Beneath the surface in Budapest

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Europe » Hungary » Central Hungary » Budapest
June 6th 2018
Published: July 5th 2018
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After touching down in Budapest in the early morning, we breezed through customs, jumped on a bus and headed for the city centre. Feeling a little overwhelmed and tired, we clambered off the bus, donned our packs and trudged towards our hotel with the aid of a tiny map picked up from a solemn staff member at the tourist information bureau. When we eventually arrived, we had been travelling non-stop for 30 hours (from our home in Tasmania to the hotel in Budapest), and were in desperate need of a shower. We crossed our fingers and hoped with all our hearts that our room was ready – the last thing we needed was to discover it wouldn’t be available until the early afternoon. The woman at reception was austere, and she gave the impression that she couldn’t find our booking. We were hit with that unnerving dread of every weary traveller – our online booking had failed and we didn’t have a room. But then she handed us our key and said (without a smile) that our room was ready. Pure relief!

We wanted to make the most of our time, but we knew we may be too tired to venture out straight away. However, after a shower and a cup of tea, we were rearing to go. We headed straight for the Basilica of Saint Stephen, which was just down the road (and around a corner) from our hotel. The place was amazing, but we were swamped by a tour group that was hell-bent on getting in and out of the Basilica in next to no time, so we decided to sit quietly on one of the pews until the storm passed. Vases were knocked over by women jostling to take photos and people were pushed out of the way in the storm surge. Luckily, the group had no interest in hanging around for long, and they disappeared as quickly as they came, which was a blessing. As silence, calmness and normality returned, we wandered through this amazing structure, then ventured up the 302 steps to the top of the dome. The view of Budapest and its surrounds was breathtaking, but I stayed as close to the dome wall as I possibly could, only venturing out to take the occasional photograph. Towering above all other buildings at 96 metres, the Basilica’s dome is a long way off the ground.

From the Basilica we made our way through a number of picturesque squares, marvelling at the architecture surrounding us on all sides. This was a beautiful and tranquil part of the city, and it reminded me of Condesa, one of the leafy districts that we loved and explored in Mexico City. We then headed to the incredible Parliament, marvelling again at the architectural style of the surrounding buildings. Two soldiers were walking side by side in a tight circle around a large flagpole in front of the Parliament, and I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to Sisyphus, eternally rolling a rock up a hill. It reminded me of a story about a domestic sheep in Tasmania that had been tied to a clothes line for most of its life, which compelled the poor sheep to walk in circles. When it was eventually set free, it continued to walk in circles for weeks afterwards. I wondered if the two soldiers found themselves walking in circles at home. 😊

We wandered along the edge of the Danube in front of the Parliament, with the searing heat from the midday sun beating down upon us. Luckily, the heat in Budapest is not overly humid, so we were reasonably comfortable in the direct sunlight. However, it was a relief when the sun dipped behind clouds, and it was very refreshing when the breeze off the Danube wrapped itself around us.

We visited the Shoes on the Danube monument, where Hungarian Jews were shot and thrown into the Danube by members of the fascist Arrow Cross Party in 1944. Regardless of how beautiful a city may seem, grandiose architecture can never hide the true horrors of man. I was grateful for this sculpture, because it forced me to reflect on the unforgivable decisions made within the walls of the Parliament behind me – the very building I’d just been admiring.

We were starting to tire quickly, so we decided it was time for lunch – which meant it was time for pork schnitzel. Ren had found a place in her pre-travel research, so we headed to the upstairs section of the Belvarosi Piac market to try some very local eateries. We settled for Buja Disznok and ordered their pork schnitzel speciality, which was so large we could only share one between us. It came with a fantastic potato salad, and we also ordered a massive slab of bead with no butter, which we used to soak up the salad dressing. The schnitzel was amazing – the best I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe we managed to finish it between us. I also couldn’t believe the number of locals who were munching through these monster schnitzels alone – without any assistance.

Completely satiated, we picked up some pretzels, pastries and beer and headed back to the hotel. We were exhausted. We settled in our room in the late afternoon, sitting on our small balcony overlooking the beautiful square below and snacking on pretzels as we took in the heady atmosphere of Budapest. This truly is a beautiful city, despite its traumatic and tragic past.

We were wide awake at 4am the next morning, so we decided to start the day. We admired the view from our room – rooftops stretching to the horizon – while we enjoyed a cup of Assam tea. Breakfast was a fantastic affair – endless varieties of bread, cheese, cured meats and pastries, along with cereals, tea and juices. We ate as much as we could, because we knew we needed fuel for the long day ahead. We left the hotel and again headed straight for the Basilica of Saint Stephen, but it hadn’t yet opened, so we continued on towards the Danube, crossing the Szechenyi Chain Bridge and making our way up Castle Hill. We soaked in the calm and relaxed atmosphere of this old and affluent part of Budapest until the calmness and relaxation was annihilated by another swarm of tourists hell bent on ‘doing’ Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. While it was hard to estimate, I put their numbers at 500, and they were loud and proud. We tried to get some photos, but to no avail – they photo-bombed virtually every shot. Luckily, we were saved by the rain – with fine rain starting to fall, their numbers thinned and peace returned to the streets. The only downside of the rain was poor lighting for photos, but I would take peace and quiet over sunshine any day.

