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.


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

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.


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

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
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.

The Astoria
piano garden
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 ( 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” ( 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 ( 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

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.


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

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
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

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.


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.

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 walking tour of pest & a confusing (but fun!) visit to the széchenyi thermal bath

Saturday, September 23:  After lunch, following a Lonely Planet Hungary walking tour of Budapest, we stroll up Andrássy út, the most expensive street in Hungary. On this grand street, we find the Hungarian State Opera, and though we missed the final 3:00 English tour, we determine to return another day. Statues of opera muses adorn the first floor façade while great composers such as Verdi and Mozart line the second floor.

Hungarian State Opera House

A side street, Dalszínház utca, leads us to the New Theatre, a 1990 reconstruction of the original by Béla Latja (1909). On the façade parapet, nine gilded ceramic angels carry tablets spelling out the name of the theatre, and globes and geometric designs feature shades of early Art Deco.

New Theatre
New Theatre
Fanciful balconies
splashes of color

A block up from the Hungarian State Opera, on Nagymező Street, we find the “Broadway of Budapest,” with the Budapest Operetta (Budapesti Operettszínház) at Number 17. This musical theater with its pink facade features 500 performances per year of Hungarian operettas and contemporary musicals, as well as historical-literary musicals aimed at the younger generation, making it one of the most frequented theaters in Hungary.  I love its fancy wrought iron canopy and old world elegance.

The Budapest Operetta
The Budapest Operetta
inside the Budapest Operetta

Mike stops on a bench for a brief chat with Emmerich (or Imre) Kálmán (24 October 1882 – 30 October 1953), a Hungarian operetta composer who was one of Adolph Hitler’s favorite composers despite his Jewish origins. After Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany in 1938, he rejected Hitler’s offer to become an “honorary Aryan” and was forced to move to Paris. After his emigration, performances of his works were prohibited in Nazi Germany. He eventually settled in California in 1940, returning to Vienna from New York in 1949 before moving in 1951 to Paris, where he died.

Mike has a chat with Imre Kálmán

The eight-story Neo-Renaissance Mai Manó House houses the Hungarian House of Photography, a photo gallery, featuring world-class exhibitions.  After it was built in 1894 as a photo studio, it was the home and workplace of Manó Mai, the former imperial and royal court photographer of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Mai Manó House
Mai Manó House – photo taken by Mike Dutchak

We find the leaning statue of Miklós Radnóti, a Hungarian poet who was shot by the Nazis in 1944 and tossed into a mass grave.  When his body was found, a small notebook of poems was retrieved from his overcoat pocket.  From love poems to the wife he’d never see again to poems depicting the gruesome horrors of the Nazi regime, his small collection is a chilling masterpiece about the barbarism experienced during the Holocaust.

Miklós Radnóti, the leaning statue

Across the street from the Hungarian Operetta is Thália Színház, a performance art theatre.

Thália Színház

Our Budapest Walking Tour would have taken us ever-so-slowly to Heroes’ Square, but we are in a hurry to visit the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath before dinner.  Instead of walking, we take our Airbnb host Charlie’s advice and take the Metro 1, known in Budapest as “the underground” (“a földalatti”), the oldest line of the Budapest Metro system, built from 1894 to 1896. In 2002, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After many frustrating moments figuring out how to buy tickets, Mike finally figures it out and we’re on board.

Metro 1, also known as The Underground

At Heroes’ Square, we get out and look out for the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath.  We follow the signpost shown below.

Signs at Heroes’ Square

How confounded we are by the workings of the Széchenyi Thermal Bath! Of course the language barrier makes it difficult, but the impatient attitude of the ticket salesperson also puts us off to the point where we almost consider walking away. Almost.  In the end, I’m glad we persevere.  It’s quite the experience.

