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Hungary – Budapest & Esztergom 

After a week in Szeged of moving between our favourite cafe and the dragonboat races, my sister and I took the train to Budapest. As our way of protesting that final meal we had in Szeged, Madeleine and I found an Italian pizzeria where we sat at the counter drinking wine and watching them make our pizzas from scratch.

The next day we would be rejoined by the champion athletes, but first Madeleine was kind enough to accompany me across town to the Korean embassy where I was able to pick up my work visa and passport. Somehow, everything worked out perfectly.

Our Air BnB was right around the corner from Szent Istvan’s Basilica.

I have been to Budapest once before, but the city still amazed me this time around. We spent the first day just doing a lot of walking and seeing the major sights like the parliament buildings.

Luckily, Madeleine and I were not in charge of where we all stayed, so our accommodations actually resembled an apartment rather than a garage with bunk-beds. We even had a balcony where we could drink wine in the evenings and watch the bats fly by.

For our first day in Budapest together, my dad, Cathy, Madeleine, and I went for a walk through town heading towards the monument overlooking the city on the Buda side. Buda and Pest used to be separate cities, but when they became large enough to be considered one city somebody came up with the brilliant idea of smashing the names together – hence Budapest.

Madeleine claims another victim.

Seeing as my dad and Cathy had just finished a week of world-class athletic competition, I thought that the perfect activity for their first day off was to hike up Gellért Hill to see The Liberty Statue. I figure that the both of them aren’t convinced they accomplished anything in a day if some part of them isn’t hurting, so the hike kept everyone in high spirits.

We went back into town for lunch and ordered the biggest lemonades we’d ever had. They had forgotten to take the lemon tree out of the glasses.

By this time I needed coffee, and since that’s an addiction I inherited from my parents so did my dad. So, much like a salmon migrating home after 4 years, I was able to find my favourite cafe from my last visit – Fekete. I’m fairly confident that if I woke up lost somewhere in any city I’ve been to, I’d be able to home in on my favourite cafe.

From there we visited the Dohány Street Synagogue, the second largest synagogue in the world. It is also right next to the birthplace of Theodor Herzl, who is considered the father of the State of Israel. It is a beautiful building that was built in the Moorish style, so it looks both Jewish and Islamic.

The synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto in WW2, and between eight and ten thousand people died here during the war. Over two thousand are buried in the courtyard.

It is always a sobering experience to see these amazing places and then learn about their sad history, history that isn’t even 100 years old.

This had already been a full day of exploration, but we weren’t finished yet. After dinner we went down to the river for a night cruise down the Danube.

The parliament buildings are just so impressive. Night or day, I never got tired of looking at them. The tour also afforded us views of Buda castle and the iconic Chain Bridge.

By the time it was over the bats were out over the parliament buildings, so we enjoyed watching them fly around in the light. Well, I enjoyed it. Madeleine denied their existence and stared firmly at the ground. It was made very clear that they don’t exist and we shouldn’t talk about them.

When in Europe, I always try to take advantage of how close everything is. There’s so much that’s worth seeing, and you don’t have to venture very far to find it, so we took a 45 minute train north for a day trip to Esztergom.

Esztergom was the first capital of the newly formed Kingdom of Hungary in 1000AD. Today the main attraction is the impressive Esztergom Basilica, which is the largest church in Hungary.

It was oppressively hot that day, so I took great comfort leaning my face against the cool marble walls. I did my best to foil Madeleine’s attempts to ruin my pictures, but you can’t win ’em all.

Madeleine’s most winning smile.

We hiked down the other side of the hill and made our way back to the train station. I was happy we got to see the basilica; I certainly did not expect it to be so big. The pillars were enormous.

The view from the top of the hill was pretty cool too, because you could see Slovakia right across the river.

We now had one day left in Budapest, so we spent it seeing two attractions that I had somehow missed last time: Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Buda Castle is now the National Art Gallery, and we were quite lucky to be there at the same time as a Frida Kahlo exhibition. The exhibition had a lot of her art and told the very sad story of her life; it was extremely interesting.

I had one goal in the National Art Gallery: find the portrait of the guy with the funny mustache on the 500 Forint bill.

Success!

From Buda Castle we walked along the top of the hill over to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a picturesque terrace that overlooks the city. It has seven turrets to represent the seven Hungarian tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin and settled what would eventually become Hungary. It’s a nice place to visit, despite the crowds.

By this time we had seen enough to be quite happy with our visit to Budapest, so we just did some more wandering in areas we hadn’t yet visited.

We had a quiet evening, and Madeleine was kind enough to share a lesson in etiquette. She demonstrated the proper amount of cheese one puts on a piece of bread, and the proper attire for if you are ever invited to a classy party that has cheese and bread.

It’s important that the bread and cheese are of equal widths.
This is a bowler hat, right?

Our Air BnB was around the corner from the Montenegrin embassy, which has a coffee shop called Espresso Embassy next door. It is now my favourite Budapest coffee shop. I was able to spend a quiet morning there with my book.

It was now time for everyone to part ways. Madeleine and I were at this point unencumbered by either school or work responsibilities, so we figured there was more Europe to explore! We said goodbye to our travel companions and, as they headed back to Canada, we journeyed onward to Austria.

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