It was time to head to the Hungarian National Gallery, and this was an absolute highlight. We spent hours exploring the various floors, with art organised into different periods. I’ve always known that my artistic taste is very limited, and my visit to the National Gallery reinforced this fact. I’m not a big fan of medieval, gothic, renaissance, modern or 20th century art. However, I am a big fan of realism in the late 19th century, and I was mesmerised by Imre Revesz’s critical realism – especially his work titled Bread (1899). Revesz used images of the lowest, most destitute layers of society, and he attempted to portray them with as much realism and empathy as possible. Bread depicts a group people gathered at a ‘human market’ in Szentes, all trying to find work. Revesz pointedly chose the title Bread because it is the most essential food of peasant workers – the symbol of life, so to speak. It was a powerful piece of art, and it captured my eye as soon as I walked into the room. Another work that completely captured my attention was Laszlo Pataky’s Destitute Family (1886).

At one stage we looked out the window of the National Gallery and realised the fine rain had turned into a downpour – it was lucky we were inside. A lot of people wandered the outside of the National Gallery, but few ventured in. I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of happiness – maybe, just maybe, the downpour would clear the loud and proud tourists for the rest of the day?

Another highlight of the National Gallery was a temporary exhibition featuring twelve short films (ten minutes and 30 seconds each) playing simultaneously in three conjoined rooms, all with the same theme – the meaning (or meaninglessness) of art. Created by Julian Rosefeldt, this intriguing film installation titled Manifesto featured Cate Blanchett as the main character – always different – in each of the films. It was an amusing, thought provoking and mesmerising experience, and Cate Blanchet was superb. We also ventured up to the Gallery’s dome, which afforded a superb view of the Pest side of the city.

With the sun now shining, we left the National Gallery and headed back to the Matthias Church. The rain had stopped and so had the tour groups. And to our delight, the light was perfect for photos. After capturing a few iconic images of the incredible church, we walked down towards the Danube through a very residential part of Buda as we made our way towards Mandragora Restaurant for lunch. This place had an incredible atmosphere. We sat outside with a blanket (provided by the restaurant) around our shoulders, because even though the sun was hot, it was cool in the shade. A cat was curled up in some foliage near our table, and he/she didn’t move for the duration of our meal. We both started with soups – chilled strawberry for Ren, while I opted for a warm and slightly bland ravioli consomme. Our mains were sensational – duck breast salad for Ren and chickpea rissoles on a creamy potato slaw for me. We finished with coffee and a chocolate brownie. It was a beautiful setting, and we loved the quiet residential atmosphere.

After lunch we walked along the Danube to Liberty Bridge, navigating (and at times dodging) the city’s many cyclists. We were feeling a bit parched, so we stopped at a tiny cafe (Picnic) for a beer and coffee before ascending the winding path – and there were many of them – to the Liberty Monument. It was quite a climb, but well worth the effort. As the sun dipped towards the horizon, it afforded another superb view of the Pest side of the city. We retraced our steps back down to the Danube and walked over Liberty Bridge (or Green Bridge), stopping in the middle to take in the sunset with a small group of tourists who had settled to bask in the atmosphere.

The day was getting long and the sun was slowly setting, so it was time to head back to the hotel. We made our way along the vibrant and bustling Vaci Street until the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, then turned towards the Basilica of Saint Stephen, which was becoming the symbol of our homecoming each night. We picked up some snacks and drinks from a nearby supermarket before arriving back at our hotel at 8:15pm – exactly 12 hours since we left that morning.

We were exhausted and ready to settle on our balcony for a well-earned drink – only to find that the window had fallen in – it appeared to be hanging from its hinges! After a long and difficult conversation with the maintenance guy, I suddenly realised this was a feature of the window – it wasn’t broken after all. With the window drama behind us, we settled on the balcony for beer and pizza slices (Ren opted for cherry coke over beer). This had been an absolutely brilliant travel day – one of the best. We’d fallen in love with Budapest, and we were feeling so at home in this extraordinary city. It was becoming familiar, which is a common attribute of all our favourite places – we could live here, and we felt slightly jealous of those that did. The cobblestone streets were easy to navigate, and the people – while they didn’t smile very often – were friendly and welcoming.

