a stopover in sopron, hungary

Wednesday, September 27:  Early this morning, we pack our bags and head out to the tram stop on a main road in Budapest; from there, we take the tram to Budapest Keleti Railway Terminal and buy our tickets for the 9:10 train to Sopron, Hungary, on the border of Austria.  The ticket salesperson doesn’t tell us to which platform we should go, so we stand with a crowd of people studying an electronic board, all in Hungarian, trying to make sense of things.  As we’re waiting, we run into John, the jolly Irishman we met in Esztergom when we took the cruise up the Danube. He has been staying in Budapest for a week and taking day trips out to the countryside, and today he’s going to a town we haven’t heard of.  Since he’s taken the train already, he helps us figure out the proper platform.

We say our goodbyes to John, thinking what a pleasure it was to have met him, even if only briefly.  We board the train, settling into seats #85 and #86, on car #142.  We take off at 9:10, hoping we’re on the right train.

At one stop not far along the line, some local folks come to our compartment, looking at us questioningly and pointing to their tickets. The conductor comes along to resolve the issue and we find we should be in car #141 rather than 142.  So we pull our bags from the overhead and lug them to the next car, where we take our seats among a group of friendly ladies.

There’s an electronic board in the compartment that lists the stops along the way, and Sopron doesn’t show.  We have some discussion of this with a friendly Hungarian woman who speaks English.  She and her mother, wearing dark glasses, are returning to their home in Sopron after the mother had cataract surgery in Budapest.  She assures us we’re on the right train, even though the board doesn’t list it.  After a bit, she seems to wonder about our destination herself, and she asks the conductor about it when he comes by.  The story is that the train will split at some point, and some of the cars will go to Sopron and others will peel off in an unknown direction.

This nice lady walks out of the Sopron train station with us when we arrive at 11:38 a.m.; she directs us down one of the main streets in Sopron, Malyas Kiraly; she points and tells us to keep walking until we find the Pannonia Hotel, our lodging for the night.  It’s nearly a mile walk, but before long, we find the hotel.  It’s too early to check in, but we store our bags and head out to the Inner Town to find Forum Pizzeria where we can eat lunch.

looking down Szent Gyorgy u. to the Firewatch Tower
Church on Szent Gyorgy u.
church on Szent Gyorgy u.

At Forum Pizzeria, we enjoy a pizza and a glass of wine.  Mike has a beer.  I don’t often drink wine in the afternoon as it makes me sleepy, but we feel in a celebratory mood having successfully navigated our way from one town in Hungary to another.

After lunch, we make our way to the main square, called Fő tér.  Along the way, we pass some interesting doorways, flower boxes, Roman ruins, bookstores and colorful cafes.

We return to the Pannonia Hotel to check in and we also check out the spa, which we hope to visit later.

Pannonia Hotel

We decide we’ll make a quick detour outside the Inner Town to visit a ruined Orthodox Synagogue and Holocaust memorial.  The synagogue is boarded up and in disrepair, but I love ruins.

Construction began in 1891 according to plans by Janos Schiller.  Until 1944, it was used as a house of worship.  Then it belonged to the local ghetto.  According to Lonely Planet Hungary, a plaque says that “‘1640 martyrs’ were taken from here to Auschwitz on 5 July 1944.”  We don’t see that plaque ourselves.

In 2004, it was declared a historic monument.

Synagogue ruin east of the Inner Town

The Holocaust Memorial, a sculpture of jackets with the Star of David and a pile of shoes, was built in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Sopron.  The work of Laszlo Kutas symbolizes the undressing room at the entrance to the gas chambers, according to a plaque we do find near the site.

Holocaust memorial

Returning to the Inner Town, we make our way to the main square and the Firewatch Tower.

curved buildings in Sopron
Sopron
Firewatch Tower in Sopron
Firewatch Tower in Sopron
Cafes near Storno House

The Goat Church, on the south side of Fő tér, is a mostly Gothic church originally built in the late 13th century.  It gets its name from a legend that the church was built thanks to the treasure dug up by a goat.

In front of the church is the 1701 Trinity Column, an example of a “plague pillar” in Hungary, erected by two Sopron residents to celebrate the end of the plague at the end of the 17th century.

Fő tér and the Goat Church in Sopron

The church has a mostly Baroque interior with a red-marble pulpit in the center of the south aisle.  It dates from the 15th century.

inside the Goat Church

We walk a bit more around the Inner Town, admiring the colorful architecture and the fancy carved doors.

If it were a nicer day, we’d certainly be enticed by the outdoor cafes along the way.

cafe on Fő tér
Sopron Town Hall

We then go inside the Firewatch Tower to climb the 60 meters to the top.  The tower guards watched the area and signaled a fire’s position with lanterns at night and colored flags in daytime, according to Budapest.com.

Lonely Planet Hungary says it was used by trumpeters to warn of fire, mark the hour, and watch for salespeople trying to smuggle in non-Sopron wine. The 2-meter thick square base was built on a Roman gate from the 12th century and the cylindrical middle and Baroque balcony are from the 16th century.

The Firewatch Tower is the symbol of allegiance from 1921, celebrating a referendum in which Sopron and eight neighboring villages expressed their wish to remain part of Hungary (instead of Austria), according to Budapest.com.

Firewatch Tower
yellow building on Fő tér

When we finally climb the 200 steps to the top, we have a tremendous view of Sopron and the Lövér Hills to the southwest.  Supposedly, one can see the Austrian Alps to the west, but we can’t see them on this overcast day.

Fő tér from the Firewatch Tower
Sopron from the Firewatch Tower
Sopron from the Firewatch Tower

Near the Town Hall, we find the love locks that seem to be present everywhere these days.

love locks in Sopron

Behind the Town Hall are the Roman ruins.  Sopron was once an important town along the Amber Road, the ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from the coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.

The most important sights of the mosaic-like “Archeological Park” in Scarbantia are the town fortifications, Roman roads, the Forum and the Amphitheatre.

Roman ruins

The Forum of Scarbantia was completed according to typical Italian patterns in the mid-2nd century A.D. during the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), although the stone buildings were made under Traianus (98-117) and Hadrianus (117-138).

Roman ruins

We walk a bit more around Sopron’s Inner Town, a great deal of which seems to be under construction or renovation.

Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town

Our last stop is the Old Synagogue, built at the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th; it contains two rooms, one for men and one for women.  According to the Soproni Muzeum website, it was a tabernacle, an assembly hall and a school also. The Jews living here dealt with trade and finance and were not really rich people although they managed to build up this Gothic-styled synagogue, which is fairly unique in Central Europe.

According to Lonely Planet Hungary, the Jews were evicted from Sopron in 1526 after being accused of plotting with the Turks.

The two centers of the synagogue are the Torah niche and the pulpit, or “bima.” The niche is richly decorated with bunches of grapes and leaves in natural colors on the stone frames and pediment. The stained glass windows around the top of the room seem oddly out-of-place. The inscriptions on the walls date from 1490.

Finally, we walk back through the Inner Town to rest in our hotel a bit before finding a place for dinner.

While relaxing in our room, Mike researches a good restaurant and finds one outside the Inner Town called Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem.  It’s a long walk southwest, past the train station.  The reviews are so good that we decide we’ll take the trek.  We pass through the parts of town where the locals live, enjoying the flower shops and parks along the way.

Our walk takes us past churches, parks, colorful buildings and statues.

church we pass on the walk to the restaurant
Deak ter
statue in Deak Ter
statue in Deak Ter
orange bicycle

We finally arrive at Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem, or Hunting Horn Guest-House and Restaurant, a pension and restaurant run by a husband and wife, Mr. And Mrs. Bausz.

