Night Buda

After the tour, we walked across the famous Chain Bridge. We could not believe how perfect the weather was. It could not have been a more beautiful day.

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At the end of the bridge is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. It looked beautiful from the outside, so we went in to look around and order a drink (so it was slightly less tacky that we were creeping around in there). It was very pretty!

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I ordered a drink with Unicum (a Hungarian liquor) and plum. It was delicious, but cost more than my entire three course dinner the night before. I don’t belong in a Four Seasons Hotel.

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Ashley wanted to check out a local market to look at pottery, so Sari and I went back to the apartment to gather up Doug and call our parents for Thanksgiving. The three of us met back up with her at the Aria Hotel for drinks at sunset. I am so glad she suggested it because it was a great view of the city.

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I ordered a Budapest Mule (no idea what was in it), and it was one of the best mixed drinks I’ve ever had. Totally worth every Hufflepuff (the Hungarian Forint is listed as HUF everywhere, and saying “Hufflepuffs” is easier to remember than “Forint” because I’m a lazy American).

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I was planning to go back across the bridge to take some pictures of the city at night, and since Doug hadn’t got to see anything in Budapest, he came with me while Sari and Ashley went ahead to the Christmas market. I really wish we had been able to go on a dinner cruise down the Danube, but it just didn’t work out this trip. It was SO GORGEOUS. Like jumping up and down shrieking and crying with joy on the side of the river gorgeous.

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We rode the train back over to Vörösmarty Square to meet the ladies for dinner at the Christmas market. Our tour guide earlier in the day had suggested we try rooster testicles stew since it’s his favorite dish, but I chickened out and didn’t do it. I just really wanted some goulash in a bread bowl with mulled wine, and I was too low on Hufflepuffs to spend it on something unknown.

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We were really cold and tired, so we went home by six and were all passed out well before nine. We stayed in this apartment which was located directly next to the Opera House and we loved it. It was spacious, clean, and extremely convenient to travel from via tram, bus, or metro. We also found navigating around Budapest to be very easy (I still feel personally offended by the hard time we had in Paris) and I used the BKK Futar app to help. People were extremely nice and helpful despite our inability to speak their language. I love Budapest so much more than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot believe that people go to Paris when they could go there. I think it’s even more beautiful, was far less crowded, and is significantly more affordable. Budapest has risen to the top of my favorite cities list, and I cannot wait to visit again.

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Doug was still feeling mighty sick on Thursday morning, so he stayed in bed while we headed to the Buda Castle complex for a tour. We first stopped for pastries before hopping on the metro because we need carbs to function.

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I hate visiting sites without a tour guide because I don’t learn anything about them, and I invariably miss very important pieces of history. A company offered group tours of the area, but the first one wasn’t until 11 am, and I didn’t want to waste precious daylight hours. So, we booked a private tour through Absolute Tours for 9 am. After our Oxford tour that really sucked, I was worried about this one, but thankfully it was worth every Euro. We met Valentine next to St. Matthias church, and he started telling us all about the history of the Hungarian people (who I didn’t realize never refer to themselves as Hungarian, only Magyar) and the region.

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We started with the statue of King Stephen I, the first king of the Magyar people and the ruler who brought Christianity to the country. He is very very very important.

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We then walked around the Fisherman’s Bastion which was also built to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary. I’m telling you, these people are crazy proud and I love them for it. The bastions are built in the style of the tents that their tribes used to live in, and there are seven to represent the seven tribes that settled in the Carpathian basin in 896. It was so pretty and offered a great view of the city.

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Our next stop was St. Matthias church which has a pretty incredible history. It’s been rebuilt several times after being destroyed in war, was at one point used as a mosque during the rule of the Ottoman empire, and then was a stable for horses during the communist regime. I’m glad they restored it to its former glory because it was gorgeous. It also houses a holy relic in the form of a mummified holy foot. We also never saw that either. So many missed mummified opportunities!

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They also had a statue of Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi!!) who was wildly popular in Hungary as she spent a lot of time living there (conveniently far far away from her husband and hated court life of Vienna). She also strongly advocated for the Austro-Hungary Compromise which created an independent Hungarian kingdom which was no longer subject to the Austrian empire, even though Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth were crowned as their King and Queen. Unfortunately, ol’ Franz told Sisi to butt out of politics (so rude considering what a meddling force his mother was) after this which only caused her to travel more and be away from him. These kinds of stories make me so thankful to be a lady in today’s world and grateful to the women before me who fought for us to have a voice in the world.DSC 0787

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I loved all of the colors and patterns painted inside the church and on the tiles of the roof. Budapest has such great roofs. We then stopped for a coffee and cake break because our tour guide knew how to keep a lady happy.

