Wren’s Nest

View from Wren’s Nest

The Easter weekend coincided with John’s birthday this year, so as a gift I booked a short break in Dumfries and Galloway. Our accommodation, Wren’s Nest, was bijou (read tiny), a former farm building converted into a one-room cottage, but it was perfect for our needs. (There’s also a larger cottage, sleeping four, on site.) The owner, Janet, lived next door in the farmhouse and was an absolutely lovely person, so helpful. Not only that, she provided champagne for our first night! Apparently, we were the first people ever to stay in Wren’s Nest so this was a lovely way of marking that. (Both cottages can be booked via holidaycottages.co.uk).

The nearest town of any size was Newton Stewart and we stopped here for a look around on our way down to the cottage. Despite the dreich* weather we took a circular walk between two bridges over the River Cree.

Fortunately, the next day dawned brighter and we set off to celebrate John’s birthday on the Isle of Whithorn.

* Dreich (Urban Dictionary definition) – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

Budapest: the Belvarós

Vörösmarty tér

The Belvarós – or Inner City – is the hub of Pest with many shops and cafés. We passed through it several times on our way to and from other places, so the pictures that follow are highlights taken on different days.

Vörösmarty tér

This square, seen above, is the hub of the hub, if you like. It’s dominated by the statue of Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-55), a poet renowned for his hymn to Magyar identity, the first line of which is carved on the pedestal: Be faithful to your land forever, oh Hungarians.

Decorated buildings

I can’t now remember where many of the buildings and monuments depicted in the rest of the post were! This beauty has panels depicting the four seasons.

This gorgeous art deco panel of Our Lady, Patron of Hungary, is on Szervita tér.

These are on Váci utca.

And this is the Great Market Hall.

Churches

There were many churches in the area, but we only seem to have pictures of these two, the Protestant Church and the Servite Church.

Statues and fountains

As usual in Budapest, we found many delightful examples.

And, finally, that is the end of my Budapest diary. Since we were there in March we have been accumulating many Scottish photographs so the next few posts will be closer to home.

Budapest: Gellért-hegy

Budapest from Gellért-hegy

Another day, another bridge! This time we crossed the Danube from Pest to Buda via the Szabadság Bridge to Gellért-hegy (Gellért Hill).

Ahead of us, we could see our two destinations: the Cave Church and the Liberation Monument on top of the hill.

Outside the Cave Church is another statue of the ubiquitous St Stephen and a great view back to the bridge we had just walked across.

The Cave Church, created in the 1930s, is a higgledy-piggledy warren of passages and small chapels where masses are conducted by monks of the Pauline Order.

Climbing beyond the church, the views became even better.

At the top, we admired the Liberation Monument from all angles. It was originally erected to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who liberated Budapest from the Nazis, but after the fall of communism its inscription was rewritten to honour all those who died for Hungary’s prosperity.

The Citadella, which you can just glimpse behind the monument in one of the pictures, was built to reassert Hapsburg dominance after the revolution of 1848-9. After walking round it to admire the views on all sides, we set off down the other side of the hill.

This took us past the statue of St Gellért, after whom the hill is named.  Gellért was a Christian missionary in the time of St Stephen and, after Stephen died, pagans apparently threw him off the hill at this very point. Today, he brandishes his crucifix at all comers.

The path down the hill deposits you at a complicated road system leading to the Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Bridge which we would use to cross back to Pest later. A statue of Empress Elizabeth (1837-98) sits on a central island.

Navigating our way across the road, we arrived in the Tabán district. Large figures were advertising an exhibition about the First World War, but we headed next door to the Semmelweis Medical Museum.

Dr Ignác Semmelweis (1818-65) discovered the cause of puerperal fever, which was usually fatal, thus saving the lives of many women in childbirth. Good man! I also liked the Holy Ghost Pharmacy which dates from 1786 (though not on this site), the opium pillow (how comfortable could that be? Don’t you mind if you’re taking opium?) and the portrait of Zsuzsanna Kossuth, sister of the revolutionary leader and National Head Nurse during the 1848-9 War of Independence.

