Budapest: 3-days of Eastern European City Break


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Europe » Hungary » Central Hungary » Budapest
February 27th 2013
Published: September 23rd 2018
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Preface

In February 2013, apart from our local weekend trips in Germany, Shreya & I started looking at key European destinations and decided to kick off our expedition from an Eastern European country - Hungary. The weather in this area was much better than the Western Europe during the end of February.

In order to reach Budapest from Vallendar, going via Munich would have worked the best for us as we already had a German Rail Pass. There is an overnight train from Munich to Budapest which requires prior reservation. You have an option of travelling by either a sitting seat, or a sleeping couchette. We chose the 6 couchette compartment, but to our surprise we had the whole compartment to ourselves!

This train is operated by MauStart (Hungarian Rail Company) in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn (DB) (German Rail Company) and OBB (Austrian Rail Company) since this train goes via Salzburg and Vienna, both in Austria. There is a coach attendant who assisted us to our seats and asked for our breakfast preference for the morning. He also advised us to lock the compartment from inside as there are possibilities of thieves from Austria boarding the train in the middle of the night. This instantly reminded us the dacoits scenes of Sholay! ;-)

The couchette had clean sheets and pillow, and mineral water. We had a good night’s sleep. In the morning we were given chocolate filled croissants, cappuccino, and orange juice for breakfast. We arrived at the Budapest Keleti Pu (Pu short for Palyaudvar, meaning train station in Hungarian). As there are no internal border controls between Schengen states we didn’t have to clear any immigration this time. There are porters and taxi drivers arriving till the gate of our coach to ask if you would like to hire them just like India! The railway station had nice quick bite options, currency exchange counters and tourist office. We grabbed a lot of brochures.

Budapest was created by merging Old Buda, Buda, and Pest cities. The city is divided geographically by the river Danube into Buda, a hilly region with an old culture and Pest, the flat region with a new buzzing cosmopolitan feel. There are 4 major / famous bridges (hid in Hungarian) Margaret Bridge (Margit hid) - designed by the same company who designed Eiffel Tower, Chain Bridge (Széchnyi lanchid) - most photographed and antique, Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet hid) - modern reconstruction of the old bridge, Freedom Bridge (Szabadság hid) - same reconstruction of the old bridge, apart from other not so famous ones connecting Buda and Pest sides of the city. Budapest is known as the Spa city due to the presence of natural medicinal water springs containing various elements, mainly Sulphur, which is beneficial to the human body. Budapest was bombed heavily during the World War and majority of its historical buildings had been destroyed then. The country later on invested its efforts in reconstructing those in the same architecture to maintain the historical and cultural flavor of the city.

Day-1

We got our 24-hr pass for BKV Zrt (Zrt is in Hungary just like Ltd in India) from Keleti pu., which would allow us unlimited use of all modes of public transport (underground metro (red, blue, orange lines), trams (yellow) and bus (blue, red)) for 24 hours. We got the city map which had all the public transport routes and places of interest marked over it. We took a bus from Keleti pu and soon realized we had taken the bus in the opposite direction we wanted to go! We asked a guy on board (who was a Romanian settled in Budapest) and he explained the correct option to reach our hotel. Incidentally, he has an Indian friend called Chintan Upadhyay and he has visited Partapur in Rajasthan as well!!! The world is really a small place :-). We took the metro to Astoria, nearest red line metro to our hotel and walked our way to it during which we got the first feel of the city and instantly liked it a lot. To our surprise and my unlimited happiness the street on which our hotel was located, Raday utca (utca = street in Hungarian) is called Gastro Street due to the presence of loads of restaurants. Usually the hotels in Europe have a check-in time of 2 pm or afterwards, but they accommodated us early at 09:30. The hotel room was nice; we both got ready to start exploring the city. Since we were on the Gastro Street, we took lunch in a cozy Italian restaurant and had tomato rice (very different than the South Indian tomato rice), potato croquette, and garlic bread soup. Restaurants in Hungary have a few vegetarian options; their food is famous for its paprika, so the taste is good for us. The Goulash Soup is their local speciality, which contains beef.

We decided to go to the Parliament first to catch the English guided tours that they have at certain time slots during the day as it is supposed to be quickly filled up. Near our hotel we started at Kalvin tér (tér means square in Hungarian) metro station and reached Deak tér metro station on the blue line (this one is the meeting point of all the 3 lines of the metro), then changed to the red line to reach Kossuth Lajos tér which is the metro station exactly opposite to the Parliament. The Parliament is on the shore of the Danube River on the “Pest” (pronounced as “Pesht”) side of the city. It is a huge white-reddish structure measuring approximately 240m in length, 180m in width, and 96m in height, divided into two equal sections with a central dome in the middle. There are a large number of green uniform guards protecting it. We were soon taken inside on the tour explaining us the history of the monarchy, various kings and queens, the country, and the parliament. We were shown the royal crown, parliament sessions seats and other interesting details of this historic building. It has a lot of gold work inside and they say a total of 41 kg of gold was used to decorate it originally. The Parliament like the majority of the historical buildings in Budapest were destroyed during the World War II, but it has been restored using the rubble.

