Saturday, September 22, 2012

Budapest: Paris of the East

Flick through the history of Budapest and it’s abundantly clear that for every flourishing of the arts and music,
Hungarian State Folk Ensemble
for every golden decade filled with pastries and coffee,

Hungarian Kremes
residents have had to endure less lovely periods. Suffering invasions by the Turks, the Germans and the Communists,
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956
the city’s Magyarians developed a taste for both decadence and rebellion, tempered by a sunny resignation.

We flew from San Francisco to Frankfurt on an A380 ~
Configured with 526 seats, quiet and comfortable cabin, great
entertainment system, wonderful service. The 12 hour flight 
seemed more like a cross country US flight.
Upon arriving in Frankfurt we met up with Mark and Ellie, our traveling companions for the next 9 days. Frankfurt being our connection onto Budapest.

Flight 1338 Frankfurt to Budapest

Ellie, Joan's sister, and Mark
 our favorite out-law

Landing at Ferenc Liszt International Airport mid-afternoon, we quickly passed through passport control, and were met at the Arrival Hall and delivered to our hotel.

St. George Residence: The St. George Hotel stands on
 a UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Buda Castle
After settling into our rooms, we walked down the street for an early dinner ~

21 Magyar Vendeglo
A casual yet modern bistro in the heart of the Castle District. Reviewed as  "contemporary takes on traditional Hungarian cuisine complemented by an all-Hungarian wine list". The food was delicious, the local wine surprisingly good, service was pleasant, and we all agreed that the restaurant was just right for our first evening.

We turned in early after enduring the 18 or so hours of traveling and we knew that morning would come soon as we anticipated a full day of getting to know Budapest.

After an adequate breakfast we were met by our tour guide ~

Dobos Imre
Idegenvezető - Reiseleiter - Guide
(Hungarian - German - English)
We arranged for Imre, as guide and driver, to introduce us to the city's highlights in 5 hours. Budapest is divided by the Danube River into two distinct city environments ~ Buda and Pest.

Due to the exceedingly scenic setting, and its architecture it is nicknamed "Paris of the East". The local pronunciation can be approximated by "boo-dah-pesht". In 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.

Budapest is a city of nearly two million people and covers an area of 200 square miles, is the capital of Hungary, and possesses a long, rich and storied history... a challenge even for the most seasoned travelers. Hilly Buda lies on the western bank of the Danube and it's mostly a residential area. Pest stands on a plain and it's more businesslike with its shops and boulevards. On this half-day guided tour Imre took us to Budapest's best destinations and provided the perfect introduction to the city.

Before heading down the hill and over to Pest we quickly viewed ~
The National Archives of Hungary...the cardboard chef on
the left side of the street is "standing" in front of our hotel.
 and the remains of Saint Mary Magdalene Church ~
The church was originally built in the mid 13th Century.
 This Baroque tower is all that remains after the devastating
 bombing of WWII.
Recovered relic from the church
Down the hill, south along the Danube, past Gellert Hill ~  
The Statue of Liberty stands atop Gellert Hill.

The statue was erected in 1947 celebrating the Soviet's liberation of Hungary from the Axis powers in World War II. The original inscription translated to "To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes[erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945". Later when sentiment towards the Soviets had shifted that was replaced with the current inscription - "To the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary"
over the Liberty Bridge ~
The Szabadság hid or Liberty Bridge connects Buda and Pest
 across the River Danube. At its two ends are: Gellért tér (at
 the foot of Gellért Hill) and Fővám tér (with the Great Market
 and past the Great Market Hall ~
The Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall is the largest
 indoor market in Budapest. A distinctive architectural feature
 is the roof which was restored to have colorful Zsolnay tiling.
While we drove by many landmarks and points of interest, with the understanding we would be free to revisit on a self guided basis that afternoon and the next day, our next stop was the Great Synagogue & Holocaust Memorial ~
Dohány Street Synagogue (also known as the
 Grand or Great Synagogue).

