The One with Budapest, Hungary

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Be ye warned, this post has a ZILLION photos. (250 to be exact... but lots have been made into collages so it looks like less!) What can I say? I'm camera happy! :)

When we first got to Germany we knew we wanted to hit the ground running going. seeing. doing. So when we heard the MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) office was going to Budapest over Labor Day weekend we signed up in a jiffy. (And no, it wasn't free and I'm not even sure if it was a good deal, but everything was planned from travel to accommodations to tours to most meals so we think it was a heckuva deal.) The plan was to leave at 9:30pm on Thursday night - 2 1/2 hours after the kids go to sleep! We ALMOST didn't go because at lunchtime Fox opened the front door and Joey escaped and he does NOT come when he's called. I was literally driving around in a big open field trying to coax him into the car. He just ran further away. I ended up driving all the way to the base and picking Chris up from work and while I was feeding the kids lunch he looked for Joey. I went outside and called and called and called for Joey and miraculously (and definitely an answer to prayers) I saw a neighbor holding him by the collar. YAY! I was so happy I gave her a hug and burst into tears. Chris begged me to call and cancel the trip because he was too stressed but I said no way jose! We're going!

So at 9:00pm we drove to the base, at 9:45 the bus rolled up, and at 10:00 we were off!
Fox and Jane were fascinated with the lights in the seats. Whatever keeps them happy!

I was Dreading the overnight drive with a capital "D". But you know what? The kids did Awesome with a capital "A". They both fell asleep within a half hour. They both woke up several times throughout the night because they were uncomfortable, an honest predicament to be in on a bus, but were both easily soothed and went back to sleep. I don't think either had a tantrum or cried more than 5 seconds or lashed out irrationally. Granted Fox woke up at 4:30am when the sun started to rise and was energetic as ever, but we love his enthusiasm for life and people thought he was cute. Hopefully. Maybe. Overnight we drove across the entire country of Austria! Not that we could see or tell... it was dark :) And then around 7:30 in the morning (after 9.5 hours of driving - google maps says the drive should only take 7 hours... but the bus can't go faster than 100kph and we stopped FOUR times) we arrived in Budapest!

Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary, the largest in East-Central Europe, and one of the largest cities in the European Union. It is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre, sometimes described as the primate city of Hungary. In 2011, according to the census, Budapest had 1.74 million inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2.1 million due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter Area is home to 3.3 million people. The city covers an area of 525 square kilometres (202.7 sq mi) within the city limits. Budapest became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube with a unification on 17 November 1873 of west-bank Buda and Óbuda with east-bank Pest. Just think, the city could have been called Budaobudapest! But they omitted the "Obuda" and it's just Budapest! Cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, its extensive World Heritage Site includes the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes' Square, and the Millennium Underground Railway, the second oldest in the world. Other highlights include a total of 80 geothermal springs, the world's largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building. The city attracts about 4.3 million tourists a year, making it the 25th most popular city in the world (and the 6th in Europe). Who knew?

As we were driving into the main part of the city to our hotel we gawked at the pretty statues and monuments and fountains welcoming us. We already knew it was going to be a great adventure!
We drove straight to our headquarters for the next several days - the Novotel. I never took a picture of our room, but it was as nice as to be expected! No complaints here!
We shoved all our luggage into a corner by the concierge, threw a net over it to "ward off the bad guys" and walked into this gorgeous dining room to enjoy a continental breakfast.
This round table became "ours" and we ate there every chance we could. We are definitely creatures of habit!
For breakfast we enjoyed everything from bread, meat, cheese, eggs, and fruit to a variety of cereals, bacon, and lots of other good stuff.

Nicely enough they found us a room before everyone else because we have babies so we grabbed our stuff and quickly dropped it off so as to make sure we got to the tour bus on time.

Did I mention we were the ONLY ones with kids? Well, there was one other family with children about ages 10 and 12. I think people were really really mad and resented that we brought such young kids, but we held our own! We were always one of the first people ready to go and on the bus. But most of the people in our group ignored if not went out of their way to not speak to us. So that was kind of a bummer and one of the only negative parts about this trip and enough of a con to make me not want to go on long trips with the MWR again unless we know for sure other people are bringing their young kids...

