Yes, you read it right.  Budapest, Hungary.  With 3 weeks until school starts, Demetri had the (great!) idea to do some European travel while we had a chunk of family time still left, so we started a central Europe tour on Sunday.

It’s a 2 hour flight from Athens to Budapest.  August 20 is the biggest national holiday of the year — it’s the Hungarian version of the 4th of July.  It’s also called St. Stephen’s Day, commemorating Stephen I, the first King of Hungary.  Celebrations started in the morning and continued all day long, ending with a massive fireworks display over the Danube.  We missed the festivities, including the free cake for everyone, a high mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica and the procession of St. Stephen’s mummified hand through parts of the city,  but we did make it to the fireworks on the river & they were absolutely beautiful.  Stopped for street food on our way back.

Budapest, you all probably know this, used to be 2 cities, Buda and Pest, with the river dividing them.  Buda is on a hill; Pest (say ‘pesht’) is flat.  Chain Bridge is the city’s oldest, and it connects the two sides.  We stayed on the Pest side, and set out Monday morning to wander the streets, finding playgrounds and parks along the way for kid breaks.  Andrassy Street is the main thoroughfare with high end shops, museums and apartments.  People say it’s the Fifth Avenue of Budapest; I think it looks more like Central Park West.  We toured the Opera House and the Miniversum, both on Andrassy Street.  The Opera House opened in 1884 and seats 1200 people.  It’s sort of U-shaped with a deep stage.  There’s a royal box, built for Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Sissi, though they only visited the opera together for half a performance.  Now, the royalty box is reserved only for the President, Prime Minister and speaker of the house.  Oh, and Madonna.  When you go into the royal box, you may not sit in the seats.

The miniversum is a giant mini-display — trains, tracks, cities, buildings.  Most of the Budapest scenes are from the communist era. It’s not very serious, though — and there are surprise mini figures along the way, like an AT-AT from Star Wars, some minions, a Thomas engine and the DeLorean from Back to the Future.  There were lots of buttons to push to make stuff happen. The boys had fun here.

On Mondays, there are free concerts at St. Stephen’s Basilica, where there is an enormous pipe organ, and where the mummified hand from yesterday’s procession permanently resides.  The church was completed in 1905, holds 8500 and is as tall as the Parliament building (the vertical ‘cap’ for the city), and has two towers with six bells. The bells are used very rarely — like three times a year.  August 20 is one of those days, so that made our visit special.  Because of the concert, the church was closed to the public … so we decided to attend the concert so we could see the church.  The ticket issuers asked us a few times if the boys could be silent (um, of course?) and reminded us we’d have to leave if they weren’t.  The music was a mix of classical pieces, all played by the pipe organ and a viocello (I think I’m spelling that right). Neither of the boys were pumped for this; as soon as the music started Peter snuggled on my lap and was asleep in 5 minutes. It lasted an hour so he got a nice little nap in, and when he woke up, he wiped drool from his cheek and said, “well that’s one way to be quiet!”

After the concert, we had an early dinner in a cafe in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica — mushroom salad, roasted cauliflower, lamb, and corn on the cob with roasted nuts on top.  And some great beer.

We crossed Chain Bridge, rode the funicular up the hill and wandered around Buda Castle for a bit, making our plans for the next day.

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