Monday, July 20, 2009

Budapest Day 1: Touring Pest

Okay! Now that we got the travel circus out of the way, we can start getting in to the fun stuff. This is going to be a long one, so grab a glass of wine, settle in, and let's do this!

DAY 3: Thursday, July 9, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, our flight landed in Budapest at 5:30 a.m., about an hour early. We went through customs (hooray for a new stamp in my passport!), got our luggage (hooray that it all made it!), and waited a few minutes for Jacob to arrive to pick us up. Apparently many obscenities were muttered in his house when he and Zita woke up to see that our flight had already landed so early! But we really did not have to wait for him long at all.

Jacob helped us all use the airport ATM to get some Hungarian forints. Forints are weird. The denominations are HUGE. To give you an idea, 200 forints equals about one U.S. dollar. It was so weird to have all these 20,000 forint bills and such - we're just not used to dealing with such large numbers on our currency! So that was a little bit of an adjustment. I just let Eric handle the money in Hungary!

Jacob then got us all a cab to our hotel, the Best Western Premier Parlament on the Pest side of Budapest. We had originally reserved rooms there for both Wednesday and Thursday night, but with the flight issues we had to cancel our Wednesday reservations. So, when we arrived at 6:30 a.m., they only had one of our three rooms ready but they were nice enough to let us into that room (Uncle Peter's) so early.

Our hotel: The Best Western Premier Hotel Parlament in Budapest

Eric, Heather, Mom and Uncle Peter in front of our hotel

So, we all took turns using Uncle Peter's room to shower and get dressed to start the day. Meanwhile the rest of us waited down in the lobby, checking email and eating some delicious pastries Jacob went out to get for us. I tried a poppy seed pastry (didn't care for it), a smoked cheese one (yummy), apple and sweet cream ones (both good), and a chocolate croissant that was delicious.

At 9:30 a.m. we were finally begin touring the Pest side. We left the hotel and went to Parliament, which was amazing. I particularly liked the memorial they had in honor of those killed in the revolution in 1956, including a Hungarian flag with a hole in it where the Soviet emblem was removed. Very cool.

The back side of Parliament

Dome of Parliament

Eric seems to be inspired by the Kossuth statue at Parliament

The sign to the left of this memorial reads:
This Hungarian flag has a hole in it because on October 23, 1956 the revolutionists, those Hungarian who revolted against the Soviet Union, tore out of it the foreign coat of arms that symbolized the power of the Soviet Union and Communism. Since then this flag has symbolized the Freedom of the Hungarian Nation. This memorial is a symbolic grave. Here, on this square, several hundreds of people fell dead onto the ground due to the killer blow of a firing squad on October 25, 1956. Honour and remembrance to the victims! The system of Communism has failed in every sense. However, it will be very hard to get rid of communists, for there is nobody as dangerous as the usurper of a failed system, who abandons the system but guards his loot and power position.

We then walked through Szabadság tér (Terrace), which was a really beautiful park space. The U.S. Embassy is located there, as well as a Soviet War Memorial.

Eric and me in Szabadság tér

The Soviet War Memorial, with the dome of Parliament in the background

Just had to add this one in because I love it. How adorable is this street we are walking down?!

We then continued on to St. Stephen's Basilica, which literally took my breath away both when I saw it from the outside and when we went inside. It was stunning. So ornate and literally breathtaking. I especially loved the paintings on the ceiling - wow!

The exterior of St. Stephen's Basilica

The inside. Wow.

Painting on the ceiling

More gorgeousness

VIDEO: Short look around the interior of St. Stephen's. Pictures just can't give you the full effect.

We also went into the chapel at St. Stephen's to see the Holy Right Hand - the actual right hand of St. Stephen. (St. Stephen, by the way, was the first Christian Hungarian king.) That was a little strange, but okay.

This is the thing that houses the hand of St. Stephen. You had to put coins in to a little machine to turn on a light to get a better look at it, but unfortunately (I guess) we did not have any coins. So this is the best view we got.

When we left the Basilica we finally got to meet Zita, Jacob's bride, for the first time! She is adorable - very happy and smiley and bubbly. I just loved her right away. We all went to a sweet shop called Gerbeaud's for coffee and cake (although Eric and I just had lemonade), then Zita had to leave us again to take care of things for the wedding.

The rest of us continued on along Andrássy út (Street), stopping for sites along the way. We saw the Opera House, complete with a statue of Franz Liszt in front. It was gorgeous inside.

The Opera House

Ceilings inside the Opera House

We also saw the House of Terror, which was once the Secret Police headquarters for both the Nazi and Communist governments - the kind of place where people would go and never be seen or heard from again. It is now a museum that Jacob described as "very scary." Unfortunately, we did not have time to go in.

House of Terror

We also stopped in Franz Liszt Square, which was another gorgeous outdoor space. It featured a statue of - you guessed it - Franz Liszt once again.

He looks kind of crazy, doesn't he?

We then continued on to Hősök tere, or Heroes' Square, which I really liked. There is a huge column in the middle, with a statue of the archangel Gabriel at the top. The statues surrounding the square are of various Hungarian warriors and heroes (hence the name of the square, obviously). It was really impressive. The square is also flanked on by two fine art museums on each side.

Heroes' Square

There were so many cool statues!

This guy seems to be wrangling a snake while riding a chariot in the nude. Impressive.

With Heather in Heroes' Square

I should mention that by this time, we were a bunch of tired people. I personally have never been so tired in my life. It honestly took nearly all of my will-power to not lay down and sleep right there in the middle of the square. Naturally, I did not sleep well on Tuesday night before our flight (only 2-3 hours, I think), then we did not sleep much the night our flight was cancelled, and then I only slept about 2 hours on the flight. I was EXHAUSTED. But, our cancelled flight cost us a day in Budapest, so there was no time for tired. Onward!

