Category Archives: Hungary

Hungary, Budapest – A river runs through it part 2 – the Pest side of the River Danube

Having only briefly covered Pest (pronounced Pesht as ‘s’ on its own is ‘sh’ whereas if you want an ‘s’ sound you need to have “sz” which probably explains why Hungarians learn English and not the other way around!) in my earlier blog on the synagogues and Ruin Bars – I thought it appropriate to finish my visit with a tour of the Pest side of the river – the much more fun and lively side!

Everything in Budapest is about the river – what on either side, getting across it, boating down it, walking along it and even the trams trundle by.

Although there is loads of construction going on in the city and especially in some of the large squares there is still lots to see around and about the holes in the ground just be wandering around and discovering squares, fountains, sculptures and statues.

On the topic of sculptures – these are some of my favorites from the Pest side and I know there are many more I did not find – a good reason to come back.

The Fat Policeman below is keeping an eye on the apartment across the street and is based on the artist’s grandfather. Everyone likes to rub his tummy. The girl with the dog is very popular and I was very happy to capture her with a real man with his dog!

A selection of sculptures in Budapest including the Fat Policeman and the Girl with a dog

The Little Princess below is very popular and I think the Ronnie Reagan one is pretty good. The weirdest though is Will Shakespeare (actually outside the Starbucks of my hotel). This is a replica of a sculpture whose original is in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia (yes honestly). The original sculptor was a Hungarian born Australian and the replica was unveiled in 2003 and meant to represent close ties between Australia and Hungary. I get all that – but why William Shakespeare? Weird enough that he is in Ballarat but then again in Budapest? What has he got to do with either Australia or Hungary?? (Answers on a postcard please:). I am perplexed…….

More sculptures in Budapest including William S?!?!

The saddest sculptures are the famous shoes along the Danube which was created to honor the Jews and others killed by facist Hungarian militia in 1944/5. They were ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and be carried away. Several of the shoes were stolen in 2014 – no one knows by whom or why.

Memorial Shoe sculpture by the River close to House of Parliament

There is also a burgeoning street art scene especially around the Jewish quarter. Below is the beloved Empress Sissi and the Rubik cube (which was invented by a Hungarian) as well as a commemoration of a 1953 World Cup match in which the Hungarians beat England. It was a big deal apparently which is in the memories of all Hungarians as strongly as 1966 is for Brits. Like us, they are still basking in that reflected glory. Time to let go, I say…….

Street art in the Jewish Quarter and living in the past football success!

The Time Magazine cover is a reproduction of an actual cover at the time of the ill fated Hungarian Revolution against Soviet communist rule in 1956.

Street art in Budapest

The National Gallery , which is located in the spectacular Heroes’ Square, is now split between the Pest side and the Buda side – I have to say I was underwhelmed by the collections there but I did like these busts by Messerschmidt dating back to the 1770s.

The magnificent Heroes’ Square

Messerschmidt sculptures in the National Gallery

The chain bridge is one of quite a few that straddle the Danube in Budapest and it is probably the most photographed as it resembles the Eiffel Tower in design – but as a bridge – if you know what I mean?

The Chain Bridge from every angle!

Don’t think I didn’t eat while in Budapest – of course I sampled all the local specialities.

Grazing around Budapest

Craft beer one minute; rooftop cocktails the next

Fore gras fantasy, stuffed cabbages and sour cherry and poppy seed strudel.

A visit to the Houses of Parliament by the river is a must. The exterior is stunning – apparently based on the design of the Houses of Parliament in London – and so is the interior (which is only half used)! This is because it is perfectly symmetrical and was built to house the equivalent of the Houses of Commons and Lords and to be exactly the same as each other – but of course there are no more lords in Hungary so the bit we get to see is the space that is no longer used for politics – which is really a bit of a waste when you see how plush it is.

Luckily someone had the sense to ensure that all the stained glass windows were taken out and hidden as WW2 started to accelerate. They also took 600 detailed photos of everything so were able to recreate the interiors perfectly after the war,

Exterior of the House of Parliament – day and night

The Golden Staircase and interior corridor in the House of Parliament

The main chamber in the House of Parliament and beautiful carvings of every profession that exists

Just outside the House of Parliament is an underground memorial to those who were killed at the time of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet communist occupation in 1956. It is a sombre memorial to remember the many young people who went to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to peacefully protest two weeks after the initial uprising. But by then, the Russians had returned and they fired indiscriminately at the crowd killing many people and this violent approach continued in a brutal fashion across Hungary for the next year until all insurrection had been quashed. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country at this time and were taken in by a variety of other nations (those were the days when we took care of people in need). The Russians stayed in Hungary until 1990!

The Hungarian Revolution Memorial

St Stephen’s Basilica is at the Centre of Pest and while I didn’t like it as much as the more unusual Mathias church in Buda it is pretty spectacular from the outside and inside.