After a final stroll around the area, we headed back to our hotel for our last night in Budapest.

Just one more post to complete my Budapest holiday diary!

Budapest: the Jewish Quarter

Dohány Utca Synagogue

A wet morning saw us heading for the Jewish Quarter and Dohány Utca Synagogue – the largest in Europe (capable of accommodating over 5000 worshippers) and second largest in the world after the Temple Emmanuel in New York. Tours in various languages were available, chosen by sitting in a pew near the appropriate flag. We tried this, but it was so noisy we couldn’t hear the guide so we just wandered about ourselves.

In an adjacent building is the Jewish Museum full of beautifully crafted objects and some lovely stained glass. Unfortunately none of the items on the first floor were labelled, though a special exhibition upstairs was much more informative. Given these defects, we spent a much shorter time in the synagogue and museum than I expected.

The way out took us through the cemetery and Heroes’ Temple. The former is there because the Nazis forbade Jews from being buried anywhere else. The domed temple dates from 1931 and was built to honour the 10,000 Jewish soldiers who died fighting for Hungary in World War 1.

Behind the temple and cemetery is Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, named after the Swedish consul who saved 20,000 Jews in World War 2. It also commemorates others who helped Jewish people such as Sir Nicholas Winton. Very moving.

It was still raining, and still not quite lunchtime, so we visited the very quirky Museum of Electrotechnology. John liked the big machines (no idea what the one below is) but I loved the more domestic details such as the Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder. This is exactly like the one I had as a teenager. I would put the microphone up to the radio and record the charts from Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s Pick of the Pops on a Sunday evening. Often, the music would be overlaid by the dog barking and other noises-off, but it was the best I could do. Da da da da-da dah, da da da!

Still raining – time for a beer! Budapest is famous for its “ruin bars”. Originally nomadic, springing up in condemned properties and moving on when evicted, many are now static and commercialisation has set in. Szimplakert in the Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and famous for having part of an old Trabant in the courtyard. Cheers!

Finally, time for lunch. I had set my heart on the café at the New York Palace, but there was a big queue. We managed to get some snaps of the ceiling before leaving.

Serendipity led us to Macesz Bistro. I wasn’t hugely impressed that the veggie option was lasagne – I’ve had too many awful ones over the years – but it was still raining hard and we didn’t want to wander too far, so in we went. This turned out to be the best meal of the whole week (and the only one I photographed). The lasagne was made with matzo instead of pasta and was absolutely delicious, as was John’s duck. Wonderful!

There is much that is picturesque in the streets of the Jewish Quarter, but most of the photos below were taken on our way home on a different day (as you can maybe tell from the blue sky).

John took a reflected selfie in one of the pedestrianised streets.

There were several murals – this was my favourite. If you can enlarge it, you will see a man working on the roof, a window cleaner, a couple on their balcony and this cat.

Finally, we knew this was a school (iskola) but weren’t sure if it was still in use. I’m still not! The best English-language explanation I can find is from a geocaching site: “The Erzsébetváros Primary and Secondary School, situated on Dob Street, can justifiably be named as one of the most beautiful educational institutions of Budapest. The building, originally constructed in 1890, has been modified many times throughout its history, the mosaic ornaments of its facade were installed following the plans of artist Zsigmond Vajda.” Just gorgeous!

I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief tour of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter. Next time – a final visit to the Buda side of the Danube.

Glasgow Gallivanting: May 17

Arran Ferry from Brodick Castle Gardens
In the UK, May is bookended by Bank Holiday Weekends and we took full advantage of both. May 1st saw us on a ferry returning from Arran after spending time there with friends, and at the end of the month we had a couple of nights in Oban.

Oban at dusk: view from our room
Full posts to follow! So what else has been happening?

Cousins

My cousin Tracy and her husband have just bought a new boat. We were able to inspect it before a family lunch at Kip Marina. Doesn’t she look delighted?