IMG 0283After relaxing for a bit and visiting about the differences in education, politics, taxes, and the penal system in our two countries, we walked to the actual royal palace. We didn’t go in, but it was beautiful from the outside and had a beautiful view of Pest.

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We had a great time on the tour, and Valentine was a perfectguide. We felt like we were just hanging out with a friend who was showing us around his city. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a tour from him! And, as Ashley noted, he had the essence of a Hungarian Prince Harry. It was a win all around!

The Big Bath

Today is Sari’s 30th birthday!! We are doing all kinds of awesome stuff today in Vienna, but today’s recap is the last third our day on Wednesday. It was a full day, hence three recaps. You are welcome.

After visiting the Holocaust Center, I met back up with Sari, and we walked to meet Ashley at a train station. Doug had left the cooking class earlier in the day to go back to our apartment because he felt really sick, so she was alone. We knew he must be in bad shape because he had a nasty cold on our last trip, but he forced himself to go on and do all of our planned excursions. We texted him to made sure he made it back home okay, and when he assured us that he had, we went to our next stop – Szechenyi Spa Baths. One of the women in Ashley’s cooking class told us to get off the train two stops early to walk up a beautiful lane of mansions on the way to the baths. It was great advice, because it was a beautiful avenue of homes.

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We also got to walk through Heroes’ Square which was built as part of the 1000 year celebration in 1896 of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian basin which resulted in the foundation of Hungary.DSC 0690DSC 0694DSC 0698

They also constructed Vajdahunyad Castle for the anniversary. One of the things I loved most about Budapest is how incredibly proud the people are of their country. We didn’t have one conversation with a person who didn’t somehow work in how great their city and country was. DSC 0696

We eventually made it to the baths, but we had a hell of a time getting in. It’s a huge circular complex, and we walked 3/4 of the way around it while going in several wrong entrances. I felt like I was trying to get into a secret club.

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We finally got inside and then blundered around for about 45 minutes trying to find our cabins to change in, find the towels, get money to rent a towel, rent the towels, and then finally find a door to get outside to the pools. We were struggling.

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IMG 0223IMG 0232IMG 0254It was definitely a different experience for us, and even though we were sad for Doug since he was sick, we had a lot of fun with just a ladies trip to the spa. We stayed in the water for a couple of hours, and it felt so nice to be relaxing, especially since Sari and I had already walked 11 miles that day. We all had a massage scheduled for 6 pm, so we met in the lobby for that after our floating in the pool. We were taken around to the other side of the building, and split up. My massage was great, and it really helped my sore legs and back. After the massage, I went out to wait for Sari and Ashely, but a lady shooed me out of the area and into the part of the building with the indoor thermal pools. I kept trying to find a way out, but couldn’t find a damn door.

Then, it was closing time for those pools, and I got mixed up in large groups of older men in speedos. Sadly, they didn’t look like the Olympic swimming team. There was a lot of very low hanging fruit swinging about. For about 15 minutes I manically paced around the pools while more ladies came and shooed us on to the next room. Finally, I ran right into Sari who was also frantically trying to escape. I felt like a crazed bee. Together, we found an Italian couple who were also pissed because they couldn’t find a way out either, and we followed them. We finally found the single small door out of the building by walking through the showers and behind a wall, which was not at all where I would have imagined an exit would be.

We got out alive, but we had no idea where Ashley was. We had wasted so much time floundering around the thermal pools that we had no way of knowing if she had already been back to her cabin to get her stuff and leave. Trying to figure out what another person might be thinking you’re thinking is hard. Finally, after about 15 more minutes, we saw her across the pool pop out of the same exit that we had gone out. She had waited in the original area where were split up, but had not been shooed out like Sari and I had. So, she was totally alone in an empty building. We were very happy to be reunited, but the frantic search to escape the building and find each other kind of killed our relaxed vibe. We were also very hungry. No one likes a hangry lady.

We checked on Doug and he wanted to stay in bed (probably was enjoying his time alone a bit too much), so we went on to Strudel House for dinner. It was perfect! I got a strudel with some kind of meat mixture in it (I haven’t know what kind of meat I’ve been eating since coming to Hungary. It’s all hidden in stews and sauces that makes it indistinguishable.).


And an apple strudel for dessert. We then went home, started laundry, and I crashed just after laying the laundry out to dry after midnight. I sure appreciate dryers so much more now. It was a long day, but we got to see so much that it was totally worth all the running around.

The Longest Walk

After leaving the Danube, we walked over to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Also, gorgeous.

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Apparently, the alleged mummified hand of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, is housed their as a holy relic. I don’t know how, but Sari and I missed that neat little treasure, and were sad to later learn that it existed. The Catholics know how to keep it interesting.

We then took the train south to the Museum of Applied Arts. I had no idea what was in the museum because I was only there for the exterior.

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LOOK AT IT. We eventually decided to go in, and it was super pretty inside too. They also conveniently had a cycling exhibit, so Sari was in heaven.

