Saturday, November 7, 2009

Budapest at a glance...

It is hard to believe that it has been almost 3 months since our trip to Budapest! It is even harder to believe that I am just now posting the pictures!! I am going with the old cliche; Better late than never.
Budapest is a city that has experienced every possible up as well as every possible down. It was once a capital for the Austro-Hungarian empire and that is when Parliament was commissioned. Designed by an architect who studied in London, it closely resembles the English Parliament building in London. However, I must admit that given Hungary's current position in Europe and the world, this building looks incredibly out of place. We toured the interior and were amazed by the marble floors, walls, columns... it was everywhere and then we learned it was all fake! The hundreds of stained glass windows on the other hand are 100% real and 100% originals! During the German 'occupation' the windows were removed and stored under the building in sand and miraculously survived the war.
I use the work 'occupation' lightly because in the beginning Hungary was a German Ally. They tried to skirt the line they said in hopes of protecting their Jewish population but in reality... they were just as angry about their loses in World War I as the Germans were so they hopped on the Nazi bandwagon in an effort to regain their once prominent status in Europe. Before it was all over, Hitler ordered the country occupied and the Soviets 'liberated' the country in 1945 following a months-long siege in Budapest that left the city in rubble. One in ten Hungarians died in the war and those that survived experienced 44 years of Communism. In the end, the Hungarian experience from golden era to communism has left the people somewhat pitiable. They feel like everything 'happened' to them.
It has taken the city longer than most to rebuild and repair the opulence of their streets, buildings, etc following the fall of the USSR. However, a few days in the city and it is easy to see that the efforts are heating up...
There is scaffolding on just about every street which is not an unusual sight in Europe... but it is chunky wood scaffolding! The last time I saw wood scaffolding was when my grandfather had Mennonite carpenters working on his home in Tennessee!
Budapest was constantly trying to out-do Vienna in it's golden age. For Hungary's 1,000th birthday in 1896, the country commissioned buildings, parks and monuments by the hundreds including the Parliament building. However, I think the main thing they copied from Vienna was the cafe culture. Many of these cafes, like the one above, are being returned to their former glory. Most of the cafes are enormous and with the exception of a few utterly empty! The picture above was taken at about 1 pm along Andrasst Ut, one of the busiest streets in Budapest!
Another area undergoing renovation all over the city are the hotels. Budapest's fastest growing money maker is tourism so it makes since that the hotels are being spruced up. We stayed at the Art'otel along the Danube on the Buda side of the city. Our guide book listed the hotel as a $$$ splurge especially in peak season (when we were there, of course) but our room with it's amazing view of the river and Parliament was only a little over $100 a night!
The reception area and most of the rooms are in a modern, recently built building that is connected by a courtyard to a renovated row of townhouses. It was an interesting mixture of old and new that somehow worked. We ate our breakfast on the courtyard with the above balcony as our view.
Our room had views to the north of Parliament and to the south of Chain Bridge. Directly behind us was Castle Hill and an area known locally Buda Hills. Budapest was once two distinct cities, hilly Buda to the west of the Danube and flat Pest to the east. We tackled Buda in less than half a day and were disappointed to learn the the guide books were right to say that Castle Hill is much better from afar. The castle itself is a fake made to look real from a distance with faux painting. And while the Fisherman's Bastion was beautiful, it is more impressive to look up at it from the Pest side of the Danube. Amazingly enough, they charge you a few dollars to climb the stairs and walk about 25 yards along the top of the bastion. We watched tourist after tourist pay the fee and then exit within minutes a bit dejected only to find a free viewing area at the exit! Sometimes it literally pays to do your research before hand!

For a rather small city, Budapest has half a dozen bridges over the Danube. Above is the Liberty Bridge which leads right to the Gellert Hotel and Baths. Taking the waters is a Hungarian tradition that should not be missed! In our five days in Budapest we visited three thermal baths, once of which was also a water park, complete with wave pool and slides! There is nothing like soaking in hot, thermal pools after hiking all over the city.

We ended our time in Budapest at Keleti Station. Nothing makes me feel further from the US than a European train station. Though most are damp, dusty and covered with centuries of grime, it is impossible to not see what they must have been like in the hay day of train travel. They were built with attention to detail and make most modern day airports look like bus shelters! Too bad for us, our night train to Prague would quickly erase the romantic feelings of nostalgia for a bygone era and if the train ride itself didn't do the trick, the communist era train station on the other end would get the job done!

Next stop... Praha!
Until then, XOXO

1 comment:

LKipphut said...

Very nice tour through Budapest. Brought back memoires of our visit there several years ago. Just wish we had "taken the waters" too.
Can't wait to read what you post about our visit with you two weeks ago. Good times!