Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sharing Saint Stephen's Day

St. Stephen's Day, August 20, is Hungary's day of national origins. About 1000 years ago Stephen united the various Hungarian tribes which had come from the east to settle in the Danube Basin into the Kingdom of Hungary. Since he also made the kingdom a Christian one, he became a saint. It is this King Stephen whom they celebrated yesterday. 

The day began slowly and in honor of the Saint we slept in. Breakfast was at 10:30, although the adults were ready by 9. We had bacon and eggs and French toast on the terrace of the Chagall, right around the corner from our hotel.
After eating we headed for the Chain Bridge and the Buda side of the river. 

We passed St. Stephen's Basilica where they were preparing for a massive open air mass at 5pm. As we stood in the midst of a sea of white chairs, the bells of noon began to toll.  We don't have bells like these at home, and Peter especially reveled in the sound.

As we continued we passed a bust of Franz Liszt, and Katie, our pianist, was happy to pose next to such a great musical hero. 

We crossed the Chain Bridge with thousands of others. The day was clear and bright, though it was hot in the sun. 

We drank much water throughout the day. Our first goal was to find the special Festival cake. It wasn't easy. Fr Tim asked often. Some knew nothing. Some pointed us further down, "another 200 meters."  We understood that it would be on the right. We passed many stalls under white awnings. They sold jam,sausages, cake, honey, and many other Hungarian specialties. Finally we saw a line of people going into a corner on the right, and we thought we had found our cake. Again, Fr. Tim went up to investigate. It turned out that it was the equivalent of a Red Cross blood donor tent. We knew that as not the place for us. 

Finally we came upon an open area with four long lines into a building and two exit lines. The people coming out were carrying slices of cake. Our quest was over.  Several of us stood in line while others went to find a shady spot. The line moved rapidly, and before we knew it we were standing in front of a table choosing nine slices. The cake was creamy and delicious. The fillings were red, white and green in honor of the flag. It was perfect.

Our next goal was to climb the hill to the castle and the Fisherman's Bastion which overlooks the Danube. We were split as to whether to ride the cog rail or to walk up the hill behind the castle. The riders insisted.  The climbers relented, and we arrived at the top of the hill in a few minutes. 

When we arrived a parade was forming.
St. Stephen's Day features the blessing of new bread. Bakers from all the different regions, dressed in regional traditional costumes, formed up for a parade to the square below the Bastion and beside the St. Matthias church. Rather than wait for them we took a back route to the church and arrived shortly before the parade.  Peter gave a short architecture talk about flamboyant Gothic and flying buttresses. 

From the height of the Bastion we could see the parade enter the square where an equestrian statue of St. Stephen surveyed the ceremony 

After a priestly blessing, a portly baker moved to the front and holding a huge knife, sliced and distributed the various loaves.
The costumes were elaborate and colorful. There were groups of children and youths who played their parts, and when the ceremony was over, bagpipers led the way back to the castle. 

Peter and I split from the group to have some of the wonderfully tart local lemonade. Fr Tim and Zoltan took the others into a craft fair in the castle, where the kids had a chance to buy gifts and souvenirs.
We all met at the bottom of the hill to head back over the bridge. 

Because mass was in progress in front of the Basilica, we took a detour and ended up at our hotel for some packing time. We made reservations for 7 at the restaurant where we had eaten breakfast, and Zoltan and Andrea joined us at the table.  After we had ordered, Fr. Tim led a discussion in which he kids shared their perspectives on the trip, and explained what we had done to Zoltan and Andrea. In exchange Zoltan and Andrea recounted their memories of the Revolution of 1989 when they were students, participating in street marches. 

Everyone who was returning to the US declined our invitation to the fireworks on the Chain Bridge. Since the airport shuttle was picking them up at 3:45, they opted for an early bedtime. Peter and I followed Zoltan ad Andrea who recommended a spot north of the bridge, near the Parliament building. 

The display was fabulous. We had seen them setting charges on the bridge earlier, and we now saw the result.
Brilliant explosions of red, white and green filled the sky for thirty minutes. Flares rose from the hills, the bridges and boats in between. Patriotic music played through large loudspeakers, and we delighted in the beauty of it all. 
We walked home past a statue of Ronald Regan near the Parliament.

As we stood talking, a family of Americans walked by. One of the daughters noticed the statue and exclaimed to her dad, "That's Ronald Regan.  What's a statue of Ronald Regan doing here?"  I didn't hear his answer, but I will take up that question in a 
later entry. 

I made sure everyone was up by 3:15, and touched each passport as they left the hotel. There were hugs all around as they entered the airport shuttle van.  Right now they are flying over the Atlantic. Peter and I are on a train between Bratislava and Prague.  Our journey continues for another week. 

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