Monday, March 26, 2007

Travel - more Budapest and beyond

We crossed the Danube River from Pest to Buda to see the castle and walk up and down little streets taking photos of houses and doors and cute little cars. At the Matthias Church we read about the extensive renovations being made to the building – about 700- years old. It has been studied extensively to find weak points in the walls and in the foundation. Piles of dirt are stacked on one side so that the structure beneath can be reinforced where it was built on a now-shifting clay surface. The tile roof has been replaced and work is ongoing to replace the metal, wood, stone and marble surfaces with attention to getting everything back to the original plans but allowing for modernization and stability.

The castle has been reworked also. It took about 60 years to figure out how to deal with it. During the communist rule there were plans to make it into party headquarters. Many centuries-old structures around the castle were torn down just to clear the area. They could have been renovated but during Soviet rule the preservation of Hungarian history was not valued by those in charge. Eventually the castle was renovated to hold three separate museums for art and heritage of the Hungarian tribes.
Hungary only elected its first democratic parliament in 1990 and it was admitted to the EU shortly afterwards. It still uses its own currency and not the Euro though many shops will take Euros, British pounds, US dollars and maybe occasionally other currencies. For a country recently out of communism, the economy seems well developed.

Some buildings have what look like gun shot damage and I read today about the revolution in the 50s when the Hungarians fought for independence and the world didn't help them. Many buildings were damaged (no mention made of the people) and the uprising ended when the people were given some autonomous rule. Maybe that’s why the people are doing well now. They’ve had more practice than some other Soviet Bloc countries.

All the people look very stylish, particularly I notice their shoes and boots while Rick sees the mini skirts and boots together. The people seem fond of pastries and cigarettes and sausages and opera and theater. A bomb feel on the stage of the opera house during WW II but it didn’t explode so the majority of the building was undamaged while many buildings around it were destroyed.

The opera house was renovated about 20 years ago for its 100th anniversary. We toured the building but didn’t see an opera. Gone with the Wind was on last night and tonight was Macbeth.
I guess that we spent most of the day walking and looking at things and being thankful that the rain stopped. We also spent some time reading guide books to plan out our last days here.
I took photos of the Metro 1 line, a feature we will miss. Trains come every 2 or 3 minutes to these quaint, little, clean stations. When the train arrives it plays a very short and happy tune just before the doors open. The cars supposedly hold 16 seated passengers and 50 standing but I counted 24 standing when the seats were full and couldn’t see another 26 people worth of space between all the bags and elbows.

Monday was another glorious spring day so we went to Szentendre by train. It was a touristy place for sure but with cute little buildings and streets. The buildings in this town and for several kilometers along the way are built of yellow, red or orange stucco with red tile roofs – except that we saw some roof repair going on and they aren’t tile but rather fiberglass. What a disappointment.

The colors of the houses are surprising because the colors of the tablecloths, pottery and traditional outfits explode in every direction. We can’t look 2 inches without seeing the entire color wheel so certainly people here like color. I guess it just goes in the houses and not on them though the occasional house was roofed in a cheeky green with pistachio stucco.

There’s a famous ceramic museum there – closed on Mondays – and a Marzipan Museum where one can see a life-sized Michael Jackson or miniatures of many fairy tale creatures as well as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear and members of the Hungarian Monarchy – all in tons of very colorful Marzipan.

We met Kathy and Russ who are significant because her sister is married to John Nenos and they lived in Alfred for several years. We don’t know John Nenos but we do know his brother Jim and his wife Karrie Edwards and we know where their old house is so that was a little surprising.

On the way back we got off the train twice not knowing if that is allowed with this ticket but since nobody checked our tickets when we jumped back on it worked out okay. We stopped to see ancient Roman ruins. There are two amphitheatres – one smaller than Rome’s coliseum and the other larger. They are said to be “resting” which means that nobody is tearing them down but nobody is restoring or protecting them either.

The Roman Coliseum is a huge tourist draw and money conduit if not money maker. The first amphitheatre we stopped at was Aquincum in OBuda or ancient Buda. It is visible from the train track so no problem finding it. The town was a military garrison in the first century AD and was also the seat of the Roman province of the time.

The amphitheatre was for the general public. The gate of death is to the west – named as it was used to carry slain gladiators from the ring. Now one might accurately describe it as a pit with rusted grocery carts and corners full of trash. Behind it appears to be a squatter’s village built of plastic tents.

Our next leap off the train was at the site of a military amphitheatre built in the second century to hold up to 15,000 spectators. Larger than the facility in Rome, it has a full circle around a grassy pit, one lion’s cage still intact and some of the seating levels are in place. It does not have the tall walls of the coliseum or the Roman guards (with or without fox skins) or the food stalls, the guides and the throngs of people. A few students sat here and there talking or reading and a woman walked her dog where lions once shredded gladiators for the entertainment of thousands. Rick and I ate oranges in the breezy Hungarian sun.

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