EUROPE 2011: Budapest, Hungary


Author Pat Krapf in Budapest HungarySplit Airport Terminal

The following morning we arrived at the bus station to catch a ride to the Split Airport. The day started on an amusing note. When we handed our bus tickets to the driver, I was surprised to see the same man who had taken us on a detour to somewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I didn’t think to ask him, “Where were we in Herzegovina?” However, I did ask about our route to the airport, and he laughed. Nonstop, he assured me: bus station directly to the airport. But it proved only a partial truth; we made two stops to pick up some associates of his, but other than that, the trip was uneventful.

Giant apple in split airportI’ve been in my share of airports, and while some can be interesting and/or fun for one reason or another (the food or shops, for example), I was literally blown away by the modern architecture of the Split Airport. And never while waiting for a flight to depart have I felt the compunction to wander an airport to snap pictures, but that’s precisely what I did. Modern and stunning can’t even capture its originality, so I’ve posted photos of the airport in this blog. The giant bronze apple was in the upstairs restaurant. The photo of the airport entrance was taken by Ballota, a local photographer.

Split AirportBefore we boarded our flight from Split to Munich, I spent my remaining kunas, the currency of Croatia, on chocolates, then settled into my seat onboard the commuter jet for the fifty-five-minute flight. We had a rather lengthy layover in Munich, so we ate a late lunch at the airport, a surprisingly good meal of filet, roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, and strudel for dessert.

We arrived late in Budapest, 10:30 p.m., but had prearranged transportation from the airport directly to the Sofitel Hotel. The Parliament buildings on the hill and the bridges aglow in yellow light was a magnificent scene, picture perfect. Only a light dusting of snow would have made the setting more magical, and coming from someone who detests the cold like me, that’s admitting a lot. I couldn’t wait for morning and the chance to explore. To say I fell immediately in love with Budapest was an understatement.

Hero's SquareOur first order of business on our first full day was to tackle the lavish buffet breakfast set out by the hotel. During our meal, we mapped out our ambitious plans for the day. Walking was high on the agenda, so we followed our familiar regimen of collecting water bottles, sunscreen, cameras, and anything else we thought we might want or need for the morning’s excursion.

First on our sightseeing list was Heroes Square, which was quite a hike from our hotel, but the warm yet overcast day proved ideal for working off the big breakfast we had just consumed. Once we were on Andrássy Avenue, the main boulevard, it was a straight walk to the square.

Budapest Hungary Terror MuseumAs we drew near a stark blue-gray building, we were drawn to it out of curiosity. Standing in front of the structure, we noticed its black awning with cutout letters that formed the word “TERROR.” Almost ominously, the sun peeked out, and the word was projected on the walls of the building, which turned out to be Budapest’s House of Terror. During World War II, after Hungary allied itself with Germany, it was overtaken by Hungary’s Arrow Cross Nazi party. The members practically exterminated Budapest’s Jews. Countless victims were interrogated, imprisoned, and tortured in the basement cells of the building, which is why it has such significance as a site of terror and is now a museum. On the exterior of the building at street level is a long line of plaques commemorating the victims. Seeing photos of the dead was powerfully moving, disturbing, and sobering. We continued on in silence.

Heroes Square, Budapest’s largest public square, was created in 1896 to mark the one thousandth anniversary of the country’s birth. The main attraction is the Millennium Monument, completed in 1929. It honors the Magyar tribes that founded the country. The tall central column is topped with a statue of Archangel Gabriel holding a crown and the double cross of Christianity. Behind the monument on both sides are two curved colonnades, each with six pillars. Between the pillars are statues of famous Hungarian kings and important Hungarian historic figures. Constructed during the reign of the Habsburgs, the spaces between the colonnades were intended for statues of royals but were used instead for statues of freedom fighters following World War II. On top of the colonnades were statues symbolic of knowledge, glory, war, peace, work, and welfare.

Budapest Hungary Vajdahunyad Castle FrontFrom Heroes Square we proceeded on to Vajdahunyad Castle, also built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition. The castle’s design incorporates several architectural styles copied from landmark buildings from across the Kingdom of Hungary, especially the Hunyadi Castle in Transylvania, (now in Romania). Depicted are the styles of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Originally built of cardboard and wood, because of its popularity it was rebuilt in stone and brick from 1904–1908. Today the castle houses the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture.

Budapest Hungary Vajdahunyad Castle SideI snapped quite a few photos of the castle, because it will be featured in a future Darcy McClain thriller. After my short photo shoot, we paused in the courtyard to photograph the statue of Anonymous, the nameless medieval chronicler to King Béla. Which King Béla is uncertain, as there were four with this name.

The castle is surrounded by Városligeti Lake, a man-made lake used for boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Skating was once a favorite winter sport of the elite and is now a favorite pastime for all.

