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!

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