The time had come for decisions. As the Russian priest was away in Moscow and I couldn’t ask him any questions about the years my parents were in Belgrade, I had 2 choices; stay for another week and hope that he would return on time or take a trip to Budapest and then return. I chose Budapest and I’m so glad I did because I managed to catch up with a friend’s relative and got to see the absolute wonder of that city.
In recent blogs of my senior gap year I have changed to writing in the past tense as I am so far behind, however, I’m going to keep this one in the present tense. As I re-read my notes I even inspired myself with my excitement of the time, so I’ll make minimal changes and in so doing hope that I pass on to you how I felt about Budapest. There will be heaps of photos too, I went quite mad over there.
29 July 2013
Checking the weather I wish the forecasters would make up their minds, for Belgrade tomorrow they are predicting anything from 39 – 45 degrees in the afternoon, luckily I’ll be travelling to Budapest where they predict only 38!
So here I am, sitting on the top deck of my boat hotel on the Danube, sipping on a Dreher beer and watching the sunset behind the trees on Margit island.
I came in on the minibus from Belgrade a few hours earlier (temperature at the time was a sizzling 43 degrees, forecasters wrong again!) and the first reaction was OMG! I hadn’t seen much out of the bus window (we seemed to have driven through the most uninteresting parts of the city) and I was so knocked out by the architecture of the buildings where I was dropped that I didn’t even think of getting the camera out. I’ll be here for a while so the camera will be working overtime anyway.
Finding my boat hotel was a problem. The bus driver thought he knew where the boat was and dropped me as close to Parliament House as he could (there are massive road, garden and paving works, so no way of getting to the river easily, he said it was right behind Parliament). After about half an hour of walking in massive heat in the wrong direction I discovered that there were no boat hotels behind Parliament House, they were all further along the river. So another very long walk through the roadworks, not knowing exactly how far I had to drag my case through streets and over cobblestones. It was seriously hot! Eventually the Budapest boat hotel came into view, I was dripping wet from both sweat and pouring warm water on myself, I couldn’t drink it anymore as it was now very warm from the 43 degree air temperature (I have rather serious issues with heat and so I was getting a little concerned by the time I found my destination).
This place is amazing already and I’ve only seen a little of the outside of some parts! I’m going to love this week!
First things first, room organised and bar and grill found, beer drunk in celebration and the view suitably honoured. My room on the boat is a little hot and smells a bit (not quite sure of what), the air conditioning isn’t very efficient so it’ll be a hot box tonight, but I DON’T CARE! Right now I am on deck wishing all my dear friends were here to share this beautiful sight of the Margit bridge (and Parliament behind it) and the Danube all lit up and gorgeous. There’s a storm brewing so the temperature has dropped a bit and the wind has picked up, so darned glad I chose this place!!! Think I’ll have a lemonade to celebrate, all beered out at the moment.
This morning there is a cool wind blowing and it is clearly bringing the music from the multi-media fountain on Margit Island to my ears, can’t remember the name of the first classical piece but it was followed by ‘Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart’ the land of contrasts.
Today was Budapest orientation day, 2 lines of the hop on hop off, wow! This place is incredible, there are so many places to hop off that I’m thinking a week isn’t going to be enough! Apparently Budapest is often called the Paris of Hungary but I think it’s more like Rome, Vienna and Paris all rolled into one city. I could easily photograph every building and every corner of every building, just as I did in Rome in ‘06, stroll down boulevards and the river bank as in Paris and ogle at the amazing architecture just like Vienna. Tomorrow I will find out if the castle is equal to Schonbrunn, after all Sissy had a strong connection to Hungary, and there is the Elizabeth bridge named after her as well.
I went for a walk to find lunch and stumbled across this pub called the Wreck pub that uses old tyres, motorbikes, posters of the Ratpack and Miles Davis and old LP records for decoration, 44 gallon drums are tables! So of course that’s where I had lunch. Cappuccino and 2 slices of Hawaiian pizza (what else would you have in Budapest!) equivalent of $3.70 Australian, not bad.
Ah! The smell of diesel from a boat parking itself nearby – just for a second I thought I was back in Venice.
Big day today and still so much more to cover in this amazing city. I managed Buda Castle (Royal Palace), Heroes Square, the outside of the Synagogue during the day and the multimedia fountain tonight. The castle is just stunning, the turrets and battlements that surround the Royal Palace are just what all fairy tale castles are like. I simply have to get back here one day and spend a lot more time exploring. Heroes square is incredible, the fountain provides blessed relief to kids of all ages in these heat wave temperatures and the sculptures are stunning. Further on is the City Park within which is a lake for rowing in summer and ice skating in winter. There is heaps more there but my time being so limited I had to skip Vajdahunyad Castle and all the pretty walks.
