Just as we set out for a stroll in Budapest’s City Park, it started to rain! Fortunately, our hosts had supplied an umbrella just in case, and summer rain is warm, gentle, and usually short-lived. It basically serves to clear the air and lower the temperature, making a walk even more pleasant after it’s done its thing. The rain was light enough that the broad-leafed trees provided complete protection (and a place for Tom to do his Facebook messaging).
The City Park is very large – for Sydneysiders, it’s much bigger than Centennial Park – and in some places there are even proper roads with trolleybuses running through the park! It has many different sections, and contains several museums, a small castle (with a moat!), and the Szechenyi Baths, built on one of 125 thermal springs in the Budapest area. The baths require a full day all on their own, as there are so many different pools, spas and saunas to explore.
There is a large lake, and a shallow area to one side of the lake which becomes an ice rink in winter. In summer, it is drained for some reason (maybe to save having to clean it in autumn), and looks a little bleak. The ice rink and the lake form part of the moat for the small castle … read more.
Next to City Park is Heroes Square, a plaza constructed on a genuinely monumental scale. Notice the people in the pictures to get a sense of the size of the pillars and statues.
The overall shape is a semicircle with a gap in the middle, and this is located at one end of an enormous paved area. (That is a neighbouring museum you can see in the background.) In summer, it is unbearably hot to stand in the open on the paving.
Between the pillars of the semicircle are statues of the former kings of Hungary, starting with Istvan (Stephen) I, who was crowned (or perhaps recognised and validated by the Pope and/or the Byzantine Emperor) in 997. This marked an important transition for the Hungarian (or, as they called themselves, Magyar) people, because it was the time at which they stopped being semi-nomadic herders whose lifestyle included raiding surrounding sedentary agricultural cultures … read more.
We got up early the day we went to Szechenyi Baths, because entry is discounted before 8am. Despite the discount, the entry fee is steep for our limited means – about $17 Australian for each of us. Still, YOLO and all that. We’ll do it once … read more.
Some of Tom’s Hungarian relatives don’t live in Budapest. Only one in six Hungarians lives there, after all.
Szeged is a small city about 200km south of Budapest, on the Tisza River, just where the Maros River pays tribute. These days, this city is less than 10km from Serbia, but before the Treaty of Versailles, the border was another 200km south.
As in Budapest, the lazy, winding curves of the river back and forth on its flood plain were dug across, forming a much more direct simple curved path for the river, and thus opening up the flood plain for construction. As in Budapest, the size of the man-made river channel was inadequate to cope with the spring floods. As in Budapest, walls have been raised along the edges of the river, to contain the flood waters each spring. And, as in Budapest, the river broke its banks in the 19th century, destroying large parts of the city … read more.
Back in Budapest, we marvelled again at the architecture. This building is designed to look like a whale, with the modern part of the building blending seamlessly with the older buildings which support it. It is built on the waterfront of the Danube, opposite the university where one of Tom’s second cousins just graduated.
After the graduation, we went en famille to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, where the picky eaters were sure to be able to find something they liked. Along the way, we passed this beautiful building, which is a typical Budapest apartment building – note the plants on the balcony, and the detailing around the windows.
The building faces a square, which seems to be what we in Australia would call a pedestrian mall – a street which has been closed to cars, and paved over. There are magnificent, huge trees all along the square, and the central path is carefully designed to feel more like a walk in a park than a walk along a city street … read more.
Pécs is a small city in the south of Hungary, and was recently (in 2010) voted a “Capital of European Culture” by the EU (along with Istanbul and Essen).
There is a depth of history in Hungary that amazes us colonials. The Roman Empire stretched all the way to the Danube, and Roman ruins can be seen throughout Western Hungary.
After the Roman centre failed, the local population of Celts used Roman fortifications to hold off barbarian invaders, and variously traded and fought with the neighbouring Byzantine Empire and assorted pagan kingdoms until the Magyar people conquered the area in the 9th and 10th centuries.
We started our time in Pécs, as you do when you are family, with an extremely abundant lunch. This one was cooked by 84-year-old Cunci Néni (Aunt Cunci), the sister-in-law of Tom’s grandmother. These are traditional Hungarian dumplings, each one containing a whole plum. They are coated with cinnamon sugar, and are known in the family as “just one more”s.
Pécs was a heavily fortified town in the Middle Ages, with a city wall nearly 4km long. From behind this wall, the good folk of Pécs fought off myriad invaders. The first university in Hungary was established in Pécs in 1367, and still operates today (abeit with slightly improved facilities) … read more.
Lake Balaton is referred to as ‘Hungary’s Sea”, because so many people come here for summer holidays. Not just Hungarians, either – people come from hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Balaton used to be a hugely popular holiday place for Germans, because East Germans were allowed to visit Hungary, so it was a place where families divided by the Berlin Wall could see one another … read more.
Our first foray was on Tuesday, when we sought out a particular square which featured a vary famous cafe. On the way, we passed through Deák Ferenc tér (Ferenc Deák Square – named after a 19th century politician, apparently), which is the place where they have the enormous Ferris wheel, lots of small fountains, and a sort of shallow swimming pool. People don’t actually swim in it, but they sit around and dangle their feet.
It was in Deák Ferenc tér that we saw the Budapest Tuk Tuk. We kid you not – there is a tuk tuk in Budapest!
We located the very famous cafe, and discovered that, just like the very famous New York Cafe, the prices were four or five times higher than at a regular cafe… read more.
No matter how many times we come to Budapest, there are always more things to do and see than we can possibly fit in. On our previous visits, we had always intended to take the tour of the Hungarian Parliament building, a very impressive building on the Pest bank of the Danube.
On Wednesday, despite the on-and-off rain, we set out to do touristy things. Parliament is indoors, and so is the Terror Museum, so it shouldn’t matter what the weather is doing, once we get there.
When we hopped off the tram at Parliament, we saw the soldiers on guard in the plaza in front of the impressive front entrance. Like the guards at Buckingham Palace, they stand utterly still, pretending to be statues, while tourists take photos with them. They don’t wear furry hats, though … read more.