Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Home for Saint Stephen’s holy dexter

The right hand of the blessed man was deservedly exempt from putrefaction because, always reflourishing from the flower of kindness, it was never empty from giving gifts to nourish the poor.

Bishop Hartvic, Life of King Stephen of Hungary, about 1116

Construction of the Basilica of Saint Stephen in Budapest took more than 50 years because the original dome over the facility designed to accommodate up to 8,500 worshippers completely collapsed in 1868. During the intervening years, the desired style evolved from neo-classical to neo-renaissance by the time the church was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Josef in 1906. The dome is the same height as that of Parliament, and no buildings in the historic center are allowed to tower above them.

Saint Stephen (975-1038) is celebrated as the first king of Hungary. His royal coronation was held on the first day of the second millennium, and the crown itself was a gift from Pope Sylvester II. King Stephen’s later sainthood was merited for his commitment to crush paganism in Hungary and for miracles credited to his right hand, the holy dexter.

The incorrupt hand was stolen at one point, recovered, hidden by nuns and finally returned and honored with a public procession in 1938 and enshrinement in a chapel in the basilica. The annual procession of the mummified dexter was ended abruptly by the communists in 1950. Since 1988, the church has been free to parade it through the streets annually on his day, August 20.

The crown presented to King Stephen served as the coronation crown for all subsequent kings of Hungary, but, like the dexter, spent some time in hiding. It and some of the royal jewels were spirited away for safekeeping in the United States during World War II. They remained locked in Fort Knox until returned to the Hungarians by an order of President Jimmy Carter in 1978. The crown and jewels are displayed in the House of Parliament.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Brightening up bare walls

Blank walls in the area of Budapest known for ruin pubs make seductively tall canvases for street artists. A façade rehabilitation project enlisted Neopaint Works to transform a number of buildings in the neighborhood. Several of our encounters with street art in Budapest are the result of this project. Not sure of the origin of the life-size cut-outs on the balcony above.

 

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues

Somehow, the Mister found Fricska Gastropub our first week in Budapest, shortly after we began to establish rules for choosing lunch spots, such as no red-checked tablecloths, no life-size figures out front with cut-outs to stick your head through for silly selfies and no tour groups in evidence. Our recommendation for Budapest: Skip the tourist traps and seek this place out.

Tucked into a basement, Fricksa is intimate in size and huge on service, yet far from stuffy. The kitchen takes whatever is fresh in the market to create its own style of nouvelle Hungarian cuisine. Rich sauces and flavorful soups might reflect classic French techniques. Freshly made pasta would make an Italian chef proud.

We never knew what the choices on the prix-fixe lunch menu would be, but we quickly trusted the kitchen so much we tried dishes I would never have considered ordering elsewhere. Three courses ran slightly over $9 and never left us thinking of eating anything at night.

First-course offerings might include a soup, a salad, duck liver cream or a fish rollade. The seafood soups were amazingly flavorful, and a wild garlic soup featured some of that sexy garlic that only used to be found in the Soviet ‘Stans (reference to a much earlier post). Main courses led us to enjoy salmon, cod and bream. We dined on chicken, chicken livers, rabbit and veal, often accompanied by sophisticated vegetable purees and potages. My favorite, possibly, was tender rare lamb atop a pea risotto; the Mister’s was the best venison he ever has tasted. The tortellini and shrimp were wonderful, and the gnocchi with four cheeses decidedly decadent. Desserts might be parsnip cream with apples and strawberries, cinnamon crème brulee, an apricot mousse or a dark chocolate ganache playfully paired with peanuts and blueberry jam.

We often returned hoping for a repeat of our most recent lunch there, but everyday was different. We never left disappointed.

And one of our favorite features making us feel at home? Often the music track playing at Fricksa was all blues.

Definitely still experiencing a severe case of the miss-you-Fricksa blues.