We've heard only good things about Budapest and it turned out to be a beautiful city. There were a few things that Budapest is known for that we didn't do though - mainly the baths. They have a lot of thermal baths scattered through the city and are supposed to be beautiful and relaxing. But the problem is that if you put the kids in water, they wan to swim, not relax. So we skipped that part and stuck to the city itself.
Budapest was originally two cities: Buda and Pest. They were united into one around 1873. It definitely deserves it's reputation as one of the most beautiful city in Europe and we didn't have any issues with language because it has embraced English as the language of tourism. In fact, that's probably my one complaint, it felt so much more touristy than Vienna! It was easy to get around for that reason but also full of kitchy shops and things and felt touristy.
We stayed in an apartment in Pest that was in a fantastic location for walking around the city although it took some doing to get there because cities in Europe are never fun to drive in. And it was above a sports bar which I was worried about but not a problem at all. The apartment was gorgeous too but probably our favorite part was that the elevator was the old kind where you have to shut the door before you go up! The kids LOVED the elevator - funny the little things that make us happy.
Our first night we got in and of course immediately went looking for food and wandered right into their Spring Market in Vorosmarty Ter. (No idea what the English translation of that is. Google Translate does not do Hungarian well). We came back to this market every day we were here. It's my favorite kind of market - with booths that sell things people make, not mini storefront type stuff. Actually, pretty much all of our souvenirs came from here!
William is pretty good at taking pictures of the family! Of course then he's never in them.
As we're looking for food we see signs for a Lego store and the kids bed to go in. Turns out it's in the cellar of a building, winding creepy staircase and all. Behind Chopper's head you can see how they've patched the wall with legos too. Cute.
Because we eat so so much good food! But notice that it's in English.
It was dark after dinner and we went down to the river briefly - Budapest is split by the Danube which also runs through Vienna and Regensburg in Germany. We're getting to know the Danube very well! From our vantage point we had a great view of Buda Castle all lit up.
Not the best selfie we've ever had!
The morning of our first full day in Budapest we walked along the river for a bit looking for a boat tour that wouldn't include a meal and two hours of cruising. But there was actually a ton of cold wind so we turned back and headed for the Parliament building where we had tour tickets. I'm glad I bought those in advance because they were almost completely sold out when we got there.
There was quite a bit of amazing architecture along the way.
Then we found the shoe memorial.
I thought I had a picture of the plaque too. It reads: To the Memory of the Victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45. The Arrow Cross was a Nazi party that led a government in Hungary for a brief time during WWII but during that time murdered 10-15,000 civilians and deported about 80,000 to concentration camps. About 3,500 of those (800 of them Jews) were taken to the Danube and told to take off their shoes and then shot into the river so their bodies would be carried away by the current.
The memorial is very simple - the metal shoes modeled after those from the time period and arranged as if they've just been removed. Some had flowers in them or candles and several had pebbles which I learned in Prague is a Jewish tradition in honoring and remembering the dead. It was incredibly moving though and made me tear up. It also made the kids ask questions of course. Abby particularly wanted to know why they didn't just run away. There are no easy answers for these things. Next year sometime I think that we'll be taking a trip to Normandy and covering more about WWII history and so I'm starting to think about how to teach the kids about the things that happened.
After some time spent there, we walked on to the Parliament building which is absolutely stunning!
You can't get a good picture of the whole thing unless you're on the river and we did take a river cruise later that night that I'll get to in a bit. It is a government building so you have to take a tour if you want to go in and there are armed guards and you can't see everything if it's in session (which it wasn't! Yay!). They allow pictures everywhere but the central room under the dome - I'm not sure why that is except that they have the Hungarian crown on display there so perhaps that's it.
First thing - if it looks like gold, it is. We've seen some pretty incredible things but not an entire ceiling made of gold. It really was spectacular!
What wasn't gold was beautifully decorated. I took a lot of pictures of ceilings!
This is funny. Back in the day when smoking was allowed in the building, the members of Parliament would step out to have a cigar. (No smoking in the main Parliamentary chamber) When they were called in for a vote or a particularly important speech they had these cigar holders that are numbered and they could put their cigar in there and take note of the number and then come back to it when they were done. If a speech was particularly compelling and their cigar burned to the end it (the speech) was called a "Havana".
