Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis

Budapest Parlament from Buda

Trendy Budapest

The magic number seems to be 7 -- the 7 hills of Rome, Athens, Madrid and  Istanbul, the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome were just 1 short of the  ubiquitous 7 - and there were 7 tribes of nomadic Magyars, tribes that  settled in the Carpathian basin in 896. The Magyars were known also as  Hungarians and were, and still are, the only people to converse in the  Hungarian language (Finland's linguistic claims to the contrary).

First there was Óbuda, Buda on the hill, and Pest across the Danube.  Eventually the towns became unified with Óbuda and Buda on the West bank and Pest on the East bank of the river. Every time I return to  Budapest, I discover new treasures in this capital city of Hungary, one  of the largest and surely one of the most beautiful in the European  Union. Whether on your first trip or your fifth, the World Heritage site of Castle Hill like a magnet, draws you to the Buda side from which  there are wonderful views of the city undergoing a renaissance in  building and beautifying. Currently the old Jewish Quarter is being  revitalized and is becoming one of the trendiest entertainment  neighborhoods in the city.

Budapest Guide Balázs

We flew Air Berlin via Berlin and a quick plane change brought us to the Ferenc Liszt  International Airport, named of course after the most famous Hungarian  composer. The hotel during our stay was the opulent 5-star Corinthia Hotel Budapest and Royal Spa; a truly luxurious old world property but with all the amenities,  restaurants, meeting areas and services that are necessary to our modern culture. We were fortunate to have as a guide a native of Budapest,  Gyémánt Balázs. Tip: In Hungarian, the first name is written after the  family name. Balázs has a perfect command of the English language and  was knowledgeable and flexible, a delightful guide.

Budapest Castle District

We dropped our bags at the Corinthia and made a beeline to the World Heritage Castle District. There are so many exotic and quixotic medieval, 18th and 19th century buildings to visit. Tip: Note the colorful geometric tiles on the roofs that are characteristic of  Hungarian design. Buda Castle was originally a medieval enclave with an underground labyrinth constructed by the residents to hide from  marauding bands. Over the centuries and various occupying cultures the  area grew, so from the neo-Gothic Matthias Church to the Fisherman’s  Bastion with a turret representing each of the original 7 tribes, there  is much to see and enjoy.

Budapest Tile Rooftops

After a well earned night’s sleep we put on our walking shoes to explore the  Pest side of the Danube and began with the stunning neo-Gothic  symmetrical Parliament building. Parliament Square is possibly the only square in the world to boast 3 Parliament buildings. There was a competition during the late 19th century to design a building worthy of Hungary’s world-class standing  with the 3 winners commissioned to construct their entries. The building completed on time was the ultimate winner and across the square are the two losers (sic) now a Federal Reserve building and a Folk Art Museum,  both architecturally worthy competitors.

Budapest Parlament Interior

The Parliament has recently added a new visitor’s center on the far right  side of the building (towards the river) from where you can visit the  absolutely dazzling building reconstructed to the original design after  the devastation of WWII. Throughout the building over 20 pounds of gold  was used to decorate the ceilings and the walls are hung with precious  works of art. You can also visit the Hungarian Holy Crown which is kept  under guard but still used in state ceremonies. Tip: no photographs are allowed in the crown room but there are no restrictions elsewhere in the Parliament building. The Crown may or may not have  been sent by the Pope to King Saint Stephen according to tradition, but  it is the Holy Crown in which the divine force resides to rule the lands of Saint Stephen, not in its wearer. No king was considered legitimate unless he was coroneted wearing the Holy Crown.

