Budapest - Magnificence on the Danube
By Bill Vanderford
Even before I left home for my trip on Eurail (http://www.eurail.com/home) through Europe, most of my men friends had told me that I would enjoy the beauty of the women during my visit to Prague ..... and they were partly right. I saw many statuesque beauties, but their faces were often hard and unfriendly. In Budapest, it was a different story. The ladies on both sides of the Danube River were tall, gorgeous, friendly, and had faces that made you stare! However, that was just a small part of the beauty, history, and magnificence of Budapest!
This old Hungarian city can give you a day-to-day feeling of a large, modern metropolis, or it can take you back to medieval times with a simple turn of the head.
The best way to see Budapest is by staying in a central location on the Pest side of the river like the Evergreen Bed and Breakfast (www.evergreenbudapest.hu). From here, you can easily walk to many of the most interesting historical places. These include the Margarate Bridge that was partly designed by the famous French architect, Gustave Eiffel; the Palatinus Buildings, the Lánczy House, the Haggenmacher House, and the Mahler House where Gustav Mahler lived when he directed at the Opera House. That, too, is within a stone’s throw of the Evergreen, as is The Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Western Railway Station where you can still see Gustave Eiffel’ s name carved into the iron columns of the glass hall. This area also offers evening entertainment, restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops. Probably the most famous of these is the New York Coffee House, long considered one of the most beautiful coffee houses in Europe.
According to records, the first settlement along the Danube at Budapest was around the time of the birth of Christ. Later, the Romans came and built roads, baths, and numerous other buildings before the Bulgarians defeated them and went on to build the fortress cities of Buda and Pest on each side of the river. The Hungarians finally captured the area around the 9th century, though it wasn’t until 1873 that Buda and Pest were joined to become the city of Budapest and the capital of Hungary.
To really enjoy any visit to Budapest, walk down to the Danube on the Pest side and follow the promenade along the river to the Chain Bridge; then take the walkway across the bridge to the Buda side. Carefully navigate the roundabout – Hungarian drivers come at you every which way - and buy a ticket for the tram that’ll take you to the top of Gellert Hill. Climbing a 48 per cent grade for about the distance of a football field, it saves your energy for exploring the fortress and affords you one of the most picturesque panoramas in the world.
Wandering off the main roads into tiny side streets in the Castle District is to absorb the wonderful feeling of going back to the Middle Ages. Sneak peeks into hidden courtyards, sights of beautifully restored houses, and colorful coat of arms embedded into the walls are all along the way. And you don’t have to worry about getting lost because all major streets in the Castle District meet at Holy Trinity Square, right in front of the Matthias Church. In ancient times, this square was the main marketplace and the site of many public executions.
Stroll along the pale gray ramparts of Fisherman’s Bastion, for great views of the lower parts of Buda, the Danube River, and most of the flatter Pest side of the river. On a clear day, the view is spectacular!
Numerous museums and galleries are located in the Castle District, and it’s worthwhile to visit inside the Matthais Church to see the 700-year old interior design, and hope that you catch one of the many organ concerts because the acoustics alone are amazing.
That anything has survived at all after World War II is equally amazing considering the devastating air raids by allied bombers during 1944 and 1945, and the Russian bombardment and siege of the city in early 1945. Also, after Hungary became a communist people’s republic in 1949, the government viewed buildings in the Buda Castle District as symbols of the former regime, and destroyed most of them.
The Hungarian Revolution, which began with peaceful demonstrations in Budapest in 1956, was the start of Hungary as you experience it today. Although Russian tanks and soldiers crushed that early movement in less than a month ..... killing more than 3,000 people, the tragic episode was followed by a long period of rebuilding that continued through the occupation, but is still occurring today. And its Jewish population has returned, too. Prior to World War II, Budapest had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe and although more than 100,000 were killed during the war, this capital city is home to the highest Jewish population per capita of any city in Europe.
Whether history buff or camera enthusiast, modern Budapest has managed to survive its history of destruction to become one of the most photographic cities in Europe. The Pest side of the Danube is fairly flat and houses mostly modern commercial growth, restaurants, shops and nightlife; Buda is part of the Danube Embankment that begins rising from the riverbank to nearly 500 feet, and contains most of the treasures of the past, including the royal history of the Hungarian people. The two cites joined become the phenomenal mixture of past and present, and you need to see both sides of its duality to appreciate all it has to offer.
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