With Ren fast asleep beside me, I tried to capture the day in notes, but I was fading. While the night was young, I had to retire. We were waking in the very early hours (due to jet lag), so there would be time enough for notes before breakfast…

Hungary! We were in a new country and we were excited!

Hungary has survived hundreds of years of invasion, liberation, re-occupation, devastation, uprising and emancipation… over and over again in a long cycle. However, this history is thought to have produced a unique and beautiful culture which is streaked by all the people who have passed through – ethnic Magyars from the 10th century, Eastern European Jews, Ottomans, Habsburgs and Russians – to name an obvious few.

After three flights with a total in-the-air-flying time of just over 23 hours, we landed at Budapest’s List Ferenc Airport at 6:15am. The airport was quiet and we sped through immigration and luggage collection. We decided that the direct airport public bus (#100E) into the city was our best option – the happy middle ground between getting a more expensive but quicker taxi, and catching a cheaper but much longer stopping-all-stops bus plus metro combination.

The bus dropped us off in Deak Ferenc ter (Deak Ferenc Square), and after finding a no-nonsense tourist information office and getting a map, we tried to orient ourselves. We were tired, and this took a little longer than normal. But once we saw the river Danube, we figured out the direction of our hotel straightaway. The walk was along the thankfully shaded Andrassy utca (described as the city’s most elegant thoroughfare) with beautiful classical buildings such as the Hungarian State Opera House lining the street, and cafes filled with the aroma of fresh baked pastries and the clatter of coffee cups. It increased our excitement level of being in Budapest even more.

Before we knew it we were at the lovely little Jokai Square, where our hotel sat on one corner. Hotel Medosz was a delight. Our first impression was that the photos on their website were a bit more polished than the real thing. However, our room was exactly as comfortable as promised. We had a little balcony that was just perfect to watch the city awake with a morning cup of tea. We were beyond joyful that our room was available at 8:30am, and we gratefully peeled off our sticky travel clothes and enjoyed a long hot shower.

We were obviously tired after 30 and a half hours of travel from door to door, but we were also adamant that we needed to reset our body clocks to the European time zone as quickly as possible. We knew from past experience that giving into jet lag and napping would delay our adjustment to the eight hour time difference.

We needed a plan for exploring the city, and found that it was perfectly divided into 23 smallish districts for us. Each of the districts seemed to contain distinct neighbourhoods with unique characteristics, so it was the logical plan of choice. We devoted our first day to Terezvaros (Theresa Town) District 6 where we were staying, and the adjoining Belvaros-Lipotvaros (Inner City-Leopold Town) District 5.

Terezvaros in central Budapest is charmingly small but densely populated with tourists and locals. There were plenty of places of interest without being too manic, so we were very pleased that we’d based ourselves in this district. Belvaros-Lipotvaros is the heart of the city and was part of the downtown area. With a number of huge architectural sights like the Hungarian Parliament, St Stephen’s Basilica and the Chain Bridge, it wasn’t surprising that it was also full of tourists and the accompanying cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops lining the streets. It was close enough to us (a couple of blocks) to walk to, but far enough away that the crowds didn’t spill into our quieter neighbourhood.

At 10:30am we set out to explore this new country, city and culture. We started our explorations locally at the St Stephen’s Basilica. It was a stunning introduction to Budapest and Hungary. A massive neo-renaissance building which holds what’s believed to be the mummified right hand of Hungary’s first king, King Stephen. The architecture is big, bold and almost overbearing in its surrounds.

Just as we walked through the entrance gate, we felt a surge of humanity behind us and looked back in horror at a group of about 50 tourists rushing at us. It was difficult to get any sense of the church, much less the spirituality of the space, when it’s full to bursting with big pushy tour groups rudely streaming through as if their life depended on it. We found some empty seats and sat the circus out… and it turned out to be the perfect way to admire the extremely beautiful dome space and ceiling work (reminiscent in parts of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome).

Despite the soaring dome and large footprint of the basilica, the interior felt intricate, delicate and warm. Every surface is beautifully sculptured, gilded, frescoed or covered in mosaics. And it was hard not to notice the homage to every different colour and texture of marble imaginable!

We also climbed the 304 steps to the top of the enormous dome. At 96m tall, St Stephen’s Basilica claims to be the tallest building in Budapest (equal with the Hungarian Parliament), so Andrew’s love of a good view overrode his discomfort with heights (but he understandably got a little quiet, the higher we got). With the two imposing bell towers in the foreground, the view at the top was a commanding 360 degree panorama of the whole city – across the Danube to Castle hill and the Citadella in Buda, and the flat Pest landscape full of every architectural style imaginable on ‘our’ side of the river. It was well worth the huffing and puffing up the tight spiral stairs with its uncomfortable two way traffic!

