Monday, March 04, 2013

Brilliant Budapest!! (no I don't work for their tourism department either!

One of my friends here in Japan is heading to Hungary later this year, so I was prompted to think about my very very short stay in Budapest, the amazing capital of that country.
Bridge over the Danube in beautiful Budapest

Hungary is one European country that I have visited that I would really like to return to and explore one day. Budapest is one of Europe's secret gems, up with the best capitals across Europe, but with only a fraction of the tourists visiting.
Okay, so I visited in 2004, but even today when compared to the likes of Prague, it doesn't receive the amount of tourists it deserves. Now that's good for the tourists who do go there of course!
My memories are of arriving at a fairly chaotic train station early in the morning, but it was already quite warm - about twenty-five degrees. I navigated my way via public transport to find my hostel.
Square in central Budapest

This was not easy, it was in some big apartment style building, I went into a couple of wrong buildings, and finally found the right one. Took a rickety lift up to the right floor, to find a sign on the door saying there was an electricity problem and they were closed until it was fixed. Very frustrating, as I had booked online and received a series of confirmation emails and then they didn't bother to contact me.
So I had to pull out the book, buy a phone card and ring around until I found a hostel with a bed. Budapest does not have a wealth of budget digs, although if you want to pay a bit more you can find a place to stay. I found a hostel that had backpackers packed in in every corner. It was a house with mattresses on the floor, a backyard and a decent kitchen for cooking.
Memento Park - one of the monuments.

There is plenty to see and do in Budapest, a city on the Danube river and a city with a lot of history. It's dalliance with communism for many years of the previous century can not be forgotten, as the images of Soviet tanks rolling through the streets will certainly never be. If you want a reminder then there are two places I recommend visiting.
The first is the strangely named 'Memento Park'. A park featuring a wide array of Soviet era statues. The communist times were punctuated by  giant statues of communist figures - you know the dudes. Lenin, Stalin, Marx and the like. Instead of destroying them when communism fell, statues were taken down and put into this park. It's an unusual tourist attraction, but I have to say that it's not the only one of it's kind. In Semey, Kazakhstan I visited a smaller park with lots of Lenins. However, this one is probably the biggest and most interesting. These remnants are important in some ways, because the era these days is well hidden. Budapest has many Gothic buildings obviously pre-dating communist times, and walking around the city it's very impressive how they outlasted what many regard as a dark period of Hungary's history.

The 'House of Terror' Museum also gives a window into the Communist times. Not just that, but it looks at World War II and oppression and violence in Hungary and Budapest. A very eye-opening museum indeed. I found it confronting and worth visiting.
There are a number of museums in Budapest, as one might imagine. There's a beer museum, history museum, Holocaust museum and a Bath museum. One thing Hungary is famous for is it baths, its banyas. I visited one in the city centre, there are many. I just went for a swim, but if you enjoy steam baths and the like, then Budapest surely has the sauna fix for you!

Parliament building from Castle Hill.
I ventured to a place called 'Castle Hill' - no prizes for guessing why it got that name. It's a wonderful area of Budapest. It sits above the Danube, and across the river you can see the Parliament building - one of the most remarkable Gothic buildings in Europe. Very grand and very large, the view of it from Castle Hill side is superb.
Matthias Cathedral - exterior.

On the Castle Hill side you find the 'Matthias Cathedral', an interesting church (if you haven't been in Europe too long and seen a hundred thousand churches already) with museum attached and the Hungarian Crown jewels. NOT what I expected to see there.
The streets are cobblestone, it's delightful. The walk along the Danube is predictably nice too, with little enclaves along the stone footpath called 'Fisherman's Bastions'.
Inside the Budavari Labirintus
Inside the hill itself is a wonderfully interesting and exciting set of catacombs, a must see for visitors and catacomb-enthusiasts alike. The Budavari Labirintus is a system of tunnels up to sixteen metres below Castle Hill that stretch for 1200 metres.
Budapest also has more churches, bridges, baths and parks than you could count, not to mention a wonderful history seeped in music. I took in a wonderful orchestral performance at the Opera House. Still using their own currency and not the Euro, Hungary is a good place to see classical performances and opera for a much cheaper price than say Vienna. It has festivals too, I had just missed a wine festival by a day when I arrived. One day, I shall return!
A night out at the Opera House never goes astray!

It's a true gem. I had three days there, one of them lost completely to walking about and finding accommodation, but that was enough to recommend it to anyone I hear is going to Europe, I always spruik for them to make a visit to this glorious city on the Danube. What I saw was only the tip of the iceberg!

For more information on Budapest, here are my writings containing further details available on Kindle.

Chapter on Budapest, Zakopane, Olomouc and Vienna from "Dhaka to Dakar Book 2"

Dhaka to Dakar Book 2: Europe

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