All places were simply amazing but if I had to choose a favourite from today it would probably be the multimedia fountain, perhaps because it was the last thing I experienced, you know the ‘primacy and recency’ factor. I’ve been hearing the music as I’ve sat on deck and seen a little of the fountain in the distance so tonight I went and had a look, how wonderful it is! I think
I’ve found my new favourite celebratory medium, playful, colourful water with music, better than fireworks. The music actually makes the water move so it is truly synchronised unlike the attempts to synchronise music with fireworks back home, it never seems to quite work. The Budapest fountain is absolutely on par with the equally beautiful one in Wroclaw, Poland (although the one in Wroclaw is much bigger). Fortunately this one is on every day on the hour, it plays 2 tunes and then at 9pm every night it has a half hour of the whole repertoire, just gorgeous, by then it’s dark and the colours are more vibrant. Going again tomorrow night, once is definitely not enough.
Ah there it is, the Slaves Chorus from across the water, beautiful! Decided not to go over to the island tonight, after all of yesterday’s and today’s walking I thought better of it, need to save something for tomorrow, yes this ‘I don’t do tours girl’ is going on a tour. But what about today? Learnings, things to see and lots of walking. Figured out the tram and bus travel to get to all the things I wanted to see today. A balanced day of religious tourism mainly. Visited the Great Synagogue (Dohany), I had never heard of this branch of Jewish religion, apparently it is only found in Hungary, called Neolog, not as conservative as Orthodox Jews and not as modern as Reformed Judaism. The area of the ghetto is next to the Synagogue. Interestingly the Synagogue has an organ. There is so much more information that I invite you to check it out for yourself at;
As I wandered around the courtyard I learned more about Tony Curtis (one of my favourite actors from the 60’s and of Hungarian heritage, real name Bernard Schwartz). He commissioned the stunning Tree of Life (through the Emanuel Foundation) as a memorial to all who perished (as well as in memory of his parents), this is a beautiful work of art created by Imre Varga and a must see. To learn a little more so I don’t overdo the amount of information here please have a look at;
Then I was off to visit the neo-classical St Stephens Catholic Basilica designed by Miklos Ybl. Yet another huge and ornate church, the third highest building in Budapest, beautiful and again lots of history to be gleaned. Again, I ask you to check it out at;
On the way I came across a lovely little street market with cute wooden stalls (never did make it to the huge central markets) and Erzsébet tér a lovely park within which is the love tree. No hanging locks on bridges over the Danube here, in Budapest there is a tree with a cage around it and at a guess thousands of love locks. Then there is the cow.
Budapest is full of stunning ornateness and fascinating architecture. I only came across one modern architectural design (but then I wasn’t looking for them) so next time I’ll search more out, a search online shows images of modern constructions which are equally as amazing as their older cousins. It’s already becoming obvious that Budapest will be a place to re-visit one day.
So then I needed to conquer Vaci Utca (the 1.3 km pedestrian street). It’s very different to Knez Mihailova in Belgrade and Corso Italia in Pisa. These days the rent gets very expensive so shops apparently come and go rather often. As a result there is not a lot of point in describing specific shops as they may be gone by the time you get there, but let me say that if you don’t go to Vaci Utca you will miss out on an amazing street, go there, have fun.
The best of today? Morning tea in the ultimate cafe poets venue! The New York cafe! What a history, a place where poets and literary people met and so ornate it’s amazing! I think it gives Paris a run for its money. The prices are 4 star but oh, so worth it! Come on fellow poets, we need a place like this back home! Surrounded by Versailles worthy glitz I felt very special as I munched my way through a degustation plate of assorted desserts. Sadly though even they didn’t have the Dobos Torte, never did find it, so couldn’t compare my mother’s recipe.
Right then, 2 glasses of Szent Istvan Korona Cabernet Sauvignon (those who know me and wine will at this point be saying ‘Whaaaaat’?) Yes a red I could drink, local, just might help me get to sleep so I can get up in 61/2 short hours to go on the tour. Firstly I have to get to sleep, then have to wake up, then stay awake and not embarrass myself by falling asleep on the bus! Let’s see how this pans out, that’s right I’m not a natural early riser.
Jo regelt! (that’s good morning, learnt that at breakfast) Tour day. It was fun. A Japanese mother and daughter were already on the bus when I got on and Yayo-i (the mum) started chatting to me before I’d even sat down. We three hit it off really well and spent a lot of time together. I’m glad we did because I got this niggling feeling that most people were steering away from these 2 lovely ladies. We all oohed and aahed at the size and ornateness of the cathedral in the original Hungarian capital Ersztergom, what a history this country has had! But then that’s Europe I guess, invasion after invasion, each conqueror destroying the past and the next one rebuilding it. Lots of Roman ruins all over the place but as the guide said there is no money to even start reconstruction.
