Budapest – Of Heores and Castles

We found ourselves at the Heroes’ Square in Budapest. Standing before us was a statue of the archangel Gabriel. At the base of the column was a group of seven mounted figures representing the Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian basin. In the front of the magnificent seven was the famous Árpád considered the founder of the Hungarian nation.

I didn’t know that the Hungarians may have migrated from their original homeland near the Ural mountains in Asia and settled in various places in eastern Europe. Their language may have been inherited from the Finno-Ugric peoples which is related to the spoken languages of the Finnish and Estonian. Well according to history books the famous Árpád with his people galloped into the  Carpathian basin around 896 and founded the nation. The monument was built as a celebration of the millennium in 1896.

The seven fanciful figures at the base represent the seven Magyar tribal chieftains (whose names were Árpád, Elod, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba, and Tétény) that came to the area in the ninth century.  They all looked brave and appeared real heroes to me.

Near to the monument is the Vajdahunyad Castle, a castle that was built between 1896 and 1908. It is a copy in part of a castle in Transylvania, Romania, that is also called Vajdahunyad. The castle displays a mix of different architectural styles: Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Originally it was made from cardboard and wood for the millennial exhibition in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from stone and brick. In the court-yard, we found a group of students gathering together on the grass. They reminded me of my college days when my fellow classmates and I used to sit on the grass, discussing world matters as if the whole world was controlled by us.

The statue of Anonymus, also displayed in the Castle court, was a chronicler in the 12th century. He wrote the first history books on the ancient Hungarians, mostly based on legends. He was the unknown author of The Deeds of the Hungarians, a record of early Hungarian history. He described himself as Anonymi Bele Regis Notarii (‘the anonymous notary of king Bela’), but is generally cited as Anonymus.  In my simple mind, I thought Anonymus is still alive. . . . . . I have seen lots of his articles and letters of complains!

We then went up to the Castle Hill. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesques style situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on the Castle hill. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. It is a viewing terrace, with many stairs and walking paths.

From the towers and the terrace a panoramic view exists of Danube, Pest to the east and Heroes’ Square at the far end of Andrássy út. We took a good rest on this terrace.

Gazing at the Danube and the beautiful Pest side, we were happy that we were given another interesting and sunny day in Budapest.

Sunset on Budapest

To say the truth, I was not terribly impressed when I first reached the bank of the Danube overviewing Budapest. Maybe my expectations were raised too high through viewing too many great images of Budapest prior to my arrival. In my heart I quickly ranked Budapest after Prague, thinking it was a fair assessment.

My heart changed on the second day in Budapest when we cruised back on a ferry from the medieval town of Szentendre along the Danube. The sun was setting and the sight by the river was just lovely. . . . . . can’t help falling in love with Budapest from that moment on.

The setting sun illuminated many of the landscapes, castles, domes, buildings and bridges giving them a romantic touch. The sun’s illumination on the bridge has accentuated its warmth. . . . . . . . .the Parliament house was also at its greatest beauty when viewed 3D from the river.

The Buda side has always looked more picturesque than the Pest side.  With the sun setting, the silhouettes of the buildings against the sky were more attractive than the view under direct sunlight. The water in the river was shimmering with a tint of gold.

The waters of the Danube offered an array of moods while the sun imparts its last rays of light onto  Budapest giving it a warm feel before dusk finally sets in.

As we alight the ferry, we couldn’t help admiring at the sight of the Chain Bridge before us. A couple was sitting on the bank gazing at the wonderful sight. . . . . .time just stood still.

Annecy Medieval Town, France

After a refreshing walk by the Annecy lake, we strolled upstream along the banks of the waterway towards the medieval town.  There was a change of scene; the peaceful view of the lake gave way to that of a picturesque town. The multi-colored old buildings on both sides of the waterway captured our eyes.

On one side of the bank, there is a narrow walkway of about 15 ft wide with endless cafes, restaurants and bistros along it,  on the other side, the face of the buildings stood vertically on the edge of the water. This indeed  is one of the most beautiful small cities in France.

