I never knew I was on the Hungarian government’s bad side. “It doesn’t work,” the ticket agent to Hungary’s Parliament building tour says to me almost laughing. She seems to say, “You fool. You don’t even haven enough money on your credit card to tour all of this opulence.” Luckily my friend spots the check on this one. Budapest’s Parliament has long been a structure I have wanted to see in person. A huffy ticket agent who thinks me a pauper or criminal won’t stop me from living up to the dream.
Guards in furry coats pace outside as I make the call. As it would turn out, there is no problem with my credit card. It was the antiquated machine trying to scan it. Perhaps they still use the same credit card machines from when the Parliament opened. As the second largest Parliament building in Europe, Hungary’s space is grand from its exterior only just to start. Ground broke on its construction in 1885, all in support of the design of Imre Steindl. It would take the life of a teenager, some 13 years to complete.
At 268 meters long and topped with a 93 meter high dome, I think the Hungarian Parliament of my imagination was even bigger. Those furry adorned guards finally pull back the rope and let the English tour head inside. All must go through security first and foremost. While this wouldn’t be a problem, my credit card issues aside, we wait outside, removing jackets and scarves in freezing weather. I have chills long before I see the inside.
Post security checkpoint, I wish I had my sunglasses. The Parliament’s interior covers in 40 kilograms of gold, all for decoration of course. Throw in 10 courtyards, 13 elevators, 29 staircases and over 690 rooms and you have a government building fit for politicking.
Sadly, the tour of this structure only invites the lowly tourists like myself to see a crumb of the building. I climb one of the many staircases within, adorned in several red carpets. They roll out not just one red carpet in Hungary, but at least a trinity of velvet. You never know how many dignitaries and world leaders might show up on a given day.
I head up the stairs to the big cheese of the structure, the precious Crown of St. Stephen. Legend has it that the crown was presented to St. Stephen, first king of Hungary, back in the 1000s. However, legends are always more romanticized than reality. Many believe the crown to be from the 12th century. It is still considered the symbol of Hungary, as best seen through the stern guards’ eyes keeping watch over it in case some tourist should make a move to swipe the crown jewels. The Crown of St. Stephen is well traveled. It has disappeared several times, including when it wound up in the US Army’s hands in 1945. The crown sat in a box at Fort Knox, Kentucky for years until someone finally had the good heart to return the crown to Hungary in 1978.
The next and final stop of the tour is the Chamber of the Lower House of the National Assembly of Hungary. I can see why the government doesn’t convene much in this space today. All of the shiny gold details would distract any politician from their country and cause.
My guide quickly ushers the masses out with a forced goodbye. I take one last look at a building I longed to enter and see first hand. And while the Parliament’s credit card machine tried to deter me, along with the suspicious glances from the guards inside and out, I made it, forever blinded by the over the top, gold greatness of Hungary’s Parliament.
Have you been to Hungary’s Parliament Building in Budapest?