Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Budapest seems just as vibrant as Vienna but maybe with a little less refinement. It is actually made up of two of Hungary's oldest towns: Buda on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east. Most of the sights are spread somewhat evenly over Pest - the more cosmopolitan of the two. Buda is much more medieval feeling and rightfully so as it is home to Castle Hill. Castle Hill is the place to go not only for the best views of Pest, but also for quite a few museums, cafes, a church, and of course more than enough tourist shops. It is like its own little community up on the hill. After checking it out we headed back down to Pest to walk some of the pedestrian streets. This is where we stumbled across a Thai restaurant that we immediately had to try. It had been what seemed like forever since we had the chance to have some Thai cuisine, plus Madonna and Yoko Ono had eaten at this place so we had to give it a shot. It was quite good and a refreshing change from the pizza and kebab diet we have been on lately.
The next day we tried to check out the Parliament buildings. They are stunningly beautiful and look more like a grand cathedral than a house of governance. It is worth mentioning here that the buildings that have roots back to the 17th and 18th centuries are mostly now about 50 years old. Budapest was absolutely decimated during WWII and the town was virtually reconstructed again to resemble the grand place it once was. Unfortunately the Parliament was closed to visitors that day, apparently they were busy running a country or something lame like that. Instead, we went to the second largest synagogue in the world (also reconstructed after the war). When they rebuilt it they made it look very much like a cathedral. It was the Jewish community's way of saying they were open to some form of inclusion if not assimilation. However, once the community saw it, many refused to attend such a structure and left for more traditional synagogues around town. The memorials they have at the sight are wonderful and pay tribute to the more than 80,000 Jews imprisoned and 10,000 that died there in the final two months of the war. It was built on the site of the last Jewish ghetto established during the war. After that somber experience we headed to check out the Andrassy Ut. It is Budapest's version of the Champs-Élysées. It did have a lot of nice shopping, but it didn't have the same feel as the famed Avenue in Paris. The street ends at the huge Heroes Square-full of statues and monuments paying homage to the prominent figures in Hungarian history. Behind the Square is the massive city park. It is home to a few lakes, a small amusement park, a permanent circus, a zoo, and has a castle in the middle of it to balance things out. It was a very nice stroll all together. After a full day of serious walking we followed the recommendation of our hostel owner and headed to a restaurant popular with the locals for some wonderful Hungarian fare.
On our last day there we headed to the National Museum. This was by far one of the best museums we have visited on this trip (and we have now seen a few). They had a massive collection and an exhaustive exhibition that displayed the history of Hungary and its development. The most fascinating portion (to us anyway) was the more contemporary collection dealing with some of the struggles under the Nazi and Soviet powers. The Soviet propaganda section was amazing. From there we headed over to the House of Terror. It is housed in the former headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi Party and later the Soviet secret police. It gives a very animated account of not only what many of the victims of the oppression went through, but also detailed accounts of some of the methods and motivating factors attributed to the Nazi and subsequent Soviet 'presence'. After a very heavy day of sights, we called it an early night and rested up for our trip into Slovakia the next day.

Megan and Kevin
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