Towns / Cities Visited: 135
Countries Visited: 22
Steps Taken Today: 18,052
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,432,727
As is wont to happen when you finally find yourself residing in a major city for five days after months of flitting around, our morning began, after some breakfast, with a few errands, the major of which was the hunt for a new band for my Fitbit. After seven months of exploring the world, my watch band had decided to give way, and after a good hour of hunting round sports and electronics stores we discovered two things; finding Fitbit accessories in Budapest is seemingly harder than would be expected; and apparently the bands they do have are strangely gendered, with large bands only available in blue, and small bands only available in purple. The main problem with the latter being that I was looking for a large purple band. Deciding to just bite the bullet and hope for the best I ended up with the small version. At this point I learnt a third lesson; apparently small bands in Budapest are larger than small bands in Australia, so crisis averted, although it cost us more of our morning than we had hoped.
Simultaneously annoyed and relieved, we decided to drown our sorrows by finally sourcing a chimney cake in the country which claims its invention; and our first one since we were in Poland. Unsurprisingly, sugar covered dough helped to smooth over the troubles of the morning, and gave us the energy to go head first into the remainder of the day. With our original plans not compatible with the reduced time we had left, we quickly did a little mental rearranging of our Budapest itinerary and headed off.
For those of you who are unaware of the finer details of the Hungarian capital, the city is split in two by the Danube, with Buda sitting on the west bank and Pest sitting on the east. Given that we were staying in Pest we decided to stay and explore this side of the city. Heading towards our main attraction for the day, we paused briefly on our journey to visit one of the city’s major public squares; Hősök tere, or Heroes’ Square. It is home to the two colonnades and massive central column that make up the Millennial Monument, which began construction in 1896 to commemorate the thousand year anniversary of the Hungarian conquest. Atop and between the columns sit a large number of massive bronze statues. Those at the top depict mythical gods and goddesses, including a chariot holding the depiction of war, and another across from it holding the depiction of peace; as well as two couples, one depicting labour and wealth, and the other depicting knowledge and glory. The statues between the columns depict former Hungarians Kings, as well as a number of other important Hungarian historical figures, who now sit perched where the statues of Habsburg royalty used to sit when the colonnades were first erected under Austro-Hungarian rule. The central column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown and a cross, and at its base sit seven horses topped with depictions of the seven chieftains of the Magyars, the seven leaders of the Hungarian tribes when they arrived in the Carpathian Basin in 895 BCE. At the centre of the square sits the Memorial Stone of Heroes, which commemorates those who have died defending Hungary’s borders. Despite what many people call it, locals included, it is not a ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, and no remains are interred beneath it. All in all its a rather ostentatious display of patriotic pride, and yet it seems so formal that it commands a certain level of respect.
Moving on, we made our way to Vajdahunyad Castle, located beside the lake in the City Park. Now, despite the name, it isn’t, nor has it ever been, a residence, royal or otherwise. It was actually built in 1896 along with the Millennial Monument as part of the celebrations. Originally it was constructed out of cardboard and wood, but it became so popular as a landmark that it was rebuilt in stone and brick come 1904. As you draw close to the gate, the first thing that you notice is the strangely eclectic collection of architectural styles that make up the castle. As strange as the exterior is, its what it holds inside that makes the whole place seem surreal. This grandiose building just happens to be home to the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. You read that right, this place which seems so far removed from farming, is home to an extensive exhibition about that very topic.
Before we headed inside though, we took some time to wander the grounds a little and take it all in. As you pass through the gates, the style mix continues. It’s almost as though centuries worth of buildings fell out of someones pocket like seeds and took root here. Despite this though, the place still exudes an air of beauty. The grounds surrounding them are dotted with shady trees, and a handful of statues, including one of my favourites so far on this trip; Anonymous, a depiction of the unknown chronicler of King Béla III. There is something haunting about the faceless hooded figure who draws many aspiring writers to rub his fountain pen for inspiration.
Ducking into the museum, we decided to join the tower tour before we explored the exhibits. This tour, which runs every hour and is available in English, leads you up the Apostles Tower, while the guide explains a little of the history of the castle. It was during this tour that we learnt that the mix of architecture here is not an accident, in fact it was specifically designed by the Hungarian architect Ignác Alpár to feature copies of some of the landmark buildings of the Hungarian Kingdom, including Corvin Castle in Romania, as that section of Transylvania was once a part of Hungary. As the buildings draw inspiration from different time periods, it is thus unsurprising that that entire complex includes Renaissance, Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles. As you reach the top of the tower, you are gifted with a stunning view down over the castle, which from this angle seems to be springing up from amongst the trees.
