Wednesday October 7th 2015, Exeter
As you see, we are now home again and I am hoping to finish our account of our last couple of days in Budapest before I get swept up in our Exeter life and forget some of the things about our wonderful stay in this exciting city.
On Sunday morning we woke once again to the ringing of the bells of the Mátyás Templom. Ian expressed a desire to visit the museum of the history of Budapest housed up in the castle. On arriving we discovered there was also a special event celebrating Hungary’s wines, sausages and chocolate. Hungarian paprika dried sausage is a speciality of the country. Ian was determined not to be side-tracked however and lead the way to the vaults of the castle where I followed him around in the gloom up and down flights of uneven steps trying to summon an interest in ancient stones, ruined chapels and broken walls. I failed completely and began hoping hunger might eventually force us to the upper floors of the castle where paintings, costumes and jewellery would be on display. How can anyone be so fascinated by broken bits of stone?
My luck was in. After promising him the stickiest cake in the cafe if he’d hurry up Ian brushed quickly over the first few thousand years of the city’s history and we emerged from the gloomy vaults up into the daylight and the beautiful castle courtyard.
Generally the museum concentrated more on the history of the castle than on the city. It was enjoyable browsing the galleries of portraits of Maria Theresa and other Austrian emperors and Hungarian kings and to wander the huge corridors of the royal palace.
We particularly enjoyed a section on the designs for the internal decorations of the Mátyás Templom. This was constructed, as was so much in Budapest, in the 1890s. The decoration parallels the Arts and Crafts movement that was taking place in Britain at that time with the patterns and colours for the painted walls, ceilings and vaulting being in very similar style to those of William Morris.
Perhaps though, the views across the city and the sweep of the terraces below the castle were the most enjoyable feature of the visit. Later we explored the gardens surrounding the palace and made out way along battlements, up and down flights of stairs and eventually emerged onto the terraces we’d seen from above. With grassy lawns and beds of roses spread below the castle walls and a view down on to the Danube with its constant river traffic, they made a delightful place for the people of the city to stroll with their children on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon.
The next day, Monday, was our last full day in the city. After cleaning the flat we walked down to the Chain Bridge and crossed to the Pest side of the city. We’d not yet visited the Catholic Basilica of St. István and it was our last opportunity to do so. It is built in the neo-classical style using architectural designs by Miklós Ybl (who also designed the Opera and other important buildings around the city.) The Basilica was started in 1851 and completed in 1905.
Its greatest treasure is the intact right hand of Hungary’s first king St. Istvan, crowned in the year 1000AD. It was discovered intact and still covered with withered flesh. This is a greatly cherished relic. Our attempts to photograph it in its reliquary were fuzzy. Fortunately we found a picture of his hand complete with finger nails. The basilica is dazzling inside with reflected gold and shining red marble. It is very impressive and is lavish in the extreme. I do though, prefer it to Ezstergom which uses pale blue and cream marble making it feel cold and impersonal.
After a brief visit to the University library to check for messages we lunched in a pleasant nearby cafe. Next door we found the Central Coffee house, formerly a place where writers and journalists would meet. When it first opened the key was apparently ceremoniously thrown into the Danube as a statement that the cafe would never close. It has managed to survive all the political upheavals and today is still a highly popular venue though does have more regular opening hours. The walls are covered in portraits of journalists and authors who used the cafe as a place to write their articles and meet publishers’ deadlines. The interior has mirrored walls, bare wooden flooring, bentwood chairs and marble topped tables. They serve an excellent coffee and the atmosphere is friendly and cheerful though formal.
The Parliament building, which we intended to visit during the afternoon was closed to the public due to a formal event. We should have made the effort a bit earlier. So after taking a photo of the monument to the political hero Kothuth Lajos we walked back to the flat for a rest, on the way noting that a gigantic statue of a semi-recumbent serviceman made in polystyrene was being erected, not without difficulty, of the lawn in the roundabout in front of the opulent Gresham Palace. We watched in curiosity for a while but despite a crane to assist them, it was obviously going to be a long job joining the top end to the bottom half. Presumably it has some significance for the public holiday events that followed the next day.
We had no food left in the flat and were looking forward to supper out somewhere. Around 7pm we decided to return to the restaurant we’d been introduced to by Sandra and Larry when we arrived. It seemed so long ago! The Little Cuckoo or Kiskakkuk, was suffering from a burst water main when we arrived but providing we didn’t want a coffee afterwards or need the toilet at any stage they were happy to serve us. There was plenty of cold beer and the food was every bit as good as last time. The staff were friendly and sufficiently attentive to make our evening absolutely perfect. It was a lovely way to end our last day in the city.
Yesterday was Tuesday and we were due to fly home during the afternoon. Rather than taking the special minibus that had delivered us right to the door when we arrived, we thought we’d discover how to reach the airport using public transport. Having done a few final things to the flat – turning off of gas, water and electricity, we left our luggage and climbed up for a last look at the city from the bastion. As usual the square was full of people disgorged from tour buses but immediately beyond it was silent. There was a mist over the river and it was the coolest day we’d had during our month long visit. It was a perfect day for travelling home.
Passing the coffee shop, Ruszwurm, which had been packed on every other visit, we found it had several free tables. So Ian was able to leave on a high! We had coffee and cakes - Ian’s oozing chocolate and cherries, mine a lemony curd cheese rétes.
Then it was back to collect our luggage and head for the airport. The public transport system is the best we’ve ever encountered anywhere. We never waited more than a couple of minutes anywhere for a connection and accomplished the long journey out to the airport in half the time we expected. Here our water was promptly confiscated and Ian was ordered to remove the blade from his razor and throw it in the bin! It’s so easy to do things wrong. We then had to wait nearly four hours for our flight. We finally reached home around midnight having changed transport with our luggage eight times. Happily we just caught the last bus home from Exeter bus station. Modestine was still peacefully browsing in the front garden.
So whether you’ve been following us throughout, just dipping in from time to time, or simply looking at the pictures, thank you for travelling with us. Don’t bother unpacking. You’ll be whisked off to Paris in a few days time.
Enormous thanks to Peter for the loan of his flat, thus making this wonderful trip possible. It has been a relief not having to contend with driving such a long distance. Hard to believe I actually had the courage to drive to Budapest before my optic shingles!
Final note Due to unforeseen circumstances you will not be travelling to Paris with us. Nothing disastrous but Ian has had to travel alone. So you can now unpack your imaginary luggage and enjoy the peace of being back home.