medieval city walls, torn down in 1857 by the decree of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The large and opulent buildings constructed around the perimeter were meant to impress with the might of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Around the Ringstrasse, admire the many beautiful buildings including the State Opera House, the Museum of Art History, the Natural History Museum, and the Hofburg, the Parliament, the City Hall, and the Burgtheater.

Admire Old Town Vienna's main religious edifice, St. Stephen's Cathedral. Construction on the cathedral began in 1147, and renovations have been ongoing up to the present day. Along the way enjoy many of Vienna's most renowned sights, such as the Rathous (Town Hall), the Burgtheater, and the fabulous Hofburg Palace.

Continue with a visit to St. Michael's Church before dinner at a local restaurant.

Bristol Hotel or similar (B, L, D)

June 9: Vienna

Continue touring Vienna after breakfast today, including stops at Neuer Markt, Capuchin Church with the Imperial Burial Vault (Kapuzinergruft), and Augustinian Church, located on Josefsplatz.

Make a stop at the Hofburg Imperial Palace, once the seat of the leaders of the Holy Roman Empire and the later Austrian Empire. The same rooms that once hosted balls and the audiences of Emperor Franz Joseph now house the offices of the Federal President and many others. The historic buildings on the Ringstrasse are part of the Hofburg ensemble, including the museums, the Burgtheater, and the riding school.

Explore the Imperial Treasury, which is located in the Hofburg Palace. The collection is divided into two sections: a secular collection features treasures amassed by the Hapsburg Empire, and the ecclesiastical collection contains holy relics, devotional images, alters, and items associated with saints.

Finally, wander the Wiener Prater, or Pratar Park, a large public park containing the oldest amusement park in the world—the Wurstelprater—and the Green Prater, a large green space once used as a hunting ground. The Prater dates back to the twelfth century but wasn't accessible to the public until 1766, when Emperor Josef II gave it to the Viennese people. Enjoy visiting the giant ferris wheel, walking among the amusement park's many attractions, sampling some Viennese food, or taking a ride on a miniature railway to get a sense of this green oasis in the middle of the city.

Lunch and dinner are independent today.

Bristol Hotel or similar (B)

June 10: Vienna / Budapest, Hungary

After breakfast at the hotel, make a final stop in Vienna at the Schönbrunn Palace before boarding a Hydrofoil to Budapest.

The palace and garden at UNESCO-listed Schönbrunn Palace represent centuries of Austrian history. Its royal use began in 1569 when Emperor Maximilian II acquired the land for a hunting preserve. In the mid-eighteenth century, Empress Maria Theresa made Schönbrunn the summer home of the Imperial family, and the former hunting lodge became the glittering location of court events.

Maria-Theresa's consort, Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, designed the formal baroque-style gardens with a star-shaped system of avenues and paths. The gardens were meant to continue the theme of the opulent interiors.

Upon arrival in Budapest, meet with your local guide and driver and transfer to the hotel for check-in and dinner at a local restaurant.

Boscolo Budapest Hotel or similar (B, D)

June 11: Budapest

After breakfast this morning, embark upon a grand tour of the city of Budapest. Begin with a look at the iconic Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest, the western and eastern parts of Budapest. Then drive over the Margaret Bridge to the Buda side of the city. Take a short walk in the Castle District, stopping at Matthias Church. Admire the neo-Gothic Fisherman's Bastion, a terrace consisting of seven towers to represent the seven Magyar tribes. Across the square is Matthias Church in the heart of the Castle District.

Take the Elizabeth Bridge over to the Pest side to see the nineteenth-century Central Market Hall with its distinctive Art Nouveau Zsolnay tiled ceiling, and the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe. Pass by the city park, Budapest Zoo, and the amusement park and stop for a guided tour of the monumental Parliament Building.

Stroll through the lush gardens of Margaret Island in the Danube River. First civilized by the Knights of St. John in the twelfth century, Margaret Island contains ruins of a Franciscan church and Dominican church and convent. It is also the site of the Centennial Memorial, symbolizing the unification of the three cities of Buda, Pest, and Obuda. Today the Island is covered by a large park with a Japanese garden, Art Nouveau water tower, and small zoo.

Lunch and dinner are independent today.

Boscolo Budapest Hotel or similar (B)

June 12: Budapest / Day trip to Esztergom, Szentendre

Following breakfast, journey a short distance outside of Budapest to the small village of Szentendre, located on the west bank of the Danube within view of the Visegrad and Pilis hills. An artists' colony was established here in the 1920s, and the town has been renowned for its art and artists ever since. Szentendre is packed with galleries, cafés, shops, and museums.

Visit the Visegrad Fortress, built by Hungary's King Bela IV after the thirteenth-century Mongol invasions. King Charles I made the town his capital in the fourteenth century and hosted a famous congress here with the Bohemian and Polish kings. Excavation and renovation began in 1870; the fortress had been left to the elements after the Ottomans were driven out of the country.

Continue on to the cities of Eszertgom and Szentendre. Eszertgom, The capital of Hungary for more than 250 years and the birthplace of the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen, Esztergom's Castle Hill is a testament to Catholic Budapest.

A walking tour of Szentendre includes a visit to the Museum of Margit Kovác, the well-known Hungarian master ceramicist and a stroll through the cobbled lanes of baroque houses and Serbian Orthodox churches. Enjoy free time to browse the galleries and shops, with plenty of opportunity to purchase Hungarian crafts and traditional items, like strings of dried red paprika peppers and handmade lace.

While in Szentendre you will also visit the quirky Marzipan Museum, filled with surprising statues and scenes all modeled from almond paste.

Enjoy a farewell dinner in Szentendre this evening to celebrate the successful completion of your tour.

Boscolo Budapest Hotel or similar (B, L, D)

June 13: Depart Budapest

The tour concludes with transfers to the airport for international departure.

(B, time permitting)


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