Not Down, But Washed Out!

It seems there are a few things in common that both Hedy and I want to see today, so glad for some company, we head off together to see the Parliament Building (close up this time) and try to find the Shoes along the Danube.  Along the way, we come across what I can only describe as one of the most powerful memorials I have ever seem.  I recall one of the guys on our tour mentioning it last night and am glad that we have stumbled across it this morning.

The Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion features an eagle (Nazi Germany) and the Archangel Gabriel (innocent Hungary).  The eagles foot is cuffed with a metal band showing 1944, being the year of invasion.  The memorial was erected under the cover of night in July 2014 due to its unpopularity from inception.  Critics believe the Hungarian government are attempting to absolve the Horthy regime (which was in power in Hungary at the time) of responsibility of the deaths of nearly one million Hungarians including two thirds of its Jewish population, by putting the blame solely on Nazi Germany.

Hungarian Government's Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion
Hungarian Government’s Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion

The people rioted at the scene and then began creating a memorial of their own, leaving personal items, rocks, flowers, photos – any reminder of a loved one no longer with them – as a more fitting tribute.  It’s heartbreaking to see little children’s shoes and teddy bears amongst the collection.

A signboard tells the story of the people’s memorial and the reasons why the government’s memorial has been received so badly by the people.

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The people’s memorial is simple but incredibly emotive – a barbed wire strand linked around the bollards lining the avenue.  Personal items hang off the wire, or stand silently against the bollards, rocks and candles surrounding them. The photos below speak for themselves.

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The government’s memorial has never been official unveiled.

It’s the building you seen in all advertisements for travel to Budapest, generally lit up at night.  The largest building in Hungary, the Parliament Building was inspired in part by London’s Westminster Palace and was the result of a design competition held in 1867.  Ornamented with gothic turrets and arches, it stretches gracefully along the banks of the Danube and is truly a sight to behold (worthy of a million photographs).  It took seventeen years to build, reaching completion in 1902.  Of course there have been a few design changes over the years, the most notable being the addition of a red star on top during communist times.  The star was removed in 1990.

Yet another tribute to Budapest’s war victims lines the Danube River – the Shoes by the Danube.  Bronze shoes, abandoned and left in disarray line the banks as a tragic reminder of those victims that were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militiamen.  As mentioned in Berlin (at the Mauermusuem) and also at the memorial down the road, there was one man who played a powerful part in trying to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust – Raoul Wallenberg.  A Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian, he was recruited by the US War Refugee Board in June 1944 to travel to Hungary.  As a diplomat, he set about trying to save lives by issuing protective passports to the some of the 230,000 Jews remaining in Hungary at the time.  These passports prevented them from being deported and could sometimes even allow them exemption from having to wear the yellow Star of David badge.

He also rented out thirty odd buildings in Budapest and, hanging Swedish flags in front of the buildings (which were named things like “The Swedish Research Institute”), he housed nearly 10,000 people here.  He also stopped many a shooting, as mentioned in the memorial photos above.

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Wanting a happier ending to my day in Budapest, I say goodbye to Hedy and jump aboard the yellow tram, heading for the waterfront once more.  I still haven’t been over to explore the Buda side of the city.  For the uninitiated, Budapest is actually made up of two halves – Buda and Pest.  Well not really halves – approximately 1/3 is hilly Buda where you can find the castle district, and the rest is made up of flat Pest which is home to most of the housing, industrial and commercial areas.

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The Hungarians seem to love their sculptures and the waterfront is the place to find an amazing array of them.

Boarding a bus for my journey to the Buda side of town, the view in every direction is enjoyable.  Beautiful old buildings, trolley buses trundling along the streets, impressive cafes – Budapest has some of the most impressive architecture I’ve seen in Europe yet.  This spot below is where one of those massive sculptures from Memento Park would have stood in its day.

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It doesn’t take long to arrive over the bridge and into Buda.  Massive lions and gothic lampposts mark the entranceway to Szechenyi Bridge and on the other side a funicular heaves its way up the hill to the castle district.

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Around the corner and up the hill, and the castle district is upon me.  Up here are the Fisherman’s Bastian, the Hospital in the Rock, the Palance, Matthias Church (which is 700 years old) and the pedestrianized Vaci Street.  And of course you can see over to the Pest side from here, including a great glimpse of my beloved Parliament Building (yes another photo!).  It’s a nice area to stroll around and relax in, perhaps stopping for a bite of lunch or a bout of souvenir shopping.

But the drops start.  Quite heavy drops, appearing in occasional bouts, before halfway down the hill the heavens open up and the rain sets in.  It’s hard to believe what was a fairly nice day, has now deteriorated into a downpour.  A good time to head back to the hotel.

After drying off and resting up a bit, a few of us girls (Marg, Deb, Leesa, Hedy and I) arrive in the lobby one by one, peering out the windows trying to decide what to do for dinner, but as there’s no restaurant in the hotel, we agree to brave the weather and head out to dinner together.  After about one minute of walking we are wet through.  The rain is coming in at all angles and raincoats and umbrella’s do nothing to curb it – there is a patch on my t-shirt that is dry, despite wearing a raincoat, and the top of my jeans are dry too – but that’s about it.  Finally we find a restaurant that is able to take us, though probably reluctantly when they notice how drenched we are.

After dinner, Hedy and I leave the group to try and make it to our evening illumination cruise.  Absolutely soaked through by now, there is hardly a taxi in site.  We can’t walk to the dock because we won’t make it in time and well, because we’d be even more saturated than we are now – if that’s possible.  We give up and decide to walk back to the hotel to dry off.  The lights are off in a lot of parts of town, and it’s eerie to walk past usually full pubs and clubs where the revellers are now sitting by the doorways and windows, drink still in hand, but in the pitch black.

I am so glad I’ve had the chance to come back and spend some time in Budapest.  I really have enjoyed the city as much as I thought I would, though I realise I have barely scraped the surface of it.  It definitely should be on the top of anyone’s list of places to visit in Europe and I would relish the chance to come back again should the chance present itself.  I can’t help laughing though – it seems quite fitting that my last evening in Budapest this time around, resembles the only evening I had in Budapest last year – a washout!

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