Annecy’s medieval town is  a joy to stroll through. The lovely old town with its endless flower-filled  balconies is the main sight.  While the buildings are of different colors,  shapes and heights, when put together they are like a delightful jig-jaw which is picturesque. The colors on the building walls are in harmony with each other and many buildings have  arcades that provide welcome shade on sunny days and shelter during rain or  snow. It was an interesting sight and we were enticed to walk further and further upstream.

Along the waterway were some swans. We were excited in seeing the swans as they are not common at all in our part of the world.

It was also interesting to watch people feeding the swans.

No visit to Annecy is complete without some shopping at the Sunday Market in Annecy’s vielle ville (old town). The Michelin Green Guide calls it the best market in France.

We have always liked visiting the markets on our tours. It gives us a chance of seeing how people live, what people eat and buy in the place. It also gives you a feeling that you are among the people which is completely different from the feeling that your are just passing by, gazing through the windows of a tour bus.

We were amazed to find even footbridge crossings were used as markets. The place was so full of people that very often we have to squeeze through.

It was a Sunday when we were there. While visiting the markets, we were excited by the colors of the market, the goods and vegetable they sold. We found the cheese we bought in the market very yummy and soft; something which we have never tasted before.

Much of the old town of Annecy has only very narrow streets and alleys that  are open to pedestrians only. It is a great town to explore on foot with many  interesting small shops selling all things imaginable.

We have been to many towns which are built by the river, but Annecy is one which is so unique and full of life and colors which we will remember for a long time to come. The town walk is certainly something not to be missed by  architects and artists.

Lake Annecy in France

While the medieval small town of Annecy with its colorful building and markets is interesting, a stroll by the lake is very refreshing.

Lake Annecy is the second largest lake in France, after the Lac du Bourget,  It is known as  “Europe’s cleanest lake” because of strict environmental regulations introduced in the 1960s. It is a popular tourist destination known for its swimming and water sports. It is close to the border with Switzerland and could be reached by car within around an hour.

We first strolled by the Thiou River, walking towards the lake. The water in the river was blue and crystal clear and the view with the boats along the river was picturesque.

Even water birds build their nest on the river; displacing some boat moorings.

I like this simple but elegant and well proportioned footbridge across the river. I have always liked bridges, especially those in Europe, as a lot of attention is made towards the aesthetic quality and their integration with the environment. Bridges also symbolize connectivity and also the overcoming of an obstacle, in this case, the river.

We strolled as everybody strolled by the lake. The lake instilled a certain calmness in our minds and the fountain reminded me of the fountain we saw in Geneva, albeit much smaller.  There was a lot of activities on the lake. The water was still cold and nobody was brave enough yet to swim.

We could just go on and on , walking along the banks and appreciating the blooming flowers.

Unfortunately, we did not have the time to explore the part of the lake which Paul Cezanne painted of Annecy. As with many of our travels, we always miss some of the things we dearly wanted to see. . . . . . . . perhaps, this gives us a convenient excuse to come back later.

The Challenge of Travelling

Have been travelling for the past couple of weeks, covering Switzerland (Geneva), Hungary (Budapest, Szentendre), Croatia (Plitvice National Park, Split, Hvar Island and Dubrovnik) and France (Annecy).

This journey is different in that we also have my Father-in-Law (FIL) of age 80+ travelling with us. While the planning of the trip has tried to be as less strenuous as possible, the trip did require quite a bit of walking up and down. We intended to cover all 16 lakes of great beauty in Plitivice National Park (below) and the 2 km (730 steps) walk on top of the Dubrovnik Castle walls in Dubronik, not to mention the daily walking of several hours when we were not travelling by car, catamaran or Ro-Ro ferry.

It was a test of will and strength for my FIL, as before the journey, he has developed a reluctance of climbing up or down even one flight of staircase between two stories in a building. While in our assessment, he should have the physical strength to complete all the walks in the journey, nevertheless, we were worried that he may not be able to overcome the psychological hurdle of tackling those climbs.

The trip did not have a good start. While loitering in the quiet streets of Budapest my FIL was approached by two men in the street, one pretending to be a tourist with a map in his hand, trying to snatch his backpack. Only when I shouted out loudly from afar did the men hastily turn away.

