Today started with a walk around the Buda Palace and Castle District. There’s a photo on the site of the Palace, but in reality that’s only about half of the whole thing. There’s an entire town next to the Palace, made up of old buildings, churches, museums and fairly ugly buildings that went up during the communist times. It’s quite a contrast to the huge and magnificent Palace, a collection of buildings on windy cobbled streets that open into a series of town squares.
The Matthias Church is another example of money being spent on building rather than to support the populace, but at least it looks good. In fact, good is a bit of an understatement. Stupendous and astounding are more apt words. Not as much gold as the Basilica that we visited yesterday, but soaring ceilings with intricate hand painted designs. Huge altars, little chapels off to the side, enormous stained glassed windows depicting various saints being saintly and a few religious souls braving the constant stream of awestruck tourists.
Just next to the church is the Fishermans Bastion, which is supposedly built where the people from the area we visited yesterday helped defend the palace hundreds of years ago. However, the structure that’s there now is mainly ornamental, and was never used in battle. Try to imagine an Escher carving brought to life. Stairways, arches within arches, paths crossing over the top of each other. Maybe it was intended to confuse any attackers.
We then wandered across the Danube into Pest, looking for somewhere to eat. Restaurants are quite cheap in Budapest; slightly cheaper than Australia, but of course if you go to one in a tourist area you run the risk of a bigger than expected bill. Horror stories abound of people eating in restaurants without published prices being presented with bills in the region of US$6000, the waiters backed up by large burly goons to ensure payment. Speaking of waiters, they are a slightly surly bunch here. Fairly decent service, but it’s rarely with a smile (except for in the restaurant in our hotel) and they can disappear for quite a long time, particularly when you want something.
Eventually we found one that our guidebook said was moderately expensive, but we’re not sure how this is because we had a two course lunch with two pints of Czech beer for $17! It was a restaurant built in and on a series of little tunnels under a building. Very atmospheric, complete with non communicative and grumpy waiter. We both had Borscht (Beetroot Soup) and I had some Lamb Dumplings while Caren had that Hungarian staple, Chicken Curry.
Properly sated (and a little tipsy after finishing of Carens enormous beer), we headed off to Statue Park. In 1990, freed from communism, there was no need to keep the huge statues that had been put up during the regime: Lenin, Stalin, Monuments to Workers Power and Glory etc. Quite a few were destroyed until someone decided that they should at least keep them for histories sake. He stuck them in a park on the outskirts of the city, which has slowly grown into one of the biggest tourist attractions in Budapest. And weird too.
There’s something disquieting walking around a park with all of these statues that only 15 years ago signified a strong and powerful regime, that kept people under control and denied them freedoms etc, but are now stuck in a park next to a building supplies depot. Weird. I suppose it would be fitting if there was a fully stocked supermarket or clothes store next to the park, but no doubt that will come.