Friday, August 21, 2009

Budapest, Hungary Part Two

So about that bike tour...

Having refined our Euro-bicycling skills in Moravia, Domnhall and I thought a bike tour of Budapest would be in order. I favor this style of tour to any other, not only for the exercise and the freedom, but also for the thrill of narrowly avoiding death by urban traffic.
One of our first stops along the tour: the Budapest Opera House. When it was constructed during the 1890s, it was the most modern opera house in Europe. I think that held up for a decade or so. Bravo, Hungary.
I think this picture sums up the state of Budapest at the moment, particularly when compared to Prague. It is very much in a state of renovation and rebuilding. You can find scaffolding like this all over, some of resting against buildings that have not been touched in years. Maybe give it another 10-15 years and it will rival other European cities. It's just not quite there yet.
One of the more frightening attractions: the former headquarters of the Hungarian Secret Police. Our guide informed us that over 4,000 people may have been killed here during the Soviet period, many using torture instruments similar to medieval torture devices. As much as I am against torture in all forms (unless perpetrated by Jack Bauer on 24) I think contemplating what went on in that building really puts the water boarding controversy/extreme interrogation techniques into a new perspective.
Lorand, our trusty guide kept us informed.
Me in Hero Square rocking my UMass tee. Go U. I wonder how many locals read it as "UM...ASS."
Artsy flower shot.
Inevitably, our tour made a pit stop at a local beer garden. This is me and György (I'm guessing on the name, I had a hard time understanding). We exchanged stories about beer and he tried to educate me about Hungarian drinking. I told him stories of the great brewer-patriot Samuel Adams. Apparently, he used to live in Germany, in the center of one of the leading beer producing regions. For one reason or another, at the time he only really drank cheap wine. When he relocated to Hungary, historically a wine-producing country, he switched to cheap beer. In limited English, we contemplated and discussed the irony.
We capped it at two to ensure safe (and comfortable) riding.
The next leg of the tour brought us up the hill that leads to the palace and old district.
A view from the top - note Parliament (tallest dome surrounded by spires) to my left. It ranks #2 behind the British Parliament in size.
A look back to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge we crossed. These views are from the Buda side, facing Pest (they were once considered two separate cities divided by the Danube).
A grand Gothic cathedral obscured by scaffolding. So it goes.

After the tour, we made our way to some Turkish baths - an incredibly relaxing experience after pedaling around on those bikes all day (the tour lasted 4 hours). If you're not phased by old naked dudes trudging around, I recommend it.
The Danube at sunset, having emerged from the baths.
A little nightlife action...
...results in hangover city.
One last pic of the side of the Parliament. It was too big to get a complete shot of it from any angle. That's big.