With the help of two walking sticks, my FIL was able to climb up to the very top of one section of the Plitvice lakes and should have been able to complete the other section if not for the very heavy rain which came pouring down like cats and dogs. When we reached Dubrovnik (above), he was also able to complete the picturesque 2 km up and down walk on the high castle walls of the Dubrovnik Castle on a hot day. All in all, he has reconquered the fears of climbing and was proud of that!

One of the things I pondered after the trip was – what lifestyle and exercise  should I adopt  now so that I would also be able to travel with confidence and strength as I approach 80 ? While life expectancy is increasing, this does not necessarily imply that we will still be sufficiently mobile in our later stages of life.

We have experienced immense beauty in our trip. . . . . . the unforgettable blue sea of the Adriatic, the scenic beauty of the Plitvice Lakes, the festival and cosy town at Hvar, the magnificent Dubronik castle, the quaint little medieval town of Annecy (above) and finally the tranquility of Geneva. This post is a preview and I will write in more detail about each of the places in this journey.

Six Attributes Garden – Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園) in Japan

As part of our trip to Shirakawa-go, we passed through Kanazawa city and dropped by the Castle and the beautiful Six Attributes Garden, Kenroku-en. It was Autumn and the leaves have changed their colors.

Kenroku-en (兼六園, Six Attributes Garden), located in Kanazawa, Japan, is an old private garden. Along with Kairaku-en in Mito, Ibaragi and Koraku-en in Okayama , Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.

Kenroku-en was developed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan. The garden is located outside the gates of Kanazawa Castle where it originally formed the outer garden, and covers 114,436 m² (over 25 acres). It began in 1676, the garden was, however, destroyed by fire in 1759.  Restoration begun in 1774, improvements continued in 1822, adding more streams and ponds. The garden was opened to the public on May 7, 1874.

We first passed by the Kotoji Lantern. Kotoji Lantern has two legs, which resembles the Kotoji bridge  in Koto. The lantern is for lighting up the  surface of the pond at night. The sun was setting and this photo taken against the light and  including this lantern, the surrounding old  trees with their colorful autumn foliage was the most  impressive in Kenrokuen.

There are four tea houses in Kenrokuen. We strolled around the Kasumiga-ike Pond and were impressed by the Uchihashi-tei Tea House which is supported on stone piers but looked as if it was floating out of the pond.

The garden’s name was derived from the “Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens” (洛陽名園記), an ancient book by the Chinese poet Li Gefei (李格非), and stands for the six attributes of a perfect landscape. Kenrokuen is worth visiting because the garden has balanced all six scenic attributes.

According to the chronicles:

兼六”的意思,好的園林要具備的六種特質:

「宏大・幽邃・人力・蒼古・水泉・眺望」

出自中國 詩人李格非 的《洛陽名園記》

「洛人云,園圃之勝,不能相兼者六:

宏大者少幽邃人力勝者少蒼古;多水泉者難眺望

兼此六者,唯湖園而已。予嘗游之,信然」)。

The attributes are grouped into three complementary pairs: Spaciousness & Seclusion;  Artifice & Antiquity;  Water-courses & Panoramas. As the specialists say “it is difficult enough to find a garden that is blessed with any three or four of these desirable attributes, let alone five, or even more rarely, all six”.  A delicate balance between all the pairs, for instance, between “spaciousness” and “seclusion” is required.

Kenrokuen is a monument to art, engineering, and nature.  The garden combines winding paths, meandering streams, landscaped mounds,  placid ponds,  stones, plants, and structures to create a distinctive harmony.  Every  step and turn in the garden brings a new view to stop and admire. We were particularly impressed with the tall old pine trees and the pruned round shrubs.

For centuries Japanese gardens were developed under the influence of the Chinese Gardens, but gradually Japanese garden designers began to evolve their own style, based on Japanese materials and Japanese culture.

We strolled by secluded areas with streams and finally reached the Miyoshian Restaurant on Hisago-ike Pond, which we at first couldn’t make out that it was in fact a restaurant.

Japanese gardens are places of tranquil beauty where man and nature come together as one,  places that ease the transition between the  outside and inside world. The aesthetic qualities are evident even to the most casual observer, but the gardens also provide spaces for reflection ……….. they are also for the minds . We certainly found peace and joy in this garden.