Published: August 28th 2006August 28th 2006
After arriving in another new city late on a Saturday afternoon, it was decided that Sunday would be put aside for sightseeing. As luck would have it, Sunday also turned out to be St. Stephens Day, a big national festival here in Hungary.
St. Stephen was the first king of Hungary ruling from 997-1038. He turned the nomadic pagan tribes into an independent nation largely by converting everyone to the church. He was made a saint on Aug 20 1083 (hence the date of the holiday) after some miracles occured at his gravesite. When he was removed from his original grave, his right hand was found intact and now the people follow the hand in a procession each year through the city (although presumably the hand is carried by someone and doesn't trot around by itself!!)
Anyway, the day started like any other. A beautiful 30 degrees, sun shining, perfect for looking around. After leaving the hotel we walked along the side of the river Danube up to the castle hill area, on the way checking out the slowly growing crowd gathering for the Red Bull Air-race over the river. It seemed like the entire population of Budapest
The parliament building in Pest from the Buda side of the river.
had turned up for the event. Craft and food stalls, buskers and about a million or so locals. We sat on a city tour bus for 2 hours to get ourselves orientated and then for some reason when we finished that we ended up walking almost the entire route all over again.
We took in the view from the hill on the Buda side of the city, walked the Castle area, markets, Heroes square, squeezed our way through the crowd in front of the Parliament building, and browsed the main shopping street of course ( this was slightly disappointing as being sunday the only shops open were for souvenirs - you know the drill, look in one or two and you've seen them all!). Anyhow, at the Castle on top of the hill the craft markets were open and we fluked being there at the same time as their St. Stephens parade, lots of violins, dancing, people in national costumes- all very colourful. At the bottom of the hill we saw the air race which was pretty amazing. All small planes doing tricks up and down the river while weaving around the blow up markers. We had a great
The chain bridge has the two lions on each side guarding the city.
view from one of the bridges.
By the end of the day we were completely stuffed and headed back to the hotel to sit in the spa and decide whether or not to go to the big fireworks display that evening.
Everyone we met had told us on account of the national holiday that the fireworks display would be really good, so after resting for a while we decided to trek the half hour walk back to the bridge to have a look. And what an interesting two hours it turned out to be!! About halfway there we could see the lightning starting in the distance. Arriving at the river we managed to see about 10 minutes of the display before the storm hit. First the big rain drops, then heavier rain, then enough that we decided to move and shelter under the nearest tree. More rain, hail, sleet, wind at 120km/h and then as bit of the trees started falling off and hitting us in the head we decided that being under a tree in a thunderstorm probably wasn’t the best idea, and as we were soaked anyway, left to walk back to the hotel. This meant
dodging the flash flood that had appeared from nowhere and had cars up to the wheel tops in water, traffic lights blown down, trees everywhere, and also what appeared to be either a power line, or possibly a telephone line down across the footpath. (being saturated and still raining decided that an impromptu experiment to decide exactly which type of line it was,was also probably not a good idea so we just climbed around it very carefully!)
Squelching back in the hotel lobby we at least we provided some entertainment for some of the other guests who strangely enough all needed to ask “raining?”- Duh!!
A day at the lake involved catching up with locals Lajos and Piroska Grimm, a couple that I , along with Susie and Jo, met on a cruise to Fiji a few years ago. Picked up at the hotel by Lajos and his granddaughter Dori, we travelled the 140 ish km to Csopak on the side of Lake Balaton, just south west of the city. The lake is 77 km long and in some points you can walk across because it aint that deep. It is also where the Grimm family stay
The view from the top of the hill.
for the summer months of the year in a beautiful little stone and wood house surrounded by fruit trees, gardens and their own grape vines which yield a very nice homemade wine. ( Very, very nice indeed!!) Also very good the homemade pear brandy!! Piroska made us a fantastic lunch during which we both got to add some extra words to our very small Hungarian vocabulary -( previously this consisted only of a few word learnt way back on the Fiji trip - Sör = beer, Bor = wine, Pálinka = brandy, Villa = fork, Kösönöm = thankyou, all the important words!) Also Dori was very happy to be able to speak to us ( Shani actually coz my French is entirely non-existent) with some basic French she had learnt at school.
After lunch we were taken to the village of Tihany, then to the Kiniszi Vár ( Kiniszi Castle ). We managed to dodge all the rain that day and altogether had an amazing time. Our hosts were wonderful as always and drove us around the country pointing out all the interesting sights. They were a pleasure to visit and I hope we can visit them somewhere again
The Red Bull Air Race
This went all day and was really cool to watch all the tricks.
Final note about Budapest: It seems to be the health spa capital of the world. Dotted all over the city are thermal springs, all it seemed with baths, a health club or a hotel attached. Our hotel had two thermal pools with associated health club. We tried to get in for massages but unfortunately the hotel was also overrun with a few busloads of the bum-bag wearing blue-rinse brigade who had booked out the week! So we had to make do with the thermal pools, normal pool, spa and gym - hmmm so sad..... I think I like travelling with Shani- you don't get spas in hostels!
PS: Finally my book choice this trip is improving. 'Yes Man' by Danny Wallace- absolutely hilarious and 'Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything'- not so funny but very interesting. Now i'm working my way through 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian', will let ya'll know how that goes! - and no it's not about tractors and it's not written in Ukranian!
There are more photos below