Monday, May 05, 2008

Budapest - The Day We Walked Our Feet Off

My hosts on this holiday could not have been more gracious, generous, fun and just plain lovely. I don't remember when I have laughed so much, ate so much and had such a fun and relaxing time with a group of friends. Thanks guys!
The first full day in Budapest was a lot of walking. As it was a national holiday, the centre of town wasn't as busy as it would normally be. This meant that those of us who have less sense and will stand in the middle of the street to try to get a photograph of the stunning architecture in the city centre will not get mowed down by traffic.

Let me tell you, Budapest has some incredible architecture. I ran out of superlatives very early on in the day and felt like a broken record when I kept saying the words "magnificent" "beautiful" and "stunning" over and over again.One of my favourite buildings was the Hungarian Royal Post Savings Bank or Postatakarekpenztar on Hold Utca (Moon Street) was designed by Ödön Lechner. This architect was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau and Hungarian folk art. Over the length of this trip, Mr Lechner has shot into my top ten list of favourite architects. My photographs don't even come close to capturing the beauty of this building. Later on, I am hoping to be forwarded some of the photographic efforts of my traveling companions who also took photos (with better cameras that have non-scratched lenses). I'll replace my pictures with theirs (without taking credit - really! Would I do that?)so that you can get a better idea of what we saw.This building was across the street from the Postatakarekpenztar and has yet to be restored as it's neighbour has. The damage from World War II and the 1956 Revolution is still very apparent.

During my first visit to the UK back in 1992 I saw a bit of bomb damage on London's Victoria and Albert museum. It was the very first actual evidence I had ever seen of war. It horrified me then and it still upsets me today. I was told that the bomb damage on the London museum was left as a reminder of what war can do. This bomb damage hasn't been repaired yet. Hungarians probably do not need to be reminded of war. Their history is one invasion after another.
By design our stroll through the banking district led us to the front steps of St Stephen's Basilica. St Stephan or Szent István was the first king of Hungary. His mummified right hand can be seen in it's reliquary in a side chapel toward the back of the basilica. If you'd like to see the reliquary lit up, it will cost you a single 100 Hft coin. This is a bargain few can resist. St Stephen's has a particularly beautiful interior.
I was unable to capture properly due to the fact that my camera is rubbish and the light levels were very low. The above photo is the only one from the church interior that I deem suitable to put on the blog.
We then went off to lunch at The New York Cafe as mentioned in a previous post.
As we then wished to go to the top of Castle Hill on the Buda side of the city we had to think about some form of public transportation. It is this writer's firm belief that the public transportation system in Budapest is the best in the world! It is easy to use, there are a number of different forms of transportation; bus, tram, train and underground. A day pass (or even the week or monthly pass) will let you get on any of these as often as you wish. The routes make sense, they are plentiful and run when and where the people will need them. A stall selling cakes and sweets next to the newsagent at the underground station.
It started with the underground. VERY steep escalators that move much more quickly than any other escalator I have ever been on. The underground took us to near our car. We then moved our car nearer our next destination, Castle Hill. As Castle Hill is an automobile's nightmare and parking is punitively expensive it was time to wear out more shoe leather. We parked up and proceeded to walk across Chain Bridge to the foot of Castle Hill. Chain Bridge is a marvel. I loved each and every step across. It's an old bridge so you really feel the rumble when a bus lumbers past. Two huge lions guard each entrance to the bridge.The Hungarian Coat of Arms has been restored to the centre arch of the bridge. During communist rule the symbol of country had been replaced with a hammer and sickle. Today this ancient symbol of this proud country has been returned to the bridge. As one walks from the Pest side of the river toward Castle Hill, the Parliament building (with attendant scaffolding) can be seen on the right. On the left, further downstream is Gellért Hill with it's statue of Hungarian Liberty Statue holding a palm frond of peace aloft for all to see.
Half way across the bridge, I looked down at the swift flowing Danube to see that somebody had dropped a book. It was open and the breeze was leafing through the pages.
When we got to the foot of Castle Hill, we all took the funicular up to the top of the hill, saving many sore knees. Here is the view from the top. Up here we are at level with the mythical turul bird.

Budapest does not have a shortage of statues. They really like them over there. I'm pleased that they have given us tourists so many things to photograph. King Matyas out hunting, having just killed a deer, spies some legendary beauty Ilona (not in photograph). Faithful dog detail from the same statue. More lions! This one is adopting the famous 'what's that smell' pose. We suspect that this lion is trying to quit smoking - note all the nicorette patches on him.
We went to look for a place to stop and have coffee. This particular coffee shop was passed over. Bland coffee? Look at this magnificent mustache! As I walked around the city, I started to notice a theme developing. A number of famous Magyar had spectacular mustaches.

It was at this point in the day that my camera batteries died. My feet were threatening to die too but I made it back across the Chain Bridge and to our car and nobody had to "come back and collect" me because I had run out of steam. That evening we were privileged to take part in a authentic Hungarian barbecue. . . . . More on that next time!

No comments: