We got coffee and soda at the upstairs lounge for breakfast.  We had reservations for the boat cruise at 8pm, and for the Parliament building at noon, so our day was somewhat hamstrung.  We went to St Stephens right when it opened at 9.  The inside was massive, and its interior was arguably one of the most impressive we’d seen on this trip.  There weren’t too many people there, and it was quiet except for some of the workers having a conversation about their holidays.  The church had an observation deck we (Justin) wanted to see, but we decided to come back when it wasn't drizzling.  Earlier in the week we had looked at the weather forecast and it was supposed to be sunny the entire time in Budapest – this was not that.

We had originally planned to walk up one of the main drags (Andrassy St) and check out the various sites, but since we had to be back in this area at noon, we decided to take the M1 line to the Szechenyi bath area, then walk back along Andrassy.  The M1 line is the oldest subway line in continental Europe, opening in 1896.  It is literally right under Andrassy Street, the platform for the train could not have been more than 15 feet below the street level.  On the train car we noticed that, in describing the maximum size of luggage, people could also carry on a sled, a pair of skis, and “one bundle of wrapped tree-saplings.”  We’re fairly confident we haven’t seen that anywhere else before.

We came up right next to the Szechenyi baths, one of the famous thermal baths for which Budapest is famous.  We planned to come here, but weren’t sure when, since it would require bringing our sandals, bathing suit, etc., and when we left we’d have wet clothing.  But we went in and checked prices, spa packages, etc.  We also saw what people were bringing in, most people had a plastic bag or duffel bag that presumably had their stuff.  After seeing this, Crystal thought it best to come Sunday morning, before going back to Vienna in the afternoon.  Justin agreed that made sense, with the caveat we wouldn't have time to dry our clothes.  Crystal noted that our backpacks have waterproof pouches separate from the rest of the stuff, so we tentatively planned to do this.

From Szechenyi we took a short walk to Vajdahunyad Castle.  This “castle” was built in 1896 as part of the 1000 year celebration of Hungary.  Indeed, many of the big items in Budapest opened in 1896.  The castle was supposed to be temporary for the celebration, but so many people liked it that it was re-built with permanent materials.  It now houses the agricultural museum, for which we had little interest, so we just walked around the perimeter.  There was a moat and lake, but since it was winter all of the water had been drained, presumably to avoid ice building up.  As we walked around we encountered a random George Washington statue in a nearby park.  This reminded us a bit of the Winston Churchill statue near the Louvre in France, but even more removed.  Nearby was a big outdoor ice rink that was just opening for the day.

Coming out of the park we entered Heroes Square.  Crystal noted it was like the Arc de Triomphe – a big monument in middle of a large roundabout for a major street.  Here, Andrassy Street intersects another major road, and essentially forks around either side of Heroes Square and then reconnects over by the Szechenyi baths.  We imagine that Heroes Square is usually pretty crowded, particularly during the summer, but today there were not too many people out, either because of the hour (it was just after 10am) or the weather (it was still lightly raining).  We started walking back towards St Stephens, opposite of how we went on the subway.  We figured if we started running late for our tour at the Parliament building, we could easily go downstairs and take the Metro.

One of the places we planned to visit on Andrassy Street was the House of Terror, but there was a long line outside to get in, which we definitely did not expect.  So we decided to come back later, as we didn’t have time this morning to wait.  The next point of interest was the main Opera House, which is (mostly) closed for renovations.  We didn't realize this until a few weeks prior, after we got our ballet tickets for tomorrow night, only to find out we’d be watching from the secondary opera house.  The lobby of the main opera house is still open for tiny tours.  But we’re not sure how great a tour it can be, since we asked and were told the tours don’t go into the main concert hall.  The gift shop is also open.  Basically it looked like they still wanted to generate some revenue whilst closed.

We got back to St Stephens around 11:15, and grabbed some punches at the market.  From there we meandered over towards the Parliament building.  We started to get a little anxious after a bit, but then finally saw Parliament around 11:45.  Even then, however, the building was massive and we were not sure where the entrance was.  We asked a security guard and he pointed us in the correct direction, which was just a minute or two away.  It was crazy at the check-in for the Parliament tours.  People were everywhere, and it was tough to tell who was in line for their tour and who was in line for tickets.  On the board, we could see that everything was sold out, in every possible language.  [Note for people that don’t book ahead, a last resort would be to book in some more obscure language less likely to fill up – you can still see the inside, even if you don’t understand what you’re being told.]  When we booked a month ago, the 10am tour was already booked.

