Hungary

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It seems fitting to finish this (long) series of posts on our trip to central Europe with a theme that emerged and to our surprise persisted through the entire trip: the search for the most beautiful coffee house.

You may remember that this search began with an exploration of the Art Nouveau cafes in Prague. And then continued with the discovery of the delightful Cafe Central in Vienna. And so now, behold, I am pleased to share with you the magnificent New York Cafe in Budapest.

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The name comes from the name of the building: It was originally the New York Life Insurance Company’s Budapest office.

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Now it is owned by the luxurious Boscolo Budapest Hotel, which has restored the building to its original splendor.

Here are some more pictures of the interior.

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Oh joy! We come now to one of Dan’s and my more favorite buildings in Budapest. As many of our friends and followers of this blog know, we are really keen on markets. And while Budapest’s market may not be the most intense or the most exotic or the most diverse, its Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) is certainly one of the most beautiful market buildings we have ever seen.

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We probably saw more ristras of red chiles here and all kinds of packages of chile powder, stall for stall, than any place outside of New Mexico. Here, of course, they call it paprika.

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And of course don’t forget the fresh chiles!

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Sometimes it seemed every stall had something to do with peppers. Or, well, not all of them. Some had other things like yummy baked goods.

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Time to go upstairs and check out the market from those enticing-looking walkways up above.

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Lovely!

 

 

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This is the post where I get to reveal the fundamental reason we traveled to central Europe. The underlying cause of our visits to Prague and Vienna. The basic fact of our trip to Hungary.

Dan’s roots are here.

Both his grandfather and his grandmother on his mother’s side were born in Hungary, though they met only later, in the United States. And because of complicated circumstances, Dan was largely raised by his Hungarian grandfather.

Incredibly, his grandparents grew up in similarly small villages maybe fifteen miles apart by road (probably less than ten as the crow flies). But they never met. I believe they never even visited one another’s village. There would have been no reason to.

Dan’s grandfather grew up in Takacsi (“Takach”), a village of about 1,000 inhabitants in the county of Veszprem, only seven or eight miles north of the regional center of Papa (that’s a town; population about 33,000). Takacsi is bisected by Route 83, which runs almost from the Slovakian border down to Lake Balaton, a two-lane road that does carry some traffic. If your grandfather didn’t come from there, you’d probably never notice it as you drove through. Most of the houses are quite modest.

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A few suggest slightly wealthier inhabitants, perhaps like Dan’s great-grandfather, who could afford to travel to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.

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There is even, surprisingly, a guest house.

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Even more surprisingly, for a village this small, there were no fewer than three churches–Calvinist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic. I don’t know which was which, but Dan and I liked to imagine that the first one we came across, built in 1808 and currently undergoing extensive renovation, might have been the one his grandfather had attended as a boy.

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Then again, it wasn’t the only church that old. Here’s one that was built and rebuilt three times–in 1794, 1867, and 1963.

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And just for the record, here are other churches of Takacsi.

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Dan’s grandmother grew up in Csot (“Chote”), a village about ten miles east of Papa with about 1,200 inhabitants. It seemed somehow more attractive to me, but perhaps this is partly because it is more remote, without a major road running through it. There are at least two churches–Roman Catholic and Evangelical.

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And there’s some sort of official building as well–a town hall, maybe? Or a government office?

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The town has a certain charm.

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Most movingly, we found a monument to the inhabitants of Csot who died in the two World Wars.

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Knowing that Dan’s grandmother (nee Marie Nemeth) had a brother who died in World War I, we found not one, but three Nemeths who had been struck down–Ignac, Istvan, and Sandor–perhaps her brother and two cousins? Were there, we wondered, any Nemeths left now in Csot?

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We had one more stop to make.

I met Dan’s grandfather at his house overlooking Lake Bomoseen, which at 3.7 square miles, is the largest lake located entirely in Vermont. Grandpa John would spend long hours looking out over his lovely view, and sometimes he would talk about Lake Balaton in Hungary. Lake Bomoseen, he said, reminded him of Lake Balaton, a place of striking beauty. It seemed that if there were one place on the planet that Grandpa John might want to see again, this was it.

We had to go.

