Impressions of Budapest

If you haven’t given much thought to Budapest, Hungary maybe it’s time you did. This city can hold its own against any number of great European cities like Paris, Rome or London. There have been travel moments in our lives that just stay with us because they were so special. Strolling the banks of the Danube in Budapest after dark is just such a moment…

Enjoy a stroll thru Budapest with us.

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Images of Budapest

If you haven’t given much thought to Budapest, Hungary maybe it’s time you did. This city can hold its own against any number of great European cities like Paris, Rome or London. There have been travel moments in our lives that just stay with us because they were so special. Strolling the banks of the Danube in Budapest after dark is just such a moment…

Enjoy a stroll thru Budapest with us.

Traveling With A Starbucks Card

Starbucks is becoming as ubiquitous as McDonalds around the world. We have become accustomed to looking for these outlets as we travel. While we are not huge fans you can expect a consistent coffee offering along with free WiFi from Starbucks as you travel.

We just got home from Europe and we just jumped to conclusions about using our Starbucks Gold Card in Europe from our experience on previous trips. Several years ago we cautiously started using a Starbucks card to purchase coffee in various cities. Over time we came to expect it to work everywhere.

While traveling in Australia and Ireland we were very surprised at how the process worked. After paying with the balance on our card we would get a receipt that showed the amount used in local currency along with the card balance expressed in Dollars and local currency.

After this trip a correction is in order. We were in Hungary, Austria and Germany and our card wouldn’t work at all. Checking the Starbucks web site we found the following statement:

Starbucks Cards activated in any of the participating countries can be used to make purchases and be reloaded in any other participating country. Starbucks Cards must first be activated by loading money onto the card in the country of purchase before being used internationally. The participating countries are; UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, and the Republic of Ireland.

I guessed we jumped to conclusions based on too small a sampling. The good news is the coffee was what we expected and the WiFi is still free.

Budapest 23 October 1956

The Passage of Sixty Plus Years

A Time That Hungary Remembers

We are in Budapest sitting in a restaurant and a young couple come in and sit at the table next to us. The young lady is rather attractive and from what I gather is speaking Hungarian to the waitress when she approaches. What strikes me as really odd is the young lady is wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of Vladimir Putin on the front.

A number of questions come to mind. Have the Hungarians forgiven the Russians for Communism and the conquest of their country following World War Two? Are they over the violent crack down when revolutionaries tried to win their freedom back ten years later? Do young people have no sense of history anymore?

I was pretty young and in elementary school at that time, but to this day it is my oldest remembrance of a real historical event. I remember vividly sitting in front of our small family black & white television watching tanks roll down city streets, machine gun fire raking buildings and Molotov cocktails bursting against the tanks. Commentators railed about recognizing a new government and claims by the Eisenhower administration that we were not in a position to engage the U.S.S.R. In that place at that time.

Years later I had a woman work for me named Tunde and she and her husband fled across the boarder into Austria in early November and eventually made their way to the United States. She had a number of stories about their neighborhood in Budapest and the street fighting and how terrified they were about the coming Soviet reprisals.

After dinner that night I was reading a magazine article about the coming anniversary of the Revolution, which is now a National holiday and how the heaviest street fighting had occurred in the Corvin area in a section called the “passage”. Less than three hours before, that is exactly where we sat as I thought about the young woman sitting next to us and that Putin T-shirt.

Corvin Passage 14 Oct 2018

I am not so sure how the Hungarians feel about the Russians today but if I had to describe “micro-aggressions” and “trigger-warnings” to someone, that might be an example. I am not sure why she wore that shirt there yesterday, maybe she is a radical socialist making a statement or perhaps she was being a young cultural revolutionary and maybe it is just fashionable to wear these new icons. Whatever the reason there is no way I can understand and it makes me very sad.

Since we have been posting things on the internet I am very conscious as to what I say. It has never been my intent to be political. I once made a mistake and posted something I thought was simply ironic but a number of people thought was overly neo-conservative and they told me so in no uncertain terms. At this point I am becoming concerned that there are a number of people on the web searching for any unintended slight or social misstep that gives them a reason to attack, while at the same time being very ignorant of the broader culturally careless opinions they hold.

Thank you for humoring me…

 

An old building on a street in the Corvin neighborhood shows a number of scars and the effects of old age…

Visiting Štúrovo On A Day Trip From Budapest

Esztergom looking up at “Castle Hill”

Štúrovo and Esztergom An Hour Out of Budapest

Walking into Esztergom

Maybe it was wanting to see some of the countryside or maybe it was adding another pin to our map but on Saturday morning we set off after several days in Budapest to visit Štúrovo, Slovakia.

