One Town Back, Two Towns Forward

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Still thinking about the Roman ruins in northern Budapest, I decided this morning I would backtrack about 15 minutes and visit the remains of Aquincum. The site consisted of a large area of excavated foundations and a small museum. The buildings themselves were not as interesting as Salona, since they mostly consisted of regularly-shaped workshops or houses, but the sense of being in the town was greater as more of the walls were exposed.

The exceptions to the blocky rule were usually bath houses. They had excavated several public, and one private, baths. One feature of the Aquincum buildings that you couldn't see at Salona were raised sections of floor that were heated from beneath. Also, because they excavated to the foundations, they had exposed drains and sewers running under and between the buildings. These sorts of details really gave you an idea of how well the architects must have planned things out.

The on-site museum had a few exhibits about excavations of grave sites and what they revealed about various cultures in the area (in English), but there wasn't a lot of information about the excavation and reconstruction of Aquincum itself, so I'm not entirely sure how much of it was authentic. I got the sense a fair amount of restoration had taken place, though. What I did learn for certain was Aquincum was the capital of Pannonia Inferior and on the very edge of Roman territory, which ran up to the Danube at the time. There was a small civil town area, which I think was what I saw, and a larger area housing the garrison, which lay to the south under parts of modern day Budapest. The ampitheather turned out to be one of a pair. I guess each settlement needed it's own entertainment.

In the afternoon, my target was Esztergom. I forgot to check my guidebook after I left Aquincum, so when I hit the edge of Esztergom I said to myself: "I'm here. What am I supposed to be seeing?" As soon as I finished that thought, an enormous domed cathedral perched on a not-too-distant hill came into view. "Oh, that must be it..."

Esztergom was the birthplace of Hungary's first king and probably favorite saint, St. Stephen. The hill was the site of not only the Basilica, but also a castle that once was an early seat of the Hungarian monarchy. As the town had been invaded by various enemies of Hungary and then recaptured on multiple occasions, both the castle and the church had been dismantled then rebuilt several times, with the current versions dating from the 19th century.

I started with the cathedral. Inside it was every bit as huge as it had looked from the outside. You could even climb to the cupola, and I took several pictures with tiny people who had done just that, but I decided not to as the hazy day made for poor pictures. Instead, I went to the church treasury, which had been turned into a small museum displaying items acquired over the years and saved from the various sackings of the town.

Considering how many times it must have been in peril, the treasury had a sizable collection of golden religious artifacts and vestments. A few stand-outs for me were a crystal crucifix with golden edging, a gold-on-silver dove that looked like it was shooting laser beams at a man on the ground, and a vestment with 3D cloth designs of a man kneeling with a raised arm (possibly a fist, but his hand was missing), a group of people gathered around an empty coffin, angles carrying a person to heaven, and a sitting saint (i.e. a man with a halo). The vestment scenes ran from bottom to top on a cross background.

The castle also had a museum. It was larger, but less interesting to me as it mainly consisted of the same mix of clay pots, coinage, and small items retrieved from grave sites that I'd seen in numerous other museums on this trip. Also, the exhibits were mostly in Hungarian, although I was given an overview handout in English, and there was one room with English placards, and oddly, a single German placard (but no English) in the coin exhibit.

Apart from scenic views of the town, the museum did offer a small, but interesting collection of arms, mostly consisting of Turkish pistols, sabers, and a type of slightly curved sword with a "butterfly" pommel called a yataghan. The other room I spent some time in was the "chapel", which didn't look like a chapel at all, but had a small collection of stone fragments. So, of course, that didn't sound different either, but it had descriptions (in English) of what was on the fragments and how they probably fit into larger structures, unlike every other lapidary I've seen that just dumps a bunch of rocks into a hallway.

Exiting the museum, I set off in my car for Győr, with just one minor (hopefully) bump in the road. Back when I picked up my rental car, they asked if I wanted to buy a vignette for the tolls. I was told I would only need it on the big interstate/autobahn-type highways, so I declined since I looked at a map and saw I wouldn't be driving on any of those. Skip to today, and I turned on to a secondary highway to see a sign informing me it uses the vignette. Of course, there was no mention of this until after I was already on the highway.

I went to the Hungary vignette website and found there were about 30 scattered sections of 12 minor highways that were included in the toll system. Thanks rental car guy, I thought you would know about driving in Hungary since were Hungarian and worked at a rental car company. I just caught the very end of the toll section for a few kilometers, so maybe I missed the cameras. Or maybe the previous driver's vignette hadn't expired since Hungary doesn't use stickers and instead they just go by license plate numbers. At any rate, I bought a vignette to avoid future fines, but it would be nice if Budget bought the yearly vignette for the car like Hertz in Slovenia did instead of being cheap and making each driver get one.

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