Friday, December 19, 2014

Ph(f)oto Friday: Love Lock

Little P shed some romantic outlook for these locks.

The first thing that crossed my mind was, "Don't these people know locks are expensive?!"
Second thought was, "I wonder if there's a way for me to unlock and use them..."
Then it went, "Wow, some of these locks are good locks too!"
It followed with... "Don't they read the news where the railing on the bridge in Paris collapsed under the weight of these locks?"

And before your thoughts wandered, Little P took these pictures on her walks with date/boyfriend. I took them on my solo walk when I was running an errand.

Side note: Happy birthday Verbie!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Central Europe: Hungary - Things to See/Do in Budapest Part 2

Since we have done the Buda side, here's some on Pest side or rather, the balance of it.

1. Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Chain Bridge)
This iconic bridge connects Buda and Pest, and in my humble opinion the most beautiful and mesmerizing bridge in all the ones I saw in Central Europe. It is guarded by lions which symbolises power.

2. Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)
I wish I could say I have also visited the interior of this magnificent building but the English tour was sold out and my knowledge of the rest of language on offer was nil. We followed the walking trail in Rick Steve's Eastern Europe book but have missed out the entrance to the Hungarian Parliament.

Also in the complex are some monuments, including one on Lajos Kossuth, who led the 1848 Revolution against the Habsburgs.

Mr Kossuth looking down at me....

3. Holocaust Monument
Along the Pest riverbank to the left, from afar you would be able to see several dots lining the embankment. It is unlikely that one would miss it because likely there would be people taking shots of it. This monument consisted of 50 pairs of bronze shoes, commemorating the Jews who where killed when the Nazis' puppet government, the Arrow Cross came to power in Hungary in 1944. This was were some of the Jews were shot and their bodies were let to fall into the Danube.

4. Liberty Square (Szabadság tér)
This obelisk is a Soviet War memorial is to commemorate "Liberation Day". By this time, I was getting quite sick but it was a Sunday and it was rather difficult to find a pharmacy that was opened.

5. St. Istvan's Basillica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)
Entrance is free but one is expected to give a 'donation'. The church's main claim is the "holy right hand" of St. Istvan. Here's a link to the story, but I've also included a photo of the explanation taken from the church. This 1,000 year old right hand was kept inside a jeweled box in the chapel. This jeweled box is usually dark, so you can't see the hand. If you pop in a 200 HUF, it will be lighted up for two minutes. If you sit around long enough, you would probably be lucky to catch it in light. ;)

Ego Sum Via Veritas Et Vita

6. German Occupation Memorial
We stumbled upon this memorial, it is built in memory of victims during the German occupation. At this memorial, there's a fountain that respond to motion.

7. Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Állami Operaház)
The hostel we stayed in was at the other end of this Andrassy Ut, we walked passed this opera house on the way back to Oktogon to have a rest. More so for me who is shivering despite layered myself in a down feather jacket as well as wind breaker.

This opera house dates from 1890s, not long after Budapest had become co-capital of the Habsburg Empire.

7. Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok)
I love this place, full of food goodness - from goose liver, Tokaji Aszu wine, smiley face pickled peppers, cakes, alcohol, and not forgetting paprika ;)
One can also find souvenirs in the form of magnets, t-shirts, matryoshka dolls (nesting dolls), embroidered tablecloths. We had our lunch here too - nothing like having a goulash in a market hall :D

The Langos stand here was said to be one of the best, we were not that hungry at that time, so we tried langos at another store, at the recommendation of a friendly staff from the hostel.

8. Szechenyi thermal bath
Of the few famous thermal bath, our pick was this Szechenyi bath. We took the full day bath ticket with locker usage. Ticket with cabin is more expensive because there is much more privacy. Please be warned that there is no changing room in Szechenyi bath. Even bathrooms for shower are doorless. :|
I was quite shock because I didn't expect that. Oh and please bring your own towel, toiletries and slippers. We bought our tickets at the hostel and they have provided us with towel to bring there.

This place is huge. It took me awhile to find K after she went inside to try the pools before me. No photos as we were not comfortable to leave our cameras lying around. I didn't ditch her, but was being polite as some sleazy (according to K) French vet was talking to me at that time. It was obvious he was just trying to find a quick date for the night as his friend ditched him.

Side note: If you are interested in the ending of the story, no - I didn't meet the French man that day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Central Europe: Hungary - Things to See/Do in Budapest Part 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, we started our sight-seeing in Budapest by joining the Budapest Free Walking Tour. The meeting point was at Vorosmarty Square. We walked a little around Pest, then crossed the Chain Bridge towards the Buda side of the city.

