The next morning, after having a leisurely breakfast in our Airbnb, we took the tram up Andrássy Avenue to Hősök tere (Hero’s Square). The centerpiece of this square is a statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Known as the Millennium Memorial, construction began in 1896 to commemorate the foundation of the Hungarian state in the same year and the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian basin.
The first item of the complex is a large stone cenotaph surrounded by an ornamental iron chain. Often referred to as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it is not an actual burial-place but instead a dedication “To the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence.”
Directly behind the cenotaph is a column topped by a statue of the Archangel Gabriel. In his right hand is the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, and in his left is a two barred apostolic cross, the symbol awarded to St. Stephen by the Pope in recognition of his efforts to spread Christianity in Hungary. At the base of the column are seven mounted figures, representing the Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin. In the front is Árpád, considered the founder of the Hungarian nation. Behind him are the chieftains Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba, and Töhötöm.
Behind the column are two colonnades. The left of these is topped by two statues, the outer of which portrays a man with a scythe and a woman sowing seed, the pair representing Labor and Wealth. On the inner top edge is a representation of war and shows a male figure driving a chariot using a snake as a whip. In between the columns of the colonnade are seven statues portraying King Stephen I, King Ladislaus, King Coloman, King Andrew II, King Béla IV, King Ladislaus IV, and King Louis the Great.
The right colonnade is topped on the outer edge by statue of a man holding a little golden statue and a woman with a palm frond, the pair representing Knowledge and Glory. The inner edge, matching the left, is topped by female figure in a chariot holding a palm frond to represent Peace. The seven figures on this side are John Hunyadi, King Matthias, István Bocskay, Gabriel Bethlen, Imre Thököly, Prince Rákóczi, and Lajos Kossuth.
Right behind Hero’s Square is a city park, the main feature of which is Vajdahunyad Castle located on an artificial island. Unfortunately for us, the lake surrounding the complex was dry when we visited. Built in 1896, the castle was a part of the Millennial Exhibition which celebrated, just as the Millennial Memorial, 1,000 years since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin. It was designed by Ignác Alpár to feature copies of several landmark buildings from around the Kingdom of Hungary; it therefore displays many different architectural styles. Today, it houses the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, the biggest such museum in Europe.
We walked around the grounds of the castle complex in a circle before arriving back to Hero’s Square. At this point, we needed a bathroom and so stopped into the Műcsarnok, a contemporary art museum. It was a beautiful building designed in the Greek Revival style. Like all other attractions here, it was originally built for the millennium celebrations. I would like to one day see the actual exhibits of this museum.
After that quick stop, we walked down Andrássy Avenue to the House of Terror. Opened in 2002, it is a museum that focuses on the Fascist and Communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary. It is located in the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party, Hungary’s National Socialist party, and the State Protection Authority, Hungary’s secret police. A critique of the museum can be made that it portrays Hungary too much as the victim of foreign occupiers and does not recognize enough the contribution that Hungarians themselves made to the regimes. In the atrium was a tank places over a still pool of water. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed.
The museum takes you in an orderly fashion through the building with the exhibits organized chronologically. Video interviews with survivors are featured on many of the walls in addition to personal effects. Some rooms are interactive, trying to recreate the experience and themed music plays throughout the building. The visit ends with a trip to the prison located in the basement.
After our visit to the museum, we walked down the rest of Andrássy Avenue and back to one of the main squares where St. Stephen’s Basilica was located. Here, we got burgers for lunch and then split up for dessert, Joc grabbing some coffee while J.T and I stood in a long line for gelato.
A small shop, it was attractive both for its innovative flavours, such as lemon basil, chocolate chili, and white chocolate and jasmine, and because they shape each scoop into a rose, hence the name Gelarto Rosa. I chose three flavours for mine: strawberry and elder-flower, dark chocolate, and Oreo cookie. J.T. chose similarly, with the addition of raspberry.
We chose to walk and eat, strolling down the promenade of the Danube. We soon came to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a Holocaust memorial. It was conceived by the film director Can Togay who created it with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the people, mainly Budapest Jews, who were killed by Arrow Cross militiamen in the city during World War II. The victims were ordered to take off their shoes before being shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. Erected in 2005, the memorial consists of sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes that were made out of iron.
Also on this side of the Danube is the Hungarian Parliament building. Built in the Gothic Revival style, it is entirely symmetrical with two identical parliament halls, one for tours, the other for actual politics. The building stands at 96m tall, representing the nation’s millennium in 1896, which makes it one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest, the other being St. Stephen’s Basilica. Along the facade are statues of Hungarian rulers, Transylvanian leaders, and famous military figures. The best view of the building is from across the river, which is where we ended up eventually.
After walking along the Danube on the Buda side of the city, we made our way more inland. Along the way, we found a bronze statue of Ferenc Kölcsey, a poet and the author of the Hungarian national anthem. A quote from his most famous poem, “Szózat”, is inscribed behind him.
Our intended goal at this point was the Faust Wine Cellar. It took a little bit of wandering to find as it was located in the rocky cellars of a former Dominican cloister inside a Hilton Hotel. Joc and I were able to do a walk-in, while J.T. went to explore on his own. For €28, we tried the “White Wine Lovers” tasting which featured nine wines, the final a repeat of your favorite, soda water, and “pogácsa”, Hungarian savory scones with cheese on top. The sommelier took us through each wine, using a map of Hungary to show us where each brand came from, how it was made, and then having us smell and taste while noting specific notes and features. We ended up staying for three hours, engaging in a number of deep conversations. By the end, our poor sommelier was giving us a time limit on finishing our glass so that they could close up. It was a unique experience for my first winery and I would highly recommend it if you are a wine-lover and have some time to waste.
We ended the night by walking back to the Airbnb, where we caught up with J.T., and having some leftovers for a late dinner.