We got up early and all Flixbused to Hungary. A little more history if you please. In the year 1000 AD Hungary’s first king and patron St. Stephen was crowned King marking the foundation of the country after an alliance of 7 tribes in the region. Subject to Turkish invasion and occupation for a century, once expelled the good ole’ Habsburg Empire annexed the lands that had been under Turkish rule. Later, having lost 2/3 of it land after WWI, Hungary allied with Germany in WWII to reclaim its land. However in 1944 when the war seemed lost, Nazis occupied Hungary and brought the brutal and fascist “Arrow Cross Party” to power. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The Soviets “liberated” the country from the Germans and fascists, but then decided to stay. In 1947 the communists took control of the government and many Hungarians were transported to soviet work camps. As well, this was a time of extreme special police cruelty to the citizens. In 1956 Soviet tanks quashed freedom demonstrations. The last Soviet troops left in 1991. Hungary is now moving to a market economy but did suffer in the recession of 2008. Today, Hungarians are friendly to visitors and do not shy away from acknowledging and discussing the brutality of their leaders.
The capital city, Budapest, is the home of 20% of the national population and its cultural center.
The city straddles the Danube River where the Buda is in the western hills and Pest is on the eastern Great Plain, connected by a variety of bridges. We stayed on the Pest side which sprawls larger and more urban. Buda is known for the upper crust Castle Hill and Royal Palace overlooking the Danube, but also has extensive residential development on the back side of the hills.
Our 2 bedroom Airbnb is very well appointed and shows recent updating. The 4 story elevator is not and only some of us will use it (Frank). We are close to the city square which is filled with market tents and sheds selling fresh Hungarian foods and drinks and sweets, and a trinket or two. The aromas instantly make you hungry as we roam around this festive environment. After some consideration, we choose a Mexican place for lunch, Janet told Staci that the only food she missed was chips and salsa. They were good but not as good as good ole Michigan.
It started to rain. So we decided to start our exploration of the Pest side by visiting the ‘Terror House”. This was once the actual headquarters of a variety of Secret Police and interrogators. The first floor eerily displays a large Soviet tank partially submerged in a vat of muck. The dim lighting really sets a creepy mood. The“Terror House” Museum discusses the atrocities of the Nazis, Arrow Cross Party and then the Communists against the Hungarian people. The displays keenly instill the feeling of insecurity and fear caused by the havoc and mental anguish imposed. The most horrific display is in the basement which still stands as it did for decades as a torture chamber, with electrodes, gallows, batons, and hot boxes. No photos allowed in the museum but we got 2 fuzzy ones, that show a memorial and Teddy and Staci in a display.
On our first full day, the rain continued and it was cold. The plan was a walking tour covering the Buda and Pest side. We bundled up and braved on. After an hour or so of heavy rain Teddy and Staci opted for warmth and headed back. We continued with our rain gear and we were glad when the tour ended with a great view of the Pest side and an offer to take us to a traditional lunch spot. For $8 we had a potato dish that looked like the cook added everything in the kitchen to it and some red cabbage, very filling and it was delicious. To stay out of the rain we found our way back by taking a bus and two trains. Wow, it was nice to come back to a warm home and Teddi and Staci. Later we opted for movies and dinner in, a perfect end to a wet and cold day.
The next day the sun was shining and we decided to take the “Tour of the Jewish Quarter”. After seeing the Terror House we wanted to gain more insight, complete the story if you will, into the results and outcomes of living under the boot of a brutal government. Historically, Hungary had a large welcomed Jewish population. They unfortunately became targets of the Nazis and it is estimated 500,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to work camps and many to their death. We felt it was important to learn about their plight and the aftermath.
We took the Jewish Quarter walking tour which showed the resurgence of the Pest area, including refurbished synagogues and shopping areas. The entertainment district is still rustic, but so-called “Ruins Pubs” have sprung up in some of the more dilapidated structures and draw hip nightlife. The walk was inspirational. Again another great, vibrant and informative guide.
There has been a great revival of the Jewish Quarter as a religious and social center. At the end of the tour we opted for a traditional Jewish lunch, again delicious
After lunch we crossed the Chain Bridge to Buda, we wanted to see the site in the sunshine with the kids and go inside the cathedral. We are really good at using the local tram. First stop, the high balcony on the top of Buda Hill to gain the most incredible views of the countryside around the backside of Buda and surrounding Pest. The sun is shining for once this week. Next, we visited The Matthias Church, an incredible Neo-Gothic structure with colorful tiles that are so unusual and special interior designs with floor to ceiling orange, brown and golden frescos and stained glass. We then walked the high wall that runs the entire length of the monstrous "Jozsef Varos" Palace. Again great views. The interior is not refurbished so we skipped it.
We make our way back to Buda with a quick stop at the square for an afternoon treat, a type of fried dough with garlic, cheese and sour cream, Staci announced, this was the best dish!!!
Our exploration of Budapest is over. We need to pack and say goodbye to Teddy and Staci who head back to the USA.
PS. Bratislava re-deux
The kids, our sweet nephew and wife, got up at 5:00 AM and left early for the Airport for the flight back to the USA. We got up to say good bye and then enjoyed a leisurely morning until our 11:00 PM Flixbus ride to Bratislava. Yes, we had been there with the kids, but we were returning to spend 24 hours with our good pal Brian from our hometown. He had a work assignment in Bratislava and since we were so close, about 60 KM, we diverted our trip south to see him and catch up on family stuff. He brought over an Observer Newspaper for photos and Kathleen also sent him over with boxes of great snacks for us. Thanks guys! The first afternoon we checked out the large Castle which is described as the “table” by locals due to its 4 corner towers. We walked 4 stories of steps to the top of the tallest tower. We then searched for authentic Slovakian food, ie., sausages, sour kraut, potato pancakes, pork knuckle and local beer ( surprise—the beer bottle label displayed the Cathedral painting). The next day, we got free Sunday passes to the City Museum and the Street. Martin Cathedral. Fun. At 2:00 PM Brian sent us off north to Poland on another Flixbus.