When it was announced that the school was going to make some needed repairs
on my apartment over the extended weekend, I decided to spend the time in
Budapest. About 6 hours north of Belgrade, the Hungarian capital could
easily be reached through public ground transport. Although buses and trains
were available, I chose to use a van service that picked me up right at my
house and left me off at the hotel a nice service for my first time
traveling here. Despite a late start (the van picked up its passengers
around midnight instead of 9pm as I had been told earlier), the ride to
Budapest went smoothly. After walking several blocks to the correct hotel
(the van dropped me off at the other hotel on Margaret Island), I had a
simple ³breakfast² at my hotel fresh buns and tea. Showered, I left the
hotel, walked across the bridge and headed into the main part of Budapest.
Budapest is a city that has had a rather efficient public transportation
system for quite some time. Busses, trams, trains and metros run through the
major parts of the city, while other trains and busses transported people to
nearby cities. I purchased the Budapest card, enabling me to take all
in-city public transportation for free. The card also gave free or reduced
entrance to museums and other sites, as well as discounts on some
Equipped with my Budapest card and some Hungarin forint currency (aren¹t ATM
machines great!) I walked over to the nearby meeting place for the Walkabout
Tour. I felt that this 3-4 hour walking tour would give me a nice overview
of the city. About 8 other people showed up for the English-speaking tour.
We started the tour at Hero¹s Square, a monument to many of Hungary¹s
important leaders. Other figures were more allegorical. The bright sunlight
cast great shadows from each of the large sculptures. We then walked to City
Park. Framing the Vajahunyad Castle (a replica of a former castle in
Vajahunyad, now in Romania) were some large weeping willows. A pond,
currently drained, would have created an additional romantic touch. During
the winter, the pond is a favorite spot to ice skate. Nearby was an old
church and other buildings bearing a mixture of styles, including
Renaissance, Gothic, and Romanticism.
Within the park was the famous Szécheni Baths, a neo-Baroque complex.
Stepping inside for a peek, we saw many older people waiting in line to use
pay the theraputic price for the large outdoor thermal pool. The bright
yellow paint contrasted sharply with the blue sky and the turquoise thermal
pool. Inside the pool, some of the men passed the time playing chess. The
scene reminded me of the a bit of the ancient Romans, who also saw the baths
as an important social gathering place.
Knowing that there was much more to see, we left the park and headed back to
the downtown area, walking down the broad tree-lined street named Andrássy
Ut. Even today, the street still proudly displays some beautiful buildings
and expensive rent. The ornate Opera house was just one example. Grabbing a
quick bite to eat at a corner grocery store, we moved onward, admiring the
outer architecture of St. Stephen¹s Cathedral. Construction of this large
building began in 1851, with the dome collapsing on top of the architect in
1868. It finally was completed (a few architects later) between 1873-1905.
An exhibit inside includes a mummified hand of St. Stephen. We then walked
across the Chain Bridge, easily identifiable by the two large seated lions
on each side. Like all the other bridges crossing the Danube River in the
city, this one was bombed during WWII. Built between 1842-47, the Chain
Bridge connected Buda and Pest, forming today¹s Budapest.
Now on the ³Buda² side of Budapest, the terrain suddenly became much
hillier. Alternating between a steep road and steps, we made our way up to
Castle Hill. Commanding views of the Danube and the Pest side were our
reward. Now rather warm, all of us had shed outer layers and were now
wearing short sleeves. To our left in the distance was the Freedom Statue, a
reminder of the Russian¹s help in liberating Budapest from the Nazis. The
guide explained that the distaste for Communism and Russian occupation was
so strong that virtually all of the Soviet statues/monuments were promptly
removed after the fall of Communism. The Freedom Statue was one of the rew
remaining remnants, still present due to the intercession of a Hungarian
leader. One of our first destinations was the St. Mátyás Church, built in
1255-69. Like other buildings in Budapest, this one contained several
different architectural styles. Currently, the gothic tower was scaffolded,
taking its turn in the long process of renovation. The tiled roof,
consisting of brown, green, yellow, and cream colors, added a distinctive
touch. Tourists and locals filled the plaza, relishing the warm sun and
perhaps an ice cream cone. One lady quietly held up her embroidery work for
tourists to see. Pigeons were everywhere.
Nearby were reminders of the toll WWII took on Budapest. One building, (a
former stable) where Nazis were holed up in retreat, still bore the potmarks
of gunfire. A steeple, the only remaining part of a bombed church, has been
preserved as a monument.
With the tour now over, I wandered through the Castle Hill streets. Pricey
souvenir shops, cafés, and shops selling ice cream and other sweets lined
the narrow streets. There was a relaxed atmosphere, rather different from
the downtown Pest side. Taking a tram back to the Pest side, I went to see
the ornamental Great Synagogue. Very few Jews remain in Hungary, but the
building is a testament to the greatness of former years, including a
capacity of more than 3,000 people. The dominant terracotta color of the
building and the onion-domed towers provided additional distinction. The
Star of David motif was repeated everywhere, tastefully portrayed in the
brick, glass tracings, and even the clock.
