Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
22Trip End Jul 01, 2008
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We were obediently following our Sat Nav directions out of Bled, across Slovenia to Budapest when we had to slow for a border patrol. Which border we thought; and why does the sign say we need to show our passports? We should still be in the EU. Where were we? We handed over our passports to immigration officials and realised that that for the first time ever we were entering a country and we had no idea which country it was. Our passports were stamped Republika Hrvatska. Neither of us had ever heard of it before. However, after consulting a map we realised we had gone into Croatia. It was a nice enough country to drive through and we spent about an hour and a half driving through its now very peaceful and fairly monotonous green countryside.
We arrived at our hotel on the Buda side of Budapest after negotiating some very poor local suburban roads
Seeing that we were in Hungary, we had goulash for dinner at a local restaurant which was flavoursome and cheap. We also tried a Hungarian white wine. Perfect.
Thursday 22 May
We bought our city tour tickets from a guy who took us into the foyer of a building to complete the transaction. I was asked to give our travel Budapest discount card to a man behind a desk. The man then gave us two guide books in English in return and directed us to some exhibits and it was then we realised we were in the National Lutheran museum. Now it certainly wasn't on the list of things to do but it ended up being quite interesting.
I had no notion of the foundations of the Lutheran religion or that its teaching goes back hundreds of years. There were exhibits of embroidered altar cloths, gold chalices and old bibles on display.
Having spent an enjoyable half an hour we then spent a little time cruising some antique shops (lots of fun) and then did our city tour. Budapest is a large, sprawling metropolis. A lot of the beautiful buildings of the city were destroyed in the war. The guide pointed out a number of sites relating to the revolutions that had occurred in Hungary. The fact that there was more than one revolution says a lot about the difficult times the city has endured
They love large statues. Hero Square has a huge statue of the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian holy crown and double cross. Quarter-circular colonnades extend to the left and right and between the pillars are figures of the 'greats' from Hungarian history. There are also impressive figures in armour, some astride rearing horses, on the butt of the tower. .
We got a panoramic view over the city when we visited the old castle quarter. Once again it was full of decorated and grand buildings. It reminds us a lot of Prague but Prague has more nice buildings in a smaller area.
We walked along the banks of the Danube which is disappointingly brown not blue. There were lots of nice restaurants belonging to large chain hotels along the esplanade. We walked across Szabadsag hid, a pretty stone bridge with lions guarding both entrances.
Dinner was at Sorhazpince-Gerbeaud Haz and was, I think, an authentic Hungarian experience. My meal ended up being sausage that was like uncooked black and white pudding accompanied by hot picked purple cabbage and a potato rosti
There is a lot of graffiti in the city. There are also a number of drunks, homeless people and beggars. While you see the grand buildings with their decoration you get the feeling that there is an undercurrent of poverty and crime in the city; that it is still struggling to find a way to move forward and become prosperous.
Friday 23 May
After much confusion over which bus to catch and where we should get off we found our way to Momento Park. It was a long trip and it was hard to make any sense of the bus station names such as Zolyotut, Czqko and Erzsebet. If you can't say them in your head it is hard to recognise them.
Momento Park is a collection of statues and plaques from the communist era that were removed from the city and installed in this one area on the outskirts of town. Some of them are huge and are disproportionate in parts. Some have huge thighs and chests to reflect the strength of the communist worker
We then went into the exhibition which was in a wooden hall. We read about the 1956 uprising by the students when tens of thousands of people were shot or injured. That uprising marks the start of the decline of the communist regime.
We then watched a real training film from the late 50s or early 60s for trainee Hungarian secret police. It gave instruction on how to organise meetings where the agent could pass on information to his or her controller, how to hand over reports in folded newspapers and how to leave messages in fake wooden logs left in public parks. All seems a bit amateurish now and was a bit of a giggle.
Having returned to town we got on our Legenda boat cruise. We had a glass of moselle as we slowly moved against the strong current of the Danube up to Margaret Island; named after the popular princess Margaret. We went past Parliament house which is one of the most impressive Parliament Houses I have ever seen. Its decoration is intricate and it has innumerable spires and towers. Set right on the banks of the Danube it is one of Budapest's most notable buildings.
The mid point of the cruise was Margaret Island which has a huge park, a rose garden and pond area so it was a pleasant hour stroll before we boarded the boat back to the city.