Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day 11-12 Touring Budapest

Early Saturday morning we were transferred from our river cruise boat to the hotel, as we had signed up for the post-cruise extension. Besides a 1/2 day local walking tour the 2nd day, it was basically free time to check out sights on your own.

First up we hired a car and driver to take us to the main cemetery, Kerepesi. I am a fan of "Angel of Grief" statues, named after a sculpture by William Story made in 1895 for his wife in Rome's protestant cemetery. I had read recently of one in Budapest's cemetery, so off we went. It looked haunting in the recent winter snow.

Mrs. Ferenc Beniczky (nee Bajza Lenke)(1839-1905)
Also in the cemetery were the resting places of prominent politicians, most notably Lajos Kossuth, who led the Hungarian revolution of 1848.
Lajos Kossuth Mausoleum
Shoes on the Danube
Later we visited a World War II memorial along the Danube which paid tribute to over 3,500 citizens killed during the "Arrow Cross" terror in late 1944-early 1945. Citizens were lined up along the river bank, told to take off their shoes, then shot with their bodies falling into the river to be carried downstream.  The memorial contains 60 empty pairs of iron shoes in the style of the period.

The next day was reserved for the Budapest Zoo.  The polar bear was out and about, but the tiger was in a heated building, along with the giraffes.  The elephants were outside too--they didn't seem fazed by the cold weather.  The entrance gate and the elephant house were both constructed for the 1896 400th anniversary celebration.

The Entrance Gate and the Polar Bear
We returned to the hotel, freshened up, then headed out for the main Christmas Market in front of St. Stephen's Basilica. To get there from the hotel, we took the subway, one of the first in Europe. The roof of the station was immediately under the street, so the steps down were much fewer than most subway entrances.

We checked out the Basilica first. Men in frocks stood at the entrance to the Basilica, to insure you paid your entrance fee if you wished to enter. Seemed a bit out of place for Christmas season, but they probably thought with the market crowds, they should take in some forints too.

Overlooking the square and the Christmas Market from the Basilica steps

At the Christmas market looking towards the Basilica in the evening fog

Some of the booths at the market:

A wonderful evening, then it was back to the hotel and return home.  To make our Frankfurt connection, we departed Budapest airport at 6:30 a.m.  My that was an early departure from the hotel!

Very enjoyable trip, however, with many, many memories!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 10 (7) -- Arrival in Budapest

We were alerted the evening before that our arrival into Budapest would occur early the next day. As it turned out, we first saw the city around 7:00 a.m. Although the day was overcast and chilly, it was still a great sight to see the impressive buildings as we passed under Danube bridges connecting Buda, on the hilly, west side and Pest, with its flatter geography on the east side.

The Hungarian Parliament Building
The National Art Gallery with the Chain Bridge
Breakfast on board, then out for the buses as we toured the city. First stop, a view of the city from one of a park, with a former castle called the Citadel.

The view from Citadel Lookout--notice the great parking spot for our cruise ship
From there we were taken to the top of the Buda side and dropped off near Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion. We concluded the tour on foot and then were on our own.

Matthias Church's roots go back to the 10th century, with the current building begun in the late 1200's. Begun as a Roman Catholic parish, it was captured by the Turks in 1541, and turned into a mosque. Retaken 150 years later and changed back to Catholic, there are still viewable Muslim images in the interior. In the 19th century, King Matthias had the church restored, and it was then named in his honor.

A view of Matthias Church's altar along with a tour guide and group
Right outside the main entrance is the Fisherman's Bastion, a viewing terrace constructed in the 1890's as part of the city's 400th anniversary in 1896. It was modeled on early castle walls in the area, said to be originally guarded by local fishermen, hence the name. There is a fee to walk along the tower walls.

A Statue of St. Stephen alongside Fisherman's Bastion
Welcome Sign

We ate a spot of lunch at a nearby cafe, then returned back to the ship for an afternoon rest before heading out to one of the nearby Christmas Markets.

With our central location, it was a quick walk to Vörösmarty Tér, a square in the downtown area, for our first Budapest market. It was along the main walking street to the Grand Market. Just off the main street is the first McDonald's restaurant behind the Iron Curtain.

The Vörömarty Tér Christmas Market (Gluhwein available !)
Walking the Main Street to the Grand Market
That evening after dinner, we walked in the vicinity of the ship for a couple of night-time photos of the city.

The Chain Bridge in early evening
Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion viewed from across the Danube
Last night on the ship!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day 9 (6) Touring Vienna

After another excellent breakfast on board (omelet from the buffet), we once again hopped on the bus for a ride into the city. The walking tour began near the opera house, and we walked towards the Hofburg palace, where nearby the Lipizzaner stallions had a practice ring.

Hofburg Palace
We then walked along the main street towards St. Stephen's Cathedral, enjoying the architecture while listening to the guide discuss Vienna's history. We reached the cathedral and the group was adjourned for the day.

Walking in Vienna downtown

One of the lions

We decided to head for a ChristKindl market, so off to Schönbrunn Palace we went, where a large market was set up in their forecourt. A subway stop was nearby the cathedral, as well as the palace, so no long walks or cab ride required!

Some stone lions out front of the palace that were enjoying the sun distracted us for a bit, but then it was on to the market!

While some of us enjoyed the shopping, others of us once again tested the glühwein (to stay warm, of course!)

Looking towards the ChristKindl market at Schönbrunn

Some selections at Schönbrunn
Back to the boat to unpack our treasures, then late afternoon we headed to the main market in front of City Hall (Rathaus).

Entrance to the market with Burgtheater in background
The market with Rathaus in the back
Did I mention that it was crowded?

This time we grabbed hot soup in a bread bowl. The late afternoon temps had dropped into the 20's now (°F)--we decided to return rather than await the evening lighting since we'd been outside most of the day. We arrived back at the boat just after sunset, just in time for dinner.

The view from our stateroom after dark
During dinner, we left Vienna and cruised downstream, heading towards Budapest.