November 1, 2019
We were glad that we had 3 previous days in Budapest because today was a national holiday and a lot of places, including all shops except those run by families (very few) were open. Even the City Market was closed and it is something to see, we had 2 meals there. CNN rated it one of the best markets in the world. Hungary is known for paprika and goose liver pate and there are many shops that sell both.
The tour with the cruise was an excellent one. Unfortunately the WiFi is still too slow to post pictures but I will give a narrative of what we did and what we learned, and add pictures at a later time (maybe even when we return home!)
Hungary is now 1/3 the size it once was and has a population of 10 million of which 1.7 million live in Budapest. This capital is really 2 cities, Buda and Pest pronounced Pecht. 2/3 of the population lives on the Pest side and our hotel before we got on the river boat, was on that side overlooking the Buda Palace across the Danube River. The Buda side is richer.
Our guide spoke flawless English and said that she learned it in secret under the blankets of her bed in Communist times…. From Michael Jackson! English was not taught and was forbidden to learn in Communist times. It is said that Hungarian is the second hardest language in the world after Chinese.
The tour was by bus and ended at Buda Castle, which we had explored a couple of days ago. we still walked around that area as it is huge and beautiful. The buildings are all museums now. We wanted to see the Hospital in the Rock, but it was closed so we only saw the outside. 2/3 of this city was bombed and destroyed so much has been rebuilt since WW II.
The synagogue here is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. It was designed by Catholic architects and because of that it has an organ which is not typically part of synagogues. Outside of the synagogue is a cemetery and a tree of life in silver commemorating the 600,000 Hungarian Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. There are 600 leaves each engraved with the name of a family member killed. We revisited the synagogue and had a guided tour on Wednesday. It can hold 6000 people, 3000 sitting and 3000 standing!. And it is beautiful inside and out. It was rebuilt with generous donations from Tony Curtis and Estee Lauder both of whom were born here.
Hungary has the richest geothermal springs in the world and there are 24 spas here. They have to actually cool the water before it can be used in the pools!
Like in Vienna, coffee shop culture is big, dating back to the times when people lived in very small apartments with no heat or electricity and so they went to coffee shops for much of the day and evenings. Most buildings had a coffee shop in those days and it is still very popular.
As really had a chance to see so much of the city in our 4 days here. We enjoyed their food, wine and hospitality. We planned to do the hop on hop off bus on Wednesday but the concierge at our hotel advised against it because Putin was coming to Budapest and the traffic would be bad. So we walked everywhere that day. And we got stopped along the street for about 30 minutes because his motorcade was going to pass and the police would NOT let us cross. We have never seen so many police in a city before- they were everywhere.
So we did the hop on hop off on Thursday after taking our bags to the riverboat. It was fun and we did have an overview but our guide on Friday was much better.
it am writing this as we travel the Danube on our way to Bratislava, Slovakia. We just passed through a lock. There are 66 locks on our way to Cologne!
I will write more from Bratislava. On we go!