August 26/27

BON VOYAGE .. Don't Forget To Write!

Aug 27-05 Budapest and Sopron, Hungary
Sep 06-15 Vienna
Sep 16-25 Brno, Prague
Sep 26-29 Wroclaw
Sep 30-06 Dresden, Leipzig, Stadthagen
Oct 07-16 Berlin

Funny story .. on my outbound LA flight one of the escape slides/life boats 'got broke' and couldn't be fixed and so we sat on the ground for three hours waiting for 56 people to volunteer to be re-booked. We needed 56 because that's the number assigned to the broken slide/life boats.

Amsterdam is a major transportation hub, less a major destination, and almost everyone was traveling from there to other places far and wide so it was extremely complicated to get people re-organized who had already missed their connections.

Lucky me, I had a five hour layover in Amsterdam and didn't miss my connection to Budapest and the guy sitting next to me volunteered so not only did I make my connection but I also flew in excellent comfort.

The Amsterdam Airport, entirely in English. Not even Dutch subtitles, just English. People, not knowing what other people spoke, spoke to strangers in English.

I often remember when one of the Dutch ladies on last year's safari would shake her finger at me and declare that I didn't appreciate sufficiently that I always got to speak in my mother tongue and I would assert that yes I did appreciate it but that I was in awe of those who could communicate so effortlessly in many languages. It was our dance.

Windmills in the Netherlands these days.

I used public transportation getting into town - a bus out of the airport that drops you right at the subway that then comes within two blocks of where I'm staying. It was totally easy, cost just a few dollars, and took about an hour.

My hostel in Budapest is down that street...

...and look what's right around the corner, The Museum of Applied Arts, an Art Nouveau building built between 1893 and 1896.

These fellows, Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos were the designers. Ödön Lechner has another prominent building, the Geological Museum that I hope to see too.

August 28

The courtyard in the building where I'm staying, the Corvin Point Hostel. That's artillery damage from the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

It was a little freaky at first, damaged and run-down that it felt, but now that I'm settled in it feels quite normal. I've got a small private room with great windows, a bathroom, fridge, tv, desk, and cupboard. Even a/c that you have to pay extra to use but just opening the windows has done the trick. I should add that the room and the corridors are perfectly clean.

I did wake up bug-eyed jet-lagged early and hit the road around 7am. I really really enjoy that feeling I get when stepping out in the early morning in a new city.

Lookin' good.

Dohány Street Synagogue, largest synagogue in Europe and fifth largest in the world. I have to swing by again because I was there so early it was closed.

It was completed in 1859 in the Moorish Revival style. There were many other buildings too reminding me that Hungary was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1541 to 1699.

The structure suffered severe damage during WWII and was not restored until 1991-1998.

Check out those great mosaics on the building just across the street from the temple.

I didn't catch what building this is.

St. Stephen's Basilica, neo-classical in design and opened in 1905.

Named for the first king of Hungary who died in 1038, his 'incorruptible right hand' is here, a relic, and point of pilgrimage for the faithful. When I tried to get into the place where I thought it was a cleaning lady shooed me away, so maybe I'll try again on that one too.

Ms Wiki says that there is a law in Budapest stating that no building can be taller than the Basilica and thinking back I can't remember seeing any that are. Can that be?

An interior...

...and another from inside the Basilica.

In the Vorosmarty Square is a large statue of poet Mihály Vörösmarty who died in 1854.

Back at the hostel for a break, here's a group gathered in the common room. The dorms are connected to this room but I have my own internet so I might not see them too often.

(I need to ask someone where this is.)

A view of the Parliament building, seat of the National Assembly of Hungary.

So much of it was covered in scaffolds and draping that I couldn't get much of a view. Anyway I think the big dramatic view is from, or across from, the river so I'll have to catch it another day and I'll write more about it then.

Oh Canada.

I picked up one of these babies (so I could use their toilet). YUM! They all looked majorly tasty. I got the one with whipped cheese and Hungarian paprika.

Coming home, this is my corner bakery shop. Nearly every block has at least two bakeries and sometimes more. They all have breads and sweets and savories and all the offerings I've tasted are wonderful.

These shops as well as pizza places and shawarma shops and sandwich slices work just right for street food. You can pick up a handful of deliciousness and continue on your way. Right up my alley!

August 29

Here on the riverfront, tour boats lined up for your sightseeing pleasure.

I should find the time to have a go one of these days. It's so nice to have plenty of days, but then I do have to pay some attention that I don't keep putting things off.

