July 25, 2018


by Rosemary

Metro stations in Budapest are reached by long, steep, high-speed escalators that run twice as fast as any escalator I've ever seen before. Usually the ceilings are so low that, from the top, it's impossible to see the bottom. The first time we encountered one, I couldn't get on it. Steve was already on the way down (and out of sight) before he realized I wasn't with him. I took a deep breath and made a second (and third and fourth) pass at the thing, but I just couldn't bring myself to set foot on it. The station supervisor saw my dilemma. He locked his office, took my arm, and got on the escalator with me. It was still scary, but it worked. In the meantime, Steve was on the way back up, so we passed each other going in opposite directions. I never really got used to those escalators, but I was able to manage them by hanging on to Steve whenever we descended into the Metro.

The river cruise was a much better ride.

A sculpture under the Margaret Bridge.

Buda and Pest (pronounced "Pesht") were once separate cities on opposite sides of the Danube River. In 1873, they were united (along with a third city, Obuda). Today, each side still has its own character. Like the majority of tourists, we spent most of our time in Pest, but went to Buda to visit Castle Hill.

Looking from Pest toward Buda.

Looking from Buda toward Pest.

Matthias Church (on Castle Hill) was built in the 13th century.

St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, is remembered with this huge equestrian statue near the church.

The interior of the church is elaborately decorated.

The oldest capital in the church was built in 1260. It is Hungary's oldest stone carving still in its original location.

This larger than life Hussar stands guard outside the former castle.

There were some real guards on duty, but this one was a mannequin.

Back in Pest, we visited St. Stephen's Basilica. This church houses my new favorite relic, the moldering right hand of St. Stephen. It occupies a place of honor in an elaborate reliquary. To get a good look at the hand, someone must put a coin in a nearby slot to make the light come on for a couple of minutes. Everyone gathers around to take pictures.

St. Stephen's right hand (or what's left of it).

Interior of the church, completed in 1905.

Inside the Black Madonna Chapel.

Budapest has many grand buildings. One of the most impressive is the Parliament building, completed in 1904 after nearly 20 years of construction.

In front of Parliament is this huge sculpture group honoring the leaders of the 1848 revolution against the Austrian Empire. Unfortunately for them, the revolution failed; that is probably why they look so downcast.

Walking around town made us hungry, so we went to the Great Market Hall, where we had some delicious apple strudel. For groceries and snacks (as well as cheap souvenirs), this is the place to go. They have every possible kind of paprika.

Monuments, memorials, and works of art are everywhere in Budapest. Heroes Square is home to the Millennium Monument, where gigantic sculptures celebrate Hungarian history. Sadly, when we were there, the square was full of scaffolding and bleachers in preparation for a special event, and it was off-limits to foot traffic, so we could see only a few statues, from a distance.

Árpád is followed by six other Magyar chieftans.

The angel Gabriel holds St. Stephen's crown.

A symbolic chariot.

In another art of town, this statue commemorates the 19th century poet Mihaly Vörösmarty.

Of course, some sculptures are just for fun, like this whimsical jester near the river.

The Fat Policeman is popular with both tourists and locals.

All over town, there are plaques on the sides of buildings, honoring writers, artists, musicians, politicians, religious leaders, and historical figures. They often have hooks below them where people can leave wreaths and bouquets. I don't know who this guy is, but his plaque is certainly creative.

We visited the city's Great Synagogue. It was built in the mid 1880s, and Franz List played the organ at the building's inauguration. After the Holocaust, the building fell into neglect. It was repaired and refurbished during the 1990s and is now an active place of worship. Upstairs is the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Outside is a cemetery where over 2000 Jews who died of starvation and disease during the Nazi occupation of 1944-45 were buried in a mass grave. The "Tree of Life" sculpture by Imre Varga has over 4000 leaves, each one inscribed with the name of a Holocaust victim. New leaves are added regularly.

The most moving memorial in Budapest is "Shoes on the Danube." In 1944, under Nazi occupation, thousands of Jews were deported to death camps. It wasn't happening fast enough for the Arrow Cross, the puppet government, so many people were murdered on the banks of the Danube, where their bodies fell into the water. These empty iron shoes represent those who died here.

