budapest: terror house & szimpla kert

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

Terror House

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

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

Victims of terror

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

Victims of the Holocaust

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

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

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

Names

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

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

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

mishmash of the times
1940s

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

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

figures on a balcony
figures on a balcony

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

Két Szerecsen

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

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

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

church in Budapest
Budapest streets
street art in Budapest

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

Mike at Szimpla Kert

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

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

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

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

car at Szimpla Kert

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

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

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

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

 

budapest: 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. 🙂

 

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

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

We walk out through our shabby chic courtyard.

the courtyard at Charlie’s Budapest

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

el Rapido Grand Bazaar on Kazinczy utca
Szimpla Kert

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

a small fruit market in Pest

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

street art above Hungarian Restaurant
street art in Pest

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

Budapest trams

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

Budapest architecture

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

The Budapest Eye
The Budapest Eye

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

locks at The Budapest Eye

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

Budapest architecture
Budapest trams
On the way to Chain Bridge

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

Chain Bridge

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

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

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

View up the Danube with Margaret Bridge

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

Hungarian Parliament

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

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

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

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

Matthias Church
statue on Castle Hill

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

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

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

Fishermen’s Bastion

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

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

Matthias Church
Matthias Church

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

view south to Elizabeth Bridge from Fishermen’s Bastion

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

View east from Fishermen’s Bastion

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

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

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

Fishermen’s Bastion
Fishermen’s Bastion

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

I love the views from up here.

view of Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

testing my camera card on chili peppers

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

drying chili peppers

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

Matthias Church
Matthias Church

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

interior of Matthias Church

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

inside Matthias Church
Interior of Matthias Church
inside Matthias Church

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

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

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

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

angels guarding the door

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

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?

Rapido
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

Doing things in reverse order, we view the front facade of St. Stephen’s Basilica as we exit the building.

front facade of St. Stephen’s Basilica

We’re hungry by this time, and though there are Hungarian restaurants aplenty, we opt for the Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant across the street from the Basilica.  The menu out front looks healthy and enticing.

Looking for a lunchtime restaurant

I can finally shed my raincoat inside the warm and cozy Hachapuri.

Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant

I order Hikali, a set of four dumplings with four different fillings: mushroom, cheese, spinach and potato. Drawings on the menu demonstrate that one should hold the dumpling pouches by the gathered opening, and then bite into them, but I find them too hot and simply cut them up.  They’re delicious.

Hikali – dumplings at Hachapuri

As we will do many times during our trip, we forget to take a picture of Mike’s colorful Vegi Gobi before digging in, so I take a picture of the menu.  The Georgian platter has tomato-cucumber and parsley salads, hummus, cheese with mint, and various flavors of walnut balls served with a light yogurt sauce.  Meant to be shared between family and friends, Mike kindly shares some with me, although I’m too stuffed from my dumplings to partake much in his meal.

Vegi Gobi
Me at Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant in Budapest

Lunch takes longer than we intended and by the time we finish, we realize we will miss the final daily 3:00 English tour of the Hungarian State Opera House.  Instead, we decide to follow the Budapest Walking Tour in Lonely Planet Hungary, walking down Andrássy út, an avenue dating back to 1872 and recognized as a World Heritage Site since 2002. The avenue is lined with Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses and is one of Budapest’s main shopping streets. The walk ends at Heroes’ Square, near the largest medicinal baths in Europe, Széchenyi Baths.  We have our bathing suits and flip-flops in our backpacks, intending to check it out!