We loaded up on the bus and headed out to see all that there is to see! Our tour guide, Gaby, was oh so super nice, friendly, and knowledgable. I loved the way she talked (especially her Hungarian accent!) and explained things and her sense of humor was divine. She talked about this and that (like trying to get a loan from the commies back in the 80s you had to vow to get married and have two kids in six years - and she did!) the entire drive to our destinations and helped us get the lay of the land.
First stop on our morning tour: Széchenyi Baths. Had we read even the first few pages of the Budapest chapter in our Rick Steves book, we would have known that Budapest is most well known for its thermal baths and I would have been stoked to know that's where we were going first! And I most definitely would have packed swimsuits but at the last minute decided against it! Shame on me! I've learned my lesson: research before we go!

So even when we were walking around the baths I didn't realize where we were until Gaby asked if we wanted to go in. Can you imagine if we had said no we would have missed seeing THIS?!?
Széchenyi Baths is Rick Steves' most favorite activity in Budapest. He says the baths are an ideal way to reward yourself for the hard work of sightseeing and calls it a culturally enlightening experience. You soak in hundred-degree water, surrounded by portly Hungarians squeezed into tiny swimsuits, while jets and cascades pound away your tension.

The Széchenyi Bath is o­ne of the largest spa complexes in Europe. It's also the first thermal bath of Pest. It owes its existence to Vilmos Zsigmondy, a mining engineer. O­n his initiative, successful deep borings had been performed in the City Park, where later, in 1881 already an "Artesian bath" was in operation. However, this temporary type of bath was meeting the demands of the age less and less, so the Széchenyi Thermal Bath was built in 1913 o­n the basis of plans composed by Gyozo Czigler. The Bath was expanded in 1927 with a public bathing department for gentlemen and ladies and a beach site. In the middle of the 1960s, further transformations took place, including the creation of a group thermal section in bathing suits as well as a daytime outpatient hospital. The reconstruction of the pools of the swimming section, their equipment with water filtering and circulation devices was completed in 1999. The so-called fancy bath includes a whirling corridor, underwater effervescence production, neck shower, water beam back massage installed in the sitting banks, and many other services.

The front of Széchenyi Baths. So majestic!
On to our next destination, Vajdahunyad Castle, we passed a scenic lake called Városligeti-tó. It's a pretty big lake and in the wintertime it's turned into an ice skating rink! More pictures of it later. It'd be awesome - I'd say like unto ice skating in Central Park, though I haven't done that either.
Vajdahunyad Castle is a castle in the City Park of Budapest, Hungary. It was built between 1896 and 1908 as part of the Millennial Exhibition which celebrated the 1000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895.

Many of the buildings for the Millennial Exhibition were made with temporary materials to be torn down at the end of the festival - as was the case for most of the world fairs at the time. But locals so loved Vajdahunyad Castle that they insisted it stay, so it was rebuilt in brick and stone.
The complex has four parts, each representing a high point in Hungarian architectural style: Romanesque chapel, Gothic gate, Renaissance castle, and Baroque palace.
Posing with a statue, forgive me for not knowing who/what it is. And Fox checking out a lion sort of thing.

Gaby says Hungarians call it their own Disneyland. I can see that, sans all the fun rides and attractions! :)
This floating artist was at the entrance to the castle. For the life of me I can't figure out how he was floating, even though in this picture he looks like he's standing on the steps, he wasn't.

