Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Finishing up in Hungary

On my final day in Budapest, I went for a final stroll around the centre city. I popped in to see St Stephen's Basilica (Szent István-bazilika). The basilica actually houses the right hand of St Stephen, and it is said to bring you good luck if you can beat it at thumb wrestling.

As I prepared to leave, the sun came out and the mist began to lift. It was still freezing, though.

This is probably the closest to blue that I've ever seen the Danube.

They've had their share of unpleasant history. This memorial features metal shoes on the edge of the river where Jews were forced to take off their shoes and were then shot into the river.

Parliament building:

In the square behind parliament, there was a display on Hungarian history. It included the following brilliant poem:

So, that was it for Budapest. It's a pretty city with a lot of history. I'd like to go back.

Hungary for More

I walked to Margitsziget (Margaret Island), which is in the middle of the Danube. The ruins there stem from its time as a medieval centre of worship. It also has hot springs that make Winter life a little better for the ducks.

I did a day trip to a castle 30km outside the city called Gödöllő. I think they came up with the name because they had some spare dots to use up. It turned out to be closed that day, but I had come a long way so I sneaked though the foyer and roamed around the gardens. They were distinctly average, but I felt a sense of accomplishment at getting in for free. I also used their ornate toilets, also for free. Take that, Hungarian Department of Tourism!

The Hungarians felt marginalised in Austria-Hungary. King Franz Joseph of Austria was indifferent to the Hungarians, but his wife Elizabeth (Sisi) became enamoured with the country and learned to speak Hungarian. She negotiated on their behalf, leading to an revised Empire. Joseph and Sisi were gifted Gödöllő, and she spent a lot of time there. The Hungarians were very fond of her. 

The statue probably isn't as stylised as it appears, because she used to cinch her waist in to an extremely narrow size.

Of course, if you find yourself in the area but have no interest in the history of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty and the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, you can always watch noisy cars drive around in circles at the nearby Hungaroring.

Kerepesi Cemetery

The big cemetery in Budapest is called Kerepesi. It is the burial place of many notable Hungarians, none of whom you have ever heard of.

It's interesting - it starts off with big wide avenues, but as you move away from the entrance, it gets more tangled and overgrown. It's like it's half Pere Lachaise and half Highgate.

Let the record show that when I eventually kick off, I want a massive statue of me looking all roided out, holding a bastard sword and with angels sobbing. That seems pretty bad-arse.

At about 150 years, it's not exactly ancient but the statuary is pretty impressive and covers a range of styles. My lasting impression of it will be of pouring rain, which certainly thins out the crowds. When I was there, it was dead quiet.

Aquincum Roman Ruins

Budapest is a spa town:

(I'm not telling how far I walked to get that pun photo).

The hot springs drew the Romans to the area. They built a town called Aquincum in what is now the north of the city. There's a museum and it's quite impressive. A lot of the ruins have been excavated.

The museum is quite small, but has some really interesting stuff. When they excavated the site, they found the remains of a water-powered organ that was played at public events. These were mentioned in ancient documents, but this was the first example that's been found.

Down the road from the museum is the ruin of the former arena.

The Hungary Games

The park in the middle of Budapest (Városliget) is interesting.

The memorial to the 1956 uprising against the Soviets shows sparse rusted iron bars getting increasingly closer together and taller until it ends up as a solid block. Sometimes these modern monuments are lame, but I feel this one works. It's saying something about strength in numbers.

In the middle of the park is Vajdahunyad Castle. It covers a lot of ground and spans different styles. Interestingly, it was originally made of cardboard so Christ Church Cathedral is in good company.

Still Vajdahunyad...

I then had some palacsinta (pancakes) and wandered back through the city to my hotel.

Every European city seems to have one of these gates ripped off from Berlin. I suggest it be called a random burg gate.