The third, and final day in Budapest dawned all wet and gloomy as the first rainy day of my Europe trip hit me head on. I needed to get my train ticket to Vienna, so I was in LipÃ³tvÃ¡ros area having a nice cuppa while waiting for the MAV Passenger Centre to open. It was quite nice actually, to watch the (Hungarian) world go by while I nurse for ravishing stomach (it is the weather).
My first stop for the day was the SzÃ©chenyi Medicinal Bath, which was located at the City Park, the green lung of Budapest. The SzÃ©chenyi complex is immense, with a dozen thermal baths and a couple of swimming pools, located both indoor and outdoor. The place was outfitted to be a spa or some sort, and it didn’t disappoint.
I thought heaven is where you go topless in the biting chill of winter, soak into a thermal pool of warm spring water, surrounded by historical monuments and laughing people. I know I should have taken photo while I was in the pool, but it was just too damn cold! Luckily I did that a video showing the place in motion; it’s really like heaven.
I even managed to book an hour of Hungarian massage, which was done by a lady and was surprisingly relaxing. Trust me, after soaking in the warm water, a massage is the icing of the cake. I almost didn’t want to leave if not for the 400 forints in encouragement if you leave within two hours. Click here for more photos taken at the SzÃ©chenyi Bath.
After the thermal bath session and a heavy lunch, I was all ready to explore the City Park. First stop was the Hungarian Agricultural Museum. This rather esoteric museum is housed in the stunning baroque wing of Vajdahunyad Castle. This was purportedly the largest agricultural museum in whole of Europe, but was closed during the time of my visit… not that I will really visit anyway, heh.
Right opposite the Vajdahunyad Castle was the absolutely beautiful yet tiny JÃ¥k Chapel. Its intricate portal was copied from the 13th century Abbey Church in Western Transdanubia. Just look at the entryway, and the carving, the statues, the hidden message… I was definitely having another Dan Brown moment!
Of course, there was the Vajdahunyad Castle itself. Also known as the Vajdahunyad-vÃ¡r in Hungarian, it is actually a copy in part of a castle in Transylvania, Romania, that is also called Vajdahunyad, though it is also a display of different architectural styles: Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Originally it was made from cardboard and wood for the millennial exhibition in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from stone and brick.
The statue of the hooded figure across the castle is that of Anonymous, the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bella III who wrote a history of the early Magyars. It was said that writers, both real and aspirants, touches the shiny pen tip for inspiration.
A walk around the castle revealed a familiar face. The statue of George Washington was erected here in City Park in 1906 by Hungarian-American. Look at the symbolic eagle taking flight. The combination of the man and his foul (bird?) made a strangely compelling photography target.
The Timewheel in Procession Square on the park’s western edge is the world’s largest hourglass, standing 8m high and weighing in at 60 tonnes. The “sands” flows from the upper to lower chamber for one year, finishing exactly at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The Millenary Monument stood in the centre of Hosok tere, with a 36m-high pillar backed by colonnades to the right and left. Topping the pillar is Angel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown and cross. At the base are Arpad and the six other Magyar chieftains.
The 14 statues in the colonnades are of rulers and statesmen: from King Stephen on the lefy to Lahos Kossuth on the right. The four allegorical figures atop: Work & Prosperity, War, Peace, Knowledge & Glory.
My last stop for the day was the Great Synagogue. Built in 1859, according to the designs of Frigyes Feszi, the synagogue contains both Romantic-style and Moorish architecture elements. It was renovated largely with private donations.
The synagogue is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside New York City and can seat 3000. That is indeed true, coz I actually counted the number of seats. It was hard not to be humbled by the sheer grandeur of the place packed into such small a place.
In the annexe of the synagogue is the Jewish Museum, which contains objects related to the religious and everyday life of the Jewish community. I spent almost an hour here, immersed in the life cycle of the Jews, from birth to death, outlined in painstaking details with handwritten notes, artifacts and photos.
On the synagogue’s north side, the Holocaust Memorial stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944-45. On the leaves of the metal “tree of life” are the family names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims.
Right after this, I rushed back to the hostel to collect my (fortunately) packed backpack, and made my way to the train station. The journey from Budapest to Vienna took only five hours, a breathe of relief from my horrifying experience of Prague – Budapest. To top of the experience, I had the entire cabin to myself the whole journey! Watching the landscape of Hungary flew by while listening to Norah Jones was an experience to beyond.
Too soon I arrived at Wien Westbahnhof, the Vienna West Station. My chapter in Vienna was about to begin!
Click here for the full set of photos taken during my third, and final day in Budapest.