Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where Buda meets Pest

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge connecting Buda to Pest
Before we got married, Jon and I considered going to Budapest for our honeymoon based on the recommendations from his Uncle.  We heard wonderful stories about the beautiful architecture and cheap wine.  Ultimately, Budapest did not win out over our honeymoon in Turkey, which still remains to be one of the most fantastic vacations we have ever taken in our lives.  Since that day, Budapest has always been on our "bucket list" of places to visit.

We were so excited when our good friends Adam and Kirsten came to visit us just days after announcing their engagement (congrats!) and they were willing to explore eastern Europe with us.  Budapest was not at all what I had expected.  We had just been to Vienna a few months prior, so I was worried that we would just compare the two constantly since they are only a few hours apart and used to be politically tied (formerly known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire).  However, the two cities might as well be located on different planets.  Apples and oranges, these two cities are nothing alike due, in most part, to the devastation caused by WWII.

My first impression of Budapest was that it was hot.  We had just came from cool/coldish Stockholm and entered into an 84F apartment without AC.  The sun was hot and the air was thick.  I was very glad that I had brought blousy tops and billow dresses because I did not want any clothing to actually touch my skin.  The second impression was that the parts outside of the city could pass for rural Georgia.  We had passed geography very similar on our drive to Tallahassee so it had an odd feeling of home.  Are we in Europe or the deep south?  I was unsure.  Fortunately, the Slavic-based language sounds absolutely nothing like a Southern drawl, so it kept me rooted in the Hungarian geography.
One thing that I noticed right away was that you could still see the devastation from the bombing from WWII.  They had pieced their beautiful city back together but the effects still remain.  Budapest did beat out Vienna in the sheer number of bridges that we crossed.  Buda and Pest are different cities separated by the Danube and we couldn't determine if we would have preferred to live in Pest and look at beautiful Buda or live in Buda and look at the Pest riverfront.  I still haven't made up my mind. Take a look at the pics and let me know what you would choose.
View of Pest

View of Buda
Our first touristy destination was an underground bunker/secret hospital that was the site of care for many wounded soldiers in WWII (The Hospital in the Rock).  The bunker was not really a secret during the war because so many soliders were taken there and the Soviets pretty much slaughtered every soldier hiding in the bunker, but the really interesting part was that Hungary had kept the hospital maintained in pristine condition for 47 years post WWII.  A couple was in charge of maintaining the bunker and lived in a flat above the hospital. They cleaned it and changed the bed linens every 2 weeks -- in preparation for WWIII or nuclear fall out.  Could you imagine that being your job?  You can't tell anyone what you do and you have to clean a huge hospital in a CAVE for an event that may or not happen.  There is a ton of dust in my 700 sqft apartment. I can't imagine the amount of dust that collects in an underground bunker.  It was very interesting but the presence of wounded soldiers in wax figures was too much.  We left the bunker slightly depressed and in search of sunshine and warmth.

Right around the corner was the extremely picturesque Fisherman's Bastion.  I'm still not sure what the purpose of the bastion was but it had the most incredible views of Budapest (well, Pest really).  Maybe its only purpose is to serve as a beautiful location for pictures and tourists. Good enough for me.

Looking beautiful at the Fisherman's Bastion

Jon and I love to explore with Calvin.  He has an amazing knack at finding things for us and his slow(er) pace forces us (me) to shift down a gear and look around.  We met up with Adam and Kirsten for breakfast/coffee the next day and Calvin found a classical violinist playing in the square.  He danced and clapped for the musician and probably payed him more attention than he had received all morning.

We also made a playground stop to let off some steam from being cooped up in the hot stroller.

Jon really wanted to see Budapest's House of Terror, which, as the name implies, isn't really a fun destination.

Photos of House of Terror, Budapest
This photo of House of Terror is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The museum provides the history of the Hungarian people and the terrors they faced under Fascism, Nazism, and Communist rule. Needless to say, there were no "good guys" in this museum and it was clear that the Hungarian people lived and died in fear.  The Soviet reign ended in 1991 after 45 years.  Unbelievable.

After the House of Terror, we wanted to completely change our perspectives and leave the darkness behind for a lot of SUN.  It was really hot in the city so we headed to the famous baths and pools.  Apparently, everyone else in Budapest decided that the baths would be a good idea as well so we ended up waiting in a long line that wrapped around the building.  However, instead of chanting "let us in! let us in!" and shaking our fists and floaties in the air, we found a shady spot and a few tall beers.  The boys decided to go to the other entrance to find tickets and voila, they came back with entrance bracelets!  It was awesome because Calvin was still sleeping and let us relax in the pool while he snoozed in the shade.  The baths are thermal and are believed to have healing qualities. Simmons was hoping it had anti-hangover properties.

Not sure Calvin appreciated the speedo as much as I did
Calvin and his Godfather being super adorable

Hero's Square
Our trip to Budapest was extremely informational, humbling and beautiful.  We enjoyed every moment with Simmons and Kirsten and as usual, we loved showing Calvin more parts of the world.

Next -- more to come -- a story about our weekend trip within Sweden to a beautiful place called Jönköping (sounds like yonshopeing) where directions are based on the age of the birch trees.

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