Budapest: Fiddler? On the Square
Amazing what a little sleep can do. . . plus a great breakfast at the hotel . . . . then we started off to see the city on one of the bus tours that you can get off and on. This route (orange) had 13 stops and gave us a really nice overview of both hilly Buda & the flatter Pest. After reading The Invisible Bridge, I found myself feeling oddly familiar with many of the sights; starting with the Opera House from the book’s opening pages. We visited Heroes’ Square, saw beautiful neighborhoods along with exteriors of the Zoo and Vajdahunyad Castle, parks, Gellért Hill, Castle Hill with its Holy Trinity Church, the Hungarian statue of liberty, and of course, the Chain Bridge.
Once our drive ended, we found Vörösmarty tér and took the suggestion of our Hungarian friend and neighbor, Eva, to sample the pastries in the famous 150-year-old Gerbeaud Café coffeehouse located in the square. We decided this break would be in place of lunch. It was hard to decide from the extensive assortment; although my Mother had no problem selecting the most caramel concoction. I tried the locally famous Dobas Torta. Delicious. And for entertainment, we enjoyed watching two senior gentlemen – one playing the same tune repeatedly on the clarinet, while the other ‘played’ the violin; we swear his bow never touched the strings. I felt like we were watching a skit from one of the Miami Herald scavenger-type events in which we used to participate.
Once on a sugar high, we walked down to the Danube and boarded a boat for a river tour. The clouds that had been threatening all day begin to lift and we actually saw some sun. You can see close up why Budapest is called ‘the city of bridges.’ From the River the city was sparkling and the view of the Parliament amazing. After docking, we walked to Váci utca and did a little window and souvenir shopping, eventually making our way back to the hotel.
My husband and I took off for the nearby Jewish district to visit the old ghetto and see the Great Synagogue up close. What an incredible building. It was sobering to see the cemetery within its gates with stone after stone dated 1945. Many of the streets in the district were torn up (looked like they were adding fire hydrants), so it was a bit of a mess – but we did manage to see the Rumbach utca Synagogue, Arch at Madách Imre tér, the tunnel-like courtyard Gozsdu Udvar, a kosher pizzeria and more.
For dinner we took it easy and decided to stay in at the Meridien and enjoy their special Hungarian night. We listened to some lovely music played with marimba and violin, watched energetic folk dancing and tried numerous local specialties. My fav was the goose liver terrine with Makó onions; my husband is sticking with his goulash; while Mom loved the stuffed paprika and Rakott Burgonya (potato with boiled eggs and sour cream); we all liked the noodle (kugel-like) roasted cabbage & pasta (Káposztás Tészta) and all the wonderful pastries for dessert! It was a pleasant, relaxing evening and a good way to end a hectic day.
But my husband and I weren’t done, we had to see the Chain Bridge and ‘castle’ lit up at night – so we walked down to the riverfront for the beautiful sight! Along the way, we mingled with the crowds of autograph seekers and paparazzi waiting for the Formula 1 Hungarian Gran Prix celebrity drivers to emerge from a few of the area hotels. Today was the practice session and the city was buzzing with excitement (causing hotels to be booked and to hike up prices).
Now, we were ready to call it a night.