I have not been reading email while away—I have left that chore to my excellent assistant, Cardozo. I have, however, been reading comments on the blog and have been delighted, as always, to hear from Carly, who has been following our journey from afar and offering tips gleaned on his own visits to some of the cities along the way. I have been searching eagerly in Budapest for the Esterhazy torte that he mentions—but so far, no luck. Maybe this afternoon, our last before leaving for England tomorrow. Thanks to Carly, anyway, for the hint.
True to his word, our friend at the Spinoza had brought back my sweater to the hotel, and we picked it up from the concierge on our way to breakfast. Always good to be reunited with something that was lost. We enjoyed an excellent breakfast, as usual, and left in decent time for our day’s tour. First stop, the city market, open today for the first time since our arrival because of the holiday weekend. Ah yes, the shops are open. Having spent the past two days desperate for a cough drop—my cold has tail-ended into a nasty and persistent cough—I am finally able to go to a pharmacist for some relief. Never did cough drop taste so good, I promise you!
The way to the market led down the now-familiar Vaci Utca (pr. Vatsi Utsa, so far as I can tell,) the main north-south tourist drag that parallels the Danube, and we made a mercifully brief stop at a Marks & Spencer-type department store where Ellie had spotted, through the window, a couple of blouses that appealed to her, and which she was now able to try on—and buy. We also kept an eye open for an inexpensive carry-bag to accommodate that seemingly ever-expanding load of our travel gear, and found one, eventually, at the market itself, whose upper level was devoted to non-edibles.
The interior of the building that houses the market proved to be a huge, open structure, with a complex of iron-work beams and stairways. The ground floor was filled, wall-to-wall, with market stalls selling every imaginable type of fruit, vegetable, meat
and baked ware (though, alas, not an Esterhazy torte to be found!)—a rich and colorful display that demanded countless pictures on the digital camera. We spent perhaps an hour there, enjoying the bustling sights and sounds, not to mention the intense variety of smells. A feast, then, for the senses, as markets are wont to be.
Map in hand, we wandered afterwards in the direction of the Museum of Applied Arts, a building
designed by the dean of art nouveau in Budapest, Odon Lechner, and a truly beautiful example of the genre, inside and out.
We skipped the current exhibit on Tiffany and Galle, but spent enough time within to get a good sense of the space, then headed north again for lunch in Raday utca, a long, narrow, attractive street shaded with sidewalk restaurant umbrellas that we had come upon by accident on the way down. We each chose a salad, both of them as simple and tasty as anything we have had for lunch since our arrival here. Then a long walk back through the side streets to our hotel for a nap, to recover for what is likely to be our last outing, to the area just north of where we are staying.
Post nap, we did indeed set out in the intended direction, and found a different Budapest from the one we have so far explored—this one clearly more affluent than the other areas. We made an initial stop at St. Stephen’s Basilica, with a wonderful, spacious,
light-bathed and decoratively paved plaza stretching out before the steps leading up to the west end entry. Inside the cathedral, an evening mass was in progress, and visitors were permitted only a sidelong view, but we could see enough to be impressed by its grandeur.
Out on the plaza again, we headed north through streets lined with buildings that we evidently better tended than those we are now used to seeing in this city—though small signs of the wear caused by both human and natural agencies are still visible, just patched over rather more successfully. We reached the splendid Szabadsag Square, with its many trees and lovely shaded walkways and its mostly magnificent surrounding buildings, then turned back south briefly to visit the masterwork of the architect Odon Lechner, the former Postal Savings Bank,
whose façade boasts intricate painted floral motifs and multiple reliefs, and whose roofs and parapets offer a fantastic display of colorful tile and ceramic flourishes. Impossible to photograph well, in part because of the height and angle of the building, in part by the wealth of deciduous trees that surround it with their greenery.
Back through the Szabadsag Square toward the river, then south a couple of blocks to the Gresham building, recently renovated as the luxury Four Seasons Hotel, another great example of the architecture,
and one that shows what can be done. Ellie is convinced that the whole city will be “radiant” in a few years. Maybe. We stopped at the (cheaper!) restaurant, and had a very pleasant supper sitting at a window table,
watching the sun set over the Buda side of the city. A huge police presence that we attributed—wrongly as it turned out—to the need for security at such a tourist mecca.
Then, after supper, we ran into the Queen of Spain. Really. I was waiting for Ellie in the lobby, watching a growing crowd of dark-suited men and elegantly dressed women whom I assumed to be part of some kind of business convention—along with a number of large men with bulging suit jackets and communications earpieces. When Ellie joined me, there was a stir and a parting of the crowd as this nice-looking women made her appearance from a stairwell and started greeting members of the assembled party with a gracious courtesy. “That’s the Queen of Spain,” Ellie said immediately. You could have fooled me. I wouldn’t have the first idea what she looked like, so I scoffed somewhat at the idea. Shortly after, though, the crowd flowed out of the hotel and into a parade of waiting cars, which sped off with two dozen police cars in escort. Naturally, I inquired of the hotel staff who this might be and he told me it was “the Spanish royal couple.” We had missed the king but what the heck; we saw the Queen of Spain, no more than an arm’s length from our very selves. No pictures, though, Sorry. I didn’t have the presence of mind to get the camera out. Besides, those security goons might not have been too pleased.
Excited, we got lost on the way back to our hotel. But did find it. And got to bed in decent time in preparation for the next step of the journey: England.