Mike at Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem
Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem

We are the first ones to arrive and Mr. Bausz greets us warmly, speaking fluent English.

We enjoy our meal here so much!  Not only is the food delicious, but the owner is super friendly and attentive to our every need.  He also keeps bringing us wines to taste, and by the end of the meal, we have tasted at least five wines from the Sopron Road of Wine.  The whole time, I’m needlessly worried that we will be charged for these numerous wine tastings, and with every glass he pours, I imagine Hungarian Forints being added to our bill!

For appetizers, Mike orders the cream soup of the day, and I get stuffed cabbage.  At least I finally get my stuffed cabbage before leaving Hungary, and it is spectacular! Mike has Pike perch fillet with parsley potatoes and I have chicken paprika with home-made gnocchi.  Each bite is like heaven.  We both enjoy delicious pastry desserts with ice cream.

When we get our bill, we are shocked, but NOT by its exorbitance.  I can’t believe after ordering one glass of wine each, appetizers, desserts, and dinner, plus tasting five different wines, our meal is only 31.96 euros, or about $38!!

This restaurant is a two-person operation, with the wife doing all the cooking and the husband serving.  After dinner, we ask the wonderful owners of Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem if we can take a picture of them.  They are happy to oblige.  I am still in shock over the bill and I tell them they need to charge more money!!

Mr. And Mrs. Bausz

Walking back to our hotel, we pass a playful SOPRON sign.  The church is all lit up.

SOPRON
church lit up

When we return, we have just enough time to squeeze in a half-hour visit to the spa before it closes.  We sit in a hot tub with a couple going to town kissing and rubbing against each other.  I’m thinking, “Get a room!”  But it is quite entertaining.

Tomorrow, we’ll head to Vienna.  It’s only an hour away, but this time we’ve arranged a driver.  After our easy and cheap trip to Sopron this morning, we should have had more confidence and just taken a bus or train!

Steps today: 16,851 (7.14 miles).

Advertisements

budapest: terror house & szimpla kert

Tuesday, September 26:  After leaving the Hungarian State Opera House, we continue up Andrassy ut to the Terror House, instantly recognizable by the TERROR spelled out on its rooftop overhang.  It contains exhibits related to the 20th century fascist and communist regimes in Hungary.

Terror House

The first thing we encounter is a threatening tank in the central courtyard and a giant wall of victims’ photos in black and white.

According to the House of Terror Museum website: [The museum is] a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building. The Museum, while presenting the horrors in a tangible way, also intends to make people understand that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain. Ultimately, the fight against the two cruelest systems of the 20th century ended with the victory of the forces of freedom and independence.

Victims of terror

The museum also contains exhibits related to Hungarian organizations such as the  fascist Arrow Cross Party, a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which led the Government of National Unity in Hungary  from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945. During its short rule, ten to fifteen thousand civilians (many Jews and Romani) were murdered outright, and 80,000 people were deported from Hungary to various concentration camps in Austria. Called Hungarism by Ferenc Szálasi, the party’s ideology encompassed extreme nationalism, agriculture promotion, anti-capitalism, anti-communism, and militant anti-Semitism, conceiving of Jews in racial as well as religious terms.  It was more racist, and more economically radical than other fascist movements, advocating workers’ right and land reforms, according to Wikipedia.

Victims of the Holocaust

An interactive map shows Europe as it falls to the Nazis; there is also a collection of black and white photos and highly disturbing videos of Nazi victory, with huge crowds yelling and doing the Hitler salute in unison.  The salute was performed by extending the right arm from the neck into the air with a straightened hand. Usually, the person offering the salute said, “Heil Hitler!” (Hail Hitler!), “Heil, mein Führer!” (Hail, my leader!), or “Sieg Heil!” (Hail victory!) (Wikipedia: Nazi salute).

To me, these videos of thousands of people doing that salute and yelling “Heil Hitler!” is the most disturbing thing in the whole museum.  It seems entire nations were brainwashed, being led like sheep to the slaughter into the devastation of World War II.  It is sickening to watch how people became mindlessly caught up in such hateful ideology.

Urgent dramatic music plays throughout the museum and we see personal effects of people who were deported.

Names

The museum also features exhibits about the communist ÁVH, or State Protection Authority, the secret police of Hungary from 1945 until 1956.  An external appendage of the Soviet Union’s KGB, or secret police forces, it gained a reputation for brutality during a series of purges beginning in 1948, intensifying in 1949 and ending in 1953.

In the Terror House basement, we see examples of the cells that the ÁVH used to break the will of their prisoners.

In the room called Everyday Life, contemporary posters and objects reflect the communist workaday. The mind-set suggested by the crudely garish posters was just as mendacious and miserable as the ideology behind it, according to the museum’s website.

mishmash of the times
1940s

It feels a relief to get out of the dark and loud Terror House and into the sunlight.  Outside, we’re greeted by buildings on opposite corners signifying Japanese and Chinese influence.

Quite by accident, we come upon some white-clad mannequins on a balcony.  I’m not sure what they’re supposed to represent, or if they’re simply there in good fun.

figures on a balcony
figures on a balcony

On our way to our Airbnb apartment, we stop for our last Budapest dinner one more time at Két Szerecsen Bisztro.  This time we eat at the sidewalk cafe.

Két Szerecsen

Tonight we share a platter of vegetable tapas, including aubergine spread with flat bread, roasted goat cheese with green apple purée and honey walnuts, oyster mushrooms in a Parmesan and spring onion sauce, and Patatas bravas. We also order the spinach with cream and Serrano ham that I enjoyed so much our first night here.  This time, the ham is a bit chewy, so I don’t care for it. The food simply doesn’t match up.

I tell Mike one should never return to the same place twice as it’s sure to disappoint on the second visit.

After dinner, we walk back our same route home, past a pretty church, shabby architecture, the Elisabeth Residence, and the park with the mural background.

church in Budapest
Budapest streets
street art in Budapest

We stop at Szimpla Kert, the oldest of the famous ruin bars that line our street. The ruin bar phenomenon arose in Budapest in 2000, when entrepreneurs found a ruined or abandoned building in Pest, rented the cellar or ground floor, and encouraged artists to paint murals or decorate in some bizarre fashion. The bars emanate a ruined, shabby feeling, but they’re popular nevertheless.

Mike at Szimpla Kert

After ordering a beer here, we walk around the place, checking out all the strange things.

Me at Szimpla Kert
art at Szimpla Kert
ruin walls at Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert has every imaginable artist expression on its brick walls, from industrial decor to graffiti to strange murals, to bicycles and guitars hanging on walls and ceilings, to hookah pipes, human figures made from pipe fittings, tire seats, stop signs, life buoys, old clocks, scales, naked mannequins, butterfly mobiles, t-shirts, lanterns, vintage signs, and rabbit and other creature figures.

There is even a ruined car whose insides have been gutted and installed with bar seats and a table and squeezed under a set of metal stairs.

car at Szimpla Kert

There are numerous small bars in nooks and crannies all over Szimpla Kert, but I guess we’re early enough that it’s pretty deserted this evening.

ceiling at Szimpla Kert
shabby chic Szimpla Kert
Szimpla Kert
character at Szimpla Kert
mannequin at Szimpla Kert
rabbit brigade

After hanging out here for a while, we walk across the street to our Airbnb, where we start packing for the next leg of our trip.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll take a train to Sopron, Hungary, on the border with Austria, where we’ll stay one night before heading to Vienna.

