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Published: September 16th 2005
After spending some time in Austria we jumped on a bus and made the quick (3hrs) journey down to Budapest. Easily the most fun city I have visited in my European travels. We arrived at the central bus station and jumped on the very efficent tube into town and then onto a soviet era tram to our hostel; the coolest hostel ever!
We stayed at backpacker
which was recommended to me by a friend who had stayed there before. They were too busy to fit us into a dorm but happily plunked us a in a very comfy 3 man tent, complete with mattresses, sheets and blankets in the backyard. When I asked if I could leave my backpack in the living room the answer was "This place is yours, do as you please". The ethos normally would result in people abusing the place, but because of it's coolness, size and staff everyone respected everyone else. I had SO much fun meeting all the cool cats that stayed while we were there. Anyhow enough about the hostel; I did see other things!
Before I begin delving into the various landmarks and buildings in Budapest I have to first
the controversial lion
attempt to articulate why I loved Budapest. As I mentioned in my Ezstergom post it’s hard to actually pinpoint what actually attracts me to Hungary (aside from ridiculous amounts of beautiful women). Budapest contains an eclectic mix of gothic, baroque, soviet and modern style buildings. I guess it begins with the old style trams that are straight out of the soviet era; or maybe the old run down buildings that seem to have a charm of their own. It could be the scattering of very old historically significant buildings or the beautiful Danube and the plethora of adjoining bridges. I’m not sure - but either way, this place is a must see.
Situated on the Danube, Budapest - the current capital of Hungary - actually comprises of three cities; Buda in the west, Obuda in the northwest and Pest in the east. Unifying each side of the Danube is a series of bridges, the most important of which is the Chain Bridge, a source of national pride.
Designed by William Clark - who also designed the Thames Bridge - and completed in 1849, the bridge was at the time the biggest suspension bridge in the world. The construction
The royal palace in the background
of the bridge ignited a period of intense economic growth for both Pest and Buda; both of which nearly doubled in size in the 10 years immediately following the construction.
But the bridge was not without controversy. At each end of the bridge sits two guardian lions. There was public outrage that the Lions did not have tongues. This was put to bed when Clark revealed that the lions did have tongues, inside their mouths, and that contrary to public opinion - lions do not stick out their tongues like dogs.
Rumour has it that during the advancement of Austrian troops in 1849 towards Budapest, Clark personally intervened to ensure his favourite construction was not destroyed. His wish was granted through sheer luck that the charges set by the Austrians did not denoted. 100 years later however the Austrian/German army succeeded where their Austrian predecessors failed and collapsed the centre of the bridge during intense fighting.
However the bridge was quickly restored to it's original splendour and lived to see another day. In 1989 it was the scene of massive public demonstrations for freedom and independence. It has subsequently become a symbol and source of pride for
many Hungarians. I can't emphasis this point enough - the chain bridge is not far from many Hungarians lips and it is so well loved that every year they throw a big birthday party for the bridge! We were lucky enough to catch this party and mingled amongst the 100s of revellers listening to live jazz and eating lots of local delicacies.
On the Buda side of the chain bridge rising high above the city you will find Varhegy - Castle Hill -which contains the Kialyi Palota (royal palace), Matyas Templom (Matthias Church) and Halászbástya (fishermans bastion). The royal palace was built in the early 13th century in gothic style. However it was destroyed by the liberating Christian army in 1668 and was subsequently rebuilt in baroque style around 1715. Interestingly enough the royal family never actually resided in the palace. During the 100 day siege of Budapest by the soviets attempting to push the nazi’s out, the palace was nearly completed destroyed. Ironically enough, in an attempt to quell local resistance, the soviets set about rebuilding the palace and using its symbolism as a means of stamping their authority over the local populace.
Matthias church, named after
the great Hungarian king who was married here twice was completed around the same time as the royal palace. During the Turkish occupation the walls were whitewashed to remove material offensive to Islam. Upon its recapture it was subsequently renovated in baroque style that obscures the original gothic style. Finally the Fishermans Bastion is on the side of mountain overlooking the Danube.
Another attraction on castle hill is the statue of Hussar general Andras Hadik; a closer look will reveal that the testicles of his horse are shiny! The reason being engineering students believe rubbing the testicles will provide them with good luck prior to a tough exam. Get you’re hand off it!
Situated on the Danube in the city of Pest is the huge Parliament. So big is this late 19th century building that the banks of the Danube had to be reinforced with 7 foot deep concrete. The building is in a gothic style and based on the English parliament but of course, is 1 meter wider and longer than it’s British equivalent! In order to cement it’s importance, no building in Pest is allowed to be higher than the parliament. This was a brilliant decision
This is the hungarian national symbol
as the skyline is not littered with huge unsightly buildings.
Another big attraction in Pest is Saint Istvans Basilica. Shaped like a Greek cross with two steeples and a dome and squashed in amongst an array of buildings, the Basilica is a sight to behold. After 10 years of construction the original architect, Miklós Ybl, who was overseeing construction died. József Hild who took over quickly realised that the foundations were flawed and the building needed serious renovations before additional construction could occur. As fate had it, only a few short weeks later in the middle of the night during a particularly terrible storm the centre dome of the basilica collapsed!
Work on the basilica was finally completed in 1905 and St Istvan was layed to rest here. But when they tried to move St Istvan they noticed something was missing, his left hand. A search of one of the clergies residence revealed the missing hand which he had cut off and put in his place for good luck! One can now see the fateful hand in the display in the Basilica.
The Basilica pales in comparison to all other basilica’s but the pope at the time
let the Hungarians label this as a Basilica minor as a reward for devoting themselves to christianity.
On the way to hero’s square there is communism monument. Probably the most hated building in hungary; it is a shrine to remember all the soviet soldiers killed. The shrine is permanently surrounded by a metal fence to stop vandals. There are various different theories as to why the government let the soviets build this monument, some including bribery and threats that the beloved chain bridge would be destroyed if removed. As it stands the monument remains a thorn in Hungary’s side.
Ironically enough the US embassy is right here, and it too is permanently surrounded by the same metal fence. Read into that whatever you want.
Finally not too far away is Hosok Tere - Hero’s square - which was constructed to honor the 1000 year anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian basin. Near here is the famous hot springs of Szechenyi Furdo where Germar & I acted like little school kids all day running between the sauna, into the FREEZING cold spa (complete with ice and all) and then back into the sauna. The baths are
a great place to hang out and a must see.
That pretty much wraps up our time in Budapest. A fantastic city, in a great country full of beautiful people. In the immortal words of Arnold;
“I’ll be back”
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