Friday, May 12, 2006

Off We Go

Off We Go…

Don and Patricia flew into Vienna and will fly out of there also. Since Don is doing an article on traveling out of South Africa for 10,000 Rand per person, he was challenged to find the least expensive airline tickets possible. The best deal he could find was with Qatar Airlines from Cape Town to Vienna. They then took the airport bus from Vienna to Budapest and the subway from the bus station to our flat.

With this in mind, they made their first stop of the morning to the travel agency to purchase their bus tickets back to the Vienna Airport. About an hour later, I received a call from the travel agency stating they had forgotten to stamp the tickets with their agency stamp. Rubber stamps here are big business. Nothing is official if it does not have a stamp on it. They would need to return to have the tickets stamped.

Since they did not know this information about the stamps our lovely guests attempted to take the tour for the Parliament. Attempted is the key word, since they tried to get tickets for the 10:00 English tour, but the lines were so long, they could not. Instead, they headed across the street to the Ethnographic Museum.

This museum was started when it officially broke away from the National Museum in 1947. It finally found a permanent home in 1973 in what was the Palace of Justice building. The permanent exhibition "Folk Culture of the Hungarians" displays the everyday life and festivals of peasantry life of Hungarians within thirteen rooms. The collection ranges from objects collected from the end of the 18th century to World War II.

Above all, Don was taken with the angst the bourgeoisie must have endured to climb socially upward from their conditions. He was particularly amused yet sympathetic to a photo on exhibit of a peasant wedding with the bride in her white dress, but yet wearing mud covered boots. Both he and Patricia were quite taken with the history of the country. Taking photos is acceptable and Don said he was not required to buy a photo ticket to do so.

We had arranged to meet for lunch, believing they would be finishing the Parliament tour, but we did find them nonetheless. Since they both are quasi-vegetarians, we took them to Govinda. This vegetarian restaurant is run by the Hare Krishna, who are well respected here. They do much for the homeless, so they are well supported. The food is great and inexpensive. Patricia and Don were overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of the servings so we received accolades for our choice of restaurant. Govinda is located at Belgrad rakpart 18, one stop on tram 2 from the Parliament. They accept cash only.

Our happy foursome then wandered over to Szabó Ervin Library. Why would any tourist want to see a library one may ask? If you do not have inside information, this may be a
jewel that would easily pass-by without a visit. This is no ordinary library. It was once the Wenckheim Palace, a private residential palace, built by Count Frigyes Wenckheim (1842 – 1912). Arthur Meining, the architect from Saxony, built this 13,000 square meter building and is considered a masterpiece of Hungarian Neo-Baroque architecture. The building was turned into a library in 1931. Aside from the browsing area, there are 15 reading rooms, many with fireplaces and lush cushioned chairs, an Internet room, a playful children’s library with two huge dragons, 160 computers, seating for 1,000 readers, and a café. Various areas of it such as the ballroom are rented out for private functions.

I chose to wait in the sunshine while Ron toured them around. To enter, you must get a free ‘Reader’s Card’ and you need a picture ID to get this. A passport is preferred, but a driver’s license will do most of the time. When Patricia came out our famous authoress was bowled over. She lovingly shared that the library rooms enchanted her with the mixture of glass, mirrors, gilt, drapery, carving, and books. “It was wonderful to see every seat filled with a young person immersed in a book. Reflecting on the fact that library budgets in South Africa have been slashed, I wonder if it will ever reach such a point as this…Poor Africa!"

Patricia wanting to purchase some ethnic music, we wandered around the corner to a shop situated in an udvar (garden) where there is also a lovely restaurant where we could stop for tea. We spent a relaxing hour in engaging conversation and then Ron took Patricia CD shopping while Don and I continued solving the world’s problems.

Ron offered to take their tickets back to the travel agency and I was going to escort them back to the Parliament to try to get the 6:00 pm tour, the last of the day. I love this tour and have done it six times, so I really did not want them to miss it. I prepped them that the first thing on the tour was a matchstick replica of the building that a Hungarian family created and donated.

At the parliament, I left them for home and sent them on their way. When the tour guide asked the group if anyone could guess the materials of the replica, Don piped up with the correct answer squelching the bluster from the guide. Don thought it was a touch of irony that the building was inspired
by the British, but it was the British who bombed them. Both Patricia and Don were impressed with King St. Stephan’s crown on display and found the crooked cross on top a bit curious. Don is never without his tripod and ultra deluxe professional camera, so was able to capture some magnificent shots.

The Hungarian Parliament is the largest Parliament in Europe, a testament to the fact that Hungary was an administrative center for the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, the greatest power in Europe at one time. The architect Imre Steindl designed the building which was initially planned for the celebration of the millennium of 1896, but was not finished until 1902, the year of Steindl’s death. His inspiration was partly from the Palace of Westminster. Its white neo-gothic turrets and arches stretch for over 250 meters along the Danube embankment, making it an impressive sight from both sides of the river. The building has 691 rooms, tremendous halls and over 12.5 miles of corridors. The central dome is 96-meters, the exact height of Szent István Basilica. The saying is that this was intentional so that church and state were of equal proportions. Photograph and video are permitted and the inside is as rich as the exterior. The Parliament was once two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Don observed that the former House of Lords had blue carpeting and the House of Commons was red.

Note that the official times on the Parliament website do not list this tour, but it is on the sign at the Parliament.
Tour times are listed as:
English: 10 a.m., 12 a.m. and 2 p.m.
German: weekday 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.

French: 2 p.m. Russian: weekdays 3 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.
Hebrew: 10.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.
weekdays 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Sunday 11.30 a.m.
Spanish: weekdays 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Sunday 11.30 a.m.

Japanese and other languages are available, but are not listed on the web site.

Tickets are: Adults 2.070 HUF and Children 1.035 HUF, but it is free for citizens of European Union countries if you have your passport with you.

After their tour, our two explorers walked the Danube. They came across the memorial of shoes along the river bank commemorating the Jews who were lined up on the banks and shot by the Nazis at the end of WWII when it was evident they had no time to continue transporting them to the camps. Sadly, there has been some vandalism and some of the shoes have been removed. Though the artist has vowed to replace them, it has not happened yet, but there are still enough there to impress the horrors of war on our social justice minded guests. Patricia is continually reminded of her Jewish heritage and the grievous events associated with Jewish history.

In later hours of the evening, they found their way to the docks to take a night cruise on the Danube. The hour long cruise was on the Duna Yacht and the cost was 1,700 Huf each. They were enchanted with the lighting in the castle district with Castle Hill romantically displayed on the one side of the river and with Parliament on the other.

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