The day before yesterday, we headed to Várhegy (Castle Hill) to get a better view of Budapest. The climb up was interesting — originally, we planned to take the tram and then switch to a bus, but technical difficulties left us walking up the pathways ourselves. We passed numerous vendors of traditional (and heavily overpriced) Hungarian food and souvenirs as the merchants prepared their shops for yesterday — August 20th.
So what’s so important about the 20th of August in Hungary? Equivalent to America’s 4th of July, Hungarians celebrate “St. Stephen’s Day” to commemorate their beloved king Stephen, who united the tribes of the region into the solidified country we know today under the banner of Christianity around 1,000 years ago.
So, we continued to march up Várhegy and see all of the monuments (which Hungarians seem quite fond of putting up everywhere) and the beautiful Matthias Church. Check out the pictures I took of Várhegy here — https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.433105286728357.90143.100000866678786&type=3&l=eec9756433
Anyway, when we reached the top, there was a pretty unique lion’s head statue spewing out drinkable water, which was fantastic since we had all just climbed such a big hill. We took a drink and then headed out to the actual castle parapets, where we discovered a wedding being held on the terrace.
Hungarian weddings are unique in that the bride and groom sit in the front while listening to the priest speak, and there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen. Taking a longer look around, I regret not taking a panoramic picture of all of Budapest, as that would have been pretty awesome! Unfortunately, I forgot until later that my camera could do that. So, I got some nice pictures of sections of Budapest, including the magnificent Parliament building (which I got an insider’s view of the next day).
After descending Castle Hill, we walked through Budapest to see the American embassy as well as other important buildings like St. Stephen’s church and Széchenyi Bridge (the Chain Bridge). We relaxed at Professor Feenstra’s apartment, had some sandwiches, and caught a tram back to the dorms.
The next day, we awoke without knowing entirely what we’d like to do to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. We had breakfast as a group, and then all but Kelly and I left the dorm to explore Budapest during the festival. We figured that we’d wait a while so that we didn’t have to wander around the city in between events — we’d be able to do everything all at once. Indeed, we were right.
We left at 4 to get to the Parliament building, which was open for once. The inside was beautiful, and I don’t think I would have been able to see it otherwise; dim lights, giant paintings, and colorful stained glass made it a very wonderful experience. We walked into the dome, where we observed the guards performing their ritual around the crown jewels of Hungary.
Outside Parliament, we also witnessed the changing of the guard in front of Hungary’s flag. Once we were through visiting Parliament, Kelly and I broke out the map and found our way to St. Stephen’s church, where High Mass was being held from 5 until 6. We came in at the tail end of mass to hear all the beautiful singing (in Hungarian). Then, after standing around for the ceremony, Kelly and I quickly dodged out of the alleyway and into the main street to await the procession that we knew would pass by. We were looking for a specific part of the parade, but it wasn’t a float or a flag. Kelly and I were chasing the parade trying to get a glimpse of St. Stephen’s (apparently still intact) right hand.
We waited through the entire parade, seeing quite a few unique faces and outfits. Unfortunately, there was no severed hand to be found. Had we missed it? Apparently. Then again, it was disguised inside an ornate box, and there were plenty of those going by, so we’re going to tell ourselves that we did in fact see it and just didn’t realize.
After chasing the dead hand until the end of the parade, Kelly and I went exploring in the heart of the city, seeking a place to eat. Although I am not afraid of trying to communicate with people in a foreign language, I preferred to eat in a restaurant that had a menu with English, so that at least I would know what I was ordering. One look at the menu, I saw they had palacsinta (a traditional Hungarian dish), and I was like, “Yep, sign me up!”
Finally, I get the chance to eat an authentic Hungarian meal. The palacsinta was almost like a giant ravioli but was actually a type of pancake filled with creamy meat. The sauce was highly flavored with paprika, and the sour cream was delicious. I ate the entire thing, but it was way more filling than I thought it would be!
After the palacsinta (Kelly and I both had one), we ventured over to the Pest side between the Chain bridge and the next one south and sat down to wait for the fireworks. They were gorgeous! Much different from American fireworks. There were small “intermissions” every five or ten minutes, and the fireworks would stop. Toward the end of the show, a spectacular wave of fireworks shot up from Chain bridge itself; it was an amazing series of back-and-forth jets of color, but unfortunately it was the only five minutes during which my camera decided to die. I couldn’t get it on video. Thankfully, I found on Youtube a video of what I missed (actually it’s the entire show) — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x6BV54A7UY. The bridge pyros that I didn’t get to record are at 17:45, and the most spectacular ones that I also missed recording are at 20:30. There were fireworks going off at three different bridges, as well as from some boats on the Danube. It was great.
Today (August 21), we headed up to the classroom in the dorm to meet with Professor Feenstra, who gave us the instructions for the day — The Amazing Race, Budapest style. We were separated into teams, and Professor Feenstra sent us an email listing the places that we needed to visit. We were free to get there however we felt best, but all we had to do was get to the place, take a picture of ourselves in front of it, and record directions for how we got there, also being the first to find a wireless cafe to get on facebook and post. That way, there would be 24 places we could visit in the future that we had directions to and pictures of.
I was put in a group with my roommate, Kelly, and John VanderPloeg. We had to do the Opera House, Mátyás Church, a souvenir shop on Váci utca, and Vajdahunyad Castle in Városliget.We beat everyone else 🙂
What did we learn from the trip? We learned that there is a touristy strip of shops that are nonetheless nice places to get stuff, that the metro lines go REALLY fast in Budapest, and that accidentally being unable to punch your tram ticket (but carrying it with you anyway) costs 8,000 forints if you get caught.
Yes. We did get caught.