It wasn’t until after we’d left the Basilica that we realised we’d forgotten to look at the mummified hand of King Stephen. We’d missed it when we walked past at the start – a crouching tourist had knocked over an antique vase and we decided we didn’t want any part of that disrespectful calamity… but then forgot to go back to that part of the church.

I loved Szent Istvan ter (St Stephan’s square) outside the Basilica, and the series of streets full of restaurants leading from the square. It was here on Zrinyi utca, a street linking St Stephen’s Basilica with the Danube, that I spotted the Fat Policeman statue – the first of our ‘lucky’ statues. When I was researching Budapest, I came across many mentions of lucky statues… so I compiled a list of these as a unique way to get to know the city. Neither of us are superstitious nor believe in the concept of luck, but we find it interesting and somewhat humorous. Rubbing the Fat Policeman’s protruding belly is supposed to bring good luck with women and food – two things he loved! 😊

We walked to Szabadsag ter and enjoyed walking through the large green square that was filled with food trucks and stalls. We had mainly come to the square to check out a couple of divisive statues and monuments, the most controversial being the Antifascist Monument dedicated to ‘all the victims’ of Hungary’s German occupation. It depicts Hungary as the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial eagle. There had been mass protests when it was erected, because it was thought that the Hungarian state was attempting to absolve themselves of their active role in sending thousands of Jewish, Roma and gay people to their deaths during the occupation. In front of the monument, the protesters had set up a very sad and haunting counter-memorial behind barbed wire, which consisted of photographs and personal items of the victims of the holocaust.

The American Embassy also sits on one side of this square, which now has a somewhat comical statue of Ronald Reagan outside it. Not in itself noteworthy, but when looked at from another angle, it’s in direct line with a Soviet Monument. I don’t think this was an oversight in the planning of the square. 😊

We then made our way towards Kossuth Lajos ter which is the gorgeous green square in front of the most iconic building of Budapest – the Hungarian Parliament (the world’s third largest parliament building). It dominated the skyline with its renaissance red dome and massive neo-gothic facade. It was even more impressive close up that it was from afar, and I really enjoyed exploring the colossal building and the various statues around the square.

Crossing over to the Danube promenade (to look at Parliament from the water), we saw the Shoes on the Danube monument. Sixty pairs of cast iron shoes have been anchored to the ground on the banks of the river, and the plaque reads ‘To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005’. The national socialist Arrow Cross Party ruled Hungary for five months during WWII, and they worked with the Nazis to kill or send thousands of civilians (mostly Jewish) to concentration camps. It’s estimated that around 10,000 people were killed in the streets, and about 80,000 sent to camps. They got people to stand on the banks of the Danube and take their shoes off, before shooting them into the water. The shoes were in all types and sizes and pointed towards the river. Mourners had placed candles and flowers in the shoes. The memorial is poignant in its simple depiction of the terrifying atrocities committed at that spot. And the fact that the memorial was immediately in front of the Parliament building wasn’t lost on me.

Strolling along the Pest-side of the river was a great way to orient ourselves on our first day, with its views up to Buda, Obuda and the bridges across the Danube. It’s easy to forget that this was once three different cities (Buda, Obuda and Pest), which were only combined into one Budapest entity towards the end of the 19th century.

By now the sun was blazing down on us, and part of the promenade offered no shade. Our thoughts turned to food and drink. Walking around a city is one of our favourite ways to explore, but we find getting to know a city through its food is even more enjoyable! We walked to Belvarosi Piac (a small local market) to find Buja Disznotoros for their famous Wiener schnitzel and potato salad. We had initially thought we’d order two, but when we saw that one serve was bigger than my head, we reluctantly decided to share one (especially given we’d ordered bread too). It was easily the best cooked and tastiest schnitzel I’ve ever had! I tried lemon coke for the first time and it was deliciously refreshing. Andrew began his quest to sample the different local beers on offer.

As we sat enjoying our very delicious lunch, we debated whether we should keep exploring or call it a day. Our aching feet and tired legs made the decision for us. We headed back to the hotel via the Spar supermarket to stock up on water, drinks and snacks.

After a barely remembered shower and a cup of tea, I crawled into bed at 4:30pm. I struggled to stay awake as I wrote some travel notes, but succumbed to a nap while Andrew continued to write. When I woke an hour or so later, we were ready to have a little balcony party for two… with sausage and cheese pretzels, and sour cherry escargot pastries. The dusky view over the rooftops of the surrounding apartment blocks, cafes and bars was lovely and serene. It was official – we were in love with Budapest!

Our first day in Budapest had gone better than hoped. We had got our bearings, explored the administrative and religious heart of District 5, started our much anticipated explorations into the local food and drink… and most importantly we hadn’t given in to jet lag. At 8pm, exactly 46 hours after we’d woken up at home to start this trip, I fell into bed and slept the sleep of total happiness.

