Friday 18th September 2015, Budapest
We didn’t even try to do anything this morning. The sun was still waiting to fry us so instead we stayed indoors with the shutters closed preparing a couple of blogs for uploading. Mid morning there was a fire alarm for our block of flats. It was only a practice alarm but we’d not been warned to expect such a thing. We dutifully exited the building and waited for something to happen, Everyone else was presumably at work as we were the only ones outside. Fortunately after a few minutes the alarm stopped and we scuttled back inside away from the hot sunlight.
Around midday we ventured out and down the hill past the Buda concert hall to see whether there was wifi at the Institute Français. There was but first we explored what looked rather like a workers canteen. It was basic and simple offering a three course lunch for 980 forints or around £2.40! It was cool inside with water jugs on the tables and a team of cheerful young people serving the lunches. We explained we were English visitors and they assured us that was fine and piled our trays with a huge main course of spinach rice with liver and paprika sauce for Ian and something sort of cheesy for me. We also had chilled cherry soup which we ate as desert but we could have had jam pudding too if we’d wished, included in the price. We still have no idea why such ample meals were being served so cheaply but we will probably go again. It’s only open during the week from noon until 3pm but was used by young and old alike.
We returned to the Institute Français for a couple of coffees, checked our email and uploaded our first couple of Budapest blogs. It was still baking outside with a high level of humidity so we struggled slowly up the hill back to the flat where we read until around 5pm before walking down to the metro station and going four stations upriver to Arpid hid at the top end of Margit-Sziget (Margaret Island.)
This is a couple of kilometres long in the middle of the Danube and provides a delightful wooded park with lots of shade as well as lawns and colourful flower beds. Ian assures me that Margit was confined in a nunnery on the island by her father who offered her up as a gift to God back in mediaeval times. She decided she rather liked the life there and gave up washing for ever except for her feet. She claimed it was for the mortification of the flesh. Ian didn’t know why she still washed her feet but we reckon taht generally she must have smelled rather strong! Such a lack of personal hygiene eventually led to her being declared a saint in 1947!
As the day cooled down and darkness fell, people were using the park for jogging, cycling, strolling along beside the river, having picnic teas with the kids, ball games and rides on a little tram. There are restaurants and several beer gardens. We stopped at one for a couple of beers beside the river in the dusk.
Next we found some stunning illuminated fountains that danced to music with jets of water forming patterns as they shot up in time with the music while coloured lighting produced spouts and spray in oranges, blues and greens. It was magnificent.
Finally we reached Margit hid and left the island. There was a new moon shining over the Danube with the Parliament building lit up, shining like an elaborate white wedding cake. Downriver the Széchenyi bridge was a ribbon of white light while on the Buda side of the river the Bastion, Gelert hegy and the castle were all shining in the darkness. Budapest really is a beautiful sight by night.
We walked home in the darkness though it still felt too warm for comfort. The supermarket was still open so we picked up some essential shopping and a sandwich for supper – neither of us was hungry after our big lunch.
Saturday 18th September 2015, Budapest
We had intended returning to Heroes’ Square today to watch the National Gallop -some kind of national celebration for its heritage days. However, with the weather still so hot we decided to go to the National Museum of Hungary instead and shelter from the heat.
The Chain bridge was closed to traffic this morning as a motor racing circuit had been constructed around the grassy lawn outside the Greysham Palace, thus closing the approach road from the Pest side onto the bridge. As pedestrians we could walk across but the buses and traffic could not run. Thus we had the weird experience of walking along the centre of the road over one of the major bridges crossing the river within the city.
Walking through the city centre we were impressed by the splendour of the buildings.
We arrived at the National museum at opening time and left when it closed this evening! During that time we have worked our way right through Hungary’s history from the earliest inhabitants to 1989. Our brains are aching with trying to understand how it all fits together. My head feels like a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces that join together while the rest is there somewhere – except for a few missing bits - but will certainly never get properly sorted.
Thus we progressed through Celts, Romans, Huns, Gepids, Lombards, Avars and Magyars. By then it was time for lunch in the pleasant museum cafe.
After resting, both mentally and physically, we tackled Hungary’s relatively more recent history. In the tenth century the Magyars swept through much of Europe reaching deep into Spain and down to Constantinople as well as France and northern Europe. They never reached Britain though. They soon settled down in the Carpathian Basin to form the medieval kingdom of Hungary. Rummaging deep into my pile of jigsaw pieces I come up with bits of its more recent history when they fought against the Turks who occupied Hungary after the battle of Mohács in 1526. Following the Turks failed attempt to capture Vienna in 1683 the Habsburgs formed a coalition to recapture Buda and eventually drove the Turks down into Serbia. Peace with the Turks was signed in 1699. Hungary thus formed an unequal alliance with the Habsburgs to create the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In effect Hungary became annexed to Austria.
There followed a war of independence between1703-1711 against Austria under Ferenc Rákóczi. Austria ruled Hungary with a mixture of force and maternalism during the reign of Maria Theresa.
Istvan Széchenyi, an aristocrat and social reformer, began to introduce reforms during the 19th century.
Lajos Kossuth, a radical member of the Hungarian parliament was instrumental in bringing about the 1848 revolution in Hungary which achieved some reforms and culminated in the compromise of 1867 when the Emperor of Austria was crowned King of Hungary. In 1896 Hungary celebrated its millennium and things were looking good for the nation. Then however it ended up on the wrong side in the First World War and lost two-thirds of its territory under the Trianon Agreement of 1919. Transylvania was given to Romania and other areas went to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. This still rankles deeply with many of the ultranationalists in Hungary today. Indirectly it was probably a factor in Hungary siding, reluctantly, with the Nazis during the Second World War, once again they were on the losing side. The Red Army invaded and for more than forty years Hungary formed part of the Soviet block. In 1956 Hungarians won international sympathy for their courage in standing up to Soviet domination. Subsequently it led to a lighter touch in the way Hungary was handled by the Soviets. It remained within the Communist block but with greater freedoms than other members.
That is possibly the shortest history of Hungary ever written! Please don’t rely on it. It’s the impression we got from six hours wandering the galleries of the National museum here. As far as the museum goes Hungary’s history ends in 1989 so there was nothing really about the fall of Communism and the mass exodus of East German migrants through Hungary. The migrants then were greeted with delight by the Hungarian people. The East German migrants, like the current wave of Syrian migrants, did not wish to stay in Hungary but to reach West Germany and hopefully find freedom and a better life for themselves and their children.
We were exhausted by the time we returned to the streets of the city to discover the temperature had dropped and the air felt fresh and comfortable. Let’s hope the heat wave is over. Having no desire to walk further than we had to we made our way to the nearest metro at Astoria and returned to Batthanyi Tér where we joined a queue at the local pancake house. It seems to be the best place in the city to meet friends and eat excellent pancakes. We ordered a couple of mushroom pancakes which were delicious - mushrooms in cream wrapped in a big pancake and topped with melted cheese. We then had a second one each with cherries, icing sugar and chocolate. They were lovely and overall averaged out at 70pence each! We ate them on stools beside the road outside with a mixed view of the Danube, a baroque church, the bus station and the entrance to the Metro. We then discovered an older building next door that was originally an inn known as the White Cross Inn. Here Casanova is reported to have stayed during a visit to Budapest.