For first time in a while, it was nice and clear when we got up.  The sun was just rising, and there was good color and no clouds.  Justin was antsy to see stuff whilst the weather was still good, and cajoled Crystal to depart a little early.  We headed out before 8, since our first stop was the Central Market, which had opened at 6.  It was a 10 minute walk south from our hotel, along the east riverbank.  Like the walk in Vienna to the Military History Museum a few days prior, there was hardly anyone out.  While there was blue sky, there was a ton of wind, so it seemed cooler than prior days.

Inside the market most of the stores were meat stores.  Along with a ton of sausages and cuts of beef, there were also more exotic items such as duck feet and duck heads.  Unsurprisingly there was paprika everywhere.  We got some smoked paprika for Justin's mom, looked around for a bit, then headed out.  We went across the green bridge we’d seen the night before on the boat, connecting the Central Market with Gellert Hill.  At the base of the hill is the “cave church” that we wanted to see, but it was not open yet.  So we ascended Gellert Hill to head up to the viewpoint and statue.  This hill was way taller, and steeper, than the one at Buda Castle. 

There were a number of seemingly interconnected paths going up the hill, and we weren’t sure exactly which to take, so we just went whatever looked the most uphill.  The stiff wind was blocked by the hill on the south side, so we were getting warm going up the hill.  Once again, thank goodness for OrangeTheory.  We saw hardly anyone on the paths, but just before the top we saw a grandmother who was totally nonplussed, like she was out for a walk to the mailbox - what a boss.  There were only a couple dozen people up at the top.  There were amazing views at the top, as we hoped and somewhat expected.  Budapest, being so far north of the equator, in December the directions of east and west are almost secondary to looking north.  Anything to the south has the sun in your face (well, when the sun is actually out).  There were some official looking people taking pictures of a bus procession across one of the bridges, but we have no idea what it was or why they were taking photos of it.  We also saw some river cruise ships that appeared to be docked for the winter.

We headed back down the same way we came up.  The cave church was open when we got down.  It is literally built into the side of the cliff, and the church itself was tunneled out.  It was interesting and novel, but we both had the same thought from the audio tour - this was the only church that seemed like it was trying to convert us.  There were a couple videos they showed that were definitely aimed at this.  Next we wanted to go over to Memento Park next, but we needed a taxi for this, so we were on the lookout.  We figured it'd be easier to get a cab from the tourist area near Buda Castle or Matthias Church, so we walked that direction and looked for empty cabs.  We passed by the Rudas baths, which are probably the third most famous thermal baths in town (behind Szechenyi and Gellert).

The weather was quite nice (the wind had died down a bit), and we remarked this was the first really nice day all trip.  “Nice” meant 40 degrees and no rain, so it’s all relative.  At Buda Castle we found the National Library on the backside of the spot where the National Gallery was.  The entrance fee was higher than we would have thought, and it was cash only, so we used almost all of our remaining cash to get in.  Once inside, there was a long line, and we didn't know what for.  Justin put together a “proposed itinerary” for the trip.  The two of us knew we wanted to see certain things, and Justin filled in the rest with items from the Rick Steves book, TV shows such as Anthony Bourdain and Booze Traveler, YouTube videos showing highlights of the various cities we’d be visiting, and then travel books such as Eyewitness Guides.  He then looked on Google Maps to see what was close to each other, and attempted to group days with stuff located close to one another to minimize walking.  Then he double checked days stuff was closed, and also opening hours, to make sure he hadn’t planned to visit something on a day or at a time it was closed.  But he did this all quite some time ago.  And all told, there were probably close to 100 things on the list for a two week trip.  That meant that when we showed up to some of these places, neither of us knew anything about the place other than “interesting artifacts” or “great views from the Southeast corner” or something similar.

This library was one of those places.  All we had “check out the reading rooms upstairs.”  We were standing in a long, slow-moving line, and we had no idea what awaited us at the end.  We thought maybe it was like the library in Vienna, with an ornate interior.  Justin thought to look online whilst we were in line, but then he thought “what if it sucks?”  We had already paid, and were already in line, so we might as well wait it out and be surprised.  We eventually got in after 20-30 minutes.  The payoff was a bunch of old books, most of them from the late 1400s.  In fairness, it was pretty awesome, but we'd already seen a bunch of old stuff at Strahov and at the Vienna library.  Because of this it was kind of “eh,” but if Budapest had been our first stop, we likely would have had a different opinion.

