Archive for June, 2012

On Castle Hill

On the Monday before my Wednesday departure, Em and I wanted to see the Budai Vár, or the Castle of Buda on the Várhegy or Castle Hill. This was a favorite place from many earlier trips. When Paul was not teaching in ’92 or ’98 or working at Sztaki, the computer institute in ’84, we often worked on family history and this included many visits to the Széchényi library or the National Archives up on Castle Hill.  And sometimes we did museum tours of the Castle itself which goes down to medieval ruins  and of  the history of the city of Buda. Before Paul’s grandfather’s grandfather established himself as a successful merchant and became a citizen of Pest in 1822, the family had owned homes on Castle Hill and we were able to trace some of them through changes of street numbers to the present day. But this day I mostly wished to wander around the north end of this hill and visit a favorite bookstore and enjoy revisiting the old homes here which often have exposed medieval remains and a charming smaller scale and older feeling than busy Pest.

These first two images are of a memorial (quite modern) which I like at the north end of Várhegy and I think it is meant to portray battles between the Turks and Hungarians. The Turks vanquished the Hungarian army in Mohács in 1526 and occupied Buda in 1541. They were defeated in 1686 after ruling the country for 160 years and my husband often wondered if the communist party would last this long. But, of course, they lasted less than fifty years.

Ingmar dropped us off (cars are not allowed to drive up there without a special permit) at the Bécsi Kapu, or Vienna Gate which is at the north end and we walked slowly back toward the beautiful Mátyás Templom, or Matthias Church (whose real name is The Church of Our Lady in Buda). We first came to the National Archives with, inside, its beautiful stained glass windows showing the coats of arms of all the counties of Hungary as it existed before WWI and the harsh treaty of Trianon which took away 2/3rds of the country’s land. This treaty was probably was a large part of the cause that WWII was able to begin as many people (not only Hungarians) believe the reparations Germany had to pay set the stage for the horrible rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis.  That idea, I believe, was what lead to more enlightened policies after WWII and the Marshall Plan among other things. But I am getting off track again. Let’s look at some more pictures from our slow walk south. At Kápistrán Tér, near the gate, all four north south roads converge. We walked up Fortuna Utca.

There are many things to see along this little street, and  some entry ways into places you might be shy to walk through if you don’t know the city. But we are heading toward my favorite bookstore, Litea, which stand for Literature and Tea. It’s a fairly small bookstore but the books and prints they have are a wonderful selection, especially for books about the history and arts and literature of Hungary, and Hungarian children’s books. I am always rather poorer after a visit to Litea, but also always happier. You arrive at this shop in a large sunny courtyard through an entrance that seems like a tunnel and has exposed medieval stonework.

In Litea we met Emily’s high school friend Rita  who lives in Pest, married to a Scottish Hungarian. After we had lunch together and looked around a bit more, but I think I’ve tried your patience enough today! I hope to do two more posts about this lovely visit.

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I have so many photos from the Ethnographic Museum which I loved.  So I’m picking out a few more to share. And then on to the Nagy Csarnok  (gy in Hungarian is pronounced almost exactly like D in “Mon Dieu” And “Cs” is  “ch”. This central market building was designed by Samu Pecz in the late 1800s and by the time I first saw it in the 70s it was totally blackend and one couldn’t really see the fascinating architectural details from the period of the millenium, 1896 when Hungary celebrated its thousand years as a country and many beautiful (and some almost over the top) buildings came to be. The great market has a basement and ground floor which are mostly produce and food specialties and a second floor with a nice restaurant called the Fa Kanal (Wooden Spoon) which serves traditional Hungarian fare cafeteria style and has seating in a quieter area behind glass windows and outside part overlooking the first floor. This floor has lots of vendors selling things produced for tourists, mostly needlework and felting and woodcarvings, and toys. It’s fascinating. Emily and I walked upstairs when we arrived and ate at the Fa Kanal.  The entire building has been beautifully restored since the fall of communism and it’s a great place to visit on the Pest side of the Danube just across the Liberty Bridge. There is also a lot of great wrought iron work to look at, as there is all over the city.

click on the pictures to enlarge them. (Except the first one which is from Wiki commons….It was so much better than mine for showing what one really sees.)

