Thursday, July 29, 2010
Behind the (former) Iron Curtain
Upon our arrival into Hungary, we saw no signs of the occupation that lasted almost half a century. Instead, we were welcomed by cool weather and rolling hills of farmland. Budapest is split into two parts, Buda and Pest (pronounced: Pesht). Buda features the Buda Castle up on the hill, while Pest side is home to the magnificent spires of the Parliament Building. We could tell immediately that it was definitely different than the opulent Vienna we were in hours before. While the city isn't as well off, it made up for it with enormous beauty from its incredible Danube views to the warm people.
We quickly checked into our hotel and did one of our now famous turnarounds. Drop off the bags, freshen up (read: WC break), and get back on the bus. We immediately headed to Szechenyi Spa Baths, one of the largest baths in Europe with 18 different pools. Some of our group hit each and every one of them. Those that chose to not get their feet wet explored the neighboring historical park and found a huge trampoline to make up the time.
We started our full day with an excellent tour guide named Edina. It has been a real joy listening to pride that our guides have for their city. Edina was no exception. This city has amazing history filled with occupation from the Turks to the Soviet Union. She described how many Hungarians left their church during Communism. Those that chose to attend church were denied a good job, promotion, and/or pay increase.
Our driver, Josef, is from Hungary and you could tell he was home. This man knows how to navigate a bus and he certainly knew how to drive it in Budapest. The streets are narrow and busy. He drives this monster like it is a Yugo.
Matthias Church high on the hill of Buda Castle was open and ended up being a real standout of the trip. The interior is completely painted and is a real marvel. A lot of us hit the market, walked over the Chain Bridge, and climbed deep into the maze of tunnels under Buda Castle. We had a real treat that night with a boat cruise of the Danube. With classical music playing over the speakers, the sun set as the city lit up its famous buildings and bridges right behind us. It was a perfect sight for all us. Perhaps it was if the city was calling to us to return again.