By Indrani Ghose
The splendors of Budapest are many but how many can one visit in 24 hours? I scanned the map and it read something like this: This spot is a must-see; this spot and this spot are definitely not to be missed; this too and that too. And oh, how can you miss this! I knew I had difficult choices to make.
Luckily, since my Budapest Parliament tour was reserved even before I left India, I knew where to start. We were in front of an amazing architectural wonder, the second largest parliament in Europe, and right on time. The gorgeous exteriors were a good indication of the grand interiors. Soon a smart young tour guide led us in. After a lot of understandable security checks we were inside, facing the dramatic, operatic entrance. Wow!
Our guide presented us with lot of statistics and information on the building, most of which were hard to retain. Thankfully, photography was permitted.
I still remember the opulence of the interiors. There are around 700 rooms, of which only three were on our tour itinerary. How disappointing!
Hungary's most important national icon, the Crown of St Stephen, is on display here. The old conference hall was the most impressive. But before we went in, our attention was drawn to the numbered cigar holders. These were used by ministers to place their cigars. They memorize the number before they go in to cast their vote on important matters.
This was something unique!
Exiting the Parliament we set off on a short walking tour, street by street, around Kossuth Square. To the southeast of Kossuth Square we saw the statue of Imre Nagy, an elegant tribute to the great reformist. This lifelike bronze figure stands on a petite footbridge over a tiny pool. Sitting on a bench there, reading about him, I learned about the struggles Hungarian people underwent in order to have a government of their own. It helped me connect with Hungary's past and appreciate its people better.
A little ahead was the statue of Attila Jozsef, this country's most-loved 20th century poet. Tourists were getting themselves photographed with him. Another touching sight I witnessed was that of 60 pairs of iron shoes in a row on the banks of the Danube River. It is in honor of the Jews who had fallen victim to Arrow Cross Militiamen. They represent the shoes left behind on the bank when they fell into the river after they were shot dead. My fourteen-year old and ten-year-old were shocked to silence learning about this incident. Such grim reminders are essential to understanding how we inherited a 'peaceful present'. With a somber mood we moved on.
The 100-year-old St Istvan Basilica, well positioned in front of a huge open square, looked truly magnificent. The marbled columns in golden surroundings looked pleasing, the colors used and the sense of grandness is overwhelming. The unusual experience here was to see The Holy Right Hand, the relic of St Stephen's right hand.
We then visited the magical place, Castle Hill. In terms of statues and sculptures, it is a feast for the eyes. Photographers did not spare the ornamental gateway, the mythical turul bird, the fountains. Museums are worthwhile places where every foreigner can be exposed to a nation's rich culture, art and artifacts. The Matthias Church roof held us spellbound and the interiors were equally mesmerizing. The pretty fisherman's bastion offered an unhindered panorama over the river. I am glad it was a clear day and we got such wonderful views. Each monument sparkled in the plains on the other bank of the Danube. We stopped at a couple of places to hear the musicians on their instruments. This is definitely the best way to listen and appreciate Hungarian music, straight from the locals.
The Heroes' Square seemed like a good relaxing place. The huge statues of Arpad generations and other monarchs in a large arc formation make a memorable landmark. I had to stand at a good distance, almost near the road to get a decent capture of the entire place. Getting to know each character here was like reading chapters of a Hungarian history book. Following the street guidebook we reached the Vajdahunyad Castle and the Jak Chapel. By now we were close to the final moments of the day, and obviously couldn't expect the church and castle to be open. But the exteriors we enjoyed gave us a good intimation of the glorious grand interiors that we had missed.
It was a memorable tour, etched clearly in our hearts!
Indrani Ghose blogs at I Share, where she relates her travel experiences and shares the sights captured. She travels with family and believes in 'soaking in the atmosphere' of the place rather than just ticking it off the list.