Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Tale of Four Cities Part I: Budapest – Erich

I apologize for getting behind in my blogging responsibilities. Lately we have been on the move a great deal. April saw us visiting four European capital cities (five if you consider that we were leaving out of Athens.) Taking it all in has been a lot of work. But let me describe those cities in a series of posts, as well as other impressions of them.

From Athens we made our way to Budapest. We arrived at night and took public transportation to get from the airport into the center of Pest. It always felt safe. There were a lot of young people in the metro (the subway) and walking in the streets. A friendly young woman even helped us find the right street to walk along on our way to the apartment in which we were staying.
The not-so-blue Danube
Budapest is two cities, Buda and Pest, that united some time ago. They are separated by the Danube River. You know the famous waltz, the Blue Danube? Well there are a few ironies there. First, it is a major tribute to Vienna, though the Danube doesn't flow through the center of Vienna, but more along its outskirts. (Today, Vienna has grown to encompass the river, but when Strauss wrote the piece, the city wasn't so big yet.) But it does go right through the heart of Budapest.

Another irony, the Danube isn't blue. (There's actually a Spike Jones song all about this fact.) And it wasn't blue in 1866 when the waltz was written. I learned that the song has lyrics. Two sets of lyrics. The first set was written by the poet of Vienna's Choral Association and it makes fun of Vienna and the fact that the Danube isn't blue. The second set is more properly patriotic and is called “Danube so blue”, so it ignores the basic greenness of the river.

But back from the tangent of music history to city present.
Do you think people cover their heads when they enter the door
Budapest is interesting in its architecture. First, it is quite varied and often beautiful. Second, you will sometimes see something strikingly modern next to something intricately old. Consistency is not the goal in Budapest, but spectacle may be.
I love the bulbs at the tops
At times as you walk through Budapest you happen upon fascinating street art.
Under arrest for... well, you decide the crime
In this picture, you see an escort by the guard. But it's bad news. We learned that the guard wears his sword on his left side, so he pulls it out with his right hand. If he has you walk on his right, that means you are an honored personage that he is escorting, because he can more easily defend you with his sword. But if you are walking on his left, it probably means you're in trouble. Also, notice the reflection of the sun on his bulging gut? He really has a fire in his belly.
Elephants. In hats.
I'm not playing with angles. This sculpture truly goes up the wall.
Budapest has held onto much of its heritage. The area was founded by seven Magyar tribes who sailed up the Danube. And though Hungary has been controlled by the Prussians, Austrians, Germans, and Soviets over the centuries, the people still hold onto their language and identity as Magyars.
Part of Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman's Bastion is built upon Castle Hill, a high hill on the Buda side that overlooks the Danube. The long structure has seven peaked roofs, one for each of the Magyar tribes. I also found statues of six of the great chiefs of those tribes. I couldn't find the seventh, nor any explanation as to why there were only six. But notice the individuality of these six men. One of them even has a raven on his shoulders.
We are chiefs
So are we
The Hungarians still use their beautiful castles, now for governmental buildings. Some have needed to be rebuilt as they were destroyed in wars, but others have survived reasonably unscathed.
Palatial, right?
Before World War II, Hungary had a rich Jewish tradition. Even today, there is a large Jewish District in Pest, though far fewer Jews live there. During World War II, Hungary did constrict Jews to certain districts, to ghettos. There was a great feeling of antisemitism. However, the Hungarian government resisted Germany's attempts to deport the Jews from Hungary to concentration camps for quite some time. Eventually when Germany fully occupied Hungary, those Jews were deported and many killed.

In the Jewish district there is a striking monument to those deported and killed in the form of a sculpted willow tree.
The Willow Sculpture Monument
The food in Hungary is delicious. Of course, you have to try goulash, which is a soup. We didn't realize this. It surprised us. But we tried many other dishes. Carver, who is quite a fan of fried and roasted chicken, declared Hungary as one of the great chicken making nations of the Earth. But we ate many other dishes such as sorrel stew and sirloin strips to name some that I can name. However, one of our favorite meals came at a hole in the wall place in which we didn't know the name of anything we were ordering. We just pointed at the dish we wanted, paid, and said kozy (which is short for koszonom or thank you.) But the food, full of meat and vegetables was incredible. And filling!

Overall, Budapest is clean, friendly, lively, but not crowded, well laid out, and easy to get around. It has large spaces for work and for play. I enjoyed it immensely and I was quite comfortable there.
Could you play both sports at once?
Plus, the Magyars are highly efficient and practical. Check out what we saw in a local park. Combination basketball/soccer. Who wouldn't love this place?

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