Beautiful Budapest – Part 2

So, if you are ever in Budapest, you must take a ride on the Danube at night.  I know, it’s a touristy thing to do, but it is one of the major highlights of our visit to this magical city.    Our friends had purchased a Hop-On, Hop-off ticket which included the boat ride at night and they invited us along.  Thank you, Mary and Charles!  Not only did we learn a little more history of the city and locate particular landmarks, we also were thrilled with the views.  Unfortunately this is point and shoot digital photography at night, so this is the best I could do.



Matthias Church at night

glass concert on the way to the docks















Buda palaces at night



Chain Bridge



Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church at night

Liberty statue
















Parliament Building










The next day we used our guidebook to find the highly recommended Gerloczy Cafe.  We were not disappointed.  From the menu to the food, the experience was sublime and a great way to start the day!


Breakfast at Gerloczy Cafe (the best)



If ever I open a restaurant, I want to have a menu like this.  I tried to figure out how I could stick one into my already packed handbag, but, in the end, decided to photograph some of the choice pages.

No  one was bothered, or emotional, but the quiche (Hungarian style with spicy sausage) was most definitely all right!  How more wonderful can a place be that features Irish Harp?

Bill with Irish Harp behind


The Gerloczy Cafe from the outside















Outside there is a statue of the united city’s first mayor (Budapest was only united in 1873).


From the cafe, we went to the Great Synagogue.  The synagogue, also known as Dohány Street Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga or Dohány utcai Zsinagóga),  is located in downtown Budapest.  It is the largest synagogue in Eurasia and the second largest in the world, after the Temple Emanu-El.  What is interesting about this synagogue, built between 1854 and 1859 is its Moorish Revival style and elements (rosette window, organ)  that make it seem almost like a church.  (Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the original 5,000 tube organ built in 1859.)   Our tour guide told us that was the idea at the time, to ‘fit in’ with the dominant culture.


The Great Synagogue - Budapest



















The synagogue was impressive [has a capacity of 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 in the women’s galleries)] but even more so was the Museum, with articles from Judaica all over the world.  The third part of the visit brought us to the sobering Holocaust remembrance.

Our guide called this The Tree of Life, but it is also known as the Weeping Willow, with names of those lost in the Holocaust inscribed on the leaves.  This sculpture is part of Raoul Wallenberg Park, which sits in back of the synagogue.

The words on the structure at the front read:  “Whoever saves a soul for mankind, saves the entire world.”

Both Jewish victims of the Holocaust and ‘righteous gentiles’ are memorialized here.  Some of the ‘righteous gentiles’  include priests and ministers who buried torahs from various synagogues in their church cemeteries to hide them from the Nazis.



Memorial to Raoul Wallenberg














the stained glass memorial

memorial to the victims of the Holocaust













We spent a long time at the synagogue, and after that, took  a long walk to process all that we had seen.  We know of this inhumanity but there is nothing quite like hearing about it from children and grandchildren of those who experienced it, and nothing quite like seeing the reminders of it on the soil where it occurred.  Never forget.



Budapest is known for its thermal baths.  You would think that Bill, of all people, would be most interested in checking these hydrogeologic features out first hand.  We even packed swimming suits!  Alas, we ran out of time to do anything but make a quick trip out to the Szechenyi Baths, not to get in but to at least see them.


To get there, you take Line 1 of the oldest metro system on the continent (London’s is older but it’s not on the continent!).  The trains look very old and the stations even older, but classic in a sort of  late 1890’s way.


Line 1

one of the stations along Line 1












The baths are located in a beautiful park.


Once there, you have a choice of bathing au naturale with people of the same gender or sharing space together with mixed genders, hopefully with some clothing on.  Next time!









We zipped back to our apartment to change for the Opera and go out to dinner.  The feel of Budapest is very liberating; even the restaurants reflect this style.


if it rained, we were all set!


Budapest’s Opera House is large and about as ornate as Vienna’s which seems less ornate than the one in Graz!  The acoustics were superb and the opera itself very well sung:  Otello, another Verdi opera and we knew the story so trying to read the HUNGARIAN text across the top of the stage didn’t matter. (my next language is going to be Italian, however!)



Hungarian State Opera House



Opera goes enjoying refeshments and break on terrace in Budapest

while computer work gets done on the steps














the stage













the boxes

the dome - ok it IS more ornate than Vienna's!









Iago tkaing a bow

Otehello and Desdemona after Act 4











This was a very long opera.  By the time we found our coats, pulled out the umbrellas (no they did NOT come from the restaurant), and walked to a nearby bar/bakery, we found it was closing in 10 minutes.   There was no time to eat in, so we did what all good Americans do…we asked for take out pastry.  I thought the maitre de was going to fall over, but he obliged and even put our desserts to go on a little (cardboard) gold tray!


dessert after the Opera - our 'to go' tray

I don’t remember the name of any of these but it didn’t matter – they were delicious!

We’ll be back, beautiful Budapest.


Budapest: Days 1 and 2

When we told our French friends that we were planning a trip to Budapest in mid-May, André asked, “Which are going to, Buda or Pest?” (He is funny in whatever language he uses!)  To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize that Budapest was separated like that.  I admit it – I am directionally impaired!  Give me a city like Missoula where the big directional landmarks are visible and the streets are (mostly) laid out on NSEW grid, and I am fine.  Put me in a large city with skyscrapers, and I am a goner.  Even though I managed to actually read the map and get us to our first Fulbright meeting in March (earning my husband’s admiration forever)  most of the time I have no idea where I am going, geographically speaking.    Perhaps it is time for a review of geography, lest I fall into the category mentioned in that question the stumbled on by Miss South Carolina  in the 2007  Miss Teen USA contest!


