Monday, April 29, 2013

Budapest Part 2: For all you know, these pictures could be from 2008!

When I went to Hungary with Walter Payton College Prep's math team in 2008, it never occurred to me that I'd be back so soon. But, just over 5 years later (wow!) that's exactly what happened. It turned out to be a good combination of revisiting the sites I wanted to see again, but also getting a chance to see the parts of the city that are Off Limits to a high school trip. 

After a bit of a rough start (I'd intended to get up at 5:15 am to shower before leaving at 6:10am for the bus station, only to be shaken awake by my roommate Tess at 6:02am. Oops) we got to Budapest mid-afternoon on Thursday, which left plenty of time for exploring before dinner. I'd checked the weather beforehand and it was supposed to be sunny with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-high 70s the entire time, and it was true--we had gorgeous weather the whole time we were there!

A few of us took a walk from our hotel, located right near the famous Oktogon intersection, to the river and around through town and came upon Ronald Reagan strolling by with the Parliament in the background. (Actually, I'd been warned by Benj that we'd find Reagan, because he'd sent me a fantastic description of what to see and how to get there. I saw almost everything on his list!)

As soon as we rounded the corner and saw the Dohány Utca Synagogue, I started getting déjà vu. When we came to Hungary in high school, we spent only about 3 days in Budapest total. Each person was allowed to give one suggestion of something they really wanted to see; mine, of course, was the synagogue. Apparently, it's the second-largest in the world. This time, we did a tour and came back for services on Friday night--they were really strange, and I wasn't really a fan: despite the separate seating for men and women, and the meticulous covering of women's shoulders with scarves, there was an organ accompanying the cantor, and his selection of tunes seemed unfamiliar to everyone there, so no one sang along. It was more of a performance than a service. Oh well--a few of us went to Chabad for dinner, and somehow were there in time for all of Kabbalat Shabbat, too, so we got to sing in the end anyway. 

Here's a look at the interior of the synagogue. It's enormous, with two levels of balconies for women, and enough seats to fit almost 3000 people. They don't use it in the winter because it's not worth the money it would cost to heat the whole thing; usually services are in the Heroes' Synagogue, which is right next door. Fun fact: the synagogue is also adjacent to the apartment where Theodore Herzl was born.

This is the painted ceiling of the Rumbach Street Synagogue, one of the 18 synagogues still standing in Budapest. Though it doesn't hold services--the interior is currently being restored--there are occasionally events held there. 

Yet another shul, though this one is functional. It's on Kazinczy street, and it's used by a very small Orthodox community. 

After hanging out for a while at Akvarium--an outdoor bar/park fusion where Budapest's young people apparently sit and drink the night away--a few of us went to check out Szimpla, Benj's recommendation for the most popular of Budapest's "ruin bars." It's a very cool  collection of pubs and rooms for hanging out set up in an abandoned warehouse right in the old Jewish quarter. There's not really an overall style for the place; the decorations are a hodge-podge of random things like you can see here: disco balls, Christmas lights, hubcaps from cars, bike wheels, neon lights, etc. There's also an outdoor area, and it's just a very relaxed environment where you could sit with friends for hours and not feel like you have to keep buying drinks. Although I will say that I got a honey pálinka, a traditional Hungarian brandy, because I remember that my dad told me I was supposed to try that when I came in 2008.

Full moon! Or at least, mostly full. This is the view from my hotel window, overlooking Liszt Ferenc tér (Franz Liszt Square). 

The Central Market was filled with clothes and tapestries decorated in traditional Hungarian embroidery.  I didn't get one, but I did find a lovely teacup to add to my collection! Actually, the teacup is made out of wood, so I'm going to have to figure out how to coat it with lacquer so it's usable.

I think our tour guide told us that this little girl in front of Buda Castle--she's a princess--doesn't actually have a lot of significance but, in the past couple of years, she's become an icon in tourist's pictures. 

We crossed the Chain Bridge to get from Pest to Buda, and from there climbed up to Fisherman's Bastion on the Buda side (Pest is as flat as Chicago; Buda's got hills). In the background of this picture you can see the Parliament building which, according to Benj, is "literally always under construction because it is ornamented with actual gold leaf"--good thing we did a tour in 2008! Once we made it to the top, we only had a bit of free time to wander.

Although going inside the Matthias Church sounded appealing (the stained glass and frescoes are supposed to be incredible) I've seen a lot of churches in the past few months, and  the cakes and pastries at Ruszworm--"run by the last, still active Hungarian confectionery dynasty," whatever that means--sounded irresistible. Sara and I split a dobos torta, which was absolutely delicious, and exactly what I wanted to be eating while looking over the Danube.

Sitting in one of the window alcoves of Fisherman's bastion with the Parliament, and the Danube, behind me. For comparison with 5 years ago at pretty much the same spot (although probably about 30 degrees cooler), see the picture below.

March 2008.

A view of the Parliament, etc. from the Chain Bridge.

On Saturday night, I took a three-hour walk alone along the river before circling back through town . Everything was so pretty with the lights and, while the streets and bars were full of people, not many were walking down by the Danube, so it was nice and quiet. 

A bit south of the Parliament building I came upon these cast iron shoes on the promenade. It's a memorial to the Jews who were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross party in 1944-1945.

If ever there was a perfect day for going to an island where cars are forbidden, Sunday was the day. We had a few hours of free time before loading up on he bus back to Prague, and a group of us headed to Margaret Island, where we lay in the sun, played Frisbee, made friends with three-year-olds, and wore flowers in our hair. The day before, we'd gotten to spend a lot of time outside too; after our walking tour of the city, we went to the Széchenyi thermal baths, lazing away the evening in lots of mineral pools ranging in temperature from 65 degrees (so cold!) to about 120. There were also saunas and steam rooms, but I had trouble breathing in such hot air so I mostly stuck to the pools.

How I know summer is upon us: my feet enter a perpetual state of dirtiness because of running around barefoot!

This is my favorite mural that I've ever seen. The color of the painted sky was an exact match with the color of the real sky, and the real trees blended in perfectly with the painted ones. And with that lovely picture, I'll leave you until next time (which will probably be about the upcoming weekend in Berlin, with Michèle and Anna!)

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