Upon my arrival in Budapest I told Veronika I needed to do laundry – being a very green person who eats organic vegetables and is careful to not leave energy sucking appliances plugged in, my clothes were laid out on racks to dry. (By the next morning most of them were wearable.) I then attempted to go out and do a quick tour of things. I took a couple of trams and ended up pretty much nowhere. Eventually I decided on a place to eat, selecting a choose and point eatery. Unlike my Austrian hosts who loved food and cooking (and invited me to cook for them), Veronika was super-focused on her work as a translator. After our morning tea, she’d get on her bike go to work and I’d sort out Budapest, based on her suggestions and whatever I managed to run into.
My first morning I found myself in a residential area with nothing much going on. I photographed a couple of park sculptures and then peeked into a dog park (like in Vienna dogs are big here) and then eventually found an English-speaking Greek woman who told me that the stuff I was looking for (museums, monuments, etc.) were in the other direction of the bus I had taken. Certainly if I had been on an organized tour this would not have happened…but then I’d never get a look at the lives and neighborhoods of ordinary people. Eventually I arrived at the Astoria section of Pest (Buda is on the other side of the Danube) and looked over the National History Museum. It was huge and did provide me with a much needed perspective on Hungary’s unique history.
In the afternoon I found my way to the Dohany Street Synagogue and Budapest’s Jewish Museum. The synagogue, was first built between 1854 and 1859 by an inspired Viennese architect, Ludwig Forster, according to the designs of Frigyes Feszl a master of Hungarian romantic design. It is quite church like with wooden pews and an elaborate stained glass ceilings and chandeliers.
As with everything Jewish in Eastern Europe, the synagogue’s history was not a pretty one. The courtyard functioned as a the Budapest Jewish Ghetto/concentration camp. Photos were on display of dead bodies amidst rubble and following the war mass graves were created. Altogether 600,000 Hungarian Jewish perished. The synagogue was recently rebuilt and it’s non-stop gorgeous. The attached Jewish museum displays work from as early as the third century, depicting Judaism’s deep roots in Hungary. While the museum contains a room filled with WWII news clippings and Nazi directives, today there appears to be a Jewish Revival. An impressive Jewish festival is scheduled for the end of August and countless visitors (Jewish and not) flock to the rather pricey museum tour.
I wound up the day attempting to find out how to get to Romania. I went to a super-modern shopping center with Starbucks and an Apple products store thinking I might find a travel agency. All I found was a luggage store wherein I was unable to explain to the mono-lingual Hungarians what I meant. Eventually I found my way to the Hilton Hotel and approached the concierge who gave me some information about trains. That something led me to the MAV (Hungarian RR) website wherein I explored routes and schedules and decided to book a Saturday afternoon train that would traverse Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains.