Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out and about in Budapest

Although we may technically be staying in a hotel and technically it may be an en-suite bathroom and it is clean and spacious, that is pretty much where the luxury stops. We were amazed to find that one has to be careful as to how quickly one lets the bathwater out, this is something I have never previously encountered. The drain from the bath joins another drain located in the middle of the bathroom floor which I thought was fairly sensible. What isn't so sensible is that the bath drains faster than the floor drain can cope with so if one isn't careful letting the bath out fills up the bathroom and then in extreme cases, the bedroom as well! Strange but true!

Heading out from the hotel, we first went up to the Castle Hill and happened to park right next to a tourist attraction which we had previously marked down as a possible 'todo' so seeing as we were right there we decided to do it. We needed to buy a parking ticket but the machine wouldn't accept some of our coins, nor the credit card and the shops wouldn't give us any change so we bought as much time as we could and hoped for the best.
Underneath the castle hill complex is a system of caves which has been used by numerous people but most recently, the Germans and the Russians. The Germans used it as a commandpost and hospital during the siege of Budapest by the Soviet army. The German defenders were surrounded and decided to make a break-out but of the 20,000 people that broke out, only 800 survived to tell the tale. That is an extraordinarily high casualty rate. In one of the wards there was a rose left in a bed from a woman whose husband died in the hospital during the second world war and who could only come back to Budapest post the fall of the Soviet Union; it was a very poignant statement of love. After the second world war, it was used again as a hospital during the 1956 revolution which was harshly suppressed by the Soviets before it was turned into a nuclear bunker. The intention was that the hospital should survive a nuclear attack to be able to treat, as best possible, any survivors that should remain. Although the whole thing is a real touristy type set-up, it really brought home just how desperately the Second World War was fought and how the Hungarian people have suffered under successive oppressive regimes. No wonder they aren't the most light hearted of peoples.

From the bunker we walked through castle hill which has wonderful views out over Budapest and the Danube but we happened to walk past the bronze statue below which has shiny testicles, the horse that is!

Apparently, it brings good luck to give them a good squeeze and it has become such a nuisance to the authorities that they now have cctv coverage of the horses privates! That is like a challenge to students who still rise to the challenge to have a good squeeze. I would like to have seen the job card for the cctv installation person, I can just imagine "Today, installed surveillance of horses' testicles"!

Getting back to the car, our luck had run out and we had a fine waiting for us but the policeman who happened to be behind our car and who had nothing to do with the fine kindly explained how and where to go to pay it which is what we did although my nose was out of joint for a couple of hours because it wasn't like we hadn't really tried to pay for the parking in the first place but try explaining that in Hungarian!

Next up was St. Stephens church, St. Stephen is a big deal in Hungary, he crops up all over the place because he was, besides being the first Christian king, the one who originally united all the smaller tribes into the Hungarian nation. St. Stephens church was unusual in that it was St. Stephen that was the object of devotion rather than Jesus.

Across the square from St. Stephens we had coffee while we watched a group of Americans in the square try to balance a baseball bat vertically in their hand. I can't quite see the point but that, I guess, is because I'm not an American.

Moving on from there, we went to see 'Memento Park' which contains all the Soviet statuetary that used to be on display in Budapest but that has now been removed to a location out of eyesight of the local population. Here we saw 'Stalins boots'; they're not sure what happened to the rest of him.

as well as something to lighten the sombre mood!

The statues are just so typical of the Soviets; Aryan, heroic and militaristic come to mind to describe them.

but I must say that I found the park very interesting. We spent some time talking to a UK based German artist who was taking photographs of dummies dressed up as nuns in front of Stalins boots. I'm not sure what comment to make of the many that spring to mind so I'll leave it at that!

Getting back to Budapest itself, we had some supper at an Italian restaurant while we waited for our sunset cruise on the Danube to depart. I've decided that I really, really like bruschetta and that it should start forming part of our regular diet back at home!

The cruise was entirely uneventful, we sailed up and down the Danube as the sun sank below the horizon while the band played songs to which we were unable to dance. Nevertheless, it was a very pleasant experience and one that I would recommend as long as one knows how to actually dance properly! Watching Budapest transform itelf from daytime to nightime was a magical experience.

The Hungarians are a bit of a dour lot but I suppose that is what happens when one keeps on getting conquered by all and sundry and they have an unusually long list of suppressors from Roman times to the recent past. Nevertheless, they have survived with their language and their culture intact so all is not lost and one can see visible signs of Hungary trying to rise up from under the Soviet blanket. They may still have a long way to go but they are at least making a real effort. The following are the houses of parliament which have recently been renovated.

And to finish the cruise, this is the bridge just below Gellert hill on top of which we are staying.

On the way up the hill it wasn't very well lit and at one stage I stopped on a landing to wait for Caron only to realise after a while that I wasn't alone and that the couple sharing the landing were otherwise engaged on the park bench; awkward for me but they didn't skip a beat! Maybe not so dour!


Jason du Toit said...

I'm shocked to see that not one of the beautiful ladies in Hungary made it onto your blog. I hope you are saving those pics for when you get home

M.Elferink said...

Have just discovered from Kirsten how to post comments - hence our silence up to now.
This morning I bought a bag of about a dozen beautiful bananas for R15 at the Hyper. Made me think of you!
I LOVED Sound of Music. Have you no soul? Mom.