We also had dinner with another of my cousins, Ian, and his wife Lynn. No photos were taken at that event, but here we are as kids on the back green of our grandparents’ tenement flat. That’s their kitchen window behind us. I think this is 1971, so I would be 14 and Ian 4. His wee brother and my younger sister are also there, and a small girl at the end who, I think, must have lived in the same building. I have no recollection of her at all.

 

Voice from the past

Redby Infant School, Sunderland, 1963
While I’m on a nostalgia theme, how about this? As some of you know, I administer a blog, It was always sunny, for my Mum who is writing the story of her life. When she came to the section about me starting school I included the picture above and was surprised recently to receive a comment from one of the other children, the boy fourth from the left in the front row. He’d Googled the name of the school and up this popped! We’ve been exchanging memories and trying to complete a list of all the names. Can’t find me? I’m fourth from the right in the back row.

Talking of things popping up, and in the blowing-my-own-trumpet department, I was touched and delighted to find my name in Update, the professional journal for librarians in the UK (third paragraph). One of the most satisfying aspects of my career was mentoring and encouraging younger librarians so it’s great to know it was appreciated. Thank you so much to Jennifer for mentioning me.

The Elephant Park

Glasgow has many fine parks, and I’ve written about the major ones, such as the Botanic Gardens, many times. All over the city, however, you can find pocket-sized parks amidst the urban sprawl. Last year, these two concrete elephants near my home were sending out an SOS signal because redevelopment of an adjacent building put them under threat. When I passed by the other day they had obviously just been made-over (one still has its Wet Paint sign) so I’m hoping this means they have been reprieved.

The last bit

Four theatre / concert hall visits, three guided walks, a visit from my sister – I’m running out of time to write about everything this month, so I’ll quickly finish by returning to my programme of expanding your vocabulary with Scottish words! The Women’s Library guided walks that I’ve co-led have not been blessed with good weather – an understatement to say the least. Both guides and partcipants were drookit. If you can’t guess what that means from the pictures, click on the link! I have more walks coming up in June, so I’m hoping for better luck.

So that was my May – how was yours?

Budapest: Margaret Island and Óbuda

Yes Pub

I knew before we arrived in Budapest that it had been formed in 1873 from the cities of Buda and Pest which lie on opposite banks of the Danube. What I didn’t know was that there was a third settlement involved: Óbuda (Old Buda) which, although largely modern these days, still had a historic town centre. One morning we set off to walk there.

Our route took us from our hotel in Pest to the Margaret Bridge (Margít hid). On the way, we were amused by this pub sign – has the campaign for Scottish independence now reached Hungary?

Margaret Bridge is slightly V-shaped with a spur in the middle onto Margít-sziget, or Margaret Island, walking the length of which gives access to another bridge leading to Óbuda. Like many places we’ve visited at this time of year (it was early March) the island was still gearing up for the tourist season – nothing had been planted out yet in the gardens, and there were several diversions to avoid repairs which were being made to the roads and footpaths. There was still plenty to see though. I made a friend.

I don’t know who he is, but later in the week we saw a photograph of children playing on the same statue in the 1960s, so he’s been there for a while.

We saw the ruins of a Franciscan Church from the 13th century, and a chapel with a Romanesque tower dating back to the 12th.

There are also ruins of the Dominican Convent inhabited by St Margaret of Hungary (1242-1271) after whom the island and bridge were named in the 19th century.

Margaret was the daughter of King Béla IV who vowed to bring her up as a nun if Hungary survived the Mongol invasion. When it did, he consigned her to the convent at 9 years old. What a father! She seems to have made the best of it by curing lepers and performing other saintly deeds as well as, allegedly, never washing above the ankles. Eurgh! Although she was beatified soon after her death, she didn’t actually become a Saint until 1943.

Other attractions include two thermal baths and an outdoor theatre, all probably very busy in the summer. Behind the convent sign above you can see an Art Nouveau water tower peeking through the trees, and below is the Japanese garden.

