Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Budapest, Hungary: Last Day Begins with a Castle Hill walk

I'm safely (kinda sorta) back in the U.S. of A. now, stranded at LAX because of the volcano ash plume mucked up trans-Atlantic flights, so I have time to post the pictures from my last day in Budapest!

My final day day of tourism in Budapest began with a walk about Castle Hill. Castle Hill is heart and soul of Buda. It's on a hill, and it's got a castle. Hence the name. It also has truckloads, busloads, and boatloads of tourists. Such as myself, although most are organized into groups with guides jabbering in multiple languages. Thus, this also may be called "Tourist Hill."

The walk began at the "Vienna Gate," so named because, eventually, the road leading out of here would lead to Vienna. (ASIDE: doesn't the English name "Vienna" sound so much more elegant and sophisticated than the harsh-sounding "Wein," as it is called in the Austrian? Vienna is a much more marketable name than Wein.)

Beautiful old building. This is what us Americans think Europe should look like. Magnificent old buildings, narrow, car-hostile cobblestone streets.

And nothing screams "tourist district" better than a hansom cab! I had to doublecheck the spelling because, as I wanted to spell the name of these horse-drawn conveyance devices "handsome cab." Yes, they are attractive, but nevertheless, the correct spelling is "hansom." Look it up.

Walking westward, away from the river, was the "Remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church," which was first built in 1456. THe church was destroyed in the Ottoman wars and rebuilt. You can see the blend of the old and somewhat newer reconstruction. The church originally bore the name Kapisztrán Templom.

Off to the side of the Remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church, is a statue honoring the gentleman for whom the church was first name: Kapisztrán János. You've heard of him, I guarantee it. But you probably know Kapisztrán János by the Spanish version of his name: San Juan Capistrano. He is the patron saint of military chaplains. And that is fitting, given that the building behind him is the Hungarian Museum of Military History.

Still in the upper part of Castle Hill, here is the "Turkish grave," probably the only Ottoman grave within the Castle Hill walls, honoring a pasha who rules Hungary during the Ottoman occupation.

We now move into the midsection of Castle Hill. And who do we meet? Why, that's Pope Innocent XI! Pope Innocent XI was an important figure, as he was important to fighting the war effort to end the Turkish siege of Vienna and the Ottoman occupation of Hungary. As such, he is not popular in Islamic circles.

But the literal and figurative centerpiece of Castle Hill is tghe beuatifully ornate Matthias Church.

This is the tourist magnet, even more so that the Royal Palace.

And this is the big giant saint-infested obelisk thing in front of the church.

A short walk down a cobblestone street is this (in)famous statue of a mounted András Hadik. What makes this statue so infamous? You can't really tell all that well from this picture, although you kinda can, but while the rest of the statue hs the green appearance of well-weathered bronze, one particular part of the horse's anatomy is polished to a golden sheen. Apparently, over the years, for some reason, I don't know why and I don't want to know the answer or how this even got started, but apparently, over the years, it has been considered good luck to rub the horse's bronze testicles right before a big exam. And students will do what it takes to get good grades. When you're there, this color differential (and hence the particular aspect of the horse's anatomy) is highly noticeable.

The view of Pest (Parliament, Chain Bridge) from behind Matthias Church atop Castle Hill.

The war-scarred former Ministry of War building, marking the divide behind the Matthias Church section of Castle Hill, and the Royal Palace section.

Rear view of the Turul Bird, which is perched on Castle Hill and looks down upon the Chain Bridge and Pest. Only rear views possible from up here, as it the sword-bearing mythical Turul Bird is perched cliff-side. The founding mythology of the Hungarian nation is that the Turul Bird led the Magyars -- with their incomprehensible language -- out of Central Asia and to the plains of Central Europe.

Another river view! As you can surmise, I can't get enough of these. Chain Bridge in the foreground, with St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent István-bazilika) immediately behind. Parliament to the left. (NOTE: "Parliament to the left" is decidedly not a political comment, as is there is some concern in the "international community" about the number of votes recently received by a far-right nationalist party.)

Here is a dapper gentleman enjoying a leisurely repose outside the Royal Palace.

There is no royal family in Hungary -- Hungary being superior to Great Britain in that regard -- so the Royal Palace is now a museum complex. I visited the Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria), which houses the great masterpieces of Hungarian art. No snickering! Yes, there may be no such thing as the Hungarian masters, but the museum is nice to get a sense of the national character, and what scenes from history are most valued. It also has a terrific collection of carved wooden altars, generally from the more heavily forested Slovakia (once referred to as "Upper Hungary"). This is one of the more prominent works in the museum, The Bewailing of László Hunyadi.

I pass through the Palace Gate and my dogs are barking.

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