Today included quite a bit of public transport. In all, we caught four trams and a bus (our first bus in Budapest) and did a bit of walking between sights.
Our first visit (having traversed the city in a sort of spiral leading inwards) was to the Dohany Street Synagogue, the biggest in Europe and the second biggest in the world (the Temple Emmanual in New York being the biggest). It sits between buildings, standing out like the duomo in Florence only not in liquorice stripes.
The design of the building is rather more Moorish than Israeli. It would look quite at home in Marrakech…well, apart from the religious bit, of course.
It was completed in 1859 and has seen many years of suffering and pain. Most notably (obviously) being the Holocaust. The central garden became the Cemetery of the Martyrs. 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis. Then, even though the Soviet Army liberated the Jewish survivors in 1945, 10,000 of them died during the winter from starvation or the freezing conditions.
Standing looking at the small marble plaques, naming the few that are known, is very sobering. These have been placed there by the families who survive and remember.
A little further back we came into the Memorial Park. In the centre is an amazing sculpture by Imre Varga. It is a stainless steel and silver weeping willow, the leaves of which contain the names of Holocaust victims. It was unveiled by Tony Curtis (yes, THE Tony Curtis). The shape of the tree symbolises an upside down menorah. It is extremely moving.
Inside the Synagogue it was very different to the one we visited in Prague and the one in New York (not Temple Emmanuel). In fact it was all rather Christian church-ish. Well, if you ignore the two pulpits. Apparently there used to be two Rabbis at the Synagogue and they needed a pulpit each. I overheard a guide saying there was once four Rabbis. I have no idea how they shared them. Actually, they don’t use the pulpits any more. Now they do the Torah thing at the front.
Of course I had to wear a yamulke though the cardboard one handed out at the door was hardly worth it given it kept falling off. I wasn’t alone, it was happening to all the men. One chap had tied what appeared to be his wife’s scarf around his head, holding it in place. Given you only wear it to cover your hair, the scarf would have been enough. I find it a bit odd that I have to cover a small patch of my hair (what would be a bald patch in most men my age) because a non-existent human invention might feel it disrespects him. Still, you have to humour the poor believers, don’t you.
I also found out (from the same guide who spoke about the pulpits) that the Star of David hasn’t always been a Jewish symbol. He claimed it was originally a Babylonian thing but I haven’t been able to find anything definitive online. I have found a rather humorous attempt to state that the Star of David is actually a satanic symbol and another that links it to the Illuminati. All jolly good fun, of course, and hilarious reading but nothing true. It would seem the symbol was originally a pretty architectural design and someone decided it would make a good symbol so they called it David and a Star was Born. I know which origin story I’d believe.
Anyway, leaving the Synagogue behind, we headed back out into the Jewish Quarter and wound up in the Art Market, a lovely long alley full of people selling all sorts of stuff on tables lining the alley. Nicktor wouldn’t have liked it as it reminded me of a souk…well, a souk without the mayhem and overarching feeling of impending danger.
It was also a bit like the RuinPub we visited except a lot brighter and not so much of a ruin.
We stopped for a cinnamon latte which took longer than the cinnamon would have taken to grow before heading off to Andrassy Boulevard to see if we could find the wonderful Miniversum. While Mirinda complained that it was a bit difficult to find if you went around the back of the building where there isn’t a door, it was actually very obvious if entered through the front…where the door is.
What a fabulous place! Mum loved it. Mirinda said it was her favourite thing so far this trip. I thought it was brilliant.
It’s a mini-Hungary, all laid out with trains and cars, tiny people and animals. It has buttons to push that make things move and other things make noise and yet others flash lights. All round it is brilliant fun with 14 towns and cities, 600 buildings, 5,000 miniature figures, 100 trains (in motion), 1,000 cars, 5,000 trees…and the list goes on. It took 60 people nine months to build and the effort was well worth it.
But, while we all enjoyed the spectacle of a mini-Hungary laid out before us, it was made even more amazing when the lights went off. We had a fair few warnings (though we thought it was to tell us they were closing soon) and then, phloom, out went the lights. Suddenly the place came alive with tiny lights in tiny windows, train carriages, and railway stations. It was magical.
There were a few kids there but it was appreciated so much more by the adults. Though mum made a Hungarian friend in a small boy who delighted in telling her what button made what happen.
For anyone reading this who winds up going to see this tiny marvel, keep your eyes peeled for Superman, the Star Wars AT-AT Walker and the T-Rex enjoying his dinner. They are all great fun.
But like they say in the classics, all good fun must come to an end (I paraphrase) and we once more hit the cold streets, looking for a small cafe where we could enjoy some delicious cakes and coffee. Which we did before catching a number 105 bus back to Octagon and a tram back to the hotel.
All in all, a lovely day, completed with a delicious meal at the Rickshaw Restaurant (attached to the hotel) and a bit of Dickens on the telly.