Árpád híd at the far end of the island is just a big modern road bridge, so we strode over that as quickly as possible to reach Óbuda which, as I said, is largely modern but still has some attractive historic buildings.

The town square houses several museums, one of which is dedicated to Imra Varga who created the sculptures with umbrellas below. This time it was John’s turn to make friends.

As I’ve observed before, Budapest is fond of its outdoor sculptures and statues. The signpost amused us – 2336 km to Stirling which is not far from us. I wonder why they chose it?

This statue is Pál Harrer who initiated the founding of Budapest. It’s good to see him honoured.

We had a quick lunch in a café but didn’t linger to visit any of the museums. John had a plan – he wanted to visit a cave. The hills to the west of Óbuda have a network of caves formed by rising thermal waters, two of which are open to the public. We set off to walk to the nearest, Pál-völgyi Cave. I have to confess I was a bit grumbly here, as the walk was not very interesting: uphill through residential areas. Also, I was far less keen on this idea than John was. I’d read the description of the cave in the guidebook which mentioned 400 steps and a 7 metre ladder. Steps I can deal with, but I wondered where this ladder would be taking me.

In the end, I needn’t have worried. Although not all that spectacular, the cave had some interesting formations and fossils.

The ladder wasn’t too bad – you can see me disappearing up it, feeling glad that it didn’t look like the other one pictured which, I’m assured, is there for illustrative purposes only.

From the cave, the walk back to Margaret Bridge was all downhill, thank goodness. This time we stopped to admire its sculptures – and to rest my weary feet.

By the end of that day I had done 31,744 steps! This was our longest day in Budapest by almost 10,000 steps, and my longest ever since I started wearing a Fitbit in February 2016. The only other time I have cracked 30,000 was hiking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River – I didn’t expect to exceed that in a city. All in all, I feel totally justified in linking this to Jo’s Monday Walks. She’s in sunny Portugal again this week.

Budapest: Opera to Heroes’ Square

State Opera House
Our hotel in Budapest was called the Opera Garden – the clue is in the name: it was very near the State Opera House which we passed regularly. It’s very grand and adorned with a wonderful collection of composers’ statues:

Here’s a slightly dodgy set of iPhone photos of the interior from the night we went to see a ballet version of Anna Karenina.

And finally from the Opera, here we are having lunch in the Café on the day we left for the airport (and very good it was too).

The Opera House lies on Andrassy út, Budapest’s longest and grandest avenue.  There are many more interesting sights both on it and in the surrounding streets, such as the tiled Mai Manó House. During the interwar years it was “the most glamorous nightclub I have ever visited” (Patrick Leigh Fermor) and long before that it was home to the Hapsburg court photographer after whom it was named. Fittingly, it is now a photography museum.

Nearby is the Operetta Theatre and more quirky sculptures. Miklós Radnóti, the leaning statue, was a poet who was shot in 1944 while serving in a Jewish labour brigade.

Further up Andrassy út is the House of Terror, once the dreaded headquarters of the secret police under both the Fascist Arrow Cross in World War 2 and the Communists. The exhibits here were horrific, particularly the reconstructed torture chamber in the basement. It’s hard to believe what people can do to each other: the veneer of civilisation is very thin. Outside is a monument to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Andrassy út ends at Hósök tere (Heroes’ Square), a ceremonial plaza centred on the 36m high Millenary Monument. The gilded building pictured is the Museum of Fine Arts.

Beyond Heroes’ Square is Városliget (City Park) with its fairy tale castle and pseud-Romanesque Chapel.

Also in the park are the Széchenyi Baths which have their own thermal spring. We didn’t bathe but went inside to admire the décor. It could be a palace not a swimming pool!

