Buda and (some) Red Bull Racing!

Finally, a post about that mythical other side of the Danube, the Buda half of Budapest. A hillier part of the city with Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and museums, we see it every time we are by the river, but we rarely take the bus all the way over. So when we do cross the Danube, we make sure to spend more than a couple hours there.

Views of and from Fisherman’s Bastion.

Matthias Church is gorgeous inside and out, though we didn’t pay to enter. No ticket is needed to see the Gothic-ish exterior and colorful roof. Its church towers take up only a small part of Buda’s skyline. The massive Buda Castle, so large it holds multiple museums, and the National Library dominate and seem to crush the ground beneath them.

Parliament at night and at dusk, the Matthias Church roof.

Fisherman’s Bastion and its seven towers sit right behind the Church. The lower terrace is always open, but during the day only a single tower is free to visitors. We climbed it, but rather than paying to see the main upper terrace, we checked out the lower levels and came back at night after ticket control headed home. Its far more romantic after dark anyway. Many tourists are gone and couples are out, as are violin and guitar buskers playing mixes from Titanic and Game of Thrones (you know, cheesy love songs). Public drinking is a national tradition so plenty of people are out with wine and beer and enjoying the view. Sadly, the grocery closed before we got a bottle of our own. Fortunately, we had been at the National Gallery’s Wine Wednesday, so at least we had a part of a drink (and some great art) behind us.

Fisherman’s Bastion in one of the few night pics from my phone that turned out.

Last weekend we spent several hours outside in chilly, windblown rain to catch a few glimpses of Budapest’s Red Bull Air Race. We planned to go both Saturday and Sunday, only to have all of Saturday’s events cancelled. Fortunately, Plan B was visiting the Budapest History Museum, so at least we had a chance to dry off before bussing home. As a bonus, one exhibits was about the similar histories of Budapest and Krakow (where we are headed in three weeks) giving us some serious anticipation for our next stops in Poland.

Sunday our luck was slightly better – action was delayed, then moved up, then delayed again. Haphazard schedule, but planes were flying! The final round of 4 was cancelled but we saw most of the two semi-finals. Success! Best of all, there were probably fewer people there due to weather; after one delay we snagged a higher up spot in the park next to Parliament.

Flying! and crowds (despite the weather) outside of Parliament).

The air race is stunt flying on a roller coaster track. And in Budapest, its all done just a few feet off the river, between bridges and city buildings. Because of the unfavorable conditions, the famous under-the-bridge entry was scrapped, but all the twists, turns, and loops are still required. The pilots maneuver faster than I could possibly react to anything. Even pulling 10 gs, they find the next gate. We could see some planes drifting with the wind, but no one hit a gate or missed their mark. Its Blue Angels level flying.

If you ever have a chance to see this in person: Go! I’d have happily watched it all day. It partially makes up for missing Seattle’s Seafair this year.

Better in video or in-person form; a smoke trail gives some idea of how much weaving and swerving the planes do.

Also: potato donuts (deep fried potato balls) exist. I probably want to eat them for every meal?!


We’ve been loving our first two weeks in Budapest. Architecture, museums, and food are some of the best we’ve enjoyed. The city, which is constantly listed as one of the best in the world to live in, definitely deserves the titles. Much of what we’ve done so far has been on the Pest side of the river (Buda and Pest merged in 1873), so that is the area this post focuses on.

Just a 20 minute walk from our apartment is a massive park, Varosliget Napozoret. It contains a zoo, the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, lots of green space, museums, monuments and its very own castle, Vajdahunyad (and -according to Kevin – lots of Pokestops).

Rather than a medieval ruin, Vajdahunyad was built for an exhibition in the late 1800s as a mashup of different architectural styles. Kevin described it as looking like something Six Flags would cobble together to cover all the castley bases. It was planned to only last a few years and was first constructed with a wooden frame. People liked it so much, however, that it was rebuilt with stone. It’s right at home nestled between duck ponds and peddle boat rentals.