This new structure is still under construction and I've googled and looked at maps and for the life of me don't know what it is!
Looking back at Vajdahunyad Castle. Can I live there please? All the water you see in the above and below picture are part of the ice skating rink in the winter. I want to go!
Then we walked across the bridge to Heroes' Square.
Built in 1896 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyars' arrival in Hungary, this vast square culminates at a bold Millennium Monument. The granddaddy of all Magyars, Árpád, stands proudly at the bottom of the pillar, peering down Andrássy út (út means avenue). The 118-foot-tall pillar supports the archangel Gabriel as he offers the crown to Árpád's descendant, St. István. In front of the pillar is the Hungarian War Memorial (fenced in to keep skateboarders from enjoying its perfect slope.) Standing stoically in the two colonnades are 14 Hungarian leaders who represent the whole span of this nation's colorful and illustrious history. The sculptures on the top corners of the two colonnades represent in order from left to right: Work, Welfare, War, and Peace.

I'm pretty sure the Lord of the Rings characters were modeled after these statues!

Heroes' Square is also flanked by a pair of museums including the Museum of Fine Arts. This collection of Habsburg art - mostly Germanic, Dutch, Belgian, and Spanish, rather than Hungarian - is Budapest's best chance to appreciate some European masters. Had we been childless, we definitely would have gone in as we're both art history buffs. But alas, all we got was this picture of its facade.
On the opposite side of the Museum of Fine Arts is the Hall of Art or Műcsarnok. It shows temporary exhibits by contemporary artists of interest only to art-lovers.

Snack break! Look at the size of this delicious pretzel!

That was the end of this tour. Upon exiting the parking lot we came across this modern building. Pretty cool!
We drove across the bridge to the Buda part of town to go up into Fishermen's Bastion and see the view of Budapest from up high.
Fisherman's Bastion - this Neo-Romanesque fantasy rampart offers beautiful views over the Danube to Pest. In the Middle Ages the fish market was just below here. The current structure is completely artificial from Budapest sprucing itself up in 1896. Its seven pointy towers represent the seven Magyar tribes. The cone-headed arcades are reminiscent of tents the nomadic Magyars called home before they moved west to Europe.

The views the views the views! Finally we got to see the amazing Parliament building.
Budapest at its finest.
Me and Jane. She's a trooper.
View of the Parliament through the fancy fences.
Looking down to Szentháromság tér.

Along Szentháromság tér is Matthias Church.

Budapest's best church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in the 800 years since it was founded by King Bela IV. Today's version - renovated at great expense after World War II - is an ornately decorated lesson in Hungarian history. While it's officially named the "Church of Our Lady" everyone calls it the Matthias Church for the popular Renaissance king who got married here - twice! The frilly, flamboyant steeple was added in 1896 for the Millennial Exhibition.

Statue of St. István - Hungary's first Christian king. The reliefs on this statue show the commissioners of the pope crowning St. István, bringing Hungary into the fold of Christendom.

Views of the rolling hills of Buda. The rich people live in the hills. Sounds like Los Angeles!

We had about 20 minutes of free time before we had to go back to the bus so we walked to the "Hospital in the Rock" secret military hospital and nuclear bunker.

Sprawling beneath Castle Hill is a 25,000-square-foot labyrinthine network of hospital and fallout-shelter corridors built during the mid-20th century. When we walked down here Fox said, "PIRATES!" - as in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. They are quite similar-looking!
At this point we were dropped back off at the hotel and we were famished and tired and in desperate need of food, fast. Oh how we love the golden arches, especially atop such lovely buildings! Yes, we had McDonald's in Budpest - twice! We ain't ashamed!

We took a much needed breather and relaxed at the hotel for a couple hours. Then we went on a walk. Every time we passed the New York Cafe, Gaby went on and on about how we needed to go in and get a cup of coffee (or, rather, hot chocolate :) and see how immaculate it is. We didn't go in, but even from the outside, the Boscolo Hotel Budapest is quite a site to see!
The Keleti Station at the end of the street our hotel was on looked a lot closer than it seemed! Appearances can be deceiving!

The Keleti Station is the main international and inter-city railway terminal in Budapest, Hungary. It lies at the end of Rákóczi Avenue and at the beginning of Kerepesi Avenue and Thököly Avenue. The terminal is named after the eastern (keleti) direction towards Transylvania and the Balkans. It's under a lot of construction!
I stepped inside to see what it looks like.