The history museum was nearby, but we didn’t have time for this given what else we wanted to see, and we needed food, especially since we realized we had no dinner last night. So we headed back towards Ruszwurm (because dessert is at least food).  Just as we were leaving the Buda Castle area, the clock hit noon and we lucked into seeing a changing of the guard.  Now the library wait was worth it, since we saw this unexpectedly.  Near Matthias Church we got cash again, hopefully enough (but not too much) for 24 hours.  At Ruszwurm we got some stuff that we’d seen the other day but that was available only on weekends - Apple Strudel for Crystal, Sour Cherry Strudel and Blackberry Chocolate Cake for Justin.  Crystal also got a sour cherry schnapps (she originally wanted apricot but they were out), and Justin got a Pepsi “Zero Sugar.” :)

Just outside of Ruszwurm there was a taxi stand, and we took a taxi to Memento Park.  This park houses a large collection of former Soviet and communist statues that were installed during the Cold War and removed thereafter.  Rather than destroyed, someone had the idea to put them all in one place as a reminder or time capsule of history.  The taxi was a long ride, 10 miles give or take, and actually took us just outside the city limits.  When we got out, the driver said he could give us a 30 minute wait for "free," so we took him up on it, particularly since it didn’t seem like it’d be easy to catch a cab out here. 

The first thing we saw were Stalin's feet.  In one of the protests during the Cold War, the citizens tore down a statue of Stalin, leaving only his feet and lower legs.  After 1989, they removed the base of the statue as well.  In addition to Stalin’s feet, there were lots of other items, including busts of Lenin and Stalin, a creepy picture of baby Lenin, and many other Soviet-era statues.  We saw something similar in Bishkek last year, where a bunch of the Soviet statues were relocated from prominent locations to elsewhere.  Overall we find it a good idea, and wish the southern US states would do the same.  Crystal indicated that we’d seen a lot of former Soviet and Soviet-controlled areas the last 15 months, between Eastern Europe and the Stans.  We managed to see everything in right at 30 minutes, then had the driver take us back to where we started, right by Matthias Church.

When we got back, the “meter” gave us a price that was clearly too high, but we had no real ability to fight it – whatever.  The sun was starting to go behind some clouds, so off in the distance it was all gray but right in front of us everything was bright, which gave off a weird effect.  We got pictures of Parliament literally the second before it went into the shade.  We looked around for a short bit, then headed down to the riverbank from Fisherman's Bastion and then across the Chain Bridge.  We got something at the St Stephens market for Levi, then went to the hotel lounge for happy hour, but the booze was not out yet.  So instead we just got water and pretzels.  We also took in a pretty nice sunset.

We left the hotel a little before 5 and headed towards the Erkel Theatre for the ballet.  We walked on the same road we walked in from the train station (Rakoczi ut).  Earlier in the afternoon we’d walked in the lobby of the Gresham Palace for a minute or two, and we overheard one of the patrons asking the doorman about walking over to the ballet and he said something to the effect of “it’s not in the best part of town.”  We felt fine walking around here, and there were people everywhere, so we weren’t too concerned.  We arrived at the theatre around 5:40.  It was nice to have seats this time.  This time we felt sufficiently confident to get some champagne before the show.  Our seats were near the center, maybe halfway up.  The only issue with the seats was that there was a guy sitting in front of us who was wearing a hipster hat.  We changed seats to Crystal could see. 

The story was a bit odd, but we thought we got it – it seemed like part of it was a dream sequence.  It was less than less than 40 minutes for the first two acts, and after the first two intermissions they had taken up almost half the length of the show.  We weren’t sure if this was to sell more food and drink, or whether the intermissions were necessary for set and costume changes.  The third act made everything worthwhile, it was amazing.  It had most of the recognizable songs, and a bunch of different sets of dancers.  There was the "Asian" set of three - one woman, two men.  There was the "Eastern European" set of five - one man that was very acrobatic and four women.  There was the "Middle eastern" set of five - one scantily clad female and four men.  There were three women, of varying sizes and shapes, which had a hard time staying 100% synchronized because of that.  Then there were the main ballerina and ballet dancer, who were both really good, especially her.  Throughout the show, and particularly during the third act, everyone was in a hurry to clap, a stark departure from Vienna.  At the end, there were three different rounds of clapping, including a curtain call.  The show wrapped at around 8:30.

Outside there was a mess of people trying to get into their cars, plus taxis everywhere, so it was nice that we were walking.  We were on a mission to get some food.  We realized we’d had only snacks, desserts, and booze in the last 30 hours.  We passed by a couple places that didn’t really appeal to us, then decided to check out Red Pepper, which we’d passed by a couple times between the two Holiday markets (St Stephens and Vorosmarty).  Crystal started with a goat cheese/beet/horseradish salad, and Justin started with a goulash soup.  They brought out this pepper paste that was really tasty and not overly spicy.  For the mains we both got chicken paprikash with dumplings.  We ended up staying until just after 11, right as they were closing up.  It was only a five minute walk back to the hotel, and we were asleep just before midnight.

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