So I shall start with things to do or see in the Buda side, which technically most of the sights are found on Castle Hill.

Castle Hill

1. Royal Palace (aka Buda Castle)
We walked up the hill but there's also another option - a funicular. According to our tour guide from the walking tour, locals usually just walk. Maybe that's why they are all fit and slim.

The Buda Castle is now the home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Library. This place is massive, it took us awhile to walkabout. If you took the walking option, a sculpture of Turul is at the front to greet you on your way up.

Turul is the most important bird in the origin myth of Magyars (Hungarians), described as a giant eagle or falcon with a sword in it's talon. In the gist, both legends symbolises birth to a line of great ruler and the finding of the land that became Hungary. It is a symbol of Magyar and can be found on the coat of arms of the Hungarian Army and the Office of National Security.

Matthias Fountain (Mátyás kútja)
If you are interested, the changing of guards is held in front of the Hungarian Presidential Palace at the Buda Castle. It takes a few minuties and repeat by the hour from 8.30 - 5 pm (e.g. 10 am, 11 am, etc. We were there at 10 am on a Saturday and was informed that there's a longer one at 12 pm. We didn't return to check it. The website however mentioned there's only one Special Saturday Changing of the Guards at midday but only on the last Saturday of the given month.

2. Matthias Church (Mátyás templom)
The opening hours for Saturday was listed as 9-1 pm but we missed it for a Church service I think or maybe it was because of a wedding. Anyway, we did not enter the church, but only wandered around it.

This is a Roman Catholic church, just in front of the Fisherman's Bastion at the heart of the Buda's Castle District. We were initially told by our tour guide that the tiles on the church were superior tiles that can self-cleaned. (Har har). The truth was, the church has just gotten new tiles roof. Of course it is not very traditional looking but I think the contrast does complement the look of the church though.

This building is not very forgiving for short cameraperson

3. Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya)
In the Middle Ages, this part of the rampart was guarded by fishermen and there was a fish market just below here. Hence, the name of Fishermen's Bastion.

I actually though the towers make it very Disney feel but from what I read, there are seven pointy towers and it represent the seven Magyar tribes. I didn't count how many there were though. We were cheapskate, so we did not pay the fee to climb up the bastion. The views over Danube overlooking Pest are beautiful even from fee free area.

View from one of the windows at the bastion.

It was cloudy that day but still superb view
4. Cafe Ruszwurm (Ruszwurm Cukrászda)
This is not sight related but we decided to have morning tea. Zoltan (tour guide) recommended some eating places and this was one of the venue. Pastries are a big deal in Hungary and there are some cakes recommended in Rick Steve's book. So our picks were - tiroli meggyes retes (sour cherry strudel) and dobos torta (layered chocolate and caramel cream cake), and a coffee each.

Coffee each at 1100 HUF / AUD 5.50 / € 3.60

The one in front is Tiroli meggyes retes (400 HUF / AUD 2 / € 1.30), dobos torta (500 HUF / AUD 2.50 / € 1.70)
Gellért Hill

5. Citadel Fortress
Also on the Buda side is the Gellért Hill, named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill due to reaction to Christianity following the death of King St Stephen. At the top of the hill is the Citadel. We visited this on a different day after Central Market Hall (I'll write about this in another post). From Central Market Hall, we walked across Szabadság Bridge or Liberty Bridge (Green Bridge).
The famous Hotel Gellert and Gellert Baths are at the foot of the hill.

Szabadság Bridge

At the bottom of the hill
6. Cave Church
Half way up the hill, one can also visit the Cave Church. This church is actually located inside Gellért Hill. Needless to say much, we didn't go in :|
If you need to read a bit further on the church, here's the link.

Outside of where Cave Church is
7. Liberation Monument
A Statue of Liberty (Szabadság Szobor) in Budapest, this statue was erected in 1947 after second world war. The main figure is a woman, holding an olive branch, the symbol of peace in her hands. From afar, when I first heard about this statue of liberty, I thought it seem quite fit if she holds a paprika leave since paprika is a big thing in Hungary.

Statue of liberty - the one in the middle

This is not the statue of liberty
As this is up the hill, we were also rewarded with panorama view of the city.

8. Others
If you decided to try the funicular instead of making your way up the hill by foot, here's a photo if it.

Thermal bath - Gellért Bath and Rudas Bath.
Both of these bath houses are on the Buda side, we only have time for one and went to Széchenyi thermal bath instead.

Side note: Have you had egg nog before?