Ah, I promised to show a few other things from the Ethnographic Museum,  didn’t I?

Well just for fun, how about an amazing shoe, or should I say boot, some pottery featuring jugs called Miksa Kancso (some say Miska Kancso) which are in the form of mustachioed  soldiers with black hats, usually featuring a snake down the front of the jug. I have no clue as to the symbolism of this…..Once I had a small collection of about five of these, but slowly gave them away as gifts and now have only one. One is enough!  And last, a room of painted furniture from a  peasant home probably on the Alföld, the Great Plain east of the Danube.

The Nagy Csarnok was one place where we ate, but a much more impressive one was Gundel’s near the Zoo.  Gundel’s which was founded in 1910 may be one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, but their quality is excellent. You can read about them here, in English,   http://www.gundel.hu/site/index.php?page=en.   And if you click on “then and now” you’ll get a bit of the history. It was nationalized after the communists came to power, and nearly went out of business, but afterward was bought by George Lang (author of my favorite Hungarian Cookbook and once a co-owner of the Four Seasons in New York) and Ronald Lauder and in 2002 passed to the ownership of the Danubius Hotel chain. They say, “After privatisation the Gundel House resumed its role as a symbol of quality and tradition. Many famous guests have dined here, including Queen Elisabeth II of Great Britain, Pope John Paul II, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, US President George Bush.”  And Ingmar, Emily and I.

We actually only got there by accident. I really wanted to visit the Kastely Museum in Nagy Tétény. Their website said closed on Monday but gave hours for all other days of the week. So the Tuesday before I left Em and I drove out to see it. It is located close to the Danube and far from Em’s place, and looked lovely behind the wrought iron gates. Unfortunately the website information was incorrect and it was only open on weekends. So I suggest that if anyone wants to visit they call before  to make sure it will be open.  It has a spectacular collection of  furniture, from the middle ages to the early 1900s, perhaps. What I remember from the 70s is their Biedermeier  and art noveau collections are breath taking.

I was describing it to an older relative soon after that early visit and she rather snorted and asked, “stolen from whom?” And there is that aspect of things. The woman who asked me that had her lovely home near Lake Balaton  and all its contents appropriated by the communist party . I don’t know whether anything from the Kastely Museum has been returned, or if the people in question are still alive. The same happened to Paul’s family and after the fall of communism in ’89 they were given a letter of apology and a token amount of money from the new government. They donated it to the village church.  The house had been demolished in 1970 and we could see new houses in the village with the large bricks from their home. But by then, no one wanted to return.

How easily I get off the subject. I was trying to explain how we got to Gundel’s for lunch. When the museum idea was such a spectacular failure I decided we should somehow redeem it by doing something special. So we called Ingmar and asked him to join us at Gundel’s for a special lunch. And it really was.

The furnishings are supposed to be what they were in the pre-war heyday, and the ambiance is extremely pleasant. The staff are excellent and not at all pretentious.

We started with appetizers. Emily had a tasting of soup which included white asparagas soup, a sort of gulyas leves in their special version and a special fisherman’s soup à la János Gundel.

Ingmar and I had  poached foi gras with tokaji jelly.

Ingmar had the duck plate and I had chicken paprikas with spaetzle – I always seem to want to see how different places do this and compare it to my own. And I am not sure what Emily had. Perhaps fish? All three entrees were brought out by three different waiters who removed the covers with a flourish and seemed then to back away from the table leaving us to our pleasure.  It was very nice.

And imagine, after this we had dessert! Ingmar had special Gundel crêpes with flaming chocolate sauce. Emily enjoyed Gundel Chocolate Selection-Dark Chocolate Truffle;
White Chocolate and Raspberry Dessert;
Milk Chocolate – Williams Pear
and I had the even better (I think) offering which they call Gundel Fruit Sweets Selection -Mango Macaroon;
Home-made Sour Cherry Ice cream;
Blackberry – Cottage Cheese Slice

The cottage cheese slice is really like a cheesecake with blackberries on top. And after this we had excellent coffee and were finished. As I am now.

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