Although I knew these shoes are symbolic, I couldn't help but imagine them as having been worn by real people, some of whom might have stepped out of them in that final moment, in the vain hope of somehow floating to safety.

Across the river is the Liberty Statue, erected in 1947 to celebrate liberation from Nazi rule.

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July 15, 2018

Surf Munich!

by Rosemary

Running through Munich's English Garden (a huge municipal park) is the Eisbach, a man-made branch of the Isar River. Just past one of the bridges is a standing wave that has become a surfing legend. The water is shallow, suitable only for experienced surfers (as noted by the stern warning sign nearby). Only one person at a time can ride the wave, so they line up on both sides of the bank and take turns. As soon as one surfer wipes out, the next one plunges in.

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The Eisbach is very fast, and it is dangerous (impossible, really) to swim there, not just because of the current but also because of submerged obstacles. Sadly, there have been drownings here. Nevertheless, on a hot day, many people jump in to be swept downstream. There are some ropes and ladders that can be used to get out, and we even saw one desperate guy grab the warning sign on the bank.

Munich's central square and center of tourism is Marienplatz, named for St. Mary, who is honored as the protector of Bavaria. A golden statue of Mary tops a tall column in the middle of the square.

On one side of the square is the new city hall (completed between 1874 and 1908), which is famous for the Glockenspiel in its tower. Two or three times a day (depending on the season), the Glockenspiel chimes a tune, and the sculptures move around, depicting 16th century celebrations. The performance lasts about 15 minutes, and is not as impressive as anticipated by the upward-gazing tourist crowds.

Atop the tower is a bronze statue of the M√ľnchner Kindl (Munich child), a symbol from the city's coat of arms.

Our walking tour took us to Munich's oldest church, St. Peters, built in 1368. It was severely damaged in World War II, and restored as accurately as possible in the following years.

Many Catholic churches in Europe contain relics of saints, typically small body parts or drops of blood, preserved and venerated in special containers called reliquaries. St. Peter's has a remarkable relic - the entire skeleton of St. Munditia, who was beheaded by the Romans, now decorated with jewels.

Not far from here is the Ohel Jakob Synagogue. In 1938, Hitler had Munich's synagogue destroyed. Under the Nazi regime, Jews fled, were deported, or were sent to death camps. Few returned after the war, but the Jewish community grew as refugees from came here from former Soviet states. The new synagogue was built in 2006. The architecture of the lower portion of the building represents the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the upper portion represents the tent used during 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Steve stands by the front door, where the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet symbolize the Ten Commandments.

Just a couple of blocks away is the Asam Church. This was built in 1740 by the Asam brothers, architects who wanted to show off their skills. It functioned as a kind of sales catalog, filled with every feature a Rococo church could possibly have. Every inch of the interior is covered with something fancy.

The one simple feature is this niche, where Jesus seems to be reacting to the decor.

After seeing the work of the Asam brothers, a lovely Renaissance church like St. Michael's seems almost Puritan by comparison.

For a completely different kind of worship, this statue of Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso has been commandeered by fans of Michael Jackson, who have turned it into a memorial shrine, covered with photos, candles, and flowers.

The Alte Pinakothek (Old Art Gallery) has a wonderful collection of European masterpieces, from the Renaissance through the 19th century. Particularly impressive are the gigantic works by Peter Paul Rubens, including the 300-foot-square "Last Judgment".

Here is a detail from the lower right corner.

There is more art at the Residenz, the palace where the ruling Wittelsbach family lived for 500 years. It was severely bombed by Allied forces in 1944, so nearly everything we see today is partially or fully reconstructed. Amazingly, most of the Antiquarium, a huge Renaissance banquet hall, survived.

Like all the palaces of the old ruling families of Europe, this sprawling building is filled with luxurious, elaborately decorated apartments.

Down the street from the Residenz is Odeonsplatz, a huge square connecting different sections of the city. In the early 1930s, Hitler had a monument to dead Nazis placed in the square, and required everyone who passed by to give a Nazi salute. Dissenters could avoid the whole thing by turning down a narrow alley just before the square. Today, a line of golden cobblestones commemorates their courage.

From Munich, we went to Budapest.

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