For the second time in a couple of years Sheila and I had a package holiday rather than using our time share points. Diamond Resorts not having any presence in Budapest we chose to use Jet2 Holidays for a 5 day break in the Hungarian capitol. The flight from Leeds was a late afternoon one on the 19 September so we arrived in Hungary after 8.00 in the evening so Sheila’s first sight wasn’t brilliant, I had been previously a couple of years ago. The taxi journey from the airport goes through a lot of the less scenic parts of Budapest, although we did pass the football stadium which was a good size and really looked the part. Thankfully by the time we arrived at the hotel the rain had stopped and luckily it stayed dry for the rest of the holiday.
The hotel we had chosen was in the centre of Pest and check-in was a bit of a joke as the key system had crashed when we arrived meaning we had to be escorted to our door and let into the room. It took until mid way through the following day to get a key card that worked. The room itself was in need of a lot of TLC – holes in the plaster work where shelves etc had been removed, a shower that was great as long as you were under 4 foot tall and a view of the back of the apartment block next door. But it was close to the Basilica and all the other touristy things, I’ll not name it to spare their blushes.
For those who haven’t been to Budapest, the City is really two towns united and separated by the River Danube (which isn’t blue but a rather mucky grey), Buda is on the West bank of the river whilst Pest occupies the Eastern bank. Buda is the more picturesque half of the city but lacks the shops and bistros that you find in Pest, which is the more industrial side. There are several bridges crossing the Danube, with the Chain Bridge being probably the most central, this is more or less on a line from the Basilica in Pest to the Castle in Buda, North of this there is the Margaret Bridge with road and tram traffic, whilst South of the Chain Bridge is the Elizabeth bridge which leads to the foot of Gellert Hill on the Buda side. There are a total of eight bridges but the others are further away from the tourist areas
High above the city you have the Liberty Statue, visible from most of the city the statue is 14 metres tall atop a 26m pedestal at the Southern end of the Citadella ( fortress) on the summit of Gellert Hill. The best way to visit is to take the hop on/hop off bus and let that take the strain. The walk down through the woods is not to be missed as the views of the Danube and across Pest are fantastic.
The statuary in Budapest is everywhere, there’s hardly a street corner without at least a token piece of art. These range from the young lady with a dog not far from the Intercontinental Hotel in Pest to the huge war memorial by the Buda end of the Margaret Bridge. Probably the most photographed is the fat policeman just down the street from the Basilica, judging by the sheen of his tum people give him a pat daily. The most poignant piece of artwork is the memorial to those killed by the Arrow Cross militia (local NAZI party) during WWII, the shoes along the Pest side of the Danube are extremely moving to see.
Another moving place is the Dohany Utca Synagogue – the building is architecturally very interesting and is well worth a visit for that alone but the garden area is even more moving. The raised flower beds in this area are a little more than ordinary flower beds – they are the site of the mass graves of those poor Jewish people who succumbed during the Second World War when this was part of the ghetto for Pest. Alongside the graves stands the Weeping Willow sculpture whose leaves bear the names of many of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews killed during the War.
On a lighter note no visit to Budapest would be complete without a trip on the Danube, we were greedy we took two. One during the daytime was lovely as the sun was out and it was a glorious hot afternoon, the second trip was at night and it was the exact opposite in that as soon as the sun disappeared the temperature on the river dropped like a stone. Neither of us had prepared for this so by the time we got back to the dock we were two icicles.
There’s one other statue that is a must see and I am so glad that this time I was able to get to see it close too. that’s the Turul bird statue in the Castle grounds. When you look towards the Castle the bird dominates the view. The Turul is the legendary state bird of Hungary, a sort of cross between an eagle and a vulture. The Castle is another beautiful area but again I’d suggest catching the bus up to it and then walking down. When we were there the buses couldn’t drive up the hill due to roadworks and boy is the climb steep. The main building is now an art gallery but there are other buildings housing government offices and even a barracks. The views across the city from Castle Hill are as good as those from Gelert Hill.
To finish off this little blog I’ve posted 3 of my favourite murals seen in the city, I have no idea who did them but they are great – especially the last one which really gives that playground a countryside feel.