Lunch was lovely then on to Szentendre (now also called the Artists Village because quite a few artists of various media and many fashion designers have moved in). It was interesting and quaint although pretty typically set up for tourists with all the souvenir shops and restaurants, a pretty place nonetheless with good street food and lots of artisan goods, definitely worth a visit.
The boat ride back was very pretty, and yes that Danube isn’t blue, the guide laughs and says that Strauss must have been in love to ever think it was blue (perhaps it was blue in Vienna when Strauss composed that beautiful waltz).
It turns out that quite independently the 2 Japanese ladies and I booked the same tour to the Puszta (Hungarian Plains) so we’ll spend Sunday together too. I am looking forward to some open spaces and horses.
Well, here it is nearly 9pm I’m on deck with the spiders and mosquitos, Venus has risen, the horizon is a pale apricot colour, the boats are chugging up and down the river and I’m hoping to hear some of the music from the island – tomorrow night I’m definitely going over there again.
4 August 2013
Midday, here come the sounds of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli from the island. Yes I’m being lazy today, still on board, but for a very good reason, I will be meeting up with my friend Steve’s cousin here after lunch, so looking forward to making connections with family of friends. Love having friends all over the world, even got invited to Japan yesterday with a promise of free accommodation in both Takushima island and Tokyo.
What a wonderful afternoon with Steve’s delightful cousin Kata. Walked over to Margit Island for coffee, they didn’t have the Dobos Torte either so went for iced coffee for dessert instead. We talked heaps about all sorts of things, had coffee, walked around and found things I didn’t know were on the island, talked some more, discussed everything from family to world politics, discovered lots of similarities. Thank you for a terrific afternoon.
Having a local person to show me around meant that I saw and learned things I wouldn’t have found on my own. On that island are the ruins of the Dominican Monastery of the Blessed Virgin, founded by King Bela IV of Hungary. His daughter Margaret (Margit) was a nun there. There is quite a history surrounding Margaret who lived in the monastery from the age of 10. Worth checking if you are interested.
Apart from the monastery ruins, coffee shops and the multi media fountain the island has romantic walkways through copses, a multitude of sculptures of poets, writers and composers, a small zoo, open air theatre and cinema, a water tower, swimming pools, a water park, clubs, a medieval chapel and a 5300m rubberised running track, you could almost spend your entire life there.
Great day today, tour to the Hungarian Puszta. Apparently in the old days it was a desert caused by the usual misuse of the land and the robbers used to hide out there. They became the horse herdsmen we saw depicted today and developed some incredible horsemanship. The Puszta was slowly regenerated by firstly introducing the Canadian Acacia tree, apparently it has roots that could reach the water in the sub-soil and bit by bit with good management the place turned green again. They have kept a few tourist farms that give you a sense of what it was like in the desert days.
The herdsmen have whips that sound like gun shots, supposedly developed in the days of the robbers, they had to make the police think they were armed, clever guys. Lunch was yummy, learned that what we call goulash, isn’t, that dish has a different name. Here goulash is goulash soup, it’s awesome. The gipsy band entertained us perfectly, so much fun and terrific musicians, my Japanese friends were so excited as the daughter plays several instruments including violin, so she was enthralled and became very excited when the violinist played Sukiyaki for her. We were greeted with shots of Palinka, a rather nice apricot brandy, of course we were served the very mild version, with it was a traditional bun of some sort, unfortunately it was very dry and no water to help swallow it, as a result I look as if I have the mumps in all the photos I have of me on the ox cart, so there is no way I’m sharing those.
This place has a little zoo of Hungarian animals and birds. Interesting place Hungary, their animals seem to like dreadlocks and strange hairdos, I already knew that their dogs have dreadlocks (my friends Steve and Sasha have a Puli dog) but I didn’t know their sheep and goats seem to have a penchant for the reggae style in both wool and horns, and their chickens! Well tak a look…..
All in all a gorgeous day, not over yet though, I am really going over to the island for the fountain tonight. If you get over the bridge at the right time of sunset you get buzzed by what I was told is a Soviet Antonov bi-plane. He comes in very low almost touching the treetops!
Well, it’s farewell to beautiful Budapest, perhaps I’ll get another glimpse on the way to Sweden in a very short while, who knows. Farewell Kata, thank you for meeting with me and see you on Facebook, one day hopefully we’ll all meet in Australia or back here in beautiful Budapest. Farewell fountains, bridges, sculptures, castles and the boat on the Danube, I’ve loved every joyous minute of it. Now it’s back to Belgrade.