Budapest – Magical Beauty and Artistry


Budapest Parliament seen from our Danube Dinner Cruise after dinner
Budapest Parliament seen from our Danube Dinner Cruise after dinner

Monday, May 4:

A dinner cruise! What an intro to Budapest! Insight Vacations had booked us on a boat of our own for a dinner cruise on the Danube on the night we arrived! We arrived in Budapest at 16:15, having left Vienna’s Museum Quarter at 12:40.  It’s a  250 km drive East.

We checked in at the Sofitel Chain Bridge, my favourite hotel of the whole bus tour. It’s less than a 2 minutes walk from the Pest side of the bridge. The Sofitel had a very exciting central atrium – a happening place – and our room had a magnificent view of the Chain Bridge illuminated at night. We would be here for only two nights: too little time!

Before boarding our dinner cruise boat at 19:30 we had time to walk away from the river on Vaci Street looking for bottled water. While out, we treated ourselves to coffee and pastry at Gerbeaud House, famous the world over for its charm, decor and the inventive confectionery genius of Emil Gerbaud, awarded the French Légion d’Honneur in 1900. For two pastries and two coffees it was 7820 Forints – about €26.

I was excited to be here. In Budapest we have a wonderful friend who is a Budapest native. I will call her Csilla to respect her privacy. We met Csilla in April, 2013 on our Camino Santiago trip, and connected immediately. We shared email addresses and became “pen pals.” Knowing Csilla has greatly enriched our visit to Budapest. She had promised to show us around in the afternoon on Tuesday, our only full day in Budapest. More about our friend later; now to our dinner cruise…

The Danube night cruise is, hands down, more beautiful than Prague’s night cruise. Budapest is an exquisite, perfectly scaled jewel. The waterfront is uncrowded; each of its illuminated architectural treasures can be appreciated with one’s absolute attention:

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Tuesday, May 5:

First, here’s a map I built with Google Maps’ help that shows only some of Budapests many attractions:

Budapest locations - a memory aid for me :)
Budapest locations – a memory aid for me 🙂

The Pest Side:

It is pronounced “Pesht.” Why this is important is even more obvious when pest is separated from Budapest.

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We ate breakfast early and many of us took the optional tour of Budapest’s parliament first thing. Modern Hungary has a population of about 14 million people of whom about 10 million are ethnic Hungarian speakers. Their ancestors lived east of the Ural mountains and migrated south from the Urals of central Russia in the 9th century. Under their leader, Árpád, many of them, originally from central Russia, moved south and crossed the Carpathian mountains in 896 and settled in the fertile plain West of the Carpathians. They call themselves Magyars and speak a language that is very different from the rest of central Europe. Genetically they are closest to Bulgarians  (intermarriage), but their language has Finnish-Ugric roots. Their names are said with the family name first, followed by the given name – a very Eastern characteristic. A man named Stephen is credited with bringing the Hungarians to Christianity. Saint Stephen (Szent István) was crowned King of Hungary in the year 1001. The design of the present building was selected in 1895 after an international contest won by Imre Steindl, begun in 1896 and finished in 1904.

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After the optional parliament tour we quickly inspected some bullet hole patterns on a nearby building and visited a lovely monument to the independent communist, Imre Nagy, a major leader of the 1956 uprising against Khrushchev-dominated Hungary. Nagy was captured and sent to Romania where he was executed in 1958. He is a much-loved hero.

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After picking up the rest of our group at the hotel we visited the central market, which I missed because the bus had to take me back to the Sofitel, where I had left my camera in the hotel room. Kari Anne gave me 3.5 minutes to collect my camera as the bus waited across the street. My camera was still there. Kudos to Kari Anne for her generosity, Alex our driver for his bravery and skill – and, of course, to the Sofitel chamber staff for not stealing it.

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After the market, we peeked at the State Opera House from our tour bus, walked in the very grand Heroes Square and to the nearby Museum of Fine Art. That was it for Pesht.

