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Budapest

August 30, 2011

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Well, Budapest! Nothing we had read could have prepared us for this busy, dirty, exotic and fascinating place. Above is our arrival point, Keleti station. This is by far the shabbiest station we have yet seen, and the general impression was of being thrown back into the nineteenth century. Huge cavern of a station, rusty cars on the outer tracks, apparently mothballed, crowds of tourists like ourselves wandering around with no idea what to do, and English speakers hard to find.

Sunday, August 28

I had the rare good sense to get a map and directions from Google Maps on Saturday, which made what could have been a nightmare a relatively painless experience, if you can call lugging two heavy suitcases onto and off of two different crowded buses painless. In the space of three hours we had bought our public transportation passes, made it to the hostel, unpacked, gotten tons of Forints out of the ATM, paid our hostel bill and were on our way to being tourists!

About the Forint: Hungary, like the Czech Republic, is part of the European Union, but has decided to retain its native currency for the time being. The current exchange rate is 187 Ft to the dollar, which means the price of many everyday items is in the thousands. So, lessee, for a little over $5000 you can be a millionaire! In Hungary.

I mentioned earlier that Prague was no Berlin, which is to say that the sense of order and decorum that is a part of everyday experience in Berlin and Vienna is not so evident in Prague, and even less so in Budapest. Not that there are gangs of looters running through the streets, but there is even more trash, more buildings in disrepair, more graffiti everywhere. When we first ventured out of Keleti station, we saw a young man with his electric guitar, portable amp and beat box singing something that sounded like a cross between pop rock and a Carpathian folk tune, and this is Budapest in a nutshell, western in a way that has deep ties to its oriental past.

Some photos:

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On Istvan Korut, to get moneymfor the hostel.

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The Duna (Danube), looking south from the Margaret Bridge. The Parliament building is on the left.

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Sunset over the Duna.

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On our way back to the hostel after supper, the Nyugati railway station.

Monday, August 29

After spending half a day at West End, the local shopping mall, a quick dash through some tourist spots.

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Nyugati palyaudvar (railway station). Classy, n’est-ce pas?

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On our way down Andrassy ut, the Budapest Opera. Hope to come back for a tour. Mahler conducted here for a season.

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Hungary’s musical hero, Ferenc (Franz) Liszt.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

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An interesting fountain at Szabadsag park. You can turn the individual jets off for a moment by walking on the tiles outside them.

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Nice to know that MTV is alive and well in Hungary, or maybe that MTV is taking care of this (otherwise) beautiful old building. Apparently Budapest has so many of these gorgeous old structures that public funds can’t support their upkeep. We saw another building too big to be anything but a civic office, now converted into a bank.

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Heroes’ Square, beautifully lit in the evening.

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Kids on the monument.

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Najdahunyad Castle, behind the square. The castle and square are both part of the large City Park.

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