So, we headed East in May from Vienna to Budapest.  By train it’s about 2 1/2 hours, through small villages, past fields of  flaming yellow rapeseed and enormous wind turbines.

on the way to Budapest, Hungary by train

(note – if you want to see any of these photos in greater detail,just click once and then again and they should magnify in a separate screen)


We had previously met up with our friends, Mary and Charles, on the platform at Wien Meidling Bahnhof and when we landed on the platform at the Budapest Keleti station, we were accosted by no less than twenty people offering taxi rides.  What to do?  We waited until we got towards the front of the old (but very beautiful) station and then got into a taxi.  It was, uh, unmarked, which I think is not a good thing, but it didn’t cost four of us too much in the long run to get to our apartment on the Pest side of Budapest.  Why, on the map, does it look so much closer?


Budapest is indeed a city divided by a river that runs through it (Yes, I did know that!):  The Danau (Danube).   Pest is the side with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, the government buildings, Hero’s Square, the big shopping streets and much of the working city.  Buda is the hilly side with the old castle/palace, the Matthias Church and plenty of Medieval-Renaissance streets and buildings.  Both sides arose from Celtic roots to military frontier fortresses, Buda and Pest before being unified under a series of kings and finally, made part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1918.  And if you don’t know the rest of the story, you can look it up!


We explored both and loved wandering through the ‘big’ attractions (cathedrals, palaces, Fisherman’s Bastion) but just as much through parts of the city where people actually live and work or in out of the way museums. Staying in an apartment on Király utca, not in a ‘tourist’ area, let us see so much more than we would have staying, say, in a Hilton or a Four Seasons.  We found a morning family fair complete with a Hungarian version of Raffi, and an art festival with booths that went on for miles!  Grocery stores, and bakeries were nearby; learning to work in forints was challenging (think 4 to 6 numeral places-Hungary isn’t totally on the Euro yet, although it is a member of the EU). Reading or speaking in Hungarian (a beautiful sounding language, closer to Estonian or Finnish than any other)  was impossible (for us); even knowing how Kodály is pronounced didn’t help!


I am old enough to remember the 1956 Hungarian uprising as well as the more recent transition from communist satellite to Hungary’s present form and I wondered what we would find in this capital city.  The answer is great beauty and history (back to the Roman age!) and as well, some parts crying out for restoration and maintenance. just like any major city.  Many historic buildings were damaged in WWII or are just feeling their age.  Some are being restored; others are left as ‘reminders’.   The big avenues are clean and bright but so many of the buildings in the inner city (Pest side) needed re-stucco-ing and painting.


People were friendly and helpful and….. always working!  That is one difference between Budapest and, say, Graz, where all stores begin closing on Saturday afternoon and remain closed the next day and on any holiday.  In Budapest, stores were open at all hours of the day and night and people were working (this includes city workers!) even on Sunday! We could hear the jackhammers from our apartment!   Budapest is definitely a city in transition.


Here are some photos from our trip.


breakfast at a little cafe; family fair, city park

The pastries were just as good as in Austria!


little girl in the square in Budapest

easy rider










The tune to this song at the Family Reading Fair sounds familiar but I can’t place it!  Need translation!


St. Stephen’s Cathedral – outside, inside and up top

Stephen was Hungary’s first king and is canonized.  His ‘right hand’ is revered and encased in the cathedral.    We heard an organ concert there the first night we arrived and the next morning, had wonderful views of the city from the top.


Budapest from the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral



Onto the Chain Bridge towards Buda - Budapest

the palace complex (now museums) on the Buda side















Barge traffic on the Danau - Buda on the left; Pest on the right


The Parliament building - pest side of Budapest


Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion seen in reflection of Hilton Hotel - Buda side of Budapest














The Hilton Hotel is a newer, somewhat controversial building on the Buda side of Budapest.  Supermodern in design, it was built right into a 14th-century convent and baroque college.  The Fisherman’s Bastion is not old (just looks that way – it was built in 1905!).

Other scenes….

The Vienna Gate ("be quiet", say parents to kids,"your mouth is as big as the Vienna Gate!)"

national archives building on square near Vienna Gate






Moscow Square - where we had to hike to buy tram tickets

reconstructed window of Mary Magdalene church, bombed out in WW2, on Kapisztran Ter














close up of cannon outside Military History Museum - make love not war!



grave of Abdurraham, last Turkish gov of Budapest "He was a heroic foe."

sign on Orszaghaz utca, street of medieval houses














wedding at Matthias church














It seemed to be the height of wedding season, so we really never experienced the INSIDE of Matthias Church.


on the wedding car the flowers are 'glued" on



There must be a lot of straight A’s  in Budapest!  See below!

statue of Andras Hadik (field marshal in war with Turks) - students rub horse's testicles for good luck before an exam














Birds are an important symbol for Hungary – crow on the left; eagle on the right.

We found Lipizzaners at the end of our walk on the Buda side!  Only 30 € for the show and better seats than we had in Vienna!  We didn’t go, but it was tempting!



wonderful sculptures at an out of the way museum











If nothing else, the Hilton Hotel is great for reflections:  this one is Matthias Church.


We finished our second day in Budapest with a lovely and lingering dinner on the Buda side:  great wine, good Hungarian food, wonderful company in the garden of the Voros Ordog (Red Devil) Restaurant.  Only we weren’t really finished!  We still had a boat ride to take!