Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Budapest Highlights

As I mentioned yesterday, Budapest really exceeded my expectations. I fell in love with the food and the Roman baths, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The city is filled with gorgeous architecture and a stunning riverside. As my friend Nick will tell you, Budapest comprises three regions: Buda, Pest (pronounced "Pesht") and Obuda. We spent most of our time in Pest, but crossed over to Buda to explore Castle Hill. We only had two and a half days, but I could have easily spent three or four.

The Dohány Street Synagogue, or Great Synagogue, blew me away. It's the largest synagogue in Europe and the architecture is so different to any synagogue I've ever seen. It was built in the 1850s in a Moorish style with some Catholic elements so as not to draw undue attention to its Jewishness. The synagogue was mostly spared during World War II because the Nazis used it as a base and a stable. During the communist era. the synagogue again began to function as a prayer house. After the fall of communism, the synagogue underwent much-needed repairs largely thanks to a private donation from Estee Lauder, a Hungarian-American Jew.

The Holocaust memorial garden and Jewish museum attached to the synagogue are also worth exploring. I was especially moved by the weeping willow with the names of victims etched into each leaf; the stained glass sculpture; and the tombs covered in stones (a sign of respect for the dead).

Budapest's opera house was another highlight for me. Though it is smaller and less famous than Vienna's opera, this one is actually more grand. Apparently the architect was told by Emperor Franz Joseph that the house must be smaller than the one in Vienna, but was not given restrictions on the actual design. We didn't take a tour of the opera because we planned to see the one in Vienna, but we did go into the lobby to admire the views. I would have loved to see a show--especially since the Nutcracker was playing--but it wasn't practical with Zoey. We saw the building both at night and during the day, and it is much more impressive at night.

While in Budapest, you should definitely take a tour of parliament. The building is massive! I loved the giant staircase at the entry and seeing the room where the government body convenes. Here's an interesting tidbit: smoking used to be allowed in the building, but not in the main chamber, so members of parliament would leave their cigars in the numbered holders in the lobby while listening to speeches. A particularly good speech was said to be "worth a Havana." They still use that phrase today.


We did not spend nearly enough time at Castle Hill. There was so much to explore, but we just ran out of time. We took the funicular to the top and walked down. If you're short on time, the one thing you have to see is the Matthias Church. It is absolutely stunning inside, and the outside isn't so bad either. Pictures don't do it justice; you'll have to trust me on this one.

Other honorable mentions are the Great Market Hall and Fisherman's Bastion. Really, this city is chock-full of gorgeous buildings.

Next up, Vienna!

Read about our other stops in Central Europe:
Eating and Bathing in Budapest

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