Budapest was once the site of one of Europe largest and most vibrant Jewish communities and today contains the world's second largest synagogue
The Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs.
Made by Imre Varga, it resembles a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of victims.
Our next destination was Városliget Park. This was our third stop on our tour; we parked and spent the next hour or so exploring Budapest's 302 acre city park and its landmarks.
Castle of Vajdahunyadvár
Built for the Millennium World Exhibition in 1896, the Castle of Vajdahunyadvár has the replicas of the four most outstanding buildings in Hungary. These are the Roman chapel of Jak, the Neo-Gothic Castle of Vajdahunyadvár, and the Renaissance palace of Visegrad and the Baroque Palace of Godollo.

We briefly visited the Neo-Baroque Széchenyi Baths ~

Ceiling of the entrance hall to the baths.

We went no farther than the entrance hall as we made arrangements to return, the following day, for massages and an afternoon of enjoying its eighteen indoor and outdoor thermal pools.

Next we walked towards where Andrássy Avenue meets the park. Here we discovered Heroes' Square ~ 

Heroes' Square

Heroes' Square is one of the most-visited attractions in Budapest, both by visitors and locals. The centerpiece of the square is the Millennium Monument, built in 1896 to
commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest.
Returning to the car, we headed down the beautiful tree-shaded Andrássy Avenue. Our next stop was in front of St. Stephen's Basilica ~

 Main entrance of St. Stephen's Basilica
A Roman Catholic basilica. This is the most important church building in Hungary and one of its most significant tourist attractions.

Inside St. Stephen's Basilica
As time of our tour was expiring faster than we would could walk, we headed back across the river. Crossing the landmark Chain Bridge ~
The bridge is anchored on the Pest side of the river to Széchenyi
 Square, adjacent to the Gresham Palace, and on the Buda side to
Clark Adam Square, near the lower end of Castle Hill Funicular,
 leading to the Royal Palace Castle as seen in the background.

Back up the hill to the Castle District we parked and got out. While we had driven through this area before, both on arriving at our hotel the day before as well as this morning on our way to Pest, to get out and walk around was incredible. First ~
Located in the heart of the Castle District,
Matthias Church was built in the 13th century
and was Budapest's first parish church.

View of Matthias Church from near the front of our
hotel, the following morning.

Nearby, we visited the Fisherman's Bastion ~  

Fisherman's Bastion
and bronze statue of Stephen I of Hungary

The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages.
Joan and Ellie standing in an archway of the Bastion with
Matthias Church  to the right and behind them.
Here, we left our guide Imre and returned to our hotel. After a bit of freshening up it was time for lunch. We chose a place down the hill. Our walk to the restaurant took us down many steps and through a residential neighborhood. We arrived "hungry" at ~

Csalogány 26
A small, unassuming Hungarian bistro. Delicious, three-course lunch served by friendly and professional staff. With our hunger satisfied and a full afternoon ahead of us we wandered off, on foot, towards the Chain Bridge. After crossing the bridge we walked up the Danube Promenade and visited a very unique and moving tribute to murdered Jews ~
The Emotional Work of Gyula Pauer and Can Togay.
The shoes "belonged" to those victims shot by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45 (Arrow Cross was the Hungarian national socialist pro-Nazi party). The victims were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot and, obviously, their bodies fell into the river and it took them far, far away.
Continuing up the Danube Promenade we encountered the magnificent Hungarian Parliament ~

The Hungarian Parliament Building
The construction of the Parliament building began in 1885 and was completed in 1904. Forty million bricks were used in the building process as well as half a million precious stones and 88 pounds of gold! Inside the building there are 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 27 gates, and 29 staircases and 691 rooms.
We did not go inside because of time coupled with the danger of leaping over a fence and crossing four lanes of busy traffic. However, if we had entered it certainly would have been spectacular ...
Chamber of the Lower House of the
 National Assembly of Hungary
and ...

Central Hall ceiling under the dome


As the day was winding down we stopped for wine at the Gresham Palace

Gresham Palace
Gresham Palace is an example of Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe. Built during the early 1900s, it is now a Four Seasons Hotel.

Art Nouveau wrought iron Peacock Gate
Ironwork of outstanding quality. Peacocks (feathers and the full birds) have been widely used in Hungarian (folk) art since the 18th century and probably earlier.

