Tinged with the zestiness of paprika and steeped in a history of being ruled by Romans, Magyar kings, Turks, Nazis, Communists and blessed with a will to be free, Budapest is a city that lingers long in her visitors’ memories.
If you are traveling in the middle of Central Europe, adding the city to an itinerary is a must.
Having a duffel bag makes taking the bus from Vienna or train from Prague easy.
The Eagle Creek ES3 ORV Trunk 25 Wheeled Duffel is terrific for tackling both paved and cobbled streets.
Budapest is actually two cities – Buda and Pest. Separated by the famed Danube River, the two sections each have a distinctive flavor and flair.
Trams, buses, subways and taxis are easy modes of transportation to get around. If you want a taxi, do not hail it from the street. Instead have a hotel or guest house call one from a reliable company. Private cars are not allowed into Buda’s Castle Hill area. If you prefer to walk, cross the river at the Chain Bridge and walk up the winding streets approximately 20 minutes or take the funicular.
The Buda Castle dominates the stony hilltop high above the river. Its foundation dates back to the 13th century and many its rulers were not true Hungarian royals; for a time the Austria-Hungarian Empire was in control. After the Castle’s destruction during WWII, it was rebuilt to its former glory of 203 rooms. Many of them are now devoted to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest Historical Museum. The former has collections ranging from medieval stone carvings and late Gothic altarpieces to modern art.
Search out the Aquincum Museum. Here the ruins of a former Roman town can be found.
Panoramic vistas of the Danube and the Pest, especially the impressive Hungarian Parliament are found in various sections of Castle Hill. One in particular is the Fisherman Bastion. Its Gothic architecture belies the fact it was built from the late 19th to early 20th century. Pay during the day for the view or wait until nighttime for an unforgettable illumination. The ornate statue on horseback is King Stephen – Hungary’s first king.
Mattius Church across from the Bastion has – over the past nine centuries – been adapted into many styles. Its interior is unique blend of Art Deco with medieval accents.
Buda also has a series of public caves ready for exploration. Szemlőhegyi cave has an underground “garden” where rock formations resemble bunches of grapes and heads of cauliflower.
Above ground hunger will strike eventually. Quaint restaurants abound, many serving the national dishes – goulash, pörkölt and paprikas. Although they look similar it is easy to tell them apart. Goulash is stew with more soup and comes with potatoes or noodles. Pörkölt has no starch – like potatoes – and the paprikas are created with stewed meat, paprika and thick sour cream. Renowned Hungarian red wine from the Tokaj region is a perfect accompaniment.
Across the Danube, in Pest, the grandeur of the city’s architecture and monuments is best found at the State Opera House.
Neo-Renaissance in design, it features Baroque accents as well. Look up to the exterior of the building where 16 statues of musical greats from Mozart to Verdi can be seen.
Heroes Square’s statues, both those near the ground and those that soar in the air, honor kings and famed men of Hungary, including the seven tribal leaders who formed the country. Symbols of war, peace, work, welfare, knowledge and glory are also found.
Andrássy Avenue is Budapest’s most glamorous boulevard. However, a bit of the county’s dark past exists at number 60 where the House of Terror Museum is found. Black and white photos of 20th century victims from the Nazi occupation and years under Soviet rule line the outside wall. Inside, the stories are grim, terrifying and inspiring. The overall message is “never again”.
Before leaving, partake in a Budapest ritual. Hundreds of natural springs make going to a spa for a dip in a hot pool followed by a massage a common occurrence for everyone.
Not every Budapest souvenir will fit in your duffel bag. Some will just lodge in your heart.