Trip Log: Budapest, Hungary, 10/20–10/22

Since we'll do more sightseeing in Budapest after Melody's conference, I'll post the pictures page then (probably after we get back home). In the meantime, here's a narrative of our first Budapest stay.

Getting from Ljubljana to Budapest took most of the day. We caught an early train at the Ljubljana station, using a train ticket which was good once we crossed the border into Slovenia (from Croatia), through Ljubljana, to Bled, back to Ljubljana, and back to the border to Austria. We did have different reservations for parts of the trip (the ticket and reservation are separate), then once we crossed into Austria we switched to our Eastern Europe rail passes, along with the necessary reservations for those parts of the trip. We switched trains twice, the second transfer (in Vienna) being very short. We did make it, but fortunately the train leaving Vienna was a bit late so it gave us a cushion.

That last train was a Railjet, and it hit about 100mph. It was a pretty nice, and even had a display which showed our position on the map, as well as very clearly showing the upcoming stops. Easier than listening to the conductor mumble over a tinny loudspeaker in a foreign language, hoping you'll hear something that sounds like the city you want.

 Keleti Station

Keleti Station

So we get into Budapest, and while leaving the platform our tickets are checked. Normally tickets are only checked on the train, but even so, it seems to make more sense to check tickets when getting onto a platform, not when leaving. Anyway, we decided to get our reservation which we'll need between Budapest and Füzesabony (it's an InterCity train, and needs a reservation) and deal with the reverse reservation later. The legs between Füzesabony and Eger don't require reservations. You can probably see why we invested the money in having a travel service book as much of the rail as they could. The connection between Budapest and Füzesabony was the only one they couldn't book, but they explained what we needed.

 Mariá and István's home, where we stayed

Mariá and István's home, where we stayed

We made our way out of the train station into the subway, bought one-day passes for each of us for that day and the next (try explaining that to the agent at the kiosk) and made our way to our room in the home of Mária and István, who live on the top floor of the building on the left. All the homes face into the courtyard, and as you can see, it's a long way down. The ceilings in our room were quite high (I'd guess at least 12').

Another American couple was staying there too, but were leaving the next morning. They used to live in Puyallup, but now live in a motor home. Sounds as if they've shipped it over to Europe before, but chose not to do that this time; they're living city-to-city, and are doing as much traveling by bus as they can. Sounds as if they're doing roughly the reverse of what we're doing, ending in Dubrovnik. They apparently like to do a lot of low-to-the-ground traveling, including going by chicken bus whenever possible.

 Budapest Parliament building

Budapest Parliament building

The next morning we headed out towards the Parliament building and got into the line to wait for the line to actually buy the tickets. Really. A half dozen of us stood next to a chained-off area, and the guard let the first three people through, pointing them to a door through which you can buy the tickets. After they came out, we and another woman were let through. We finished first, came out, and the guard let two people through. Then a large group of people came, but he was still only allowing at most three people to be buying tickets at any one time. In a way you can understand, since the room isn't designed to let incoming and outgoing traffic flow at the same time, but it wasn't clear all those people would get the tickets.

Once it was our turn for the tour, we were let in, went through a security screening, and began our tour. The guide was very knowledgable and felt both professional and casual at the same time. As you can see in the picture, the building is very grand, and it's even more so on the inside.

We went to St. István's Basilica, which is well-known for having the "holy right hand" of St. István. Yes, what you see in that box is a hand which is more than 1,000 years old. You give the person standing there a couple 100 Ft coins and the lights come on.

After finding lunch in a small market hall (small at least compared to the Great Market Hall) we went towards the Danube to see the Chain Bridge. We only walked out as far as the approach, stopping short of the tower (figuring there'd be time later to walk more).

We worked our way up the Pest shore of the Danube to the Holocaust Monument, made of pairs of bronze shoes. It commemorates Jews who were killed at that spot by the Arrow Cross, the Gestapo-equivalent force put into power by the Nazis.

 You-make-it Hot Chocolate

You-make-it Hot Chocolate

That afternoon we did another walk on the south side of the Chain Bridge, ending at the Great Market Hall. It's hard to describe this place, but if you take a couple Pike Place Markets and enclose them, you'd be close. Then add an upper mezzanine level as well as a basement. It had lots of people in it, but one can imagine just how jammed it gets when it's tourist season. We decided we needed a break, so we went to Centrál Kávéház, where I got one of those hot chocolates where they give you the steamed milk and the chocolate on a stick. After stirring a bit, you've got your drink.

That night we went to Széchenyl Baths, a huge outdoor set of public pools. There's a lap pool in the middle, but we started out in the pool kept at 86°F. There was a set of bubble jets in the very middle, surrounded by a ring where there are jets which push you around the circle. The largest, outer area is for just soaking. After that, we worked our way to the other side, where the water is about 100°F and just lounged (no jets or anything on this side). Very relaxing, but the payment/entry/exit procedure is pretty complex (makes sense once you've done it, however).

 Iron Curtain memorial

Iron Curtain memorial

The next morning we started walking along Andrássy Út, one of the main drags in Budapest. Went by the Opera House (where Melody will see an opera during our next stay), Liszt square (you have to go way into the square to find the statue of Liszt), then headed into the House of Terror, which has the Iron Curtain statue shown in the picture. It covers both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Budapest, and the building itself is the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross and the ÁVO/ÁVH, the secret police of communist Hungary. The displays are quite high-tech, but the simpler ones seem to be the most moving, such as an entire wall (several stories high) with pictures of victims. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the exhibits, since photos weren't allowed (which, of course, doesn't mean there wasn't anyone taking pictures).

In the afternoon we headed towards Heroes' Square. There's a lot packed into this one picture. The Millenium Monument in the middle is flanked on either side by colonnades, each which contain statues of seven great Hungarian leaders. Below each of those statues is a relief showing a defining moment in his life. Interestingly enough, the monument was created while Budapest was controlled by the Hapsburgs, so the last five statues on the right colonnade had Hapsburg rulers. When the monument needed to be repaired after World War II, the opportunity was taken to replace the Hapsburgs with Hungarians. In addition, Heroes' Square is now popular with skateboarders, as well as seeming to be a popular after-school make-out place.

We also went to the Great Synagogue, which while damaged, avoided being completely destroyed during WWII. The 25 original Torah Scrolls were kept safe by Catholic priests during the war by temporarily burying them in a cemetery.

Ends up we were heading out of Budapest at just the right time. The next day, October 23, was going to be a holiday, and many things were going to be closed. It's the anniversary of both the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, and the democratic Republic of Hungary replaced the People's Republic of Hungary.

After grabbing a quick, early dinner, we went back to Mária and István's place to pick up our bags, then went out to the train station for our night train to Krakow, Poland.