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Yurop 2017, Part 2: Buda Buda Buda

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Hi and welcome back to my belated travel blog! Getting all these pictures organized and uploaded is the most un-fun thing in existence, so I apologise it's taken so long to post an update. This time, I'm on the Hungarian leg of my trip, in which I visited the spectacular city of Budapest. Other than the food (I was awfully stingy on forints; I was still trying to avoid spending lots at this point), it was without a doubt one of the best and most memorable parts of the whole trip.

I specifically planned this so that I'd be in Budapest on August 20th, which is St. Stephen's Day: the date of the founding of the kingdom of Hungary one thousand years ago, as well as a celebration of the Christianization of the Hungarians. As a day that carries considerable state, cultural, and religious importance, it's naturally a matching draw for people from elsewhere in Hungary and around the world. The whole city was vividly alive on the 20th, and much to my benefit, there was almost no traffic since the whole core of the city was blocked off for pedestrian traffic. From what I gathered, this was actually the climax of a three-day celebratory period beginning on Friday, so I suppose I ended up missing out a bit.

The first part of arriving in Hungary, off the comfy-ish train from Vienna, was obviously getting cash exchanged, as Hungary uses their forint rather than the euro. Then, to take the metro from Budapest Keleti rail station to downtown, near my hostel; I read before coming to the city that metro tickets need to be validated by a cute little validator machine before you get on the train, so after I bought a ticket I sort of wandered around looking for one. When I found what I assumed was the validator, my ticket wouldn't fit in it. So I wandered around some more. Then, mustering my courage, I decided I'd damn the consequences and go down to the trains anyway. As it turns out, what I'd bought was a pass, not a ticket, meaning all that's needed is for the copious amounts of metro security to glance at my pass, nothing more. And there were tons of those guys, by the way: a good half-dozen were hanging out at the top of the escalators out of the Deak Ferenc metro stop, no avoiding them at all.

It was wet and a tiny bit overcast outside with puddles all about, as I'd find out a bit more troublingly later on. Then, as I was leaning on a stone-rimmed garden in order to get my bearings, check my map, and find my hostel, a friendly pigeon swooped in and shit on the sleeve of my coat, narrowly missing my hand.

Yes, trust me, I did enjoy my stay in this city!

I got to my hostel after my usual awkward fumbling around narrow city streets, and they told me, sorry, check-in's not 'til four. So. Pretty much the first thing I did after was beeline to Cafe Gerbaud, a 19th century coffeehouse and the most famous of its kind in Hungary. I came here to fulfill a dream: eating real dobos torte at the home of Hungary's very best dobos torte, and I ended up getting more than I bargained (and budgeted) for.

You have there the lovely dobos torte on the left, then a glass of impeccable, peachy, delicious, roll-on-your-tongue Tokaji wine, and finally Hungarian coffee - even though I don't drink coffee, I'm intending for this to be a national cuisine binge so I made an exception. The cafe itself was gorgeous inside and out, a very posh establishment, with mirrored walls, fancy lights, and old, almost palatial dining rooms. It really did feel like eating in some royal residence. As for the meal, the Tokaji stole the show, really: as creamy and soft as the dobos torte is, that wine truly lived up to its epithet: the wine of kings, the king of wines. Still, dream number one of many come true at last - and it only cost me... 52 euros. Which is my whole intended Hungary fund gone, but I'm an optimist, and also this is where I started to lose my fiscal sense.

Next was, of course, to walk along the lovely Danube, or Duna as it's called in Hungarian. Not technically something that was possible, to be fair, since there was a fence some ways away from the edge of the riverside, presumably so that no one in the crowds accidentally got shoved in.

The most immediate landmark when you're walking up the river is the Parliament, possibly the most gorgeous parliament building I've ever seen. It has an immediate character to it, ornate and refined, both modern and heraldic of a bygone era. I imagine this was intentionally planned for the big holiday, but what I enjoyed about Budapest was how none of the landmarks had any scaffolding about them, and were bare for the pleasure of viewing.