Vey annoyingly, we were both wide awake just after 4am the next morning! The good news was we were feeling full of energy, but the bad news was we’d have to wait three hours for breakfast. We caught up on our notes and organised our plans for the day while we waited for the locals to wake up.

Breakfast was a revelation of what constituted a morning meal in Hungary. The hot food consisted of very moist scrambled eggs and fried camembert, with sides of boiled broccoli, carrots and peas! It was delicious! One side of a buffet was dedicated to salad type things – tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (capsicum), lettuce with sprouts, strained white cottage cheese, and small chunks of tinned pineapple. Yes, pineapple. The other side was dedicated to about ten types of cold cut meats, as many cheeses, various types of bread rolls, sliced breads, pretzels, and an array of pastries. Of the pastries, my favourites were all the ones with poppy seed paste (yes, we sampled them all).

We left the hotel at 8:15am… It was going to be a big day of exploring Varkerulet (Castle District) District 1, also known as the Buda side of the city. The day was slightly cool and looking quite overcast, but we hoped the rain would stay away. Passing St Stephen’s Basilica which wasn’t open yet, we walked down to the Danube and crossed the magnificent stone and cast iron Szechenyi Chain Bridge. It was a bit surreal to be walking across this iconic bridge after seeing photos of it since I was a child. I loved the stone lions guarding each end, calmly overseeing the Danube from their strategic vantage points.

Castle Hill rose in front of us from the banks of the river, an elegant and hilly part of the city with the Royal Palace (also called Buda Castle), baroque houses and gorgeous cobblestone streets. The Royal Palace is a World Heritage Site, and was the seat of the Hungarian Kings until the end of the 15th century. It sits high on Castle Hill, and we had the choice of walking up the Royal Habsburg Steps in a five minute puffy uphill walk, or catching a cable car at the foot of the hill. We decided to walk up… an easy decision given the queue for the cable car tickets was long. It also gave me an opportunity to admire the imposing Turul (mythical bird of prey) statue in the Castle courtyard as we climbed up. I’m fascinated by mythical creatures in different cultures and I’d never heard of the Hungarian Turul before.

The original Palace had been damaged and rebuilt several times over, combining medieval, baroque, neo-baroque and modernist styles. This final version was built for Maria Theresa, the only female Habsburg Empress, but it was never used as a Palace and now houses the Castle Museum, National Gallery and Hungary’s biggest library. The National Gallery wasn’t yet open, so we explored the old town of Buda which is still protected by a city wall.

We meandered through random streets and admired the gorgeous pastel painted architecture which has predominantly remained old-world residential, with small flights of mysterious steps leading to hidden squares with old-world restaurants. We came across our second ‘lucky’ statue – a statue of Andras Hadik on his horse pays tribute to the Habsburg Army and the Seven Years’ War. Reaching between the horses legs and rubbing its hanging bits (poor horse!) is supposed to bring luck. Not surprisingly, they are now a very shiny hue. 😊

Walking around the near-empty streets was a pleasure. This part of Buda was immaculately renovated and maintained, almost museum-like in feel. We met Pixar, a Hungarian Greyhound, who was taking his human for a morning walk. He was a gorgeous dog and willingly obliged when I asked if I could pat him. We bumped into the pair again later in our walk, and I was rewarded with a waggy tail and a nuzzling into my leg, but when I tried to pick up the frisbee he’d been carrying around, I got a swift paw on my hand. Apparently he didn’t share his frisbee with anyone. 😊

We walked up to the old Vienna Gate, then doubled back to the neo-gothic Matthias Church on Holy Trinity Square. The gorgeous Church of Our Lady (commonly called Matthias Church for King Matthias who lavished money on it) has a stunningly colourful tiled roof and lone tall tower. During the Ottoman rule, it was converted into a mosque, so all the religious iconography and ornate exteriors are from later periods.

Just downhill from the church sits the 19th century neo-gothic and neo-romanesque fairy-tale Fisherman’s Bastion. The seven towers of the bastion represent the seven founding tribes of the Hungarian Magyar people. Nearby stands a commanding statue of Szent Istvan on his horse, who led the seven tribes. I had assumed that the Bastion had been built for defensive purposes, but it was mainly built as an accessible community space with airy open viewing terraces and picturesque wide arches to frame the view.

By now it was about 10am, and suddenly tourist hordes descended like a plague of locusts out of dozens of buses bearing cruise ship names. It was hideous. There’s really no other way of describing it. We tried to walk along Fisherman’s Bastion and take in a wide view of Pest and the Parliament building across the river, but didn’t make it very far before we gave up. It wasn’t just that it was crowded, it was the very loud yelling at high decibels, and the very rude pushing and shoving to get the photos they wanted.