We couldn’t spend all day at the top of the tower, and thus we headed back down and began our education. The following couple of hours saw us wandering this truly fascinating place. It is not simply a museum about farming; its knowledge base reaches back to the very beginning of agriculture in this country and continues up until around 1945. It all starts with displays of skulls showing the difference domestication had on farm animals like pigs and cattle and even pets like dogs and cats. It also looks at how domestication lead to a boom in animal husbandry.
There are exhibits about forestry, crops, bee keeping, fishing, silk production, and everything in between. The cabinets hold samples of seeds, leaves, nests and even bird eggs, to remind us the diversity of the natural world, and increase the sense of wonder that we, as a species, managed to learn to control so much of it. Its fascinating to see how farming has evolved over the millennia, and how much we have learnt as the centuries have ticked by.
A display about game hunting, complete with a good smattering of taxidermy beasts, brings to mind the less than common meat choices of yesteryear. I mean, you’d definitely raise some eyebrows, and probably draw a few police officers, if you chose to serve wolf or bear these days. Its so easy to forget that there was not always such a concern for animals becoming extinct by our hand for the majority of history, especially in modern day times where animal conservation is so often in the headlines. Here you will also find a few traditional style huts, and an inordinate amount of deer skulls mounted on the wall; so many that if Gaston sprung out from around the corner and claimed to be in charge of decorating you’d hardly be surprised.
Farmers would be far less effective without their tools, and you can be sure the museum doesn’t forget that. On display is everything from rudimentary wooden ploughs and wicker fishing traps, to steam powered agricultural equipment. The two majestic black taxidermy horses strapped to a metal plough, also remind us of our special relationship with beasts of burden, and how grateful we should be for the effort they put in for our benefit. Thankfully they have now, for the most part, been relieved of their duties due to motorised versions taking over.
Even if the intricacies of agriculture are not to your interest, the building itself is something special to behold. Grandiose interiors await you if you look beyond the displays; intricate moldings, chandeliers, stained glass windows, and colourfully painted vaulted ceilings make for quite the juxtaposition with the less than pristine world of farming.
Dodging through a group of school children, of which I kind of feel like every one in this city comes here for an excursion at some point, we headed upstairs. The upper level takes a bit of a step away from the agricultural angle, and instead houses an exhibit about horses and their special place in the countries culture and history, not only as animals for farming but also warfare, transport, and sport. This exhibit also holds the skeleton of Hungary’s most successful race horse; Kincsem.
Whilst looking at at the final exhibit of pictures, we were lead by an employee into a small room off to the side that holds a number of the country’s treasures. Unsurprisingly, you are not able to take photos in here, but it holds many valuable items including a gold embroidered saddlecloth from the turn of the 18th century. They may not be the most recognisable of artifacts, but they are definitely worthy of a peak.
By now we were finally done with our visit, and either due to the lack of a substantial lunch, or the energy expended by cramming in so much information, we found ourselves stepping back outside famished. With it being too late to have a proper meal without spoiling our appetites for dinner, we settled for a warm cheesy pretzel from a small food stand nearby, before winding our way back to our little apartment.
A quiet night in, and we were soon settling into bed, eager to have a far more productive day come the morning. As I relaxed into the sheets I considered all we had learnt at the museum, and I couldn’t help but be amazed by the ingenuity of the human race that has seen us harness the elements, flora, and fauna for our own benefit. It seems like such a juxtaposition sometimes that we as a race can display as much masochistic idiocy as we often do, and yet we are also able to bend the very natural world to our will. There are certainly times when you have to ask yourself whether we are more of a hindrance or a help to the progression of life on Earth, and yet, just as we have the ability to cause the extinction of species, we have, by the same token, been able to prevent the extinction of others. Its a precarious balancing act between progress and conservation, and this museum displays that as well as any. It is a poignant reminder that despite our ability to alter the natural world, we must, I’m sure you will agree, remember the importance of respecting it. We must learn to go forward in harmony with mother nature, and shed our misguided desire for money above all else, if we are to have any hope of surviving into the future.