I really don’t know how I manage to pack so much into a day when I’m traveling. It must somehow be related to one of Einstein’s theories of relativity and the relationship of space and time. Normal days back home I can barely manage to drink my coffee, answer a few emails, and take the dog for a walk before it’s time to drop onto the couch for dinner and the evening news. On the road, I pack in multiple sites, multiple miles, and a heck of a lot of window shopping. Go figure.
The docket was so full today it’s going to take me two entries to cover it all. The first one (chronologically; the blog format will make it look like the second one) will deal with everything I did today EXCEPT the Dohany Street Synagogue; the second will be all about that and nothing else (warning: it’s another one of those heavy Jewish stories). But first things first.
After a wonderful European breakfast buffet in my hotel, I headed out for the National Museum. Even though I only remember about .0005 of all the stuff I see in places like that, I really enjoy the visits and they give me a helpful overview of the cities and countries I am visiting. First, the building is gorgeous, similar like the other museum – this one in the classical revival style, not the Renaissance. I won’t bore you with the interior or the exterior, but just imagine a big beautiful museum with lots and lots of marble columns and rooms and rooms with shiny wooden parquet floors. Okay, you got it.
There are two sections of the museum. On the first floor, and this is the part I liked best, there is an archaeological exhibit that covers 600,000 BCE to 804 CE in the Area Now Known as Hungary. (Well, they skip over 600,000 BCE to 6000 BCE pretty damn quickly, so that’s a good thing.) I love this stuff, and let me count the ages. I looked at fascinating physical remains from the Paleolithic, the Neolithic, the Copper, the Bronze, and the Iron Ages. I visited (albeit briefly) with the Romans, the Scythians, the Celts, the Huns, the Germanics, and the Avars, among others. (In 804, Charlemagne and the French brought Christianity to the region at the end of a sword and since then the country has looked a lot more like the rest of them there Europeans.) But before we leave that particular rocket trajectory of history, let me share a very special picture of cicada brooches with inlaid garnets that was used by the good Avars to keep their clothes strategically positioned. (J, this one is DEFINITELY for you):
On the second floor, riches ran wild with specifically Hungarian history, and while of course it is specific to them, it does tend to look and sound a good bit like Polish history and Lithuanian history, the museums of which I have visited in the past year. Count So-and-so, Archbishop Paternal the XIII, swords, crowns, and enormous oil paintings with tons of gory detail celebrating the defeat of the Turks in Budapest, the defeat of the Turks in Vienna, and the defeat of the Turks in Belgrade. But I was indeed fascinated by this particular representation of the Virgin Mary – it seems remarkably avant-garde and/or contemporary by anyone’s standards, but particularly those of the 15th or 16th century, which is from whence it dates:
After the museum and a quick bite at The Hummus Bar where I watched the international finals of the women’s 10k biathlon competition in Oslo (man, that looks hard), t was on to St. Stephen’s Basilica. This Roman Catholic gem commemorates first King of Hungary (c. 975–1038), whose supposed “incorruptible” right hand is housed in a reliquary at the back of the building. (Eeewww.) Here’s a shot of the exterior from a short distance away:
Wiki tells us “it was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction, according to the plans of Miklos Ybl and was completed by József Kauser. Much of this delay can be attributed to the collapse of the dome in 1868 which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up.” Is that an architectural mistake or an engineering disaster? I guess second time’s a charm, as it were. So, not an old-old church, but from that glorious Neoclassical tradition. A quick shot of the interior:
I did indeed dutifully head to the chapel at the back to see the reliquary with the alleged hand….frankly, it just looks like a large glass box with gold trim mounted just high enough and far enough from view that one can’t check the particulars of the sacred assumption. (Let sleeping dogs lie, as it were. Faith is a mystery, and all that.)
One thing I love as I move about a city is to watch the actions of other visitors seeing this place for the first time. We tourists are a highly predictable lot – we walk down the streets staring off into space with maps in our hands; we take pictures of anything and everything regardless of common sense or personal safety; we giggle and gaggle about like geese on holiday. Here’s a group of Chinese tourists posting on the steps of the Basilica:
Nearby, a couple younger visitors took advantage of some public art to mug for Instagram:
As I have mentioned before, and as you can see above, the Chinese are here in a big way. I espied this particular bank on my walk back to the hotel – as I recall, this had been a Lloyds of London on my last visit:
But the final surprise was a new eatery in town….I’ve seen them in Tbilisi, I’ve seen them in Krakow, I’ve seen them in Portland, I’ve even heard heard they’ve set up shop in Brooklyn. But now they’ve made their way to Budapest – it’s the Georgians!
Yes, it’s true – if you tire of goulash and langos, it’s time to try Khingali and Ajaruli khachapuri…not a bad price, either:
So then at last I headed back to my lovely hotel in the twilight, replete with the sights and sounds of Budapest on a sweet Sunday evening and safe in the knowledge that the cuisine of the Caucasus will truly follow me everywhere. More to come.