Total steps today: 15,721 (6.66 miles).

 

budapest: great market hall & the hungarian state opera house

Tuesday, September 26:  After leaving Elizabeth Bridge, we get back on Váci utca heading toward the Nagycsarnok, or Great Market.  Once inside, we wind our way through the crowds in search of lunch.  The lower level has fruit, vegetable and meat stalls, but the upper level has Hungarian dry goods and hot food stalls. All the food stalls, which have enticing food such as stuffed cabbage rolls, are fronted by long lines, and all seats are taken.  It will be a long wait to get any food here, and even when we do get some, there will be no place to eat it.

Regretting those missed cabbage rolls, we go back out to Váci utca, where we find the Old Street Cafe.  Here we stop and sit outside in a patch of sunlight.  I ask the waiter what the man next to me has on his plate, and he tells me it’s a Stuffed pancake Hortobágy style, a pancake stuffed with chicken and covered in gravy.  I order that.  Mike orders Tuscan tomato soup (Pappa al Pomodoro) with celery and a cucumber salad.  He’s certainly being more healthy than I am. 🙂

After lunch, we go back into the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest.  It was built and designed by Samu Pecz around 1897.

The Great Market

The Hall’s colorful roof is covered in Zsolnay tiles from Pécs, Hungary’s fifth largest city.  I love these tiles, found in so many places in Budapest.  The 10,000 square meter building has a Gothic Revival entrance gate and is covered by a steel structure.  Completely damaged during the World Wars, restorations brought the market back to life in the 1990s.

The Great Market
The Great Market
rooftop of The Great Market

On the ground floor, we find a folk group playing some lively tunes.

musicians at The Great Market

We wander around the ground floor first, among the stalls of produce, meats, dairy products, pastries, candies, spices, and spirits.  We see local salamis, cheeses, Hungarian paprika, foie gras, caviar and garlands of dried peppers and garlic.  We find spirits such as Tokaji (wines from the Tokaj region), and local snacks such as Túró Rudi, a bar with a thin chocolate-flavored outer coating and an inner filling of túró, or curd.

salamis and meats at The Great Market
fruit at The Great Market
fruit at The Great Market
dried chili peppers at The Great Market
fruit extravaganza

The basement contains butcher shops, the fish market, and picked vegetables including the traditional cucumber pickles, as well as cauliflower, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and garlic.  However, we don’t visit the basement as we find plenty on the top two levels to keep us occupied.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

The second floor has mainly eateries and souvenirs.  We find matryoshka dolls, sets of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another.

matryoshka dolls

Wonderful red-cheeked Santa ornaments smile at us in a festive display.

Santas

I fall in love with this poster, which captures the Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ Old World charm.  This becomes one of my purchases. 🙂  Mike also buys a gray T-shirt with a white bicycle on it.

vintage posters

The Hungarian laces are intricately woven and colorful.

Hungarian lace

I’m also tempted by the folk art, but I can only carry so much in my already full suitcase!

folk art
ornaments

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

After our foray through the Great Market Hall, we hop on the tram and then switch to Metro 1 to get to the Hungarian State Opera House.  We’re determined on our last day in Budapest to join the 3:00 English tour.  You can only visit with a guided tour, and we already missed this on our first day. There are guided tours of the building in six languages (English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Hungarian) almost every day.

on the metro to Opera
Opera Metro stop

The Neo-Renaissance Hungarian State Opera House, with some elements of Baroque, was designed by Miklós Ybl, one of Europe’s leading architects in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  Although not famous for its size or capacity, acoustically it is considered to be one of the world’s finest.  It was built in 1884.

The season lasts from September to the end of June and, in addition to opera performances, the House is home to the Hungarian National Ballet.

In front of the building are statues of Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem, “Himnusz,” and was the first music director of the Opera House; he was also founder of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.  A statue of Franz Liszt, the best known Hungarian composer, is also featured.

Hungarian State Opera

Inside the Opera House are fabulous paintings and sculptures by leading figures of Hungarian art including Bertalan Székely (1835 – 1910), a Hungarian history and portrait painter who worked in the Romantic and Academic Styles; Mór Than (1828 – 1899), Hungarian painter; and Lotz Károly Antal Pál (1833-1904), a German-Hungarian painter (Wikipedia: Hungarian State Opera House).

The tour starts at the Grand Staircase, which leads from the two sides of the foyer directly to the ground floor auditorium entrances.

The Grand Staircase

The golden-coffered reflective ceiling above the Grand Staircase features Mór Than’s paintings across nine squares representing “The Awakening and Victory of Music,” while the decorations featuring mythological scenes above the windows are also his work, according to the Opera House website.

elaborate ceilings
elaborate ceilings
arches
more ceiling paintings

The Feszty Bar, with its warm noble oak paneling, has a low richly gilded ceiling with paintings of Dionysus’s birth and upbringing; its walls are decorated with landscape paintings.  This is where the country’s finest citizens gather to see and be seen.

the Feszty Bar

Flanking the Feszty Bar is a smoking corridor decorated with blue-gold drapes.

The horseshoe-shaped, three-floored auditorium supposedly seats 1,261 people, although today, the floor seats have been removed in preparation for a big renovation, which will take place over the next several years.  At one time, vents under the seats blew out air mixed with water to create a moist atmosphere.

the auditorium
the stage of the Hungarian State Opera House
the right flank of the Opera House boxes

The round ceiling is decorated with Károly Lotz’s cupola fresco, titled the “Apotheosis of Music.”  At center is the lute-playing Apollo, with an audience of Olympic gods, the graces, muses and demons. Miklós Ybl designed the chandelier, which is lowered to the ground floor with the aid of a winch twice a year to replace its expired bulbs.

“Apotheosis of Music” fresco on cupola
“Apotheosis of Music” fresco on cupola

According to legend, when the Empress and Queen Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, wished to break her solitude in the Royal Palace of Gödöllő by visiting the Hungarian capital, she watched performances from what is now called the Sisi box. Our guide tells us she couldn’t see the stage from here.  Greatly admired by the Hungarian people, she attended to be seen, not to see!

The Sisi Box

This statue bears a resemblance to Sisi, but is actually a famous opera singer.

Opera singer resembling Sisi

At the end of the tour, we get to see a mini-concert, which is quite funny as the singer holds open an accordion book of the many women he tries to juggle in his life.

Mini concert
all the singer’s women friends

Across the street from the Hungarian State Opera House is a now-abandoned building that is waiting for the right owner to revive it in some form.

Former grand building across from the Opera House

We leave the Opera House, walking up Andrassy ut in search of the Terror House.

budapest: the great synagogue & a stroll down váci utca in belváros

Tuesday, September 26: Today is our last day in Budapest, and we head out early so we’ll arrive at the Great Synagogue by opening time.  As usual, we walk out of our Airbnb courtyard onto Kazinczy utca and past Szimpla Kert.  Tonight, we’re determined to go inside the famous ruin bar to check it out.

Szimpla Kert

The Great Synagogue, also known as the Dohány Street Synagogue, is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world, seating 3,000 people.

On our way to the front of the Synagogue, we peek through the gate at the Raoul Wallenberg Emlékpark (memorial park) in the rear courtyard.  This courtyard holds the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs, created by Imre Varga, which resembles a weeping willow.  The leaves on the metal “tree of life” are inscribed with the family names and tattoo numbers of victims.

According to one source, at least 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but our guide in the synagogue tells us 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed from 1944-1945.  Many of them came from the more Orthodox rural areas outside of Budapest.

