Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Budapest 1/2

Budapest, Day One/Two

Sorry.  We’ve been on the train and there’s not a whisper of access, so these next postings will be much after the fact.

We took a Eurorail train fromVienna to Budapest without event. Our arrival in Budapest was a bit dodgy, as the station, Kaleti Station, is about the seediest and most rough looking place I think I’ve ever been.  It’s the only place in Europe, so far, that I really felt like I needed to be super alert to all the surroundings, especially since we arrived with our suitcases and carry-ons, therefore marking us as tourists.  Add to that the fact that not one word of the Hungarian language made any sense at all to us so signs were pretty useless to us and verbal communication with the folks in the station seemed pretty impossible.

We navigated to the apartment (in the Old Town of Pest) fine and met the landlord who was to give us a tour of the apartment and the keys.  Tomas (the LL) is a charming guy who very, very proudly showed us around the apartment.  It’s in a 200 year old building, but the space itself has just been renovated in the last four months.  It’s in Ikea Chic, and was very comfortable and pleasant.  It even had a little balcony overlooking two streets, a perfect place to sit with a glass of wine and to listen to the church bells of St. Ann’s, which was just a half block away.  Dinner was had at an overpriced touristy place, but we were tired and a bit turned around, so whatever.  At least it wasn’t a KFC/MickeyDee/BurgerKing, all three of which are on nearly every street corner.

Pest from Galetta Hill
 The next morning we met our tour guide, Magdi, and a driver.  We had hired her for a half day driving tour and a half day walking tour, and it was a really good way to see the town.  Since we had a car, she wanted to take us over to the Buda side of the Danube to show us the sights of the Citadel and Galetta Hill.  Buda is the older part of the city (the two sides and the old Roman town only merged into one city in 1870-something).  The Citadel is home to a statue
Entrance to the Cave Church
that commemorates the life and martyrdom of St. Galette, who ministered to the locals until the pagans took some exception, sealed him up in a barrel and rolled him down the hill, now named for him, to his death.  Magdi showed us a beautiful little cave church and the Hotel Galetta, which is home to one of the geo-thermal spas Budapest is famous for. With Magdi, we were all over the hill, from the Citadel itself, to the Royal Palaces (fun fact:  No royalty ever lived there but Sissi could have if she’d wanted to) to the Matyas Church, to the Medieval town where Vlad Dracul was once held prisoner for being an overly zealous fighter against the Turks.  Well, he probably was
St. Stephen
arrested for just being an asshole, but he did help fight the Turks.  More on him             in a later post.

On the way back to the apartment, we asked Magdi and the driver if they had any restaurant recommendations.  Magdi doesn’t really like to give recommendations, but the driver had some very definite ideas, especially once he learned that we preferred local food.  The driver suggested a place called Aldofi, saying they had the best local food around.
Oh, dear lord, was he right.  I had stuffed cabbage that completely fell apart on my fork and there was a sausage (you didn’t really think I would pass up sausage, did you?) that absolutely melted in my mouth.  A baked apple for dessert topped off a wonderful evening of street side dining.

Yup.  St. Stephen, again
The next morning, we met Magdi at 9 to begin our walking tour.  The woman is a bundle of energy, complimented by an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Budapest and Hungary.  We were all over the central core of Pest.  She started off the tour taking us to a spot we had discovered the night before and had hoped to ask her about:  a little park across the street from the river.  We were curious because we had walked across some glass panels set into the sidewalk, which revealed what looked like the foundations of a couple of ancient buildings. Turns out, they were the remains of Contra Acquincum, a Roman village built to support and defend the more important village and fort of Acquincum, downriver on the Buda side (the old Roman town that was part of the unification of Buda and Pest).  As Magdi walked us through the little park she showed us how the park was incredibly cleverly designed.  Cut into the granite of the park square is a map of the Danube and there are little plaques along the river giving the location of the known Roman villages and forts, and including an outline of the currently known buildings in each village.  An incredibly clever way to illustrate two points:  here’s the ancient history of the river and the history is right underneath your feet.  

Map of the Danube
With Magdi, we walked over to Parliament, saw part of the Shoe Memorial (a memorial to those who were murdered on the banks of the Danube by the Nazis), a gorgeous Art Nouveau building, various other fun things and then St. Stephen’s Basilica (Sze. Istvan Bazilika in Hungarian).  St. Stephen was born one of the members of the pagan tribes who “settled” Hungary, and decided that the best way to keep the lands they had conquered was to convert and convert his people, too.  When Istvan died, his body was carted all over the place until he was finally laid to rest in some village whose name escapes me and I probably couldn’t spell anyway.  More on Istvan in the next post.

Just a note to all:  Murphy’s Law applies even in a foreign country.  I had forgotten to put the memory card back in my camera the night before, so I took no pictures.  Rob’s camera battery died about half way through the day, too, so most of the amazing photos  he took are just the stuff of memory.  Gotta love Mr. Murphy!  
Check out this cool interactive fountain!

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