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).

 

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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. 🙂