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Published: September 23rd 2014
I have neglected this blog shamefully for quite some time. So, starting afresh in 2014 (mostly as I can't be bothered to fill in the gaps from the last couple of years), and having left South America after almost four years, the travelling year started with a city break to Budapest. Mostly because it has been on my 'to-visit' list for quite some time, also because of some pleasantly surprising cheap flights. More exciting parts of the world are to come, namely Morocco for a holiday, and Myanmar (fingers crossed!) for work.
Setting off before the summer holidays start in Europe, Budapest still had very sunny weather and a smattering of tourists. We'd managed to get a very nice hostel (more like a private apartment thanks to the lack of any other guests) in the Jewish quarter, which was mostly characterised by narrow streets, too many cars and a plethora of recognisable supermarket names. I'm all for trying new experiences when abroad, but sometimes it's just nice to have a Tesco 'round the block - especially when self-catering.
We started our trip to Budapest with very few plans and an epic walking tour around the historical centre. On the
map the Parliament really didn't look that far - our feet told a different story unfortunately!
We started at St. Stephen's Basilica, named after the first king of Hungary who left a delightful little memento of himself inside in the form of his hand. Admittedly I can't claim to be the most religious person in the world, but I've always found the idea of keeping bits of dead people around as a little odd.
The inside of the church was beautiful in the ostentatious way that only Catholicism can achieve. The highlight (apart from the bit of dead arm in the box of course) was the view from the top of the tower. At a height of 96 metres it is (with the Parliament, that you can't climb anyway) the highest building in Budapest. It certainly felt it after the 364 steps it took to climb, including some rather rickety metal ladders towards the top.
Next on the exercise plan was a trek along the river to the rather gorgeous parliament building. Definitely the iconic image of Budapest, the parliament building was inaugurated on Hungary's 1000th anniversary in 1896. The culmination of 20 years' work, 1000 people,
Inside St. Stephen's
40 million bricks and half a million precious stones makes for a very impressive building, also the largest building in Hungary and joint tallest in Budapest (with St. Stephen's Basilica.)
Stopping for photos on the river, and with the most casual statue ever - Attila Jozsef, one of Hungary's most famous poets, and someone who obviously didn't care for formal or impressive statues.
Walking back along the Pest side of the river to reach the memorial, 'Shoes on the Danube bank', a memorial to the Jews who were shot on the river bank during the Second World War. It's a very moving, simple memorial that can be quite easily be missed if you're not looking for it. We stopped for a while, mostly waiting for the idiotic Japanese tourists who didn't quite seem to realise what the sculptures were for, and were taking photos posing in the shoes, to leave.
Moving on we headed across the bridge and took the funicular railway up the hill to Buda Castle. Like Prague, this is one of those slightly unusual central European castles that are not actually castles, more like a palace, church and various other buildings inside a curtain
In the case of Buda castle, the centrepiece is St. Matthias church (beautiful from the outside, amazing on the inside!) and the Fisherman's Bastion. Another of the most iconic buildings in Budapest, it wasn't built until the end of the 19th century but was named after the fishermen, whose duty it was to protect that particular stretch of the city walls during the Middle Ages. The seven towers are meant to represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled at the end of the ninth century.
Having thoroughly exhausted ourselves we found out way back across the river and home.
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