Budapest at last, the final stop on our Danube river cruise. I was very excited to see the homeland of my maternal grandparents and walk the streets where my Magyar ancestors walked. My great grandfather was a judge in Budapest and I was eager to experience it’s history and culture.
One of the most striking sights on our cruise in to Budapest was the incredible Parliament building shooting up from the bank of the Danube! The Gothic style exterior, coupled with the Renaissance Revival style of it’s dome, gave promise of the wonderful visions to come.
Our first land tour was a bus ride trough the city, a very interesting overview where we saw memorials, statues, parks, the Turkish baths, famous buildings and more. It wet my appetite to see more. I was so glad we extended our stay in Hungary. We did some shopping near our docking spot and before we knew it, it was time for dinner.
After dressing for dinner, I took in the perspective from our balcony. The Budapest University of Technology and Economics was sparkling on the water. It’s the oldest institute of technology in the world.
Budapest University of Technology and Economics
Our first night, we were treated to an amazing night cruise on the Danube. Budapest is stunning at night.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to the crew of the Avalon Expression and checked in to the very chic InterContinental hotel. Within walking distance of our hotel there was a lot to do and see. As I came around a corner to the sight of Saint Steven’s Basilica, I was awed by its monumental presence in the distance.
This Neo-classical wonder drew me in like a magnet to take a closer look.
My travel companions had no desire to see the inside of another church so I ventured inside alone. It was stunning!
Budapest Jewish District
I enjoyed the walking tours best, especially the Budapest Jewish quarter tour. I recommend it for anybody who wants to get an insight to Jewish Budapest. During the tour, you will also discover the cool party district of Budapest and the “Ruins Bars”.
While we walk my companions and I learned about Jewish memorials, fascinating old buildings and experience the unique, special atmosphere of this multicultural district of Budapest. Especially interesting was hearing the history of the Budapest ghetto and the Hungarian holocaust from an expert in Jewish history.
I thought The Great Synagogue or Dohány Street Synagogue was spectacular. My photo only shows a small portion of the exterior so you can see the architectural detail, topped with copper onion domes. The Great Synagogue, in Moorish revival style, is one of the largest Synagogues in the world!
The interior of the Synagogue was also very grand and impressive. It can hold nearly 3,000 people with it’s two levels of seating.
The Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial Center
Next to the Great Synagogue is the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Here we saw Jewish religious objects and historical items like the uniforms worn by the Jews in concentration camps. It’s heartbreaking, almost 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and Arrow Cross Party.
From there we made our way to the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, named after Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. The park honored Jewish and non-Jewish alike, righteous heroes who sacrificed their lives or put their lives at risk to save victims of the Hungarian Holocaust. The memorial also reminded us of all of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish martyrs and labour-camp inmates who died unknown. It was clear that Hungarians were ashamed of their past alliance with Nazi Germany. The persecution, suffering and murdering claimed over half million Hungarian citizens.
One of the stand-out’s in the park is a large metal sculpture, the “Tree of Life.” Also called the Weeping Willow Tree Memorial. Engraved on each individual leaf is the name of one of 5,000 victims or families. At the front of the Tree is a black double archway memorial with the words – “Is there a bigger pain than mine?”
Experiencing the Synagogue, museum and memorial park was a deeply moving experience. If it wasn’t for the uplifting stories about the many Holocaust heroes, our professional guide disclosed to us, it would have been very depressing.
The neo-renaissance Orthodox Synagogue was another landmark we saw. It stood imposing on Kazinczy Street along with the old buildings. We ended our tour experiencing a ruin pub or ‘ruin bar’. That was fun and memorable.
Szimpla Kert, Ruin Bar
The rickety furnishing, multi colored interiors, and hipster crowd make these ramshackle properties popular.
The legendary Szimpla Kert is the best-known ruin pub in Budapest. It holds a mix of eclectic styles and an a vibe of urban life. The dilapidated edifice also boasts a distinct charm.
Nightlife in Budapest
The ruin pub phenomenon is a big part of Budapest’s unique nightlife. Fine dining and music is also plentiful. What I enjoyed that night was right at our hotel. We had a fantastic location on the Danube.
Debbie, Alison and I, enjoying the night life
The InterContinental had a stylish bar and restaurant with a spectacular views of the Buda Palace and Chain Bridge.
Peter, Steven and Joey at one of the InterContinental restaurants.
In the background, Castle Hill and Saint Matthias looked magical in the shadows of dusk.
The glow of the Buda Castle at night
The half day tour of the Buda Castle complex offered wonderful vistas and photo opportunities. The famous Chain Bridge spans the Danube below.
Castle Hill is a great place to pick up souvenirs. I bought a lovely table cloth for my mother that was embellished with colorful embroidery. The Hungarians do excellent needlework and embroidery is a popular textile art in their communities. My Hungarian grandmother use to make beautiful clothes for me and my sisters.
Take a closer look at the gothic details in the architecture of Saint Matthias!
The day before we left we took a fantastic tour of the interior of the Parliament building. The guide was filled with fascinating historical information. I enjoyed the stories about how the Hungarian crown jewels were lost or stolen a number of times. For a while they were held in the U.S. at Fort Knox.
The National Assembly of Hungary was not in session so we had the unique opportunity to see their legislative chambers.
Assembly hall of the House of Magnates
The council chambers were gilded with gold so was the Main Hall and it was magnificent!
Steve and I standing at the Main Staircase of the Parliament building.
Across from Parliament is the Budapest Museum of Ethnography. It was a beauty with astounding artistic and architectural appointments!
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Shoes on the Danube Memorial on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade.
Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial
It was a stark and sickening reminder of the cruelty of the Arrow Cross terror where 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were shot into the Danube River during the dark winter of 1944 -1945 at the end of World War II. That winter the Danube was known as the Jewish cemetery. ¹
“…what I saw was worse than anything I had ever seen before, worse than the most frightening accounts I had ever witnessed. Two Arrow Cross men were standing on the embankment of the river, aiming at and shooting a group of men, women and children into the Danube – one after the other, on their coats the Yellow Star. I looked at the Danube. It was neither blue nor gray but red. With a throbbing heart, I ran back to the room in the middle of the apartment and sat on the floor, gasping for air.” ²
This trip unveiled so much of man’s inhumanity to man during World War II but also the courage of the many brave hero’s who overcame the evil. There was an abundance rich history, local color, art and beauty. I highly recommend this European river cruise down the Danube from Prague to Hungary. Avalon Waterways was marvelous!
European Adventure Part 1 – Czech Republic
European Adventure Part 2 – Germany and Cesky Krumlov
European Adventure Part 3 – Austria
Many blessings, Linda
“I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.” – Psalm 13: 5-6
1. T. Zane Reeves, Ph.D., Shoes Along the Danube: Based on a True Story (Durham: Strategic Book Group, 2011)
2. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, “From Country to Country: My Search for Home” in Alvin Rosenfeld, ed., The Writer Uprooted: Contemporary Jewish Exile Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008)
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