Exterior of St Stephen’s Basilica

Unusually at the altar it is not Jesus you see but St Stephen is is very important to the Hungarians. I believe they had to have special dispensation to allow this to happen.

Interior of St Stephen’s Basilica

As ever in European churches, they do a pretty good job with domed roofs!

Domed cupolas in St Stephen’s Basilica

Although it is summer season I did manage to visit the Vigado Concert Hall to enjoy an evening of Hungarian symphony, operetta, ballet and gypsy violins. It was great!

Exterior of Vigado Concert Hall

The art nouveau concert hall just before the Hungarian Gala evening began

And so farewell to Budapest………

Hungary, Budapest – a day trip to Szentendre on the Danube Bend

Although the Danube floats majestically in a straight line from outside my hotel window there many river cruisers glide by there is an area just a little bit further down the river known as the Danube Bend because of the extreme turns the river makes there. There are three towns that are apparently worth visiting there and I chose to take a river cruiser down to Szentendre (1.5 hours there and 1 hour back).

When I saw the place on arrival I knew it was going to be a cute and relaxing place to spend the day.

The “port” at Szentendre

Around and about the old town of Szentendre and the lampshades make a change from the more common umbrellas!

But what I hadn’t expected to find was that it is also a bit of an artist colony location and at every corner there is something completely different to take a look at.

First I found a public park with these ginormous sculptures which I liked a lot – especially as they are accessible to all.

My two favourite sculptures in the public park in Szentendre

Then I stumbled on an artist’s collective. The interior exhibit was high tech and the garden had more sculptures and for some reason (no comments required) the naked wooden man practising yoga? thinking? looking at a plane? took my fancy.

Merging high tech and art

What is he thinking?

I had heard about the marzipan museum and so of course had to take a look and a tasting too. Who knew you could make so many things out of marzipan? (Barbara – I feel a nativity project coming on?)

Di and Jacko – together forever in marzipan

And more amazing things you can make from marzipan – if you are so inclined

I then found what is supposed to be the smallest synagogue in the world? The Szanto Memorial House and Temple. I’m not sure if that is substantiated but it is a tiny memorial schul paid for my a descendant of his grandfather who was murdered during the war. It is certainly tiny but nicely kept.

Szanto Memorial House and Temple

Then on to the whackiest stop – the Retro Design Museum (1970 prices – about 40 Euro cents to get in!) dedicated to all things 70’s – even though this was 70’s Hungary I still recognised lots of things – do you?

I remember having a drawer full of cassettes.

I’m pretty sure I had that album too and I definitely had a Commodore 64!

And final artsy stop was a gallery dedicated to the folk ceramic artist Margit Kovacs (1902-1977). I’d never heard of her but she is well known in her field and I really enjoyed seeing her work. A must see.

Beautiful ceramics by Margit Kovacs

Folk art ceramics by Margit Kovacs

So a very good day out when you want a change from the city of Budapest – highly recommended.

Hungary, the Buda side of the river

It seems that whenever you find a city with a river through the middle there is an automatic rivalry between both sides. There is no exception in Budapest. People who live on the Buda (old historic) side are known to say “everyone who lives in Budapest lives in Buda or wants to live in Buda”: those on the Pest (more modern side) say “Buda,Siesta; Pest, Fiesta”.

On this occasion I stayed on the Pest side right on the river. I’m glad I did. It enabled me to enjoy the urbane and lovely Pest side (being a city girl more my thing) while enjoying the views of the Buda side and being able to walk or take a quick bus journey there.

Day and night time views of the Buda side of the River Danube

I was meeting some friends for lunch on that side so made it my day to visit Buda (and a day is fine I think).

Castle Hill is where you find the old palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion, cobbled streets, the Mathias Church and various museums plus great views all around.

The Mathias church is spectacular inside and out and has existed since the 11th century with a rebuild in the 15th century. For a while it was converted into a mosque (yes, Ottoman rule again) and it was used for one of the coronations of the Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand and his wife Elizabeth known as Sissi in the 19th century. She loved Hungary and learned the language (she was smart) and convinced her husband to let Hungary have its own language and jurisdiction. She is very beloved over here. I remember my mum was obsessed with Sissi – I think she was the Princess Diana type idol of her time.

It is a lovely church inside and out. Very warm colours and a lot of bright Hungarian folk art. Liked this one a lot. If you go to the museum of the first floor it’s easier to take pics of the detail and erase the crowds out. There are lots of them!!

External views of Mathias Church with its pretty roof tiles.

The soft colours of the interior of Mathias Church plus one pic showing the hordes!

Close ups of the artwork higher up in the chirch

The organ and folk art style above the stained glass windows

Castle Hill houses the Fisherman’s Bastion rampart walls. These were last rebuilt at the turn of the 19th/20th century to celebrate the millennium which is why it is more ornate with a viewing terrace than a practical defensive fortress. There seem to be various theories on why “fishermen”? The fisherman’s guild may have protected the original fort as they lived below it and also there was a fish market there – so that’s most likely I suppose. It is very fanciful and the views are lovely.

