Sunday, January 10, 2016

A New Favorite: Budapest

View of the Hungarian Parliament Building from across the Danube, outside of our apartment.

We expected from what we'd heard about Budapest that we would like it. What we didn't expect was that it would earn a place in our minds as one of the world's great cities, in the company of London, Paris, or Rome.

Budapest is, of course, two cities, with Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the other. Our attractive Airbnb studio was on the hilly Buda side of the river near the Chain Bridge, which links it with Pest.  Every night when we walked out the courtyard of our building, we caught our breath, as the magical sight of the lighted Parliament building came into view.  (See above.) It was also lovely in the daylight. (Recognize it, from the Viking River Cruises commercial?)

At night the Chain Bridge created a lighted pathway across the river.

From Buda we could look back at Pest. The spire of the Matthias Catholic church with the Fisherman's Bastion below cast a golden glow.

The Fisherman's Bastion (where the fisherman used to sell the day's catch) offers a spectacular view from its ramparts.

Many buildings in Pest looked warm and welcoming in the evening, though this hotel was way beyond our budget. Budapest, as a whole though, was very inexpensive. Our lovely little studio with its brand-new separate kitchen and bath was only $47 per night. Sadly, that means the local economy is not doing well, so what is cheap for tourists is not for the residents. We ate out a lot in Budapest, everything from Turkish cuisine to goulash (not a stew in Hungary, but a delicious beef soup). We hope our tourist spending helped the economy. (The photo below is, I think, a chicken dish from our favorite restaurant with accompanying sauce.)

[Side note:  Kevin was getting confused about all the currency changes in Europe, going from the euro to the kuna (Croatia) to the forint (Hungary), so he turned to me one day and asked, "How many "kermits" is that? (Apologies to my cousin Kermit.) Of course, he never said that to the locals, but it became a running joke after that and thereafter every currency, besides euros, became kermits.)

The famous Hungarian ceramics of Zsolnay and Herend won respect from Kevin, who in general prefers Asian ceramics. The shops displayed their artistic creations.

Vilmos Zsolnay discovered a method for glazing tiles to withstand the weather, and many buildings in Budapest (and in Vienna) feature the bright tiles, as shown on the Matthias Church.

We liked Budapest even better than Vienna, for while Vienna has many grand buildings, Budapest also contains many beautiful buildings from the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as some medieval ones, and the architecture seems more in human scale. Attractive, but functional, not seemingly designed just to impress, although the Budapest Opera House scores on both counts.

We took a tour and got to hear a short program by one of the company's sopranos, which included one of my favorites, Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro." That alone was worth the tour price.

Note: The opera house internal shots are courtesy of Kevin.

Other tours acquainted us with the pedestrian areas and alleyways of the both parts of the twinned city.

Possibly the biggest surprise was coming across this statue of Peter Falk as Columbo. His family in Budapest erected the statue. Yes Peter Falk was Hungarian!

There was so much to like about Budapest. The city has an excellent subway system, along with trams and buses. Public transportation is highly affordable.

We spent ten days in this fascinating city on the Danube, and we could easily have spent more. But Budapest has a dark side, too, which I will discuss in my next post.  Maybe that's another reason the city intrigues me so much.

Here are some final shots of sunset in Pest, again courtesy of Kevin:

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