The daily ticket with locker usage is 5,100 Forints, about $19.55 each. Simple enough.  But, there’s the issue of the towels. We didn’t bring our own towels, so we need to rent them.  The ticket salesperson mutters something about 3,000 Forints, which is about $11.50.  Surely, the entry fee can’t be nearly $20 and the towels nearly $12?!! That seems rather outrageous. It takes us quite some time to figure out that we must pay 3,000 Forints per towel, but 2,000 of that is simply a deposit that will be returned to us when we return the towels.  We finally commit and pay our fees, heading inside the locker rooms wearing electronic wristbands to lock the lockers.

It’s confusing because there is only one locker room for both men and women.  Where on earth are we supposed to change?  By watching other people, we find there are little cabins with doors on two sides, one leading into the locker room, and one to an outer area. Mike and I change in one shared cabin.  Mike figures out that to lock both doors, we must fold down a panel on the bench seat, which in effect blocks both doors.  We change and carry our heaps of discarded clothing into the locker room, stuff them into lockers #150 and #151, double test them, and then proceed into the pool area wearing our wristbands.  We are both worried about this procedure as all our money, credit cards and passports are in our bags.  We had trouble in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland with locking the lockers and then having them accidentally open when we thought they were locked! All seems to work fine here in the end.

We walk through the indoor pools, take a short dip, then head for the outdoor pools.  The outdoor pools are not quite hot enough, in my opinion, for the cold air temperatures.  I don’t bring a phone or camera to take pictures, because for one, I don’t want my camera to get wet, and two, I’m not sure of the protocol.  However, I desperately want to take photos!

After we soak in the outdoor pools for a while, I see a few people walking around the pool decks taking pictures with their phones or iPads, so I go back inside to my locker and grab my phone, stopping to take a picture of one of the indoor baths.

inside the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

As I’m taking another picture, a man happily jumps into the middle of my picture, a hilarious photobomb!  I crack up laughing.

a photobomber at Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

Most of all, I want pictures of the outside pools.  So, I take a deep breath and head out into the cold, wearing a towel wrapped around me.  Brrrr!  I have to make this quick.

Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

I love the men playing a serious chess game on the steps of the pool.

an engaging game of chess

Can you spot Mike in the pool below?

Mike in the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath was designed by Gyozo Czigler and built in 1913. The Bath was expanded in 1927 with a public bathing department for gentlemen and ladies and a beach site. In the middle of the 1960s, further transformations took place.

Reconstructing the pools of the swimming section, completed in 1999, included equipping them with water filtering and circulation devices. The so-called fancy bath includes a whirling corridor, underwater effervescence production, neck shower and water beam back massage.  These were installed in the sitting banks, according to the Baths website.

Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

I am determined to take pictures all the way from the far end.  I have to walk past the thermal pool, alongside the 50-meter-long swimming pool, and past the activity pool. The pool at the far end has a spiral whirlpool, which makes for interesting photos. As I walk along the 50-meter swimming pool, which is only 26 degrees C (almost 80F) according to the sign, I see a few hardy souls swimming laps in it. It’s hard to imagine swimming in the cooler water, but I guess the water is still warmer than the air.

swimming pool at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
whirlpool end of the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

The panorama picture I take makes the pool look strangely distorted.

a strangely distorted panorama shot of the whirlpool end of the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

Can you spot me in the bath?  I make Mike get out of the nice warm pool to take the picture.  He isn’t too happy about standing outside in the cold.

Me at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath

After we stop in at one of the indoor pools, we return to the locker room to change.  Mike takes the towels to the drop-off to get our 4,000 Forints deposit returned.  He faces a bit more confusion as the woman asks him to give her 1,000 Forints, so she can give him a 5,000 Forint bill. He searches through all his coins to put together 1,000, struggling to decipher the values of the coins and becoming flustered in the process.

How disconcerting it is when you first arrive in a new culture and have to figure out all the nuances of language, currency, signage, direction and proper etiquette!

After we finish at the baths, we take Metro 1 back to the Opera and then, beginning on a perpendicular street, take a series of streets back to our Airbnb apartment.  We pass by a little playground park with a pretty mural on the background building.  We’ll pass by this every evening as we make our way “home.”

mural on the wall behind a city park

At the far end of the park is a more graphic and less pastoral scene.

another mural at the city park

We pass more interesting street art along the way.