Holocaust Memorial

Dohány Street once bordered the Budapest Ghetto, part of the old Jewish quarter set aside by the Nazis, where Hungarian Jews were forced to relocate by the Hungarian Government during the last years of World War II, from November 29, 1944 until January 17, 1945.

Great Synagogue

The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, based on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain, most notably the Alhambra. The Viennese architect didn’t believe a distinctly Jewish style could be identified, and thus borrowed the style of people who he thought were most closely related to the Israelites, notably the Arabs, according to Wikipedia: Dohány Street Synagogue.

interior of the Great Synagogue

According to our tour guide, the building consists of three richly decorated aisles, two balconies and, oddly, an organ.  The design is more like that of a basilica than a synagogue. Normally synagogues don’t have organs or cemeteries.  The seats on the ground floor were originally for men while the women sat in the upper galleries.

Our guide tells us there are very few openly practicing Jews in Budapest; most Jewish people today are more secular.

The ark contains various Torah scrolls taken from other synagogues destroyed during the Holocaust.

interior of the Great Synagogue

The decorations inside the synagogue are stunning.

interior of the Great Synagogue
interior of the Great Synagogue

After our tour, we wander around the courtyard to see the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs up close.

Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs
Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs
Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs

There is also a memorial to Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg (born 1912 – death date unknown), a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian.  He is memorialized for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the later stages of World War II.  While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, he issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory.

When the Red Army lay siege to Budapest on January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was detained on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared. He was later reported to have died on 17 July 1947 while imprisoned by the KGB secret police, according to Wikipedia.

Other people known as the “Righteous Among the Nations” are also included on the Memorial.  This respectful title is used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

Memorial to Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg
The Raoul Wallenberg Emlékpark
The Raoul Wallenberg Emlékpark

We find stones placed in a memorial behind the Synagogue.

Jewish Cemetery

Over two thousand Hungarian Jews who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter 1944-1945 are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

Jewish Cemetery

The Great Synagogue is 75 meters (246 ft) long and 27 meters (89 ft) wide.  The style of the building is Moorish but its design also features a mixture of Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic elements.

Great Synagogue

Two onion domes sit on the twin octagonal towers. A rose stained-glass window sits over the main entrance.

Great Synagogue
Great Synagogue
Great Synagogue

After we leave the somber synagogue, we head toward Váci utca in Belváros, passing some interesting street art on the way.

street art in Budapest
street art in Budapest
cafe in Budapest

We are heading toward the pleasant Belváros, which means “inner city” in Hungarian. It is the name of the central part of most Hungarian cities. Váci utca is one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares and perhaps the most famous street of central Budapest, featuring a variety of restaurants and shops catering primarily to the tourist market.  We’ll make our way down Váci utca toward the Budapest Great Market.

Belváros
Belváros
The Astoria
piano garden
Belváros
Belváros
Belváros
Váci utca
Váci utca
Váci utca

We stop at the Anna Cafe for a double chocolate muffin, orange juice and coffee.  And I wonder why I gained weight on our trip! 🙂

Anna Cafe
chocolate muffin, OJ and coffee

We come across a huge statue of Mihály Vörösmarty, a famous Hungarian poet and dramatist.  A monument by Hungarian sculptor Ede Kallós, constructed in the 1900s, stands in the square that bears his name.

statue of Mihály Vörösmarty

We take our time meandering down Váci utca.  I am tempted by many things, especially the vintage Budapest signs.

vintage Budapest signs
vintage Budapest signs

Of course, I can never resist the temptation for textiles, and I resort to buying three scarves for 6 euros each.

Me buying scarves on Váci utca
chilies and garlic on Váci utca

As we approach the Great Market, we can’t resist the urge to walk out on Elizabeth Bridge, where we have views of the busy boat traffic on the Danube, Castle Hill, and the Inner City Parish Church.  Located next to Elizabeth Bridge, it is the oldest church in Pest, founded in 1046.  Underneath the baroque façade and the Gothic walls are the remains of a 12th century Romanesque basilica (VisitBudapest.travel: Inner City Parish Church).

Inner Town Parish Church
Castle Hill from Elizabeth Bridge
Castle Hill from Elizabeth Bridge
The Danube from Elizabeth Bridge

Finally, we’re charmed by a garden of ceramic mushrooms before we head into the Great Market.

garden of mushrooms on Váci utca

At another kiosk outside the Great Market, I run into a young man looking through the scarves.  He says, “They’re all so pretty!”  I say, “Oh, you’re a big fan of scarves?” He says, “Yes, for my girlfriend!” as if to set the record straight that the scarves are not for him. 🙂

 

budapest: castle hill > the royal palace > pest

Monday, September 25:  After leaving Matthias Church, we stroll along the western wall of Castle Hill, where we have views of Óbuda and the Buda Hills.

pathway on the western wall of Castle Hill
view of Óbuda from the western wall of Castle Hill

From the western wall, we can see the pretty yellow Baroque Óbuda Parish Church, built in 1749 and dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.

view of Óbuda from the western wall of Castle Hill
the western wall of Castle Hill

We pass some ruins near the Royal Palace.

ruins near the Royal Palace

The Hungarian National Gallery traces Hungarian Art from the 11th century to the present, but as it’s closed on Monday, we can’t go inside. I knew there was a reason why my itinerary had us going to Buda on our first day, a Saturday, in Budapest!  Many museums in Budapest are closed on Mondays.  I should have stuck by my guns when Mike insisted we stay on the Pest side that first day. 🙂

Hungarian National Gallery

A Segway tour group glides by in front of the Royal Palace.

Royal Palace

The Neo-Baroque Matthias Fountain is a popular landmark in Budapest.  The bronze figures, representing a hunting party led by Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary, stand on a pile of boulders with streams of water running between the cracks.  As it resembles a smaller version of the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome, it is sometimes called the “Trevi Fountain of Budapest.”

King Matthias stands on the highest rock in hunting attire. He holds a crossbow in his right hand while a dead stag lies at his feet. On the lower rocks a henchman blows his horn and the leader of the hunting group sits on a boulder with his back towards the viewer. Three hounds complete the central group.

Matthias Fountain

Two more bronze figures have their own plinths. On the right is Szép Ilonka (Helen the Fair), heroine of a famous 19th century ballad by Hungarian poet and dramatist Mihály Vörösmarty.  According to the ballad, Matthias was hunting incognito when Ilonka fell in love with him. When she found out his true identity, she fretted that it was an impossible love and died of a broken heart. The girl is looking towards the king while protecting her tame fawn from the hunters. On the right is the Italian chronicler, Galeotto Marzio; a dog is resting at his feet and a falcon sits on his arm (Wikipedia: Matthias Fountain).

Over the last seven centuries, successive palaces have occupied this spot where the Royal Palace now sits. In the mid-13th century, Bela IV established a royal residence here, while subsequent kings added to the structure.  In the battle to rout the Turks in 1686, the palace was leveled; the Habsburgs rebuilt a smaller version of it later but spent little time here. After being expanded again, the palace was destroyed after serving as the last Nazi stronghold in 1945. Later, it was rebuilt with a Baroque facade, according to Lonely Planet Hungary.

Royal Palace

Our ultimate destination is the Budapest History Museum, but it is closed today too.  It supposedly puts the last 2,000 years of Budapest’s history into perspective.  I’m sorry we miss it.

Budapest History Museum

We are able to walk directly through the Budapest History Museum to the other side for a glimpse of the Castle Garden.

view from the Budapest History Museum

We encounter the statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663 – 1736), a general of the Imperial Army. As one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history, he rose to the highest offices of state at the Imperial court in Vienna.

