Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Budapest: Liberty Square

Liberty Square was one of the stops on our segway tour, but we ended up back there again and again as it's on the way to a number of other places. When we first went, our segway guide told us about a Memorial that was being erected and protested. On that day the sculpture had not yet been installed and we only saw construction sheets and the protests on the sidewalk in front. We went back a day later and the statue was up . .  . with many many police around it in case any trouble should break out. We went by a few more times during our stay and the police were always there, but doing nothing.

"Protests continued in central Budapest against the erection of a controversial World War II statue. Many protesters see the decision to erect the statue as a failure to accept Hungarian responsibility for Jewish deaths during the war."

Our guide said that the protesters believed the statue depicts the archangel Gabrielle cowering under an Eagle that is representing Nazi Germany. I'll let you decide for yourselves from the photos.
The fountain in the middle of the square is pretty fun and interesting. It has some kind of motion sensor and stops when you get close to it. You can't see from this photo, but you can walk right up to it, it stops and lets you through to the middle. So you can walk across the square without getting wet! Unless of course you're one of the little kids playing in it - lots of those on this hot day.
You see some of the police here. I'd say there were between 20-30 around the whole square (not that large). Luckily, they didn't have to do anything any of the times we went by.
And here's the statue that seems to be raising all the fuss.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Budapest: St. Stephan's Basilica

Another favorite building in Budapest is the St. Stephan's Basilica. Even better was that we stayed just down the street so walked past it several times a day. While a beautiful structure, this Basilica is a perfect example of how religion can get commercialized. First, you are accosted at the entrance with flyers for the upcoming organ concert of the day (which has a fee). Okay, fine, the musicians need to earn a living, no problem. And we went that evening and it was really awesome. Then, you enter the main doors and are asked for a "donation" (for the upkeep of the church). Then a few steps in the door, you have the traditional candle offerings (another fee). And if you wanted to climb the stairs to the dome lookout area (and of course you must!) you had to pay for that too. All of this was irksome, but not yet annoying. The annoying bit came when we approached the Holy Right Fist. This is the mummified fist of St. Stephan that is on display near the back of the church. If you want the relic to light up, you have to pay a fee. Seriously? I have to pay a fee for some back lighting of  a mummified hand?! Are you kidding me? Needless to say, we did not see the holy fist . . . yeah there's a joke there, I know, but I've been disrespectful enough today.
Another gorgeous day - perfect for capturing photos of the church.
We did pay for a candle - a habit we've gotten into when traveling. Maybe it even helped this time?
I wish I had gotten a closer photo - thought I did. This Basilica is one of only 2 in the country (in the world?) that doesn't have a sculpture of Mary or Jesus in the altar area. Instead it is . . . you guessed it, St. Stephan. 
A beautiful building, though, can't deny it.
The organ. We did come back for the organ concert, which was spectacular and worth every penny.
 See? You think I make this stuff up, but if you look closely, you'll see the fee to illuminate the relic for 2 minutes. Honestly!
That's the relic there - as you can see (or actually not see) you can't see a thing unless you pay the fee.
Then we took the elevator and then the stairs (because we didn't see the second elevator) to the panoramic dome. Some great views of the city.

 We did take the stairs down - mostly so I could get this cool photo!

Budapest: Hungarian Parliament Building

One of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament. It is the 3rd largest in the world (behind Argentina and London) and is still in use today by the Hungarian government. They offer tours in lots of different languages so you have to get your timing right. Here are a few photos to enjoy.
This is a view from the street side and looking at a corner of it only. You'll see the full building below from the river side.
Real gold inlay throughout the building - this was one of the side staircases - not even the main, grand one!
If you look closely on the window sill you can see cigar holders. This was so the parliament members could leave their cigars and easily get back to them between sessions. The little holders are numbered.
The main voting room. The green area includes a computerized voting system these days.
Another view of the voting chambers. Pretty ornate, huh?
This is the grand staircase. we weren't allowed to go up or down these stairs but were herded (pun intended) to a small set of cement stairs off to the side to make our way back to the ground floor.  Can't blame them really - a bunch of noisy sweaty tourists parading up and down the grand staircase - just wouldn't be right.
But the really impressive views are of the outside of the building.
And at night - this is from a bus tour looking at the parliament from the Buda side and across the Danube river. Breathtaking! 
And this one is from a boat cruise we took. Gorgeous day to capture the blue sky and fluffy clouds in the background.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Budapest: Segway Adventure

