Category Archives: Architecture

In the Cathedral

I’m not at all religious, but when I’m traveling, I like to visit churches. They’re usually warm and dry and quiet—good places to get away from the hectic life outside their doors. You can easily lose yourself in the beauty of the architecture and the stained glass. I can’t imagine being in Paris without spending some time in Sainte-Chapelle or in Krakow without a stop at St. Mary’s Basilica.

In Brussels, there’s Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule, with its wonderful windows.


I (Unintentionally) Turn to the Dark Side.

As I was leaving the cathedral, I crossed paths with a large, distressed, American family group. They were trying to get to the vault on the church’s lower level, but to do that, they first had to pay the admission fee at a turnstile, which accepted nothing but €1 coins. They didn’t have enough of the correct currency. I had a lot of loose change, so I offered to trade.

It was only after the transaction that I realized the deplorable thing I’d done: Without ever intending to, I’d become one of the proverbial Moneychangers in the Temple.

I scurried away before anyone could throw me out.

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A Late Lunch at Fatál, and the End of Another Adventure

For my last meal in Budapest, I went back to an old favourite. The restaurant is called Fatál, and it’s just off Vaci Utci, a couple of blocks from my hotel. Despite the hint of Eastern European intrigue suggested by the name, “Fatál” simply means “wooden bowl” in Hungarian.

The entrance to Fatál isn’t very impressive, but good stuff awaits within. You descend a dark flight of stairs and find yourself in one of those dimly lit, arched underground dining rooms that are so common in the East.

I knew enough to order only a main course. Even in Hungary, with its notoriously oversized portions, Fatál is famous for its generosity. Servings come in pots and pans because they’re too large for plates. The American “doggie bag” concept isn’t all that widely accepted in much of Europe, but, as my server said, “It’s not only allowed here, it’s required.”

None of that would have mattered, of course, if the food hadn’t been so very good. My meal—meals, actually—of Roasted Pork Brasso Style with spicy fried potato was a perfect example of Hungarian home cooking.

Roasted Pork

The check arrived, effectively signaling the end of my Budapest adventure, and, clutching my doggie bag, I went back to the hotel to pack for the trip home to Washington. That’s always a bittersweet task.

There are too many unexplored cities, too many life-changing experiences, far too much beauty, and an infinite number of undiscovered pleasures in the world.

And never, never, never enough time.

Budapest Miscellania

Well, Christmas Is Icumen In, and I’m rapidly using up what’s left of 2017. Considering what a terrible year it’s been—even worse than 2016, which I wouldn’t have believed possible when I was drinking my traditional New Year’s Eve Kir Royale last December—this is probably a good thing.

So here’s a condensed and somewhat random round-up of a few of the interesting things I explored in Budapest. I’m working on three final posts about my Hungarian adventure, which I hope to publish over the weekend, and then I’ll be ready to coast into 2018.


Over the River

The Fővám tér subway and tram station in Budapest’s excellent* metro system was a block from my hotel, so I used it almost daily. As I entered the station, I always looked across the Danube and saw this sight, which looks straight out of a fairy tale.


Buda Castle


During Hungary’s long and bloody history, Buda Castle has been destroyed four times, most recently by the Red Army in 1945, and rebuilt three. It’s now part of the Budapest World Heritage Site.


The Hungarian National Gallery

The Budapest History Museum, the National Széchényi Library,  and the Hungarian National Gallery are part of Buda Castle. I spent most of my time in the Gallery.*

The collection of Late Gothic winged altarpieces was overwhelming.


And in the 19th Century Art galleries, I was repeatedly drawn back to Pál Szinyei Merse’s portrait of a “Lady in Violet”.


The Best Way to Travel

Join me for a ride on the Castle Hill Funicular from the Palace to the banks of the Danube. I don’t know why, but I just love these things! Maybe it’s because they’re sort of like roller coasters, but without the screams and the sudden plunges.

For most realistic results, watch it on full screen.


House of Terror Museum

This grey building, on Budapest’s fashionable Andrássy Avenue, was used successively by fascist and communist secret police to interrogate, torture, and kill “enemies of the state”.

It’s now the House of Terror Museum, and visiting it is a grim and chilling experience. The museum makes full use of multimedia to show how authoritarian governments can take control of a nation, and the terrible results that follow.

In the basement, you can enter the (reconstructed) cells that once held political prisoners.


Strolling Váci Utca

My hotel was at one end of Váci Utca, the famous pedestrian walkway lined with upscale stores, restaurants, and tourists traps. Vörösmarty Square, site of the Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, was at the other end, a pleasant and colourful 15-minute walk.

Many of the shops along the way were decorated for the season.


Winter Is Coming

Despite appearances, these equestrian statues have nothing to do with Game of Thrones.

They represent the seven Magyar chieftains whose tribes settled in the area in 896 AD, and founded what would become Budapest. Their monument is in the city’s Heroes’ Square.


The Best View Biggest Disappointment in Budapest

On one of my first days in Budapest, I went to the Citadella, which sits atop Gellért Hill, and is famous for having the best view of the city, as you can clearly see from this picture I took.

