Saturday, November 11, 2006

You’ll never know if you don’t try

One of the first things our group did in Budapest was go to the National Museum.  I found myself unimpressed.  The museum was too big, causing me to lose interest after the first two hours, and very few of the explanations were given in English.  Because of that experience I hadn’t been back to a Hungarian museum until Thursday, when Kyla and Mary convinced me to accompany them to the Museum of Ethnography.  Personal history interests me, and the permanent exhibition was free, so I went, and I am oh-so-glad that I did.

The museum is housed in this fabulous old building.  I have no idea what it was used for in the past, but now it is home to the Museum of Ethnography and various temporary exhibitions. 
There were all sorts of fascinating things on display in the permanent exhibit.  The rooms were divided into categories: clothing, religion, farming, cities/towns, markets, arts/crafts, festivals/holidays, childhood, weddings, and death.  I was particularly intrigued by the farming and religion rooms, as many of the items on display were the same sort of tools and devotional pieces that I saw still in use in Romania.  The Ethnography Museum gave me a better handle on Hungarian culture, and I’m very glad I went to it, but not for that reason alone.
When we left the museum we sat outside to eat some lunch.  The museum happens to be situated directly across the street from the Parliament building, and there were people in line as though waiting to go in.  This was odd because the Parliament building has been closed to the public since the rioting began in September (update: there are now not even peaceful protests going on).  The whole courtyard in front of the building is fenced off and patrolled by guards. 
We were curious as to how the queued folks intended to enter, so we walked across the street and, after eavesdropping long enough to know that they spoke English, asked an older gentleman.  In a delightfully crisp British accent he told us that their group was in Budapest on holiday and a tour of the Parliament was set up for them through their travel agency.  Then he asked us if we’d like to join their group.  Would we ever!  He pointed out their tour guide and instructed us to ask her if she could take three more.  Mary approached the tour guide and asked how we would go about getting a tour of Parliament, hoping that the tour guide would offer to take us with her group without us having to ask outright.  The tour guide did not pick up on the unvoiced question, and gave us the name of her travel agency before our new friend the British man jumped in and said “What they really want to know is can they come with us?” 
Well, that took some thought.  The tour guide had told the authorities at Parliament that she would be bringing a group of 12 British tourists through, but she would ask if she could add three more.  While she was off asking the proper authorities what could be done, the 12 British folks decided to help us come up with a cover story.  They were all older and British, so we could look suspicious.  It was decided that Mary, Kyla, and I were college students on holiday with our grandparents.  Of course, this meant we needed to practice our British accents, so they gave us some pointers but mostly just chuckled at our efforts. 
We were terribly relieved and excited when the tour guide came back and welcomed us into the group.  And then it was time to go in.  We waited in line between a group of middle-schoolers and a Japanese tour group and then went through a metal detector similar to those at the airport.  Luckily we had left our semi-automatic weapons at home that day, so we got through no problem.
The inside of the building is absolutely majestic.  Most of the architecture was done in marble with gold trim.
Note: Use of flash was not allowed, so some of the pictures turned out a bit fuzzy (trying to let enough light in so that the image was visible required keeping the lens open for longer than usual, and so if the camera was shaken at all the image blurred).  I apologize for that.
      It was supposed to be done by 1896, so there are 96 stairs up the main entryway.  We tourists came in the side door, so we missed some of the stairs (those that are outside), but we did get to walk up many of the red-carpeted steps and past a replica of the Parliament building built entirely out of matchsticks - 100,000 matchsticks to be exact. 
Next we saw the crown, supposedly or Saint Steven, the first Hungarian King.  More recent studies of the crown have shown, however, that it could not have been the crown of Saint Steven, as it was not created until 30 years after he died.  While we were viewing the crown there was also a changing of the guards ceremony at the site of the crown, so we got to see that too.
The “crown room” is circular, with statues of Hungarian rulers placed high above viewers’ heads.  The vaulted ceiling is also remarkable.
From there we headed into the anteroom of the upper chamber of Parliament.  The carpet there was blue, and we were told that the carpet in the anteroom for the lower chamber was red.  Blue was the color of the upper class, and red was more common.  This beautiful blue carpet is over a hundred years old, and what is even more impressive is that it was handmade (it took seven ladies nine monthes to finish) and is in great condition even today.  There were also numbered cigar holders in the anteroom.  When Parliament is in session, members will smoke a cigar during a recess, but they only smoke the best cigars, and these can take well over an hour to finish.  Recesses aren’t typically that long, so the numbered cigar holders allow the smokers to set their cigar down, return to session, and come back to their same cigar when another recess is given.
The upper room of Parliament, where meetings of the elected officials occur, is stunning.  There are also two upper levels where reporters and lay-people can come to witness sessions of Parliament.  This was also the only room we were in long enough to ask someone to take a photograph of all three of us.
That concluded our tour, so we thanked our tour guide and said goodbye to our new friends, took a few pictures of Parliament from the outside, and headed to the Fetzers’ for some homemade split pea soup.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 11/11 at 07:40 AM
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