Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Few Other Hungarian Things

Okay, so I promise this is the last post on Hungary, and then I'll move on to the other 4 weeks of our European adventure. This is a picture of all of us fitting into the quintessential Eastern-European car: the Trabant. It was a popular car during the Communist Era in Hungary. Jennifer and I loved it. Craig, well, he endured it.

The Trabant, or Trabi (pronounced "trow-bee"), was built in East Germany. Over about 30 years, more than 3 million were produced. They had a two-stroke engine and the doors were made of plastic. Once East Germany was united with West Germany, production halted as the costs of producing the out-dated cars were too high to be economically feasible. This one obviously doesn't work anymore...

...but we did see a few working models being driven today!

Budapest, and most of Hungary, sits on top of many natural hot springs. The Romans, and later the Turks, used these hot springs to power their bath houses. Today, the Romans and Turks are gone, but the bath houses remain. Here we are at one of the largest bath houses, the Széchenyi Fürdő.

It was built in 1896 (a popular year for building in Hungary). Here is a depiction of a satyr holding up a mer-child near the main entrance.

We also visited the Dunapalota, or Danube Palace, to see some traditional boot-slappin' Hungarin folk dance!

Of course, one of the highlights of Hungarian culture is Hungarian cuisine! I love Hungarian food! Here is Jennifer and Craig at the Nagyvásárcsárnok, an indoor food market built - you guessed it! - in 1896.

It's as big as a train station, with food vendors on the basement and main levels, and a sort of handicraft or flea market on the second level.

You can buy a myriad of fresh fruits and vegetables, including the amazingly tasty white Hungarian pepper.

You can also buy meats, cheeses, juice, and everything else needed for a real Hungarian breakfast!

Typically the vásárcsárnoks have restaurants, where you can sample the most Hungarian of all Hungarian food: paprikás csirke! Yum!!

I love the Hungarian subways. I know Budapest from below ground. After a few days we figured out that it was faster to walk to some places instead of taking the subway - but I really only know the city from the network of Soviet-era trains that speed below the surface of Budapest.

They are very safe, and are being upgraded slowly. A new line, the M4, just opened last year. This line, the M3, still uses the original blue train cars. I think by the next time I visit, it will be a shining new German built white train like the newly refurbished M2 line.

Thank you Hungary, and thank you all of our Hungarian friends for the awesome memories! Isten álld meg a Magyárt!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It's Pronounced Buda-"Pesht"

Yes, it really is pronounced "Pesht". To a Hungarian speaker, saying Budapessst is like scratching nails on a chalkboard. Pest is where the Hungarian Parliament, Szent István's Bazilika, the Dohany Utca Zsinagóg, and many wonderfully build and decorated buildings.

Running through the middle of the Buda Castle is a tunnel that leads to the Szechenyi Lanchíd, or Chain Bridge to English speakers. This is the first bridge that connected Buda with Pest. Like all bridges in the city, it was blown up and rebuilt during WWII. The Chain Bridge leads to Szent István's Bazilika, where his incorruptible right hand can still be found.

Pest is full of wonderful buildings representing all types of architecture. These twin buildings flank the Elizabeth Bridge.

Narrow streets have been converted into pedestrian zones. With an excellent public transportation system, Pest is a very walkable city.

Budapest is attracting more investment, so some of its architectural gems are being restored, like this one near Kalvín Tér.

One of those gems is the Hungarian Parliament. This was built in three years starting in 1896. This is where the Hungarians legislated from the Hapsburg times until today.

This is how it looked 16 years ago. The black soot has been washed off, and the building looks better than ever!

In 1956, the square in front of the Parliament was the main site of the Hungarian Uprising against Communism. The Soviets sent tanks and soldiers and crushed the uprising. Many of the buildings in this area still bear the scars from the bullets fired to suppress those who fought for Hungarian freedom.

Inside the Parliament building is decorated like a palace. It has holders for the big Cuban cigars where the mustachioed Hungarian legislators could leave their smoke while they conducted business in the various rooms.

This is where the magic happens, the legislative chamber.

This building is still used by lawmakers today.

One of the main attractions in the Parliament is the Holy Crown of Hungary. This is a replica that is on display in the Mátyás Templom. The crown has had a very storied history since it was first given to Szent István back in the twelfth century. It has been lost, stolen, and otherwise abused multiple times over the years. Somewhere along the way, the cross on the top was bent to the side, and it has remained that way. During WWII, it was given to the United States Army for safe keeping in Fort Knox so that the Soviets wouldn't take it. It remained there until the 1970's when President Jimmy Carter returned it to Hungary. For a while, it was on display in a museum, but now it is in the Parliament, where two guards watch over it at all times and they do the "traditional" circular march around the display case. Of course, no photos of the actual crown are allowed.

During the great building spree of the late 1800's, Hungary build an opera. This is the opera house where music from Liszt Ferenc (Franz Liszt) and other greats from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were performed.

It was built complete with a royal box where Franz Joseph and Sisi could come and see the operas performed here. Franz Joseph only came once, and didn't even stay until the opera was over. But Sisi returned many times. Even though she was the queen, she couldn't sit in the royal box. Today, only the Hungarian President and a few other dignitaries, including the janitor, can go into the royal box.

Because it was built during the time when the Austrians and the Hungarians competed with each other for public building funds, it was approved only if it could be smaller than the opera in Vienna. So, the Hungarians resolved to make it more opulent inside than the Viennese opera. They decorated it with marble, guilded light fixtures, and elaborate ceiling paintings and reliefs throughout.

Szent István's Bazilika was not built during its namesake's lifetime, but almost 1,000 years later as part of Hungary's millennial celebration.

It was built in Baroque style and features red marble, gold plated decorations, and a statue of Szent István over the main altar.

The real attraction is hidden in a small chapel behind the nave. This small box contains the 1,000 year old right hand of Szent István himself. For a donation of a few hundred forint, the box will light up so that you can see the mummified knuckles in the flesh!

Once a year the old relic is paraded around the capital. Craig has a song about it, next time you see him, ask him to sing it for you.

This is the Dohány Zsinagog, the second largest synagogue in the world. Budapest has traditionally have a large Jewish population because early on the Hapsburgs allowed the Jewish to live and conduct business near Pest.

The synagogue was built in the same Gothic style as a traditional cathedral, but with Moorish symbols and themes.

A kürtõskalács, or chimney cake, is a welcome treat at the end of a long day of sightseeing!