Prince Eugene of Savoy Statue

From the ramparts of the Royal Palace, we have a sweeping view of the Danube, Chain Bridge, the Parliament and Margaret Bridge.

view of Chain Bridge & Parliament from the Royal Palace

We see the river traffic on the Danube and a stoic statue of a man and child.

view of the Danube and Pest from the Royal Palace

Further south, we see Elizabeth Bridge and more of the Danube.

view of Elizabeth Bridge from the Royal Palace

Above us, the Habsburg Gate – the entrance to the Royal Palace – looms.

Gate of Buda Castle

We make our way back to Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion because we plan to walk downhill from here. Near the church, we stop at an outdoor cafe for a mojito lime cake, a chocolate forest cake, and a frothy coffee.

frothy coffee and cakes

Feeling pleasantly sated after our dessert break, we walk down the steps from Fishermen’s Bastion.

leaving Fishermen’s Bastion

Here we find the Mansfeld Péter memorial.  Mansfeld Péter fought as a freedom fighter at the age of 16 in the 1956 Revolution against the Soviets.  The memorial depicts the young man at age 17 falling while trying to escape police after stealing and hiding munitions.  Though he managed to escape, he broke his hand in the fall.  The Secret Police still found his identity and arrested him the next day.  He was unjustly executed by hanging at age 18 by the totalitarian regime of Hungary. Today he is remembered as one of the national heroes of Hungary.

We’re on our way to Batthyány tér to see the 18th century Baroque Church of St. Anne. We pass some colorful buildings and pretty flower boxes along the way.

window boxes in Budapest
a rainbow of buildings

We wander past the Buda Calvinist Church, the first reformed church in Buda, built from 1892 to 1896. The pyramidal roof is covered by multi-colored Zsolnay tiles. During World War II the building suffered severe damage, but, at least from the outside, it looks fine today.

Buda Calvinist Church

Batthyány Square, named after the first Prime Minister of Hungary, sits on the Buda side of the Danube. From this spot alongside the Danube, we have excellent views of the Parliament.

Hungarian Parliament across the Danube

Batthyány Square is noted for the Church of Saint Anne, a Roman Catholic church built by the Jesuits between 1740 and 1762; it is one of Budapest’s most beautiful Baroque buildings. It also supposedly has a stunning interior, but as it is gated off and dark, we can barely see inside, much less photograph it.

Church of St. Anne

The square is also known for its market hall.

Market Hall in Buda

From Batthyány Square, we get on the metro to cross the Danube.

Getting off the metro at Parliament

We end up near the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament and walk all around the massive building. Designed by Imre Steindl, it wasn’t completed until 1902, after he died.

Hungarian Parliament
reflection of Hungarian Parliament
guards at Hungarian Parliament

I’m not very good at taking normal-looking panorama shots, but they look interesting even if they’re weird.

panorama of Hungarian Parliament
Hungarian Parliament

Most of the Budapest trams are plain yellow, so we’re surprised to see this one all decked out in advertisements.

Tram at Hungarian Parliament

The Museum of Ethnography once housed the Supreme Court.  We don’t go inside, but the museum supposedly displays folk dress and crafts, as well as peasant houses from Western and Southern Transdanubia, traditional regions in Hungary.  In addition, there are priceless pieces from Transylvania and items from faraway cultures: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, according to Lonely Planet Hungary.

Museum of Ethnography
Museum of Ethnography
statue between Parliament and the Ethnography Museum
Hungarian Parliament

Near the Parliament is a statue of István Tisza (1861 – 1918), former Hungarian prime minister.  When he was prime minister for the second time, Austria-Hungary entered into the First World War.  He was assassinated during the Chrysanthemum Revolution on 31 October 1918 – the same day that Hungary terminated its political union with Austria.

Statue of former Hungarian prime minister Istvan Tisza

When we go to the side of Parliament that borders the Danube, we can see where we were in Buda earlier today: Fishermen’s Bastion, Matthias church, and the Church of St. Anne.

Church of St. Anne and Fishermen’s Bastion from across the Danube
Hungarian Parliament from the Danube side

As we walk south along the riverbank, we can see Matthias Church, Fishermen’s Bastion and the Buda Calvinist Church across the river in Buda.

Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion from the Pest side of the Danube
tram on Pest side

As we continue along the river, we come upon Shoes on the Danube, a moving monument to 3,500 people, 800 of them Hungarian Jews, who were shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror in late 1944 and early 1945.

The Arrow Cross Party led The Government of National Unity (during Hungary’s occupation by Nazi Germany) under Ferenc Szálasi from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945. During its 5 1/2 month rule, ten to fifteen thousand civilians (many of whom were Jews and Roma) were murdered outright, and 80,000 people were deported from Hungary to various concentration camps in Austria.  After the war, Szálasi and other Arrow Cross leaders were tried as war criminals by Hungarian courts.

One story about a famous Jewish Hungarian musician, Miklós Voglhut, who was killed here despite the fact that he adopted a more Hungarian-sounding stage name (Miklós Vig) and married into a Catholic family, tells of how he and so many other Jews were “forced to strip naked on the banks of the Danube and face the river; a firing squad then shot the prisoners at close range in the back so that they fell into the river to be washed away. This was a common practice that occurred during 1944-1945; although the Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg did save many more from this terrible fate” (visitbudapest.travel: One of Budapest’s Most Moving Memorials: Shoes on the Danube).

Shoes on the Danube

The memorial consists of sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes cast in iron and attached to the stone embankment.  Cast iron signs display 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.”

After leaving this poignant memorial, we continue our walk through Pest in search of the former Royal Postal Savings Bank.

Budapest buildings
pink building in Budapest

We come across this fountain and interesting memorial purely by accident, and it serves to reinforce our understanding of Hungary’s sad history.  The 1944 memorial to the victims of the Nazi era sits in Liberty Square in the Lipótváros neighborhood in Budapest.

Liberty Square

This controversial memorial, completed in 2014, shows figures of Germany’s imperial eagle swooping down on the archangel Gabriel, which symbolizes Hungary. It seems to suggest Hungary was an innocent victim to Germany’s wartime aggression.  According to an article in the Daily Mail: Hungary sets up disputed 1944 memorial: The memorial has been widely criticized by Jewish groups and others who see it as an attempt by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government effort to downplay the Hungarian role in the Holocaust. They object to the depiction of Hungary as a victim of the Nazis given that it was a wartime ally of Germany. The government stresses that both Jews and non-Jews suffered during the war.

Memorial for victims of Nazi era (2014)
Freedom Square

In front of the memorial are torn, broken and aged personal effects, documents and pictures of murdered Jews; they have been lovingly displayed by Holocaust survivors in memory of their families.

The misguided “official” monument with the personal effects of the murdered Hungarian Jews in front, serve as a tragic reminder of what happened during the uncomfortable but indisputable historical alliance between Germany and Hungary.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

Between the Shoes on the Danube and this memorial, we feel burdened by history, as well as by the present, especially in light of what we’re living through in America now with our despicable populist government.  We wonder, will history repeat itself?  It often does, sadly, as it seems humans repeatedly fail to learn from their mistakes.

We finally find the former Royal Postal Savings Bank, a Secessionist extravaganza of colorful tiles and folk motifs, built by architect Ödön Lechner (1845–1914) in 1901. He is often referred to as the “Hungarian Gaudi” because of his importance to the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement and his combination of Hungarian, Indian and Syrian architectural styles (visitbudapest.travel: Hungarian Art Nouveau).