If you look closely, you might be able to make out the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Here’s a picture I took from the grounds of Buda Castle on a less-San Francisco-like day:


*In many ways, it’s much better than Washington’s unreliable Metro. Trains arrive every three and a half minutes, the stations are bright, airy, and well marked, and the escalators are fast. It’s one of the most user-friendly mass transit systems I’ve used.

**Since it is a gallery dedicated to Hungarian art, I knew I’d be spared any possible exposure to the vile and treacly works of that talentless French hack, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Avoiding Renoir has become my main criterion for deciding which museums to visit, and which to avoid. See, most recently, Renoir Sucks at Painting 2, Renoir 0 for details.

A Visit to Budapest’s Great Market Hall

My hotel in Budapest had an unbeatable location at the end of Váci utca, the stylish, pedestrianized shopping and restaurant street in the heart of the city. The nearest metro station was a block away. Go a block further, and you were at the Danube. And you could walk door-to-door between the hotel and Budapest’s Great Market Hall in five minutes flat.

Did I ever mention the time I spent more than four hours just wandering through the Boqueria in Barcelona? And then went back the next day? Baltimore’s Lexington Market, Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market—I love places like this. They’re my art galleries, my museums, maybe even my cathedrals. [OK, calm down. Have a cookie or something.]

At 10,000 square meters, Great Market Hall is huge. It was built in the late 19th century, badly damaged during WWII, and restored in the 1990s.


The ground floor offers everything you’d need to make a meal. It’s here, too, that you can stock up on the paprika, chocolates, and caviar that will remind you of Hungary when you get home.


It has everything from fresh produce…

…to dried meats…


…to specialty chocolates.


The second level of the Market has a good selection of little restaurants and food stalls for on-the-go dining, but it’s mainly devoted to booths that sell every conceivable Hungarian souvenir the acquisitive tourist could desire.

This not-inexpensive lace work, for instance:

I managed to resist the lace. The food, on the other hand…

In and around St. Stephen’s Basilica

I’m not at all religious, but I make a point of visiting churches when I travel. Spending half an hour or so just sitting in a quiet, peaceful space like St. Stephen’s Basilica, one of the most beautiful churches in Hungary, is a pleasant way to lessen the stress of exploring a new territory.


The big Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, the one that’s famous, is on Vörösmarty Square. We’ll get to that later.

You can find other Christmas markets, some of them with only a few booths, others quite substantial, scattered throughout the city.

I liked this small market on the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s. Just looking at the picture of the planked salmon makes me wish I were still there.

“Kingdom of Colors” — The View from the Floor

Here’s some video I shot during a daytime visit to ARTECHOUSE’s “Kingdom of Colors” installation, which I wrote about yesterday.

Because it was shot in a darkened room, the video quality is poor, and the sharp and saturated colours of the projection are blurred and murky, but this should give you some idea of how it felt to experience the show. Watch it on full screen for best results.

What an intoxicating afternoon I had!


2018 New Year’s Resolution Number 1

Since I’m going to post videos, I’ll spend a couple of days learning about video editing and use of editing features. Simply slapping together random strings of raw footage might be good enough for Michael Bay and Uwe Boll, but my viewers deserve better.

“Kingdom of Colors” — Psychedelia at My New Favourite DC Art Space

For maximum effect, enbiggen the video to full screen. Then imagine it covering 270° of the walls in a darkened room three or four stories high.

That’s what you experience at “Kingdom of Colors”, the current art installation at ARTECHOUSE in Washington. It’s the creation of French filmmaker Thomas Blanchard—who was on site when I visited—and artist Oilhack, with a soundtrack by Lyon-based composer Leonardo Villiger.

It’s like being surrounded by a high-tech, high-def, 21st-century version of a classic psychedelic light show.

And it’s absolutely phenomenal!*

ARTECHOUSE–that’s “ART-TECH-HOUSE”—opened in Washington a few months ago. As the name implies, it’s a space that showcases the spectacular possibilities of combining art and technology. “Kingdom of Colors” is ARTECHOUSE’s the third immersive experience. I missed the first one, but posted an item about the second, “Spirit of Autumn”, earlier this month.

“Spirit of Autumn” was highly interactive, with the mobile imagery on the walls and floors responding to the movements and sounds of the visitors. “Kingdom of Colors” is a more passive experience. Large cushions invite viewers to sit or lie on the floor and let the trance-like music and the awesome visuals carry them away.


Just Go with the Flow….

“Kingdom of Colors” is open to anyone over six years old during the day, and lots of children and parents show up. Evenings, when the bar offers wine and mixed drinks, are for people over 21. No smoking of any kind is allowed.

Guests are admitted in small groups, on the hour. There’s no limit on how long you can stay, and for this show, it is very easy to, uh, space out and lose track of time.

“Kingdom of Colors” is only here for a short time. It opened on 10 November 2017 and runs through 26 November 2017. Reservations are absolutely essential. Many of the remaining shows have already sold out.

Highest recommendation.


*It brought back memories of a time long ago, when a friend and I spent most of one summer researching the contrasting perceptual effects of watching the light show from 2001 under the influence of a wide range of pharmaceuticals and herbs.

For Science.