Edit Blog Post
Published: November 20th 2008
On my birthday weekend, we headed to Budapest. It is true, it is beautiful. It's also fascinating, having been a communist country until 1990.
Budapest is actually made up of three cities, Buda, Obuda and (to make things easy) Pest, joined by the bridges across the Danube, which merged in 1873. The city was largely destroyed in the Second World War (in the aptly named 'Battle of Budapest', all of the bridges were bombed out of existence), and rebuilt thereafter. I've gotta say, they did a good job!
First off we headed to Buda, the old town, to check out the sights. The Fisherman's Bastion was a highlight for me, with its castle like turrets and amazing views along the Danube through the arches in the wall. It is a bit like something from a fairy tale and so, right up my alley. It's also right next to St Matthius church, which has the snazziest roof tiling I have ever seen. Interestingly, it is also not built symmetrically
As we wandered around the plateau on which the castle is built, we were lucky enough to come across groups of locals dressed in traditional garb. Turns out the castle
was the site of wine (bor) festival the weekend we were there, and representatives from each of the wine regions had dressed in their local traditional dress for a parade, dancing and prizegiving. We were just in time to check out one of the dances. Of course, we could not resist taste testing some of the local produce at the wine festival. No new favourites, but it was good to give it a go!
We also checked out some of the sites in Pest, including wandering across the famous Chain Bridge (not made of chain) around the Parliament and Hero's Square, although we missed the chance to climb the tower of St Stephen's Basilica - it was closed by the time we got there. Apparently, inside can be found Budapest’s most holy relic - St Stephen’s mummified right hand (as opposed to Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand I guess). St Stephen is the patron saint of Hungary, and was its first king. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of him though - after his son died his cousin thought it might be a good idea to stage a coup, as Stephen had no heirs. The coup
failed, and Stephen had his cousin’s eyes gouged out and his ears filled with lead
As you know, I can't resist a good river, so in the evening we braved the cold for a river cruise. (As an aside - no ‘Blue Danube to be seen in Budapest, it’s a much more familiar Thames brown.) Bizarrely, the commentary was provided by 'The River Danube', who appeared to describe every single bridge in Budapest as her favourite. The buildings look beautiful at night - I give Budapest 10 out of 10 for lighting its attractions to make the best of them.
I would definitely recommend heading out of town to see the statue park if you have time. These are no ordinary statues. They are symbolic statues, meant to stir love of state and nation or hatred of enemies in the hearts of the population. As a result, they are very dynamic. No boring, straight back, chin up, hands by the side poses here. No, no - here the statues are running, waving victory flags, pointing to a better future ...
It is unusual to get a chance to see statues of this kind, in most communist countries,
the statues were torn down and destroyed when the hated communist regime was overthrown. In Hungary, however, the regime change was much more peaceful than usual, so the statues survived and a decision was made to preserve them. We had a great time checking them out and copying the poses (harder than you think).
Continuing the communist theme, we checked out the Terror Museum - on the site where first the Germans and then the Soviets tortured and killed their 'enemies'. It was sobering to see videos of people reliving their experiences, especially when followed by a chance to tour some of the 'torture cells'. These were designed for maximum discomfort - some were ‘wet cells’ with the floor constantly covered in water, others were so small you could not move and had lights right at eye level which were impossible to avoid and still others had ceilings at waist height so it was impossible to stand. They also had a 'wall of shame' at the end of the exhibition, where they named and provided photographs of those they say were involved in the atrocities. Some of the people are still alive. Gotta say, I am not sure how
I feel about that - I hope they have not made any mistakes!
Budapest is also a famous spa city - thanks to the Turks and the hot springs, so of course we had to check that out! Time restraints meant no time for a massage, but we had a relaxing dip in the three pools (all different temperatures) of the Széchényi baths, conveniently located near the centre of town. We selected these as they are one of the few baths that allow unisex bathing. They are also famous for the blokes who take their waterproof chess boards down for a game while they soak in the medicinal waters. It is pretty funny to see them playing as the steam from the pool rises up around them.
On that relaxing note, it was time to pack up and head back to London, although I would have liked an extra day or so in Budapest, as it is so lovely for simply wandering around. Also, it turns out that N does not appreciate my excessively packed travel itineraries, and prefers a more leisurely pace, with proper lunch stops and everything. Oh well, guess that just means we will have
Leftover communist stautues. I love the way the statues are so dynamic...
to go back!
Tot: 2.407s; Tpl: 0.058s; cc: 15; qc: 22; dbt: 0.038s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb