(This is the 18th post of our Croatia-Budapest trip, June-July 2014)
Sunday, June 29
We start this day with breakfast, which is the lower level, but open to the main floor. This is looking down into the eating area. What follows are all the different stations and possibilities for breakfast.
Budapest is basically two cities: Buda and Pest, but were joined ages and ages ago. The basic rule is Buda is on the hill, and Pest is on the flats. We decided to explore St. Matthias Church on Castle Hill, since it was Sunday, and also because the sun was still out. We were always cognizant of the weather reports.
Outside the Metro station: a blind zebra-ed elephant (above) and a tribute to Raoul Wallenberg (below).We found our way to Bus #16, which took us to the top of the hill, along with HORDES of other tourists. The tourist industry is alive and well here.
Looking down towards Pest, situated across the Danube River. I have a fond attachment to that river, as it rolls through Austria as well, the very first place where Dave and I traveled (on our honeymoon). I still remember walking down to the river one night from our little bed and breakfast, slipping off my sandals and dipping my feet into the chilly water. As the famous saying goes, you never step foot in the same river twice, and there’s been a lot of rivers since that moment years ago.
This area is known as the Fisherman’s Bastion, as fishermen used to guard this area above the fish market just below during the Middle Ages, however all these current structures date from the 1896 reconstruction efforts. The church still wasn’t open so we explored the small plaza next to St. Matthias’ church, with these bas reliefs at the base of the equestrian statue. The ornately tiled roof reminded me of the one on St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb, but I couldn’t find any information linking the two. Here’s a closeup from the internet:
This is the Turul Bird, a mythical bird of Magyar folktales, which supposedly led the Hungarian migrations “from the steppes of Central Asia in the ninth century. He dropped his sword. . . indicating that this was to be the permanent home of the Magyar people. . . and remains a symobl of Hungarian pride.” This is at the entrance into the Royal Palace plaza on the Danube side, near this gate: A mildly hot day, we walked to the very end of the upper area near the Royal Palace (below, home to several museums which we didn’t see) to a long promontory which gives a great views of Pest, the flatland city. Apparently, this hill is “considered one of the last foothills of the Alps” so everything before is a part of the “Great Hungarian Plain.” (quotes from our Rick Steves’ guidebook) That bridge to the left is the Chain Bridge, which we’ll walk on on our last day.
We walked back up to the church on the other side, with views into those foothills. Along the way, we looked in all the stalls for souvenirs, for we are Departure-Day-minus-3 and we have almost no souvenirs from this trip, which causes me great stress, and Dave, none at all. But all of the little stalls seemed to be stocked with stuff we’d never want to take home, like kerchiefs from China, straw hats and overly made-up dolls (think: Dolly Parton) in cheap native costuming. So we settled for sharing a soda, while letting the breeze float around us, cooling us off.
In we go. But first, a little story about how we became compatible tourists. It all started in a hilltown in Italy when we shared one camera. I’d stop to take a picture of every detail, doorknob, post box then hand it over to Dave, who was muttering about how long I took and then would stand at the edge of whatever view sight there was and take landscape photo after landscape photo, the camera held out at arms length, then would swing the camera around on the strap when he was walking somewhere, which gave me hysteria, as I imagined the camera going flying across some cobblestone street and crushed by a car. We were a good team, if you consider the subject of the photos, but in reality, sharing one camera became like sharing one toothbrush. Not advisible for marital harmony. So we bought two and touristed happily ever after.
Until this morning when somehow, some way, we discovered that Dave’s camera doesn’t work. It can take photos through the view finder, but we have come to depend on the use of our articulating screens to capture what we see. I decide to swap him, seeing if I can go old-school and use the view finder, but I can tell, like so much else of our modern life, that I am completely acclimated to the swing out screen and this will be a challenge, esp. for close-ups and detail shots, which are my favorite thing to take. He also is swinging my camera around by the strap, which as mentioned before, completely freaks me out.
So as a result, nearly all of the excellent photos below are taken by Dave, except for when he’d come and find me and I’d use it for a while. I’m also still recovering from Traveling with the Relatives, so I can’t say I was a great contributor to a harmonious day. So it was good to be in a church with lots of gorgeous space and rich, decorative surfaces to distract and mellow out. This was a beautiful place. Enjoy the photos:
Time heals all wounds and so does lunch, even if it is just a crisp, oh-so-deliciously-chilled salad with hearty bread. The camera is still not working and Dave figures it’s something like a loose wire, so he keeps gripping it and flipping it open with force, further causing some alarm. It just won’t be fixed, so we move forward into the rest of the day, with a subway ride over to the Jewish Synagogue.
I was fascinated that I could look all the way down the train, with no doors in between cars.Also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue, this Jewish Synagogue is the biggest in Europe and the second biggest after the synagogue in New York City. It was loosely patterned after the descriptions of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, which explains the two tall towers. Many think this synagogue feels very Catholic-like.
Like many other reconstructions of Budapest, these massive chandeliers are recasts of the originals, the World War II having destroyed what hung here before. The pews are original, as are the nameplates:
After touring the interior, we went outside to the garden behind the synagogue, to see this elegant sculptured Tree of Life by Imre Varga, honoring Holocaust victims. The “willow makes an upside-down menorah, and each of the 4,000 metal leaves is etched with a name….New leaves are added all the time, donated by families of the victims.”The Hebrew inscription reads, “Is there a bigger pain than mine?”
The tour guide passes us off to someone else, who walks us through the Jewish Quarter, where we saw this beautiful facade of a building. We make our way back, then sit on the low stone wall, our energy flagging.
Near us is a red bus with Viking Cruises emblazoned on the side. We watch a lot of PBS television, so waited to see the fabulous-looking people that they depict in their advertisements. We are so tired that sitting on a hard stone wall is a good thing, while waiting to see who shows up. Suddenly the young man bounces out of the bus, holds up a Viking Cruises paddle and waggles it back and forth. A stream of older folks, older than us perhaps, in highly cushioned athletic shoes, baggy pants and wilted expressions slowly makes their way past their guide and onto the bus. We realize that Viking Cruises, while fabulous and helpful, are still in the tour business and they still have to deal with folks like us. We collect ourselves and jump on a tram, two equally wilted tourists riding away from yet another noted tourist attraction.
Dave nudges me after a while. “Let’s get off here.” Here? Why not.
We are in a small square of some anonymity, anchored by this enormous statue at the edge of a building, the soldier caught in motion as he falls, his countrymen and Liberty (?) herself reaching out to catch him–a memorial to those who died in World War I.
And then this fabulous fountain–a book of turning pages.
We find out later that we are in University Square, with terrific little bits of urban art, sculptured lightpoles and a few restaurants, all surrounded by the university buildings.
While we do end up eating at the cafe shown above, we first start on the opposite side of the square, for we always have to check every restaurant in the area before deciding where to eat. But after the friendly English-speaking woman who greeted us sat us down, took off the pristine table cloth to reveal a tattered table, brought us a menu in Hungarian, I bailed and went to the little place above, which promised free Wifi, but we never could get it to work. Never mind.
The stuffed squash’s stuffing was pretty good, but the squash needed a few more minutes in the oven. We were the first ones, typical of English-speaking tourists of a certain age with thick athletic shoes on their feet, so we think we probably surprised the kitchen.
The dessert was great.
We found our way home at the end of that day, climbed the steps to our hotel and crashed.