At noon, they were still taking the last folks for 11:45.  We then started going through security, but by the time everyone in line got through it was around 12:15.  Our guide took us through some corridors, then up some stairs.  People were stopping everywhere to take pictures, which was not surprising.  We were near the back, and there was a security officer behind everyone, presumably to make sure people didn’t wander off.  There was a big stairwell area that was very impressive.  We stood there for a while getting the description and taking photos.  The next place, the central area directly underneath the huge center dome, which housed the royal crown, was a no-photo area for some reason.  The royal crown was bent on top, and no one (who’s alive anyway) knows why.  The guide explained to us that the light bulbs in the massive chandelier above are changed from above.  The dome is 96 meters high on the outside, but less on the inside, so there’s a big hollow area in between that the workers access to swap out the bulbs.  From there we saw the place where parliament actually votes (their government was open, by the way, although not in session that day).  The tour wasn’t very long (around 30-45 minutes), but worth it.

We exited on the river side of the building.  It was no longer raining, and the sky was even a little blue.  We walked south for a bit to the “Shoes on the Danube Bank.”  It is a sculpture of iron shoes that is a memorial to Jews who were killed in WWII.  As time started running short on the Nazis towards the end of the war, they stopped putting Jews on trains out to the concentration camps.  Instead, they were lined up on the edge of the river, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot so that they fell into the river and their bodies carried away.  Hence the memorial showing the shoes on the bank.  As bad as everything is the USA right now (and it’s a damn mess), we haven’t approached anything near this bad…yet.

When Crystal was growing up, her fraternal grandmother would make these small dumplings, and she was on the lookout for a place in Budapest to eat some.  We looked around for a bit and found a place called Nonloso that had some pictures that looked like they might be close to correct.  We both got them along with beef goulash.  They were in fact what Crystal remembered, and she said she hadn’t eaten these since she was 5 years old.  To drink, she got some rose, and Justin got a Maracuya lemonade and a shot of vodka, which he then added to the Maracuya lemonade – quite good.

We next headed over to the Great Synagogue.  Since we were heading out on Sunday, and the Synagogue is closed on Saturday, we needed to make sure to go today.  We had in our notes that it closed at 4pm, but when we got there it was already closed.  Apparently on Fridays the closing hours were earlier, and it closed today at 2.  We arrived at 2:20.  So this got added to the (ever-growing) list of places we’ll need to visit when we return.  On the plus side, the sun finally came out, so we decided to try the observation deck at St Stephens.  On the way over there we saw a statue to Empress Sisi, which made sense, given her advocating for the rights of the Hungarians that eventually persuaded Franz Josef to agree to Hungary becoming an (almost) equal partner.

At St Stephens, it was a long, circuitous walk to the observation deck, and Crystal didn't want any part of it (she stayed downstairs at the market).  It was a really phenomenal view from the top, and it would’ve been great to stay until sunset, but we had to get to the House of Terror before it closed at 6pm.  We walked up Andrassy St, and once we arrived at the House of Terror, the line was way longer than this morning.  We waited for about 5 minutes, then decided to head over to Gellert Hill in a cab.  We’d seen a bunch whilst standing in line.  But now (Murphy’s Law) we couldn’t find any cabs, so we decided to get back in line.  The line moved at a decent speed, and we finally got in around 4:30.

The House of Terror is a memorial of sorts to how the Hungarians got screwed first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets almost immediately thereafter, via secret police, ridiculous regulations and business practices, and more.  Inside, the part about the Nazis was maybe 5%, and the Soviet stuff was 95%.  And for the Soviet stuff, it was almost entirely during Stalin’s reign.  The museum itself sits in the very building that was home to the German and Soviet secret police.  We got an audio guide, and in addition to that the rooms were full of still photos, objects, big photos, video boards, music – sensory overload. 