We've become addicted to segway tours. If you haven't been on one, you must try it. This was our second one and we loved it as much as the first. Our guide, Tamas, was very corny and had us playing a quiz show throughout the tour, but it actually helped us remember a few things, so that was a bonus. I didn't get too many photos as you need both hands for a segway, but here are a few when we hopped off.
This is a view just down the street from where we started. The structure in the distance is the St. Stephan's Basilica, which you'll see from the front in the photo below. St. Stephan brought Christianity to Hungary and sent out lots of missionaries to convert the rest of the population.  
The Basilica is one of the very few Christian churches NOT to have a statue of Mary or Jesus. Instead, there is a statue of St. Stephan (sounds like he was pretty proud of himself). Supposedly, the church also houses his mummified right fist (lovely). We plan a trip inside today or tomorrow so more to come as we explore. You are supposed to be able to go up into the dome so we're looking forward to catching some great views of the city.
This building has no historical significance, but it looks really cool. It's one of the few not restored so it provides a nice contrast to the cleaned up buildings next to it. Apparently this one is owned by the government and those around by private foundations or groups.
Yep, that's Ronald Regan and  behind him is the Hungarian Parliament building, which you'll see in a future post. Ronnie is actually walking towards the American Embassy building and past one of only 2 statues left from Communist Russian rule in Budapest.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Getting to Budapest

The traveling Stolls are on the move again - this time to Budapest and then to Prague. Two weeks of European culture and cooler temperatures! As with many of our trips, getting there is an adventure in itself. There are many benefits to working for an airline, but a few challenges as well. In order to get those great discounts, you have to fly on specific airlines and that doesn't always align very well with your actual travel plans. In addition, you usually have to fly standby unless traveling on the airline you work for. For this journey, we had the following:
  1. Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam - confirmed seats
  2. Amsterdam to Budapest - standby seats (meaning we'll get on if there's room and since it's a staff ticket, we are at the very bottom of the standby list).
Now, it's the height of summer in Europe and a Friday afternoon. When I reserved the tickets back in March or April, that thought hadn't really crossed my mind, so while I shouldn't have been, I'll admit I was a little disappointed when the guest service agent said we might not get on since the flight was overbooked. And sure enough, we didn't get on, so grabbed some seats at a really nice little beer pub in the airport and logged in to see what our options were.

Option 1: book full fare business class tickets for the 9pm flight . . . at a whopping 900 Euro each! Those who know the traveling Stolls, also know how cheap we are, so while we considered it for about 5 min, we decided to pass. And thank goodness too because the business class seats were barely wider than economy and no additional perks that we could see except sitting at the front of the plane!

Option 2: Rebook our standby tickets and try again for the 9pm flight - this flight was also overbooked. We could actually have continued in rebook limbo for days.

Option 3: Rebook and take our chances for the 9pm and book full fare economy for the next morning to be safe. That's what we did and after a boring few hours in the Schipol airport (very nice by the way), we were the last 2 standby passengers on the list and the only 2 not to get on the flight. :(

Back to the ticket agent to complete our economy ticket purchase for 10am the next morning. We then found a reasonable hotel room not too far from the airport and settled in for the rest of the night.

Next morning, we got on the plane (barely!) We were in row 30 of 31, just in front of the bathrooms and in the middle of a geriatric tour group (no offense to our friends and family who like to travel with geriatric tour groups! :) But, we made it and Budapest is beautiful so let the adventures continue!