Budapest, Hungary is a large geographic area with many attractions. My husband and I decided to utilize a private guide in order set our own personalized itinerary with the input and suggestions of a professional. Most folks either try to cover the sights on their own or become part of a large preset tour.
We used the services of Andrea Makkay, the owner of Budapest Guide and were pleased that we opted for this approach and this particular guide for a six hour personalized walking and riding tour. Andrea was knowledgeable and personable. Our driver Tamas was pleasant and the van was spacious and clean.
Our first stop was Memento Park on the outskirts of Budapest. The park is an open air museum containing statues from the Communist Era (1949 -1989) in Hungary. It is not meant to glamorize or salute the Communists but rather to reflect a time in Hungary’s history.
Rather than destroying the statues that punctuated the country, authorities opted to move some of the statues outside the populated area, but still accessible to adults and students studying the historical era.
The infinity walks in the park end up at a dead end wall symbolizing Communism in Hungary.
Statues of Soviet soldiers appear throughout the park. The workers, especially the women are pictured as strong muscular individuals.
Next, we visited the Dohany Street Synagogue. Andrea told us that this huge structure which contains more than 3,000 seats is the second largest synagogue in the world. It was originally completed in 1859, but was renovated in the 1990’s with funds from Hungary as well as The Lauder Foundation and actor Tony Curtis.
The Jewish Museum housed in the Synagogue complex contains Jewish artifacts as well as a small Holocaust Museum. We learned that Hungary had 700,000 Jewish residents prior to World War II, but only 100,000 survived. We were surprised to learn that German SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolph Eichmann arrived in Hungary with only about 200 German troops. The Hungarian Arrow Cross Nazi Party was actively instrumental in the round up and ultimate extermination of much of the Jewish population.
Andrea showed us the Weeping Willow Holocaust Memorial. She explained that if the tree was turned to standup, it would be shaped like a menorah which is looked upon as a symbol of Judaism and of Israel. Names of Holocaust victims are engraved on the leaves of the trees.
A plaque reads:
HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST VICTIMS AND HEROES MEMORIAL
Dedicated to the
600,000 Hungarian Jews
who perished in the Holocaust
and to the many valiant heroes of all faiths
who risked their lives
to save untold numbers of Jewish men, women and children
from certain death.
A project of the Emanuel Foundation
an organization named after
my dear father, Emanuel Schwartz
It is interesting to note that Tony Curtis' (aka Bernie Schwartz) parents were Hungarian born and he created the Emanuel Foundation, in honor of his father Emanuel, to help the Jewish people in Hungary.
We walked by the 700 room parliament building and Andrea pointed out that a Transylvanian flag was flying there along with the Hungarian flag. Transylvania was once part of Hungary and the flag will remain there until the area is granted autonomy within Romania.
Near the Parliament, in a tiny area next to Kossuth Square, we saw a monument honoring Imre Nagy who was the leader of the 1956 revolution that was brutally crushed by the Russians who executed him in 1958.
Nearby we saw a statue of President Ronald Reagan which was erected to honor him for his role in helping to end Communism in Hungary.
St. Stephen’s Basilica was the last stop on our tour. Andrea told us that this Roman Catholic Church was completed in 1905 and was designed to honor St. Stephen who was the first king of Hungary. In 1000A.D. he was instrumental in converting Hungary to a Roman Catholic country and was granted sainthood in 1068, 30 years after his death.
Images of King or St. Stephen appear throughout the church and his statue is even on the alter. It is noteworthy that his likeness is much more prominent than that of Jesus in this church.
Andrea led us to the Holy Right Hand Chapel that contains what is reported to be the right hand of St. Stephen enclosed in a glass container. She said that it is taken out once a year during a special commemoration.
We felt that Andrea was extremely knowledgeable and was adept at sharing information about her home city of Budapest. She told us that her grandmother remembers WWII and Andrea can easily discuss WWII issues and life under the Communists.
Andrea offers options of either a strictly walking tour or a combination of walking tour and driving tour with parties of two or more. She has shorter or longer tour options. We are happy to recommend her.