Hustle and bustle of mortals with places to go and people to see!
Just a couple of cool buildings along our walk - even a mint green one to boot!

Seems like Budapest is having an identity crisis - half is old and ultra decrepit and the other half is new and ultra modern. Pick one haha! Actually, I like the diversity.
There was a guided night walk planned for that evening but we opted out because the kids (and, let's be honest, we) were exhausted and knew a two-and-a-half hour walk would be the death of us. So we all went to sleep at 7:30pm and called it a(n awesome!) day!

On the morning of day three of our Budapest adventure we woke up happy, refreshed, and ready to go! We ate breakfast at the hotel then loaded up on the bus and headed to the Hungarian State Opera House.

This Neo-Renaissance home of the Hungarian State Opera features performances almost daily except during outdoor music season, late June to early September, which is when we were there. The building dates from the 1890s, not long after Budapest had become co-capital of the Habsburg Empire. Designed by Miklós Ybl, it was built using almost entirely Hungarian materials. After being damaged in World War II it was painstakingly restored in the early 1980s. Today, with lavish marble and gold leaf decor, a gorgeous gilded interior slathered with paintings of Greek myths, and quality performances at bargain prices, this is one of Europe's finest opera houses.
Beautiful lamppost | Original wood walkways

Fox probably shouldn't have been eating chips inside, but sometimes I make exceptions to keep him happy during stressful times!
I told Fox to look up and this is what he did!

Ornate wood carvings flank the doorways.

The stage. Wow! Just, wow!
The guide told a story about the wife of a king or emperor or someone of importance named Cici who used to sit in the back but everyone was distracted by her beauty and watched her in the back of the opera instead of the performers. So they moved her seat to the front left of the stage so people could simultaneously stare at her beautifulness and the performance. I wish I was that pretty :)
Gaby the tour guide even watched Jane for a bit so Chris and I could enjoy the Opera House! What a classy lady!
After the tour of the Opera House we went down towards to the river to see as much of the Hungarian Parliament building as we could. Originally we were going to tour it instead of the Opera House but there is a ton of construction going on at the Parliament so this is as close as we got.
The Parliament building, which dominates Pest's skyline, is the centerpiece of a banking and business district. Called Leopold Town, this area is one of Budapest's most genteel quarters and features some of the best of Budapest's many monuments. The Parliament was built from 1885 to 1902 to celebrate the Hungarian Millenium year of 1896. Its elegant, frilly spires and riverside locations were inspired by its counterpart in London (where the architect studied). When completed, the Parliament was a striking and cutting-edge example of the mix-and-match Historicist style of the day - just as Frank Gehry's undulating buildings are examples of today's bold new aesthetic. Like the Hungarian people, this building is at once grandly ambitious and a somewhat motley hodgepodge of various influence - a Neo-Gothic palace topped with a Renaissance dome, which once had a huge, red communist star on top of the tallest spire. Fittingly, it's the city's top icon.

From the Parliament we walked over to Liberty Square. It's dominated by a stout obelisk, a Soviet War Memorial commemorating "Liberation Day": April 4, 1945, when the Soviets officially forced the Nazis out of Hungary. As a very rare reminder of the Soviet days - you almost never see hammers-and-sickles in the streets of Hungary anymore - it has often been defaced, which is why a fence surrounds it, but I just put my camera right through the fence to snap this picture.

Nearby is a statue honoring Ronald Regan, erected in 2011 by right-wing Hungarian politicians. Of course Chris wanted his picture with Ronald! You can see the Parliament building in the background. Also in this square is the US Embassy. Pictures were NOT allowed, I got yelled at for snapping this one. My bad.

Note: Chris is wearing a BYU shirt to honor the first football game of the season that night! Interestingly, we met three other LDS people/couples this day because of his shirt! The first was right here in Liberty Square, a local LDS woman with her father (? I can't remember) and they were happy to see us and chat. The next was an older couple from Salt Lake City we met in the market (later in the day). The next was a younger couple on holiday from Australia! Go cougs! I LOVE The Church and how you can meet people from near and far, even all the way in Budapest, and know that your foundation and core beliefs are exactly the same.