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The Buda Side:

Our tour bus then went across the Chain Bridge and through the tunnel up to Castle Hill, where we went into St. Matthias Cathedral and walked around the area, visiting the turreted Fisherman’s bastion, from where we took some excellent photos of the Danube’s Pest side and the lower Buda side down the steep hill from where we stood on the Bastion’s wall. Then we walked to our bus pickup place and were taken back to Pest and the Sofitel.

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 Our Visit With Csilla:

Back to our friend, Csilla: Anything we wanted to do, she would have done with us. She made many suggestions in many emails before our trip. We learned a lot about Hungary from her in the months leading up to our trip. Csilla recommended books to read and movies to watch. She even sent us a DVD of a 1969 comedy about Hungary under communism called A tanú (In Eng: The Witness). It has a cult following even now, having been banned for 10 years because of its gentle, but brilliantly satirical, portrayal of the regime.

Csilla also recommended  a book published in 2009 by Kati Marton, daughter of the flamboyant Hungarian reporters Illona and Endre Marton.  It is called Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America. Her parents, both Associated Press reporters who moved freely in American and expat circles, were imprisoned in 1955 for “spying for the Americans.” Endre was freed after one year of a six year sentence. He and his wife, Illona, found asylum at the U.S. Embassy and moved to the U.S. a short time later with their two daughters. Kati, a foreign correspondent with ABC for a while, is a human rights activist who has written several books and has had two news celebrity husbands, Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke.

Csilla met us at the Sofitel at 15:00. We went from there to the Gresham Palace to see the gorgeous Art Nouveau for which Budapest is deservedly well-renowned. Then, Anita being in need of protein, we went to the First Pest Strudel House and grabbed a light meal at a table outside, spending a lovely time there just catching up and talking about Csilla’s Budapest. Csilla is a journalist and a local expert used by tour companies. This was her busy tour season, so we were grateful to have her with us.

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Then we walked to St. Stephens Basilica and saw the great respect that Rome had for King Stephen. In a rare departure from Church protocol, St. Stephen has primacy on the main altar! Then we walked around Pest while Csilla pointed out many interesting things. She showed us an Art Nouveau Bank Building by Ödön Lechner, perhaps Hungary’s foremost Secessionist architect.

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Before we said “au revoir” Csilla showed us the controversial, one-year-old Monument to the Victims of NAZI Oppression.

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Here’s a very thoughtful article by John L. Sullivan from the Hungarian Review on the issues connected to this particular monument and the sensitive politics of planning monuments in general. Csilla pointed out that many Hungarians consider that the Monument lets Hungarians off the hook for their own involvement in the persecution of the Jews. A meeting was in progress in the square while we were there. The people were continuing to discuss how to continue to press for progress on this unresolved issue. A very busy place on a daily basis, it seemed. In a gentle gesture of opposition to the monument, hundreds of citizens have added simple personal items belonging to the victims: shoes, photos, a tie, many small lamps… The items are festooned between metal poles. The permanent poles are probably designed to keep automobiles from entering the little square. This protest makes a connection to another Budapest monument that we didn’t have a chance to visit: The Shoes on the Danube Bank. This monument is dedicated “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.”

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That evening I went for a walk to the Chain Bridge. It helped strengthen my appreciation for Budapest to watch locals and visitors use and enjoy the connection between the Danube’s two shores that were three different towns until 1873, when Buda and Óbuda on the West bank joined with Pest on the East bank. Bicycles and pedestrians shared the walkway. When I entered the hotel lobby/atrium there was a gala event going on. Maybe 150 people in evening dress. I asked one of the glamourously dressed staff what was the occasion and was told that it was the opening of an exhibition in the hotel called Revealed. Revealed was an exhibition of 30 select, iconic photographs of famous artists (Picasso, Dalí, Chagall, Jeff Koons and more) from the Paris Match collection. Picasso’s grandson, Olivier Picasso, put the show together and it was being shown in five Sofitel Hotels around the world. Back in our room, I took a photo of the Bridge from our window. After breakfast on Wednesday, May 6, I took the time to view the wonderful exhibition.

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I wish that we had had more time here to meet more Hungarians (a guided tour interferes with that opportunity) but am grateful for the one dear friend that we have and the correspondence that we share. I hope to return one day…

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Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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