And, from across the river later in the day:

What grandeur it has, in its size and its immediate recognizability. I started falling in love with this city when I stood in the shadow of the Parliament building, and this is just the beginning of my first day here! But, okay, now I'll stop gushing about that.

Here's a view of the Chain Bridge, which opened in 1849 as the first(!) permanent bridge over the Danube connecting the once-separate cities of Buda and Pest. It was destroyed in World War 2, but then rebuilt in a snappy four years.

I wanted to take more pictures from the bridge itself, but I have a terrible and specific fear of losing my balance and falling which tends to be a big problem around bridges (since falling into a major river isn't very safe) - and so I didn't take many pictures of this very pretty bridge up close.

I enjoyed a brief walk around the Buda side where the famous castle is, and though I took some pictures of the castle itself I'll show the good ones I took later on in this post, since when I went back on the 21st there was almost no one there and I got some pristine photographs of the castle grounds. The sounds! The smells! What an incredible day it was; there were people everywhere, and stalls selling food and musicians with their instruments - it was busy, but in a lovely, lively way, not choking or overwhelming as I'd experience elsewhere, later in my trip. Sadly, I refrained from getting more forints, since again, I was trying to be economical with my trip. Silly, silly Fivers.

Then, done with Buda, I crossed back over on the Chain Bridge, and that brought me to one of the most surreal experiences of my trip.

There was a large crowd gathering around St. Stephen's Basilica, which I was gunning for next since I wanted some nice pictures of that, too, as churches tend to be very pretty inside and out. The crowds here, though, were something else than the rest: there were vastly more people, for one, and there were cameras, police, and some old gents at the foot of the basilica in robes talking about something in Hungarian. Then hymnal music began to play, and some people around me sang along. Afterwards, more words from an old man up in front of the basilica, and then for some strange reason everyone started shaking my hand and I sort of went along with that. There was a priestly fellow who came around, then, waving at people and handing out little cookie things, but I didn't end up getting one which was something of a disappointment. I didn't have much time to focus on that, though, as as soon as the talking and singing was done a portion of the crowd started moving in a great big procession, all carrying crosses and images of Jesus and other religious symbols and whatnot. Some were in religious garb, others looked just like normal people, and there were lots of what seemed like school-age kids.

Here's the marching crowd; that case the soldiers are carrying is Hungary's most sacred relic, the TRUE AND INCORRUPTIBLE hand of St. Stephen himself, stuffed in a box and brought out only for special occasions like this. It kind of makes me wonder what would happen if it fell off of its giant pillow onto the street. Though, all things considered, it's only one thousand years old, so unlike a lot of purported Biblical relics and such it's possible that yup, it's the real actual St. Stephen's real actual hand.

The procession, looking towards the basilica. Everyone seemed to start joining the crowd walking around so I decided I might join in too; then I noticed other real Catholics walking behind me with their crosses and outfits and all, and there were large lines of people on either side of the roads watching. At that point I wasn't actually sure if I was supposed to have joined the lot walking, but it was too late to slip out so I kind of just kept on with it.

The rear of the basilica itself, a very pretty, round building situated in a nice area of the city centre. It's not gaudily impressive like some churches which some people prefer, but I quite like it! It may look quite old, but truthfully it's only about a century old; many of the notable buildings in Budapest were erected in the latter half of the 19th century, after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise.

It was getting a little late around then, so I went off to check in at my hostel and put my hefty backpack in my room. It was getting late now, and I suppose I must have ate something around this point but I haven't got any pictures of my dinner on the 20th, so I can only assume I starved. Of course, that wasn't the end of the day: though for some the Mass (that procession I wound up in, which I only learned was a mass quite a while later) is the capital moment of St. Stephen's Day, for most it comes to a head at the very end with the fireworks at night over the Danube. I left my hostel a bit later than I should've since I was shitposting on the internet or something, and half-ran through the vehicle-emptied streets and navigated crowds to get to where I thought the best view would be: the top of Buda Castle.

