Budapest was the last destination of my fabulous trip in Central Europe. I have spent there three days and two nights arriving with a lot of expectation. Does the city deserve its good reputation? I can confirm, Budapest is obviously a pearl for any tourist seeking for an original and warm city to embrace.
The Hungarian capital is perhaps the few cities I always wanted to see with my eyes that was the hardest to get, it has a not really convenient location, not on my way while travelling between France and the Baltic States. If Poland or Lithuania are and Slovakia not so far, Hungary isn’t that natural to plan a trip by. It is more a final destination, a target, a goal by itself and not a stopover. For example last winter I chose to go to Austria, in Vienna the other capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, I regretted it because it was expensive as usual and the weather was as bad as it was the first time I visited it. Made a mistake once, not twice. But hopefully someday I will see the sun in Austria!
I travel a lot, staying most of the time in hostels I have started to get my habits in this kind of accommodation. Before I check the location, write down phone number and I am ready to go, thinking of my visit. I became a professional in that sport, I now book my room the day I need it wherever I am. I have also stopped to check for all hostel’s details. That trip to Budapest reminds me that sometime I should do.
When I was in the train from Bratislava I felt the need to look at my booking reservation, I saw that the hostel hasn’t got a 24h opened reception. Closing normally at 20:00, the receptionist gave me a call when she didn’t saw me arriving, I answered her around 22:00 … when my train entered one of the stations. She was nice enough to give me instructions how to reach hostel, my train didn’t arrived at the station I was expecting! Stress appeared when I had to deal with the metro and the local currency, I couldn’t find a bank and the entrance of the metro station… In addition outside of the station was a lot of strange people…
Luckily for me the hostel was good, a large common space, our own kitchen, perfect location between the Elisabeth square and the Andrássy avenue, and two steps away from the Saint Stephen Basilica! Awesome!
Exploring Buda and Pest
Saint Stephen basilica
With three days in front of me I chose to sleep the first night and to not go out. The morning after I began my visit with a map I got in hostel and intuition. I went firstly to the Basilica of Saint Stephen, a large building near Elisabeth square and probably the closet monument from my hostel. I have been inside, paying a fee of 100 forints. The interior impressed me, dark but warm golden colours everywhere. There was also some document presenting the construction of the relatively new building (1905) with text and photos, nothing in English.
I continued to the Liberty square ( Szabadság tér) where is the Soviet War Memorial and large residential buildings, I felt like to be in the fancy districts of Paris. Then I moved to the Danube, walking and following the tramways to the Chain Bridge. The bridge, facing the magnificent Gresham Palace, is one of the most known monuments of Budapest. It has been opened in 1849 and survived two World Wars (being destroyed and rebuilt actually). It has been the first bridge to connect the cities of Buda and Pest, marking the birth of Budapest, capital of Hungary and important center of the region.
From the Chain Bridge to the Buda Castle
Walking for the first time on this legendary bridge (and also under it, almost bathing in the Danube) and I was on the Buda side, known to be exclusive and expensive. Contrary to Pest which is flat, Buda is built on a hill, the lower part isn’t special but the upper part (the Castle district) has nearly all the jewels of the city. The hill and its surrounding have been classed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. When I came the Royal Palace was in construction and the easy way to access was closed. I hopped to find another one behind the hill but it cost me a very long walk… Arrived on top I couldn’t find the way to the Palace, I actually saw an old part of the previous castle but it had no open access to the terrace I wanted to go…
Not disappointed, I followed the impressive tourists flow that led me to the Fisherman’s Bastion! I don’t know what idea was behind such construction but I like it. The location is perfect and provides a view on all Pest and the Danube, and the architecture is very unique! Next to it stand the equestrian statue of Stephen the First, King of Hungary, and the Matthias church on the Trinity square. I was more impressed by the amount of people, tourism buses and temporary shops than by the beauty of the place, and it is wonderful!
Meeting my student
I made a tour in the rest of the Castle district and left to the lower part. I had a appointment with Anna, Hungarian student that will go to Tallinn for Erasmus, one of my futur Erasmus student, she took care of me in Budapest before I had to do the same in Tallinn for her.
We met for the first time on a square under the funicular, at the large painting of the Hungarian Coats of Arms. From that time I followed my personal guide in the streets of Pest and more (I even found the Lithuanian embassy in one of the most tourist street of Budapest!). We went to the Czerpes Tejivo restaurant to have lunch and talk, then I took the tramways for the first time to go to the BME University, on the Buda side. A small tour in the campus and attending the first ESN orientation day organised by this section!
The Gellért hill and panorama
She had business to deal with and let me explore the city alone again. My new target was the Gellért hill, not connected to the Castle hill but also hard to climb, though a forest or park. I found there the Liberty monument and the Citadel. A particular thing I didn’t expected to see there was the Cave chapel, located inside… a cave 🙂
Evening walk and party
I still had some energy and couldn’t stay in my hostel, so after a dinner at TGI Friday I walked to a place recommended by Anna near the Parliament, a discopub. Entrance was three euros and included three beers! It was crazy, similar to the Tallinn‘s Nimeta but bigger! My night was good and I had fun, it made me tired enough to sleep well but not too tired so I can walked all the way back.
A second day full
The Millennium’s walk
The weather became very cold, I had my Hungarian friend Zsuzsa who wanted to see see in the morning before she left Pest. We walked along the Andrássy avenue to the Heroes Square. The avenue is told to be inspired by the Champs Elysée, I agree although there is no fancy shop around. Andrássy starts from my hostel and has probably only one notable monument: the National Opera building. The Hősök (herroes) square as well as the metro and avenue has been made to commemorate the settle of the Hungarian tribes in this Slavic region, it is a famous place of Budapest, a very large square with a high column mounted by a statue of Gabriel angel. Behind it are arcades and statue of epic Hungarians, I saw a photo and during the Soviet occupation both column and arcades were covered with a red linen to hide all nationalistic symbols.
