Europe Trip 2024: Day 4 in Budapest

May 13, 2024

I took a 10-day trip to Europe with my son between April 26 and May 5. We spent time in both Barcelona and Budapest. This post covers Monday, April 29.

Another reunion

The day started with another reunion as my son and I met my friends at 9Bar, just down the street from St. Stephen’s Church. I believe that another one of my friends who lives in Budapest visited this cafe recently and posted a picture on Instagram. He must have posted it as a story as I could not find the image in his feed.

View of St. Stephen’s Church as we approached the 9Bar Cafe.

As we were walking down the street enjoying the view of St. Stephen’s church, I heard my name and there was Ryan Noltrieke on his way to 9Bar. Ryan was one of my teammates when we lived in Debrecen. Ryan is also a fellow Jayhawk. Ryan and his wife, Jen, had moved to Budapest over 10 years ago to serve with Campus Crusade for Christ. We last saw them when we had dinner with them in Orlando during their initial training. They met the year we were in Hungary as Jen lived in Pécs.

Also joining us for the morning was Gyuri. He was a student in Debrecen involved in the ministry when we moved over to help out in 1997. I met with Gyuri many times throughout the year and we always had deep and challenging discussions about our Christian faith. I remember advising him near the end of the school year as he was trying to discern what to do next. He ended up joining the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in Hungary. He and his wife still serve with the ministry in Budapest today.

Ryan, me, and Gyuri enjoy our reunion.

I enjoyed catching up with these guys and being reminded how I treasure their friendships. I regularly hear from Ryan through ministry updates he sends out. I enjoyed reconnecting with Gyuri and hearing what he has been up to. I admire how he is meeting several challenges with faith and bearing witness to his beliefs. It was a joy to hear him pray in Hungarian as we wrapped up our time. It brought me back to the times in Debrecen when we would pray together at the end of our conversations.

I enjoyed getting to introduce my son Ryan to both of them. My son’s name is tied to our friend Ryan. As we discussed names before our son was born, we liked Ryan. We had very positive feelings because of our relationship with Ryan Noltrieke during our year in Hungary.

Along with catching up, we shared some memories from our time in Debrecen. Gyuri told us about what other students involved in our ministry are doing now. It was such a blessed time of fellowship. It was so good to see both of them again.

St. Stephens

I was uncertain what our day would look like after meeting up with Ryan and Gyuri. I knew that most museums were closed on Mondays in Hungary. But I was not sure if St. Stephen’s Church would be open or closed. We decided to walk down the street and find out. It was open and we stood in line for about 10 minutes to get tickets.

I have only been inside St. Stephen’s Church once or twice before. I remember visiting it for the first time on a two-week trip in 2000. I remember I saw the mummified hand of St. Stephen, the first Hungary king when we visited. And I remembered that it was an impressive building. I only have pictures of the exterior from one of my other visits so this may have been my second visit inside.

I had taken a picture of this statue of St. Stephen on a previous trip and had it as a wallpaper on my computer.

My son and I enjoyed wandering around and taking pictures of this church. We saw the mummified hand of St. Stephen in its vacuumed sealed container. They are displaying it in a more prominent location within the church. I believe I saw it in a back room the first time. We also sat for a while marveling at all the works of art throughout the church.

The altar of the church with a statue of St. Stephen.

The neo-classical church was built at the end of the 19th Century as part of the millennium celebration of the crowning of Stephen as Hungary’s first king. The construction extended beyond the 1896 party as the original dome collapsed. It is one of the tallest buildings in Budapest at 96 meters high.

Walking to Kossuth tér

After visiting St. Stephen’s Church, we walked to Kossuth tér to see the Hungarian Parliament building. On the way, we stumbled across a controversial memorial at the edge of Liberty Square. It was a memorial to the victims of the German occupation of World War II. But the controversy is that many feel it seeks to absolve the Hungarian government and citizens playing a part in the Holocaust. Protesters have laid belongings of Holocaust victims in front of the monument along with explanations of why they are upset.

Liberty Square also contains a monument to the Soviet liberation of Hungary in World War II. The U.S. Embassy is nearby along with statues of Ronald Reagan to the left of the Soviet monument and George H.W. Bush closer to the U.S. Embassy.

We had wanted to take a tour of the Parliament Building. I was unable to buy tickets online before the trip. We went to the visitor’s center to see if we could purchase tickets but all the available tickets for the day were sold out. There were also two underground museums that I had wanted to visit that were both closed because it was Monday.

I remember seeing this statue on my first trip to Budapest. It has cleaned up nicely.
I love the stonework and the coats of arms on the main entrance facade of the parliament building.

Walk along the river

I began to formulate a plan for the rest of the day. I knew we were close to the Holocaust Memorial along the east bank of the Danube. I had never seen it so we decided to walk from Parliament to the memorial.

The memorial remembers the Jewish victims who were taken to the river by members of the Arrow Cross, asked to take their shoes off, and then shot with their bodies falling into the river and floating away. It is a simple yet powerful memorial to what happened here.

We continued walking along the river till we got to the Chain Bridge. From there, we took a tram to a Metro station near the Liberty Bridge. We rode the Metro 4 line to Moricz Zsigmond Square. They were building the Metro 4 line the last time I was in Budapest so it was the first time I had used this line.

