I got up fresh and ready to attack Budapest, again, much earlier than most sane people get up. I did "sleep in" enough so that by the time I got to the great market (via a walk along the Danube), there were some shops open. (They open at 6, in theory.) There were still plenty of shops that were opening or hadn't yet opened, but I was planning on having a "very hungry caterpillar" breakfast with whatever I could find. I call it that because I basically just walk around and eat whatever I see that looks interesting, regardless of how well it "goes" with anything else or makes sense for breakfast. Amongst other things, I had some excellent dried sweet cherries, a pickle stuffed with sauerkraut, some smoked cheese that was very similar in flavor to the cheese I had yesterday in Slovakia (although in ball-form, not strings), and a sweet cheese-filled pastry. I also bought some paprika to take home, because Hungary is known for its paprika and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They did have lots of fresh and dried peppers hanging all over the place, but I didn't buy any because I'm always concerned about regulations regarding bringing produce across international borders. In addition to produce, meat, and cheese vendors being open, I was a bit surprised to see several bars already open and several guys there drinking. Maybe this is where they have their after-after party, because there's no way they started drinking and were already this drunk at 6:30 am. Next, I headed to the Szechenyi baths, another attraction that was open early. The baths are basically just a gorgeous heated pool that was built by the Ottomans a long time ago. It is geothermally heated and has all sorts of vents, bubblers, and fountains. There is one small area where a current allows you to float in a little circle, kind of like the lazy river at an amusement park. There is also a waterproof chess board in another area, and guys were actually in the baths, playing chess. Other than that, it's a pool with very pretty scenery, and not super-exciting. It was relaxing though. After I got tired of sitting in the water, swimming in the water, and floating in the water, I walked around and admired the statues for a bit until I happened to stumble across a sauna. Having never been in one, I wanted to try it, plus, in my mind, sauna=heat and heat=drying off faster, so I went in. I didn't even last a minute. My asthma went wild, my chest got tight, and I left before I suffocated. So much for that. The bath building is located in a beautiful park, so I wandered the park for a bit and admired the lake and the ducks, as well as the beautifully painted park benches. Next, I wandered over to some cool looking buildings, which turned out to be museums and a visitors' center near Heroes' Square. This is apparently the place where every tour in Budapest starts, because it was completely mobbed with tour groups. This is what I should have checked out early in the morning before everybody was awake. From there, it was an easy walk down Andrassy Street. This is a wide, tree-lined boulevard that seemed to house all of the foreign embassies. There is a great litle walking path on either side of traffic, and the architecture is quite gorgeous. At the other end of the street from the Heroes Square is the Terror House. I originally didn't plan on going to this, but was told that it is a must-see, and I have to agree. This is the place where the Hungarians own up to the bad parts of their history. The entire building is a powerful piece of art that testifies to the horrors that can occur under dictatorships. The building itself used to belong to the Hungarian branch of the Nazi party, then the Communists and had been used in the past to torture and kill political opposition. Now, there are pictures all over the inside and outside of the victims as well as the victimizers. There are some powerful displays on how the various regimes came to power and kept their power. Even the elevator that brings you down to the basement where people were tortured is a powerful, artistic exhibit. Nothing is too grotesque, but it still gets across the point. I am glad that I visited this.
After the Terror House, I wandered towards downtown again, and stopped to see the Great Synagogue. Because it was the holidays and the synagogue was being used for its intended purpose, they weren't letting tourists in, but I did wander around the outside and see how incredibly huge and beautiful it was.
From there, I decided that I had spent enough time on the Pest side of the river, and it was time to check out Buda. The first "checking out" I did was really just enjoying the tram ride all along the riverfront. Whoever decided to put the town's prettiest architecture right up along the river was really smart.
Near the Bethany metro stop, I was able to grab lunch at a place called Edeni Vegan. I asked them for the "most Hungarian" things they had today and got a vegetable soup and lentils. Both were good, but neither had a particularly bold flavor to it.
Working my way back towards the funicular to the castle, I also stopped at the Hungarian Folk Art Museum. In my mind, this was a museum containing classic Hungarian art forms or something culturally Hungarian. No. Just no. There was one piece that was an American Indian dreamcatcher. There was one piece made of computer parts. There were some shoes and a matching purse that looked like they belong at a department store. Basically, it was a weird art gallery that had nothing particularly "Hungarian" or "folk" about it. I have to say that I felt that not only wasn't it worth the small admission price, but also wasn't worth the few minutes spent walking around it.
After that waste of time, I walked over to the funicular and rode to the top of Buda, where the castle district is. The entire area is charming and has a great view. I was also fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guard.
Of course you have to see the castle, the fisherman's bastion (basically just a good viewpoint) and the big cathedral there, but there are some other sights worth seeing as well.
One that I was very unsure of, having read poor reviews was the labyrinth under Budapest Castle. I actually really enjoyed the labyrinth. I'll admit that some of it seemed to have disjointed themes, but that didn't mean it wasn't fun. I learned quite a bit about the real Dracula (Vlad the Impaler), who was imprisoned in the labyrinth for a while, although I don't know how much of what I learned was true since the signs posted sometimes conflicted with each other. It was still interesting to imagine him wandering down there in the dark and to imagine what he must have felt like living there. I also learned about other Hungarian royalty, the Hungarian opera, and got to walk a section of it blinded. Overall, I felt that it was an enjoyable experience.
After descending on the funicular the way I came up the hill, I decided to walk across the Chain Bridge back the the Pest side of the river. It was a nice walk and had a great view of the city, but it is a bridge for cars, and not just pedestrians, so it's not really a bridge to hang out on, it's just for crossing the river.
Directly on the other side of the river is where the Taschlich service was being held. For those who don't know what taschlich is- Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. One of the traditions is to try to start off the year properly by getting rid of last year's sins and worries. Taschlich is when people get together by a body of water and throw bread into the water to symbolize throwing out their sins. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's the general idea. I really appreciated that the Chabad folks had sent me their schedule ahead of time and that I was able to participate in Taschlich on the Danube. I always love the concept of people praying in nature, and the corner that they chose somewhat felt that way, although it was very much in a city. It was a special experience for me as I usually don't participate in that sort of thing, but it was nice to have this opportunity to connect with people and share the culture. It was also kind of interesting to watch the passersby. Several tourists got a once-a-year surprise experience. Many stopped to watch and see what was going on. Some just took their pictures and left, while others stayed and watched, somewhat engrossed in the whole process.
After taschlich, I had thought that I had seen most of the "must-see" tourist things in Budapest, and started looking for a place to eat dinner. I did not realize that I hadn't seen St. Stephen's Basilica, home of the hand of a dead king, until I accidentally stumbled upon it while wandering that part of town. It's a pretty basilica, but I didn't have a chance to go inside. I walked around it for a while and also around the park next to it. I seriously considered riding the big ferris wheel in the park, but it was really expensive, and I had already seen some great views of the city from the castle.
Along the Danube
Chess in the bath
Changing of the guard
Buda Castle Labyrinth
Road to St. Stephens Basilica