At the other end of Liberty Square is an interactive fountain. There are sensors below so when you walk close to the water the water goes down so you can walk on through. A few seconds later the water goes back up. Chris told Fox to say "Go down water!" and he thought it obeyed his commands. Too funny.

The MTV building in Budapest. Magyar Televízió (or Hungarian Television) is the Hungarian national public service television company, with three TV channels, called M1 (M1 HD), M2 (M2 HD) and M3D. Super fun.
On to the next! We crossed over the most famous of the seven bridges, the Chain Bridge, and admired Castle Hill where we were yesterday.
We went to the top of Gellért Hill for THE best views of Budapest. The hill rising from the Danube is Gellért Hill. When King István converted Hungary to Christianity in the year 1000 he brought in Bishop Gellért, a monk from Venice, to tutor his son. But some rebellious Magyars had other ideas. They put the bishop in a barrel, drove long nails in from the outside, and rolled him down this hill... tenderizing him to death. (Who THINKS of these horrible things?). Gellért became the patron of Budapest and gave his name to the hill that killed him. Today the hill is a fine place to commune with nature on a hike or job, followed by a restorative splash in its namesake baths.
Simply breathtaking!
The Citadella - a strategic, hill-capping fortress, was built by the Habsburgs after the 1848 Revolution to keep an eye on their Hungarian subjects.
The Citadella was last used for military purposes in World War II to defend Budapest during 1944-45 against the attacking Red Army, when it served as air defense base for German and Hungarian troops, while the catacombs were used as warehouses and facilities for caring for the wounded. The defense works of the Citadella suffered major damages during the fight, the signs of which are well visible even today.
The hill is crowned by the Liberation Monument featuring a woman holding aloft a palm branch. Locals call it "the lady with the big fish" or "the great bottle opener."

It's really quite a site to behold from near and far.
Loving Budapest!
Looking over at Pest.
Then it was back down the hill and across the Liberty Bridge where we could see the Statue of Liberty up on the hill.
We were dropped off at the Great Market Hall. "Great" indeed is this gigantic marketplace. The Great Market Hall has somehow succeeded in keeping local shoppers happy, even as it's evolved into one of the city's top tourist attractions. Goose liver, embroidered tablecloths, pickled peppers, communist-kitsch T-shirts, patriotic green-and-white-and-red flags, kid-pleasing local candy bars, and paprika of every level of spiciness... if it's Hungarian, you'll find it here. This market hall (like so much of Budapest) was built around the millennial celebration year of 1896.
The cavernous interior features three levels. The ground floor has produce stands, bakeries, butcher stalls, heaps of paprika, goose liver, and salamis. Upstairs are stand-up eateries and souvenirs. And in the basement are a supermarket, a fish market, and piles of pickles.
We lasted for about 5 minutes because our stroller is ginormous and we were PACKED in like sardines. It was miserable. The only good part was running into the older LDS couple from Salt Lake City! We high-tailed it outta there as fast as we could after taking a couple pictures.
At this point we were hungry in Hungary and had no way to get back to the hotel except to walk. At least we enjoyed the scenery and found ourselves, once again, at a McDonald's. Fast, easy, yummy.

We took a nap and then we had the afternoon to ourselves. What to do, what to do? To get to anywhere we had to figure out the metro system.
We purchased a family ticket and then took the seemingly vertical escalator down to the subway.

Seriously some crazy vertigo happened going up and down this escalator!
Then where do we go, left or right? We looked at our map to see which way the place we wanted to go was located, and from there figured out which side of the station to go.
Our first ride on the metro.
People were really friendly and gave up their seats for me with my kids.
A few stops later we got off and imagine our excitement when we popped our heads out and saw our final destination - we made it! We conquered the metro system! Go us!