Finishing our wine we began our trip back to the hotel. Being on the Pest side and needing to return to the Buda side we crossed the Chain Bridge, once again, as sunset approached.
Imposing stone lion

The work of sculptor János Marschalkó, guard the bridge on either side. According to legend, the sculptor threw himself in the river when, during the bridge's opening ceremony, a spectator proclaimed that the lions had no tongues. In reality the lions do have tongues (they're just not easily visible) and the sculptor lived on for several more decades.
Reaching the Castle Hill Funicular, on the Buda side ~

Budapest Castle Hill Funicular
 (Budavári Sikló)  
In 1945, at the end of World War II, a bombardment destroyed the stations and carriages. For a long time it looked like that was the end of Budapest's funicular. Fortunately the Sikló was restored in the 1980s and it reopened in June 1986. The original carriages have been replaced by beautiful replicas and modern glass stations were built at the foot and top of the funicular, now powered by an electric winch.

Joan, during the 1-2 minute ride to the top, caught ~

Chain Bridge at sunset
Margaret Bridge at sunset
Arriving back at the hotel, we were exhausted from the day. Meeting up with Ellie and Mark we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant and were soon off to bed.

Morning arrived and after a quick breakfast we were off again. Today we were going to be on our own as Ellie and Mark wanted to try a Hop-On, Hop-Off experience of Budapest ~
A combined bus and boat hop-on, hop-off tour gives
 you access to more than 25 stops around Budapest.

We arranged for a taxi to take us to the Great Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok ) ~

Központi Vásárcsarnok 
The market is located near the Pest end of the Liberty Bridge. Local people shop for their daily fare he undaunted by tourists roaming up and down the aisles.
There are aisles of fresh vegetables, stands of fowl and meat, shops with wine and liquor. The only problem a guest faces is trying to choose from the salami, strings of red peppers and packets of saffron. Far in the back, a few farmers come in from the country with honey, peppers and fresh berries in season.

Most of the stalls on the ground floor offer produce, meats, pastries, candies, spices, and spirits such as paprika, tokaji, túró rudi, and caviar. The second floor has mainly eateries and souvenirs. The basement contains a supermarket, fish market, and pickles. Not only do they have traditional cucumber pickles, but they also offer pickled cauliflower, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and garlic.
 The Lángos stand, which Rick Steves considers to be the
 best at the market, is located on the 2nd floor.
What was the most amazing was seeing local folks, mostly older, who at 9:00 in the morning were having roasted turkey drumsticks and beer for breakfast.

Walking out the front entrance of the Great Market Hall we crossed Fővám Tér  and began a stroll down Vaci Utca ~

Anna Cafe, at the start of pedestrian Vaci Utca (southern end)

Café Gerbeaud is one of the greatest and most traditional 
coffeehouses in Europe (northern end at Vörösmarty tér 7-8).
At Café Gerbeaud, we stopped and shared  a slice of a Esterhazy torte featuring, what was described as, six layers of walnut dacquoise interspersed with brandy-vanilla butter cream. Oh, how delightful in must have been living in Budapest during a "golden decade filled with pastries and coffee".

Leaving the cafe, we walked down a flight or two of stairs and jumped on the metro ~

Vörösmarty Square Station

Millennium Underground (M1)
MiIt is the third oldest underground railway system in the world, only the London Underground, 1863 and the Mersey Railway at Liverpool, 1886, pre-dates the railway.
Széchenyi Fürdő  Station
Disembarking at Széchenyi fürdő (Bath) we made our way up the stairs to find ourselves next to one of the largest thermal bathing complexes in Europe. Budapest has fifteen public thermal baths and countless private thermal spas located in the area's luxury hotels, however, we chose to experience Széchenyi Bath & Spa ~

Széchenyi Bath & Spa


To us, the environs had a pleasurable effect on our body and mood. We were ready to take the plunge but first we scheduled and enjoyed massages. Gus' massage was particularly focused on releasing tension in certain trigger points in the body.
Next, we explored just about every bath in the complex and found that we enjoyed the outdoor pool setting with it's Neo-Baroque style with areas of streaming water and effervescent fountains.
The water is known to contain substantial amounts of naturally occurring minerals and is said to cure degenerative illnesses of the joints, inflammations of all sorts as well as metabolic disturbances. Széchenyi draws it's waters from the deepest and hottest thermal well in all of Budapest. Each pool is temperature controlled and different from the next.
There are three outdoor pools ~

"Nearer Pool"
The nearer pool is geared more towards sedate conversation, chess and a slightly more introspective crowd  with large gatherings of people in conversation or huddled around gaming tables. 
"Center Pool"
The one in the center is large & relatively cool in temperature and is used mostly for exercise (people swimming laps). 

