Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Budapest's Castle District and Beyond

Another hot, sunny, August morning in beautiful Budapest.

After filling our water bottles, we set out to explore the castle district. We made our first decision of the day when we reached the bottom of the hill. Do we take the funicular or walk the path to the castle? A one way trip by funicular cost approximately $5.00 CAD or $7.50 for a return trip. Wanting to work off last night’s meal, I suggested we walk. It took us about five enjoyable minutes to get to the top.

Conveniently located at the end of our climb was an ice cream stand. After one taste, the family was hooked. Hungarian ice cream is delicious, but the scoops are quite small. I find that two to three scoops is the perfect amount. Reasonably priced; each scoop costs approximately 80 Canadian cents.

While contemplating whether my favourite flavour was red current or caramel, I soaked in the fabulous views of both Buda and Pest from the hilltop.

We made our way to the castle which had been rebuilt and renovated so many times that it is now an eclectic mix of styles. The castle is host to three different museums; The Budapest History Museum, The Hungarian National Gallery and a contemporary art museum. We toured the History Museum. While I studied the exhibits, the boys enjoyed exploring the cellars. They also had a good time at an interactive kid’s area where they put together tile pictures.

Looking out of the upper floor windows, I was thrilled to see that the courtyard was set up for a show. A few of the famous Lipizzaner Stallions rehearsed their routines. I knew they were Lipizzaners by their white colour and intricate tricks. Our family had just been in Vienna a few days earlier where I’d been disappointed to discover that the horses were on tour. I bribed the boys with more ice cream and we sat a half hour to watch the horses practice. I purchased a ticket for that evening’s performance. My husband and the boys chose to later spend the evening at the apartment.

We continued to explore the district, toured St Matthias Church and enjoyed more amazing views from the Fisherman’s Bastion. A violinist played soulful gypsy music for coins from passing tourists. Talk about atmosphere.

That’s when nature called. There is a charge for most washrooms near sights in Budapest. While hurrying to the bathroom across from St. Matthias Church, I was confused to see a washroom sign with two prices on it; 100 and 50. I pondered this mystery. Why the two prices? Did it depend on whether you were a man or woman? Maybe it depended on what you did. If so, did someone go in after you to check the outcome? That’s not a job I’d want. What if the person ahead of you didn’t flush? Would you be charged for that as well?

Upon closer inspection of the sign, I noticed that charges were either 100 HUF or 50 Euros. Mystery solved.

After wandering the medieval fashioned streets, we descended the hill and using the Chain Bridge, crossed the quick flowing waters of the Danube River. That’s when I realized that Strauss had lied. It wasn’t the blue Danube, it was more of a muddy brown.

Once on the Pest side we visited St. Stephen’s Basilica. An impressive church but the boys wanted to see the main attraction, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand which is housed in the reliquary. Unfortunately, the reliquary had just closed.

When travelling with the family 24/7, it’s nice to have a bit of time to yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the graceful performance of the Lipizzaner Stallions at the castle. At 10pm my husband met me at the castle gates. In the darkness, the Danube was no longer muddy but a canvas of glittering light.

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