We walked a little ways down to St. István's Basilica.
The church is only about 100 years old - like most Budapest landmarks, it was built in 1896. Designed by three architects over more than 50 years, St. István's is particularly eclectic. Each architect had a favorite style: Neoclassical, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque. Construction was delayed for awhile when the giant dome collapsed midway through. Inside it's dimly lit with a gorgeous interior.

The church's main claim to fame is the "holy right hand" of St. István. The sacred fist - a somewhat grotesque 1000-year-old withered stump - is in a jeweled box in the chapel. We didn't actually get to see it because a wedding was taking place, but here's what it looks like:
Obelisk outside St. István's Basilica | Stained glass inside St. István's Basilica

The kids were asleep in the stroller so we meandered around. The sun through the clouds was magnificent.
We walked down to the Danube to see the Royal Palace.
In the early 15th century, the Renaissance King Mátyás Corvinus converted a humble medieval palace on this site into one of Europe's most extravagant residences, putting Buda (and thus Hungary) on the map. Just a few decades later, the invading Ottomans occupied Buda and turned the palace into a military garrison. When the Habsburgs laid siege to the hill for 77 days in 1686, gunpowder stored in the cellar exploded, destroying the palace. The Habsburgs took the hill, but Buda was deserted and in ruins. The palace was rebuilt, then damaged again during the 1848 Revolution, then repaired again. As World War II drew to a close, Budapest became the front line between the Nazis and the approaching Soviets. The Red Army laid siege to the hill for 100 days. They eventually succeeded in taking Budapest, but the city - and the hill - were devastated. While impressive from afar, the current version of the palace - a historically inaccurate, post-WWII reconstruction - is a loose rebuilding of previous versions, lacking the style and sense of history this important site deserves. I still think it looks pretty wonderful.
While Chris stayed on land, I walked halfway across Chain Bridge. One of the world's great bridges connects Buda and Pest. This historic, iconic bridge, guarded by lions (symbolizing power) is Budapest's most enjoyable and convenient bridge to cross on foot.
Until the mid 19th-century, only pontoon barges spanned the Danube between Buda and Pest. In the winter, the pontoons had to be pulled in, leaving locals to rely on ferries (in good weather) or the river freezing over. People often walked across the frozen Danube, only to get stuck on the other side during a thaw, with nothing to do but wait for another cold snap. Count Istvan Széchenyi was stranded for a week trying to get to his father's funeral. After missing it, Széchenyi commissioned Budapest's first permanent bridge - which was also a major symbolic step toward another of his causes: the unification of Buda and Pest.
The Chain Bridge was built between 1842 and 1849. Like all of the city's bridges, it was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, but it was quickly rebuilt.
Then we walked down the riverfront to the Holocaust Monument - 50 pairs of bronze shoes.

This monument commemorates the Jews who were killed when the Nazis' puppet government, the Arrow Cross, came to power in Hungary in 1944. While many Jews were sent to concentration camps, the Arrow Cross massacred some of them right here, shooting them and letting their bodies fall into the Danube. I was particularly moved by the pair of shoes about Fox's size. So so so incredibly sad.
Heading back to find some dinner, I saw the Sofitel. I worked at a Bat Mitzvah at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills and thought it was fun to see another Sofitel in Budpest.
There was some kind of event going on in the shadows of St. István's Basilica and the food looked delicious and edible, unlike many other things we'd seen. We bought a brat, bread, potatoes, and chicken seasoned with paprika. Everything was delicious! We ate every last bite and even the kids, who are pretty picky eaters, loved it. We enjoyed our view and most of all, no longer being hungry in Hungary!

We took the metro back to our hotel and chillaxed until it was time for our night boat ride aboard the Pest Buda!
It was so fun and lovely to see the city all lit up.

The Hungarian Parliament in all its glory.
It was funny, at the end of the tour where the boat turned around, just past the bridge everything was pitch black! I guess that's the end of that!
The kids fell asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel and we quickly bathed and put them to bed. What an amazing day! On to the next!

