’12 Aug: Budapest, Hungary
Including a visit to Vac and a couple of nights in Sopron.
It’s been all about eating out with friends for days. Not much better than that – friends and food.
Tomorrow is our Un-Birthday Party for the girls, and then Sunday, Bon Voyage!
Aug 27-03 Budapest (leave lax on the 26th)
Sep 04-05 Sopron, Hungary
Sep 06-15 Vienna (+Salsburg and/or Bratislava)
Sep 16-18 Brno, Czech Republic
Sep 19-25 Prague
Sep 26-04 Wroclaw, Poland to Dresden
Oct 05-06 Hanover/Stadthagen
Oct 07-16 Berlin
Funny story .. on my outbound LA flight one of the escape slides/life boats ‘got broke’ and couldn’t be fixed and so we sat on the ground for three hours waiting for 56 people to volunteer to be re-booked. We needed 56 because that’s the number assigned to the broken slide/life boats.
Amsterdam is a major transportation hub, less a major destination, and almost everyone was traveling from there to other places far and wide so it was extremely complicated to get people re-organized who had already missed their connections.
Lucky me, I had a five hour layover in Amsterdam and didn’t miss my connection to Budapest and the guy sitting next to me volunteered so not only did I make my connection but I also flew in excellent comfort.
The Amsterdam Airport, entirely in English. Not even Dutch subtitles, just English. People, not knowing what other people spoke, spoke to strangers in English.
I often remember when one of the Dutch ladies on last year’s safari would shake her finger at me and declare that I didn’t appreciate sufficiently that I always got to speak in my mother tongue and I would assert that yes I did appreciate it but that I was in awe of those who could communicate so effortlessly in many languages. It was our dance.
The courtyard in the building where I’m staying, the Corvin Point Hostel. That’s artillery damage from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.
It was a little freaky at first, damaged and run-down that it felt, but now that I’m settled in it feels quite normal. I’ve got a small private room with great windows, a bathroom, fridge, tv, desk, and cupboard. Even a/c that you have to pay extra to use but just opening the windows has done the trick. I should add that the room and the corridors are perfectly clean.
Dohány Street Synagogue, largest synagogue in Europe and fifth largest in the world. I have to swing by again because I was there so early it was closed.
It was completed in 1859 in the Moorish Revival style. There were many other buildings too reminding me that Hungary was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1541 to 1699.
The structure suffered severe damage during WWII and was not restored until 1991-1998.
St. Stephen’s Basilica, neo-classical in design and opened in 1905.
Named for the first king of Hungary who died in 1038, his ‘incorruptible right hand’ is here, a relic, and point of pilgrimage for the faithful. When I tried to get into the place where I thought it was a cleaning lady shooed me away, so maybe I’ll try again on that one too.
Ms Wiki says that there is a law in Budapest stating that no building can be taller than the Basilica and thinking back I can’t remember seeing any that are. Can that be?
A view of the Parliament building, seat of the National Assembly of Hungary.
So much of it was covered in scaffolds and draping that I couldn’t get much of a view. Anyway I think the big dramatic view is from, or across from, the river so I’ll have to catch it another day and I’ll write more about it then.
Coming home, this is my corner bakery shop. Nearly every block has at least two bakeries and sometimes more. They all have breads and sweets and savories and all the offerings I’ve tasted are wonderful.
These shops as well as pizza places and shawarma shops and sandwich slices work just right for street food. You can pick up a handful of deliciousness and continue on your way. Right up my alley!
Today I woke up with a great desire to have Hungarian Fish Soup for lunch and the guy at the hostel recommended this place, Szeged, on the Buda side just over the (very handsome) Szabadság híd – the Liberty Bridge.
(btw When I get the letter-marks in a word it’s because I did a copy-paste from some other source. Hungarian has many marks above their letters which I haven’t figured out yet, so the words I actually type might not be correct.)
I asked for ‘beer and fish soup’ and this is what they brought. There was half a loaf of bread in that basket which I also ate, all of it.
The beer was cold and refreshing and the bread was nice and chewy. I wanted to strip the thick fatty skin off the fish, and I added two scoops of the hot pepper condiment, and then the soup was totally delicious.
Just outside the restaurant was one of the many large and popular spas in Budapest, Gellert Spa, lovely but not the spa I had chosen to visit.
The Buda side has castles and the palace, and also plenty of viewing opportunities because of the hills. Also because of the hills I haven’t ventured to tour this side yet.
…Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the River Danube embankments and the whole of the boulevard Andrássy út).
This is the Matthias Church. I do like to list all the architectural styles because I can never guess .. the 1015 structure was Romanesque, then in the mid-1300s it was rebuilt in ‘the florid late Gothic style’, and extensively restored in the late 19th century.
The gate leading into the Buda Palace. They were having a festival here and the only way to get in was to buy a ticket.
I asked what the festival was celebrating. The young woman at the ticket counter told me that ‘in theory’ (she said those words!) it was a music festival, and loud music was already a factor, but actually, she said, it was all about beer. Loud music and beer – hmmm I think I’ll give that one a pass.
From Ms Wiki: “The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay on the bank of the Danube River in Budapest.
“It honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.”
Text from the dedication: “The composition entitled ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ gives remembrance to the people shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror.
“The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40 meter long, 70 cm high stone bench. At three points are cast iron signs, with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.”
The Chain Bridge and the Buda Palace are in the background.
The balcony food stalls were packed. I totally misjudged my timing and showed up here around 12:30.
I heard that Rick Steves recommends one of these places where all they serve is a local style pizza, and the line for that stand was halfway down the whole hall. I didn’t wait because it looked like just a thick slab of greasy bread with some spread on top.
Now I think I made Another mistake because later I learned the spread was a garlic-y paste which totally sounds like something to try.
