The next day was as scorching as the day before. Linda, Tom, and I started with the Great Market Hall, with its soaring girders and colorful exterior. The building is absolutely enormous and we never even made it to the second or third floors. If we had been able to read Hungarian, we would have known that all the gifty-type stuff was on the second floor, while the third floor was restaurants. The first floor is food—piles of sausages and meats, mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, bins full of paprikas and other spices. It was a feast for the senses, and reminded me of the open-air market on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.
To tell the truth, I was reluctant to tackle the stairs. My knees have tendonitis, and it has worsened considerably on this trip. The extreme heat hasn’t helped. We shopped on the first floor, then wandered down the shopping street we noticed the day before, running into Susan and David at an outdoor cafe—at least Tom did. Linda and I went into a linen store and disappeared for a while.
We walked to the Great Mosque. The tour guide was very knowledgeable. She explained that when the synagogue was built, in the mid-1800s, the Neolog Jewish community wanted to assimilate with Hungarian society. The interior is very church-like and unlike any other synagogue I have seen. It even has an organ, when musical instruments are usually forbidden in temple. The Neolog community, she explained, was neither Orthodox nor Reform, but rather a movement to modernize without sacrificing many of the traditional elements of Judaism.
The building combines Moorish and Christian architectural and decorative elements while retaining Jewish symbolism. The Ark of the Covenant is vast, containing, if I remember correctly, 60 Torah scrolls, which is a lot. They are enormous scrolls, always hand-written, and very expensive.
The synagogue was abandoned and damaged during WWII. I am ashamed that I didn’t know more about the eager willingness of the Hungarian Nazis to exterminate the Jews, causing staff at Auschwitz to complain they were sending too many Jews too quickly to the camp. There is a graveyard on the premises (also very different for a synagogue), and most of the dates were 1944 and 1945. There is a smaller temple dedicated to the heroes of WWI, and a very touching memorial to the dead of WWII; a silvery metal weeping willow with leaves inscribed with the names of those who perished. I will never understand this, and I am appalled and frightened by the ugly resurgence of Nazism in my own country—our ancestors fought and died to make sure Nazism was defeated. It weighs very heavily on my spirit.
Susan, David, Tom, and I went to the New York Cafe for lunch, which was delicious, but it could hardly compete with the decor, which was as much over the top as any palace. It’s also the size of a small palace. There was also live music, an excellent violinist and pianist playing classical music. A lovely experience.
I returned to the hotel after that, exhausted from the heat. Later, we went to a charming restaurant called Déryné Bisztró. It was very close to the hotel, but walking involved going through a massive tunnel through the cliff behind the hotel, and we opted for a cab. The restaurant had a nice patio seating area, the food was delightful, and the service excellent. However, it was probably the noisiest restaurant I have ever eaten at. It is right on the street, and trams went by regularly, as did sirens. Just as a lovely jazz ensemble started up, the church across the street started ringing its very loud bells at 8 ‘o clock. It didn’t stop for at least 10 minutes. We braced ourselves when the next hour rolled around, it it just bonged softly a few times and quit. I asked our server why it rang forever at eight, but hardly at all at nine. He looked puzzled, so I guess he has stopped noticing. We did enjoy the jazz ensemble during the quieter moments.