Lake Balaton, at 230 square miles, is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe. Coming as we were from the north, we visited the town of Balatonfured on the northern shore of the lake, which is hillier and more historic than the southern. It is also one of the major wine-producing regions of Hungary.

It’s also beautiful. There’s a harbor for pleasure boats and for a number of ferries that ply the lake’s green waters.

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Along the shore extends a lovely park.

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We found the pleasant Vitorlas Etterem on the lake shore.

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Here we enjoyed a pleasant meal overlooking the lake before driving back to Budapest. (I cannot explain it, but yes, that is a boat inside the restaurant.)

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Not far north of the Royal Palace on Castle Hill sits Matthias Church (Matyas Templom). It’s a magnificent late-Gothic church, with a stunningly patterned roof tiles.

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As with many of Budapest’s landmark buildings, the Matthias Church has a complicated history of construction, destruction, and revival. The original Gothic church was built in the thirteenth century. It was turned into a mosque when the Turks occupied Budapest in the sixteenth century; its treasures were carted off and the ancient frescoes were whitewashed over. When Budapest was liberated from the Turks in 1686, the church was nearly destroyed. Efforts were made to rebuild, and reconstruction according to the original Gothic plans, using what materials remained from the original church, was finally completed in 1896. Only the foundations, columns, and some of the walls date back to the original church.

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The rose window is an exact replica of the original rose window. The tower to its left is called the “Bela Tower” after King Bela IV, during whose reign the church was originally built. (The tall tower to the right is the “Matthias Tower” after King Matthias Corvinus, who ruled in the fifteenth century.)

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The “Mary Portal” on the south side of the church is noted for its fine Gothic tracery.

The plaza south of the church–enclosed by the Fisherman’s Bastion–contains a fine statue of King Stephen I (Szent Istvan), who united various competing tribes in the region into the kingdom of Hungary, and who brought Christianity to the realm. He was annointed king of Hungary on Christmas day in the year 1000, and he was cannonized the year of his death–1038. Stephen is the patron saint of Hungary.

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The Fisherman’s Bastion was built on the site of a former fish market.

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The views from the Fisherman’s Bastion are stunning.

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In Budapest, many bridges cross the Danube River. But far and away the most iconic and beloved one is the Chain Bridge (Szechenyi Lanchid).

The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge crossing the Danube to connect Buda and Pest. In fact, it was only the second permanent bridge spanning the Danube anywhere. It took ten years to construct and was completed in 1849. At the time it was the second longest suspension bridge in the world (380 meters). This bridge was a major feat of engineering for its time.

The Germans blew up all the bridges of Budapest when they left in January, 1945. Of the Chain Bridge, only the stone pillars remained. But the citizens of Budapest rebuilt the bridge according to the original plans and reopened the bridge in November, 1949, exactly one hundred years after it was originally opened.

It is held up by real chains, this Chain Bridge–independent segments of iron several meters long, looking like a bicycle chain, only much bigger.

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These are supported in turn by stone pillars and anchored by large iron blocks underground.

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So…one day we walked along the river to the Elizabeth Bridge (Erzebet Hid) and then crossed over to the Buda side of town.

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Here we ambled along the riverbank and recrossed to Pest over the Chain Bridge.

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The next day we crossed the Chain Bridge again in the opposite direction (from Pest to Buda) and climbed up to Clark Adam Ter. (Remember Adam Clark, the engineer? Yes, this street is named after him.) From here there is a dramatic view across the Danube, Chain Bridge in the foreground.

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There is also a funicular to take the foot-weary pedestrian to the top of Varhegy, the Castle Hill.

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As you might suspect, from the top of the funicular the view is even better.

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We didn’t go inside the Royal Palace, and you’ve already seen a number of the statues around it. Here’s one that’s a little different.

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No, I don’t “get it” either–but I like it!

 

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There are four medieval towns upriver from Budapest, within range of a possible day trip. Each has its proponents. We thought it would be better to see one well rather than seeing three or four of them for just a few minutes each.

And so bright and early one morning, we took a boat to Szentendre.

A side benefit of this mini-cruise (it took maybe an hour and a quarter) is that it provides wonderful views of Buda (lit by the morning sun) and Pest (in moody shadow) as the boat goes by.

