Budapest, All Together Now

I’m going to fit the rest of Budapest in a single post so that I can move on to Poland(!!) next time. After four weeks in Hungary’s capital, we definitely understand the many people we’ve met who voted it their favorite European city. And although we did a lot, we barely scratched the surface of all the food and galleries and parks that are worth exploring. Here are some final greatest hits:

1. The most interactive museum award goes to the Pinball Museum, an arcade on steroids. We spent a whole evening there trying out games from the 1950s onward. There is a definite evolutionary arc that the machines follow: getting more complex and adding lights and sounds until they near seizure-inducing levels. My favorite were the Indiana Jones and Elvira machines that seemed to be kinder than others (at least I loss less playing those). Kevin liked the Apollo 13 game that was based on the mid-1990s movie – rather than the 1970 moon mission. Despite my losing streak, I think I improved my skills a least a little…

Book fountain – the water mimics turning pages, the Pinball Museum

2. At a corner of Varosliget Park we stumbled on a memorial to the 1956 Revolution. Dozens of rusted pillars slowly merge to a shining point representing the accumulation of forces leading to a free Hungary. It is interactive as well… you can walk partway through the pillars until the gaps get too small to squeeze through. I’d be wary of heading here with small hide-and-seek prone children.

3. The same walk lead us to Kerepesi Cemetery. It is the resting place for Hungary’s rich & famous artists and luminaries. Some graves are clearly meant to be a reflection of the person’s importance and are topped with winged lions and Roman pillars. Unlike most cemeteries, it is spread out and feels more like a park than a graveyard. Some corners even have statues that are almost completely overgrown by brush and ivy.

1956 Revolution Memorial, statuary at Kerepesi Cemetery

4. A tour of the Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, took part of an afternoon. The largest in Europe, it has Christian influences and was built to blend into the surrounding city and even includes an organ. Destroyed during the World War II it was only fully restored during the 1990s. Now the interior is sumptuous and feels velvet-colored.

Much more sobering are the memorial gardens outside and discovering that the quiet, treed area is actually a mass grave. More than two thousand Jews murdered in Budapest’s Ghetto at the end of WWII are buried in the small space. A heartbreaking sculpture of a weeping willow has thousands of leaves etched with the names of even more Holocaust victims. Lest all hope be lost, there is also a memorial to Hungarians (and others, including  Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is my new hero) who risked and sacrificed their own lives saving other Jews from the same fate.

Inside the Great Synagogue and in its memorial gardens.


Weeping Willow Memorial at the Great Synagogue, park art, muraled museum insides.

5. Budapest’s best bookstore is probably Alexandra’s. In the back a cafe serves coffee that can be ordered in a form closer to an ice cream sundae (read: Danielle-approved) and which has one of the best ceilings in the city. And the live piano playing starts at 4pm. And there are two full floors of books downstairs (even the sought-after English-language section!). It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon hiding from rain.

6. A Danube River cruise is almost mandatory in Budapest. We went at night to see the buildings lit up and surrounded by flocks of birds searching for light-addled bugs. The tour boat was crowded – but free 🙂 with credit card points – and at least there was wine. It is really entertaining to take photos of the river overlooks while you can see the people up there doing the same thing and using lots of flash.

Alexandra’s Book Cafe, Parliament at night (insect-seeking birds barely visible).

7. I’ll end with the food: THE FOOD! AND THE WINE! Hungarian meals are hearty. Even their soups are a full meal. Lots of things are deep fried and full of butter and cheese and meat. Clearly this is where American fair food draws inspiration from: lets all thank for langos for inspiring elephant ears and funnel cake.

Cabbage rolls were my most unexpectedly enjoyed food, though it helped that the cabbage was tempered with a lot of rice, hamburger, and paprika. Paprika was in everything, by the way. Hungarians do spice better than most of Europe… our souvenir paprika is currently livening up our Polish meals.

And I adored the wine – especially the whites. It agreed with my taste buds – lots of sugary sweetness. And we could chill the bottles in the fridge to compensate for our lack of air conditioning.

Yummy langos (I only remembered a photo partway through), brilliantly sweet Tokaji-region wine, well-lit bridges.

Just about the only thing I won’t miss is the humidity that made our ground floor apartment occasionally feel like it was trying to be the thermal baths…  And I will admit that the Polish zloty’s exchange rate of 4:1 is easier to wrap my head around than the Hungarian forint’s 285:1…