This beautiful building is now part of the National Bank of Hungary.  It has a stunning green tiled rooftop which sadly can’t be seen in my photos.  We saw it earlier from our first day climb to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica.

 

Royal Postal Savings Bank
door to Royal Postal Savings Bank

We’ve had a long day today and we’re determined to stop for dinner at Kőleves, a vegetarian restaurant we passed yesterday.  We slowly make our way there in the fading light.

Budapest architecture

Kőleves Restaurant has a varied menu with a number of vegetarian dishes and a nice vintage ambience.

inside Kőleves Restaurant

Mike enjoys a lager while I have a wheat beer.

Mike enjoys a lager in Kőleves

Displays abound of vintage musical instruments, old posters, rotary dial telephones and a Morse Code machine.

vintage collection in Kőleves

We enjoy a fabulous dinner, starting with an Avocado Salad with dried tomato, blueberry almond and blue cheese.  I have Zucchini-Chickpea Fritters, Quinoa Salad & Avocado Cream and Mike has Vegetable Gratin with black lentil, walnut & Gruyère cheese.

Zucchini-Chickpea Fritters, Quinoa Salad, Avocado Cream
Vegetable gratin with black lentil, walnut & Gruyère cheese

When we return to our apartment, Mike cooks up a sliced pear in butter and natural sugar and we put the hot mixture over our Macadamia nut ice cream. Yum!  A delicious top-off to our busy day.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore more of Pest before heading to Sopron, Hungary on Wednesday.

Steps today: 18,905 (8.01 miles).

 

 

 

pest > chain bridge > buda’s castle hill: fishermen’s bastion & matthias church

Monday, September 25:  As I spent nearly two hours wide awake, tossing and turning from 4:30-6:15 a.m., I have a hard time getting up this morning.  By the time I drag myself out of bed, and we eat breakfast, have coffee and shower, we don’t leave the apartment until after 11:00 a.m. This is such a late start for us when we’re on holiday!

We walk out through our shabby chic courtyard.

the courtyard at Charlie’s Budapest

On Kazinczy utca, we walk past the cheery eateries and ruin bars, including el Rapido Grand Bazar Grill & Deli and Szimpla Kert.

el Rapido Grand Bazaar on Kazinczy utca
Szimpla Kert

The figs and other fruit at a small market would be awfully tempting if I hadn’t just eaten breakfast and if it weren’t almost lunchtime!

a small fruit market in Pest

I like how in Budapest most graffiti is transformed into street art.

street art above Hungarian Restaurant
street art in Pest

I love the yellow trams that run through the city.  Currently over 30 tram lines run in Budapest.  The 47 line, seen here, links Deák Ferenc tér in Pest, the city’s busiest station, with points in southern Buda via the Little Ring Road.

Budapest trams

I marvel at the array of architecture found throughout the city, though I don’t know what this building is.

Budapest architecture

We’re heading to Chain Bridge to cross over the Danube, and on the way, we pass by the Budapest Eye, the mobile Ferris wheel we saw all lit up last night in Erzsébet Square.

The Budapest Eye
The Budapest Eye

It seems everywhere you go these days, couples hang “love locks” to profess their undying devotion.

locks at The Budapest Eye

We continue to make our way to the Danube, admiring the grand buildings and the trams along the way.

Budapest architecture
Budapest trams
On the way to Chain Bridge

Finally we’re on Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the suspension bridge connecting Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest.

Chain Bridge

We have fabulous views of the Danube this morning.  Below Castle Hill, we see St. Anna Church and Batthyany Square.

View of St. Anna Church and Batthyany Square from Chain Bridge

Looking north, we see Margaret Bridge and Margaret Island.  Margaret Bridge is a three-way bridge connecting Buda and Pest across the Danube and linking Margaret Island to both banks.  It is the second-northernmost and second-oldest public bridge in Budapest.

View up the Danube with Margaret Bridge

On the east bank, in Pest, we have a clear view of the Hungarian Parliament.

Hungarian Parliament

On Castle Hill, Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion, where we are heading today, glow in the sunlight.

Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion from Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge
Signpost

My legs are so sore from all our walking yesterday that our plan is to take the funicular up to Castle Hill. Sadly, the funicular isn’t running today, but some people in a cart offer us a ride to Matthias Church for 2,240 Forints each (~$8.50).

The cart drops us at the neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Matthias Church, which sits beside Fishermen’s Bastion at the heart of Buda’s Castle District.  Saint Stephen, King of Hungary, built the first church here in the Romanesque style in 1015.  Used as a mosque and ultimately destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1241, part of the current building was built in the latter half of the 13th century. In the late 14th century, Gothic elements were uncovered and more were added. In the 17th century, an attempt was made to restore the church in Baroque style.

Matthias Church
statue on Castle Hill

Originally named after the Virgin Mary, the Church was renamed in the 19th century after Matthias I (1443 – 1490), King of Hungary and Croatia from 1458 to 1490. He “attempted to reconstruct the Hungarian state after decades of feudal anarchy, chiefly by means of financial, military, judiciary, and administrative reforms” (Encyclopedia Britannica: Matthias I).  The king’s two royal weddings were held in the church, which later served as the coronation venue for the last two Hungarian Habsburg kings, Franz Joseph in 1867 and Charles IV in 1916.

Matthias Church was used as a camp by the Germans in World War II and the Soviets during the Soviet occupation of Hungary, leaving it in disrepair. The church was largely renovated between 1950 and 1970 with funding from the Hungarian government.

We wait in a long and slow-moving line to buy tickets for Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Of course, I have to complain about the lack of a “system,” as the signs are confusing and every customer who goes to the ticket window has to waste time asking about the ticket prices and what they include.  My comments about the lack of systems in various places leads Mike to tease me the rest of our trip: “They need a system!  A Cathy system!” he jokes.

Fishermen’s Bastion

We finally get our tickets and climb up to Fishermen’s Bastion. Built from 1895-1902, it is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style which has great views of the Danube and much of Budapest.  Its seven turrets represent the seven Magyar tribes who founded the present day country in 895-896.  Its name originates from the guild of fishermen who offered protection during the Middle Ages.

The roof of Matthias Church, seen most clearly from Fishermen’s Bastion, showcases the famous Zsolnay ceramic tiles. Zsolnay is a Hungarian manufacturer of porcelain, tile and stoneware; the company’s ceramics are noted for the eosin process that was introduced in 1893. The secret eosin (Greek eos, flush of dawn) glaze causes porcelain to appear iridescent metallic. Typical colors include shades of green, red, blue, and purple that change with the angle of reflection.  These ceramics were favored by art nouveau artists.

Matthias Church
Matthias Church

We have a fabulous view south to Elizabeth Bridge from Fishermen’s Bastion.

view south to Elizabeth Bridge from Fishermen’s Bastion

Across the Danube, we have a clear view of the Hungarian Parliament and a huge construction crane.

View east from Fishermen’s Bastion

Looking north up the Danube, we see Margaret Island and Margaret Bridge.

view North to Margaret Bridge and Margaret Island from Fishermen’s Bastion

Some people apparently complain that Fishermen’s Bastion looks a little Disney-esque, but I find it quite attractive.

Fishermen’s Bastion
Fishermen’s Bastion

It takes us a while to get unobstructed pictures of ourselves at Fisherman’s Bastion because of a group of rude Asians who keep pushing into our pictures.  I even say with irritation to them, “How rude!”  Why is it that when we take pictures, we try to do it as quickly as possible and then move aside while other people stand hogging a picture spot for ages?  It seems people these days don’t have any sensitivity to other people.