Today I woke up with a great desire to have Hungarian Fish Soup for lunch and the guy at the hostel recommended this place, Szeged, on the Buda side just over the (very handsome) Szabadság híd - the Liberty Bridge.

(btw When I get the letter-marks in a word it's because I did a copy-paste from some other source. Hungarian has many marks above their letters which I haven't figured out yet, so the words I actually type might not be correct.)

I asked for 'beer and fish soup' and this is what they brought. There was half a loaf of bread in that basket which I also ate, all of it.

The beer was cold and refreshing and the bread was nice and chewy. I wanted to strip the thick fatty skin off the fish, and I added two scoops of the hot pepper condiment, and then the soup was totally delicious.

Just outside the restaurant was one of the many large and popular spas in Budapest, Gellert Spa, lovely but not the spa I had chosen to visit.

The Buda side has castles and the palace, and also plenty of viewing opportunities because of the hills. Also because of the hills I haven't ventured to tour this side yet.

The spa I went to is called Szechenyi.

This place is huge and packed. As well as all these outdoor pools of various temperatures, inside there are dozens more with a slew of steam and sauna rooms too.

And massage! I had one of course.

The spa is situated in a lovely city park, Varosliget Park, with a subway stop that takes you to the front door.

(It would have been more efficient if I had visited Heroes' Square on this day but I felt more like going home and since it's so easy to get around, no problem.)

Public Transportation .. The Rush Hour.

The trams, buses, and subway lines all make getting anywhere totally easy-peasy. I bought a one week pass for about $22 and I've been buzzing around town ever since.

Speaking of money, the faces on the notes make me want to look up their stories.

August 30

A view of the Parliament Building on my way by tram and bus up to...

...Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the River Danube embankments and the whole of the boulevard Andrássy út).

This is the Matthias Church. I do like to list all the architectural styles because I can never guess .. the 1015 structure was Romanesque, then in the mid-1300s it was rebuilt in 'the florid late Gothic style', and extensively restored in the late 19th century.

Along a side-street.

Some of the seven towers, completed in 1902, that make up the Fisherman's Bastion ("a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style") affording fabulous views of the city and perhaps an inspiration to Walt Disney.

Some guys working on a restoration project.

There was a large food stall set up in one of the plazas. Were it not that I had just eaten a nice tuna salad I would have been obliged to try these totally soaked-in-oil treats.

The gate leading into the Buda Palace. They were having a festival here and the only way to get in was to buy a ticket.

I asked what the festival was celebrating. The young woman at the ticket counter told me that 'in theory' (she said those words!) it was a music festival, and loud music was already a factor, but actually, she said, it was all about beer. Loud music and beer - hmmm I think I'll give that one a pass.


...and more views, this one from the funicular that I rode down to the Buda side of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge to span the river opening in 1849 and "a symbol of advancement, national awakening, and the linkage between East and West."

The arrow is pointing to a memorial called 'Shoes on the Danube Bank'.

From Ms Wiki: "The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay on the bank of the Danube River in Budapest.

"It honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank."

Text from the dedication: "The composition entitled 'Shoes on the Danube Bank' gives remembrance to the people shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror.

"The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40 meter long, 70 cm high stone bench. At three points are cast iron signs, with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: "To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005."

The Chain Bridge and the Buda Palace are in the background.

Sitting down on a bench to look at the map, and then looking up. That's the way it is in an old city.

I thought I would sleep at a reasonable time but it is almost 4am. Today I did sleep until 1pm so that has something to do with it. I think that I want to make myself get up tomorrow at least while it's still morning, but then I'm not all that successful in making myself do things. We'll see.

August 31

The Great Market Hall. This place is pretty fabulous - the food looked all so clean and fresh and delicious. It's huge and quite impressive.

Another view.

The balcony food stalls were packed. I totally misjudged my timing and showed up here around 12:30.

I heard that Rick Steves recommends one of these places where all they serve is a local style pizza, and the line for that stand was halfway down the whole hall. I didn't wait because it looked like just a thick slab of greasy bread with some spread on top.

Now I think I made Another mistake because later I learned the spread was a garlic-y paste which totally sounds like something to try.

There are 10 bridges crossing the Danube between Buda and Pest. This is the Liberty Bridge.

I had to go back to my place to get out of the heat. It's been too hot these last four days especially in the middle of the day. It's been high-80s, today was 91, all the days were bright and sunny, and too hot!

