The Synagogue, Vajdahunyad Castle, the Opera

Today’s our last day in Budapest, and as such we spent most of the time tying up loose ends and checking items off our to-do list.

Our first stop was the Great Synagogue, apparently the second biggest in the world (after New York’s), a short walk away from our hotel. As luck would have it, we arrived there just minutes before a Spanish tour was scheduled to start, so we were able to join immediately. I had to don a kippah that wouldn’t sit still on my spiky hair…

The synagogue is an immense and surprisingly warm building, painted in pinks, reds and golds, while the exterior has clear Arabic elements. Its most curious feature is how much it looks like a church on the inside, with naves, an altar, an organ and even pulpits. Our guide told us that it had been described as “the prettiest Catholic synagogue in the world”. It looks great, and yet as a mid-19th century construction it’s survived both World Wars, even being the centre of the Jewish ghetto during the occupation of Hungary. Apart from the big main building, there’s also a small courtyard with a Holocaust memorial made of stained glass.

After that visit, we took the metro up to the Heroes’ Square, a colossal square with several monuments and bronze sculptures, flanked on both sides by the Museum of Fine Art and the Mucsarnok gallery. Our first goal here was to see Vajdahunyad castle, a small castle sitting in the middle of a small lake. I read that it was built to celebrate the Millennium and my mind immediately went to 1999, but no, they meant the millennium of the Hungarian nation (so it’s in fact turn-of-the-century). It’s very picturesque, with towers, gates, vines, gargoyles… It’s less kitsch than the Fisherman’s bastion, but equally romanticized. It could easily be the set of a period drama.

The castle grounds are inside the huge city park, and my mom got a glint in her eye when she saw that they rented electric carts to ride around in. I made this face:

So of course we rented one and drove around the park like madmen, up and down slopes, over dozens of potholes and overgrown roots, sometimes into the road, as if the tiny cart was a Humvee in the jungle, and how we got back with the wing mirror intact is beyond me. The park really is big, very green, with lots of trees and paths to walk (or precariously drive) along. The clouds turned grey and threatened to rain, but we were lucky and it was sunny again before long.
Once back on my feet, I took the chance here to pay a quick visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s huge and it has a vast collection, but the downside to me is that most of them are very old, meaning room after room of somber religious paintings. Every once in a while you’d see a beautiful landscape or a Dutch portrait, but otherwise I’m really done with all the possible reinterpretations of the virgin and all the martyrs. They also had a temporary exhibition about Toulouse-Lautrec, but I opted out as I had been to Orsay just the week before!

Just one thing left on our list now: the opera! We had just enough time to take the metro down to the opera and take the last tour of the building, at four. In keeping with what we’ve seen so far, the interior of the opera is all gold leaf, marble and wood, as rich and sumptuous as the bourgeois who attended it to see and to be seen during Sissi’s time. The building is gorgeous, but the tour is lacklustre -the guide struggled with her Spanish, and bizarrely all tours in all languages started at the same time, at the same place, so the guides would keep bumping into each other in the small corridors and we’d have to huddle around ours while the Italian one yelled her explanations a few feet away. 
Nonetheless -a beautiful place, and a great note on which to end this part of our holiday! See you in Vienna!

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