I love the views from up here.

view of Parliament

Streams of sunlight bathe the Hungarian Parliament, offering a gorgeous view; the Parliament is impossible to fit in a photo when you’re up close to it.

view east from Fishermen’s Bastion
statue near Fishermen’s Bastion
Fishermen’s Bastion
Fishermen’s Bastion

We have to pay an extra admission fee to go in the far turret, because it’s part of a restaurant and cafe. Here, I get the message that my camera card is full!  I can’t believe it because today I switched bags and forgot to put my extra camera card in my new bag.

view of Parliament from Fishermen’s Bastion
view of Parliament from Fishermen’s Bastion
view from Fishermen’s Bastion
view from Fishermen’s Bastion
Fishermen’s Bastion – photo by Mike

After leaving Fishermen’s Bastion, I insist we go to a shop to find a camera card.  I cannot fathom taking pictures with my phone the rest of the day.  The card costs me 16,500 Forints (nearly $63!).  It’s so annoying to have to spend that much when I have a camera card back at our Airbnb apartment. I hate it when I do stupid things that cost me a lot of money.

As we eat our bread, cheese, and Mango Fanta picnic lunch on a bench outside Matthias Church, I put the new camera card in and it doesn’t work! I keep getting a message that the card isn’t formatted, and when I try to format it, nothing happens. There’s another smaller card in the package, but I ignore it, thinking it’s something I don’t need. I’m embarrassed to reveal how technically challenged I am, but when I’m unable to get it to work, I take the receipt and the opened card package and go back into the shop to tell the saleswoman the card doesn’t work.  She asks for my camera, takes the card out, and inserts the small card from the package into what I now know is the adapter for the microdisk. I’ve always just bought a single camera card, and I thought the smaller disk was for a phone or something.  Anyway, after inserting the microdisk into that slot in the adapter card, voila!  The camera works.  I snap my first photo in the shop.

testing my camera card on chili peppers

Paprika, made from ground dried chilies, is found in many Hungarian dishes, so chili peppers are an iconic Hungarian sight.

drying chili peppers

After lunch and my camera card debacle, we head back to Matthias Church to go inside.

Matthias Church
Matthias Church

The inside of the church is stunning.  The frescoes on the walls, ceilings and columns are the works of famous Hungarian painters, Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz. They also created the magnificent stained glass windows.

interior of Matthias Church

The whole interior is mesmerizing, and we climb to an upper gallery for more astounding views.

inside Matthias Church
Interior of Matthias Church
inside Matthias Church

The most magnificent monument in the church is the double sarcophagus of king Béla III and his wife Anne de Châtillon in the Trinity Chapel.

Tomb of King Béla III
Tomb of King Béla III
Interior of Matthias Church
Interior of Matthias Church

In the upper gallery, we find a gorgeous stained glass window behind a statue of the famous Sisi, or Elisabeth of Bavaria (1837 – 1898), Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary by marriage to Franz Joseph I. We’ll see more of Sisi on our trip to Vienna, Austria.

We could spend hours in here admiring the interior, one of the most beautiful churches I’ve encountered.

angels guarding the door

We leave this area and walk along the western wall of Castle Hill toward the Royal Palace, in hopes of visiting the Budapest History Museum.

danube bend: visegrád & a nighttime walk through budapest

Sunday, September 24:  Tumbling off the bus at an unimpressive roadside bus stop in Visegrád, I’m sure we look baffled.  We expected to be deposited at a bus station, but instead we’re left standing at a map beside an awning-covered bench along the main road. It’s a few minutes before we’re convinced we’re in Visegrád, the name of which means in Slavic the “upper castle” or  castle of privileged position.

We start walking into town in hopes of finding some information.

shuttered building in Visegrád

Luckily a nice woman, who disembarked from the bus with some friends, notices our confusion and tries to answer Mike’s questions about a “less steep path” starting from behind the Catholic church in the town center to the citadel. Mike read about this path in Lonely Planet Hungary. The well-intentioned woman actually knows nothing about this path; she also wonders if it’s possible to walk this alleged path before nightfall.  Looking at the imposing and distant fortress perched atop the huge hill, I too wonder if it is possible.

We make our way to the Catholic Church, behind which this hike supposedly begins.

church in Visegrád

We follow some folks past the church until we find another large map and a path leading toward the castle, called Fellegvár in Hungarian — literally “cloud castle.” We had seen the 13th-century hexagonal Solomon’s Tower, once part of a lower castle used to control river traffic, low on a steep hill when our hydrofoil had stopped here this morning; the fortress is supposedly above that tower.  Now we just have to make our way up to it.

Visegrád

For a short bit, we can see the town beneath.  Before long, we’re submerged in a forest of spindly trees.

The path to Fellegvár is all uphill, relentless in its quest to deprive us of oxygen as we climb to the top.  There is not a flat stretch on the entire trail.

The only thing we see of interest on this endless path to Fellegvár is this chapel built into these pinnacle rocks.  As we’re in the forest the whole time, we don’t even have any views.

small chapel built into rocks on the path to Fellegvár

After what seems like an eternity, we come to a trail marker, but we have no idea what it means.  We’ve only walked 15P?  And we still have 25P to go?  What kind of measurement is P?  Later, we’re even more confused when another sign shows a higher number after Fellegvár , suggesting we have further to go to Fellegvár than we did before.

Later, we find out that Hungarian hiking trails show the elevation change to the peak (P).  As the trail gets steeper the closer we get to the peak, the numbers increase.

signpost to Fellegvár

All told, it takes us about 1 1/2 hours to climb to the top, where we finally see a sign for Fellegvár.  Though I started out with a jacket today, I’ve now got it stuffed into my backpack and I’m sweating in my long-sleeve knit top.

signpost to the castle

After the Mongol invasion in 1242, King Béla IV (1206-1270) and his wife had a new fortification system constructed near the one destroyed earlier. The Upper Castle, set atop a high hill, was laid out on a triangular ground-plan and had three towers at its corners.

King Charles I of Hungary made Visegrád, his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. Around 1400, the palace was enlarged and a third curtain wall was built. The Upper Castle also served as safekeeping of the Hungarian royal insignia between the 14th century and 1526. At the end of the 15th century, the interior was renovated.

In 1544 Visegrád was occupied by the Ottoman Empire.  Apart from a short period in 1595-1605, it remained in Turkish hands until 1685. The castle was seriously damaged by the Turks and was never used afterwards (Wikipedia: Visegrád).

castle flag

One of the best things about the castle is its sweeping views of the Danube bend and the towns and landscape of Hungary.

views of the Danube from Fellegvár
view from Fellegvár
Fellegvár
Fellegvár
Fellegvár
Fellegvár

We walk through the small wax museum, which shows castle life during the time of its habitation.

wax figures at Fellegvár

The wax figures at Fellegvár seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. I wouldn’t mind joining in their festivities.

We walk all around the castle grounds trying to see every possible view.

views from Fellegvár
Fellegvár
Fellegvár
the Danube views from Fellegvár

From the Fellegvár, we see the busy boat and barge traffic on the Danube.