Our entire last day in Budapest was a free day - we could do whatever we wanted! Since THE thing to do in Budapest is visit the bath houses, that's where we went!
We took the metro back to the Széchenyi Baths. We probably paid about $50 to get in, and even though we didn't have swimsuits, it was worth every penny for the experience.
Even the lobby is ornate and divine.

I couldn't stop taking pictures!
Fox, upon seeing the larger than life swimming pools, wanted to get in the water of course! So even though we didn't have his swimsuit, we stripped him down to his diaper and let him play. He was a happy boy.

Jane, seeing Fox in the water, wanted to get in too, natch! So, we let her play in her "birthday suit" and boy oh boy were they happy.

These need to be framed, stat!

No one said anything about them being in a diaper/naked, so we let them have at it for about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile I ran around and snapped pictures left and right.
Hopefully, if we ever get to come back to Budapest, we'll know to bring our swimsuits so we can really get a taste of this unique experience!
We walked along the streets and saw all the vendors.
Fox wanted one of everything of course. We settled on a little red car.
A beautiful restaurant perched on the edge of a lake.
Chris being daring and walking across the narrow path.
This is the lake that freezes over in the winter and turns into an ice skating rink. Again, if we ever come back, during the winter nonetheless, this is a MUST DO!
We hopped on the metro again, pros that we became, and went a couple stops to the House of Terror.
The building at Andrássy Avenue 60 was home to the vilest parts of two destructive regimes: first the Arrow Cross, then the AVO and AVH secret police (the insidious KGB-type wing of the Soviet satellite government). Now revisioned as the "House of Terror", this building uses high-tech, highly conceptual, bombastic exhibits to document (if not proselytize about) the ugliest moments in Hungary's difficult 20th century.
I'll be the first to admit that I left with a churned stomach after seeing some of the things they had on display and the stories they told and movies they showed. Makes me second guess if I could ever go to Auschwitz concentration camp if I can't even stomach seeing this. Definitely happy that Fox and Jane aren't old enough to understand what they were seeing...
Pictures were not allowed except in the main foyer. Artistically and aesthetically, it was amazing and I loved it. But in real life, sickening. The Holocaust is one of those things that I will never truly understand.
Outside the House of Terror is a memorial to the Iron Curtain.

Also a piece of the Berlin Wall. All very moving and powerful.
We were exhausted so we went back to the hotel for a breather. Funnily enough, as we were entering the metro, who did we see but Gaby (our tour guide) leading around an older couple! Of all the places in all the world, and at that time, we ran into our guide! It seems like stuff like that happens to us a lot...

For lunch we walked across the street and I got a gyro and the kids got cookies and pizza at the bakery inside the grocery store. My gyro was delicious - paprika makes everything better!
I got in trouble for taking this picture of paprika in the grocery store - I did it all for you Grandma Doris! :)
We hopped on the metro and navigated to our next destination.

The Hungarian National Museum.
One of Budapest's biggest museums features all manner of Hungarian historic bric-a-brac, from the Paleolithic age to the communists.

We didn't go in, just admired from afar.
A textured tree and textured building close to the Hungarian National Museum.

Enjoying being tourists in Budapest.
Again, the identity crisis - new with the old. Modern and contemporary mixed with classic and quintessential.
We took the metro yet again to the Great Synagogue. Budapest's gorgeous synagogue is the biggest in Europe and the second biggest in the world (after the Temple Emanu-El of New York).
The synagogue was built in 1859 just outside what was then the city limits. Although Budapest's Jews held fast to their own faith, they also wished to prove their worth and to demonstrate how well-integrated they were with the greater community. The two tall towers (designed to evoke the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem) and the rosette (rose window) helped the synagogue resemble Christian churches of the time.
We didn't pay to go in but we did walk around and peek into the grounds.
Dominating the garden behind the synagogue is the Tree of Life, sculpted by renowned artist Imre Varga.
The willow makes an upside-down menorah and each of the 4000 metal leaves is etched with the name of a Holocaust victim.
Two streets down is the Orthodox Synagogue. Built in the Vienna-inspired Secession style in 1912, damaged and deserted for decades after WWII, and now recently renovated, this temple invites visitors to see its sumptuously decorated interior - which we actually didn't see :)
This alleyway was a little rough around the edges and steaming with colorful kinds of people.
For dinner we went to Burger King (adventurous, I know) and then strolled through the neighborhood to a lovely little (or rather, big) park.
Fox loved going down this twirly slide, slamming into other kids... oops. Meanwhile Jane was enjoying playing in the sand and trying to stand up on her own.

