Saturday, July 26, 2008


Parliament; Buda Castle

First arriving in big cities is disorienting, and Budapest is huge -- sixth
largest in Europe, in fact, after London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and...
somewhere else. The first day, arriving in the afternoon after a train
journey, is always spent getting your bearings. There's also a certain
amount of trepidation about what the hostel will be like (Mai Li has come
to hate hostels; this has been her first and last experience with them).
Combine this with arriving in Budapest in the rain and the day was a near
write-off, which really only left us two days to see this historical

Budapest lies on a fault -- the Danube being the rift between hilly, green
Buda and flat, urban Pest -- and natural springs percolate up from beneath
it. The city is famous for its thermal spas, several of which are Turkish
architectural masterpieces from the 16th and 17th centuries where the
experience has been compared to bathing in a cathedral. I am culturally
embarrassed to admit it's one of the things we didn't find time to do.

We did, however, see the Royal Palace and Buda Castle complex on the hill,
including the 700-year old Matthias Church which is apparently beautiful.
We couldn't tell what it looked like under all the scaffolding and netting;
probably something like an elaborate eggshell, given the "restoration"
technique of pressure washing the sandstone. In Prague, the Czechs opt to
carefully and painstakingly scrub their St Vitus Cathedral by hand. There
was also a fee to get inside -- the first church I've ever encountered
which charges a fee -- but we didn't know how much of the interior was
being worked on as well so didn't bother.

Matthias Church defines the view of the castle quarter from the whole of
the Pest side of the river, and is visible alongside the medieval
monastery-encompassing modern monstrosity of the Hilton Hotel, built in the
early eighties during Soviet rule and which is equally inspiring.

I make it all sound terrible, but that is only because the city and its
monuments are so beautiful that its frustrating to see them abused.

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