It started to drizzle more consistently and the clouds were gathering fast, so we gave up on the area and walked back to the Castle to visit the National Gallery. Our timing couldn’t have been better, as the heavens opened and rain poured forth soon after that. Quite selfishly we were happy that we were warm and dry, and that the rain also served to keep the numbers down inside the Gallery. Apart from a couple on one floor who seemed to be attracted to the same paintings we were (and at exactly the same time), we had ample time and space to amble along at our own pace.

The National Gallery is a sprawling collection of art spread across four floors and several wings of the Buda Castle. The exhibitions – an overwhelming collection of 6000 paintings and thousands more sculptures, drawings, and prints – are beautifully curated works of Hungarian artists. Wood carvings, sculptures and paintings covered a vast time period from the settlement of the Magyars, illustrating everyday life as well as religious phases, the turbulent history of the Turkish occupation, the Austrian occupation, and both World Wars. The art started from the medieval period on the ground floor and chronologically progressed to post-1945 art on the fourth floor.

Judging by the time we spent in each section, I’d say the Realism period at the end of the 19th century and the Modernist pre-WWII art impressed us the most.

I was very attracted to the work of Mihaly Munkacsy and found myself circling back to the section his work was in. I particularly loved seeing the evolution of the painting called The Last Day of a Condemned Man, progressing from sketches to the final masterpiece. I was also very attracted to Sandor Bortnyik’s Green Donkey, and toyed with the idea of buying a copy from the gift shop, but ultimately decided against it.

At the very end, in a rabbit warren of an adjacent building, we stumbled upon Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto. In a homage to Modernism, Cate Blanchett features in twelve synchronised short films, all playing within earshot of each other. She superbly played various characters who delivered monologues which are quotations and excerpts from 20th century artists’ manifestos. It was beautiful, challenging, amazing and hilarious all at once. I wish we could see it again.

Our explorations at the National Gallery ended at the dome of the Castle, which had viewing balconies. We had a stunning view of Parliament, the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the vast city sprawling below us.

We finally left the Gallery in the mid-afternoon, and by now the sun was out in force and there was no indication of the recent heavy rain. We decided on lunch at a restaurant in the non-touristy part of Buda, away from the Castle. And as luck would have it we walked past the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion again, and with the hordes of cruise ship tourists now gone, we could walk around in relative peace.

Walking through very residential streets, with local schools and apartment blocks, we realised we were the only tourists in sight. I put my camera away, not because it felt in any way unsafe, but because I wanted to draw less attention to ourselves. Even in that less affluent part of residential Buda, the streets didn’t have any of the grit of Pest.

We indulged in a very long late lunch at Mandragora. We started with homemade ginger lemonade for me and a local beer for Andrew. I was intrigued by the entree of strawberry soup with elderflower yoghurt, which tasted exactly like pureed strawberries. It wasn’t unpleasant, but could have worked equally as well as a dessert. My duck breast salad main was superb though! I had read that duck was a specialty of this area and it certainly was perfectly cooked. Andrew had a consomme with ravioli for entree, and a delicious main of chickpea rissoles and creamy potato slaw in a volute sauce. Dessert was the best chocolate brownie I’ve ever had, with delicious mango puree and coconut foam. I could have easily gobbled up a couple more portions! It was a lovely meal.

I had read that the best view of the Parliament building was to be had from Batthyany ter, so we dutifully sought it out. The view was indeed beautiful. However, the vast cruise ships and dinner boats docked on the banks of the river certainly took a lot away from the vista.

We had decided to spend the later part of the afternoon walking to Gellert Hill to see the Citadella and Liberty Monument. It was an overly ambitious idea, but we committed to it and walked, and walked, and walked. We navigated ourselves by the unique city bridges, which were as architecturally beautiful as they were practical.

We stopped for sustenance at the tiny Picnic Cafe for an affogato (scoop of vanilla ice cream ‘drowned’ in an espresso) for me and a beer for Andrew. Suitably buoyed, we started our walk up Gellert Hill. It was a steep climb in the sun, but the view of the city from the top of the 19th century citadel was totally spectacular. The citadel was once a strategic point for the military, but hardly any of the old structures remain. The Liberty Statue commemorates the end of the occupation of Hungary by German forces during WWII, and it looks down at the Liberty Bridge. The setting sun cast the statue as a gigantic silhouette, but the golden light on the city was magic and I was so glad we’d made the effort to get up that hill.

Our walk back to Pest was over the Liberty Bridge, where groups of people were sitting on the metal structure of the bridge with champagne, waiting for sunset. We sat with them for a while and admired the beautiful bridge. Of the bridges I’d seen in Budapest, this was my favourite so far. On the way back to the hotel we checked out the location of the Central Market for a meeting the next day, and then walked down the much touted Vaci utca all the way to Vorosmarty ter. It was full of brand shops, chain cafes and tourist restaurants. It definitely wasn’t somewhere we’d choose to hang out, but it was a nice evening stroll nonetheless.

