Once again, I’ve promised posting and have not done so. The problem, and it’s an awesome problem to have, is that we are currently in the middle of a flood of visitors! One of my big worries when we first decided to move to Budapest was that no one would come to see us. We know that vacation time and money are precious, and that there many, many things on people’s to-do lists that do not include visiting central/eastern Europe. I know many of our friends, family, and coworkers weren’t very familiar with Budapest when we announced our impending move – it doesn’t have the same renown as Paris or Rome – and so there wasn’t much hope of our friends saying, “What a coincidence! I’ve always wanted to go to Budapest!” So I held very little hope of people actually hopping across the pond to see us. I’ve been so blessed to be proven wrong. My parents started the guest-a-thon in early September, and our last scheduled visitors will be Richie’s parents, leaving in early November, with three sets of guests in between! There’s no way that I can put into words how thrilled I am, except to say that I am tempted to run around and burst into song, the-hills-are-alive-style.
For people that had never previously left the U.S. of A., my parents turned out to be incredibly adventurous people. What started as a trip to Budapest ended up as a trip to Budapest, plus a trip to Prague with Richie and me, plus a trip on their own to Krakow via night train from Prague. It was a really successful trip by all measures – no one got lost, injured, or mugged, and I think everyone had fun!
Because we did so much, I think I’m just going to have to throw in pictures and captions and not say much else (funny, as I’ve just typed what WordPress tells me is more than 300 words to say that….) So here we go! Two weeks in Central/Eastern Europe in a nutshell.
We started off on the Buda side, where we visited the Matthias Church (Matyas-templom):
And the Fisherman’s Bastion, right outside of the Matthias Church:
We stopped at my favorite fountain, showing King Matthias and his hunting party, complete with statue-dogs lapping fountain water and a giant dead elk:
We stumbled upon a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the President’s offices:
The next day, we boarded a 7-hour train to Prague, where we promptly consumed massive amounts of pig, like this pork knuckle that Richie ordered. This, my friends, weighs 800 grams.
We visited beautiful churches, like this one, which Rick Steves said was not worth seeing. I challenge your wisdom, Rick. This church is awesome. I mean, it has a withered black arm from the 1500s hanging in the entry as a warning to thieves.
We watched the performance of the astrological clock at noon:
We walked across the Charles Bridge:
We found the street named for the city where my maiden name originated (“Oujezdsky” = “from Ujezd”, and “ujezd” means something like a gathering of people to form a village).
We saw more beautiful churches, like this one:
And this one, the St. Vitus Cathedral in the Castle district:
The next day, we went to the Jewish Quarter, but photos weren’t allowed in 99.9% of the spots. Sorry ’bout that. In summary: there are 7 synagogues, I really only thought two were worth the price of admission (the Spanish Synagogue and the Pinkas synagogue), but you had to pay for 6 of the 7 at a minimum. We saw all 7, plus a graveyard, and overall, it was a pretty depressing day. The devastation of the Prague Jews by the Nazis was really felt in the Pinkas synagogue, which has the names of all the victims from the Czech Republic written on its walls. There were so many names – we walked through at least four rooms of names, each wall covered from the top near the ceiling to the bottom near the floor, in small writing.
That night, my parents took a train to Krakow and visited Auschwitz and the salt mines, among other things. They then took a night train back to Budapest. Note to self, and to anyone in the same situation: when you describe a night train as “pretty good” to your parents, you should remember that the last time you took one, you were a poor college student that was perfectly comfortable crashing on the floor at a friend’s house with a pair of pajama pants for a pillow. “Sleeper car” was a bit of a misnomer for my parents. Luckily, they had plenty of time in Budapest to rest up and recover.
We waited in line early in the morning (well, early for a lady of leisure like myself) for tickets to Parliament and were told that the first available tour was several hours later. So, we amused ourselves by talking a Rick walk through the area. First, my parents got to hang out with Mr. Reagan:
We then went through a great market hall (not THE great market hall – we did eventually get there, but this one was closer, tourist-free, and CHEAP!) and wandered near the American Embassy and the Hungarian Postal Savings Bank – two very gorgeous buildings. Then we had lunch at Iguana (a Mexican food place, which is run by expats and makes me less homesick for Tex-Mex) before heading back to Parliament for our tour. Amongst other things, we saw the main entry hall (pictured below); the crown jewels of Hungary, seated just below the main dome of Parliament; and the House of Lords, previously used for the elite section of Parliament, but now used as a general meeting area once the Lords were eliminated after WWII (I think… don’t quote me on that timing).
We did a lot of other Rick walks, including one that led us to this gorgeous building. It’s called the Parisi Gallerie, and it used to be the shopping mall of the elite in the early 1900s. The owners of the mall went bankrupt, the property was taken by the state, and it’s currently in a state of just-about-to-decay, if no one saves it. It’s currently got just one thing in it, apart from the security guards protecting it – a change bureau, which has been closed every time I’ve gone by. But look how lovely it is, and think how it could be if it were restored. It makes me wish I were a Hungarian billionaire so that I could buy it and breathe life into it again.
Over the last weekend my folks were here, we rented a car and went to Szentendre and Visegrad, two countryside towns with lots of charm. Visegrad once held a castle from which several of the Hungarian kings ruled, as well as a separate palace that was covered by a mudslide after the Ottoman invasion in the 1500s and only recently rediscovered.
On their last full day in Budapest, we made the trek out to Memento Park. After the communists were forced out of Hungary, the government had quite a time trying to keep the people from defacing the statues that the communists had created to glorify themselves and the ideal worker-bee. Not wanting to keep them in place, but also wanting to preserve the history, the government selected statues and monuments to be relocated to this park, which is about an hour’s bus ride from the town center. Most of the statues were designed to honor Stalin, Lenin, the workers, or the Soviets in general for liberating Hungary from the Nazis.
We managed to pack a lot of quality time into what felt like two very short weeks, and I am so, so happy that my parents liked Budapest (and are even thinking of coming again sometime!) The puppies were devastated to lose their “grandparents” to the U.S., but we managed to console them by telling them of all their other visitors that were coming just to see them 🙂
Up next: our second set of visitors and one major bucket list item: OKTOBERFEST!