What a past few days it has been here in Budapest! I must say that from my experience, I highly recommend you coming to this Hungarian city. The amount of activities to do here can easily fill up 3 full days of sightseeing - not to mention the guided, bus and boat tours that are available (which I did not even have time to do!).
The past 2 days have been solid walking from one side of the city to the other - I have woken up the past 2 mornings with legs and feet that are super sore and stiff. There is mass transit, but keeping with my tradition of purposely wandering around the city to see more of it, I decided to walk everywhere. Now while it is time consuming, it did allow me to run into several buildings, sights and situations that were memorable.
One of these building I came across was the Synagogue near where I was staying. This synagogue is the largest in Europe - second only to one in New York City. It was also the only building that I saw that required people entering pass through a metal detector. Although I did not tour the building, I found it to be an impressive structure from the outside.
Another great place to make sure you see is Heroes' Square and the surrounding museums and Vajdahunyad Castle. The Square is a large (at least a city block) open space flanked by 2 large museums. In the back middle of the square are the monuments to Hungarian Heroes'.
The castle has a pretty good museum inside of it. In fact, if you were pressed for time and had to choose the National Museum or the Vajdahunyad Castle Museum, I'd say go to the castle. The castle also has one of the most bizarre rooms I have ever seen. It is full of deer skulls and heads and the like. I literally laughed when I walked into the room. It would be a redneck's version of heaven though.
The Museum of fine arts I decided to skip - since they wanted the equivalent of $10 to get in - what nerve! I did stop by and go into the Art Hall museum, which was housing a modern art gallery of the Cluj Artists. These are the artists that have grown up in a post Communist world and their works are influenced by it. There were also many films, but the one that I found most interesting was one called Dog Luv.
After that I walked down the main road (Andrassy) walking past a lot of Embassies (including the Russian one, which they had left the front gate open. I was tempted to walk into it and knock on the front door and see what happened!), saw a guy eating lunch and smoking on a hookah, and got rained on.
Now on a side note, the weather in Budapest seems to be bipolar. You are walking around the city, not a cloud in the sky and by the time you've walked a mile it is pouring down rain on you. Now I was able to meet some Americans working in Budapest (the wife is a plant manager for GE and the husband appears to be a free loader - must be nice!). They said in the past 2 months it had rained maybe 3 times. It has rained at least for an hour or more every day I have been here. It must be me.
Also, you know when you are out in town and you can immediately know if someone is European by how they dress? Well, I am assuming it works the same way here too - you can tell an American (or foreigner) very quickly. I've gotten some interesting looks by what I can only assume is from my wardrobe. Now being a little experienced in travelling, you have to realize that it isn't a personal insult if someone does laugh at you - use it as an entry way to say hello and talk to them. Especially here in Budapest, people are very friendly once you begin speaking with them and are more than willing to help you out or even invite you to come with them.
Continuing on, I also stopped at the House of Terror museum. This building housed both the Nazi party of Hungary (more specifically the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party) and the Soviet intelligence and police units up until 1956. This museum highlighted mainly the Soviet occupation and brought to life some of the horrors of Communist rule. It also brought to light some very interesting - and even timely - topics on political intimidation, propaganda, creating a God out of a political figure and other social and political weapons that were used to seize and consolidate total control. It included (what I am guessing are the original) "detention rooms" that were underground cells, and they designed it to replicate how it looked when in use. Sadly, they do not allow for photography there. A great museum to visit if you are ever in Budapest.
Anyhow, I have made it to Vienna and will be posting those stories soon. Until then...