Štúrovo is a town in Slovakia, situated on the River Danube. The town sits opposite the Hungarian city of Esztergom. The Mária Valéria bridge across the Danube was reconstructed and opened in 2001 joining the two towns once again after 57 years. The bridge was destroyed by fleeing Nazi’s in 1944 during World War II by detonating a truck load of explosives in the middle of the bridge.

 

Esztergom Station

If you are staying in Budapest the best way to visit the area is to catch a train to Esztergom. Take a train from the Budapest train station with a round trip ticket costing about $8 and the trip taking a little over one hour. The trains run at least every hour with busy periods more often. The Esztergom station is the end of the line. We walked from the station thru Esztergom to the Mária Valéria bridge but if you’re not up for a hike there is a tourist “train” that goes out to the Slovic side of the bridge.

The Bridge

When we got to the bridge there was heavy foot traffic going both ways across the bridge. A lot of people from the Hungarian side were going over to do there shopping so it must be better value on the Slovakian side. When we got into Štúrovo there was a huge open air market with lots of crafts and food. There were also a number of locations for music and we learned that the Slovakians have a tradition making and playing bagpipes. In Slovakia they are known as “gajdy” and what we heard was a completely different style and tempo than we have been used to hearing.

We spent some time shopping in the market and grabbing something in a cafe with the preferred money being the Euro. The market offered a lot of great local crafts and it was difficult to walk away without buying more than we could pack to carry home.

The Market in Štúrovo
A kiddie ride at the market

 

Crossing back over the bridge into Esztergom you get a great view of the “Castle Hill” and the cathedral that dominates the city. It is obvious from this that Esztergom was once an important city in Hungary.

“Castle Hill” overlooking the Danube

Historically Esztergom is one of the oldest towns in Hungary and was a thriving city in the Middle Ages. Archeological excavations have revealed that the Castle Hill has been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age 20,000 years ago. It was an important Celtic settlement in 350 BC and was later conquered by Rome.

At about 500 AD, Slavic peoples immigrated into the area. In the 9th century, the territory was mostly under Frankish control. In 960, the ruling prince of the Hungarians, Géza, chose Esztergom as his residence. His son, Vajk, who was later called Saint Stephen of Hungary, was born in his palace built on the Roman castrum on Castle Hill around 969-975.

The Hungarian prince’s residence was built on the northern side of the fortified hill. The center of the hill was occupied by a great basilica dedicated to St. Adalbert, who baptised St. Stephen. The Church of St. Adalbert was the seat of the archbishop of Esztergom, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary.

The Mária Valéria Bridge

St. Stephen’s coronation took place in Esztergom on Christmas Day 1000 AD. From that time to the beginning of the 13th century it served as the royal residence of the Hungarian kings until the Mongol siege in 1241.

The capital of Hungary was moved to Buda in 1354 and in 1873 the two cities of Buda and Pest were combined and Budapest became the capital.

A McDonalds in Budapest

In Praise of McDonalds

We are in Budapest this week at the beginning of a long planned trip across central Europe. I’m not sure what I was expecting in Budapest but it is much more than I had ever imagined. While things have been going slightly wrong since we left home with a few problems already forcing some changes in the weeks ahead we will just have to adapt.

With over 35,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, there are times when we travel McDonald’s can seem like a touch of home. While we prefer to eat local, sometimes familiarity, price and convenience win out. While the restaurant’s menu and appearance has a tendency to change based on the country there are always some common choices.

In Budapest, Hungary, one particular McDonald’s has actually become a destination itself. Located in the Western Railway Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar) that was designed by August de Serres and built by the Eiffel Company of Paris. The construction took three years and the iron structure was cast in Paris. Nyugati Pályaudvar was opened in 1877, 12 years before the Eiffel Company built the famous tower in Paris. Almost 150 years later the station has managed to retained its original style.

Over the years much of the iron structure has been replaced. On the right side of the terminal is the what has been called the most beautiful McDonalds in the world. This is one of the oldest fast food establishments behind the Iron Curtain, dating back to the Soviet occupation of Hungary. This McDonalds occupies a large multi-story space with ornate an colonial ceiling in the railway station complex and is a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

We visited around six on a Friday and the restaurant was packed. The lines moved quickly with attendants moving thru the lines taking orders on hand-held pads that printed out an order ticket. Our order priced out a little less than we would have paid back home and featured the usual fare. Placed on a balcony on the second floor was a MaCafe furnished with overstuffed sofas and chairs and staffed just to make coffee based drinks.

While we are not sure this is the most beautiful McDonalds in the world it is for sure the most beautiful we’ve ever visited.