I was now ready for my next destination the Market Hall. This large
landmark, a 19th century steel-framed brick building houses a huge produce
market on the first floor and crafts and some eating stalls on the second
floor. Hungry, I bought some fruit to gather some extra strength for
shopping. Sausages, cheese and other specialties hung from the stalls. On
the top floor, the number of stalls selling embroidered tablecloths and
other goods was rather overwhelming. Some of the crafts were rather nice
(but also pricey), while others were downright cheesy such as the Russian
nesting dolls with pictures of Harry Potter, Michael Jackson, or Kerry.
Quality varied greatly. Not finding a doll that neither was too expensive,
mass-produced looking, or displaying large imperfections (such as a crooked
wig), I moved on. I looked in other stores along the large walking street
and after much looking, finally found a ceramic doll (in traditional
embroidered dress) that was satisfactory in its porcelain cleaning,
painting, and not horribly expensive. After a quick supper, I hopped the bus
back to Margaret Island and back to my hotel around 9 pm.
After the same breakfast, I headed towards the train station. One train and
bus later, I arrived in Szentendre, a town about 18 km north of Budapest. I
entered a grocery store, buying some food for lunch, as well as some plastic
wrap in a cutting box (I was tired of using a scissors to cut plastic wrap
in Belgrade). Walking past the large finger monument, I entered the more
touristy part of the town, cobblestone narrow streets with restored
buildings in bright but tasteful colors. Lace curtains covered most windows
in this town. There were tons of craft shops, antique stores, cafés,
restaurants, and ATM machines, all welcoming tourist dollars. Like in
Budapest, English was frequently heard, in addition to German, Japanese, and
other languages. Now near midday, many tour groups filled the streets, with
the tour leader holding up an umbrella or pinwheel as a guiding device.
Serbians settled here at the end of the 17th century, fleeing from the
Turks, Seven churches were visible, including 4 Serbian Orthodox, 2
Catholic, and one Calvinist.
After a quiet lunch by a river, I walked back to the bus station to find out
departure times for Scansin, an open air museum containing collected
restored homes from 18th and 19th century Hungary. As the bus didn¹t leave
for another hour, I walked past the finger monument once again and headed
into the touristy part of Szentendre, wandering the streets and taking some
photos. The bus driver announced when we were at the museum¹s entrance, and
many people also exited the bus. The museum reminded me a lot of Old World
Wisconsin, which has done a great job of giving visitors an idea of how
different ethnic groups settling in Wisconsin lived type of homes,
furnishing, technology, farms, and more. Unlike Old World Wisconsin, the
museum workers were not dressed in traditional costume. It was neat peeking
inside the homes to see how people from different regions, religions, and
times lived types of furniture, kitchen furnishings, size of beds, and
much more. Outside, sheep munched on the green grass. Some of the tools and
equipment inside the barns reminded me of some I had seen in the granary
shed on the family farm in Wisconsin. Signs posted in Hungarian and English
helped explain the purpose of the buildings, their owner, and other
important information. Although the sky clouded up several times threatening
rain, I was able to see the entire exhibit.
After another long day, I headed back to the hotel. I had a few minutes left
before the next-door public pool closed, so I jumped in and did a few laps.
Coming down with the cold that affected the entire school, I decided it was
best for me to rest for the night.
The next day it was raining a perfect day for museums. I started out at
the Ethnographic museum. As in Belgrade, this ethnographic museum had a nice
collection of traditional costumes from around the country. There, I met a
German woman who was upset by the fact that her Budapest card covered only
the permanent collection and not the other exhibitions. After the worker
explained that the change was due to the May entrance into the EU, I calmly
told her it would not be helpful to complain to the man instead she should
contact the Budapest Card company regarding the undocumented change. After
waking through the exhibit, we headed together across the street to the
Parliament. What started out to be drizzle quickly turned into moderate
rainfall. So we, like the others, stood out in the rain (a weather watcher
as most Wisconsinites are, I rightly brought along my umbrella), waiting for
the next tour. An English-speaking guide showed a large group around several
areas of the building. It had some unique touches, including special cigar
holders for men who had to rush in and hear important discussions, a large
hand-woven carpet (bubble-gum was forbidden inside, as this would have
ruined the carpet), a replica model made out of matchsticks, marble columns
and floors, and the famous crown. After enjoying some Goulash, I headed
towards the art museum, which housed a nice collection including several
Goyas, El Grecos, and Breugel paintings.
All packed up, I made my final jaunt to explore a bit more of the Pest side.
With my Budapest card now expired (I was supposed to leave for Belgrade
around 11), I walked around and enjoyed the good weather. I now felt quite
oriented to the city and didn¹t need to refer to a map to get to my
destination. After a meal in the Great Market (I was hoping to find some
nice gifts, but came away empty-handed), I meandered back to the hotel.
After a nice extended weekend, I was now ready to get back to Belgrade.