Roger’s trip to Budapest and Transylvania, Days 1 & 2
Posted by Rev Roger
Posted on July 25, 2016
Greetings from Beautiful Budapest!
In an easy and scenic, sunnyshuttle ride from the airport after a heavy rainstorm, I remembered that my knowledge of Spanish, Latin or even a few German words would not help: Hungarian seems otherworldly, with no cognates. No words look decipherable, except Unitarius and templom, the word for church! Fortunately, many signs are in English and many people speak it.
Our Novotel is in the Buda hills, only a $10 taxi ride down to the pedestrian area where we had dinner at an outdoor café the first night. The bridges across the Danube River are varied in age and style, and in lights after dark they’re beautiful.
Sunday we rose early for a buffet breakfast and introductions around the table of our band of 13 North American UUs and Eva, our guide and friend from a village church in Transylvania. We reflected on what we hoped for as we began this pilgrimage… spiritual insights, the grace to be a good guest, connection to our roots, self-discovery, the ability to let ourselves be loved.
We took two light rail trains downtown and saw Hungary’s enormous parliament building and the square in front of it. The deep and wide plaza was the site of a 1956 anti-communist revolution and subsequent massacre of mostly young protestors. One “sculpture” is a bunch of golf ball sized brass spheres anchored to the outside wall of a nearby building, showing where bullets had made holes. The waters of the Danube had been turned red by the blood of the many bodies in it, Eva told us. This October they will commemorate the 60-year anniversary.
We learned that the carved oak and stained glass inside the parliament were made by the same artists whose work is inside the First Unitarian Church of Budapest. We walked only two blocks to get to the church, which owns a full city block of a tall and massive beige brick building. We walked up a wide stairway to the second level for the service. The architect had put the sanctuary one story above the noisy, dirty street.
We sat in wooden pews as the young woman music director played the organ in the choir loft. We rose to our feet as Josef, the minister, entered from the back, escorting David Keyes, our pilgrimage leader and the guest preacher for the day. Of the three hymns, we recognized the tune of one, the same as “Find a Stillness.” Josef spoke from the high pulpit and then invited David to climb the stairs to offer his sermon. After David finished, Josef read a Hungarian translation.
After the closing hymn and benediction, we hung around for photos near the pulpit and historical information about the building and the congregation. Under communist rule, the church owned only the sanctuary, and the government controlled all other parts of the building.
This church has 1,500 members, which counts all who were baptized or confirmed into the congregation. There are 10,000 to 15,000 Unitarians in Hungary and another 60,000 across the border in Transylvania, the Hungarian-majority province of Romania.
We had a big buffet lunch at the enormous, elegant Hotel Gellert (named after the saint whom the pagans had martyred by rolling down the hill in a barrel and into the Danube). Some of our group stayed to enjoy the spa, with six baths (inside and outside, hot and cold spring-fed baths); some returned to the hotel for a nap and Justin and I got a walking tour of the castle area in the old walled city of Buda, in the hills overlooking the river and city. We visited the neo-gothic St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, walked by the Hapsburgs’ palace (now the fine arts museum), and saw lots of statues.
After a rest and a shower half of the group went to a cool place for dinner. I barely made it back to the hotel before collapsing and am sure I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow!