Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Hand of the King

St. Stephen's Basilica
Tuesday, we were on our own.  Magdi had given us a really good overview of Budapest so we had a really good idea about what we wanted to see and where to acquire the requisite trinkets needed.  Because of Camera Fail 1 and 2, we wanted to go back and take some photos that we missed the day before, so retracing some of our steps from yesterday was top of the agenda.  We had gone back to the cool Art Nouveau building and St. Stephen’s after we left Magdi, but the church was closed by the time we got there, even though it wasn’t closing time.  The priest/doorkeeper wasn’t terribly forthcoming with an explanation, so we just gave up.  
Art Nouveau building
(The Hungarian Treasury Dept.)

The weather was kind of cruddy (Thanks, Joel, for the bumbershoot.  It came in quite handy.) but we trudged on anyway.  It was our last day in Budapest, so we knew we wanted to see some things.  We got in to the Great Synagogue and toured it with an English-speaking guide, despite having caused another English-speaking guide some consternation because we tried to join his tour and he wasn’t the one we should have been with.  The Great Synagogue is quite beautiful, even if it does have some Christian elements (Kneelers?  A Catholic-style pulpit?).  Outside the main sanctuary, there's a lovely memorial garden to the Hungarian victims of the Holocaust and to those Righteous People who tried to help, including a very simple memorial for Raul Wallenberg.We went down the street to the Rombach Street Synagogue, now decrepit, defunct and no longer used.  It was easy to see how beautiful and inspiring it must have been, and was a good counterpoint to the grandeur of the Great Synagogue.  
Interior of Great Synagogue

Before we left the apartment, both of us had double-double checked our cameras so we knew we had plenty of memory and battery for our ultimate goal:  St. Stephen’s Basilica.  The building is really beautiful and the interior is adorned with all manner of churchly beauty. The real wonder in this church is who is the main figure on the altar.  Tell me, when was the last time you saw any Christian church that didn’t have some representation of Jesus on the altar?  Never, right?  This altar has a figure of St. Stephen where Jesus usually is.  How do we know it’s St. Stephen?  A couple of clues helped:  One, he wasn’t standing right in the middle where Jesus usually is, so it has to be someone else.  Two, he’s wearing Medieval garb, not Jesus-clothes.  Three, he is wearing a crown with a little bent cross on top.  That’s pretty much the giveaway:  his crown, purportedly, had a very hard life before it found a home in the Parliament building and the cross on top is slightly askew.  

The Hand of the King
It turns out, though, that St. Stephen’s crown isn’t the only thing of his that time was not gentle with.  It seems that after his death, he was buried in some town, whose name escapes me and I probably couldn’t pronounce anyway.  At some point, when the town was about to be invaded by Huns or some such nasties, the poor Stephen was disinterred and sent off to some place safe.  Most of him, anyway.  One of the guards chopped off part of his right arm and hid it away for safekeeping. (Ed. Note:  Who does that sort of thing?  That just kicks up the EWWWW factor!)  Later, they reburied One-Handed Stephen, the hand reappeared and is now safely ensconced in a side chapel of the Basilica.  A couple of forints will not only help preserve the integrity of the Hand of the King they buy enough electricity to turn on a dim bulb above the casket so that the ghoulish hordes can take photos.  Count us among the ghouls.

We did have some trinkets to buy, so off we went to the Covered Market.  It dates to the Middle Ages, and really is a fun place to shop.  It is HUGE!  it makes the Pike Place Market look like a farm stand.  

Magdi had said that the center stalls are more touristy and that the locals shop in the side aisles and that would be the only place she would go for paprika.  


Since it was our last night in town, we decided to have dinner at a restaurant
around the corner, one recommended by Rick Steves.  It was a cozy little Hungarian restaurant, complete with a harpist.  It was a lovely evening, and the food was outstanding.  

Budapest is a charming, wonderful place.  The Budapesters (?) take a tremendous pride in their home and their culture and both of us really loved our short little glimpse into what life is like in the Hungarian capital.
Raul Wallenberg memorial

Tomorrow:  The Danube Express

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