After our Parliamentary tour we went into the city looking for the cat cafe for lunch and had a lot to look at along the way.
We found it! Their cat cafe is better than Nurembergs - more cats and more active. We had some sandwiches that were just ok but the kids really enjoyed the cats because they wanted to play!
Next stop - Hungarian Opera House! I really wanted to do something with the Opera this trip. Vienna is known for their Opera and it just seems like a culturally European thing to do. But even a kids opera is going to be long and since it's not in English, the kids won't understand a word. They Hungarian Opera House was the perfect answer! We didn't see the main room because it's under renovation but our 20 minute tour took us through the rest of the building and of course gave us the history and then we were treated to 2 arias and 2 duets!! Perfect introduction to opera!!
The bar - with sunbeams!
This is the staircase that was reserved for Emporer Franz-Josef and Princess Sisi. As rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were also king and queen of Hungary and loved just as much there as in Vienna.
Then we wandered over to St. Istvan's bascilica I think . . . They're all starting to run together!!
Look familiar? They're all designed by the same guy. Hungary isn't a large country so if you need a Hungarian architect from a certain time period, whats-his-name is your man! Except I can't remember what his name is!
Back to the market we go - looking for dinner and we find this awesome flower stall selling pottery flowers. We bought ourselves a little bouquet to stick in our flower pots at home that I still haven't planted . . . but this was our favorite booth. So fun and colorful!
We found a boat tour that was just a tour and about an hour long. Unfortunately, I pushed for us to go at 7 thinking it would get dark enough in time to have everything lit up. It wasn't until the very end and of course we had already seen the big stuff. But we still had a good time and great views.
There's the Parliament building!
Pretty much the whole city turns on the lights facing the Danube once it gets dark and it is magical.
Ok day 2 (one post so it's a long one! We're almost done!!) Another fun thing I was fascinated with - they have beautiful manhole covers!!
We walked across the chain bridge to the Buda Hills and took the Funicular up to the castle.
The views from the top were spectacular. Inside the castle are two museums on Hungarian art and history but we decided not to go in. Surprisingly, the Buda castle is pretty much neglected. It has an impressive exterior but other than the museums you can't go in and as you walk around it, you can tell that it's in pretty bad shape.
There's a great story to this fountain and unfortunately I forgot I wanted to blog about it and returned the book to the library! Ok I found it online - this is the Matthias fountain - Matthias Corvinus was a medieval king of Hungary and hunting was his favorite thing to do. There's a story about his falling in love with the girl on the right that was interesting. Also, he was hunting when he was elected king (which I think is pretty progressive for the 1400s) and his mother sent a raven with a ring to him to let him know so that's a symbol frequently used.
When we arrived at St. Matthias church there was a HUGE line of people waiting to go inside so we opted to find lunch first and go back. When we did go back, the church was closed for a wedding so we weren't able to see the inside but I can't be mad because it looks like it would be a spectacular place to be married!
We wandered around the Fisherman's Bastion as well but you had to pay to go up and we weren't in the mood I guess. When we were looking for lunch we went into a small art gallery with mostly glass sculptural pieces that were weird and way out of our price range. When we left, the owner praised our well-behaved children (they really are careful and don't touch things!) and then told us about a park. We went and let the kids play for a bit and they loved that.
After the park we went down to the Hospital in the Rock - a hidden hospital created IN the Buda hills in preparation for WWII. Unfortunately, they didn't allow children under 6 in the tours so we didn't see it. We ended up wandering a bit, finding ANOTHER park, and the kids played for an hour while Chopper watched them and I fell asleep on the bench! And no wonder since we walked about 40 miles over the course of the week!!!
Our last day in Budapest was fairly low-key. Maybe we were just burned out from constant city and go go go. I think our next vacation will be a little more country! We really enjoyed Budapest and Vienna but felt like with both cities that we got out of it what we wanted and we're fine with moving on to other places. We don't have a compelling need to go back!
We stopped in Linz, Austria on our way back. Our landlady lives there with her family and we had lunch and spent some time with them before driving home. It seems like it would also be a great city to explore a bit.