There are 10 bridges crossing the Danube between Buda and Pest. This is the Liberty Bridge.
I had to go back to my place to get out of the heat. It’s been too hot these last four days especially in the middle of the day. It’s been high-80s, today was 91, all the days were bright and sunny, and too hot!
These guys are “the Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin.” Ms Wiki says there’s not much available information about them and called their costumes and horses ‘fanciful’.
It’s almost 7pm and it’s still too hot! And yet for some reason my room has been comfortable the whole time. Weird. Maybe the old construction, thick walls, courtyard .. I don’t know, but I haven’t felt the need to pony up for the a/c yet.
My room at the Corvin Point Hostel which costs about $60 per night. Not ‘almost free’ but I’m pleased. There’s plenty of room in the big cupboard, a large desk, a fridge, a tv, a decent bathroom. The second bed does always end up as a ‘sorting station’ which is quite handy.
The hostel is a half block off a very busy street and two blocks from a nice transportation hub. With the windows open for cooling you definitely hear comings and goings both motorized and otherwise but I’m not bothered eventhough 5% of this noise would bother me at home.
We had a rainy morning which gave me a nice lay-about and it got so much cooler. Ahhhh.
These trams are like a speeding sidewalk around the city, so bright and clean. They come every 2 minutes, another one another one another one, around the big ring road making all the tourist sites within no more than a 30 minute walk.
But sometimes you don’t want to do the 30 minutes, or you’re going from one part of town to another and don’t want to walk back to the ring, or you’re going up hill, and then the subways work amazingly well. They come regularly, they’re clean and fast, and easy to figure out.
I can’t find a map showing what buses go where making them a little more problematic to use but they are everywhere.
This is a quiet Saturday morning and cooled off because of the rain.
From about 4pm on places like this crowd the streets full of folks chain smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. A few are connected to the hundreds of Middle Eastern restaurants that all serve the similar shawarma fare that you can find up and down Westwood Blvd.
There’s a shawarma place on my street, they happen to be Syrian, and I’ve had their salads, dolmas, hummus, etc. several times and it’s always good.
Although I generally don’t use restaurants much anyway with the heat it’s been particularly difficult.
Most of the restaurants have these patios that open to the inside dining area where the guests outside are chain smoking while inside you’re getting plenty of floating smoke And it’s too hot to be comfortable.
At least there’s no smoking inside so that’s something to be grateful for, but on the street EVeryone is smoking. So much so that I get more than my daily dose just walking around.
So I went out on the rainy morning when it was cooler to eat inside a restaurant.
The breakfast was very nice – eggs with lots of onions, cheese, and spicy sausage piled on top of tasty French fries. But the best part was the coffee. I hadn’t had coffee for several days because I couldn’t figure out when I would sleep again so this cup tasted particularly delicious.
And the bread .. YUM. The crust was both crisp and chewy, just the way I like it, and the inside was both dense and soft, just the way I like it, and dipped into that second cup of coffee it tasted heavenly.
…to one of the three train stations to get tickets for a round-trip excursion to another river town for Monday and the ticket to take me to Sopron on Tuesday.
All sorted. (When one travels one ends up using a lot of Brit-isms because it seems most often local people have learned English from someone who learned English in England.)
The church on the main square.
About the mummy museum (I love that, Mummy Bonanza): “The exhibit in Vác, Hungary is the result of a mummy bonanza discovered during routine restoration of the town’s Dominican church. In 1994 workers discovered a secret crypt that had been bricked up for over 200 years. Inside, 265 hand painted coffins (and reportedly each beautiful and unique) were stacked, one on top of the other, in order of size. Inside, the occupants had naturally mummified, due to perfect conditions of temperature and aridity.”
Like the other museum it is closed on Monday and this time I couldn’t find anyone around. I looked up the story on the internet and am So sorry to have missed it.
It’s my last night in Budapest so I stopped off at all my favorite spots on my street – poppy seed pastry from the bakery; hummus, eggplant salad, hot pepper sauce, and a pita from the Syrian place; groceries from the mini-market. Yum.
And a/c, wow. That’s the a/c controller that I bought for tonight so I’m sure to sleep well for my early departure.
Köszönöm! That’s thank you in Hungarian, an expression that seemed guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of everyone I had occasion to thank, and let me add that I did say it very well thanks to the BBC.
I’m now a total devotee of the BBC free language lessons online. Here’s the website http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages. There’s a section for travel expressions spoken clearly with the written text too. It’s fantastic. Some languages have extensive lessons but Hungarian was not one of them. But basically Thank You did the trick because English is so prevalent.
This is Ms Wiki’s aerial view, the town center being what you can see surrounded by the larger road. My place is in there – I think I can see it in the lower right but I’m not 100% sure on that.
Sopron has a long history, beginning from the time of the Roman Empire. Ms Wiki: “The architecture of the old section of town reflects its long history; walls and foundations from the Roman Empire are still common, together with a wealth of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque structures, often artistically decorated, showing centuries of stability and prosperity.”
There are a couple of pictures of the church from yesterday and these are the front doors. Wow on the hinges.
And btw, this church reeeally loooves to ring their bells. They ring every hour the number of the hour and every 15 minutes, 1 for 15 after, 2 for 30 after, and so on. All Day and All Night Long. At 6am they ring for minutes. And I don’t even mind.
…Medieval Synagogue now restored and turned into a museum. There were once as many as four synagogues in Sopron but none are active today.
The outside, behind another building, and the inside of where the men pray, with the pretty windows, handsome seats not shown in this picture, the bimah which you also can’t see, and the ark for the torah.
This is where the women pray. An empty room basically with a bench along one wall, and some holes in the opposite wall so the women can peer into the men’s area. It reminds me of this scene in Jerusalem of the women peering into the men’s area of the Wailing Wall.