At the suggestion of Andrea, we're off to Castro for dinner. It's a hangout for locals with tables so close you could sample from a neighboring plate. Posters fill the walls with Che and Castro and the Beatles sharing space in a psychedelic montage. Anyone over fifty knows the scene. Why didn't I bring my bell bottoms?
Next morning it's breakfast at The Central Cafe. Andrea tells us that it's a historic cafe and a favorite meeting place for artists and assorted rebels. "Imagine the plots discussed here," I say to Fran. "It's a place of elegance and intrigue." We savor our eggs and coffee latte and make our own plot for the day.
Budapest was united in 1873 when two separate cities came together forming Buda-Pest.
Beautiful bridges now span the Danube lending elegance to that union. There has been settlement here since before Roman times. During the Renaissance, Budapest became a hub of trade and culture.
The people have survived through many invasions and occupations. The Nazis and Soviets were the most recent.
In 1956 the Hungarian Revolt was the first crack in Soviet solidarity and foretold a different time when oppression and occupation would end. Through it all, I think the Hungarian spirit was never broken. It waited for the right time to breathe free again
Budapest is a delight to the eyes. Splendid architecture is around every corner. I read in a guide books that it's like the Paris of Eastern Europe. Maybe that's an overstatement, but not by much. The cityscape is like a massive painting. I can't wait to see the next scene. I take way too many photos, but I cannot help myself.
What makes these architectural treats so remarkable is the destruction that Budapest suffered during the Great War. More than 80% of the buildings were hit by bombs. I am not sure why, but the Soviets spent a lot of money and resources to bring the city back to the elegance we see today.
At night Budapest becomes magical. It's a city of lights spanning the Danube. Stroll along the river. Stop at a cafe for a glass of wine. Watch the sun slowly set over the Danube and hills beyond. Soak in the beauty of a city opening to the night.
Next day it's off to Castle Hill. Like bookends, the hill is framed by Mathias Cathedral and a Castle with lesser buildings in between. We ride an incline to the top and get a panoramic view of Pest. It's beautiful.
Matthias Cathedral has a 700 year history and is an icon of the Hungarian spirit. Tural, a mythical guard bird, keeps watch from pinnacles.
Even with Tural's watchfulness, the Cathedral has been sack and rebuilt several times.
During the Ottoman Empire occupation, it was converted into a mosque. Mosaics were white washed into oblivion and all images removed as required by Islamic practice. A statute of Mary was hastily hidden behind a false plaster wall. A century later when the Hungarians sought to oust the Turks, a volley of cannon balls broke through the plaster wall and Mary miraculously reappeared. So stunned were the Turks that their morale was broken and they lost the war. The Cathedral was once again Christian.
We extend our visit in Budapest and get a chance to try out a new Hostel. This one is next to Budapest Opera House. I'll long remember a late afternoon siesta with summer breezes waffling though tall windows as an operatic soprano rehearses across the street. Does it get any better?
We buy tickets for a world premier of a modern ballet. The grace and energy communicates emotions without words. Music and movement unites a diverse audience with the performers.
In one piece the audience is so absorbed that for a few seconds we forget to applaud. Then we remember and we applaud and applaud with deep gratitude and roses are flung onto the stage. Bravo!
A growing heat wave sends me to the mineral baths. Budapest is on a fault where natural mineral springs percolate streams of hot mineral rich waters. Locals and the government claim healing benefits.
I go to a bath with more than 18 different pools inside and out. Some are for swimming and others are for soaking. You can even visit a sauna and then jump into near freezing water. Brisk and refreshing, they say. I do not try it thinking that my heart will thank me.
I spent lots of time swimming followed by soaks in progressively hotter water. I must report that after a day lounging in baths, my body fells like a 35 year old. Gone are minor aches, especially my soar feet. I feel rejuvenated.