Budapest Hungary Robinson's RestaurantA little before noon, we wandered past the entrance to the Budapest Zoo but unfortunately did not have the time to stop in, as we had lunch reservations at Robinson Restaurant. The restaurant is on a small island on Városligeti Lake, a pleasant, relaxing setting. All of these sights, Heroes Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Robinson Restaurant, the zoo, as well as other landmarks, are located in the city park area and are within easy walking distance of each other. Service at the restaurant was slower than anticipated, so when we finished our meal we wanted to return to the hotel as quickly as possible. On our way to the Robinson, I had spotted a sign for a subway and suggested we check this out.

In the midst of a language problem with the woman at the subway’s ticket office, and growing more frustrated every time she refused our money, we were approached by a young woman who asked if she could be of assistance. We explained our dilemma, as we saw it, and the young woman said something to the ticket taker. The older woman gave our Good Samaritan an exasperated look, snatched our forints from the young woman’s hand, and handed over two tickets along with some change. We thanked her and asked what had we done wrong. “Nothing. She wanted the exact price for the tickets because she is short on change. Stay on the train until the line terminates,” said our Good Samaritan as she boarded the subway. Next week, we explore more of Budapest’s greatest landmarks.


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Europe and Bellagio

October 1994: Dusk was falling when we left Zermatt, Switzerland, for Italy. By the time we reached our hotel in Bellagio, it was too dark to see anything outdoors. However, I do recall being duly impressed with the interior decor, with its white marble and lavender and purple accents. Since our visit, the hotel has been remodeled and the contemporary touches and colors are gone, replaced with a more old-world decor.

We woke to a sunny, clear morning with a beautiful, panoramic view of Lake Como from the balcony of our room. Stuffed after a lavish brunch buffet, we hiked the narrow streets of Bellagio to shop for Murano glassware and a few souvenirs.

In the afternoon, we took a nail-biting drive around the lake with its narrow roads, hairpin curves, steep inclines, and heavy traffic. We didn’t worry about the road conditions as much as the inexperienced drivers, who often came around a sharp corner in the middle of the road.

From Bellagio, we drove through the Italian Alps to St. Moritz, where we lunched, then wound our way into Innsbruck for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Up early the next morning, we left Innsbruck for Füssen, in Bavaria, to tour King Ludwig II’s three castles: Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and his final retreat, Linderhof.

In Füssen we backtracked to the Autobahn and zipped into Munich to meet friends for Oktoberfest, staying long enough to catch up over a beer and brat, and to buy a souvenir beer mug before we sped down to Salzburg, Austria, for the night.

The next day, we toured Hohensalzburg Castle, wandered through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and visited Mozart’s birthplace. Later in the day, the tea hour, we lingered over an espresso and a generous slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing).

Early the next morning, we left Salzburg for a two-day visit to Vienna, both of us ready to put down stakes for a while after admitting we had packed too much sightseeing into our three-week trip.

In Vienna, we started our first day with a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At noon, we stopped at the Hoher Markt Clock, a large glided clock designed in 1914, to watch the parade of all the figures and to listen to the melodic music that accompanied the procession. Afterwards, we toured the Imperial Palace (Hofburg).

On day two in Vienna, due to a misunderstanding by our hotel’s concierge, we missed out on our original plan to take a boat ride down the Danube to Budapest. By the time the matter had been cleared up, our boat had already departed. However, many years later, we would visit Budapest and for much longer than just one day. So day two began at Belvedere Palace and a visit to St. Charles’s Church, completing the evening with a boat ride on the Danube.

When we left Vienna, we drove along the Danube to Melk until the road detoured from the river. Here, we veered inland and sped onto the Autobahn for Passau, Germany. I wanted to see where the three rivers converged: the green Inn, the black Ilz, and the blue Danube. History says the rivers brought wealth to Passau. I saw only beauty as the three flowed into one.

Hugging the Danube, we left Passau for Regensburg, the Danube River’s oldest  medieval town. First on our sightseeing agenda was the ancient Stone Bridge with its sixteen curving arches, but we soon discovered that this charming town had a lot more to offer, so we set off on foot to explore. After leaving the bridge, we paused to snap pictures of the clock tower before we entered the city center. Our destination? The Cathedral of St. Peter (Trierer Dom). On our afternoon jaunt back to our hotel, we came across Historisches Eck and made reservations for dinner. Our five-course meal was superb.

We said goodbye to Regensburg and drove into Würzburg, interested in seeing the Residenz, the former residence of the prince bishops. While my husband lingered to admire the architecture of the building, I toured the court gardens, my sights set on the orangery. Next, we headed for the Festung Marienberg, the fortress with stunning views of the town. We saved the afternoon for a long stroll across the Alte Mainbruecke, pausing on the bridge to enjoy the vistas: the fortress high on the hill surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, the melody of the river as it constantly flowed below us, and the sight of the medieval town itself. Warmed by the afternoon sun, we wound our way through the crowds of tourists and locals, who were sipping wine or beer while listening to the musicians play. I stopped to take pictures at each of the twelve statues: two kings and ten saints that were added to the bridge by the prince-bishops from 1724 to 1746.

Road-weary on our last day, we checked into our hotel in Frankfurt and flew home the following day. My first long trip through Europe was fun, and I would return many years later, especially to Bellagio, where part of a future Darcy McClain novel will be set.


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