Budapest Street Art
Budapest Street Art

On the block before our street, we poke our heads into a couple of restaurants and finally go inside the inviting Gettó Gulyás. They don’t have any empty tables so we happily sit at the bar.

Sitting at the bar at Gettó Gulyás

I order a tall skinny beer, while Mike gets a short squat one.

a tall beer at Gettó Gulyás

Our meal starts out well, but in the end, we’re not wholly satisfied. The goose crackling pate and red onion spread on the fresh bread are delicious, as is the beet salad.  But my mushroom stew with egg noodles (what I’d call spätzle) is not that great because of the texture of some of the mushrooms and the strange flavor of the noodles.  Mike’s beef stew is very chewy and he ends up leaving half of it behind.  We resolve not to return to this restaurant despite its cozy ambiance.

Back at Kazinczy utca, our home street, we stop in at an outdoor covered food court, Karaván Budapest, with 10 kiosks.  Here, we each get small cups of ice cream.  I order a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and Mike gets an apple crumble. It’s a little cold for ice cream, but that doesn’t stop us!

food arcade

I know one of the benefits of staying in an apartment when traveling is that you can eat breakfast in and prepare lunches as well. We could even cook dinner in, but I enjoy eating out too much to do that!  After all, I’m on vacation, even from cooking.  So after we finish our ice cream, we walk to the nearest market to stock up on some food.

How I hate going to markets for mundane things when I’m on holiday!! The market is small and crowded and we can’t figure out what is what.  We finally buy yogurt, granola, cheese, crackers, bread, bananas (which I don’t care for unless they’re in a smoothie but Mike can’t seem to live without), and beers so, as Mike says, “we can stop by the apartment and enjoy afternoon beers before going out for dinner.”  It’s way too much food, and it turns out we never even have time to drink the beers as we usually grab dinner out in the areas where we’re sightseeing, thus never returning to the apartment first.  At the end of our shopping spree, we find that people have brought their own bags and the market doesn’t provide bags!  We stuff all our groceries into our backpacks and resolve to bring bags with us on our next shopping trip.

We have a great first day in Budapest, even though we pushed ourselves to go all day on less than an hour’s sleep the night before, and despite the gloomy weather.  My favorite experiences were enjoying the views from St. Stephen’s Basilica and dipping into the pools at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath.

Total steps today: 13,840 (5.87 miles). 🙂


a gloomy saturday in budapest

Friday to Saturday, September 22-23:  Four days in Budapest and this is our first, but only after Lufthansa carries us, miserably uncomfortable in economy class aisle seats, for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt.

While airborne, I squirm and wriggle and try to sleep, but manage to snooze less than a half hour, instead captivated by a series of shows on the small screen inset into the seatback: first, a German-language movie Die Reste Mienes Lebens, in which Schimon lives his life following his pregnant wife’s death by clinging to a sentence his grandfather once told him, “Everything in life happens the way it should.” Second, Mama Mia and its exuberant ABBA songs delight me once again (how many times have I watched that movie?), although our destination will be nothing like the Greek island where that magical love story takes place. Finally, I watch the first of seven episodes of the TV-miniseries, Big Little Lies, which took away eight Emmys this year.

We wait in Frankfurt for nearly three hours, where Mike gets a little shut-eye while splayed across the seats in the airport.  All airports should ban armrests and have sets of lounge chairs like Frankfurt does so people can relax between flights. Meanwhile, I busy myself with a fancy coffee and pastry, in what will become a 2-week pastry extravaganza — resulting in a few extra pounds!