I went out again in the afternoon to walk along the UNESCO World Heritage boulevard Andrássy út.

Outside the Hungarian State Opera House...

...and inside. Everyone loves the Opera House.

The street is richly canopied with lovely trees, dotted with high-end shopping, dining options, mansions, and townhouses. This is around one of the corners where I could actually get a shot.

At the end of the boulevard, the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the many fine buildings bordering...

...Heroes' Square.

These guys are "the Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin." Ms Wiki says there's not much available information about them and called their costumes and horses 'fanciful'.

It's almost 7pm and it's still too hot! And yet for some reason my room has been comfortable the whole time. Weird. Maybe the old construction, thick walls, courtyard .. I don't know, but I haven't felt the need to pony up for the a/c yet.

September 1

My room at the Corvin Point Hostel which costs about $60 per night. Not 'almost free' but I'm pleased. There's plenty of room in the big cupboard, a large desk, a fridge, a tv, a decent bathroom. The second bed does always end up as a 'sorting station' which is quite handy.

The hostel is a half block off a very busy street and two blocks from a nice transportation hub. With the windows open for cooling you definitely hear comings and goings both motorized and otherwise but I'm not bothered eventhough 5% of this noise would bother me at home.

We had a rainy morning which gave me a nice lay-about and it got so much cooler. Ahhhh.

These trams are like a speeding sidewalk around the city, so bright and clean. They come every 2 minutes, another one another one another one, around the big ring road making all the tourist sites within no more than a 30 minute walk.

But sometimes you don't want to do the 30 minutes, or you're going from one part of town to another and don't want to walk back to the ring, or you're going up hill, and then the subways work amazingly well. They come regularly, they're clean and fast, and easy to figure out.

I can't find a map showing what buses go where making them a little more problematic to use but they are everywhere.

This is a quiet Saturday morning and cooled off because of the rain.

From about 4pm on places like this crowd the streets full of folks chain smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. A few are connected to the hundreds of Middle Eastern restaurants that all serve the similar shawarma fare that you can find up and down Westwood Blvd.

There's a shawarma place on my street, they happen to be Syrian, and I've had their salads, dolmas, hummus, etc. several times and it's always good.

Although I generally don't use restaurants much anyway with the heat it's been particularly difficult.

Most of the restaurants have these patios that open to the inside dining area where the guests outside are chain smoking while inside you're getting plenty of floating smoke And it's too hot to be comfortable.

At least there's no smoking inside so that's something to be grateful for, but on the street EVeryone is smoking. So much so that I get more than my daily dose just walking around.

So I went out on the rainy morning when it was cooler to eat inside a restaurant.

The breakfast was very nice - eggs with lots of onions, cheese, and spicy sausage piled on top of tasty French fries. But the best part was the coffee. I hadn't had coffee for several days because I couldn't figure out when I would sleep again so this cup tasted particularly delicious.

And the bread .. YUM. The crust was both crisp and chewy, just the way I like it, and the inside was both dense and soft, just the way I like it, and dipped into that second cup of coffee it tasted heavenly.

Later in the afternoon when, after an hour or so of trying I realized I wasn't going to be able to buy train tickets online, I took an outing... one of the three train stations to get tickets for a round-trip excursion to another river town for Monday and the ticket to take me to Sopron on Tuesday.

All sorted. (When one travels one ends up using a lot of Brit-isms because it seems most often local people have learned English from someone who learned English in England.)

The grandgirls have been such excellent email correspondents. They write regularly and it's So Much FUN!

September 2

The guys from the hostel who helped me every day. Thanks guys!

(Snapped by another guest.)

I was walking around, checking out streets I hadn't been on yet, and walked past this restaurant, Lado, advertising Air Conditioning on the door. Oh yeah.

The food was pretty good too.

My plan was to do the night time river cruise. It seems all the many boats do the same one hour tour. I snagged this particularly good map off the internet.

The map is good; my pictures were the opposite of good. They were BAD... back to the internet (and to think I lived quite happily for so very many years without the internet) to snag other peoples pictures.

What I note is that, based on the angles of these pictures, the best ones were not taken from a moving boat so I feel a little less bad about my stinky shots.

September 3

Another train station, this one is where you catch the train to Vac, a small town in a bend in the Danube.

Vac has converted most of the streets in the historic downtown into walkways.

It's quite lovely. Here's where I had a morning coffee, watching over the river and the comings and goings of the town.

The houses that face the river.