Nearby are three monuments which measure Hungary’s progress since the fall of communism. The Timewheel is the world’s largest hourglass which, on the last day of each year, rotates 180º to symbolise becoming part of the European Union in 2004. Where a statue to Stalin once stood is the Monument to the Uprising, a forest of oxidised columns and a Hungarian flag with a hole in the centre to recall the cutting out of the Soviet symbol in 1956. Beyond this, a crucifix rises over the foundations of the Virgin Mary Church that the Communists demolished in 1951.

I fear this has not been a very uplifting post: too many links to death and destruction, even though I’ve tried not to dwell on them. Next time, I’ll try to do better – I have an island and a cave for you.

Budapest: The Vár

View from the Chain Bridge

During our week in Budapest we criss-crossed the Danube several times using four different bridges. On our first venture to the Buda side of the river, we walked across from Pest via the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd), the first permanent link between the two (inaugurated 1849).

On the other side, we decided to take the Sikló, a renovated 19th century funicular, up to the Vár (or Várhegy – Castle Hill). This turned out to be the only transport that we used all week other than our own two feet!

The funicular delivers you to the Royal Palace, home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. We decided to save these up for a rainy day – which never came so I can’t tell you anything about them. We just wandered around the outside, enjoying the views back across the river.

If Pest reminded me of Paris, Buda, or at least the Vár, felt much more Germanic. Enjoy the pretty streets.

Admire the details.

Feel moved by the Trinity Columns, erected in 1713 in thanksgiving for the abatement of a plague …

… and by the Mary Magdalene Tower, all that is left of a church wrecked in World War 2.

Above all, feel amazed that, despite this being early March, we could enjoy lunch outside in the sunshine!

Behind me in the picture above is Mátyás Church, officially dedicated to Our Lady but popularly named for Good King Mátyás. It’s not as old as it looks, being mainly a late 19th century recreation restored again after World War 2. Still, it’s very interesting and colourful inside and out.

Behind the church is Fisherman’s Bastion, probably the best place for views back across the Danube. It’s a fancy 19th century concoction that I’m sure no self-respecting fisherman would have anything to do with. The statue is King Stephen.

Having traversed the Vár we descended the other side of the hill and made our way back along the river bank to the Chain Bridge, taking in a last few sights on the way.

In my next Budapest post, I’ll return to the Pest side of the river.

Glasgow Gallivanting: April 2017

Mothers’ Day

But Mothers’ Day (UK) is in March! I know, but my incompetence at getting something booked in time meant that I took my Mum out for her “treat” the following Sunday, April 2nd. We had a lovely afternoon tea in Mad Hatter’s in Paisley.

Rita McGurn

One of my volunteer roles is guiding walks for three different organisations. Now that Spring is here, the season has well and truly started – I’ve already done three in April, including two Women of the Gorbals walks for Glasgow Women’s Library.

The former mill above is one of the stops. We talk about the lives of the women weavers, and also about the sculpture billowing from the chimney. Smokestack was designed by Rita McGurn who died in 2015. Rita also worked with wool and crocheted fabulous giant figures, some of which you can see in a recent article in the local press about her daughter who has yarn-bombed a bench in the Botanic Gardens in her mother’s honour. As the Botanics are very near our house, we set off to find it the other day, and there it is in the gallery above

Soutra Hill and Fala Moor

Soutra Aisle

This outing was also prompted by a cultural event. One of the concerts we attended at Celtic Connections back in January was Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart, a combination of spoken word and music inspired by Fala Moor and Soutra Hill close to her home in Midlothian. We wanted to go! And now we have.

Soutra Hill was once the site of an extensive medieval monastery and hospital. All that remains is the Soutra Aisle, not, as once thought, part of the monastery, but a burial vault constructed from its rubble. John Pringle, who died in 1777 aged 77 years, his wife and sons lie here.

Fala Moor is bisected by a track which, until the mid 20th century, was part of the road network. To the east lies Fala Flow Loch, and to the west the ruins of Fala Luggie Tower. We met not a soul along here, though we spied a party of workers in the distance burning off the heather. This accounts for the rather hazy quality of the photos below.

