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October 18, 2006

A Saturday in Budapest

Budapestriver_1 On Saturday we were free to explore Budapest, so after a bit of a lazy start we began to explore what is called Budapest's Cultural Avenue. We made our way over the river and headed towards the massive Hungarian Parliament building.

This didn’t turn out to be the brightest of ideas, as once we got there we realised that although it seems to have disappeared from the mainstream European news agenda, the political unrest in Hungary is still going strong. There was a large police presence, and a large body of demonstraters. The atmosphere was very quiet, but we felt quite uncomfortable. We were pleased when we got back to the more touristy area of town, and felt comfortable again. There had been lots of groups of scruffy young men hanging around street corners, and we couldn’t tell if they were undercover police, demonstrators waiting for trouble to kick off, or just your general ne’er-do-wells. Whatever, they were certainly giving us the creeps.

St_istvan We stopped for a coffee, and then made our way to Szent Istvan’s Cathedral. We had visited it on our trip to Budapest earlier in the year, and found it to be one of the most beautiful churches we saw during our adventure, and well worth a second look.

Ststephenshand We also got to see again the Holy Hand relic – St Stephen’s miraculously intact right-hand.

After our church visit we started making our way up Andrassy Útca, towards Városliget Park. We made a slight detour to pause for another pit-stop at the California Coffee Company, which isn’t terribly authentically Hungarian, but does have free wifi access.

Eventually we reached the park, and headed for the Museum of Fine Arts. We didn’t have time to see the whole collection, but we enjoyed the Egyptian Gallery, which has some fine coffins, a mummified corpse on display, and a bizarre collection of mummified animals including fish, birds, a cat and a baboon.

Egyptiancoffin We’d gone to see two specific exhibitions – a display of sketches by Rembrandt, and an exhibition about Caravaggio’s David. The Rembrandt’s were interesting, but there was probably a bit too much on display, so in the end we both got a little bit blasé about them, but the exhibition started with a striking series of minature self-portraits that showed how the artist had aged.

The Caravaggio exhibition only actually featured one of his paintings, the David itself, but it was surrounded by paintings tha put the work into context, focussing on a whole series of paintings where either David was presenting the head of Goliath, Salomé was presenting the head of John the Baptist, or Judith was presenting the head of Holofernes. This exhibition space was one of the best we have visited, and the room was in virtual darkness except for the brilliantly spotlit paintings and information panels. The approach to Caravaggion’s David itself had a dreamlike quality, as it was in a dark recess so that all you could see illuminated was the two figures themselves leaning out of the black.

We stopped for a quick drink, and then made our way back out ready for our next attraction – Budapest’s

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