July 16th-18th, 2003
Budapest is basically two cities in one, divided by the Danube River. Combined in 1873, Buda is the old historical half of the city and Pest is the commercial half. At a population of roughly 1.8 million, I was surprised at the expanse of the city. I also didn't realize that it wasn't until 1990 that Hungary finally elected a democratic government. Now they look forward to becoming part of the European Union in 2004.
The interesting thing about Budapest is the varying occupations over the centuries. Dating from 1st Century AD the Romans established the Obuda section of the city, 896 Magyars, 12th century French and German traders, 1541 Turkish occupation, 1686 Austrian Hapsburg, 1849 Russian and Austrian armies, 1944 German occupation, 1945 Soviet control, 1956 Hungarian uprising, and finally 1990 democratic push.
Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps
Upon arriving in the Budapest airport, we were approached by a local hotel operator asking if we needed a place to stay. After looking through his brochures and agreeing on a price, we were led to our accomodations. The place was actually a little apartment on the third floor of a courtyard apartment complex. Even though we were in the middle of the city, it was very quiet behind the main gates.
Our first morning in Budapest, we decided to head out towards the castle. As we approached the first bridge, Erzsebet Hid (Elizabeth Bridge), we saw a couple of huge monuments on the hill in front of us. The hill is named Gellert-hegy after Bishop Gellert who was pushed by pagan Hungarians off the hill. The story goes that he was trying to convert them to Christianity and they nailed him up in a barrel and threw him down into the Danube River. At the very top of the hill is the Freedom Monument, erected in 1947 to commemorate liberation from Nazi occupation.
Here's some pictures as we walked around the hill...
After our long trek up and down the hill, we decided to stop for lunch. As we were walking toward the castle, we came upon a restaurant offering a special fixed menu of Hungarian Goulash, grilled chicken salad, and ice cream! The Hungarian Goulash was really, really good. It's like a beef soup/stew with vegatables and a little spicy. Although it was quite hot outside, we gobbled it down and finished it off with the ice cream to cool down!
Anyway, back on track to the Budavari Palota (Buda Castle Palace)...
The castle area/grounds were huge and built up high into the hillside. According to the books, the original castle was built in the second half of the 13th century by King Bela IV. The castle was repeatedly bombarded by invasions and revolutions until finally razed to the ground during World War II. It was later rebuilt in a baroque style and today houses the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. I loved the cool lions guarding one of the gates!
These are various pictures as we walked around the castle grounds...
As we walked north from the castle, we came upon Matyas-templom (Matthias Church). Parts of the church date from the 13th century, but the main body was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century. You could see the Turk influence in the ornate inside walls.
Adjacent to the church is the Fishermen's Bastion, which was completed in 1905 on the site of a former fish market. Its seven towers represent the tents of the seven Magyar tribes who were once located here.
Mary Magdalene Tower/Church was built in the 13th century. During Turkish rule it was given special dispensation to remain Christian. During World War II the church was largely destroyed, but one window was rebuilt as a memento.
That evening as we left the castle district we boarded the funicular to
take us down to the river level. It was neat to see all the lights of the
city and bridges as we descended!
This was the view looking back at the castle from river level.
The next morning as we awoke, we heard rain drops falling in the courtyard. We leisurely dressed and headed off for St Stephens with our umbrellas!
Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica) construction began in 1851 and was consecrated in 1905. The church was built in the shape of a Greek cross with a cupola in the middle reaching 96 meters high. Huge foundations and three underground levels were laid under the church due to the proximity of the river. During World War II, the vast cellar was used to protect valuable art treasures and documents. In keeping with the tradition, we also took the little elevator to the top of the basilica for a view of the city!
The Orszaghaz (Parliament) building was started in 1884 and completed in 1904. Its central dome reaches 96 meters and the total structure encompasses 17,700 sq m. including hundreds of rooms and ten courtyards.
Hungarian State Opera House was really beautiful, but they don't let you take pictures inside. Construction began in 1875 and the first opera was in 1884. The Opera house was designed by one of the best architects of the time and the interior was marbled, gilded, and painted with frescoes by eminent Hungarian painters.
Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) is located in the middle of the Danube River. It was originally three islands (Spa, Pictor, and Rabbits), but they were framed with a common concrete shore in the 19th century as part of a river regulation project. Used by royalty for excellent hunting, the island was renamed Margit for the daughter of King Bela IV who retired to a nunnery there in 1252. Today the island is a huge park with cinema, swimming pool, Japanese Garden, and the old Grand Hotel.
Back to main travel page
Dave and Vareen's Travels
Back to main travel page Dave and Vareen's Travels