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!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Budapest: Paris of the East

Budapest is sometimes referred to as the Paris of the East, and it's not hard to see why. This city is beautiful! The monuments, castles, churches, and bridges are all spectacular, and spectacularly lit up!

Here we are with my dad and stepmom on the banks of the Danube River in front the Buda Palace. A little bit of geography helps here. Budapest is made of two parts: Buda, on the west with the hills, and Pest on the east in the flat lands. Buda is where the castle is and where the suburbs are. Pest is where the businesses and apartments are. Both are beautiful!

The Buda Palace! It's been blown up, rebuilt, and blown up and rebuilt a few times. During King Mátyás' reign, the Buda Palace was the best palace in Europe. Today it is a rebuild that was completed soon after World War II, and bears little resemblance to palaces of the past. With no royal family to live in it, the Buda Palace is now a museum.

Hungarians love their fágyi, or gellato-style ice cream, and so do we! The best flavor is fáhejás, which literally means tree-bark. We'd call in cinnamon in English. It's Jennifer's favorite, and she bought one on this same spot when touring with her family back when Hungary was still part of the Warsaw pact!

This is a monument to King Mátyás. Mátyás wasn't actually a Hungarian, but rather a royal from another country that ruled Hungary after the Árpád dynasty died out. Even though he wasn't Hungarian, he was a very good king, and ushered the Italian Renaissance to Hungary. He is standing here as part of a hunting party.

The top of the castle today is a series of government buildings, museums, cafes, and holy trinity towers. Of course, no castle from the middle-ages is complete without a church!

And here it is, the Mátyás Templom, after King Mátyás himself! The real name is The Church of Our Lady, but no one really calls it that. Like most of Buda, it was built, and rebuilt several times. The current building was mostly done in the 14th century using Gothic architecture. Because King Mátyás was married here, it is known as Mátyás Templom.

The amazing thing about this church is that the walls are all painted from floor to ceiling! This was actually common in the middle ages and most Gothic churches were actually colorfully painted both inside and out. The paint gradually wore off, and no one bothered to repaint them so today most of them are bare stone. However, during the restoration of Mátyás Templom the original stencils were found so the interior paint has been restored as well.

As with all Gothic churches, tall glass windows are everywhere! This isn't original, as all of the glass in this church was lost during WWII. Nevertheless, it's still quite stunning and tells the tales of Hungarian kings of days past.

The detail in the ceiling is exquisite! The colors are blue and red with yellow and green accents. Jennifer remarked that it looks like a quilt.

This is a statue of Sisi, or Queen Elizabeth of the Hapsburgs. She was Austrian, but she loved the Hungarians, and they loved her back.

Nearby is the Fisherman's Bastion which overlooks the Danube river. And the founder of the Mátyás Templom, Szent István, is also memorialized here. He has a church named after him too, but it's across the river in Pest.

The Buda Castle is built on a tall hill. It was originally chosen because it was easier to defend against invaders. The hill is made of limestone, and over thousands of years a network of caves has been formed from the water passing through the rock. In the 20th century, these caves were converted to a secret hospital during WWII, and later a bomb shelter. Today, it's a great museum and it provides a unique look at how the Hungarians prepared for possible nuclear war with the Americans.

It was never actually used as a bomb shelter, but it was ready to be used at a moment's notice. It was fully stocked with food, decontamination chambers, and air raid sirens.

Now you can purchase surplus gas masks for a few dollars in the gift shop. Craig's didn't fit, he says.

Just on the west side of the Castle is District II and District XII, where I spent 4 months as a missionary. This is Moszkva Tér, or rather it was Moszkva Tér. It's since been renamed to Széll Kálmán Tér and is undergoing extensive renovations. Many locations have been renamed to obscure the Soviet names, they were once known by, and since this was Moscow Square, it was a strong candidate for a new name. This is where I would change buses every morning to get from my apartment to the area where I worked. It's also where Elder Harper, my companion, told me that he has a strange ability to attract weirdos from large crowds -- and he was right! Once he transferred in, we met our fair share of strange people in Mozskva Tér.

Moszkva Tér is home to what I promise is the world's longest escalator. This picture doesn't do it justice, but you get the point. Can you see the top of the escalator? Yup, it's that tall. It's at least three times as long as the picture shows. Jennifer closed her eyes so she wouldn't get dizzy going down this one. The escalator leads down to the M2 subway, which would double as a bomb shelter in case the Americans got a little trigger happy with those nukes...

My apartment was on Szarvas Gábor út in District XII, which was actually quite a bit farther from Moszkva Tér than I remembered. I couldn't exactly find the apartment where I lived because I never had to find it in the dark... But it was fun to be there anyway.

And here's a great view showing the Buda Palace sitting on the ruins of the old Buda Castle with the Mátyás Templom on top of the same hill as part of the larger castle complex. We loved every minute we were there!