Here are a few more highlights from my recent travels in Hungary.
Our first stop in Hungary was at the Pannonhalma Archabbey (point A on map below). Founded in 996 as a Benedictine monastery and located atop a 900 foot hill, the monastery was rebuilt and expanded many times throughout the centuries. It was designated an archabbey in 1541 and was fortified to protect it from the Ottoman Turks.
The archabbey complex today contains a Basilica with a Crypt that date back to the early 13th century, a Cloisters, a Library with 360,000 volumes including some of the earliest written Hungarian volumes, and a Baroque Refectory (dining room). A nearby arboretum contains over 400 varieties of plants, trees, and bushes.
The Benedictine monks began producing wine in 996 and continued until the end of World War II when the vineyards were confiscated by the Communist state. In 2000, the church re-acquired some of the old vineyards and began planting grapes; currently 90 acres are under cultivation. The first harvest from the newly planted vines was in 2003.
Built about 100 years ago, the Hertelendy Kastély Hotel (B) has to be the top luxury hotel outside of Budapest. Located 50 miles from Lake Balaton in Hungary’s wine region, this property has its own airstrip, driving range and putting green. Guests can ride its Freiberger horses, play tennis, ride in a hot air balloon, or learn to shoot skeet. The property has a thermal spring that feeds a small lake and spa. We only spent one night here and that was nowhere near enough.
Korda Film Studio
After three years of planning and construction, the Korda Film Studios (C) opened in 2007 in the wine-making village of Etyek, about 15-20 miles west of Budapest. The studio has six sound stages and two backlots.
On one backlot is a set from New York City with a full Brooklyn street complete with four-story facades on both sides, a movie theater, a bank, a restaurant, a repair shop, freight loading docks, and fire escapes. This set cost $1 million to build and it was used for the movie Hellboy 2. On the second backlot is a set from 15th century Italy with courtyards, a piazza, and Vatican facade. The recently cancelled Showtime series The Borgias, starring Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI, was filmed here. While both sets look incredibly real, nothing is real. Metal looking bars are simply covered and painted plastic tubing and brick facades are simply textured and painted wood.
Lázár Equestrian Park
Lázár Equestrian Park is located in rolling hills about 25 miles northeast of Budapest. After a delicious traditional Hungarian lunch with musical entertainment, we watched a fabulous horse show that displayed the talents of the Hungarian cavalrymen. After seeing the accuracy of the mounted archers and spear throwers, I had a true appreciation for the 10th century Latin saying “Sagittis hungarorum libera nos Domine” (“Lord save us from the arrows of Hungarians.”)
To me, however, the highlight of the show was the demonstration of what is called the “Puszta Five.” The rider controls five galloping horses while standing on the backs of the two in the rear. There was also a woman rider who rode side-saddle emulating the Empress Elizabeth, who was reputed to be the world’s leading horsewoman of her time. In the early 19th century, few women rode horses and those that did, like Sisi, rode in long skirts or dresses to keep their femininity.
Walking in Budapest is perhaps the best way to truly appreciate the beauty of the city’s architecture. Andrássy Avenue is a one and one-half mile long road that runs from Heroes’ Square to the City Park near the Danube. The street dates back to 1872 and it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2002. The Budapest Metro, the first subway in continental Europe (the London Underground is older), runs beneath Andrássy.
Heroes’ Square sits at the northeastern end of Andrássy. The highlight of the square is the Millennium Memorial, which honors the 9th century founders of Hungary and other key historical figures. a large stone cenotaph dedicated to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence” sits in front of a tall column topped by a statue of the Archangel Gabriel. Statues of the seven Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin are at the base of this column.
Two semi-circular colonnades are located behind the column. Each colonnade has seven statues of other important historical Hungarians.
Atop the left side colonnade is a statue of a man driving a chariot using a snake as a whip representing War. On this colonnade are statutes of Saint Stephen I (the first King of Hungary from 1000 to 1038), Saint Ladislaus I (King from 1077-1095), Coloman (King from 1095 to 1116), Andrew II (King from 1205 to 1235), Béla IV (King from 1235 to 1270), Charles I (King from 1312 to 1342), and Louis I (King from 1342 to 1382).
Atop the right side colonnade is a statue of a woman in a chariot holding a palm frond representing Peace.On this colonnade are statutes of John Hunyadi (general and statesman), Matthias Corvinus (King from 1458 to 1490), István Bocskay (Prince of Transylvania), Gabriel Bethlen (Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary from 1620 to 1621), Imre Thököly (Prince of Transylvania, and Vassal King of Upper Hungary), Francis II Rákóczi (Prince of Transylvania), and Lajos Kossuth (first Governor-President of Hungary).
The Palace of Art is on the right side of Heroes’ Square and the Museum of Fine Arts is on the left. The Palace of Art was built in the late 1890s while the Museum of Fine Arts was constructed in the early 1900s. The Palace of Art is a contemporary art museum while the Museum of Fine Arts collects and shows international arts ranging from the Ancient Egyptians and classical antiquities to Old Master paintings and art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Spectacular Neo-Renaissance mansions and townhouses with highly decorated facades line the street on the way to City Park. This portion of Andrássy is one of Budapest’s main shopping venues with most of the high-end retailers, e.g., Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc. located here. The Hungarian State Opera House, the Franz Liszt Square, and the Academy of Music are also located on this thoroughfare.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is just off of Andrássy at City Park. The neo-classical church was built between 1851 and 1905 and it is named in honor of Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Among the relics in the church is St. Stephen’s incorruptible right hand, known as the Holy Right. The 1,000 year old mummified hand is housed in a miniature gold and glass shrine that resembles the 13th-century Matthias Church located across the Danube in Buda.
Calliope, our magnificently pampered 11 year-old black lab, entered the local pet hospital last Saturday. She succumbed to renal failure on Tuesday, and she was cremated at a nearby Buddhist temple on Wednesday. We acquired Calliope from a co-worker, friend, and lab enthusiast in 2002 when we lived in Orchard Park. She accompanied us to Fort Worth in 2007 and to Bangkok in 2011. She had a sweet disposition, she loved to swim, and she was a fabulous companion; she will be missed.
Kop Khun Krab and Köszönöm.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.