Monday, 16 February 2009

Budapest - Day 3 (continued) Blue Skies & a Greek Restaurant

Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation. A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction from the winning plan was started in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and completed in 1904. During construction the project was a major employer in the city and there were about one thousand people working on its construction in which forty million bricks, half a million precious stones and forty kilograms of gold were used. It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Roumania and Argentina. Although it has an eastern appearance it is similar to the Palace of Westminster and was built in the same Gothic Revival style and has a symmetrical facade and a central dome. It is two hundred and sixty-eight metres long and one hundred and twenty-three metres wide. Its interior includes ten courtyards and six hundred and ninety-one rooms.

It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building. Louis Kossuth led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square. At the other end is a statue of Imry Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero, who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control. Nagy’s government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October this had seemed to be successful but on 4th November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died, and an estimated two hundred thousand more fled as refugees. Mass arrests and imprisonments continued and a new Soviet installed government was installed and this action strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe. Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.

I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as wll as any other city I have visited. An interesting fact is that after London in 1863 it has the second oldest metro system in the world which was opened in the famously important year of 1896.

We would have liked to have stayed longer on this side of the river and spend more time in the great city squares that surrounded the Parliament building but because the sun was shining we wanted to return to Buda to see this at its best as well. We crossed the Chain Bridge for a final time and in Adam Clark Terrace took a ride on a funicular back to the Royal Place. At the top we were approached by a charming man who tried to persuade me to join a two hour sight seeing tour with his specially prepared English narrative and commentary. He was very polite and quite amusing and if we had had the time we would have willingly have joined him. His tour cost three thousand Forints which sounded quite a lot but was actually only the equivilent of about £8.50. I had struggled with the currency for the whole time in Budapest because I was not used to spending money in denominations of thousands which seemed to make everything sound expensive, especially when I was forever watching out for scams, when in actual fact it was all rather reasonable.

It was lunch time and although there was no time for food we did find time for a quick beer and then moved swiftly on because there was still a lot to do. First it was back to the Matthias Church and this time spend more time at the Fisherman’s Bastion which is a viewing terrace with seven towers that represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896 and has magnificent views over the Danube looking in both directions but with an especially fine view of the Parliament building on the other side of the river. From the Casle Hill our route took us once more past the statue of St GellĂ©rt who was allegedly murdered on this spot in the eleventh century because of his Christian beliefs. The story goes that they put him into a barrel and rolled him down the hill and into the Danube. It could be true, but on the other hand… Last stop was the Liberty monument again where the camera battery gave out and with no more pictures to take it was back to the bottom of the hill and across Liberty Bridge to find a restaurant.

Normally when we are away we like to use the local bars and restaurants and enjoy ethnic cuisine but it was early and without a lot of choice we decided upon a Greek taverna that looked friendly and welcoming and was decorated in a Cycladic style that reminded us of Naxos. It was a good meal too and the owner was keen to talk about the Greek islands and his plans for the restaurant which were about creating an authentic Greek atmosphere. We assured him that he was well on the way to succeeding and before leaving he provided a complimentary drink in that hospitable Greek way that I like.

Sadly there was now no more time left and after leaving the restaurant it was time to collect luggage and arrange for a taxi back to the airport where Ryanair organisation was at its comical worst. After total chaos at the check-in desk it was even worse at the departure gate where we pulled our ‘go through last but get on the airoplane first routine’ which worked like clockwork. We met the businessman that we had travelled out with and he seemed to find this especially amusing especially has he had paid for priority boarding and we was settled down in a good seat before he even made the aircraft steps. We were pleased that he had a good sense of humour.

Budapest was fantastic, the hotel was really special and the spa baths were just as good as Palin said that they would be, the sights of the city were as good as anything we have ever seen, the weather was great and we didn’t get scammed even once, well not so that we noticed anyway.

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