"The Far Pool"
The far pool is quite fun and seems to be geared more towards youth, having a fast-jet spiral that draws raucous laughter out of those spinning through

Joan was taken by the casual, non-self conscious pleasure that each person seemed to enjoy as well as the age diversity of the crowd (and it was quite crowded). Old and young, groups and solitary individuals all enjoying a lovely and healthy experience.

In the outdoor area there is food and drink for purchase as well as friendly games of checkers and chess which were played ...


... while consuming a blend of local beer with crushed ice and fresh, muddled lemon. 
The pools, the impressive neo-Baroque architecture, and the wonderful Magyars enjoyng a Friday afternoon at the Baths, made for an unforgettable visit.

We returned to the Széchenyi Fürdő  Metro station and boarded the M1 (yellow line). 
Budapest M1 Metro
We exited the underground five stations later at Oktogon and walked a few blocks to the House of Terror Museum ~

Terror Háza ~ commemorates the victims of terror as well
as a reminder of the dreadful acts of terror carried out by
Illustrating the grim decades of Nazi and Communist repression, the museum is the former headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments. The building's awning has the word TERROR cut out of it, and when the sun projects through these letters, it symbolizes the terror which was projected onto the Hungarian people for fifty years. 

We had two hours before the museum was to close; there were no audio guides and all of the exhibits' formal descriptions were written in Hungarian only. We were forced to rely on limited "handouts" available in English to gain a general understanding of the untold suffering the Hungarian people endured yet still maintained a resilience that is short only of amazing.
Leaving the museum we both needed to think, reflect, and calm down. Rather than reboard the Metro we decided to walk. It was shortly after 6:00 pm on a Friday as we strolled down the iconic Andrássy út. People were beginning their weekend and we soon found a small restaurant with outdoor seating. We chose a table conducive to "people watching" and ordered wine and "light bites". The wine was a Hungarian red (cannot remember the variety) and delicious. The food, which we shared, included a small salad and a roasted duck breast ... the salad was ordinary while the duck breast was spectacular ... Hungary is well known for its culinary canards.
Finishing our early evening "late lunch" we jumped back onto the Metro and rode it back to Vörösmarty tér. Coming up from the underground we crossed the Square and headed toward the River. The evening was unfolding nicely; the weather was pleasant, people and lights were coming out and coming on, and music  was in the air 
Dunacorso Restaurant

Another view of Dunacorso Restaurant and a Bit of
Strolling and Milling Around on the Danube Promenade

The Chain Bridge from the Danube Promenade
We walked our way back across the Chain Bridge and back to the Castle Hill Funicular. It was getting a bit late. We expected that Ellie and Mark might be waiting for us; the evening had tilted past "regular" dinner time.
Pre-boarding and boarding the funicular coupled with our short ride up the hill, we realized that the approaching night sky was ready for some very awesome photographs.

Royal Palace I
(view from Clark Adam Square)

Royal Palace II
(view from Clark Adam Square)

 The magnificant picture of the Chain Bridge was taken from the funicular ~
Chain Bridge
We disembarked, like the evening before, at St George's Square ~
Hungarian Parliament

On our scurry back to the hotel ~

Matthias Church I
(Joan's view from lying on her back)

Matthias Church II
(Joan's view from lying on her back)
As Joan got up from the ground, dusted herself off, put the cover on the camera and we headed up Fortuna Utca, Ellie and Mark rounded the corner ... "how 'bout dinner?" We first we tried Alabárdos ... no ... then Café Pierrot ... no ... then Pest•Buda ... no, oh well ~


Our last night in Budapest and we had dinner in an Italian restaurant, whose name I cannot recall. However, I do remember a delicious torchon of foie gras  that I had ...

Tomorrow morning we are off to Vienna.


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