Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hungarian Cultural Inundation

Hello everyone. Sorry for the inconsistent posting about our trip, but I have been busy planning for my move and also coordinating my last few weeks at my current job. Exciting time are ahead, but for now it is back to Budapest. When I left off, Karena and I had finished our very first tour on a segway. It seemed like a lot happened, but that tour only took us to about noon or 100pm, so we had tons of time left for other activities. Both of us were a little thirsty and hungry, so we decided to find a cafe to plan out the rest of the day. It was nice to sit outside and just watch the world pass by. It is hard to do that in DC because a) it doesn't seem like we have that many cafes...just restaurants to rush you in and out, and b) every time I eat outside here, it seems like some homeless guy starts hassling me for food, money, or both.
I didn't have that problem in Budapest. The few homeless people I saw did not bother patrons that were enjoying their meals on the sidewalks. Anyways, so we had a nice meal...some croquettes and a nice salad. I drank a tasty Fanta Narancs (Fanta Orange). At the cafe, we were able to come up with a plan of attack for the afternoon: St. Stephen's Basilica, a tour of the Magyar Állami Operaház (Hungarian State Opera House), and the Néprajzi Múzeum (Hungarian Ethnographic Museum).
Hungarian State Opera House
I talked briefly about St. Stephen's in my previous posting. It is named for the first king of Hungary, King Stephen I (later canonized as Saint Stephen) who is most well known for spreading Christianity throughout his kingdom...which was considered pagan at the time. The inside of the basilica was very beautiful and is decorated with tons of red marble pillars and white marble statues of significant religious figures. The dome of the Basilica is 96 meters tall, to correspond with the Magyar arrival to the Carpathian Basin in 896. The dome is huge. I couldn't believe how large it was when I was staring at the ceiling. I guess from the outside the size is misleading because it is far away. I read in the Basilica that they can fit up to 85oo people comfortably inside. In addition to the nave and apse area, there were about eight to ten separate chapels where individuals could worship other religious figures from Hungary's past. It was all really beautiful. I'm always impressed by the way churches and other religious structures are decorated. The amount of detail, craftsmanship, and artistic expression of religion is truly spectacular. We wandered around as Karena took photos of various parts of the Basilica, but I was really bent on seeing the Holy Right...St. Stephen's Incorruptible Hand.
This was my first Holy Relic. To my knowledge, I don't think I have ever seen one in person before. So I was mighty excited to pay my 200 HUF so that the little glass case would light up and show off St. Stephen's hand. It was exciting, but Karena found it hard to take pictures of. I stood up there for 30 seconds looking at it. Apparently, the Holy Right is taken out for annual processions where Hungarian Catholics honor their country's first king. The hand was really small and delicate. Hungarians like to say that St. Stephen was a wee man and that his wife was taller than he was. Although it was small, brown, and shriveled, the hand did not resemble a California Raisin like I had originally envisioned.

Next up was a tour of the Hungarian State Opera House. We walked in for the 200pm tour and were immediately greeted by a scene similar to what we found in the baggage claim at Ferihegy Airport. It was pandemonium. My first thought was to turn around and wait for the 400pm tour, but Karena barreled through the crowd to the gift shop. There we bought our entry tickets and also our camera pass. Here in Hungary we encountered a new idea where tourists have to pay more for a ticket that allows you to photograph things. Since Karena is the camerawoman, she had to pay about 1000 HUF (5 USD) to take pictures. We were sent back out to the main hall where there were six tour groups all milling about. The Opera House ran six tours at once...all in different languages. The tours ranged in size from about 40 (English and German) to one (Hungarian). Our English group was so large that they divided us into two groups. We saw some of the people from our Segway tour earlier. The son didn't look much happier than he had been early that morning.
Karena and her camera
The tour was very informative. We learned that Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary commissioned the building to be constructed, but he said that the Hungarian Opera House could not be bigger than the one in Vienna. The word is that when he first saw it, Franz Joseph exclaimed "I said the Opera House could not be bigger than Vienna's, but this is certainly more beautiful." He was right. The inside of the Opera House was ornate. I mean the royal box was used by Madonna and Antonio Banderas when they were in town filming Evita. If it is good enough for Madonna, then you know it brings the bling. There is marble all over the place as well as on the floor. Other parts of the floor are tiled in frescoes. There are also painted murals galore. Check out this site for a great virtual tour. What tops off the Opera house is the three ton chandelier and the gold leaf that covers all the wall decorations in the main performance hall. YOWZERS!! Perhaps my favorite part of the tour was this old Indian man who kept asking questions so obscure that he constantly was confusing the tour guide. The poor girl obviously did not have a strong enough grasp on the intricacies of opera production between the years 1856 and 1871. Shame on her. I looked over at the end of the tour and he was standing in the aisle of the performance hall and had tissues stuffed in the collar of his shirt. I later saw him running after a bus when we were walking to dinner that night. Between running into Segway tour colleagues and this interesting fellow, I soon realized that Budapest is a small place!

We left the Opera House and navigated towards the Ethnography Museum. It wasn't too far, just down a couple of streets and across from the Parliament building. This place was really cool because it was made up of a bunch of collections from different parts of Hungary. It showed how Hungarian people lived in the small towns and hamlets before the modern age. The collections were set up to mirror a person from birth to death. Karena and I actually started backwards, with death, and moved forwards through to birth. Kind of like our own little Benjamin Button.
The first thing I learned was that in ye olden days, when Hungarians were married they were given clothes that they would be buried in. These clothes weren't necessarily the clothes they were married in. So, the museum presented everything in nice little sections...stuff like typical clothes from different sections of Hungary, pottery, furniture that you would find in the house, and religious objects. The museum also dissected daily village life and talked about things like trade, toys and entertainment, agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, transportation, and the different professions needed to make life easy (tailors, hat-makers, shoe-makers, etc).

After finishing with the museum, Karena and I contemplated skedaddling over to the Buda side, but we couldn't figure out if it was going to rain. We decided to hold off for another day and find something to eat. We were craving a little variety so we talked about getting Chinese food. I know, I know...why are we going to eat Chinese food in Budapest? Well, for one, it is the best cuisine around, and two, I always like to try other takes on food that we think is common. This is one reason why I used to try and eat at a McDonald's in every country I visited (that didn't last long). Now, I think I will try to eat Chinese food in every country I go to. Anyways, we make it to this nice quaint restaurant and the first good sign I see...there are Chinese people eating there. Okay. I got a little confused when we had a Hungarian waiter, but he knew his dishes, so it was all good. The food was decent. Like Karena said in her was no Great Wall Szechuan House (I love my jolly Szechuan friend), but the steamed beef dumpling was pillowy and delicious.

Okay, that is all for tonight. I am tired. Next up (hopefully Friday) will be flowery gelato, a market excursion, Buda adventures, and the invasion of the Swedes.


Morgan said...

Wow... so much random info and crazy traditions and just... wow!!! Thanks for sharing girl!

Anonymous said...

Karena, thank you for your comforting words and being there for me. I greatly appreciate it. I missed reading your posts - food and running related. Hope to post and comment regularly again soon.