Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Budapest, Hungary

After a couple of days in Vienna, we decided to take advantage of the close proximity of Hungary and visit the eastern European city of Budapest. Budapest is only a three hour train ride away and we soon found ourselves in a completely different atmosphere. The name Budapest is a composition of the city names "Buda" and "Pest" and became one large capital city in 1873. As soon as we got there we noticed an eastern European feel to this city right away. I'm not sure if it was the Hungarian language, the communist influence of the buildings and statues, or the inexpensiveness of food and other items, but everything had a very authentic and genuine feel to it.

St. Stephen's Basilica

The Opera House
Unfortunately our weather was terrible the entire time we were in Budapest. Rain poured down on us as we walked through the streets and fog dominated the skyline instead of the beautiful views of the Parliament Building and Buda Castle. Of course, we didn't let this rain on our parade, but it was a little disappointing. Our first day there we walked along the Danube River to the Parliament Building. The building is very gothic in style and on the facade are statues of Hungarian leaders and famous soldiers.

As we walked along the Danube River towards the Chain Bridge we came across a World War II Jewish Memorial. The "Shoes on the Danube" memorial represents the Jews that were killed along the river by fascist militiamen between 1944-1945. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water - the memorial represents the shoes left behind. The memorial is very simple, poignant and effective.

This was written in Hungarian and Hebrew as well
We then continued our walk over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side. We took the funicular up to Castle Hill in order to see Buda Castle and the spectacular views of the city from above. Buda Castle, finished in 1265, is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest.  Today, the grounds house museums, shops, hotels, restaurants and more -- a town within a city!

The Chain Bridge
Our spectacular view of Budapest from the castle :/

Matthias Church

After walking around the complex of Castle Hill, we attended a wine tasting at Faust Winery. We don't really know anything about Hungarian wines, but when do we ever pass up the opportunity to try some wine? The cellar was located in deep dark caves underneath the castle grounds. We tried a total of nine wines over the course of three hours, and afterwards we were very surprised at the sight that welcomed us when we walked (stumbled?) out of the caves.

Matthias Church at night

A very foggy night
Our tasting menu

The entrance to the caves

The next day we went to the Jewish area of the city and bought entrance tickets to the Dohany Synagogue (aka The Great Synagogue) and Memorial Park. The Dohany Street Synagogue is the second largest synagogue in the world (after Temple Emanu El in New York City) and was built in the 1850's. Right away we noticed that this beautiful synagogue was different from the rest. Aside from the lavishness of the outside facade, there was a huge organ in the front and two pulpits on the sides. According to one of the rabbis there, in order for the synagogue to be built it had to integrate into the non-Jewish community, thus making it more church-like. Furthermore, it was designed by a German architect who specialized in churches so he built what he knew!  It survived WWII because, as it has some of the tallest towers of the city, the Nazis used the synagogue for their radio transmitters. Very interesting stuff.

The synagogue

The Holocaust Memorial Park is located in the courtyard next to the synagogue and is named after Raoul Wallenberg who saved tens of thousands of Jewish Hungarians during World War II. He was serving as Sweden's special envoy in Budapest during the war and issued Jews protective passports and sheltered them in buildings designated as Swedish territory. In the courtyard stands The Tree of Life, a steel weeping willow tree with the names of about 5,000 victims buried nearby. The small park was a simple but moving memorial of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Budapest has such a rich history and you can see and feel it everywhere you turn. It is a city that treasures its old qualities, but embraces the new aspects that the world has to offer. Budapest is beautiful and we're so happy that we had this opportunity to visit it.  If only the weather had been nicer to see the (supposed) amazing views!

1 comment:

  1. Budapest sounds like a very interesting city, and a place I would love to visit! The first pic is of St. Stephens Basilica, which is absolutely gorgeous! The Basilica appeared to look yellow. Is that from a light shining on it or is it actually yellow? I'm sorry that you guys didn't have good weather there, but I know that you still had a great time! (I love when you said that you didn't let it "rain on your parade!" The one thing that really stood out for me is when you talked about the WW II Jewish Memorial. Seeing the pic of all those shoes at the rivers edge was heart wrenching. Very sad. I can't believe how foggy it was there! You couldn't see anything and I'm sure the views would have been spectacular! But at least you were able to get to a wine tasting! I love the fact that it took place underground in the Castle deep down in a cave! Very cool! That's something I would love!! Another thing that I found fascinating was the Dohany Street Synagogue in the Jewish area. I thought it was very interesting that the synagogue has an organ in the front and was only built if it looked like a church! The synagogue is very beautiful like so many other structures in Europe! Just curious, why was the synagogue built as late as the 1850's? So many of the churches and other synagogue we have seen in Europe have been built much earlier. And last but not least, the Holocaust Memorial Park is a beautiful way to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust. Very touching. It's so nice to see that the victims of the Holocaust are remembered, not only in the United States, but throughout the entire world.