Originally two different towns , Buda, and Pest, were merged in 1873 to form Budapest, the present day modern, throbbing, culturally varied and politically significant capital of Hungary. A rich history, dating back to the Celtic age, down through the days of the Roman civilization and into modern post WW II – 20th century, Budapest has its fair share of greatness and importance. Heres a funny thing : they almost decided to name it “Pestbuda “, but good sense prevailed at last !!! Buda lies on the west bank of the river Danube while Pest is on the east side.
We took a one day tour of Budapest during our South Central Europe tour of 2016. We drove into this thriving big city from the Tatras mountains of Slovakia. Though there were two other shorter routes we selected on this scenic one which passes through green meadows, forests and hilly landscape. We drove through the town of Banska Bystrica and then through Zvolen and finally reached Sturovo in the late afternoon. There were countless villages and towns, quiet old fashioned and picturesque. Small streams and rivulets ran alongside the road meandering at places , hiding behind plantations and orchards at other.Sturovo is the border town from the Slovakian side of the river Danube. The Ezstergom Basillica, perched above a hilly top is the Hungarian edifice on the other side of the Danube, the one which basks in the last rays of the setting sun.
Needless to say, after driving close to five hours from Starry Smokovec up in the Tatras mountains.we were looking for a much needed rest. We had some snacks and coffee, It feels relaxing along the banks of the Danube, with local families with their children playing alongside, the young and the lively spending time at the beer pub nearby. Strong music flew to our ears and the weather was chilly. Slowly, the sun went down behind us, and the rays dimmed by the time we had invigorated ourselves. Thee were a couple of trawlers and a ship moored on the Danube and it gave a wonderful setting to a great day of travelling.
We added one more country to our growing list of travelled destinations !! We crossed the Danube over Mária Valéria Bridge, about half a kilometer in length to enter Hungary. From here on, as you travel through local lanes and by lanes, and then once again to the highway, Budapest is about a half hour away. Once in the city, driving becomes a bit nightmarish with serpentine lanes of automobiles and traffic asking for attention. Budapest is a large European city, with its historical buildings and cultural monuments dotting various points and intersections of this lively city. We reached our hotel almost 8 in the evening. We had booked ourselves at Agape Aparthotel, pretty centrally situated in the touristy district of the city. Tired after the long day, the family decided to rest for the evening. We, the men, went for a small walk along the lanes and by lanes around the hotel and tried to absorb the scents of the city. We saw students enjoying a chat with their peers, office goers hurrying home bound , restaurants, cafeterias and pubs busy with the evening crowd. The cafes and bistros started to become more boisterous as the night approached. There were food stalls with food of different variety , from the Americanized burgers and Italian pizzas, to the Arabic shawarma and Chinese noodles. One important tip for you : Euros are not much welcome in Hungary. Though Hungary is a Schengen country in Europe, it uses its own currency known as HUF or the Hungarian Forint . There are quite a few currency exchangers in and around the touristy areas of the city , but they mostly close early in the evening @ 7pm.
A good night’s sleep and the new day started with tea made from the room’s kitchenette. We usually always prefer a room with a kitchenette since it allows you these little pleasures of home, and also reduces costs for breakfasts and dinner when it is not on the house. 🙂 With the steaming coffee mug in hand, I walked over to the attached balcony which looks over a bust commercial street of the city. Early morning peek from the small balcony of our room showed the civic workers, cleaning the roads an the garbage collection trucks patrolling the side streets and lanes. The common man mae way to work, the shops opening one at a time as the day brightened. We had plans to make this whirlwind tour of Budapest and had zeroed in on a few of its majour attractions.
Early morning, I peeked from the small balcony of our room as the city started coming back to life. We saw the civic workers, cleaning the roads and the garbage collection trucks patrolling the side streets and lanes. The common man made way to work, the shops began to lift their shutters, opening one at a time as the day progressed. By 9.30 we got ready after a shower and walked down to a local restaurant for our on-the-house-Breakfast. A hearty breakfast is always the right way to start a day. An hour later we were all ready for the city.
Now Budapest has quite a few options regarding transportation for checking out the city. The most common one is the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off tour. For families, ( we were two families together on this) this is a very nice option. Still we did not choose this since the tickets looked quite pricey for a one day option. Being very centrally located to the city is a secret to visit a large city in a short span time. City traffic is usually slow all over the world, and if you have to commute to and fro a few times, you loose some very valuable travel hours. In Budapest, as with Bratislava earlier, we had booked our selves in the touristy area, from where most attractions were a couple of kilometers away. I had previously plotted the locations on a map and worked out some distance. The main locations of Budapest were in about a walking tour of 5 to 6 kilometers.
Previous to Second World War, the nobles and the moneyed section of the society used to live around the Buda area of the city which is the western side of Danube. This was the more prosperous side of the town, with swankier buildings and the higher administrative and government offices with the officials being housed around here. The eastern side or the Pest side, was used to house the gentry as well as Jewish quarters. Post WW-II the once uncared Pest area began to develop as a homogeneous mix of people, and slowly transformed into the throbbing cultural center of the city that it is today.
The previous evening we had asked spoken with the hotel manager and asked for directions. The first spot that we visited was the Jewish Synagogue. It was less than a kilometer from our hotel, cobbled two way streets with Victorian buildings and masonry reaching to the rear side of the Synagogue. The Synagogue seemed to be a very frequented location and the frontal side had some spots to seat with the ticket counter having a queue in front of them.
From the Jewish Synagogue we walked towards the St. Stephen’s Basilica. The business hour was on and there were a lot of traffic plying the bust streets of Budapest. The Basilica is about a leisurely ten minutes walk from the synagogue. One tip, this is perhaps the best location to find a hotel for the short of time traveller. Most locations around Budapest are about a kilometer from here. Our blunder, we didn’t really visit the St Stephen’s Basilica when we should have, since it would have taken an hour or so more but instead we took to walk towards the Danube.
The hot weather was impeding our day tour, and were slowing us down a bit. There are a few bike/ cycle stands available around the St Stephen’s Basillica in Budapest where you can rent a bike and ride around the city. The charge is around 5 Euros an hour and there are a couple of different options. Since we had children as young as 8 in our group and not all were able to drive a bike this option didnt work for us.
Next to the Danube, picturesque with its boats and small barges, runs the local Tram line of Budapest Tram is pretty favoured by commuters and tourists too. On the opposite side lies the Buda Castlle, St Mathais Church and the Fisherman’s bastion. These were all in our to-do list but the mercury was steadily rising to mid day heat this September mid. Budapest is much warmer than the Tatras mountain and we felt that a drink and rest were becoming necessary . I had a teen daughter and my companion was travelling with younger kids in the family. We just seemed to feel that leaving out the Big Red Bus had been a mistake when we found our charm. A rickshaw.
A rickshaw (as it is known in India and many parts of Asia) is a tricycle with the steering/ pedalling left for one to drive (sometimes has a motor). It seats two to three passengers based on the width and also has options for a roof over the head. We found one, and the driver approached us and offered to show around the city. He also said he will find a friend to include both families. A bit of negotiations and he agreed for 20 Euros for an hour and a half of sightseeing. We were game.
This was one of the best decisions we took to see Budapest, and we will follow this up in our next post. We started towards Shoes on the Danube as our next spot and followed it up with a visit to the Parliament Square of Budapest.
To be continued ….