The next morning, we woke up bright and early.
Aware that we had only two full days in Budapest, I had (of course) mentally composed an itinerary that was fit to burst with activities.
Also aware that Michele had said he wanted a relaxed and whimsical weekend away, I made sure that this itinerary was kept from his knowledge and that it was mainly enforced through seemingly fanciful and off-the-cuff questions such as "hey, whilst we're in this area, why don't we go look at the _____?"
It kind of worked. For the most part. Until Michele threw us off schedule with a visit to Budapest's Parlament building. But more on that later.
We began by wandering slowly through the streets near our (wonderful, cheap and gorgeously warm) apartment. We were situated on the brink of the Jewish quarter, a district famous for its ruin pubs and lively nightlife. During the day, it was quiet and peaceful but the abundance of restaurants and bars and artisan shops made for an interesting and lively atmosphere.
Our first stop of the day was the Dohány Street synagogue.
The synagogue is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world! The Viennese architect behind the synagogue drew upon a range of architectural styles to design his creation. Recognising that there was no specific architectural style associated with Jewish culture, he instead took inspiration from elsewhere which is why the building has a distinctly Moorish look at times.
We queued up outside in the rather brisk morning air to get our tickets for the synagogue and the Jewish museum. Unlike the bazilika, you have to pay to get into the synagogue but stepping inside, we certainly did not mind.
The synagogue was badly damaged in the war, after Nazi bombings and the siege of Budapest. It was also used as a base for German radio and even a stable at points! The incredible building was only restored to its glory in recent years, with the works finishing in 1998.
The Jewish museum attached to the synagogue is also well worth a visit whilst you're there.
This was one of the exhibits that particularly moved me. Written in both Hebrew and Hungarian (despite anti-Jewish legislation that ruled against Hebrew), this 1941 document depicts the determination and willpower of a community fighting for their religion and their identity during one of the most trying times in their history. The original synagogue of the Great Plane had collapsed and they were determined to build a new one. In 1944, the entire community was deported and only a hundred of them survived the holocaust.
I really recommend paying a visit to the synagogue whilst in Budapest - it was an incredibly eye-opening and humbling experience.
From there, we hurried on towards the river.
We had tried to take a look at the Parlament building the previous evening but the biting nighttime temperatures had pushed us back indoors.
In the glowing winter sun, standing around and casually ambling around the outside of the building was mildly more bearable.
This was where things went wrong; my plan had been to head across the river to the Fisherman's Bastion, grab some lunch and watch the sun go down.
We popped in to see how much the tickets were for the Parlament tour the following day and then Michele suggested, all whimsically, that we just do the tour there and then.
Well. This did not work with my carefully planned itinerary but I was still trying to pretend that we weren't actually on an itinerary and that this was a casual day for exploring and general sightseeing. But I also didn't want to reveal the fact that I had a highly scheduled plan so we bought the tickets and settled in to wait at the cafe which didn't have any vegetarian options left. Bad times. No lunch for me.
Nevertheless, the tour itself more than made up for it.
The building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896 and was completed in 1904. Sadly, the architect went blind before the building was finished and so he never got to see the final creation.
Walking around, the opulence of the building is difficult to miss. Sumptuous carpets lead visitors down ornately gilded corridors and past windows that filter the light into all the colours of the rainbow.
There is also one very exciting room containing the Hungarian crown jewels which are constantly guarded by armed soldiers. You're not allowed to take any photos in there and you have to stand at least a few metres away from the soldiers as they perform ceremonious sword swishes at intervals throughout the day!
The tour was pretty quick but it was such a joy to see inside such a beautiful building.
By now, the sun was well and truly setting, casting the Danube in a lovely wintry light.
Despite me still wanting to get up to the Fisherman's Bastion for sunset, we spent a good twenty minutes standing and watching the ice float down the river and crush into the huge pillars of the Chain Bridge.
On the other side of the river, you can take the funicular up to the top - or you can try and walk some heat into your muscles by clambering up the steep footpath that snakes up through the trees!
I think it's safe to say we missed the sunset!
But the view was still absolutely marvellous.
Once the light had faded, we quickly rediscovered just how low the temperatures get in Budapest during January so we hurried back down the hill for tea and cake in one of Budapest's many gorgeous cafes and steaming hot showers back at the apartment.
And just to tick off one more spot on my mental itinerary, we ended the evening in the famous ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, which was conveniently close to our apartment.
Szimpla Kert had a really great, chilled atmosphere and they had loads of good beers on too. We happily nabbed a table beneath a heater in one of the outside sections and nattered away until it was time for dinner.
It's kind of strange reliving this all now that it's officially Spring and the chill of the Hungarian winter feels like years ago. But hey, it wouldn't be this blog if I didn't write about things that were essentially obsolete by now, right?!