Thursday, May 5, 2016

Buda and Pest, a tale of two cities


How did I even get here? All I can say it was the on the way, even if it wasn't on the agenda. But I'm glad, because it has to be one of my favorite cities.

So, it is in Hungary I never knew that Hungary's patron saint is no less than the Virgin Mary, and what's more, most Hungarians are Catholic. The currency is the Forint, and it is in the Schengen Zone.

And the nation has another turbulent and troubled past. Hungarian civilisation though has survived, despite successive invasions by Roman, Huns, Avars, Mongols, Ottomans, Habsburgs, German and Communists and probably others I can't name. That turbulence has continued since Soviet rule ended in 1989 but Budapest feels very safe and welcoming.

I could happily walk the streets and look at the buildings for days on end but what else is there to do in Budapest? I bought a three-day pass on the public transport and the best thing about that was that it included a ferry service up and down the Danube. Who needs a private balcony on a Viking Cruise (not that I'd turn down an offer)? While I was on the last ferry of the day, the sun set and the lights came on and I turned into this idiot tourist running from one side of the boat to other taking photo after photo - no, you don't Have to see them. Unless you ask of course.

Four-star dining on the Viking Boat
but the ferry is almost free and has a bar

The Hungarian Parliament buildings, modeled
on Westminster but one foot longer. 

That Castle.

There were two walking tours, one with Zoltan taking in the main sights of the Old Town on the Pest side and finishing up at the Cathedral on the hill over on the Buda side, the other with Rachel who led a tour of the Jewish Quarter that had an even better end spot, in one of the Ruin Bars, which because this was Sunday, had a farmers' market going on in the courtyard.

Rachel is studying Jewish culture and history at the Jewish University. She did a fabulous tour that hit all the right notes and didn't gloss over the past. Her words inspired me to go back to the Great Synagogue that afternoon to join a march called the March of the Living, an event held every year to remember the liberation of Auschwitz.

A memorial courtyard at one of the synagogues -
mass graves

In the fabulous Ruin Bar, Szimpla

I stayed on the Pest side in the first modern building I have slept in for weeks. My single room was quiet and spacious (guys, you could fit at least 4 bunk beds in there) with excellent bathroom facilities just over the corridor and basic kitchen facilities and hardly anyone else on my floor. It was near the walking street with all the restaurants, close to one of the universities and the main market hall, on the Pest side of town. As good as a hotel and one hundred times better than the Intercontinental which occupies on of the ugliest modern buildings ever all the worse for having a prime river-front location. Boycott them!

The thing I didn't do in Budapest was to soak in a mineral spring. There are famous old bath houses that have modern spa facilities and open air hot pools but there was just too much to see and I didn't spare the time, so when I'm next in Budapest, that's my first stop.

Three things I recommend doing
visit the castle - not so much for the castle itself but for the views and the lovely streets and parkland around the area
ride the no. 22  tram along the river and pick up the ferry to get back
stick your nose into the churches and synagogues.

One thing I want to do - come back again.

Trompe d'oeil 

Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park, at the end
of Andrassy Avenue,
which is World Heritage listed

This is the Fisherman's Bastion, a bit of a folly up by the Castle which lovely views across to Pest over the Danube.

City of bridges

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