We took a lot of photographs of the Buda side of the city from the Pest banks as we were near the Parliament. A very interesting thing about public transport here is that they have 2 special trams: 1 that runs along side the Buda embankment of the city and other on the Pest embankment of the city. This is such a nice route that you can go from one end of the city to the other, parallel to the river, so that you can enjoy the views of the river and the other side of the city from either of the trams. Enjoying the Pest side tram, we reached the last station and took the same tram in the opposite direction to reach the Chain Bridge / Széchenyi hid. We took a lot of photos here as this is a very beautiful bridge and is one of the hallmarks of Budapest other than the Parliament. We walked around this area and enjoyed the evening breeze beside the river. There is a Széchnyi tér which is a very large square having a lot of statues. From here we took the bus 105 to go to Heroes Square (Hősök tér). This bus passes through Andrassy Avenue (Andrássy út) which is considered to be a local version of the Champs Elysees in Paris, a very long street with all the international brands, interesting museums, opera house, historical buildings with interesting façade, various statues, cafes, restaurants, etc. Heroes Square is the largest square in Budapest, commemorating the history of this city with various big statues of its past king, and a millennium monument along with a tomb of an unknown soldier as a tribute to many who died fighting in the world wars. The Széchnyi Thermal Bath (Széchnyi Gyogyfürdő) is very near to Heroes Square. We walked to it passing via the City Park which had a nice lake with lots of ducks around.

We had a free entry to Széchnyi Thermal Bath so we got ready to enjoy it. There are 3 open air pools, all of them heated to different temperatures. We enjoyed the hot water dips after our whole day's walk in the cold. We spend quite a bit of time here as it was so relaxing. We took the Orange line metro from here to reach Deak tér metro station and changed to blue line to reach Kalvin tér and walked back to the hotel. We got ready again as we were feeling very hungry after a long day and went to dinner at a nice little place, exactly opposite to our hotel. We had a nice meal and went back to hotel to sleep and rejuvenate ourselves for the next day.

Day-2

We had decided to take the Giraffe Hop-on hop-off service that would allow us to use 2 bus lines (red, yellow) and 1 boat line (blue) to enjoy the city. A ticket is valid for 48 hours so we decided to use it on 28-Feb and 1-Mar as 1 of their bus lines was to start on 1-Mar. We wanted to go to Buda side of the city today to the Buda Castle first so we had to take the bus starting from Astoria. As our 24-hr pass had expired we could not use the public transport so we decided to walk to the stop, via the famous Váci utca, a very famous and a very long street with lots of places to eat and various souvenir shops. After this enjoyable walk, we reached the Astoria stop of our hop-on hop-off bus. While we were waiting for the bus, we visited a local pharmacy shop nearby and picked up some local chocolate and cookies.

We started our tour and listened to the English audio guide to learn about the various interesting landmarks we passed by on the way. Finally we reached the Funicular (Budavári Sikló) stop on the Buda side of the city. There is a 0-km milestone here as all distances in Budapest are measured from this point on. Funicular is an inclined mini railway that takes you up to the top of the Buda Hill. However, it was not too much and we decided to walk the way up. We took a lot of photographs on the way. We reached the top of the Buda Hill (Budai Hegység) and enjoyed the views of the Pest side of the city from a good elevation. We could see the Parliament in broad daylight and the famous St. Stephan's Basilica/Cathedral (Szent István Bazilika), whose top is as high as the Parliament. The Buda Hill is a large hilly area and has a Buda Castle, also called the Royal Castle or the Royal Palace (Budavári Palota), which is the official residence and the office of the Hungarian President. Coincidentally we were in time to see the change of guard ceremony here. The remaining of the castle is used for various museums and has Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria), Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum) and Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum). We decided to give the various museums a miss since each of them requires more than 3 hours to visit; however, we saw the exteriors of all the three with interesting statues and fountains. The Buda Hill is known for its caves and has various hidden ruins under the hills. There are various other museums and caves to visit. However, we gave them a miss as well.

We explored the local Buda market here. The Crochia works seems to be really famous here and there were bed sheets, table mats, and so many others things available for sale. The Hungarian dolls, magnets, paprika were all on sale here for the tourists. We walked on the cobbled streets of the Castle district and had lunch in one of the local restaurants. Potatoes are quite famous staple vegetarian food in Hungary so we ordered pasta along with potato-cauliflower curry and potato soup. We decided to top it up with the locally famous Hungarian Chocolate Sponge Cake. We walked around in the Castle District and saw Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom) and Fishersmans' Bastion (Halászbástya), which are among the top most visited sites in Buda. We did not take the tour of the Matthias Church from inside, but we enjoyed its grand and multicolored tiled top from outside. Fisherman's Bastion is again a very recent place built to give beauty to the sky line of the Buda side and provides amazing views of the Parliament located on the opposite side. There is a huge St. Stephan's (an important king in the Hungarian history) statue here.

