This weekend we were in Budapest for the opera and decided to drive over to Vienna on Saturday to experience the renowned Christmas market there. It wasn’t the most ideal day to make the two hour trip. As Wallace Stevens wrote: It was evening all afternoon. And as soon as we passed over the border into Austria, the atmosphere let loose its blizzard on us. We were never so thankful for our Audi Quattro’s 4-wheel drive as this weekend (or was it last year when we were in another snow emergency near Shtulek-Semmering and a spiteful, malfunctioning GPS nearly sent us up a no-car, rangers-only mountain pass?).
The weather did not deter the crowd, however, and after waiting for 20 minutes in line at the Starbucks to use the women’s restroom, we walked around Volksgarten (built over the city walls destroyed by Napoleon) and made our way to the main Christmas market.
Nearly too crowded to enjoy, we still tried to snap a few pictures of the place. Like all Christmas markets, the delicious aroma of mulled wine wafted through the air, mixing with sweets, roasting chestnuts, and the alluring spice of grilled sausages. Györgyi and I shared one that was wrapped in a sweet batter. Note that I said we SHARED one. And that is the real Christmas miracle of the market trip, because I could have slammed like twenty of those babies.
If you are in the area during the holidays, the Vienna Christmas markets are a must, if only for the sake of tradition and to get yourself into the holiday spirit. Though I must say, staunch biases aside, that the Budapest Christmas market is better. Hoppá!
In the middle of the month we hopped on a plane and flew over to Tuscany to enjoy a bit of the sweet life. That sentence made it seem like we walked out of our doors in Budapest and were in Florence in two shakes, but the truth is that we had what probably all of us would consider the worst check-in experience of any flight EVER. Two days prior to our departure was the final of the Budapest triathalon, so we were in ONE line at the airport that was filtering every plane going to Frankfurt at 7 in the morning and beyond. TEN FLIGHTS. Domestic and international flights, impatient business types, and BIKES!! Did you know you could check your professional bicycle on a plane? Me either. But you can!
We cut a few lines, missed a few flights, but by the time we got on the plane headed to Firenze we were popping Xanex like butterscotch drops and happy as clams. And what awaited us during the four days in Florence and Tuscany is something that was just remarkable.
I was in Italy already once when I was 17. Some things have changed and it was certainly more crowded with September tourists. But the light, THE LIGHT. The Tuscan light must have been what the great writers and thinkiers imagined when they pictured eternity, what inspired the the angelic duomos and sculptures. As Dame Judy Dench says in TEA WITH MUSSOLINI:
Florence isn’t just shiny cars and ice creams as little boys think. It’s the human form divine. The body beautiful. And you – yes, you – could be part of that world. To make, to create. To live as those old artists did… is to share a part in the divine plan.
Click on the picture below to see my Flickr slideshow of Florence, San Gimignano and Siena.
It’s been almost a month now since we went to the Budapest International Wine Festival. This is the third time I have been, and it doesn’t get any less wonderful the more times that you go. Yes, of course, the wine is great. And yes, there is a certain lure of tasting wines that a lot of the world’s wine aficionados don’t even get a chance to taste. But the winning factor of this festival always seems to be a few simple things: Buda Castle, night, and the cool, harvest air of mid-September. It had been raining for almost 2 weeks so we held out as long as we could, actually changing our travel plans to Szeged so that we could make it to this event. It was definitely worth it. We had an amazing time and I’m so glad that my parents could finally experience what I had been giggling about for two years.
I’m back! It was an incredible month of travelling and adventure with my family, but now that it is October and my parents have been home for five days, I figured it was about time to get back to work and blurbing at Budajest.
To really go into detail about the month will take some time, but I have so many pictures and I don’t want them to get lost in my rush to get it all done at once. So I will go back to the end of the first week in September, which is just about where I left off anyway.
I had to do a little bit of work that first Saturday, so Györgyi took my mom to Széchenyi Baths. Syechenyi Baths were the first of their kind in Pest, with the temporary bath established in 1881. The permanent structure that you can see today was built in 1913. There have been various additions over the years, including an entire reconstruction in 1999.
The day that the gals went, it was very cold and rainy, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying the picturesque surroundings and the wonderful, thermal water. Budapest is known as a city of baths, but Széchenyi may be the nicest.