Budapest Shoes on the Danube

Behind the Parliament Square on the riverbank is a moving tribute to the  memory of the Jews killed in 1944/45 by the Hungarian Arrow Cross  Militiamen. Referred to as the “Shoes on the Danube Bank”€ť it speaks volumes about those that were forever silenced. We also visited the Holocaust Memorial Center which was established by the state to focus on Holocaust research and  education. It is well organized and gives a historical account of the  Jewish heritage of Hungary. Of course no visit to Budapest would be  complete without a stop at the Great Dohány Synagogue. Synagogues in Budapest are named after the streets on which they stand and the  Dohány is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world,  after Temple Emanu-El on New York City’s upper Fifth Avenue. The  building was designed in the Moorish Revival style, with twin onion-shaped cupolas embellishing the roof. The interior features Islamic decorations along with Church style details including a Gothic  Rose window over the Main Entrance. Music was introduced in the Dohány  in the form of an organ behind the Ark... to be played of course by a  non-Jewish musician. Franz (Ferenc) Liszt himself played at the opening  ceremony.

Budapest Market Hall

A fun interlude was a visit to the Great Market Hall, a collection of food stalls on the ground floor and craft objects for  sale on the first floor (for Americans, it is the second floor) along  with Fakanal (Wooden Spoon) Restaurant where we ate lunch. The  lunch was typical Hungarian food featuring goulash (a meat soup with  vegetables) stuffed cabbage, veal schnitzel, dumplings,and for  dessert, cherry and cheese stuffed strudel. We were entertained during  lunch by Roma musicians, a really lively spot where natives and tourists alike go to shop and eat.

Budapest Széchenyi Thermal Baths

Another must-do in Budapest, known for its natural mineral springs, is to pay a visit to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. It’s a well organized family friendly operation with outdoor and indoor hot  and cold mineral baths. You can rent a locked changing room and towels  but it is suggested that you bring or wear a bathing suit and skid-free  slippers. Once inside you can spend as much time as you like visiting  the various baths and its fun to try several. Like the Great  Market Hall, this is not strictly a tourist attraction but serves the  community, so you have an opportunity to talk to natives, but be  mindful; some of the younger couples use the baths as a place for romantic assignations... wink, wink.

Budapest Ruinpub

After dinner in the well-known Spinoza House in the Jewish Quarter where roasted goose leg is the house specialty, we went to a performance by the annual Jewish Summer Festival. The Jewish Summer Festival is a big part of the revitalization of the old  neighborhood but certainly not the only one. The hot trend is turning an unlivable tenement house or factory or even an empty corridor between  buildings into a “ruin pub”€ť. Many use bits and pieces of discarded  chairs, tables and artifacts (even part of an automobile) as furniture  and add a bar or two, and they’re in business. Sunday is traditionally  market day and one of the largest ruin pubs, Gozsdu Udvar that runs  between Király and Dob Streets, is turned into a flea market only to  re-invent itself at night as a bar. We also visited Szimpla the oldest  ruin pub in Budapest at 14 Kazinczy Utca during the day for their market vibe and returned at night for the bar scene. A stylish newly opened  Mazel Tov & Hummus Bar at 47 Akácfa Utca, is not strictly a ruin pub since they serve food as well as drinks but it’s a lively scene that is well worth a visit.

Budapest Corinthia Hotel 2014

Our farewell dinner was held in the lovely atrium restaurant at the  Corinthia Hotel Budapest and it was a feast of boletus (mushroom) cream  soup with pumpkin ravioli; pan fried red mullet with girolles mushrooms, beetroot and brown beer foam; sous vide beef with white carrot puree,  seared potato dumpling and black garlic and thyme jus; with selected  wine pairings of Haraszthy Vallejo Savignon Blanc 2013, Etyek-Buda;  Racanati Chardonnay 2011; and reds of Sauska Caabernet Sauvignon 2008,  Villány; and Noah Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Fennel flavored crčme brűlée  served with Royal Tokay Cuvée 2012 completed the sumptuous meal.

IF YOU GO

For information on Budapest visit the Hungarian National Tourist Office www.gotohungary.com

Air Berlin Airlines www.airberlin.com

Corinthia Hotel Budapest www.corinthia.com/budapest

Holocust Memorial Center www.hdke.hu

Széchenyi Thermal Baths www.szechenyibath.hu

Jewish Summer Festival www.zsidonyarifesztival.hu

For information on ruin pubs www.ruinpubs.com

 

 

 

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