The walkway up was blocked off, so I paid to take the cute funicular up to the castle instead. Halfway along the ride the fireworks started, giving me an accidentally perfect view of the show, but when I got to the courtyard of the castle itself it turned out that dozens of other people had had the same brilliant idea as me, but were also more eager to get out and set their places than I'd been. So, I sort of watched the fireworks from behind a crowd, and though I couldn't see everything, it was still spectacular! I spent quite a while at the castle's edge, looking over the Danube at night reflecting the lights on the bridges, watching the fireworks' leftover smoke ease over the city and the river.

No I don't have photos from that night, duh, I have a janky old smart phone and everything's blurry, I'm sorry.

First order of business next morning was to take a peek at Dohany Street Synagogue, the most famous existing synagogue in Budapest. I was quite interested in seeing it, but... when I found it, it seemed to be in disrepair, sadly. The entrance was blocked off, there was no one inside, and a lot of it looked a bit overgrown, even. I'll be contrasting this later with another city I visited which I felt respected its Jewish history and architecture a lot better - but in this regard, I'll admit Budapest disappointed me. Perhaps I should've been anticipating this, but oh well. Beautiful building, still. Moorish Revival is always a unique feast for the eyes.

Then, back to St. Stephen's Basilica, since it's Monday and the holiday's passed and with it the tourist crowds. I really like the altar in particular, though the dome - which was supposed to be taller, but collapsed during construction - is a sight to see, as well.

I crossed the river, and went for Buda Castle again; this time, since it was about 10am, there were more ghosts about the castle grounds than people, so I managed to get some beautiful pictures of the gardens and fortifications without any cumbersome bodies getting in the way:

The long, long stairway up to the castle. Most people opt for the funicular.

At the top of the hill is Buda Palace, which houses a city history and art museum which was sadly closed today. However, right outside the palace is this statue of the most famous Austrian general, Prince Eugene of Savoy, known in German as Prinz Eugen - a name you might recognize.

Look at the veeery bottom of this picture and you'll see a little friend I brought along on my trip, specifically for this purpose. I felt incredibly awkward and embarrassed and horrifically weeabooish, but while gathering numbers of people passed by, yes, I took a photo of an anime figurine by a historical statue.

And then, most important of all, is the view from Buda Castle over the Danube:

I love this city so much, oh my God. If not for the dodgy alleyways and utterly incomprehensible language, I could live here, so I'll have to settle for maybe visiting another year around this same time to enjoy the holiday weekend better.

The interior of the castle is overgrown and not nearly as well taken care of as the exterior, but it's still very pretty, and has a nice and calm atmosphere. I sat around here for a while and just enjoyed the feel of the place, and doing that, I can understand why it was such a popular residence. There's something inherently peaceful about the castle's gardens and grounds that I don't feel as much in newer - particularly baroque - palaces.

Gardens, again.

I intended the next stop to be the mighty citadel atop the tallest hill in the city, but after wandering around for some time I couldn't find the way up. At this point I was secretly relieved, as I really wasn't looking forward to marching all the way up this huge hill even for an incredible view. So, I made my way to the nearest bridge, and oh, what was there to find right at that exact spot?

Trudging up the exhausting, God knows how many steps up to the citadel proper, you certainly get a very fantastic, first-hand perspective on why exactly it was such an effective fortification for so many years, and more than once I felt myself regretting my decision to make the climb. Eventually, after far too much sweat and at least a few breaks on graffiti-drenched benches, I made it to the top, and the view:

From then on it was a thankfully breezy walk down in the midday sun, and then I continued up the Danube to the last bridge of the old town, by Margaret Island. On the way I was intensely thirsty, having forgotten the essential travel tip of always bringing a water bottle, and it was over thirty degrees celsius out. Eventually I found what amounted to a public tap dispensing water for people - smart, prepared people - to use to fill up their water bottles. I splashed my face with the cold and refreshing goodness, and drank up as much as I could before continuing to the bridge.