The track ends after 3.5 miles at Brothershiels Farm, where we were objects of curiosity for some of the residents. That was one lippy lamb – and I really don’t like the look of those mushrooms, or what they’re growing in!

Happy birthday, John!

It was John’s birthday in April and, as it coincided with the long Easter weekend, I booked a cottage in Dumfries and Galloway for three nights. The weather didn’t really cooperate, but we had a lovely time anyway and there will be lots of pictures shared in due course, both of this and another weekend away in Arran. In the meantime, here is John enjoying his birthday fish and chips in Wigtown.

Kilarden

Scotland’s Gardens Open for Charity is underway again for the summer and, on a free Sunday afternoon, we checked the programme and decided to heard for Rosneath to view Kilarden. The Rosneath Peninsula is bounded by two sea lochs, Gare Loch and Loch Long, each of which has a naval base so if you can avoid those the views are pretty. It’s also worth avoiding the thought that this is where all the UK’s nukes are stored. Scary.

This is the 25th year the owners of Kilarden have opened their garden as part of this scheme. It has lawns around the house, on one of which the Shandon Ukulele Band were providing entertainment, and ten acres of hilly woodland with a huge collection of rhododendrons.

The ruined St Modan’s Church in the village was picturesque, the current church was open for viewing and the church hall was selling very good teas. Not a bad afternoon out!

So that was my April – how was yours?

Budapest: Basilica to Parliament

St Stephen’s Basilica

St Stephen’s Basilica was a great place to get an overview of the city on our first day in Budapest. Stephen (Istvan in Hungarian) is revered as the founder and patron saint of Hungary. He was crowned king in 1000, but the Basilica is centuries later than that: built between 1851 and 1905.

The interior is beautiful and, in places, quirky – note the reliquary in the gallery below which contains Stephen’s mummified right hand. On the anniversary of his death each year, August 20, this is paraded through the streets.

The highlight, however, was climbing the 302 steps of the tower. Well, not the actual climbing itself, but the views. We could see many of the places we would visit later that day, or over the forthcoming week.

If you spotted a building in the gallery above with a multicoloured roof, that was our next destination. A fine example of Hungarian Art Nouveau, it was formerly the Post Office Savings Bank and is now the State Treasury. The bees on the facade symbolise thrift.

We found Budapest to be a “monumental” city with statues and sculptures everywhere. Here are some favourites from the area between the Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament. Many of the names brought back my school history lessons, for example Kossuth who led the 1848 revolution. Ronald Reagan seems a little out of place! He never visited Budapest but was honoured in 2011, the centenary of his birth, for his role in ending the Cold War.

A couple of monuments merit more detailed attention. The German occupation monument, marking the Nazi takeover in 1944, is controversial. The government insists that it stands for all victims of the occupation while Jewish groups see it as part of an official attempt to absolve Hungary of responsibility in the Holocaust. At its foot, families of those who died have set up a Living Memorial of photographs, documents and belongings which, unfortunately, is frequently vandalised.

The Holocaust Memorial lies on the banks of the Danube and consists of dozens of shoes cast in iron. Hundreds of Jewish adults and children were shot here and their bodies thrown into the river. Before they died they were made to remove their coats and footwear to be used by German civilians. Horrific.

Just upriver lies the Hungarian Parliament Building which makes the Palace of Westminster look rather restrained: Gothic Revival with Renaissance and Baroque flourishes. I’m not sure I like it exactly, but it’s certainly impressive.

By this time it was 3pm and our feet were starting to get sore from tramping the pavements. Before leaving the Basilica in the morning, we had bought tickets for an organ concert starting at 5pm. Just time to go back to our hotel for a cuppa before venturing out again.

Today’s explorations were all on the Pest side of the river. It reminded me a lot of Paris – broad boulevards lined with neo-classical architecture and, when you ventured down the side streets, a slight air of dilapidation. The next day we would cross the river into Buda for the first time (the cities merged in 1873). It was quite different.