We started on the 2nd floor, then headed down to the 1st floor and then the basement.  It seems as though everyone, particularly during the years 1944 to 1958, was in constant fear.  We had to remind ourselves that things (to this point) haven’t gotten that bad in the US yet.  The tour was very interesting, but came to kind of an abrupt end, without explanation, of what happened (or didn't happen) between 1958 and 1989.  Given the subject matter on display, Crystal had the thought that "kids shouldn't be in a place like this."  But then, after seeing some of the shenanigans in the basement prison by the patrons, she said “adults shouldn't be in a place like this."  There was a large extended family from India making a ton of noise, oblivious to the fact there were hundreds of other people around trying to check out stuff in the museum.  Even over all of the sights and sounds in the museum itself, this was tough to ignore.

We wanted to check out the Boutiq bar tonight, but since our river cruise was at 8pm, we thought it made more sense to go to the bar before the cruise, since we’d walk right past there coming from the House of Terror.  We arrived around 6pm, and it wasn’t packed yet, but we could see “reserved” table signs everywhere.  We got 2 of the last seats at the bar.  This place was phenomenal in every way.  The menu was interesting, as it had what were effectively “stories” about the drink and its inspiration and what the bartenders were going for.  The presentation, including the glasses, the garnishes, the ice (they had several different types depending on the drink) was also top notch.  We saw one of the bartenders, for someone else’s drink, spend at least 2-3 minutes taking a square chunk of ice and chiseling it into a round cube about the size of a lime.  Just the ice for one drink!  Crystal got one drink that came in a Pineapple shaped glass that was gold or brass colored.  Justin got a "Space Zombie" where there was a glass beaker type thing upside down above the main glass (which was a Moai) that had a bright green liquid that could be seen.  They sprinkled some powdered sugar on the top of the beaker, then they put the whole thing inside a glass box that had a hose attached so that they could pump in some smoke, then took off the glass box just before serving.  To top it all off, the drinks also tasted amazing.  And all told, with tip, they were about $10 a piece.  Justin commented that this was perhaps the best bar he’s ever been to. 

Alas, we couldn't stay as long as we would’ve liked since we had to catch our boat at 8.  We got there around 7:50 and grabbed the last two window seats downstairs, at the back.  Wouldn’t you know it, shortly before we left, the same extended Indian family came aboard and sat down right near us, taking up about 15-20 seats.  They were still making a ton of noise, oblivious to everyone around them who was trying to enjoy a peaceful (perhaps even romantic) river cruise on the Danube.  After about 5 minutes, Justin left and went upstairs onto the deck, even though it was literally freezing outside.  So he missed the audio information on the cruise, but Crystal got to hear it (over the talking).  

Some of the snippets were that the train station building was designed by Eiffel, the statue atop Gellert Hill is the equivalent of the USA’s Statue of Liberty, the statue is of a person holding a palm frond, and the designer of the Parliament building sadly died two weeks before it was completed.  Meanwhile, we both noticed that each bridge across the Danuber has a different color and style.  We started by heading downstream (south), going a little south of Gellert and the Central Market, then turned around and went upstream.  It was noticeably slower going upstream, and noticeably colder too.  Budapest is definitely the most photogenic of the cities on this trip.  Literally every city (and this is the sixth, counting Cesky Krumlov and Bratislava) had two sides of a river, but here the two sides had the "main" buildings closest to the river, literally along the river's edge.  It’s almost impossible to not have a view of something if you are near the riverbank in Budapest.

About halfway through the cruise, the Indian family came upstairs and the kids were running around and the parents were yelling, and Justin almost lost it.  Crystal's potential (probably certain) embarrassment was the only hindrance.  Thankfully they got cold and went back inside after about 5 minutes.  We went upstream past Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion and eventually the Parliament building, then turned around and headed back.  The boat cruise ended just after 9, and Justin was happy to be able to feel his hands and face again.  We knew the hotel lounge closed at 9:30, so we hurried back to hotel for "last call."  Whilst enjoying our drinks we tried to plan out the next day, to make the most of our last full day in Budapest.  We could theoretically do whatever on Sunday, since our train was not fixed, but we didn't want to hold too much for Sunday and already had the baths planned, plus perhaps the Synagogue.  After we finished our drinks we went downstairs and immediately crashed.

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