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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 47.4984, 19.0408
This is the second morning I've woken up in Hungary. Outside my window is ... the window of another boat. It is so close that if we could open these windows I could touch theirs, a very unpleasant docking. But those who have cabins on the other side are enjoying (at least I hope they are!) sunny views of the stunning Parliament building, overlooking the boat-crowded Danube. But soon I will leave to continue exploring Budapest; this is our last day here and I have so many things I want to see.
Budapest's name came into being in 1873 when the three cities of Buda, Pest, and Obuda (Old Buda) joined into one large, lovely city, becoming the capital of Hungary. Buda is on the right bank of the Danube River, hilly, green, with a UNESCO World Heritage site, Castle Hill, sitting on top. Pest is on the left bank, flat, where tall buildings now stand. This united city was at first called Pestbuda, but that didn't sound very well to ears used to a pleasing musical language, where parts of words can be changed depending on how they make the sentence sound. Hence the name was changed to what we know today. Budapest is called the Queen or the Pearl of Europe. The proper way to say its name is not entirely phonetic; in the Hungarian language a single S is pronounced SH; therefore it should be called "Budapesht." (For an interesting bit of trivia, a single S sound is pronounced when one sees SZ.) It is agreed among all the crew members (who all have experience speaking several languages) that Hungarian is one of the hardest to learn languages in the world. But at least we now know how to say Budapest correctly.
With today being wide open as to scheduling, my friend Mynga (whose husband had also stayed at home while she travelled) and I headed out to explore the city on foot. Since our boat was docked midway between two bridges, equally far apart, we at first walked on the Buda side to reach the first bridge, the Green Bridge, crossing over the Danube on our way to see Parliament up close. A lovely day, only in the 80s, so walking was very enjoyable. Parliament is guarded by many soldiers, two of whom I found disturbing in their similarity to historical photos I had seen of Nazi Germany. These two soldiers were dressed in Nazi-like uniforms and boots, goose-stepping in unison around and around a pole that had no writing on it. I asked a police officer why they were there, and he pretended not to speak English, even, as we had learned earlier, all schoolchildren in Hungary learn English. So what was this? What was going on here? Perhaps it was better not to ask too many questions here, so we moved on, to see the blooming gardens that lie behind the gorgeous Parliament building, remaining unsatisfied in our curiosity.
We continued walking beside the Danube, this time on the Pest side, referring to maps we had brought with us, getting off-track only a few times. I had wanted to see the famed Opera House, and when we finally got there it looked rather unimpressive until we realized that we were trying to enter on one of its sides. The front of the building was much better, but the inside was magnificent, perfectly stunningly beautiful. Ah, I wished I had another day in Budapest to attend an opera or a ballet! Such a grand building!
I think Budapest is a very musical city. Yesterday morning I had entered into the Castle Hill Cathedral and been surrounded and delighted by Bach's beatific organ music as I gazed at the inside of the church, its stained glass windows, its beautiful architecture; I stayed there listening and absorbing this loveliness until the music ended and I was released from its powerful and mesmerizing hold. And then yesterday afternoon Mynga and I had ventured into St. Stephen's Basilica (no music here), and when we exited there was an impromptu bell and flute concert right on the church's steps. Many people gathered around to listen, also enjoying this spontaneous concert. What delightful surprises Budapest holds for the inquiring and culture seeking tourist!
But back to today: after we left the Opera House we decided to walk back to the boat for a break, and to continue our explorations this afternoon, utilizing the fine Metro system this time. Heading back, Mynga and I walked over the other bridge, the Chain Bridge, to reach the Aria. In the few short hours of our last afternoon in Budapest, we rode the Metro to the Jewish quarter to see Europe's largest synagogue, another stunningly beautiful building. After sightseeing in this area for a while, we decided we had just enough time to walk to the Covered Market before returning to the boat for the farewell Captain's dinner. It was here that my reasoning deserted me, and I bought extremely fragile presents to take home, not thinking that I'd have to carefully carry them as hand luggage on all the flights as I journeyed to Madrid (to see my daughter), and then on to London, to Boston, and finally home to Maine. They are gorgeous gifts, ones that are only made in Hungary, so I thought they would be perfect for my family, never thinking -- until we left the market-- how very fragile they were, and what that would mean in terms of transporting them during my travels. (I won't tell what they are as I haven't given them all away yet!) Mynga also bought some, and we both cradled our breakables very carefully, gently shielding them through the curiously not so crowded rush hour Metro as we headed back for dinner.
That was our last day in Eastern Europe, our last adventure on this trip. We had walked ten miles and had seen everything we could squeeze into the limit of one day's time. Even though I was looking forward to seeing my daughter in Madrid, I wasn't ready to leave lovely Budapest, so I kept some forints, Hungarian money, in hopes of returning here some day.
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