View of the city
... from the Gellért Hill.
In the last week of April, my mum and I spent a few days in Budapest. It had been my birthday present for mum’s 70th birthday – as always an absolutely unselfish present (I had never been to Budapest before myself and was eager to go there 😉). We stayed there from the 27th of April till the 1st of May.
Mum and I met at the airport in Munich, she had flown there from Stuttgart, I had come in from Hamburg, and we continued to Budapest together. We were in our hotel there only shortly after noon, so we had plenty of time to start exploring the city. Our hotel was on the Pest side of the city, not far from the Freedom Bridge. Budapest actually consists of three cities: Buda and Obuda on the hilly side of the river Danube, where there are the Palace and the Fishermen’s Bastion, and Pest on the flat side of the river, where there are the famous Parliament building, the Opera House, the Heroes’ Square, and so on. We crossed the Freedom Bridge and had coffee and cake in the traditional Gellért Hotel that also houses one of the most famous art
... with the statue of liberty on top of it.
nouveau swimming pools of the city. Afterwards we walked up the Gellért Hill, which has a kind of statue of liberty on top of it and from where you have a beautiful view of the city on the other side of the river Danube. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, so we enjoyed the view. We then gradually made our way back down to the banks of the river and crossed it over the Chain Bridge. We had dinner in one of the restaurants on the Pest side, with a nice view of the beautifully illuminated Palace and Fishermen’s Bastion on the other side of the river.
The next morning, we went on a hop on hop off bus tour through the city. The tour took us past the Parliament building and then down the Andrasy Street, past the Opera House, Liszt Square, and Heroes’ Square. Then it went on to the other side of the river, up to the Gellért Hill and to the Palace and from there back into the city. We had lunch not far from St. Stephan’s Cathedral and of course visited the church. Then we continued with the second route of the bus
... at daytime....
Most of Budapest’s buildings were erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so there are a lot of art nouveau buildings, but also many eclectic ones, meaning that different styles were combined. The famous Parliament is a good example of such a combination of styles. While Hungary was governed by the Austrian imperial dynasty in the 19th century, Budapest took over quite a few of the Austrian traditions. The famous coffee house culture is just one example. There are many coffee houses where you can have all kinds of coffee, along with the most fantastic cream cakes. There are Austrian specialty cream cakes like the Sachertorte, but also some cream cakes that were created in Hungary. Also, the entire impression when looking at buildings and the way they are arranged in the city resembles pretty much the one you get in Vienna.
After our bus tour had finished, we caught the tram up to the Palace. Most of it dates from the 19th century, but there had already been a palace in the middle ages. It was destroyed during the occupation by the Turks and re-built in the 18th entury. It burned down to a large
... and at nighttime.
extent in the 19th entury during the independence war and was re-built again in the same century. This is what it looks now. However, you can still see some bits and pieces originating from 15th century that had been used to built the houses within the walls of the "modern" Palace. From the hill the Palace is on, you have a beautiful view of the Pest side of the city, and on the back side of the hill there is a road that runs right along the wall, with trees in full bloom and nice benches where you can sit and enjoy the evening sun. This became one of my favourite places in the city. The Palace also hosts the Historic Museum, where there are many exhibits from various times, amongst them gothic sculptures that were found in 1972 underneath mountains of debris. There are different exhibitions, however, I found them a bit confusing. It was hard to see where they started and which way you were supposed to take. But what I found quite exciting was the fact that there is a kind of maze underneath the Palace that you can partly access when you are in the museum.
... view from the Gellért Hill.
There is an alley here and one there, and then it turns, and suddenly you discover a totally new place. While I did not consider the museum itself that worthwhile a visit, walking through the maze definitely was.
We had a wonderful dinner on the wall of the Fishermen’s Bastion, a part of the Palace, with a great view of the Pest side and the Parliament that is beautifully illuminated as soon as it gets dark.