There's a nice buffet there that I stopped at, which serves traditional Hungarian food. I don't remember exactly what I ate, but it was decently tasty, and I also drank Coca Cola out of a swanky wine glass which was a good highlight, if any.

After crossing the bridge back to Pest, I mostly looked around places I'd been the day before like the Parliament and so on, going towards Elizabeth Square. It's important to remember that I'd checked out of my hostel first thing that morning, so this whole time I've been lugging around my backpack and everything, even up the hill. Surprisingly, I wasn't dead and had no blisters. At Parliament, the hussar re-enactors who were there the day before were gone, and in their place I think there were some right-nationalist protestors or something, I don't know. I don't speak Hungarian, but they were shouting and seemed very angrily passionate and not in a nice way.

There was a pretty cool museum there called the Lapidarium, which I at first completely expected to be like a zoo except dedicated to rabbits - but no, that would be a lapinarium, sorry. Instead, it was a museum dedicated to the city's architecture and how it changed over the 20th century, particularly under communist rule. It's very impressive how much of the old city was completely restored after the end of the communist period, and a lot of that even in just the past few years.

Now, have a statue of the Gipper:

Near to Elizabeth Square, in a park by the basilica, are two very interesting counter-memorials to the Second World War: the first was set up by the government as a memorial to the Hungarian civilians, including Jews, murdered "by the Germans" according to the dedications, thereby absolving the Hungarian people and government of any sin in the war. The counter-memorial, however, was to those individuals who were killed by the collaborationist Hungarian government during the war, very specifically noting that they were murdered by the Hungarian government, not by the Nazis directly. In the words of the counter-memorial, to pretend Hungary's innocence in the war is to distort history and whitewash the whole country's past in a way that prevents people from learning lessons from what happened in the fascist era.

You can see here the ornate government memorial, and below it along the roadside the simpler but more passionate memorial set up by protestors, reminiscent of the famous "Shoes on the Danube" memorial, which commemorates those who were killed by the government during the war, shot unceremoniously into the river.

Budapest may be beautiful, but Hungary is very much a conservative and even xenophobic country, economically disadvantaged and all too susceptible to far right influences. As much fun as I have here as a tourist, the day to day reality isn't nearly so sunny, and it's important to remember that.

Back to that cheerful facade, though, here's Hungary's cake of the year of 2017: the Balatoni cake, perhaps the most delicious cake I had on my entire trip to Europe!

I kept the tiny Hungarian flag as a souvenir, it's cute. I had a few hours to kill, so I went and spent them in the lovely Elizabeth Square park, a place with a lot of street life and charm, as well as plenty of very bad would-be skateboarders. There's also a big ferris which, which is very imaginatively called.

...the Budapest Eye. Of course.

Then, in the evening around 6pm, I had to go back to the still-somewhat-dodgy-looking Budapest Keleti railway station. On the way back, I found, there weren't nearly as many security guards checking tickets and passes, and in fact no one ended up checking mine so I could've just hopped on sans-passe if I'd been so bold.

I boarded the train back to Vienna, and then enjoyed the lovely Hungarian countryside on my way back, along with a typical late summer sunset over the hills and farms of western Hungary on the border with Austria. Next post, in Wien again, I'll be meeting with I3uster once more and exploring the wonderful imperial city in more detail. While Budapest is very concentrated around a fairly navigable, riverine old town, Vienna is understandably much bigger and more spread-out, making it harder to see everything in just a day or two.

Until then, auf widersehen~



  1. Apple's Avatar
    I would like this but it isn't FB
  2. Five_X's Avatar
    I'd post my travel pictures on FB but I have over 3000 photos and God knows I'm too lazy to sort through them and wait to upload them all