7-8 June, 2015
Boo-dah-pesht – not to be confused with Bucharest!
Whenever I hear the word Budapest, a famous waltz (by the great Austrian composer Johann Strauss II) plays in my mind. It is “The Blue Danube” or more commonly known in German as “An der schönen blauen Donau” (By the Beautiful Blue Danube) . Well, the Danube may not be that blue in Budapest. Don’t blame me for not telling you this!
A Wall Street Journal article describes the song :
“As with most waltzes, each successive episode, with its subtle change of instrumentation and mood, is repeated before proceeding to the next one. This lends a feeling of symmetry and substance to the musical architecture, while giving us the pleasure of hearing each melodic invention twice. Indeed those lilting, surging melodies, while not actually descriptive, seem inspired by the Danube’s currents and the whirlpools and swells churned up by the paddle wheels of its steamboats.”
Though I can’t read music, I feel that the magnificent architecture of Budapest is as varied as musical structure of this waltz. So the emotions conveyed by this song may as well hold true for Budapest. The Habsburg rulers made Budapest the co-capital (with Vienna) of their vast Austro-Hungarian empire. Unlike in Vienna, here the Danube cuts right through the heart of the city and it is rightly called the “Queen of the Danube”.
I boarded the IC 205 Rippl-Rónai train from Zagreb (Glavni Kolodvor : Main railway station) which departed at scheduled time of 14:30 on 6 July and arrived at Budapest Keleti pályaudvar (railway station) almost on time (21:14). Visited an Aldi supermarket for some snacks which actually was my dinner for that day. I bought a Budapest City Card from my hostel and decided to sleep well for that night as I wanted to wake up early.
The next day I reached Vörösmarty tér (square) around 10 AM- near the Metro station of the same name. This is in the Pest side of the city. A daily Budapest General Free (tip based) walk starts from here at 10:30 AM. The guides have a wealth of knowledge on Budapest and our guide’s name was Zoltan.It was a really hot day probably the mercury touching around 36-37 degrees C. We all had to refill our water bottles at the many public taps that Budapest has. Zoltan explained to us about the many styles of architecture that Budapest has to offer : Roman, Gothic and Neo-Gothic, Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance, Ottoman, Baroque and neo-Baroque, Classicism and Neo-Classicism, Romantic-Style and the relatively recent Art Nouveau (Szecesszió). Time to feast our eyes on the beautiful buildings as we walked by! After sometime we pass by the Love Lock Tree- a small structure where lovers would put their locks there and throw the keys in the Danube ( unlike the bridge on the Seine river in Paris, this one is a bit far from the Danube). Another pit stop for some history info from Zoltan and then we crossed the magnificent Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) towards Buda Hill. We took a break for refreshments and then started to climb up the hill instead of taking the funicular there. We then stopped for a while for some photo-ops by the Danube viewpoint and then passed by the Hungarian President’s residence. Unfortunately the guy who came out of the place in an expensive car was not the man himself but some other official , as Zoltan pointed out! We then caught sight of an antique Trabant – former East Germany’s answer to the VW Beetle – a “people’s car”. According to the TIME Magazine : “This is the car that gave Communism a bad name”. Our last stop for the walking tour was the area around Fisherman’s Bastion (a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style), Matthias Church and the statue of Stephen I of Hungary mounted on a horse. Zoltan proposed to us that if we wished to taste local Hungarian cuisine at decent prices, we may accompany him to the old Communist style canteen which primarily serves government officials. My mouth was immediately watering! So, some of us accompanied him for lunch : two elderly US/Canadian gentlemen, two Czech guys, a Singaporean girl (Grace) and me. I ordered a Duck liver curry with some dumplings.
Since Grace was also travelling solo, I asked her if we should check out a bit of Budapest together and she was also cool with that! After climbing down the Buda Hill, we took a tram and decided to check out a café for some juice and coffee. Then we thought of visiting the Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) which is at the end of Andrássy Avenue (the Budapest equivalent of Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées) .The Millennium Underground Railway (M1) (which is I believe the only underground City Metro in the world which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) runs under the Andrássy Avenue (which itself is a UNESCO Heritage site). So basically, we have two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one below the other! We took the M1 till Széchenyi fürdő Metro stop which is named after the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath nearby – the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Owing to the record temperature in Budapest this summer, we decided to give the thermal spas a miss! We walked across the City Park towards Heroes’ Square which was constructed in 1896 to mark the millennium anniversary of Hungary. It is the largest and most impressive square of the city. We could also observe the Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art)on both sides. The Millennium Monument in the square has the Archangel Gabriel standing on top of the center pillar, holding the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity. The seven chieftains who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary also give him company.
We started walking towards the Danube from the Square. After a while we reached an important address: Andrássy út 60. It is where the present day Budapest House of Terror stands and is notoriously known for the ‘double occupation’ of the Nazis and Communists as it served as the “fearsome address’ of the secret police of both those regimes. Also it was known for butchery of hundreds of Jews at the basement of this building by the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross. There are the letters TERROR carved out of the building’s side-roofs. When the sun rays pass through them, they project the Terror-word at the ground as a grim reminder of the oppression of people during those dark days of Hungary. It was closed for the day and we could not enter then.
For dinner, we went to a place which Grace suggested ( I guess from her guidebook : Let’s Go Europe!). Great to know that Grace is a foodie ! So we shared two dishes there : Beef Goulash Soup and Roasted Duck with cabbages accompanies by some pommes frites. The Danube and its surrounding architectural delights dazzle during night and evoke an aura. To catch hold of a panoramic view of Budapest at night , we hoped to climb Gellért Hill towards the Citadel. This time we crossed Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd) and past the famous Gellért Hotel famous for its Thermal Spa. The climb to the top of the hill involved a steep walk and I guess we took the least-accessed path as it as not lighted properly. However the Liberty Statue served as a guide for us and we could reach the top of the hill without much difficulty. The Liberty Statue is also known as the Freedom statue .It was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of what was then referred to as the Soviet liberation of Hungary during World War II, which ended the occupation by Nazi Germany. It depicts a lady with the palm frond. The inscription reads: ‘To those who gave up their lives for Hungary’s independence, freedom and prosperity’.
As we climbed down the hill and crossed the Danube once again to call it a day, the strains of the music of “The Blue Danube” once again played from my phone.
1. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704654004575517910459184790 (Article on ‘The Blue Danube’)
2. Hostel ( Casa de la Musica ) : 10 Euro per night *2 = 20 Euro
3. Train ticket from Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor to Budapest Keleti (Previous Day) : 221 HRK
( Open ticket valid for 15 days from the date mentioned. I bought this ticket from Split Railway Station on 1 July (as it was not possible to buy online). However you can share your credit card details with the official mail ID of Croatian Railways and they can book for you and it could be collected in Zagreb station. I did not want to take that risk! )
4. Free Walking Tour (United Europe Free Tour) (Tip based) : 5 Euro (tip)
5. Snacks ( Chicken Burger in a Touristy place!) :1000 HUF
6. Budapest Card ( 48 Hours) : (https://www.budapest-card.com/en/) : 7900 HUF ( I bought from the Hostel. Didn’t buy online where you may get some discount.)
7. Lunch in a local ex-communist canteen ( primarily for Government workers) in Buda Hill : 1100 HUF
8. Beverage/Coffee in a Restro Café : 700 HUF
9. Supermarket (Apple, Yoghurt, etc) : 300 HUF
10. Dinner (Shared by two :Beef Goulash Soup and Roasted Duck with cabbages accompanies by some pommes frites) : 1700 HUF
HUF = Hungary Forint
HRK = Hrvatska (Croatia) Kuna