As a traveler, one’s perception of a place is limited to the sum total of the short experiences of the stay. Often we relay our interpretation to others, thus creating a positive or negative image of a place and its people.
It was the last weekend of July 2012, when we took a train to Budapest, Hungary. The selection of this destination was driven by the fact that this time my father was with us, it was after 30 years that he was visiting Europe, and Budapest was the city he had visited then. Nostalgia and pride in being able to take my parents to the place made us select Hungary as our destination.
Arriving by train to the Keleti station, we purchased daypasses for the Metro system. Our stop(Blaha Lujza tér) was the first one on the M2 line, after a short walk we checked in to the Locust tree apartments which we had booked for the weekend. It was a hot weekend, and the city was sweltering. Right after the check in, we had to start picking up places to visit. My father, was keen on using a hop-on hop-off tour, not my first preference but it was alright.
We walked to the New York cafe, that was the stop but we missed the bus while just crossing the road. With half an hour to spare, we decided to enter the New York cafe. Little did I expect that it would be a charming place. Built over a 100 years ago as a part of the New York Insurance company’s office cafe, this eclectic cafe is now a part of a five star hotel. Nationalized during the communist era, it has been revived and boy it is a must visit place. A round of ginger ales, iced teas and a Sacher torte, it was the perfect beginning to the weekend.
Budapest is a combination of two cities – Buda and Pest. After crossing the famous Sisi bridge, named after the Princess Elisabeth of Hapsburgs. We arrived the Citadel on the top of the Gellert hill, Citadel was an outpost of the Hapsburg’s and later the communists, is it interesting to note that Buda (the hilly side of the city) was the northern border of the Roman empire. The Citadel offers an amazing view of the city, and that explains why it was of strategic importance as a military outpost. It also houses one of the last remaining signs of the communist era, the Statue of Liberty. The statue was constructed celebrating peace, at the end of the World War, and can be seen from the shores of the Danube.
After descending from the Citadel, we crossed the Palace, the Mathias Church and returned to the shores of the Danube. We then took a short river cruise on the Danube, luckily the ticket was already paid for as free coupons from the Hop on-off tour.
Late evening cruise in the river was calming, the views of the Castle hill, Chain bridge, the Parliament from the river blended with the golden glow of the sunset. Returning to our hotel, we dined and ventured out again at night. The nighttime visit to Danube shores and the Fashion street painted a very different picture of Budapest, bustling restaurants and bars with street side performers just set the mood. The Chain bridge and the Castle Hill on the opposite shore were surreal, party limousines and boats were pretty common. This was the high point of our visit, it was delightful to the senses.
Next morning, our first stop was the Great Market Hall(Nagycsarnok), I specially enjoyed the place with shops selling traditional Hungarian fare, fresh produce, souvenirs and Hungarian food. The sheer scale of the activities was a refreshing change from the regular European experience. I could also sink my teeth into the Dobos Torte and it was yum!
From the Market Hall, we moved to the Castle Hill, and used the funicular to go up the hill. By this time it was too sunny and the July heat was unbearable. After visit to the Castle, the President’s office and the famed Mathias church with the Fisherman’s Bastion we returned back to the town.
The last morning was spent on the trip to the Great Synagogue, the courtyard filled with marked and unmarked graves of the Hungarian Jews who perished here during the Great war made the mood very solemn. It is difficult to imagine, that such terrible events occurred in such a peaceful place. Our next stop was St. Stephens Basilica, this is one of the must visit places in Budapest. The splendid baroque dome is also a viewing gallery, the ceiling from within the Basilica is lower than the dome itself. The cupola is simply outstanding, the inner walls and pillars are delicately ornamented.
From Basilica, we attempted to visit the Opera House, unfortunately it was not open to visitors. We moved on to the House of Terror, which was at the next train stop from Opera house. The House of Terror, is a museum like no other, devoted to the history of Hungary from the beginning of the World War till today. The themes in different rooms, with real artifacts, prison cells, documents and uniforms of the NSDAP agents/Arrow cross supporters. The House of Terror brings out in the open the opression of Hungarians and serves as a reminder that it must happen never again…
The House of terror was the last stop in our journey, with that we returned back to Keleti and took the scheduled train to Switzerland. Thus our trip to Budapest came to an end, it offered us much more than we had expected.
- Keleti railway station is a confusing place, flights more preferable
- The Hop on Hop off tours are useful, however there is nothing which will miss if you choose to travel by Metro.
- Be aware of the opening times of the Great Market Hall and the Synagogue.
- Get your money changed at before arrival, better than attempting shady money changers.