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December 10th 2016
Published: December 28th 2016
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Budapest was a city that was every bit as pretty, in terms of architecture, and interesting, for the history, as Prague was. It's hard to pick a favorite place, but judging from the number of pictures we took, it has to be a tie between Prague and Budapest.

Of course, we spent additional time before and after the river cruise in these two cities too, which may be the reason why we have so many more pictures of these. I am glad that we decided to do that, since we had the ability to go out and see more of the city during the days in the hotel than we would have if we had just had the days on the boat. Plus, if you are anything like me, and don't always feel up to walking, staying an extra few days gives you more chances to rest, then go out later for a quick tour. Really, if you are planning to travel to Budapest, research ahead of time the many places to see and things to do, and give yourself a few extra days so that you can see and do everything you want. It really is quite an amazing place.

Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the Danube river, with hilly Buda on one side of the river, and flat Pest on the other side. The river cruise ships like the Viking one we were on, moor between the 19th century Chain bridge (the one with the lions on it), and the white, modern-looking Elizabeth Bridge. Both bridges are lit up at night, and provide a lovely frame for the lights of the buildings along the river reflecting in the water of the Danube.

At the foot of the Chain Bridge, near the entrance to the tunnel under Castle Hill is the terminal where you can get onto the Funicular that runs up the hill to the Buda Castle. This funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town. The funicular is a strange-looking, hill-climbing streetcar that runs up a 45-degree rail up the hill to the terminal between the Royal Palace and the Hungarian Presidential Palace in the Buda Castle District. Since we had a bus tour that took us up to the top of the hill, we didn't ride the funicular, but because it is such a strange-looking contraption, I had to take a picture of it and make note of it.

Up at the top of the hill you will find the huge Royal Palace on one side, and Trinity Square on the other, which is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, with sweeping views of the hilly city of Buda, and across the river with views of Pest.

Mathias Church is the most stunningly beautiful church I have ever seen. The interior walls are painted in a deep gold shade, which provides a rich background for the ornate sculptures, vividly painted scenes, and multiple pillars creating lots of separate little atriums along the walls with different frescoes in each. The walls soar up into arcs of the towers, complete with multiple balconies and balustrades, all carved ornately. There is so much detail in the artwork inside the church, I felt like I could stand there for hours without ever seeing it all. So, that will explain why I so many pictures of it here. Really, how could one picture describe this?

Fisherman's Bastion is an interesting place to walk around. It looks a bit like a castle, or more accurately, the walls around a castle, with lookout towers and cupolas, white ramparts, with white stone steps that go, basically, nowhere. It started out as a simple stretch of the Castle Hill walls that was protected by the guild of the fisherman. At the end of the 19th century, Hungary embarked on several architectural projects to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian State. These are called the Millennial projects, and today are most of the top places to see in Budapest. Back to the Fisherman's Bastion. The wall that was there originally had a small gate, where the fishermen could come and go to the Buda fish market. The seven towers of the Fisherman's Bastion represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895. This neo-Romanesque design was the winner of many designs that were considered for this millennial project, which re-interpreted the walls from a defensible military fortification to a pretty look-out terrace. So, that's what it is now; a simple look-out terrace, where you can look out over the hills of Buda and the river Danube. It's pretty, and a popular place for tourists to take selfies. So, that's what we did too. It took us a while to figure out how to use our selfie stick.

There are a few tourist shops and cafes near the Fisherman's Bastion on Castle Hill, and it was a nice walk around the area before getting back on the bus to go back down the hill to our hotel.

From our hotel, we walked 10 long blocks to get to the Great Market. This is, essentially, a whole bunch of independently run stalls all grouped together inside a large, two-story building. If you have ever been to Mazatlan, Mexico, it is pretty much exactly like that one. The main floor houses meat markets, with whole hogs heads on display beside the pigs feet and other parts we don't usually see in our markets back home. Also are fruits and vegetable markets, and places where you can get a meal of stuffed cabbage, or thick fish soup spiced with hot paprika, lots of different kinds of coffee, and pastries that made my mouth water. However, they were much too close to the pig parts, so I couldn't bring myself to eat anything there. The whole place was crowded, noisy, and busy. Some of the aisles on the second floor were shoulder to shoulder people, with their merchandise crowding in on both sides. You could get pretty much any kind of souvenir yo could want there, from brightly painted nesting dolls to t-shirts to the brightly embroidered clothing worn by the dancers we see at our cultural Mosaic at home, and the detailed lace tablecloths and doilies that remind us of our grandparents' houses. My claustrophobia kicked in so strongly here that I had to get out, right now! So, I didn't see everything that the Great Market had to offer. But, I saw enough. And then was the long, and cold walk back to the hotel. Time for a cup of hot wine, and then bed.

Way out on the north side of the city of Pest is the biggest park in Budapest, the City Park (not a very original name). There was an area for winter ice skating. This park also houses the Szenchenyl Spa, where you can go to soak in the warm mineral spring water that is supposed to be healing and restorative. I thought of it like the Moose Jaw Mineral Spa, which is close to home and I have been there lots of times, so no big deal. I figured I could skip the spa experience in Budapest. Besides, we packed for cold weather. We didn't have our bathing suits with us.

At the entrance to this city park is Hero's Square, another millennial project, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hero's Square, also known as the Millennium Monument for the tall column in the middle topped by the Archangel Gabriel, is dedicated to a handful of Hungarian statesmen, kings and heroes who tried to make Hungary a better place to live, and an independent country. The horsemen at the bottom of the middle column are the seven tribal leaders of the Hungarians, who led the Magyars into its present home after years of wandering through the Asian steppes. That sounds familiar. I wonder if these are the same seven guys that are represented by the seven towers on the Fisherman's Bastion? Truthfully, we didn't even get off the bus at the Hero's Square, cuz they are just more statues of guys we don't know, and besides, our feet were tired by this time.

There was a huge 4 block long Christmas market that started just a couple of blocks behind our hotel, and stretched to the next major street where we caught the hop-on, hop-off bus. We walked through this Christmas market a few times, each time getting ourselves a cup of hot mulled wine (or apple punch for me), to sip and hold our hands around to help warm us as we walked. Plus, we were able to map out the route to the bus stop during the day, so that I felt less afraid to walk it at night to catch the bus for the night time lights tour. That is for the next entry.

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