Hungary has been on my list of places to visit for a very long time. I don’t know exactly why other than my grandma used to make goulash and I always thought it was a Hungarian dish. What I didn’t know is that Grandma’s goulash was her own invention and nothing like Hungarian food! Then there is of course paprika – but all we ever did with it was sprinkle it on hardboiled eggs. But you gotta start with inspiration ‘somewhere!’
After a long day driving through Romania, we arrived in Budapest and settled into our room at the Ritz Carlton for 4 days. First thing in the morning we met our private guide for a tour of the city and set off trying to evade the traffic and commotion of the visiting Pope Francis who decided it would also be a good time to spend a few days here in Hungary.
Lying along the Danube River, Budapest used to be three different towns – Buda, Obuda, and Pest. Buda was on the western bank while Pest was on the opposite side. They were officially unified in 1873, though individually each town has hundreds of years of their own history. Initially they were linked by the Chain Bridge in 1849, though now there are eight bridges including the white bridge, the green bridge, the yellow bridge and others.
We headed for Castle hill where Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Royal Palace (now a museum) are and enjoyed the views overlooking the city.
Close to Buda Castle stands Sandor Palace, built in 1806. It currently is the office of the President of Hungary.
A foundation was found dating to 1015. Matthias Church is a beautiful church that while not original, as it was left in ruins in 1242 by the Mongol invaders and rebuilt. Then the Turks came. They destroyed the furnishings, pilfered the artefacts but left the church intact and turned it into a mosque. It was then destroyed again. The current church was restored over a twenty year period between 1873 -1896 to the glory it now stands. Inside, the Turkish influence is palpable, and stunning, with all of the intricately painted designs on the walls. It’s Gothic outside does not match the blending of history on the inside. It is beautiful.
From the church we started a small walking tour to see the homes, and included a quick stop at the House of Houdini. Harry Houdini was Hungarian! Who knew!
On the other side of the river, we made a quick stop outside of the house of parliament which is huge. Built in 1902, the Hungarian Parliament building makes quite the statement.
Situated at the end of Andrassy Avenue, Heroes Square or Millennial Monument has statues of the seven chieftains. Construction of the Millennial Monument was started in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the conquest of the Carpathian Basin.
A monument memorializing the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 does not reference the Jewish community. Indeed, the monument does not talk about how Hungary was aligned with the Germans as part of the Axis, nor does it mention the Holocaust or the deaths of thousands of its citizens. Hungary was part of the Axis though Germany turned on them and then the Hungarian government ordered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jewish men, women, and children to concentration camps. By the end of the war, over 565,000 Hungarian Jews had perished.
Because of the lack of mention of the atrocities committed by the Hungarian government, the people have created a touching makeshift, and ever changing, memorial to the Holocaust and the Hungarian Jews right on the other side of the road.
We stopped at this very poignant memorial that was placed in 2005 to honor the more than 3500 people, of which 800 were Jews that were shot on the banks of the river in December 1944 and January 1945 by the fascist Hungarian militia. Overall, there were more than 20,000 Jews executed along the banks of the river.
Needing a break, we ducked into one of the famous strudel cafes and watched them making fresh strudel. After purchasing several types (cheese, pear, and apple), we took our warm pastry and sat outside for awhile enjoying the beautiful day. And once refreshed, we headed towards St Stephen’s Basilica.
St. Stephens Cathedral
Built on top of the remnants of a theater which once hosted animal fights, the church is named after the first King of Hungary (975-1038), Stephen I. If you have interest in mummified human body parts, the basilica houses the right hand of St. Stephen. Not my thing, but maybe it is intriguing to others. It ‘only’ took 54 years to complete in 1905, especially after the dome collapsed in 1868 and required a complete restart from the ground up. Every Sunday, you can attend concerts at the church and at certain times of day you can hear the bells ringing. The north tower has five small bells while the south tour has one single bell. This bell is only used two times a year, on August 20 and on New Year’s Eve at midnight.
Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue
My first time in a synagogue was curiously exciting. I’d never wandered into a synagogue before but the Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue was quiet at the time we visited. The synagogue dates to 1913 and decorated in Art Nouveau style. One of the impressive, and moving, items was the clock hanging on the left side commemorating the exact time the Jews were ordered out of Budapest.
The cutest bar I’ve ever seen!
Without a doubt, the most unique stop we made was at the Simple Kert on Kazinczy street. Located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, the first of its kind called ‘ruin bar’. It’s name means Simple Garden and is intended to be a relaxing environment to socialize and have a drink. One thing is for certain – you do not have to worry about any decor, nor damaging tables, or even worry about how to dress. Inside, the walls were covered in graffiti and were crumbling, the furniture was mismatched. There were multiple places to buy a drink and the patrons were having a really good time in this very funky place.
Next door there was a food market with a lot of food vendors. It also is very popular.
We ended our day looking forward to what we will see and do tomorrow! Looking, looking for more adventure!