From there we continued on to the City Park, which seemed to Eric and me to be like the Central Park of Budapest. Very nice. We then walked up to see the Turkish baths called Széchenyi Gyógyfürdők, or some such thing. They looked amazing! They had so many different pools and it seemed so relaxing. I wish we had time to spend in there!

Statue in front of the baths. This kid seems really, really happy to be riding that fish.

By this point we were all pretty tired and hungry so we took the subway back to Franz Liszt Square, where we had lunch at a restaurant called Menza. We all had the house beer to drink. To eat, Eric had duck layered with mashed potatoes and I had Hungarian beef stew with homemade noodles. Both were delicious!

Eric's layered duck and my beef stew

At lunch we all also worked on mastering our first Hungarian word, köszönöm, which means "thank you." Although really, language was not that much of a problem for us. Many people spoke English, and many signs/menus had English and/or German translations (a little bit of my German was coming back to me, which helped too!). Even the Bibles in our hotels were trilingual in Hungarian, German and English!

After lunch we went back to Jacob's flat for a bit, which was very nice to see. We got to see his dog Theo do tricks (what a good dog!), and we all did shots of plum or grape pálinka (pronounced PAL-ink-a), which is like Hungarian brandy. It is intense stuff, let me tell you. Interestingly enough, this was the first time my mother had ever had a shot! Do you believe it? She's a shot pro now, though.

Theo! What a good boy.

Zita and Jacob preparing the shots.

My mom was nervous before her first shot!


Around 5:45 p.m. we made it back to the hotel. The rest of our rooms were ready, so we got checked in then settled down for a MUCH-needed (but far too short) nap before getting ready for our evening. It felt good just go get my feet up! My feet had swollen on the flight, and my walking shoes had elastic straps across the top of the feet that were digging into my poor, fat feet all day. Ouch!

Our Budapest hotel room

At 7:30 p.m. we met Jacob in the lobby of our hotel so he could help us get to our evening wine-tasting dinner cruise on the Danube. Talk about AMAZING! That was a definite highlight of Budapest. We had a great time. A harpist provided beautiful music while we dined on four courses, each paired with a different wine. At first we were a little nervous because the menu was only in Hungarian, but everything was delicious! There was also a little man who spoke about each of the wines, but he also only spoke Hungarian so unfortunately we missed out on that information.

Our boat waiting for us on the Danube, with Buda Castle behind it

With Heather on the cruise

Eric and my mom

Our four courses! From top to bottom, left to right:
First course: Vegetable paté on a baked roll, paired with a white wine called Balatonlellei Israi Oliv
Second course: Fresh fish fillet with lemon and dill sauce and "salty potatoes," served with Balatonlellei Chardonnay
Third course: Beef stew with pearl onions in a red wine sauce with wild rice, served with Sínai Cabernet Sauvignon
Dessert course: Honey-sweetened wine cream with grapes and apricots, served with another white wine called Lellei Muskotály (my favorite of the evening)

When we started the cruise, it was still very light outside, so we were able to see the scenery in daylight as first. The cruise went north above Margaret Island, then south below Lágymányosis (or so Eric tells me). By the time we were finishing our beef course, it was getting dark and the buildings were lit. Eric went to the top deck of the boat first to take pictures, while I stayed and talked to Heather. The harpist played some of my favorite "Nutcracker" pieces, and I got a little teary-eyed because I just could not believe I was in Budapest, cruising the Danube, enjoying fine food, wine and music while admiring such stunning scenery. Really unbelievable.

After a while, Heather and I joined Eric on the top deck. Everything was just so breathtaking.

Parliament at night

With Eric on the cruise, with Parliament behind us


Chain bridge and Buda Castle

After enjoying the scenery for a while, we went back downstairs to finish our wine and dessert. While we were down there, I think Heather said something that sent her, my mom, and me into hysterics. I remember my mom getting hysterical like that when I was a kid, and I do it sometimes now and Eric thinks it is SO WEIRD. It was nice for him to see that it's not just me! I think it must be a Schaible (my grandmother's maiden name) trait - my mom told us how she could remember seeing my great-grandmother Grossmama (German for "grandma"), my grandmother Nana, and Nana's sister Auntie Ayeliffe in fits of hysterical laughter just like that when she was younger. Nice to know these things carry on to younger generations!

The three ladies in hysterics

Heather and me cracking up!

Our cruise was over much too soon, I must say. We had such a fabulous time.

The group: Me, Heather, Uncle Peter, Mom and Eric

Uncle Peter, Heather, me and Mom by our boat after the cruise

Instead of returning to our hotel the way we came (by tram), we decided to walk back. It was such a beautiful evening and we were enjoying the sites far too much (and were feeling warm from the wine!). So, we walked home along the Danube, trying to soak it all in. We even stopped to walk barefoot in the grass in front of Parliament. So incredible!

The Chain Bridge and Buda Castle (left) lit up at night

As soon as we got back to our hotel, we crashed. What a long day! My bed never felt so good.

If you are still reading by now, I applaud you. I know this was a long one. I wish I could have broken it up into shorter installments for you, but as I said, I'm on a time crunch so there's no time for that sort of thing. Thanks for sticking with me!

Up next: Our second day in Budapest, this time on the Buda side!


Molly said...

These pictures are gorgeous!! I wish we could have gotten there a day earlier to join you for that cruise, how perfect! It looked just amazing. I am looking forward to continuing reading these, but I MUST go to bed. Thankfully, my 8pm meeting only lasted about 20 minutes, so I read one more blog post and now I have to call it a night! I am so tired!! Ooh yay, can't wait to read more!

Shauna said...

I have done shots of Palinka before! It is some potent stuff.