Wednesday, 9.27.00 – Budapest, Hungary, Rest day

We started the day with a superb breakfast buffet. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many different items offered at breakfast. There were enough different pastries to start a bakery. This hotel is growing on me.

This morning we took a city tour of Budapest. The tour guide was very interesting. She was old enough to have seen Budapest struggle through the Communist takeover and finally the end of their rule. We first toured the Pest side of the river which is all flat and is where the Parliament building and main downtown area is located. We stopped at Heroes' square,  a landmark of Budapest, which features the Millennium Memorial (also known as Millennium Monument or Millenary Monument) with statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century and other outstanding figures of Hungarian history.

               

We then toured the Buda side of the river, which is all hills and is where the palace and Citadel are located. Most impressive was  the 700-year-old Church of Our Lady which is popularly known as Matthias Church after the nation's famous ruler, King Matthias (1458-90). He was a patron of learning and the arts who reconstructed the Hungarian state after decades of feudal anarchy. With its distinctive multicolored tiled roof and Gothic spire, the church is one of Budapest’s best-known structures, and it was here that the nation’s kings were crowned and King Matthias was married.

There are incredible cathedrals on both sides of the Danube. We saw a lot, but hope to see more tomorrow.

In the afternoon we packed up our bikes for the trip home. We chose a nice spot in the park and took our time preparing the bikes. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we relaxed and enjoyed it.

This evening was a special one. Our farewell dinner was held at a restaurant atop a hill in Buda near the Citadel. The view of Pest across the river was spectacular. The entertainment was great and the violinist from the group walked around our table playing for each of us, while the other musicians remained onstage.

         

The dessert was flambéed crepes. The fire dancing around the crepes was mesmerizing. It’s hard to believe that the trip is over. Time absolutely flew.

Thursday, 9.28.00 – Budapest, Hungary, Recovery day

Another fantastic breakfast buffet to begin the day. I’m starting to look like a chocolate croissant. I have to stop eating so many of those pastries.

We decided to take a taxi into town to save more energy and time for walking around. We started at Gerbaud’s – a famous café. It is a very elegant place. Judith especially liked the ladies room.

At the Opera House, we checked on tickets for the evening’s performance, but we weren’t familiar with the opera. Wouldn’t you know it – last night was the final performance of Carmen! The acoustics here are said to be the second best in the world. Oh, well. Maybe another time.

At St. Stephen’s Basilica we saw the hand of St. Stephen, and watched some of the restoration of the cathedral. It’s absolutely amazing to look at the unrestored sections and ponder the enormous amount of work ahead, and then admire the restored part. It is just exquisite.

       

All around the city, we noticed restoration of buildings. There were places that you could stand and see bullet-ridden structures, black buildings from years of burning coal, cleaned facades with master craftsmen reconstructing ornate decorations and sculptures, and beautifully painted fully restored monuments from history. Budapest is well on its way to becoming a popular tourist destination.

The Parliament Building is one of the many structures being cleaned. We stopped for a while to watch the guards and celebrations taking place.

       

The covered market was hard to believe. It was so large that we thought that it was a former train terminal, but it was actually built as a marketplace. We shopped for about an hour in there before returning to the pedestrian walks. Walking in one direction in town took us to all of the upscale stores while the other direction led us to the inexpensive stores. We shopped till we dropped.

           

There were some pretty notable things in Budapest. One of these was the hole in the ground in the middle of the city. It has been there for 25 years. It was supposed to be for the National Museum, but the 30 political parties in government cannot agree on an architectural plan that pleases all, so the hole remains year after year. It seems that progress on most issues is also this slow due to the multiple party system of government. Our two party system is now starting to look pretty good!

After a long walk back to the hotel, we changed and ate dinner at a recommended restaurant in Obuda. It is called Kisbuda Gyonge and the food was superb and at bargain prices. The dessert was in a pastry shell of glazed nuts. We would go back here in a minute.

We really enjoyed Budapest. It is a shopper's paradise with the forint (currency of Hungary) trading at 300 to a dollar. You could buy a really nice glass of wine for about 75 cents and we found many great souvenirs for less than one dollar. All in all, after digesting the trip and looking back at our slides, we realized that it was a rare experience. It was also a lot to cram into such a short spell. But we visited some great places and we look forward to going back to a number of them and spending more time exploring. We also met some terrific people that we hope to see again.