Yesterday I was invited to visit the Hungarian Parliament building. It’s a landmark on the waterfront, and very beautiful. Inside is stunning, most noticeably because much of the ceiling is trimmed in gold.
YES, that’s right! Everything 3 m and above is trimmed in real 22, 23 and 24 k gold.
A woman asked our interpreter if the gold was removed during the Communist era. “Have you been to St. Petersburg?” she huffed in her heavy accent. “Is coated in gold. NO! Communist love the gold! They not remove the gold!”
She had two requests during our visit: “please not photograph me or Crown Jewels. Please no touch the guards”. Both seem pretty rational.
The Hungarian Crown Jewels (namely a crown and scepter) are displayed in the center of Parliament underneath a huge and gorgeous dome *you can see the dome in the photo below.
Unlike other kingdoms, where each new royalty receives a personal crown, Hungary has just one, which has been handed down from King Istvan (Stephan), around the year 1000, through 50 kings up the the last, King Charles IV, in 1916.
Legend says that the original cross on the crown contained three pieces of the Holy Cross, which Queen Isabella Jagiellon tore off and gave to her son John Sigismund before she handed the crown to Ferdinand of Austria in 1551. The current cross sits a bit crooked, supposedly because it was bent when someone put the crown away haphazardly (I’d hate to be that guy!!!)
The crown has an interesting story as it has been moved in and out of Hungary many times. During WW2 the U.S. 86th Infantry found and recovered it in Austria and it was sent to Fort Knox for protection from the Soviets. Jimmy Carter had it returned in 1978.
The entry hall for new legislators and special occasions is truly gorgeous, ornate and luxurious. Also lined with gold, it has three large paintings on the ceiling depicting Hungarian history. The entry has 96 steps, which represent the founding of the country in 896, and the millennial celebration in 1896 when the new Parliament building was finished (well, almost finished, but close enough. 1896 was the goal….). The dome of Parliament is 96 meters high, aligned with St. Istvan Basilica, also 96 meters. There is a law that no buildings can surpass this height.
These stained glass windows are priceless. They were removed during WWII and stored in the basement. Here you can see how the stained glass was used like a curtain, typical of the style at the time:
When Parliament is in session, they sit here. I find it so interesting how ornate and even princely this is, when you consider the purpose of the Revolution was to overthrow the monarchy and Communism was definitely not into kings or queens, and yet this room–in every country– represents the nation so fundamentally, and in Hungary it definitely has the whiff of royalty about it. The President sits above and the Speaker sits below, as in America. Hungary is a uni-cameral state.
And where are we going with these pretty, golden photos? Well…
tourists pay $20US for a 45 minute tour of Parliament, which I think is quite expensive, especially since a visit to the National History Museum set me back about $5.
Just down the road I paid about $4.25US for an awesome meal of a large fresh cucumber and tomato salad, chicken “gyro”, spicy humus with pita, pistachio baklava and a bottled water. It was the Budapest highlight of my day! Beyond delicious!
I found the restaurant while walking home from the train station on St. Istvan Street. I guess King Steven was the theme for the day. The avenue is not in the tourist section, so it is lined with typical shops, cafes and restaurants. It also has grocery stories; namely, Aldi’s.
Aldi’s is a privately owned German supermarket chain, a division of which also owns Trader Joe’s. That is a convoluted story you can read more about here. I wanted to find some spices and dried foods to bring home, so I decided to check it out.
Here are some cool things I found in the Hungarian Aldi’s that I don’t think you will find at the Aldi’s in Glen Burnie, MD.
Also, to get into the store, you pass through a turnstile and use a token to get a cart. You pay for bags. And the cashiers SIT on plush, office style swivel chairs. All very civil, quiet and efficient.
Aldi’s had a lovely showcase of fresh, hot pastries. I picked up the two babies below for about .75 cents.
And that is why, dollar for dollar, experience for experience, taste for taste, I’ll take St. Istvan utca over Országház any day.
And no, I did not save them for A1. I was very tired & hungry after walking no less than 6 miles and decided that for my efforts, I should have them. And they were damn good.
In case you might need an apple strudel of your own, here are two recipes for the Hungarian version.
Feel free to share...