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Budapest, a merger of two worlds


Adventure travel tales in Eastern Europe:
Vilnius, Lithuania
Prague, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov, Bohemia
Brasov, Romania
St Petersburg, Russia
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Other European Tales:
Oktoberfest, Munich
Peloponnese, Greece
Venice, City of Water
Ruins of Pompeii, Italy
Cappadocia, Turkey


Small park just behind the House of Parliament in Budapest

Budapest is the result of a merger between the cities Buda and Pest, each on one side of the river Danube. Buda is hilly and contains the castle district. Pest is flat and contains the more urban area. A mixture of two worlds, also because the traces of communism aren’t entirely gone yet.

Before the train enters Budapest, somebody is distributing city maps. It appears that he is from the different hostels, attracting tourists. But these hostels are too expensive for our taste. When we arrive on Deli station in Budapest, a woman approaches us, offering a room. Her prices are better, so we decide to follow her instead.

The woman leads us to her husbands car, and a little later we are crossing the bridge from Buda to Pest. Prominent along the river we see the huge house of parliament in gothic style. Right behind it is the house where we will stay. Via an old elevator we go upstairs where Ena shows us nice luxurious rooms. But we choose the simple, cheapest one with just a bed and shared bathroom and kitchen.

After installing ourselves it is dark and time to find a meal. In the neighborhood are many large buildings, crowded streets and in between narrow alleys full of parked cars. We cannot find an area with different restaurants, so we take the first restaurant we see. The food is not very good, and neither is our first impression of Budapest.

Buda

The palace on the castle hill in BudaThe next morning we head for Buda, on the other side of the Danube. We cross the nice Chain Bridgde and arrive on the foot of the castle hill. We could take an expensive train up, but decide to walk instead. When we arrive on the hill we can enjoy a nice view over the river and Pest on the other side.

Although the Romans already had a settlement on the Pest side, Buda is the oldest of the two parts of the city. From the Middle Ages several castles were built here, each time on the ruins of the previous one. So the hill on which the castle district is built, is partly artificial. Around the current palace, excavations are made to lower layers, in search for forgotten glory.

The current palace originates from the 18th century, and is built in Renaissance style. Many statues are decorating the exterior, which consists of several wings. In every wing a museum or exhibition is located, but we are not interested in those. We wander around instead, enjoying the views and the sun instead.

Fisherman's bastion in BudaFrom the palace we walk to the old center of Buda, still on the hill. This area is prohibited for cars, except for the inhabitants. The street is full with BMW’s and Trabants, what a contrast. Despite the many tourists this is a nice area with lots of old houses and monumental buildings. Most prominent is the cathedral, with right behind it our favourite: the socalled Fisherman’s Bastion. It is a construction with small towers, walls, and gates, with views over the river. It was put here in the end of the 19th century for no particular reason, and hey, why not?

Ugly Hilton

When we walk around the cathedral all of a sudden we bump into a large modern structure, built against it. To our amazement this appears to be the Hilton hotel. Under the condition that the building would fit between the old buildings, a permission to build it was granted. It is obviously a matter of taste, but we think it is plain ugly and a disgrace that it was allowed. There was probably a lot of money involved.

We walk along the castle district. We pass old churches, a gate, and a tower. Also a number of museums, but we ignore those since there are too many of them. We descend castle hill instead, to watch more old churches in the rest of Buda.

Margaret Island

Waterfall on Margaret Island in BudapestAfter having eaten (goulash soup obviously), we head for Margaret Island. It is an island in the Danube river right in the center of Budapest, and it is in fact a large park with several old monuments. We walk past the musical fountain, an old water tower, a pond with waterfall, a renovated old church which is still being used, and the ruins of a convent where St. Margaret used to live. A children’s farm completes the park.

From Margaret island we cross the bridge to return to Pest. We decide to give our legs a rest, and grab a beer near our homestay, on a small terrace. The little bar it belongs to is not wider than two meters and only four meters long, with the bar in the back. For a toilet we are referred to the cafeteria next door. After watching street life for a few hours, we decide to eat there as well. The pasta, salad, and chicken taste just fine.

Pest

Trabant in the streets of BudapestFor our tour through Pest, we start with searching for Andrássy Avenue, supposedly the best part of the city. Underway, we see a lot of tall buildings, like museums, embassies, and other impressive buildings. We also pass St. Stephen Basilica, which is being restored on both the inside and the outside. Especially on the inside we can see the improvement. Colourful wallpaintings appear, where on the other side they are faded and grey. The moisture on the marble is also removed, and we almost decide to come back next year to see its full glory.

Right behind the basilica is where Andrássy Avenue starts. First it’s just a crowded shopping street, with also a lot of clochards and beggars. But slowly it changes into a wide boulevard with fancy houses behind the lines of trees. Despite the heavy traffic in the middle, it is a nice boulevard to walk on. And it ends on the famous Heroes’ square, with a large array of statues of the heroes from Hungarian history.

Multifunctional City Park

Behind Heroes square is the city park, with something interesting for everybody. We start at the castle, with a classic entrance including drawbridge, towers and gate. But we can see it’s a bit fake, since the portcullis is fixed in the gate. The castle was built in the 19th century, for decoration purposes only. But it is really beautiful.

Behind the castle we walk through the park to the transport museum, with a number of old trains on display outside. Then we find the medicinal baths and swimming pool. It is a nice complex, where people are lined up to enter. Through the window we can look inside to the courtyard, which is crowded. Apparently, thermal baths and swimming pools are popular here.

We walk along and pass a circus, a theatre hall, and the zoo, before we sit down at the large pond. Here we feed the ducks and watch a fisherman with a net our neighbor boys at home would be ashamed of. After exploring the complete park, we walk back via Andrássy Avenue, with a detour to the train station to buy tickets.

Budapest is supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in eastern Europe, but it is a bit disappointing for us. The castle district in Buda is beautiful of course, but a bit far from city life, which is centered in Pest. Pest has got its nice places as well, but they are widely spread over the city, which lacks a charming center with restaurants.

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