Two steps from the monument is the small Vajdahunyad castle that has been built also for the Millennium. Erected near a pond, it looks voluntary old and authentic. It has a church that have a copy of the façade of an old famous Hungarian church. In the park I saw a statue of Anonymous, a famous writer.
The yellow metro line is the oldest metro of Europe, it has been the first metro line opened on the continent (England doesn’t count haha) and is called « underground », the term metro referring to the two others lines opened after 1896. Because it is legendary and part of the World Heritage list I wanted to have a ride in it. Zsuzsi accepted and we came back to the centre with it. I was grandly surprised by the statement of the stations. They are really well preserved and look the same as hundred years ago!
Market and centre of Budapest
Before Zsuzsi had to leave me also, we walked in the centre of Pest where are plenty of high buildings and shops. All this week of walking had reason on my shoes, totally broken they finished by hurting me. I spotted some shops where to buy new shoes on Vaciu street. When my friend left me we were in front of the Greats Market Hall of Budapest, she said goodbye and took the tramway. I entered the halls and had some shopping. The hall is big and looks nicer than the one in Riga, but still it is smaller than the Latvian one.
I returned to the centre and stopped at a sport shop, found two pairs of shoes in promotion and paid no more than 50 euros for Fila plus Nike 🙂 Comfort is affordable in Hungary.
Walk along the Danube
After lunch I passed on the Chain Bridge and walked along the Danube to be in front of the Parliament. The way is quite long and the pedestrian line is separated from the river by a large road… but since it is higher we can still see perfectly the river banks.
I have turned myself in the opposite direction of the Parliament (indeed) to climb the Buda’s hill a second time. But before I made a tour of the district down the hill to find the market square Batthyany tér and some churches. It is maybe not the prettiest part of Buda but at least the stairs to the hill reminded me Montmartre a lot! Among the lower churches I only remember the Reformed church near the Market Hall, and the Saint Anne of Felsővíziváros church nearby.
Buda Palace and the old castle’s ruins
Climbed the hill and I arrived on a empty castle district, comparing to two days ago I barely see a visitor there. I came using by a passage finish at the equestrian statue of Stephen the First on the Fisherman’s Bastion’s square. I was happy of what I saw, coloured roof of the Matthias church on a deep blue sky! Temperature raised and I finally felt to be in holidays 🙂
I explored the castle district, looking at all these nice and warm houses. Behind them was a large street along the hill offering a panorama on the other side. I could see the Gellért hill and the down-town from there! I made a break near a fountain, not sure the water was drinkable even if someone was drinking it, and continued my way enjoying the hotness of the weather. I found the Palace and what I though to be old Roman ruins. An explicative note was left saying that this dead stones belongs to the former Medieval Castle demolished in the year 1715.
The Palace terrace has one of the most famous panorama, where we can see the Parliament almost embracing the Chain Bridge. Beside it, the courtyard was maybe more beautiful with a garden and the great fountain of Matthias hunting. I realised that the funicular arrived directly at the Palace’s gate, but the fee is way to much expensive for this service. It is asked to pay 3 or 4 euros, more than twice what is need to pay to climb the Gediminas hill in Vilnius.
Elisabeth square, Night walk
The sun became lower and temperature too, I have went back to my hostel to wear a new layer of clothe. I sat at the open pub terrace on Elisabeth square, maybe the best place to hang out in Budapest, every night I have seen thousand of people drinking, smoking and talking.
My beer finished and took a wifi-break in hostel, waiting for the night. I wanted to make few photos of Budapest by night which would have been awesome. But I didn’t had my tripod and the wind was super strong, it resulted in no good pictures for me… I didn’t waste my time because I really enjoy the atmosphere of Pest when the night came. On the bank of the Danube are two statues: the first of a girl playing with her dog and the second of a little girl sitting on the handlebar. An Asian guy was dressing the first with its clothes for a photo while the second was surrounded by tourists listening the speech of a guide. From what I heard that Little Princess was the first public art statue place in Budapest, though she became famous and a landmark of the Hungarian city.
After having packed my luggage I had three hours free and I went to the Heroes square a second time, the clouds were all gone and I wanted my photos with a blue background. I used the metro to get there and discovered a new way to pay my ticket. After observing tourists getting confuse and nervous with the automatic machine, I tried to buy two ticket for me. Surprisingly there was no clear instruction in English, and I couldn’t buy my tickets… as you know each station have at least two security agents, there was one who gave me the tickets, he seems trained to help lost tourists.
On the Heroes square was again a lot of tourists, I made a tour to the Vajdahunyad Castle expecting to get better photos there, I could just met a movie making team and staff prevented me to walk in the park or along the lake… After using the oldest metro line of Europe for the last time, I step out by the Danube, the sun was so good that I keep a wonderful last image of Budapest, its river, its bridge and its castle.
I walked to the hotel, passing the animated area of Pest, took my bag and jump in the first metro. It is relatively easy to reach the airport from the centre. Take the blue line to the last station and then the bus 200E for the airport and that’s all 🙂 The journey takes about 50 minutes. I took a (too) large safety margin and arrived in the airport more than a hour earlier, sat on the ground because no bench before the check-in… Budapest has two terminal but only the modern terminal 2 is in used, big enough and comfortable, the passengers zone is good and the duty-free has Palinka 🙂 My flight was with a stop in Riga where I the plane from Riga to Tallinn was almost empty, I felt like in a private jet :p