Budapest is striking.
The capital and largest city in Hungary formed in 1873 with the coming together of the three cities; Buda, Pest and Obuda. Celtics, Huns, Romans to name a few have held power in the territory that Budapest sits within. It’s a Marco Polo worthy story in itself.
Budapest wears its wars on the facades of its buildings and there’s a hardness. Ghosts still linger in dusty crevices of blackened buildings that vein through its urban grandeur but in all of this an authoritative beauty rises up. A contrast of sharp and soft. At first it leaves you unsure of how you see the city, how you feel about the city. Do not be dismayed or put off by this, it’s strangely also apart of the charm and draw.
Bridge the gap…
Budapest straddles the great Danube and to see the sights of the city you do have to do a little traversing. These impressive pieces of engineered architecture offer not only a safe passage over the water but also their own unique views, splitting you between Buda to the West and Pest to the East.
Bridge nerds be prepared to have your socks blown clean off!
See it from the Citadella…
Buda is home to the hills and a pretty steady incline up to an incredible viewpoint by the Citadella. Snow covered the parkland and paths on our trip and it was compacted in places where feet had trodden before us making it a cautious journey.
When we reached the Citadella we were rewarded with far-reaching views across the city and cardboard cups full to the brim with hot wine. Sitting under the Liberty Statue we nonchalantly listened to the chitter of international chatter and soaked in the hazy blue scene of the city sprawling out below us broken only by the cruising waters of the Danube.
Get lost in the garden…
We continued down the East side of the river reaching Buda Castle and it’s gardens. Winter can be unkind to gardens but not these, they revel in the cold and take on a new life, okay so it’s a world away from the summer but you get a seasonal quiet and with that comes a little bit of magic.
Make time for Buda Castle’s gardens, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and if anything it’s a serene introduction to the rest of the grounds that house this book worms favorite home of literature; the National Széchényi Library.
Cosy up to culture…
Central Europe is like a dripping honey pot of culture and Budapest buzzes with worker bees feeding you this sweet liquor of history, art, technology, engineering and literature. It is almost beyond comprehension and leaves you feeling incredibly silly for not booking a considerably longer stay. You can’t know it all as they say but Budapest sure as hell gives it a good go.
The hardship of all this wonder is that you will simply not have enough hours in the day to see all of the treasures and trivia these places hold and quite frankly perhaps not the budget either, each to their own purse strings and all.
A few places to at least consider, some free of charge others not, are: The National Széchényi Library, Budapest History Museum, Buda Castle & Gardens, Sándor Palace, Déli Rondella, Cultural Centre, Museum of Military History, Hungarian Parliament Building and the Hungarian State Opera.
The sculptures, monuments and fountains that almost litter this area are worth a few moments of your time, the detailing of stone work in Budapest at times blows your mind.
Make believe at Matthias…
Heading further up the river we reached the Castle District, home of the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. The curve of the turrets and intricate tiling of the church in the evening light could have been plucked straight from a mind made to create fairytales.
Visit the Castle District later in the day, it’s the most beautiful setting with the hues of pink, blue and orange making the tiles sing their own evening song. Here, you are not very far from warm lighted restaurants or the Széchényi Bridge which will take you back over to Pest, the cosmopolitan inner city district of Budapest.
Within this district are other little gems which if we’d had more time we would have liked to have visited, I was curious to the novelty of the Hospital in the Rock and the Houdini Museum. Upon our return I was perusing blogs and I discovered some places that I hadn’t spotted on our journey including the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. This Labyrinth once held Vlad Tepes or as he’s more infamously known ‘Count Dracula! If I’d known I would have given my time to this place of history and mystery.
Onward we journeyed and found ourselves looking up at the topline of buildings processing the medley of architecture. It was hungry work! The crossing back over to Pest via the Szechenyi Bridge wasn’t hurried but the cold nipping at us quickened the pace. The two Herculean lions on guard felt imposing, despite colossal damage to the city through war they had not been turned to ruin.
Dinner was found at a beautiful little Hungarian restaurant called Parisi6. All day we were promised the best goulash in Budapest by many a chalked board but I’m pretty sure we found it that evening. Delicious.
With the first day down we crawled into bed tired, full and looking forward to what the next day would bring. The next day brought us MORE food in the form of Budapest’s Central Market Hall. It was an assault on the senses. Sausage swung in clusters, vegetables and fruits formed semi fallen pyramids and Hungary’s staple spice paprika was packed tightly in token bags.
Exquisite embroidery layered aisle upon aisle, an array of blooms in bold colour stitched upon stark white cloth cut into all types of wear. Souvenirs pickled the shelves of stalls and wooden mechanised toys bobbed with signs of DO NOT TOUCH. I touched. The smell of cooking food; pörkölt, nokedli, gulyás and toltött káposzta to name a few, hung in the air. I wanted to try everything but I know the limits of my digestive system and the monstrous portion of stuffed cabbage pushed the limits.
Push your limits, EAT in Budapest!
Take the plunge…
Széchenyi Thermal Bath is a must do… not a ‘I’ll do it if I have time’. We went in the evening and the outside temperature was -4ºc. The thrill you get running through the freezing winter air and plunging into the outside thermal bath is pretty unique. I wish we’d gotten a picture but we just didn’t feel right taking our camera in. Low and behold we were the only ones who didn’t and it was a community pool of selfies, you soon relax though and enjoy the atmosphere.
Whatever you worship…
I’m not of a religious disposition but places of worship intrigue me, maybe I’m looking for something. Gellért Hill Cave pulled us in, set into the rock face I felt, at least, we might find a warm place. I listened to the soft voice in my ear narrating the self tour. The extraordinary thing about Gellért Hill’s Cave Church is that it’s passages and openings were formed by thermal springs, there are no flat walls within the chapel giving it a dimension unlike any other chapel.
Dohány Street Synagogue is not only a beautiful building but it is also incredibly humbling. The history of the Jewish community and it’s connections with the Dohány Street Synagogue will strike a blow but the resilience of the people is testimony.
Whilst in the Jewish Quarter make time for the Dohány Street Synagogue and maybe pick up a chimney cake on your way there too!
The monument is known as Shoes on the Danube…
Take off your shoes they were told. Then they were shot. Their bodies washed away on the current. These shoes, among many others, are a poignant reminder of what happened on the banks of the Danube.
We should never forget them.
We made time for two cities on our European trip, we started out in Budapest for two and a half days followed by 3 days in Vienna and then headed back to Budapest for just short of 2 days before flying home. January is a cold month in Budapest, during our stay it plummeted to -12ºc in the middle of the day. Layers are essential and I was thankful for the extra baggage allowance we parted money for in order to pack those extra items to buffer the cold.
It wasn’t until I returned to Budapest from Vienna that I felt I had a better understanding of this city of stories. Budapest has a complicated history with marks from the darkness that shadowed the world not so very long ago in the grand scale of time. The nature of Budapest is not cold and aloof which you would be forgiven for mistaking in those first hours. It still grapples with its past but it wears its battle scars alongside the grandeur and modern cosmopolitanism as if to say ‘we know what happened here’.
Budapest is striking.
Thanks for the read, Nat x