This morning we woke up bright and early. Really early. So we were able to get ready for the day slowly and leisurely and decided we were going to have a day where we didn’t do or see much. Which ended up being a lie.
Before I delve into the day, here are my initial impression of Hungarians: First of all, they are INSANE drivers. We’re learned that in order to get anywhere, you have to be a very aggressive pedestrian. Secondly, Hungarians are warm and genial people. Everyone we’ve talked to so far has been very friendly and seem to know some things about Vancouver.
The first thing we decided to do today was to check out the outside of Budapest’s famous Parliament building. For a fan of gothic architecture such as myself, I was excited to see the building up close, and I was not disappointed. There is beautiful little ornate detail all over the building, even included in the wrought iron gates.
We walked in front of the building, which faces the Danube (of Blue Danube fame. Spoiler – it’s not blue) and offers a great view of the Chain Bridge (Szechenyi Ianchid) and the Buda side of the river (we stayed on the Pest side. Since Buda + Pest).
The Chain Bridge was building the 1800s by a Scot and destroyed twice, the most recently being by the Nazis in WWII.
After checking out the outside of Parliament we ambled down the riverside promenade to get to the Chain Bridge.
One of the things that we wanted to see in Budapest we came across on our walk of the promenade – the Shoes Monument. The art installation is several dozen pairs of bronze shoes affixed to the promenade banks to represent the Hungarian Jews who were massacred by the fascists, shot along the Danube and left to fall in and let the current take them away in 1944 and 1945. I expected it to be very sad, but it turned out to be a devastating memorial – just a row of empty shoes, some adorned with flowers, others with stones.
Once arriving at the Chain Bridge we decided to cross it later in the afternoon, so we instead bought our train tickets for our train ride into Romania on Saturday, and then walked the long and touristy pedestrian only street of Vaci Utca. Our innkeeper told us to avoid eating or buying anything on Vaci as it’s just a tourist trap, so we just walked the length of it, dodging workers trying to pawn off Dead Sea soaps and Thai massage.
At the end of Vaci Utca is where we wanted to end up for lunch, pretty much right at lunchtime – the Great Market Hall. For my Vancouver friends, picture Granville Island Market but cleaner, with less fish and more chatchki. The Market is actually a functional place where locals go to buy produce, meats, cheeses, tea and of course, paprika.
The upper level of the Market houses all the trinkets you could ever want to buy in Budapest – communist kitsch t shirts, shot glasses, lace, folk art, magnets and more – but it also houses a few places to eat, which is where I got my first try of a real, classic Hungarian meal – Goulash (or gulyás as it’s spelled here). For those of you who are unaware, goulash is a soup made of a delicious red broth of paprika and beef, potatoes and some vegetables (I think I found a carrot!). Ma, Pa and I all decided to partake and remarked at the delicious, slightly hot flavour of the the soup.
We picked up a few paprika souvenirs and left the hall, bearing left so I could get a shot of the stunning Szabadság hid, or in English, Liberty Bridge. Although the Chain Bridge is famous and quite beautiful, I LOVE the Liberty Bridge because it is everything I love in Art Deco Architecture – fashion and function.
We decided it was time to cross over to the Buda side of the city, so we took one of the delightful little yellow trams (pictured above) back to the Chain Bridge and crossed it on foot. It was amazing to see how broad the Danube actually is and to count all of the Viking-type cruise ships moored along the banks. The bridge itself is wonderful, and is guarded by two lions on each end. I loved the lions because they reminded me of my favourite bridge back home – the Lion’s Gate – but these Budapest lions represent strength, a characteristic I would heartily agree fits the Hungarian people after what was a brutal 20th century for them.
Once on the Buda side, we walked directly towards one of Pa’s priorities on this trip – the funicular. Pa LOVES funiculars. Today I asked him why he doesn’t like cable cars as much – they’re not on a track. Then I asked why he doesn’t like trams as much – they don’t go uphill. I suppose something about a track that goes uphill that captivates him (engineers, am I right?).
After our very short and very uneventful funicular ride up the hill, we decided to check out Buda Castle. Apparently the inside is pretty drab, so we walked the courtyard and then noticed a cafe – with ice cold beer and everything, overlooking the Danube with a view of the Pest side. We grabbed a table in the shade (by this point it was pretty hot out), ordered some cold ones and relaxed.
We paid our lovely waiter and hoofed it over to two big Budapest landmarks – Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Fisherman’s Bastion is a white structure with 7 turrets representing the 7 Margyar who were led to the area by the Turul (eagle) and where the Turul dropped his sword is where they founded Budapest. The structure itself is pretty cool, but VERY popular with tourists, so it was an ‘elbows out, I wish I had learned to say MOVE in 50 different languages’ situation.
We were starting to slow down at this point, the heat and the jet lag starting to get to us, so we hopped a bus and headed back over the Chain Bridge, then onto the tram and back to our hotel to rest up before dinner.
For dinner we headed to a restaurant recommended by our innkeeper, a place called Budapest Biztro where I had another local delicacy, chicken paprikas, which is roasted chicken in a creamy paprika sauce – excellent.