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I grabbed a sandwich for lunch, but they didn’t have anything without cheese on it, so Sari didn’t get anything to eat. I really wanted to go to the Holocaust Memorial Center, so I went off to see that while Sari went to a cafe for her lunch. I had never thought much about Budapest until I read The Invisible Bridge, which is about three Hungarian Jewish brothers and much of the story involves the city. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I owed a visit to the center after reading the book, even though the characters weren’t real. I still feel deeply sad every time I remember our visit to Dachau, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to this Center, but I felt like it was cowardly not to.

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I never saw another person the entire time I was inside, and the weight and darkness of the museum was hard to process. I know that this probably sounds dramatic to many, but the slow way that they started persecuting and controlling the actions of the Jewish population is too eerily similar to our President-elect’s plans and comments about many of our immigrants and Muslim citizens. It initially happened one slow small step at a time, until it rapidly accelerated to one of the most terrible times in human history.

Anyway, the experience was as incredibly upsetting as you expect when reading about and seeing images of something as terrible as the realization of the plan to wipe out an entire population of people. When I first walked in, there was a long hallway with the silhouettes of people on one side, all in a line. As I walked and turned corners, the sounds of others walking and shuffling echoed around me. It felt scary and sad to know where they were marching to.

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The Center did an incredible job telling the stories of the Hungarian Jews and other people were were rounded up and used for forced labor, sent to concentration camps, or ruthlessly killed. The told the histories of many families, and highlighted the important role of the gentile citizens of Budapest in protecting and aiding the Jewish members of their community. I didn’t realize that Budapest was one of the most integrated cities in Europe in terms of marriages, communities, and professions being a diverse mix of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. They were neighbors, friends, lovers, and coworkers.

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It only took me a little over an hour to go through, but the Center did a wonderful job of telling and sharing the stories the stories of the people who were persecuted and abused by the Nazi regime and their allies. I’m glad I made myself go even though I did not want to confront the emotional weight of it. It was a reminder of the absolute importance of standing up for and protecting those who have been made vulnerable.

The Goldest Gold to Ever Gold

We awoke for our first day in Budapest bright and early and ready to roll. Doug and Ashley wanted to take a cooking class in Budapest since they both love cooking so much, so they were off to do that at 8 am. Sari and I had the morning to ourselves, and we started our day with a trip to the Hungarian Parliament. It was a beautiful morning, and the walk there was gorgeous.

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We joined the first English-language tour of the morning, and it was great. The tour was almost an hour long and tickets were less than $20. Our tour started with a climb up a beautiful golden staircase and we walked though several lovely gilded hallways.

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Then, we turned a corner and saw The Grand Staircase. I almost died.

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THE GRANDEUR. We then went to the Dome Hall where the Hungarian Holy Crown and coronation regalia are kept. We couldn’t take pictures in there, but this is from the outside looking in.

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From Wikipedia:

The crown has a fascinating and volatile history, and we heard three “official” versions as to why the cross  on top is bent. My favorite is that it was time for a coronation in Budapest, and they realized that the key to the box that the crown was kept in was left in Vienna (talk about poor project management), so they had to force open box thereby damaging the crown. We also heard that one time it was stored improperly after a coronation and the lid was slammed on it which bent it, Then another was that someone stole it and placed it in a box that was too small. Either way, the cross is busted, but it’s a beautiful and unique crown.
We then moved into the Upper House Lobby which holds the largest hand-knotted rug in Europe (store that tidbit for your future trivia night win).
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The final stop was the Assembly Hall which was UNREAL GOLDEN SPLENDOR. I gasped so loudly the tour guide asked if I was okay. I HAVE NEVER BEEN BETTER.
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On the way out we enjoyed the view of the river and the cigar holders which used to be quite popular back in the day when you could more easily give yourself cancer while you carried out your work day. The assembly members could go out, smoke their cigar, then leave it burning and waiting on their return while they went back inside the hall.
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 I decided to get tickets for the tour the day before we left for the trip, and I am so glad I did. I’ve never been on a tour of a parliament building before, and it was fascinating and beautiful. After the tour we walked around the parliament building again, then down the Danube.
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We ended our walk on the Danube with a stop at the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. Between 1944 and 1945, 3,500 people (800 of whom where Jewish) were forced to remove their shoes before being shot on the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall in and be carried away. The memorial features period-appropriate shoes to represent those who were ruthlessly killed by the fascist Arrow Cross party (TERRIBLE TERRIBLE PEOPLE). There are only about 60 pairs of the shoes at the memorial, and looking at those – which seem like so many people murdered – it is hard to comprehend that so many more were killed there. It is important to see these types of memorials, hear these stories, and remember these people so that we, as humans, do all we can to keep this kind of terror from happening.
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