Around Vajdahunyad Castle

One of my favorite things about Budapest is parks being treated like semi-beer gardens. There are usually stands selling drinks, ice cream, and snacks. On a nice afternoon, there might be dozens of groups of friends drinking quietly in the shade. Later in the evening, some turn into real beer gardens with music and food trucks. So much more relaxed than having a fenced-off section and intimidating ID checkers like in the states! Any big event brings out even larger crowds – we watched the France-Germany Euro 2016 match up with several hundred fans while drinking in a park near the Danube.

Statue of Anonymus, a 12th century chronicler, Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad sprawling near the lake.

Speaking of the Danube, the river is not anywhere as blue as the song claims. More of a muddy gray-brown, its not as special looking as some bodies of water (I’m looking at you Blanca Lake). Still, having a river to create the perfect view of Budapest’s most iconic landmarks makes taking pictures easy.

Parliament dominates the Pest side of the river. It is the prettiest government meeting house I’ve seen. I don’t know if it makes politicians do a better job, but it probably can’t hurt. It looks a bit like lace, even though it takes up a city block.

Looking down the Danube, Parliament

St. Stephen’s Basilica is another main landmark. The massive church took 54 years to build and was only finished in 1905. Like most important Catholic churches, its interior is covered in decoration, gilding, and richly colored stained glass. The dome is particularly gold-covered. We went near closing on a cloudy evening – I imagine it is much brighter on a sunny afternoon.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

We’ve wandered along the river to see the bridges and the Shoes on the Danube memorial. Like many places in Europe, in Hungary Jews were systematically killed during World War II. In Budapest some of the massacres took places right on the banks of the river so the bodies would be washed away by the current.

The Central Market is only a block from the Danube and must hold a substantial portion of the world’s paprika. It is in basically every food here – goulash (the soup, not the noodley dish I grew up with), preserved meats, chips, hummus, cabbage rolls. It does seem to make everything better… they are clearly on to something…

Central Market, Shoes on the Danube and one of many bridges.

We’ll be spending more time on the Buda side to see new sights and I’ll have better photos of that soon. We’re hoping the rain will hold off tomorrow so we can head over to the hills to watch the Red Bull Air Race. We were not so fortunate today…

Dublin, Part 2

Before I start writing about Hungary, where we moved about a week ago, I wanted to get one more Dublin post in. Even with Kevin’s cold and daily rain, we spent every day out. In between the Cliffs of Moher and libraries full of illuminated manuscripts (<3 the Chester Beatty Library), we saw much of the city center and ate a lot of tasty fish and Asian food. Chowders and Thai food were lacking a bit in Bucharest and we worked hard to catch up.

Right in the center of downtown is Dublin Castle. Most of the castle is long gone, lost to fire and controlled demolition to halt that fire from reaching powder stores. In its place  Georgian-style administration buildings and state apartments for the Lord Lieutenant were built – everything needed for England to rule Ireland in style. Today, however, the Irish government uses the rooms for state dinners, swearing in their own President, and office space.

Medieval tower foundations, and views inside the chapel.

Dublin Castle’s chapel, which looks like stone but is actually made mostly of wood, is ringed with the crests of each British Lord Lieutenant. They ran out of space for the crests; luckily that occurred right as Ireland gained its freedom.

The State Apartments are comfy by any standard, and apparently no one complained too much at the destruction of the stone-walled castle because the replacement was just so much nicer. Lots of large windows and fireplaces, and plenty of room for banqueting.

Dining room and drawing room at Dublin Castle, Oscar Wilde relaxing in Merrion Square.

Slightly further out from the center is Glasnevin Cemetery. Tens of thousands of tombstones range from austere black marble to ornate Celtic crosses. Many older ones are worn to semi-unreadability and are leaning over. My favorites had petitions for visitors to pray for the deceased, making me wonder why they felt they need the extra help. It felt like it might be haunted at night but I didn’t feel compelled to check too thoroughly.