We ate lunch at McDonald’s and I used the Budapest GO app to determine what bus to take us to our next destination. The Citadella is perched on a hill and has some amazing views of the city that I thought my son would enjoy.

Adventure at the Citadella

After determining which bus to ride, we boarded and started up the hill. Our stop was in the middle of a neighborhood. I knew we needed to walk a bit to get to the park around the Citadella. We were going to approach it from behind, walking toward the river.

As we made our way, I got a message from my wife on WhatsApp. She asked if the Citadella was open. She had read that it was closed for refurbishing. I told her that we would soon find out since she did not know we were already up there.

As we approached the Citadella, I saw that areas were fenced off. We found a sign that told us several walking paths were open so we continued. We finally arrived at the foot of the Citadella’s statues. We walked up some stairs and I took a picture of the main statue from behind the fence.

The stairs were in pretty bad shape. Sections of the stairs were no longer there. A couple of the stairs were missing entire treads. I wish I had taken pictures of it but I was too busy trying to keep from falling as I descended the stairs leading to the monument.

We were in luck and there were accessible paths that we were able to take to see the wonderful views of the city. It was an adventure and bonding experience for the two of us. I was glad we were rewarded with those great views of the city.

City Market and Gelato

After climbing back down the hill and taking a couple of trams, we visited the Great Market Hall. It is the largest of all the market halls in Budapest and probably the most touristy. I did not notice as many paprika stalls as I had in the past. There were stands set up in the central walkway which had been clear in the past. We were there in the late afternoon and there were not as many people on the main floor and several shops were closed.

We ventured up to the second floor which is more for the tourists. You can buy different types of souvenirs from shirts, embroidery, leather goods, chess sets, and postcards. My son bought a postcard and I bought some for my daughters. I bought a Chain Bridge sticker to put on my journal.

I craved ice cream after a long day of walking. I had wanted to find some Hungarian fagyi (ice cream). I liked to get a combination of chocolate and cinnamon. I have not found cinnamon ice cream in the States and have fond memories of it in Hungary at Lake Balaton.

With the help of my wife, we ended up getting gelato instead. It hit the spot even though it was not the Hungarian fagyi I had hoped for. From there, we walked down the Vaci and took the subway.

Gelato hit the spot after a long day of walking.

Nyugati train station

I had one more thing that I wanted to show my son. We took the subway to Nyugati train station. We had frequented Nyugati during the year we lived in Debrecen. The InterCity train to Debrecen was from this train station. Nyugati was designed by Gustave Eiffel. The Metro 3 line has a station just underneath it.

The station had been remodeled since the last time I was there and there were parts of it that they are still working on, including the McDonald’s that we ate many meals at. Ryan and I enjoyed walking around the station. I would tell him stories and show him places like where we would store luggage and a leather shop where several of my teammates had bought items.

A great moment during our visit was when an announcement was broadcast. Before the announcement is some music that alerts people. The music is part of my Hungary experience because we took trains every day when I lived at the lake that first summer. In 2005, I recorded the music and made it my notification sound on my phone. The music would play anytime I got a text.

The expression on his face was priceless when he heard it. He turned to me with a big grin. He had heard that music for years as my notification but now he was hearing it in the context of what it was used for. It was a special moment to share with him.

Hungarian Train Music
We used this side door a lot when we visited the station. Seeing it triggered several memories.
The mobile McDonald’s they have set up since the restaurant in the train station is being renovated.

Music and dancing in the park

We returned home after a long day of walking to music in the park by our hotel. As we got closer, we saw that there was also dancing.

A slightly older woman approached me and asked if I wanted to dance. I politely declined and I don’t know how to dance the tango. We enjoyed people-watching for a while and then sat down on a bench. A Hungarian approached us and asked if we would watch his bags for about ten minutes. It was a bag full of bags. We agreed since we had planned to sit there for a while. He was back within that time and was very grateful.

Trip to the SPAR and winding down the day

After enjoying the park, we got some things from the grocery store for a light dinner and chilled in our hotel room. I enjoyed the store experience because it reminded me of when we lived here and going to the grocery store was part of our daily experience.

Pom-Bär (Pom Bears) were chips we liked while living in Debrecen. Ryan got some for dinner and enjoyed them.

We watched an Italian soccer game between Fiorentina and Sassuolo where we saw 5 goals scored in 12 minutes in the second half. We also had a good conversation as my son shared his frustrations and disappointments with one of his classes at Elisava. I am glad that he could share that experience with me. I have missed having these face-to-face times with him over the past five months.

We ended the day with a Zoom call with my wife and daughter. We shared our day with them and got caught up with some news from home. One of the things that I enjoyed was involving my wife in our trip as we chatted on WhatsApp and I sent her pictures. There were so many things that I would see during our day that were like inside jokes between the two of us. It was fun to send her pictures and mention seeing something that she would be familiar with.

My son fell asleep while I was talking to my wife and I continued talking with my wife on WhatsApp. I also ate a chocolate csiga pastry we bought at the SPAR. I had forgotten how good they were. They are like a cinnamon roll but with chocolate inside. The chocolate gets more moist as you get further into the interior. Csiga means “snail” which is what they look like.

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