Last weekend I went to Budapest. A group of about ten of us took the train from Vienna. That was a bit of a comedy, actually. We were standing on the correct platform, at the correct time, a train pulled up that said "Budapest," we found the car with the correct number (we had reserved seats), we got on, and the train started rolling... the wrong way. Turned out the train had just arrived from Budapest, going to Munich. The train going to Budapest would arrive just a few minutes later, on the same platform. Does that seem like a bad idea to anybody else? So we missed our train, and got on the next one, an hour and a half or so later. Not the end of the world.
But then, while sitting at the platform at some little town in Hungary... nothing happened. What should have happened was that we should have pulled away from the station, traveling onward. But instead, nothing happened. For the next hour and a half or so. Turned out some computer somewhere (want to bet it was running Windows?) had crashed, and that computer was responsible for the routing of trains in Hungary, and so no train was running, anywhere in Hungary perhaps, for fear of a collision. And there we sat, until, presumably, the guy who knew how to reboot that computer had gotten in to the office and done his magic, and everything started working again.
So we finally rolled into Budapest quite a bit later than we had intended, and I pretty much just went to sleep. Woke up the next morning at 5:30 AM to the garbage trucks outside. Showered, mustered my forces, and was out the door by about 6:15 with Hayley, the other early riser of the group. Our first stop was Market Halle, a big market near our hostel, at the eastern edge of Szabadsag hid, one of the bridges over the river (the Danube, once again) that flows through the center of Budapest. I think the market must have once been a train station or some such:
A huge, long hall, with a very high roof, lots of ironwork, and so forth. A typical stall in the market:
There were stalls selling fruits and vegetables, bread, cheese, meats and sausages, wine and liquor, and so forth. I gather that upstairs stalls sold tourist trinkets, but they weren't open yet, since it was not yet 7 AM. I got some bread, cheese, and sausage for breakfast, and ate it on the hoof so we could keep moving along. Here's the outside of the market; these photos are actually from the following day, but never mind:
The roof is a multicolored patchwork of tiles; this is a style seen in Austria occasionally (notably on the roof of Stephansdom), but it seems much more popular in Budapest, and is more colorful as well. It's a lovely effect; it reminds me of colorful snakeskin.
Moving on, we loitered around the bridge, but didn't actually cross it; here are some views from it:
The church that sort of blends in with the cliff behind it is in fact carved out of the cliff, I think. Rather nifty, but up close (day two), depressingly unmaintained and dingy; graffiti, construction materials strewn about, broken windows, litter. Budapest is a work in progress. Everywhere you go it is under construction, being upgraded and overhauled and rebuilt. At present, it has the feel of a poorer cousin to Prague: you can feel the history and the beauty of the place, but it is covered by a layer of grime and Soviet-era repression that it has not entirely escaped. But at the pace that they seem to be rebuilding, that may soon be just a memory.
The monument in the last photo is in the citadel, south of the castle; we got there on day two, so more on that later. Moving on, we started a walking tour of the Belvaros neighborhood, in the vicinity of our hostel. Without going into details, here's some nice architecture we saw:
Well, just a bit of detail. The yellow church is a Serbian church from the 17th century, built by Serbs fleeing the Turks. Everywhere you go in Budapest there are reminders of what an annoyance the Turks have been to them through their history; invasions and conquests and looting and general mayhem. The Turks are not immensely popular in Budapest.
One remarkable building we stumbled upon was not mentioned in our guidebook, and just housed little shops and such, but was incredibly beautiful. Here are a few photos from inside it, starting with a view through its glass roof:
It's so weird to an American to discover these incredible old buildings in Europe that are just being used for tourist shops, or as apartments, or what have you. More walking tour:
Hayley likes fountains, so she is pictured here at two different ones. The first has that big wheel onit, and water only comes out when you spin the wheel. I think that blue facade might be the most over-the-top exterior we saw in Budapest, although it had good competition.
We were now at the next bridge north, Erzsebet hid:
That's some views from the bridge and the far shore, including (photo 2) the royal palace complex, where we were heading, (photo 3) the museums in the palace complex, and (photo 4) a view back across the Danube at Budapest's Parliament, a simply astounding building that we got closer to on day two.
Walking northward along the Danube, we passed a lovely church with a particularly splendid tiled roof:
Soon we got to the start of the Castle Hill walking tour in my guidebook (Lonely Planet again). We started at the Vienna Gate, the medieval gate into the palace complex. It was rebuilt in 1936 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of when they kicked the Turks out for the last time:
On the other side of the gate is the National Archives, with another great tiled roof:
We walked through small cobblestone streets:
Love that porcupine sign. We arrived at Fishermen's Bastion, a rather Disneyesque overlook point built in 1905:
It was overrun by tourists, and it was a hazy day so the view wasn't very clear:
(Well, that photo isn't actually from the bastion, but never mind). Nearby sat Matthias Church, which was great:
By the way, for those who like to expand their vocabulary with useless words, the pottery style of those roof tiles is called "maiolica," and is originally Italian.
Some equestrian statues:
The first is St. Stephen, the second, a Hussar field marshal in the wars against the Turks (see how that keeps coming up over and over?). If you click for a closeup of the good field marshal's horse, you may note that the horse's testicles are polished to a brilliant shine; students rub them for good luck before exams. Ah, tradition.
Now we were at the southern end of the palace complex, where there is a statue of the Turul. This is a mythological, eagle-like totem of the ancient Magyars; you can read more about it at the link, to Wikipedia, if you care to. There was also a fountain, and so we have another photo with Hayley:
We now descended the hill, but not by the funicular:
Just by the footpaths that wound down. We had a plan for the rest of the day: to meet the group at Szechenyi Baths, way on the other side of the city in City Park. So we took the metro (which was immensely cute, with tiny little cars that played a happy melody each time it arrived at a stop) over there, and had lunch at a restaurant called Bagolyvar. They had a musician playing a relative of the hammered dulcimer, an instrument I used to play, so that was fun. The food was good, and tasted even better because I was really rather exhausted by this point:
I had the chicken paprikash, which was a lot like it has been at restaurants in the U.S. I was expecting it to be different in Hungray: more paprika, or hotter paprika, or something different about the paprika somehow. But it seemed about the same. In general, they do seem to put paprika in just about everything, but they don't use hot paprika as much as I expected them to. Hayley had a sort of meat-wrapped-in-bacon-and-cheese dish that was yummy as well, but I was happy with my choice despite the lack of surprise; it was really quite tasty.
And then on to the baths; but perhaps that deserves an entry of its own!