The Danube from Fellegvár

There is no way I want to walk back down that path to the town, so we search for a bus to take us back down.  We’re told at a little shop that the next bus won’t arrive for two hours!  The shopkeeper points us out to a van driver who will take us down for a price. He drops us at the boat dock, where we have less than a half hour to wait for the hydrofoil back to Budapest at 6:00.  We wander around near the boat dock, admiring some stately homes.

a mansion near the Visegrád boat dock
Visegrád

Finally, we see the hydrofoil approach.

hydrofoil on the Danube

As the sun goes down, we’re on the hydrofoil and on our way back to Budapest.

on the hydrofoil as the sun sets

At 6:20, we make a brief stop at Vác, where we pick up a few passengers. Vác’s episcopal palace houses a museum for Roman and medieval artifacts. The city is also known for its 18th-century arch of triumph and for its baroque city center.

Vác
Vác

By 7:00, we’re back in Budapest and can see Castle Hill all lit up.

Castle HIll at night

On the Pest side, we can see the beautiful Parliament.

Parliament at night

After disembarking, we make our way along the river and are tempted to have dinner on Spoon, a floating restaurant, but we decide to find someplace less touristy.

Spoon
Buda Castle from the Pest side

On our way back we have to be careful not to be run over by the Budapest trams, which run along a track that isn’t blocked off and is traversed by often oblivious pedestrians.

the tram in Budapest

Peeking over the boats docked along the river, we can see glimpses of Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge connecting Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest.

Buda Castle from the Pest side
Chain Bridge

We walk past the 65-meter-tall Budapest Eye, Europe’s largest mobile Ferris wheel with 42 cars and a capacity of 332 people, in Erzsébet Square.

The Budapest Eye

We pass by St. Stephens all lit up.

St. Stephens at night

It’s hard to fathom eating at the outdoor cafes in the cold night air, despite the festive colored lights strung overhead.

outdoor cafes

We find ourselves back in front of the Hungarian State Opera House, all aglow.

Hungarian State Opera House

The windows in Budapest are decked out in futuristic purple fur coats and metal studded dresses.

pretty in purple
colorful lamps

We are in search of Két Szerecsen, described in Lonely Planet Hungary as a “vaulted cellar-like bistro” with “imaginative international cuisine.”  We don’t have reservations, but they manage to find a table for us.  We fall in love with this place.  Our meal and the atmosphere are superb.

Két Szerecsen

I start out with red wine and Mike a cold beer.

We order an array of small dishes, including Moroccan pumpkin cream soup with goat cheese, pomegranate and pistachios; roasted goat cheese with green apple puree and honey walnuts; and spinach with cream and Serrano ham.  For my meal, I order chicken paprika stew, parsley dumplings, & cucumber salad with sour cream.  I love everything about this meal.

My favorite dish is the spinach with cream and Serrano ham.  After every bite, I make an “mmm” sound and smile. It is so good that I say, “I just want to lie on the floor with my legs up in the air,” thinking of a dog happily having its belly rubbed.  When Mike and I realize how bad that sounds, we burst out laughing and can’t stop.  We’re out of control! 🙂

After our fabulous day, we return to our apartment where we help ourselves to some macadamia nut ice cream we bought at the market.  Yum!

Total steps today: 22,888 (9.7 miles).

a cruise up the danube bend — first stop: esztergom

Sunday, September 24:  Today, we get up early to catch a hydrofoil run by MAHART PassNave Ltd up the Danube Bend to Esztergom and Visegrád.  The Danube Bend is a region of hills and charming towns along a series of curves in the river north of Budapest.

If we want to do this cruise during our stay, we have to do it today or Tuesday, as MAHART doesn’t run the hydrofoil on Mondays. As Tuesday’s our last day in Budapest, we don’t want to do it then. We are lucky enough to be here in September, as the company runs the hydrofoils only through October 1.

The hydrofoil leaves the dock at Vigadó Square in Budapest at 10:00.  We reserved our tickets online, but we must be at the dock a half hour before to pay for them. The cruise makes three stops: 1) Vác at 10:40; 2) Visegrád at 11:00; and 3) Esztergom at 11:30.  We’ve decided to take the boat to the furthest point, Esztergom, across the river from Slovakia, and then take a bus to Visegrád.  We hope the timing will be right and there will be seats available to get the hydrofoil back from Visegrád when it stops there at 6:00 p.m., but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll take a bus back to Budapest. Sadly, the hydrofoil only goes up and back down the Danube Bend once each day, so we can’t hop on and off at the various points.

During the 1 1/2 hour cruise up the Danube, we’re disheartened by the rain and clouds we see out the window.  Periodically, hints of blue peek through the clouds, so we’re hopeful the weather will clear up by the time we get to Esztergom.

At 11:30, we disembark from the hydrofoil just past the Mária Valéria Bridge and start heading up a narrow road, where we stop to study a large town map. At the map, we chat briefly with an amiable solo-traveling Irishman named John.  He’s staying in Budapest for a week and doing a series of day trips into Hungary’s countryside.  He’s planning to take the hydrofoil back from Esztergom when it departs at 5:30 and wonders if he’ll find enough to do here for six hours.  We tell him our complicated plan to take the bus to Visegrád, and he wishes us luck in our quest.

The Mahart hydrofoil

We can’t miss the huge Esztergom Basilica on the hill south of the bridge. It’s simply a matter of how to make our way up there.  Mike studies the map and figures out the way.  We’ve decided he’s good with paper maps, and I’m good with GoogleMaps, which provides bus & train routes and timetables, and even helps us find our way when we’re lost.  I depended completely on this app while in Japan.

The Danube & Esztergom Basilica

We pass by the local restaurant, SZALMA CSÁRDA, but it’s a little too early to stop for lunch.

cute eatery

Mike, a big cycling fan, is happy to see a well-organized time trial taking place with all ages of well-kitted teams involved.  At the same time, a half marathon is going on in the town.  While he is excited to see lively athletics going on in the historic town, I feel that it takes away from the old-world nostalgia that should be evident in an old European town.  I know, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon in that regard. 🙂

These two photos are Mike’s.

Of course, we have to walk over the 500-meter-long Mária Valéria Bridge to see the views of the Basilica and to say we crossed the border into Štúrovo, Slovakia.

Mária Valéria Bridge

The bridge is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria (1868-1924), the fourth child of Franz Josef and Elisabeth, also known as Sisi. Since its opening in September of 1895, the bridge has been destroyed twice. In July of 1919 the bridge was destroyed by a detonation at its first pier on its western side but the bridge was renovated in 1922 and completely reconstructed in 1926. During World War II, retreating German troops blew up the bridge on 26 December 1944 along with other bridges near Esztergom.  The bridge finally reopened in 2001 (Wikipedia: Mária Valéria Bridge).

statue as we climb to the Mária Valéria bridge

We find some coats of arms on the bridge, but I can’t tell you their significance.

We also find some fantastic views of Esztergom Basilica on the bridge, along with the Danube cruise boats.

view of Esztergom Basilica from the Mária Valéria bridge

We cross over into Slovakia, but I won’t count it in my list of countries visited (29 so far) until I actually visit it properly.  I hope to do that within the next couple of years.

The border of Slovakia

The Danube is Europe’s second largest river, after the Volga River. Today, it flows through ten countries, more than any other river in the world.  Originating in Germany, it flows southeast for 2,860 km (1,780 mi) before emptying into the Black Sea.

the Danube

Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen, was born in Esztergom in 975.  From the 10th till the mid-13th century, Esztergom was the capital of Hungary, until King Béla IV of Hungary moved the royal seat to Buda following the Mongul invasion in 1241.  Today, the town is the seat of the prímás of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary, and the former seat of the Constitutional Court of Hungary. Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary.

Esztergom Basilica

After seeing the views down the Danube and of the Basilica, we turn around on the bridge and cross back into Hungary.