The royal compound

The royal palace

Turul (eagle) statue

Turul (eagle) statue

The Chain Bridge

Szechenyi Hid — Chain Bridge

Calvinist Church

Calvinist Church

Matthias Church

Matthias Church

Parliament Building

Parliament Building

A prosperous city -- the old and the new

A prosperous city — the old and the new

At last we left central Budapest.

Margit Hid -- Margaret Bridge

Margit Hid — Margaret Bridge

We passed an area that had been popular for summer camps early in the twentieth century and now was becoming popular again.

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summer houses on the river

The scenery became bucolic–and then Szentendre came into view!

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peaceful river view

First sight of Szentendre!

First sight of Szentendre!

Our pier was just north of town, so we had good views of the whole town from the river before we disembarked.

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Pretty as it is from the river, the town was even more charming from within.

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You may have noticed from these photos that even though we arrived early in the morning, there were still a lot of tourists around. Szentendre is like that. It’s clean and cute and quaint, and it’s full of art galleries and restaurants and tourists. Hard to know which came first. But look, what have we here?

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It’s a file of children with their teachers going to the park at the top of the hill! Eventually we get to the park too, though by a different route.

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It’s a lovely park with good views over the rooftops. And it’s made even lovelier by the children playing there.

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Lunchtime! We’d scouted out the whole historic town center, and we knew where we wanted to go–the Promenade Vendeglo (Tavern). With a terrace and umbrella’ed tables, and a river view–this was the place for us!

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The owner (I think he was the owner), it turned out, spoke enough English to make us feel welcome. When we went to order a glass of wine, we embarked on a whole conversation about the unique and characteristic wines of Hungary and where they’re grown. (Looked to me like they might be growing some of them right here!)

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This brings us at last to the part of this post where I can’t resist including a few details that I couldn’t quite fit in anywhere else yet didn’t want to part with.

Doorways and storefronts…

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Yeah, I know…peppers, my favorite. But Hungary is noted for paprika, and what do you think paprika is?

Finally, a stairway adorable beyond words…

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From the Opera we headed east and walked through the Jewish quarter. Though at one point there was (sadly) a ghetto with walls, today’s walkers would not know when they are in the Jewish quarter unless they looked closely. Take this building, for instance…

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Looks just like yet any other ornamented Budapest building, right? With typically charming details? Such as this creature atop the roof at the corner…

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And these figures flanking the balcony…

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But wait… Do you see the Jewish stars worked into the column capital holding up the balcony? And look at this fellow! I’d bet my beard he’s an orthodox rabbi!

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One of the interesting things about architecture in Budapest in general, and the Dohany Street synagogue in particular is the Islamic influence often visible–the “Moorish Byzantine” style. Here we see it in the main facade with its minaret-like towers and the eight-pointed star over the doorway.

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Before we go inside, perhaps a word about the Jews of Hungary and in particular, Budapest. Over the centuries, there were ups and downs in the repression of the Jewish people and restrictions in where they were allowed to live. Both Buda and Pest were for a long time off limits to Jews, whose main community was in the Obuda (Old Buda) area. But in the 19th century, these restrictions were lifted, and Jews were given equal rights with all other people.

Before World War II, over 200,000 Jews lived in Budapest. This population swelled with the influx of refugees just before and in the early part of the war. Even though Hungary was allied with Germany, it did not enforce anti-Jewish legislation until German Nazi occupation of Hungary in March 1944. Many thousands of Jews were transported to concentration camps or forced into slave labor. A ghetto was established. Thousands were then taken from the ghetto and shot, and their bodies dumped into the river.

When the Soviets liberated Budapest in March, 1945, fewer than 100,000 Jews remained in the ghetto.

The Jewish population of Hungary, which was over 440,000 in 1930, and 165,000 in 1945, has today shrunk to fewer than 50,000 people.

The Dohany Street synagogue is one of the few still in use. Seating some 6,000 people, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third largest in the world. It was built from 1854-59, during the heyday of the Hungarian enlightenment, and served a branch of Judaism that reflected this enlightened attitude. And look at the beautiful interior!

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In the courtyard of the synagogue is a solemn and shady garden where over 2,000 Jews who died in the ghetto in the winter of 1944-45 are buried.

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Behind the synagogue is the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, which contains the “Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs,” commemorating the more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews who died in the concentration camps. The memorial is a tremendously moving metal weeping willow tree whose every metal leaf contains the name of a person who died.