Back in our neighbourhood, we walked past St Stephen’s Basilica, got drinks and snacks for a very light dinner from Spar supermarket, and returned to our room at 8:15pm… exactly 12 hours from when we’d left the hotel in the morning! My feet were a throbbing mess from walking on uneven cobblestones and climbing hills, but we were so happy. It had been an amazing travel day, and we’d done a good job of exploring Buda.

All we wanted to do was shower and put our feet up, but it looked like our door to the balcony was broken and hanging off its top hinge. After getting the maintenance guy up, and Andrew attempting a few conversations that were lost in translation, Andrew realised that the door wasn’t broken at all. It seems twisting the handle the opposite way turned the door into a window that opened at the top. We felt a bit stupid, but neither of us had ever come across one of these door/window contraptions before! 😊

We sat on our balcony with pizza, chips, beer (for Andrew) and cherry coke and cups of tea (for me), and reflected on our day. When the temperature started to drop, we crept into bed and wrote until 10pm, by which time my eyes could hardly stay open.

It had been a more than fabulous two days in Budapest, and we’d explored the major tourist sights on both sides of the Danube. Generally speaking Buda was hilly and quiet, and Pest was flat and energy filled. The two geographies are bisected by the Danube and spanned by many bridges – we’d crossed the Chain and Liberty Bridges, and wanted to cross a few more.

We’d found Budapest to be a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, with stunning architecture, beautiful parks, lovely shops, and colourful restaurants… but also deeply scarred by an inglorious past. We still had a few more ‘star’ attractions to visit, but predominantly we were looking forward to getting to know the quieter districts, smaller back streets, neighbourhood cafes and local hangouts over the next three days. We were also getting used to the non-smiley but amiable local way of social interaction. 😊

See you around Budapest.


5th July 2018

Delightful Budapest
A lovely record of this delightful city. They don't smile a lot - they have not enjoyed the life of freedom we accept as the norm, for many centuries, but, as with many other countries in the east, they are content with their lot. It's painted with a grey exterior. You'll find it rather different when you get out in the country and I can't wait to read your next blog. Boy, do you two love your food! David and Janice
5th July 2018

Re: Delightful Budapest
Hi David and Janice, it didn’t take us long to get used to their less enthusiastic (but still friendly) form of communication. I don’t think the body language necessarily changed in the country areas, but we definitely got better at reading it :)
5th July 2018

Great Review!
Extremely well-written review of your day(s) in Budapest along with fabulous photos. I love the "He said..." and "She said" style. If ever on our own in Budapest, I will refer to your days' itinerary.
5th July 2018

Re: Great Review!
Thanks for your lovely comment. We felt immediately at ease and comfortable when we got to Budapest, and it was an incredibly photogenic city too :)
6th July 2018

Beautiful Bidapest
I echo my brother David's thoughts on this lovely city. It's one of my favourite capital cities anywhere in the world and one that I know well - as do my wife and daughter. We've all been there for their expert dental work, particularly implants. We've also spent holiday time there too and your blog brought back many happy memories. My last visit was with my daughter for St Stephen's Day, with the added experience of a day at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths - a great time was had by all! If you haven't yet moved on, be sure to take the No. 2 Tram all the way from the Parliament Building to the Central Market. It's one of the best cheap rides around, as are the water buses on the Danube. Enjoy the rest of your journey.
6th July 2018

Re: Beautiful Bidapest
Hi Mike! We agree that it really is a lovely city. We’re currently writing the next blog which covers our experience at the Baths. It’s funny that you mention that tram ride as we meant to catch the tram along the waterfront but ended up walking the entire route instead. We already have plans to go back very soon ?
6th July 2018

Off to a good start
It sounds like you are off to a good start on your trip. The circus of tourists pushing is something we can all relate to unfortunately. I'm glad you had time to let them pass. Looking forward to seeing more of this trip.
6th July 2018

Re: Off to a good start
Thanks Brendan. Yes it was a fabulous start. The good thing we've noticed about these big groups is that they move through very quickly... like a furious hurricane! :) But I really feel bad for the locals who have to navigate that every day :(
6th July 2018

Great intro to Budapest
Enjoyed your blog a lot - what a great introduction to Budapest. It sounds like a fascinating city. I'm with Andrew - I'd be trying all the local beers!
6th July 2018

Re: Great intro to Budapest
Thanks Lori! It really was a fascinating city to get to know. Andrew enjoyed all the beers, and the wine wasn't bad either :)
7th July 2018

Always love your attention to detail :)
I am loving your descriptions and writing, I feel like I'm there with you and have already learned so much! The history, culture, and art of this region sounds so fascinating, and it's good that you can overlook the "non-smiley-ness" of the locals. It sounds like you're having a great start to your trip. By the way, I didn't see you mention the Budapest Baths. It seems a bit touristy and was wondering if you didn't go for that reason, or maybe it was lack of time?
7th July 2018

