Category Archives: Travel

Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival II — The Food

And then there was the food.

The food at the Budapest Christmas Market is a long way from the Deep-Fried Peanut Butter Banana Cheeseburgers on sale at the Texas State Fair.

I could probably have dined here—and dined very well—every day I was in the city.

Here’s a small selection of what some of the vendors were offering:

It’s not too late! The Christmas Market lasts until New Year’s Eve, so you still have three or four days to get there. You can make it if you rush.

And there’s always next year.


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.

I’m Back from Fall Euro-Break 2017

Well, that was refreshing.

I went to Budapest, where I wandered along different streets, breathed different air, and listened to different voices.

And now I’m back in Washington, revitalized, with a clear head and a renewed sense of purpose.

More to come over the next few weeks.

You know, I don’t think those little planes you see on airline flight monitors are drawn to scale….

Cute Video of the Day, 16 October 2017 — The Duchess and the Dancing Bear

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are Patrons of the more than over 30 charitable organisations that make up The Charities Forum.

On Monday, they stopped by Paddington Station to wish bon voyage to 130 children who have been helped by several of those charities. The children, and some of their parents, were off to spend a day in the country. Before their train departed, the Royals spent about 45 minutes meeting the group.

Paddington Station may be best known to children for its connection to the Paddington Bear, and, sure enough, he made an appearance. (He was probably in town for a film shoot, since the movie Paddington 2 will be released in the UK in early January 2018.) Hugh Bonneville and several other members of the cast were also in attendance.*

*It has always been my theory that, at any given time, there are only about 100 actors working in the UK, and that they’re all in everything.

The cast of Paddington 2  includes Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw (as the voice of the Bear), Michael Gambon, Hugh Grant, Richard Ayoade, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, and Tom Conti.

Case closed.

Better Than a Hoverboard!

Remember those hoverboards that Back to the Future promised we’d have by 21 October 2015?

Were you as exasperated as I was when 21 October 2015 came and went, without the slightest need for public service announcements warning kids to always wear a helmet when hovering? Once again, we’d been deceived by the powerful and secretive Media/Flying-Transportation Complex, just as earlier generations had been deceived when they were promised jet packs and flying cars, and taken in by those fake “1969 Moon Landing” movies that were filmed in a North Carolina studio.

We won’t get fooled again.

Because this time, it’s for real. Our wait is over.

Here’s how the game ball was delivered at Portugal’s Cup Final on Sunday:

When Amazon offers a pre-order option, I’ll be the first to sign up.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria Rides Again

The girl in the painting would soon become Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She gave this portrait to the Emperor for Christmas after the two were engaged to be married. It became one of Franz Joseph’s most prized possessions, and hung on the wall above his bed for 60 years, until his death.

It was sold at auction in Vienna last month for €1,540,000 (US$1,721,643).

It’s curious how people, places, and things you’ve never been aware of can make an unanticipated appearance in your life, and gradually draw you in until they become, at least for a while, a prominent part of your existence. An exhibition of Victorian art at the National Gallery totally altered my views on painting, for instance, and led to an ongoing obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites. A few years ago, my appreciation for The Hunger Games eventually resulted in my spending an entire summer reading nothing but teen dystopia novels.

OK, some unexpected tangents are more rewarding than others.

Until a few years ago, I knew next to nothing about Sisi–sometimes written as  “Sissi”–the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But then in Vienna, I visited the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Complex and did The Grand Tour of 40 (out of 1,441) rooms of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg imperial summer residence.*

Sisi as Empress

Sisi as Empress

The unconventional and brilliant Sisi has been on my mind ever since. She was a searcher, always looking for something different, something new. She hated court life, and spent months at a time away from the capital, travelling to Morocco and England, Egypt and Corfu, France and Malta, learning languages as she went. She championed the empire’s Hungarian subjects, and they, in turn, idolized her. She was only 16 when she married the 24-year-old Emperor. He loved her passionately; her feelings were less intense.

The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. I just recently discovered that her favorite cousin was another historical figure who has always fascinated me, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace, and patron of Richard Wagner. Researching that relationship immediately landed a spot on my To Do list.

*There are some ravishing pictures of those sites at the links, most of them found on the Net, but a few of them my own. You can also view some pictures of her partially restored apartment in the Museo Correr that I took when I was in Venice this spring.