Monday, October 8, 2012

Hungary - Budapest

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Along Vaci Utca Street.

Monday, September 13

We took the train into the city. Again, public transit was efficient and inexpensive. Andy and I immediately went to a bookstore, purchasing a guide book to Budapest. The city was once three separate entities, but after its revolution in 1848, Buda and Obuda on the Danube’s west bank combined with eastern Pest.

Langos - Hungarian fried dough.
 Photo credit: the Hungarian Girl
On foot after many days in the saddle is always a refreshing interlude. We walked for hours, taking side streets. We ducked into a produce market. Andy spied a Langos stand – we’d heard about them from a couple of German bikers. Essentially, it’s friend dough slathered with garlic oil. It’s a delicious treat. Holding it in one hand, I continued along, licking my fingers. Oh my. I could easily eat two.
Wandering as we do, we somehow missed walking near the prominent parliament building. It’s striking for its maroon-roofed dome and multiple spires, casting an ethereal presence as fog lifted from the eastern flatlands. It was built in a Neo-Gothic style, older than its turn-of-the-century age, to celebrate the Hungarian Empire.

The Danube River with red-domed Parliament Building on far side.
Budapest's population is 2 million.

Next, we visited Vaci Utca street, a modern shopping district, catering to the rich and fashionable. We poked around, though annoyed with the constant black marketers pestering us to change money. Always guys, too. It’s evident that the Hungarian currency is on the downslide. Feeling vulnerable, I clutch my fanny pack to my stomach; I never wear it rear-facing in a big city.

We have lunch at a little restaurant: vegetable crepes smothered with dill sauce. Delicious and filling - at least for the moment. Satiating a bike tourist’s stomach is a job in itself.

The trees are changing. It’s also the eastern most point in Europe for us. I’m curious what lies beyond the metropolis; the terrain immediately flattens into the horizon, but it’s time to head west. In an American Express travel agency we discovered we can get a train back to Vienna.

Elaborate mailboxes. 
With the fog lifting, temperatures soared into the 80sF. Across Europe I noticed that every city we visited happened to coincide with a heat wave. It made the venture a bit uncomfortable, yet I was determined to enjoy Budapest. It’s unlike prim and proper Vienna; it has a certain edge and character, ancient Turkish and Magyar history, on an old trade route still brimming with vitality, and as we now know, through an alliance with Vienna, currently reaching out for economic salvation.

The Chain Bridge, Budapest's first permanent bridge crossing the Danube.
Photo credit: 123RF

We then crossed the Danube to the “Buda” side by way of the Chain Bridge, Buda’s first and most beautiful linkage. Stone lions guard each end. I peer at foot level to the elaborately designed cement supports. And, oddly enough, red, white, and blue banners waved from multiple flagpoles, announcing “Fort Worth, Texas” with “Budapest, Sept. 10-16.”

Liberty Statue. Photo credit: the Hungarian Girl
The Hungarian Girl site has more beautiful Budapest statues.

Andy and I climb long flights of stairs and winding pathways to the Citadel on Gellert Hill, a walled embankment at the foot of the famous Liberty Statue, a sculpture of a woman grasping a palm leaf over her head. The Austrian government placed the monument to “watch the rambunctious city below.” Other sources proclaim its original merit lies in the Hungarians celebrating liberty with Soviet intercession during WWII. Alas, the Soviet government fell out of favor. By 1989 Hungary struck out on its own, transferring to a democracy. Perhaps that’s why, like the Czechs and Slovaks, the country is trying to maintain a steady head and heart.

I reclined on a cement rail, taking in the size of the palm leaf, measuring it to be approximately 15 feet. If I am struck by anything in Budapest, it would be the enormity of man’s construction. Everywhere we look: domes, gigantic buildings, Turkish baths, monuments, mansion-like hotels, wide avenues, all interconnected by the Danube’s many bridges fused with neighborhoods. Indeed, I wonder if, like Prague, the buildings were untouched by war’s detritus. There’s an air of harmony, at least through a tourist’s eye.

Strolling with Andy along Castle Hill. The view is a feast for the eyes.

As the warm afternoon waned, we made our way through a maze of parks to Castle Hill. A series of golden-tinged buildings, the area once the parliament of the Hungarian Empire, it underwent a several week siege during WWII. The buildings now house the National Museum and a beautiful church. Compared with the financial core of cross-river “Pest”, “Buda” district is sleepy.

I take Andy’s arm and stroll the stone turret edifices for a sweeping view of the eastern Great Hungarian Plain. People linger, the sultry air with little traffic noise inviting. A nearby musician plays of bagpipe-like instrument.

Budapest is riddled with Skodas, a Czech vehicle. I try to pedal on the sidewalk
 (the following day - stay tuned for that fiasco) to give an idea how
the autos squeeze themselves into parking spaces.

As we complete the wandering, we are entranced. Turning corners reveals narrow alleys leading into  verdant courtyards; a statue staring into the heavens; an old man slowly walking; a tiny bar opening onto a street; a one-room store selling everything from soap to beer; and finally, a produce stand, its crayon-colored fruits and vegetables tumbling in tiers onto cramped sidewalks. One must look beyond the double–parked cars and illegal money exchangers. There is much to take in. We leave tomorrow with an aching to someday return to this enchanting city.

1 comment:

  1. Langos look the perfect remedy for the dreaded 'Bonk' :-) What a beautiful city. It has been on my list of places to see for some years. (I really must get round to shortening that list one day).


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