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Equipped with a map of the city and a sunny day, Dan and I decided that we would do what we most love to do in a beautiful foreign city–walk! We decided to walk over to the Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Allami Operahaz) to see about getting a tour of the building, and thence to the Jewish quarter.

On the way, we chanced to come upon the dazzling St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika). This basilica, completed in 1905, is dedicated to the first king of Hungary, who died in 1038, and whose right hand is still preserved in the church’s reliquary.

The architect was a well-known Hungarian architect of the time, Miklos Ybl, whose last name appears to need a vowel. This is one of his most famous buildings. One reason the basilica took so long to construct (54 years) is that the dome, which was under construction, collapsed in 1868. The entire church had to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. I cannot imagine how tragic this must have felt to the architect! He did live to see it begun again, but died before its completion.

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Had we actually read our guide book, we probably would have known about basilica in advance, but not being much for touring churches we might have decided in advance not to go in. As it was, we had no preconceptions. The basilica was magnificent; people were going in. So we did too.

And I’m glad we did. Everything about the interior was glorious.

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After visiting the basilica, we walked along the wide and gracious Andrassy Ut to the opera house.

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Begun in 1875 and completed in 1884, this building too is the work of architect Miklos Ybl. Those among you interested in architectural drawings can find plans and a beautiful section of the building by following this link.

The entry loggia has beautiful ceilings, and I began to get the idea that I would spend a lot of my time in Hungary looking up.

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When we did tour the opera house a day or two later, we learned that as part of the short-lived Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest had to seek the permission of Emperor Franz Joseph in order to build an opera house. The emperor, being Austrian and justifiably proud of the newly completed State Opera House in Vienna, wanted no competition from upstart Hungary. (It’s worth noting here that the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been formed less than a decade before, in 1867, as a result of a war between Austria and Hungary; and the two nations, though united, were not on comfortable terms.) He granted permission and established a budget sufficient to building an opera house, but not a magnificent one, nothing that would outshine his new opera house in Vienna.

The Hungarians, delighting in their cleverness even to this day, responded by building an opera house that was smaller and relied where possible on local materials, but was in every notable way as grand as any opera house anywhere.

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Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife attended only one opera there, on opening night, and were (according to our guide) so miffed at the magnificence of the place that they never came back.

Well, they did also have a first-rate opera house right there in Vienna. Maybe they just didn’t like to travel.

Whether this story is true or not–the Budapest Opera House does have a reputation as one of the top three opera houses in Europe for acoustics.

 

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Since I started this section on Hungary with tiny details, it seems to make sense to work from the small to the large. Especially since there are some fine large buildings coming. So herewith some fine statues and interesting building details.

Especially up in the palace area of the western part of the city that used to be Buda, many of the statues seem to be heroic.

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Even some of the religious statues are heroic. Here, for example, is St. George, looking entirely in control of the situation.

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Even the building statues are trying to assert their heroism.

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Later, we found a statue with a more human aspect.

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These caryatids are not having any trouble carrying their burden.

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And what’s that over the doorway of that building? Surely not… the prow… of a ship? Flanked by naked people?

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All the glass led me to think that the building below might be art deco–but not with a crowning mural like that. I don’t know what style to call it.

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This building is more purely Art Nouveau (or Deco) and it has a lovely entryway.

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And finally, here is an unabashedly modern upper-level walkway set into a fine old inner gallery. And the combination works so very well!

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Moving on–at last!–from Austria to Hungary, we arrive at the part of the trip where my photographic zeal was so great I hardly know how to deal with the resulting volume of pictures.

The best thing, I suppose, is to pick up where I left off in Vienna, with a more or less random assortment of things that made me smile.

Budapest is a lovely city full of friendly people. There’s a lot to smile about here. And so it’s not a surprise that some of it has gotten, well, built in. For example, this set of urchins.

Too loud!

Too loud!

Too wet!

Too wet!

And here are some building entrance lights:

Children welcome inside

Children welcome!

Um... satyrs welcome?

Um… satyrs welcome?

Identification emblems:

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Needs no translation:

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Couldn’t agree on the color:

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Buddha has his back to the window because…

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…enlightenment must come from within!

And finally, just because dancing water is always joyous:

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Welcome to Budapest!

 

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