We went back to our hop-on hop-off Funicular stop to take the tour ahead to the next stop and reached Gellért Hill (Gellért-hegy) which is another hill in the Buda side of the city listening to the history on the way. Since there was no hop-on hop-off bus from this stop anymore, we took the photo stop here and decided to come back to this place tomorrow. We continued our red line and reached the last stop Parliament. We walked to the nearby Soviet War Memorial at the Szabadság tér. From here we visited the observatory at the top of the St. Stephan's Basilica, which offered us the most amazing views of the Pest side of the city. It was dusk and we decided to walk on the Széchnyi bridge. While we were walking to Pest, the bridge started to lit up slowly. This was the perfect time and stop to photograph the very famous bridge. Next, we reached our the boat stop for our night river cruise (included in our hop-on hop-off ticket). This was a 1 hour cruise at night to enjoy the night views of both the sides of the cities, enjoying the illuminated views of the various landmarks we had visited during the day. The boat tour was nice and described each landmark with interesting little stories. We were seated on the front top deck of the boat. Although it was chilly, we didn't leave our spot till the end of the ride.

After finishing our boat tour, we went to Vigadó tér to see the convent hall and the statue of Little Princess, which is found on various local postcards. Next, we walked to Vörösmarty tér and enjoyed dessert at the Gerbeaud Cafe (Gerbeaud Cukrászda), which is one of the greatest and the traditional coffeehouses in Europe. We walked through Váci utca to reach our hotel.

Day-3

Since, the day before we had to walk a lot, we decided to buy a 24-hr public transport card to travel freely within the city. We caught the metro to reach the first stop of the red line of our hop-on hop-off route. We got the front most seat on the top level of the bus and enjoyed the views starting from stop one József Nádor tér, Erzsébet tér, Andrássy utca, Opera House, Liszt Ferenc tér, Heroes Square, Eastern Railway Station, New York Cafe Station, Astoria, Funicular, and Castle District while listening to the history. Finally we reached Gellért Hill on the Buda side of the city. We clicked photos of the Citadella here.

It was quite cold and chilly and we had the perfect hot beverages - freshly brewed tea and cappuccino - here. We walked down the nice trail of this hill to reach the Gellért Statue and reached the bottom of the hill to walk along the Buda embankment, of Danube and enjoyed the walk along the river. Here we got on the tram no. 49, which runs over the Freedom bridge, and reached the Pest side of the city. I had a hummus sandwich and Shreya had pakoras from an Indian restaurant - Govinda.

After a quick lunch, we rode the yellow line tour passing by Erzsébet tér, Central Synagogue, Astoria, Dózsa György tér, Funicular, Batthyány tér, Margaret Bridge, Parliament, Vigadó tér, Market Hall, and the National Museum. Then we reached point no. 2 of our blue boat tour using local metro. It is an interesting underground metro, since it runs under the Danube River to connect Pest & Buda! We took the day cruise and reached Margaret Island, and had a lovely walk in the middle of the Danube river. Next, we caught the tram that runs on the Margaret Bridge and reached Parliament to visit the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, a tribute to the Jews from the Holocaust on the banks of the Danube. We walked to the St Stephen Basilica and took the illuminated pictures of this grand cathedral. We had a very tasty chocolate pastry from a local Hungarian pastry shop here. We took the tram that runs along the Buda embankment just like the one in Pest on our first day. Next, we took the underwater, underground metro and reached the Buda side to take the night shots of the illuminated Parliament. We returned to hotel and had a very tasty bread and mushroom salad along with a vegetarian burger at a little place called Apacuka.

Day-4

We woke up early, as it was time to say good bye to the lovely city of Budapest and head to our next destination: Munich in Germany.

Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Budapest, which turned out to be so much more than our expectation! The public transport was amazing and we didn't have to wait for more than 2 minutes at any stop for our connections. The city is English & tourist friendly and we could equip ourselves with the Hungarian names of the places we were interested to visit. The vegetarian food options added to our joys.

Where To Stay?

We stayed at the Ibis Budapest Centrum Hotel which is a part of Accor group of hotels. At that time there was a Budapest Winter Promotion going on, so we got the rooms for 3 nights at the price of 2, along with 25%!d(MISSING)iscount on the city hop-on hop-off tourist bus, and free entry to one of the 4 famous Budapest Spas.

What to Eat?

Budapest has plenty of global cuisines available, including some of the best vegetarian options available amongst other European countries. Raday utca, where we stayed had alone dozens of options for us! Don't miss out the famous cafe & desert place Gerbeaud Cafe.


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