Nearby is Broom Bridge, where Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton had a stroke of brilliance and discovered the formula for quaternions. Kevin can explain it and uses it in programming, but that sort of math is generally outside of my grasp. It was a small geek moment on our part.

Lots of gray: Broom Bridge of mathematical note, and Glasnevin Cemetery

Dublin’s Natural History Museum is quite possibly the world’s most quintessential 19th century museum. There wasn’t an effort to be modern (though they are planning a new structure next to the existing museum with expanded facilities). Most displays are mammals, birds, and fish native to Ireland (downstairs) and from the rest of the world (upstairs). The floors are wood worn to a patina. Most specimens are inside wood-framed glass museum cases that are probably original.

National Natural History Museum

As you enter the main doors, the first animals are the most striking. Skeletons of extinct Irish elk tower over you, very much like something from north of the Wall in Game of Thrones. Compared to current deer, these are giants. Not really something I’d want to meet while hiking…

Extinct Irish elk.

And now on to Budapest! I unfortunately inherited Kevin’s cold, but it shouldn’t slow us down too much…

Cliffs of Moher

We set aside a day to see one of Ireland’s natural wonders: the Cliffs of Moher. Despite it being clear across the country, driving there only takes about 3 hours. We were glad to be able to relax on a bus, especially since our driver had an amazing taste in music and because it seemed silly to pick up left-sided driving for that short of an adventure.

Ireland’s landscape changed gradually as we went west. Larger fields blended into working peat bogs. In some areas, heating with peat is still common, and each family owns or has access to a small field. Bricks of peat are cut out and stacked into pyramids to dry before being stored for winter.

Stone towers and walls, and first glimpses of the Atlantic.

Further on, grazing takes over. Cattle, sheep, and goats are moved from one rock-walled field to another. And there are lots of rock walled fields. And rock houses. And rock towers. Many are centuries old, and some walls have stood for at least a thousand years. Partial ruins are basically everywhere, sometimes just a single three or four story wall in the middle of a meadow.

Finally the Atlantic Ocean came into view, and our rather large bus made its way up rather narrow and rather windy roads (our driver listening to appropriate songs like Danger Zone and Under Pressure). Shorter 100 foot cliffs came first, followed soon by more elevation gain, and a parking lot just a short walk from cliffs dropping 700 feet into the ocean.

Visitor’s center, a little pond high above the ocean.

The cliffs are spectacular – twice as tall as the White Cliffs of Dover and running for five miles above crashing waves. I wasn’t willing to go right to the edge; the wind was spontaneously gusty and seemed to come from every direction. But even a bit back from the ledge, the views were incredible. We could see miles down the shore, across to the Aran Islands, and to the other side of the peninsula by Liscannor and a large bay. We were apparently very lucky – the previous day it was so foggy even seeing your feet was a challenge.

It’s hard to grasp the scale, even in person.

Seabirds were hovering hundreds of feet below us, and I might have spotted a puffin (!?) among all the gulls and guillemots. A few tour boats looked very unsteady on the waves, and I was glad we had views from dry land instead. Parts of Harry Potter and, more importantly, The Princess Bride were filmed here, so it turns out the Cliffs of Insanity are quite real. After about ninety minutes of wind-buffeting, we climbed back on board the bus.

A small section to the north.

The drive back seemed to go much quicker than the trip out. We stopped at Bunratty Castle, though didn’t have time to tour it. Instead, we had a pint and oysters next door at Durty Nelly’s. The bar clearly caters to tourists as well as locals, and part of their claim to fame is police patches people bring in from all around the world… including my small hometown in Illinois. It is the second time in less than a week we’ve had it come up – we met a couple in a bar who knew it because of “that cow thing.”

Bunratty Castle, a cute river, Braveheart filming site.

From the looks of the smaller roads we passed by, and the rolling hills that cover much of the land we saw, I think I’d like to come back someday and bike or boat around Ireland. We’ve heard that small vessels can sail the entire length of the River Shannon and that it is one of the more relaxing ways to see the country. Add that one to the future travel goals list…