We just returned from Bovec, Slovenia and tomorrow we will head out for a few days in Salzburg, Austria. Bovec was so beautiful it was almost painful to leave the sleepy town and sweeping mountain shadows. I have added the Bovec pictures to a Flickr slideshow, which you can view by clicking the picture below. When we get back from Austria and my parents head back to the states, I’ll finally be able to catch up on all of the block posts from this past month. Happy Fall everyone!
My parents, Györgyi and I just got back from Tuscany and I only have time to post this little we’re back message because in about 20 minutes we are leaving again for Slovenia. Italy was a dream, just as it was when I was 16 years old and in Europe for the first time. I have pictures and stories to share when we are finally back from our travels. Until then, here is the view from our first morning:
This past week, while Györgyi was hard at work, my parents and I visited Memento Park, located in Southern Buda’s 22nd district.
Memento Park is an outdoor museum/graveyard for the remains of Hungary’s soviet statue past.
The skies were overcast, though it didn’t deter the two tourist busses of people from visiting. We went by car, but unless you are on a tour trip through Budapest, you might not even known that it is out there in southern Buda. It’s almost as if there is a feeling from many (including Györgyi) that these little suffering relics of the past shouldn’t get anymore attention.
I’ve been to Memento Park three times now, and I am always left with a lingering creepy feeling. Like most people who visit and who aren’t from a soviet bloc country, my parents thought that the statues were really fascinating and strange.
There are several public transportation options for getting to Memento Park, including a bus that takes you right to the park from the center of the city. I wouldn’t, however, recommend the walking option, which, according to the website is a 20-30-minute walk from Kamaraerdő through the woods. No thanks.
Leaving for Firenze tomorrow. La dolce vita!
The last week has been a rainy mess, so we have been a little bit off of our itinerary plans. Luckily we had a relaxing week in Budapest before the majority of our other traveling begins (Monday we are off to Florence). Last weekend there was a little spot of sunshine and we drove to a few neighboring towns.
Our first stop was Visegrád, which is a town 40K north of Budapest and right on the Danube. The real attraction there is visiting the fortress and getting the most spectacular view of the Danube bend. The Roman initially built a fortress in Visegrád, but the Mongols destroyed it in 13th century. The fortress that we explored was rebuilt in the 13th century when the Mongols left Hungary, during the reign of King Béla IV.
After Visegrád, we drove another 20 minutes northwest to Esztergom to visit its beautiful basilica. Esztergom is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary and it has played a really important religious and royal role through the centuries. The official name of the basilica is the Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert. The title makes me feel a little sorry for the after thought that is St Adalbert. The build itself is the tallest in Hungary and the the 18th largest church in the world. But that’s not all. Plopped down right in the corner in a nice little glass case is the old skull (and a few other bones) of St. Stephen, wrapped, delicately, in white chiffon.
We ended the night by visiting our favorite trout restaurant on the side of the road between the two cities. Trout, almonds, steak potatoes, huge salads and beer was the perfect reward to a very full (and holy) day of traveling.
For our last full day with the whole family before my Aunt Donna and Ron left for Paris, we headed up to the castle district for a lovely, sunny afternoon. The weather finally broke into some sunshine and we were able to explore Fisherman’s Bastion, Mátyás Templom and the National Gallery. We saw the wooden fixtures that will become the International Wine Festival this week, in addition to sitting at a little cafe for a cappuccino and water.
After the castle, we drove to Szentendre, which is an artsy town about 20 km north of the city. We explored a bit, did some shopping and had a gyro and strudel before returning to Budapest. At about 5 p.m we met at the Marriott where we enjoyed appetizers and drinks in the Executive Lounge, which has a gasp-inducing view of both sides of the river. As the sun set, the National Gallery and Citadel glowed amber and pink and it was the perfect last cocktail hour together in Budapest. That evening, a tour bus picked us up for our Budapest by Night tour, which highlights the best of the city’s nightscape, in addition to a great dinner accompanied by gypsy music and folk dancing. As you will see from the pictures, my Mom was pulled on stage by one of the dancers, with whom she gladly did the csarda dance to end the lovely night.