Eastward to Budapest! Part 2

1 Mar

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Friday morning we piled back into the car (still loving our new Volvo, btw) and continued eastward to the second stop on our adventure, Budapest, Hungary. How neat that you can have breakfast in one country and sit down for lunch in a different one? Ha!

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The drive was totally different than on Wednesday when we were skirting the Alps. Today it was nothing but rolling plains for as far as you could see in any direction. Lots of farm country, lots of windmills (they’re everywhere over here!)…Once we crossed into Hungary, one thing we did notice was how much ‘browner’ things were than they are here in Germany, or in Austria that we’d just left. The grass was pale gold, the soils were deep chocolate colored and the mountains that popped up here and there had brown, rocky cliff sides…Not sure about that, but just found it interesting.

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Rolling into Budapest…

Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the European Union with over 3 million people and covering 203 sq. miles. It’s the country’s principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation center.

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While Budapest technically got its start with Celtic settlements in the 9th century, it didn’t unify as a city until 1873. What do I mean ‘unify,’ you ask? Well, here’s a neat tidbit that maybe some of you didn’t know. For centuries, there were two different cities occupying the banks of the Danube. On one side was Buda and on the other, you guessed it. Pest. Still today, they have different feels about them, slightly different looks…Neat, huh? After its unification, it became the capital of the great power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until it dissolved in 1918.

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Our hotel is the dark building on the left bank about halfway to the bridge.

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Budapest, and Hungary in general, struggled a great deal during the 20th century. The population had nearly tripled in the late 1800s due to overpopulation in surrounding countries and the Jewish population reached its all-time peak at the turn of the century- the city was even referred to as Judapest for a time. But in 1918, the Empire lost the war and Hungary declared itself independent. The treaty partitioned the country, which meant that it lost nearly two thirds of its land…and its population.

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In 1944, about one year before the end of World War II, Budapest was partly destroyed by British and American air raids. From December 1944 to February 1945, the city was besieged during the Battle of Budapest, suffering major damage caused by the attacking Soviet and Romanian troops and the defending German and Hungarian troops, including all bridges being destroyed. More than 38,000 civilians died. Nearly 50% of the Jewish population was completely wiped out by the Nazis.thumb_IMG_7897_1024thumb_IMG_7902_1024

I want to offer some opinion here. This damage and destruction, largely still visible, is a double-edged sword for us. You guys know that we’ve seen our fair share of cities around the world at this point. Each one has its own charming personality, its own quirks, its own spark. And yes, most of them have things that aren’t so ideal, too. It’s all personal preference- different strokes for different folks, right? John and I have always tended to skew more towards ‘gritty’ cities than the more pristine ones. We like when they feel lived in…real…moving, breathing places where people are living their lives. Not that the beautiful ones aren’t beautiful! We just like some grit. (Maybe that’s why we LOVE Prague?) And Budapest has that wonderful mixture of breathtaking and gritty. The buildings that haven’t been fixed since the wars look just as they did when the damage happened. The roads still have potholes and cracks, the cars are more beat up than designer, and the people set their trash on the streets. It’s real life. HOWEVER, what we weren’t so thrilled with was just how much has been completely repaired and restored. So many of the buildings are less than a century old because, redone to look as they did hundreds of years before. And don’t get me wrong, I totally understand having to rebuild after such devastation and the restoration is magnificent- I just wish there had been less destruction. And that some of the pieces of history could’ve been left in ruins like in some of the other cities we’ve visited, rather than rebuilt to be museums.

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One of the most iconic sights in Budapest is its Chain Bridge, erected in 1849 to look like the Marlow Bridge in England. The largest suspension bridge on the Danube River, it connects the two banks of the city. It reminded us of one of our favorites, the Brooklyn Bridge. The decorative stone lions are the only parts that survived the devastation of the war. Rebuilt in 1949, it became a symbol of advancement, national awakening, and the linkage between East and West.

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You can see the Chain Bridge to the right, connecting to the Buda bank just below the palace.

Buda Castle is the historic palace of Hungarian kings, originally built in the 1200s. While the current palace is actually the third on the site, remnants of the first two remain on the hill, along with the Baroque buildings that make up the Castle District. Today, the palace houses several museums.

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Ruins. If you look closely, you will see a sweet white kitty who calls this home.

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Just down the street from the palace is Mathias Church (Roman Catholic) and Fisherman’s Bastion. The Gothic church was built at the turn of the 14th century and restored in the 19th century. It was used as a camp by the Nazi and the Soviet armies during the Soviet occupation of Hungary and today is home to the Ecclesiastical Art Museum. The Bastion was built in 1895 as a terrace and panoramic viewpoint used by fisherman to keep an eye on both city banks. Definitely best views in the city! 🙂

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The Hungarian Parliament building was built just after the unification of Buda and Pest. It’s currently the seat of the National Assembly, one of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe and one of the two tallest (96m) buildings in Budapest (the other being St. Stephens Basilica which is the exact same height as a symbol of equality between church and state). Y’all, this building is HUGE. It took us nearly 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other along the sidewalk!

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One of my favorite things in any city is its markets. I love them. Farmers markets, flea markets, flower markets, art markets…So we always scope them out (our favorites are still Amsterdam and London <3). The GreatMarket Hall in Budapest was very cool- and very large! In fact, it’s the oldest and largest market in Hungary, dating back to 1897. Since then, it’s offered three floors of fresh foods, crafts, arts and wares…It made for the perfect lunch spot and people watching.

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Isn’t the building beautiful?!

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Of course we had to try the goulash. It was delicious.

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Dad, if you’re reading this…This is like a ginormous Jelly Cake you and I used to eat in the 80s. ❤ Neve devoured it!

One of Budapest’s nicknames is ‘Paris of the East’ and I totally see why. As stunning as it is during the day, it’s absolutely exquisite twinkling at night. The way they have every surface, every tree lighted just so is an art in itself. Perfect.

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We absolutely loved this city and will most definitely be returning. The only drawback? The nine hour drive home at the end! Ha! Oh well, the price we pay for adventure ❤

And before I go, I’ll leave you with what is now a quick funny story, although none of us were laughing at the time. On Saturday, we decided to do one of those double-decker Hop On- Hop Off buses as a way to cover alot of ground in a short amount of time. Except we never set foot on a bus. Not one foot! Every time we’d get to a pick up point, the time at the stop would be different than the one printed on the (obviously outdated) pamphlet they’d given us! We spent the entire morning power walking (ahem, sprinting) trying to catch buses, only to have to miss them every. single. time. The moment of glory? Hailing a cab, all of us piling in, and just as John’s sister, Christina, opens the door to get in, a bus comes around the corner and takes off the door. Yeah, let that mental image soak in for a minute. It’s OK to laugh- we all did by the end of the day! Needless to say, we got out of the cab and set out on foot for the rest of the day- nearly 7 miles when it was all said and done! So this one time, in Budapest…HA!

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2 Responses to “Eastward to Budapest! Part 2”

  1. Robin March 1, 2016 at 1:51 PM #

    I love the pictures of the market – especially the inside ones. I love to stroll through markets too where you can see everything the locals have to offer. Your father is ready for a jelly roll right now. He said that picture really brought back great memories!!

  2. Eleanor March 1, 2016 at 1:26 PM #

    Beautiful pictures! Such an experience for you all. So happy John’s family could enjoy this with you three!

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