That concluded day four of our time in Budapest and thus the duration of our trip! The last day was spent driving home and that was a nightmare but I don't want to end on a sour note. We had SO MUCH FUN. We couldn't have asked for a better first vacation!

Goodbye Budapest, until we (hopefully!) meet again!


  1. Great post! I love seeing our adventures chronicled!

  2. Looks like it was a great trip! LOVING the photos!! Bummer the other people on the trip treated you badly because of the kids ... maybe you could think they were just rude naturally?? LOL!! That floating artist is kinda creepy... just sayin' :)

  3. Fabulous photos of what sounds like a fabulous trip. Makes me want to go!

  4. Love your photos. Jane is so adorable. Love her smile. I agree, what happened during the roundup is sickening. Those photos brought immediate tears and made my stomach churn... I am currently reading "The story teller" by Jodi Picoult... and I have cried so much about what happned to those Jewish families! SOOOOO VERY SAD :( I don't think I could go see the camp. Thanks for sharing these with us Paige.

  5. Enjoying your journey! Looks like an amazing trip.

  6. This post is so amazing! I am absolutely loving all your adventures and seeing all the pictures! Your kids are absolutely adorable!,

  7. what an amazing trip you had! thank you for continuing to share your adventures with us! :) *

  8. oh my gosh WOW!!! LOVED seeing all your cool pics and what an adventure!!! youre kids must be the best travelers!!!

  9. Wow what an exciting trip. Budapest is somewhere I would love to visit - even more so now

  10. My goodness! What an amazing trip. I'm so proud of you for being able to schlep those cute kiddos around. I've never wanted to go to Budapest but now I do!

  11. Wow, I never knew how GORGEOUS Budapest is! I think I gasped out loud seeing all the buildings lit up on the water! I so hope we get to join you guys in Europe next year...even if we weren't at the same base, it'd be so fun to do a trip like this with you guys! And then you wouldn't have to worry about being the only ones with little kids!

    P.S. I giggled a little when I saw the picture of the modern building with Deloitte on the top--my dad used to work for that firm, so it was funny seeing it all they way in Budapest!

  12. Despite the fact that this post took me 30+ minutes to read all the way through, it was totally worth it! This makes me miss Europe SOOOO badly! And those pictures of Fox and Jane in the pool is too perfect! Definitely frame worthy ;)

  13. what an amazing trip! my kudos to you for doing it all with fox and jane in tow. :)

  14. Wow!! What an amazing place to visit! The Széchenyi Baths is absolutely gorgeous!! You got some beautiful photos, Paige!

  15. Has Jane had a haircut or does her hair just grow that way naturally? Also, the Tree of Life was my favorite -- that is art I like, symbolism, meaning, and beauty.

  16. What an amazing guys are so blessed!

  17. So very many beautiful photographs! I've never had a desire to visit there. I guess I hold out what happened to the Jews on the whole country. All the memorials are just heartbreaking, but thank you for sharing your stunning pics!

  18. So glad I get to live through your vacations through your blog. That looks awesome!! I love all of the pictures :)

  19. seriously--WOW, what a moving incredible couple of days--FANTASTIC pictures!

  20. Great pictures! I'm going to Budapest in May, and this gave me some great ideas of things to do and see.

    By the way, about the floating guy- I've seen the exact same thing done in two other cities, and they always have that carpet spread out beneath them. My guess is that there's a framework- the "staff" they're holding onto connects a big flat base under the carpet to an arm that goes up their sleeve and connects to a seat under the robe. Of course I've never seen one setting up, so it's just a guess...


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