Mike taking a nap in Frankfurt

Finally, the airline lifts us the last hour and a half to our destination. We taxi to our Pest neighborhood in a steady drizzle under heavy clouds, bringing to mind the 1999 movie, Gloomy Sunday, which takes place in 1930s Budapest and features the famous melancholic melody which, according to urban legend, triggered a chain of suicides.  The suicide connection is unsubstantiated, but it’s probable that events in the decade in which the song was written, such as famine, poverty and the rise of Nazi Germany, may have influenced the high number of suicides at that time.

Instead it is a Gloomy Saturday, but our enthusiasm at exploring a new city is not one bit dampened.

The taxi drops us off on Kazinczy utca, the street on which Charlie’s Budapest is located; we booked the apartment through Airbnb.  Number 7 is simply a weathered door in a long nondescript wall.  We beep for apartment 7 and soon Charlie arrives with his two lively little girls, Chia and Eliye, to let us in. We enter through two large disheveled 4-story courtyards with peeling yellow paint, hinting at Old World charm. The apartment has a large bright bedroom, a nice well-stocked kitchen with an instant espresso machine, and a patio out the back door which we will use if the weather improves and if we’re able to open and close the door easily (for some reason it’s rather challenging).

The apartment sits on the ground floor in the far corner of two adjoining four-story courtyards.  Our door is to the left of the two pink chairs.

Our apartment door is on the far left bottom corner
the apartment building at Charlie’s Budapest

After Charlie gives us the rundown on Budapest, we put on our raincoats and venture out into the drizzle.

a rainy morning in Budapest

Kazinczy Street is in Budapest’s old District VII neighborhood, the old Jewish quarter, and since spring of 2012 has been dubbed as Street of Culture (a Kultúra utcája). Here in the decaying buildings left by World War II, funky bars and a lively nightlife scene have sprung up amidst the ruins. These so-called “ruin bars” line our street. We plan to visit one during our stay, so I’ll talk more about them when that time comes.

Szimpla Kert, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar, set in a dilapidated apartment complex, sits a few doors down and across the narrow street from our apartment complex.  Tour groups and lone travelers wander down the street, snapping photos of the colorful ruin bars and eatery exteriors with cameras, iPads and smart phones.

the street of ruin bars
our neighborhood

Can you find Waldo in the picture below?

wayward signs
Szimpla Kert

Immediately, Mike throws my detailed plan (outlined in an extensive spreadsheet) out the window, pointing out that going across the Danube to the Buda side doesn’t make sense for today as our apartment is on the Pest side and we’re getting a late start. He’s right of course, so I shrug and we meander through grand pastel-colored baroque, neoclassical, eclectic and Art Nouveau buildings to Szent István tér.

the pastels of Budapest

We wander streets garnished with enigmatic street art, curvaceous facades, vibrant flower stalls, and empty outdoor cafes.

Dressing Room
curvaceous buildings

The outdoor cafes would look inviting but for the light drizzle and cool temps.

outdoor cafe
fierce facade
flower shop

I fall in love with the vintage signs found through Budapest and even end up buying one later in our stay.

Coca-Cola please

The neo-renaissance Roman Catholic St. Stephen’s Basilica looms in front of us at Szent István tér and we must of course climb the 364 steps to the dome’s observation deck. Both the Basilica and the Parliament Building are 96 meters tall, and regulations don’t permit any other buildings in Budapest to be taller than these. The equal heights of these buildings represent a power balance between church and state in Hungary; they also represent the balance between worldly and spiritual thinking.

The patron saint of the church is St. Stephen (c. 975-1038), the first king of Hungary. His mummified right hand is kept in a glass case in the reliquary.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

We find a statue of St. Gregorius in a niche on the wall of the Basilica.

St. Gregorius

We also find Gothic looking details on a building across the way.

Gothic details

After climbing the increasingly narrow and claustrophobic 364 steps to the dome, we find fabulous panoramic views of Budapest from the solid balcony.  The Parliament Building, one of the Basilica’s bell towers, the Buda Hills, and the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel on Erzsébet Square sprawl out before us.  At this point, I don’t know enough about the city to identify other sites.

View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside the church, we’re awed by the red marble and gold interior.

Interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica