Budapest

Our final destination on the cruise was Budapest.  Viking scheduled our arrival at night so that we could see Budapest along the Danube all lit up.  Despite years of communist rule, the palatial buildings (some dating back to the Hapsburg empire) are quite impressive when lit up.

One of the many bridges across the Danube that links the historic cities of Buda and Pest.
The parliament building all lit up. Interestingly, this building was created for the greater Austro-Hungarian empire. Hungary doesn’t need such a large parliament by itself, so half of the building is the parliament, and half is rented out to businesses for offices. One can imagine that if you are trying to get money from the government that having an office in the parliament building might be an advantage.
This is where we eventually docked.
A slightly closer view of the parliament building.

This picture gives you an idea of how dark it was on the “sun deck” as I was taking these pictures. My Pentax digital SLR did a nice job of getting the various lit buildings captured with crisp detail at night.

Looking up at Fisherman’s Bastion in the castle district of Budapest.

The green bridge

A view of the “sun deck”

The next morning, despite some drizzle, we took a panoramic bus tour of Budapest.  One of the stops was Hero Square, including the Hungarian tomb of the unknown soldier.

The Hungarian tomb of the unknown soldier.

We didn’t stop here, so the picture is pretty bad. This is an area with bronze shoes along the Danube. The Nazis lined up Jews here during WWII, made them take off their shoes, machine gunned them, and pushed them into the river.
St. Stephan’s church
The church is dedicated to Mary.
A view of Roman ruins under the church.
The tour continued on foot through part of the downtown shopping district.

Most of the downtown buildings had amazing decorations if you looked up.
Even the manhole covers were ornate.
Another decorated building.
The “Statue of Liberty.” This was originally built by the Russians to commemorate their “liberation” of Hungary from the Nazis. After the communists were ousted, the people wanted to keep the statue but re-dedicated it to liberation from the Russians.
Nicole and Greg on board.

After the walking tour, Nicole, Greg, Karen, JJ, Candy, and I walked a short distance to the huge indoor market near where our boat docked and not far from the downtown shopping area.  We were hungry for lunch, so we stopped at a Hungarian cafeteria style restaurant for traditional Hungarian food while being serenaded by a violinist.

Our cafeteria lunches. The restaurant had a Hungarian sampler that included goulash, “layered potatoes,” and other tasty items. You can see it between Greg (who was really happy — really, no kidding, he was) and Nicole. It was a LOT of food, so Candy and I split one, and we were still full.
A view of the shopping market, which is three stories high. The top floor had a lot of souvenirs, the ground floor was mostly food (where we picked up some paprika), and the basement contained an Aldi grocery store.
The violinist who serenaded us with traditional Hungarian tunes as well as some Sinatra.

That afternoon Dave and I took a biking tour of Budapest.  There were just two from our boat (Dave and me) and two from another Viking boat.  It was a great tour.  Our guide took us to places we couldn’t see from the bus tour, and we covered a lot of ground that we couldn’t have covered on foot.  We even rode out to Margaret Island, where vehicles are not allowed.

Out guide giving us a talk during one of our stops of the bike tour. Riding a bike through Hungarian traffic was sometimes high adventure.
This statue and fountain is somewhat controversial. It depicts the atrocities committed by the Nazis, including rounding up and sending to extermination camps 600,000 Jews in four months after the Germans occupied Budapest. It is controversial, because it depicts the Hungarian government as victims, but as our guide pointed out, the government had to have collaborated willingly to round up that many Jews in so short a time. On a happier note, the fountain occasionally opened a path into the center where people would walk. It was pretty neat.

We had four birthdays on this trip:  Nicole our first night aboard, Candy a few days later, and Dave and Brenda the same day, our last night aboard.  The Viking staff brought a passion fruit cheesecake to both our tables and sang to Dave and Brenda.

A passion fruit cheesecake provided by the Viking staff.
Dave is officially old.
Our last night on board, the Viking folks brought on board three singers from the Hungarian national opera to entertain us, including their own violinist and pianist. They were really quite good, and I am not fan of opera.

The next day we transferred off the boat to our hotel in the castle district for the remainder of our stay.  Before even checking into the hotel, we were whisked away on one of our tours.

The next day, Eric, Vickey, Candy, and I took a van trip to Skanzen near the town of Szentendre.  Skanzen (pronounced like the back half of Wisconsin), is like the Dutch outdoor museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.  In this case over 240 buildings were moved with painstaking care from around Hungary to build several authentic villages depicting live in Hungary in different regions at different periods of history.

Disembarking…
One of the many “peasant homes” from the great planes area of Hungary. The family house and barn were all one building.
These peasant homes were all constructed in a similar fashion, regardless of social status. Some were a little bigger, and some had nicer furniture, but they were very similar. As you walked into the door, you were in the kitchen with a fireplace that nearly filled the room. To the right is the “clean room” where you would entrain guests. To the left is the family room where you would spend most of your time. In the winter, the door still needed to remain open for proper draught of the fireplace, so the fireplace had smaller fireplaces leading to both the clean room and family room.
A family room in one of the houses. You can see the smaller fireplace and stove to the right of this picture.
A view of the fireplace in the kitchen with the smaller fireplace leading to the family room.
Some sort of smithy.

Our guide showing us a line of “row houses” where multiple families had connected houses.
Eric, Vickey, and me preparing goulash.
Goulash we are helping to create simmers over an open fire. I don’t think peasant Hungarians in the 1600’s used propane. 😉

We only had time to visit 20 or 30 buildings of the 250 on display at Skanzen.  Afterwards our guide took us to Szentendre, a real town filled with interesting shops.  There were some of the tourist souvenir shops, but there were also a number of legitimate local craft shops too.

Candy walking through a “street” of Szentendre. This one led to a church on the hill and a nice view of Szentendre and the Danube beyond.
We visited the small Retro Design Center museum. It was small, but it had some interesting items among its eclectic collection.

The next day, Eric, JJ, Dave, and I walked a quarter mile to the Hungarian military museum.  While not nearly as ornate or extensive as the one in Vienna, there were some interesting items on display.

Another double-barreled submachine gun. This must have been something that the Austro-Hungarians were really interested in during WWI, since several were on display in both Vienna and Budapest.
Our last night together, ten of us went to dinner: Eric, Karen, JJ, Greg, Nicole, Vickey, and Candy with Fisherman’s Bastion in the background.
Fisherman’s bastion and St. Mathias our last night.
Candy from Fisherman’s Bastion with parliament lit up behind her.

We all had different flights the next day, so we didn’t see each other.  Travel home was high adventure for most of us with cancelled flights, delayed flights, delayed takeoffs, and lost baggage.

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