We were sad to leave beautiful Lake Bled, but also excited to keep moving on! Once more we boarded a beautiful, big, extremely clean and comfy European tour bus for our 7-hour trip to another stop on our tour of Eastern Europe – this time Hungary.
Joyce will now step in and tell you “I” met a man on the bus but in truth we both met Marjan soon after he got on the bus in Ljubljana.
He is a news producer for Slovinian TV and spoke English! He was willing to tell us a bit about what we could see and do in Budapest. He also was kind enough to help us with our luggage and point us in the right direction for getting a taxi. We kept in touch during the four days he was in Budapest visiting friends, and we invited him to join us for dinner one night. Again, what makes traveling so fun and rewarding is the people you meet and get to know along the way. Marjan made our stay in Budapest more interesting, enlightening and fun!
Now I have to tell you about our AirBnb. Not our favorite. As you can see in the pictures, it looks good, the location was great, the ceilings were high, the light was bright, and our host was very accommodating. However, we immediately realized were staying in ‘grandma’s apartment.’
The building was constructed in 1926. Grandma probably moved in then, and we doubt it had ever been cleared out or even cleaned out since.
We found loads of old food stuffs in the cabinets, a freezer that was covered in frost and frozen shut, cupboards filled with old, old linens and bedding, toothbrushes, etc. Our towels had holes and our sheets were paper-thin and had been hand mended.
There were no curtains, only sheers on the windows. Joyce, who was sleeping in the front bedroom, had to resort to her sleep mask to keep the night light that poured in from bright street lights, signs and other buildings from keeping her awake all night.
The newly remodeled bathroom looked wonderful until you got into the shower and realized they hadn’t tilted the floor to the drain and there was no lip between the bathroom floor and the shower doors. Every time we showered, we literally flooded the bathroom. We soon realized why there was a bucket and 2 mops behind the bathroom door!
But it was a great location with 2 grocery stores a few steps away and a side street that was the hub of nightlife with dining and pubing just around the corner.
What to say about Budapest over all? It’s big. Its color is mostly grey. The buildings are old; they are some of the largest we have ever seen; many hark back to Communist times; and, some are just downright strange.
This is a photo of the building across the street from our flat. I don’t know if they were honoring Sputnik or if some alien had landed and just parked his spaceship.
The weather, after a couple of extremely hot days, cooled down very nicely and off we went to explore.
The first thing we discovered directly behind us was the second largest Jewish synagogue in the world – The Dohány Street or Great Synagogue – with seating for 3,000. The Hungarian Jewish Museum is also in the same building.
We found it interesting that the synagogue was designed in the same manner as a Christian church with a long, rectangular footprint, the altar in the front and a huge pipe organ in the rear. The design is very different from other synagogues we have visited. When asked, our guide explained that when the Great Synagogue was built in 1859, it was specifically designed this way because of its location and the desire to ‘fit in’ with Christian neighbors.
During WWII the Nazis created a Jewish Ghetto around the Great Synagogue, which was later transformed into a concentration camp. ( 08/23/2019 – Even though this is the information we got from our guide at the Synagogue, I just got an email from a friend in Chicago who states “The ghetto was never made into a concentration camp. It was created at the end of November 1944 and liberated by the Russians in January 1945. I know this for fact. I was hiding with my mother in a building in Dohany Utca, right outside the wall.”)
Thousands of Hungarian Jews were sent to the extermination camps and over 2,000 Jews died of hunger and cold in the ghetto during World War II. In the passageway leading to the back garden are vine and flower-covered mounds which hold their remains.
In the back is the Raul Wallenberg Memorial Gardens where you will find a silver ‘weeping willow’ known as The Tree of Life. It was designed by Imre Varga in 1991 and paid for by the late American actor Tony Curtis for his Hungarian-born father Emanuel Schwartz. It stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45. On the leaves of the tree are inscribed the family names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims who perished.
We purchased a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus pass for 3 days and had access to 4 different bus routes throughout the city, a walking tour and a lovely evening cruise on the Danube River. We took advantage of all that was offered, except the walking tour, as the heat returned with a vengeance. Below is a montage of some of the big, beautiful and interesting buildings and sites we saw from our topless bus! (NOTE: When you click on any photo you can see a full-sized image)
One morning I hiked (45 minutes each way) to the massive train station to purchase our tickets to Krakow. Along the way I found some great street art.
After dinner one evening, we were passed through security (for some reason we were not ‘carded’ like the others!) and wandered around a ‘ruin bar.’ These are very popular hang-outs for the ‘younger crowd.’ The owners have taken a literally ruined building and turned it into a bar/restaurant/club. They are loud and smelly (stale beer and grease) with lots of bodies, funky art and flashing lights!
We found beautiful chandeliers and glass-domed galleries. Short-shorts are the choice of dress for all the young women – and everyone smokes! Old pianos become flower gardens, and markets are the best places to find great food and drink.
We had so much fun on our final Hop-On/Hop-Off bus. Once we noticed how it was painted, we just had to stick our heads above our favorite character! We found a mighty wooden lion with which to pose and loved the little neighborhood book-cart library.
One of the highlights of our visit to Budapest was meeting with the members of the International Women’s Club.
Tania, their contact with Open Door, for which I am the ambassador from Chicago’s International Women Associates chapter, went way beyond the call-of-duty for us.
Not only did she arrange for me to have a much-needed haircut at her salon, she came over to our side of town, picked us up and took us via tram to the salon. She and Joyce enjoyed an iced coffee – with ICE CREAM! while I got much shorter hair. She then took us to her lovely apartment for a delicious luncheon of traditional foods from her home country of Suriname.
The next day she had arranged a coffee followed by lunch at a cafe she had chosen specifically because it was in walkable distance for us. I spent time with their Board of Directors talking about how our Chapters function, and we met with some of the most interesting women who hail from as far away as Mexico City, Suriname, the Netherlands and California – but now call Budapest home.
We ended our week in Budapest with a truly magical cruise on the Danube. We saw the city just as the lights came on to illuminate the buildings and bridges that line the shores of this great river.
Until next time…..