From Geneva, it was a quick and easy journey (on Easy Jet) to Budapest. Arriving at the airport we were completely baffled. We couldn’t figure out the money (200 Hungarian forints = $1) or find our ride to the hotel. Ended up with a local cabby who took us in for 20 Euros, which was about the right price. He drove like a maniac though. Turns out that is pretty much the way everyone drives here. Lots of brake and gas, swerve and tuck in. I mostly looked at the floor.
Our hotel was nice. It was on the fifth floor of a building. We quickly found a local vegan restaurant. It had a widely varied menu. We had a “sausage” pizza for dinner that was very nice. And it only cost 1,450 HUF ($7). It was conveniently located right on the metro line. The plaza in front of the train station was always filled with music and people playing chess.
The next day we toured around a bit. We saw the largest Jewish synagogue in Eastern Europe. They had a tribute to the Budapest victims of the Holocaust which was striking. It was a stainless steel “tree” which kind of looked like a weeping willow. Each leaf had the name of a victim engraved on it. If you looked at it upside-down, it resembled a menorah.
We also went for a walk down the Vaci Utra, a large pedestrian street with tourist shops lining it. That led to an indoor farmers’ market which was so huge it looked like it should have been a train station.
All through town we kept seeing fiberglass cows, whimsically painted. Sheila really thought some of these were clever.
That evening we connected up with Jay, Sheila’s old friend from her army years in Germany. We sat for quite a while at a cafe visiting, then went to his place to check email and make plans. His roommate, Ferko, was there and we all visited some more. That’s Jay on the left, Ferko in the middle and Mikey’s the dog.
Jay had work to do the next day so we took ourselves on a tour through Budapest. We went to the hot mineral spa at Szechenyi Bath. Budapest is built on natural hot springs. Baths are one way the community gathers. We must have spent 2 hours floating in the pools. It was quite relaxing.
We also saw a museum dedicated to the terrors of dictatorship – the twin occupations of Hungary by the Nazis and the Communists. Thousands of Jews were sent to death camps as World War II was winding down by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s Nazi collaborators. Later, thousands more Hungarians were sent to Stalinist gulags when the Communists took over. The museum was amazingly well done. It was actually housed in the building that the secret police of both groups had used.
We crossed the Danube with its tourist barges via the Chain Bridge. This suspension bridge actually uses chain links for the suspension cables. We rode the funicular to the top of Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube. There we saw this statue of the turul bird who was supposed to show the Magyars where to set up camp by dropping a sword here. We also saw an elaborate changing of the guard ritual outside the Sandor Palace.
We saw another museum about Hungarian folklife, walked into the incredible state Opera House, and were ready to call it quits. Jay called and asked us to meet him for cake, so we did. Later we went to dinner downtown at a vegetarian place. Ate much too late for our comfort, but that’s Europe.
The next day Jay and Ferko drove us out to Lake Balaton, a large tourist spot an hour out of town. It was beautiful. We just laid around for hours soaking up the sun and dipping in the lake. Mikey, the little dog, slept in our laps almost all the way back.
The next morning we left Hungary to begin our bike journey through France.