Strolling through the plaza I came upon this museum. But being Monday it was closed...

...but the door was open and this kind gentleman walked me around the whole place telling the stories in English because the signs were not translated.

They had a great collection of iron works from Central Europe.

(Too long to tell now...)

All the churches were closed which was unfortunate.

The church on the main square.

About the mummy museum (I love that, Mummy Bonanza): "The exhibit in Vác, Hungary is the result of a mummy bonanza discovered during routine restoration of the town’s Dominican church. In 1994 workers discovered a secret crypt that had been bricked up for over 200 years. Inside, 265 hand painted coffins (and reportedly each beautiful and unique) were stacked, one on top of the other, in order of size. Inside, the occupants had naturally mummified, due to perfect conditions of temperature and aridity."

Like the other museum it is closed on Monday and this time I couldn't find anyone around. I looked up the story on the internet and am So sorry to have missed it.

Lovin' the reflect-o.

It's my last night in Budapest so I stopped off at all my favorite spots on my street - poppy seed pastry from the bakery; hummus, eggplant salad, hot pepper sauce, and a pita from the Syrian place; groceries from the mini-market. Yum.

And a/c, wow. That's the a/c controller that I bought for tonight so I'm sure to sleep well for my early departure.

Köszönöm! That's thank you in Hungarian, an expression that seemed guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of everyone I had occasion to thank, and let me add that I did say it very well thanks to the BBC.

I'm now a total devotee of the BBC free language lessons online. Here's the website There's a section for travel expressions spoken clearly with the written text too. It's fantastic. Some languages have extensive lessons but Hungarian was not one of them. But basically Thank You did the trick because English is so prevalent.

September 4

Speeding through the Hungarian countryside, on a train, on the internet checking the haps at NPR. Oh what a world.

(Ooops, looks bad, my feet are on my jacket btw!)

I'm standing outside my hotel in Sopron, Hungary, a town on the Austrian border. I've been hearing a lot of German spoken and as well as forint most items are also denominated in euro.

Another view of my plaza from another angle. Tomorrow I'll do a walk about here, and then the next day I'm off to Vienna.

This is Ms Wiki's aerial view, the town center being what you can see surrounded by the larger road. My place is in there - I think I can see it in the lower right but I'm not 100% sure on that.

Sopron has a long history, beginning from the time of the Roman Empire. Ms Wiki: "The architecture of the old section of town reflects its long history; walls and foundations from the Roman Empire are still common, together with a wealth of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque structures, often artistically decorated, showing centuries of stability and prosperity."

September 5

Back out in my plaza, Orsolya Ter, and the sign of my hotel, Palatinus Szallo ($45 for a perfectly nice room, breakfast included, and I'm nuts for the location).

There are a couple of pictures of the church from yesterday and these are the front doors. Wow on the hinges.

And btw, this church reeeally loooves to ring their bells. They ring every hour the number of the hour and every 15 minutes, 1 for 15 after, 2 for 30 after, and so on. All Day and All Night Long. At 6am they ring for minutes. And I don't even mind.

Again, standing in front of my hotel (there are five streets leading off the plaza), several buildings down is the...

...Medieval Synagogue now restored and turned into a museum. There were once as many as four synagogues in Sopron but none are active today.

The outside, behind another building, and the inside of where the men pray, with the pretty windows, handsome seats not shown in this picture, the bimah which you also can't see, and the ark for the torah.

This is where the women pray. An empty room basically with a bench along one wall, and some holes in the opposite wall so the women can peer into the men's area. It reminds me of this scene in Jerusalem of the women peering into the men's area of the Wailing Wall.

Ice Cream! Like everywhere ice cream shops are extremely popular.

Sopron is really a quiet, lovely town. As in Budapest, the restaurants all have the nicest outdoor dining options enveloped in a cloud of smoke (not as bad here, probably because of the lower population density) and steamy hot seating indoors.

Another square in the old town not too far from where I am staying, but then nothing is too far.

Those temporary buildings in front of the church are for the wine festival that is coming to town Friday night through Sunday. Too bad I'll miss it.

Detail from the above.

The church was open, someone was playing the organ, and the gold was all aglow. I do especially enjoy these religious venues when there's music.

A section of the old Roman walls.

Goodbye Hungary, it's been wonderful.

Tomorrow morning I'm off by train for the short hop to Vienna and the day after that my little sister is coming to join me for a week. Yay!

HomeEurope • Hungary • '12 Aug: Budapest, Hungary

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