Our ticket for the hop on hop off tour was valid for two days and included a river boat cruise, so on Monday, we caught the boat and went all the way from the Freedom Bridge to St. Margaret’s Island. We got off the boat on the island. It is a big park with tennis courts, a swimming pool and many other attractions and the ruins of an old monastery and an old church. It was called “Rabbit Island” until the 13th century. When Hungary was attacked by the Tartars, King Bela IV prayed to God and promised to send his daughter Margaret to the Dominican monastery on the island in case of his victory. He defeated the Tartars, and so his
... on the Palace Hill.
daughter became a nun and the island was called after her. The ruins of the monastery are still on the island.
After walking all the way from the bridge in the very South of the island to the very North, mum and I were a bit tired. After having some coffee and cake, we caught the bus back to the Buda side of the city and then went up to the castle again by bus. It was another beautiful evening that we enjoyed sitting on the benches, watching the sunset, the beautiful trees and the city underneath the Palace.
For Tuesday, we had booked a guided tour through Parliament. We did not have too much time before the tour would start, so we decided to go for a walk in the Varosliget, the park right behind the Heroes’ Square. There is a castle in the park that looks like a fairytale castle from the middle ages, but that was built in the 20th century. There is also a zoo, but we did not have enough time to go there.
Getting into Parliament was kind of a hassle. We had booked the tour a day in advance, otherwise
On the Palace Hill
Our favourite place on the back side of the Palace Hill where you could always sit in the sun at the end of the day.
it would not have been possible to get in. But in spite of this booking, we had to wait in front of the building for quite a while, which was not pleasant at all because the building is currently being renovated, so there was no place to sit and no shade and far too many people. But eventually we got in and were lucky to have a very friendly elderly guide who had an absolutely charming accent when talking to us in German. The building is splendid, has 700 rooms and a huge dome and hosts the crown jewels. One detail I liked about the building was a big cigar holder in front of the assembly hall – a metal ledge with several indentations into which the members of Parliament can put their cigars before entering the assembly hall.
Mum and I had a late lunch at the Café New York, a splendid art nouveau café that is world famous. Needless to say that the food was really good… Afterwards, we experienced a sharp contrast when going into the nearby Corvin Shopping Centre. It gives you a feeling of what it must have looked like when you went shopping
Cable car to the Palace
... up the very steep hill.
in the socialist era. I think in those days the shelves were not a full as they are now, but everything else really makes you feel like being back in the days of socialism.
We did not stay there for long because we wanted to visit one of the art nouveau swimming pools. What I had not known before coming to Budapest is that the city is famous for its thermal water. We decided to go to the nearby Gellért Thermal Bath. We had heard so much about it, but then we were kind of disappointed. The building itself is beautiful, but everything in it needs maintenance. The showers are old and smelly, and so are the dressing rooms and lockers. It is hard to find your way in the building, and most employees were simply super-unfriendly (which was odd because everyone else in the city up to then had simply been super-friendly). However, finally we made our way into a nice warm pool outside and sat in the water, watching the sky, the trees and the nearby Gellért Hill. In the end, it was okay to have gone there, but I would not repeat it.
... with the Varosliget Park behind it.
dinner not far from our hotel and then went to bed, really tired after a lot of walking and sitting in the hot thermal water.
The next day was the 1st of May, a public holiday in Hungary. We first went to the Kerepesi Cemetery where many of the celebrities of the city are buried. The cemetery is very quiet, and there are areas in which it resembles more wilderness than a cemetery. And it is huge, it took us quite a while to get around it.
It was our last day, and we wanted to go up to the Palace once more to say goodbye to the city. We took some time to look at the Matthias Church (which, amongst other murals, contains one of Emperor Franz-Josef and Empress Elizabeth at their coronation). When we got out of the church, we saw that there was a flight show going on right in front of the Palace, above the Danube. There were different planes and a helicopter doing many crazy flight figures. We were lucky that we had some time left to watch before we had to get back to the hotel.
We were picked up from
... with a statue of composer Francis Liszt on it.
the hotel and taken back to the airport, and the journey back home via Munich went as smoothly as the journey to Budapest had gone. I was all happy about the good times we had had in the city, and the weather had just been perfect. I just loved it. The buildings, the atmosphere, the people and their friendliness… Very nice place indeed!
Sorry it took me a while to write this, the weeks following our visit to Budapest were totally packed. More stories will follow!
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