Re: Always love your attention to detail :)
Thanks Jennifer! Budapest offers a very rich experience and we loved it... and we got used to the non-smileyness quite quickly :) We are in the process of completing the blog of our next three days there, which covers a visit to the Baths :)
7th July 2018

,,,,and here you guys go again!
Oh wow you travel bugs! I dream of travelling through Europe one day! Loved the balcony party, and of course your food pictures. Fascinating city the Buda and the Pest. Can't wait to hear about the Baths.
7th July 2018

Re: ,,,,and here you guys go again!
Hi Andrea, we loved our balcony parties! Eastern Europe has been a revelation to both of us and we can't wait to go back. And from what I know of your travel loves, I'm fairly sure you would love it too! The blog with the Baths experience should be ready soon :)
8th July 2018
jokai square

Statues in Budapest
We were in Budapest not long ago. We still haven't published the blogs from that trip but when we do one blog entry will be about statues. The one in this picture will not be featured in our blog but it would have been a nice addition. /Ake
8th July 2018
jokai square

Re: Statues in Budapest
It's certainly a city full of many fabulous (and some not-so-fabulous) statues! We ran out of time to make it to Memento Park this time, but we'll certainly make it a priority on the next visit :)
9th July 2018
jokai square

Memento park
You can have a look at our blog when we publish it in August probably. We took some photos at Memento Park. /Ake
10th July 2018
jokai square

Re: Memento park
Sounds good Ake. Will keep an eye out for it :)
11th July 2018

"Buda Pest"
Loved reading your blog RENanDREW. There were many areas that you had visited, but we had not done. However, it was a great experience. We stayed in a ABNB Accommodation and were able to walk and ;bus most of the places. We were told by the owner of the ABNB, that the Wealthy Society lived in "Buda" the other less wealthy on the "Pest" The Buda was on the other side of the River from the Pest side. We did go on a dinner cruise, so we had a magnificent view of the Parliament House and also the witnessed an absolutely stunning "Sunset". Lost most of my photos as I captured them on my Mobile and whilst sorting and deleting the doubles and not so good photos deleted a fair amount of the photos of our trip. Luckly Bryan C. who was with us had his camera and Bryan J had his video so we have some photos. We got a doll for Ella and she loved the colours and got a White dress with the red embroidery. Like the dress of the dolls. Loved the arts and crafts market on the bridge. Reading your blog brought back memories of our visit in 2015
12th July 2018

Re: "Buda Pest"
Thanks for your comment Aunty Una. It was nice to see that Buda and Pest had retained their identities, but as a local told us - people from Buda go to great lengths to clarify which side of the river they live on :) As lovely as Buda was, we found Pest suited us much more. We really wanted to do a boat trip but ran out of time. We will definitely be going back at some point! x
14th July 2018

Breath taking Budapest
Ah the joys of summer crowds in Europe. If that is the worst thing you deal with no worries. You can out wait them and their flurry. We long to see this lovely city full of amazing architecture, galleries, and foods. If you can't get good schnitzel in Budapest they have some explaining to do! I like the sounds of that duck breast salad. What a great room with a view. As always thanks for taking us along. Eager to read more.
14th July 2018

Re: Breath taking Budapest
Thanks MJ. To put the huge tourist crowds into perspective, we only had to deal with them a few times, but I really felt bad for the locals who told us they couldn't walk their local street during the day in cruise ship season. Hopefully Budapest will learn from the mistakes of Venice and Dubrovnik, and start regulating numbers. They cook duck and goose dishes to perfection in Budapest. But with only a finite number of meals and many local dishes to try - I was sad that we couldn't go back for more schnitzel, it was seriously good! :)
24th July 2018
weiner schnitzel and potato salad

Hi RENanDREW, Just one remark. It is a Wiener Schnitzel and not a Weiner Schnitzel. You know why? Wiener Schnitzel comes from the German name "Wien" for the city which you call Vienna. So it is a meal from Vienna. "Weiner" wouldn't make any sense. So this dish is widely know in Central Europe but I must admit i prefer it with French Fries instead of potato salad. Best regards, Thomas
25th July 2018
weiner schnitzel and potato salad

Thanks for the explanation of the word 'wiener' Thomas. Schnitzels are a popular pub meal over here in Australia, and usually served with fries and salad... but that potato salad was seriously sensational with it! :)
1st October 2019

Tural is actually Turul
Great travel log! The only comment I want to make is: the name of the mythical bird is TURUL, not Tural.
2nd October 2019

Re: Tural is actually Turul
Thank you for reading and commenting Charles. I will correct the spelling of Turul, thanks for letting us know :)

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