The Fisherman’s Bastion

I also met up with my friend Jo’s mum Gillian and her friend Jill for lunch inside the Bastion which was very posh:)

Inside the Fisherman’s Bastion Restaurant

Me, Gillian and Jill

Tasty morsels at the Fisherman’s Bastion restaurant

By the way, my pork was uniquely Hungarian from the mangalica pig bred here for superb tasting pork (I learned about this from my food tour guide Ange on the previous day when I tasted some pate from the same pig) . Have to share a picture of them as they are “pigs in sheep’s clothing” and I had to look them up for myself to believe they really existed.

Mangalica pigs

I walked around the castle hill area dodging the rain by visiting the National Gallery which had an exhibit on surrealism. I think the buildings were more interesting than the art and signage is lousy!

Museums and fountain on Castle Hill

A little bit surreal

and then one shot looking down from the Buda side before I walked down the hill to and crossed over the Danube back to Pest.

The other hill on the Buda side is where the citadel is located plus the lady liberty statue and some of the best views of the Danube.

There seems to be some debate about what she is holding? A fish? A leaf? Or as one 8 year old told my guide “it’s obvious – she’s holding an iPad and taking a selfie”!

Hungary – Budapest. A day in the Jewish quarter plus a ruin bar.

Well if Slovenia was the morphing location between the Balkans and Central Europe I am now well and truly catapulted into the Austro Hungarian Empire. No more orthodox churches but plenty of RC and once again a country with a strong Jewish culture and quarter.

The Jews here primarily came from German speaking backgrounds and before the war they numbered around 900,000. Hungary chose to align with Hitler’s axis at the start of the war and as a result they were not invaded while the Nazis focussed on the domination of other countries. However in 1944 the Hungarians realised that the Germans would lose the war and so they switched sides. This had a very bad outcome for the country and the Jews. In anger at this switch Hitler invaded and occupied Hungary almost immediately and the occupation lasted until the end of the war. They also upped the deportation of as many Jews as possible. – quite easy to do given they were already living in a ghettoised area of the city. In just two months 440,000 were deported to Auschwitz and very few ever returned. Some of the people in charge in Hungary then tried to slow this process down when they realised they would be seen as complicit in this genocide but by then a lot of the damage was done. In the end something like 80% to 90% of Hungarian Jews were murdered by the nazi.

Post war the Jews who were left were also put in a ghetto as there was an initial far right wing government in power. This lasted for about 6 weeks before the soviets “liberated” the country but by then another 10,000 of the 70,000 in the ghetto had died of starvation or hunger. So really all very depressing but nevertheless good to see that an active Jewish community remains in the city. This is not the case in some of the other parts of Europe badly impacted by the holocaust.

The top part of the Great Synagogue is ow a museum aiming to teach about Jewish customs and holiday. Thankfully people working in other museums took and Hd them during the war. Lots of interesting artefacts but the most heartbreaking were the menorah candle holders (top left) made out of dough that were found in the ghetto. This person gave up much needed food to make this important symbol.

While the exterior of the Great (or Dohány Street) Synagogue was impressive (2nd largest in the world after the one in NYC and it holds 3000 people) it was also kind of weird. Here’s the exterior which has clear moorish influences.

But to me why it is weird is that the inside looks like a synagogue trying to look like a cathedral. An organ? Two pulpits? The seating? The placement of the Torah? There are various theories why this is. They couldn’t find any Jewish architects? It just doesn’t feel right to me ….

I did like the adjacent gardens though. This includes the Tree of Life sculpture which is a memorial to those lost in the holocaust with each lead having names engraved on it. Also memorials to the “righteous ones” – those who helped to save Jews at great risk to themselves and to the many Jews who died in the ghetto where hundreds of bodies found heaped up after liberation.

There was also a big mention for Sir Nicholas Winton – the young Brit who created the concept of kinder trains which enabled many Jewish children from Prague to escape certain death. If you’ve never seen this little video I recommend it. It’s a tear jerker.

Having been somewhat flummoxed by the Great Synagogue I was much more entranced with the Hungarian Art Deco style Kazinczy Street synagogue. The outside is drab but the interior is pretty fab and certainly unusual but this time in a good way.

The Jewish quarter has many kosher restaurants, shops and bakeries so I had to enjoy a traditional flodni cake while in the locale – poppy seeds, walnuts and yumminess.

The Ruin bars are also omnipresent in this area. Originally crumbling communist buildings that had long fallen into disrepair they weren’t taken over by entrepreneurial youth and turned into rough and ready pubs and eating places. They are very popular – but mostly with tourists unless you get off the beaten track. I went during the day so I could see the whacky decor and avoid being soaked in other people’s’ beer!