We planned a self-guided walking tour through the streets of Pest and Buda for our second day in the city.
We awoke and had a bit of an adventure trying to find the hotel restaurant. It was located outside the Three Corners Anna Superior hotel in the courtyard. So after using 2 stairs before ending back at the lift we took the lift we should have taken in the first place. My mind isn’t the best before Coffee.
The breakfast was adequate, but the coffee was a little weak and the selection ample for one or two days but not more. They did have those delicious Hungarian strudel things, with fruit or cottage cheese fillings. Of course I tried both.
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After breakfast we checked out and enquired about a better means back to the airport than walk-tram-walk-bus. The inevitable suggestion was a taxi and they had a special rate of 8000 ft. It seemed cheap vs the hell from the day before. So we confirmed a Taxi for 315pm. Oh I neglected to tell you we would rent a car through rentalcars.com from Budapest Airport before heading towards Eastern Hungary.
We took the same route as the previous day into the city but this time traversing the Elisabeth Bridge. Again the architecture from simple regular buildings to the Budapest Inner City Mother Church of the blessed virgin really caught my eye. I adore the steeples of churches in Hungary.
Crossing to Buda
It’s a good walk across the bridge and gives a good overview to the south of Gellert Hill and the Rudas Baths. To the north the sprawling buildings of Castle hill are enticing. There was a refreshing breeze blowing through the natural funnel that is the Danube, or the Duna as it is called locally. Our route took us to the base of the Gellert Hill (one to explore another day) before we made some cutbacks to the Duna and up Ybl Miklos Ter. There is a spectacular array of buildings and monuments along the docks. A spate of museums lies on this stretch and outside the medical museum stands some enormous statues of fighting soldiers. It’s part of an exhibit on World War I. Nina was bemused by them.
Further on we came across the Castle gardens Bazaar which is a renovated complex of exhibition halls and gardens. The original buildings are from the 19th century. The gardens are accessed by neo-renaissance gateway lavishly adorned with statues and featuring an interior fountain. Two beautiful arches stand to each side. The structures are what one would expect in the more Mediterranean countries and the gardens are a welcome slice of colour in a city renowned for its architecture.
We stopped for ice cream and while sitting Nina had an argument with a mud dauber wasp. Thankfully she wasn’t stung, the thing looked scary, but her screaming and jumping scared me half to death. Nina’s not a big fan of bugs.
We had intended to take the Siklo Funicular up to Buda Castle but when we got there the queue was enormous. We said to ourselves, there’s always the way back down. We took to the path and stairs that runs up the hill adjacent to the funicular. It’s a steep climb especially if you take the shortcut up the embankment. There are footbridges running over the funicular which give great views down over the chain bridge. Alternatively you can complete the climb to the top where similar views are from a higher position.
The grand entrance of Sandor Palace complete with ornamental gates and magnificent wall mounted eagles greet you at the top of the hill. Sandor Palace is the official residence of the president of Poland. It’s also the location of the Changing of the Guard and we were lucky enough to stumble upon it. There was a large crowd assembled so some strain was placed on my back as I had to lift Nina to see the pomp. To think I used to carry this little person around. The changing of the guard consists of a good gun salute, and much marching and drumming. It’s not on a par with that at Buckingham Palace but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless.
Budapest Castle has evolved throughout the centuries from the original defensive function, through the building of many palaces, to its modern day functions. The many palaces now play host to branches of Hungary’s main institutions from the National Library, the National Gallery, to the History Museum. It would in honesty take several days to explore it in totality.
As you walk north through the district past Sandor Palace, old stone walls and foundations lie to the left. Views beyond district 1 and over to the city to the buda hills provide the backdrop. The buildings of the castle district are all maintained in impeccable condition. Our destination was the Matthias Church which was located in the heart of the castle.
The Matthias Church is a Catholic Church and it’s decoration is in keeping with the ideologies of the Roman institution. It’s elaborately designed spire has glorious gargoyles and the diamond pattern roof tiles are a magnificent highlight. It really is a gorgeous church and one of the most beautiful in Hungary.
The church hasn’t always looked like this. It was originally constructed in 1015 before being completely rebuilt in the gothic style in the 14th Century. It served time as a mosque during the occupation of the city by the Turks. A major refurbishment in the 19th century was responsible for the roof tiles and the spire.
We were greeted by an enormous queue however for tickets to enter the church. The ticket office is next to the Szent Istvan Szobra statue and we baulked at the length of the queue and decided to keep our visit external. We proceeded to explore the area with the attractive statue of Hungary’s first king providing an introduction to the spectacular Fisherman’s Bastion beyond.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is second only to the Parliament building in terms of the aesthetics of buildings in my opinion. Taking the place of a defunct wall, the bastion was built to provide a medium to look down upon the best views in Budapest. But the bastion isn’t all about the views. It’s a series of balconies and steps, accompanied by seven turrets. The seven turrets represent the seven tribes that formed Hungary and the bastion takes its name from the Fisherman’s guild that once protected this part of the city. The current structure was built in the 19th century during the golden age of Hungarian architecture.
The main pleasures to be derived here are from simply walking through the bastion and traversing it’s stairs. One of the taller turrets can be accessed at a cost of 800 forint. This gives access to a seated area and comes with a free drink. It’s a welcome respite from the heat especially as there is air conditioning. Of course the views from here are again spectacular both to the rear over the Matthias Church and down to the Danube and the Parliament Building. On the top floor of the turret there is a model of Budapest, with interactive lights on all of the city’s main attractions. Nina really enjoyed this and I imagine she learned a few things about the geography of the city from it.
We continued our walking tour briefly into the northern parts of the castle until the boundary of the Vienna Gate. It’s worth coming this way for two churches, the first being the Castle Evangelist Church, which has a superb steeple reaching above the pristine buildings of the district. The interior is rather bland in comparison. The other church, or the remnant of one is the Mary Magdalene Church, where only the tower remains. It has been restored and you can climb the 172 steps to the tops for views. The viewing deck is enclosed which may suit those with vertigo, but it detracted from the views and the photos. It was a little disappointing having paid 1500 Ft.
Taking the Historical Route Back
On our return route we stumbled upon the Budapest Labyrinth. Nina was immediately enthralled. It cost us a Hungarian arm and leg to go in. It’s a break from the heat but besides that it doesn’t have too many endearing qualities. There is a searing smell of damp. The tunnels under the castle are quite extensive but as you travel deeper they become darker and darker. It was at this point Nina decided she didn’t like Labyrinth’s so we backtracked and found our quickest way out. Perhaps it’s best without the kids.
Our final stop at the castle was the Fountain of King Matthias. It’s located at the main entrance to the castle. The fountain depicts a hunting party led by King Matthias (a 15th century Hungarian king), who stands above a slain stag. It’s a popular place for photos and selfies, and is Hungary’s answer to the Trevi Fountain. The sculptor was Alajos Strobl and the fountain was erected in 1899.
We arrived back at the Siklo Funicular to the welcome sight of no queues. I was a little self-congratulatory on my earlier thinking that what goes up must come down. The Castle Hill Funicular as its also known by, costs 1200 ft so around €4. It’s a little steep, but so is the descent. It only travels 95 metres, but down around 50 metres in altitude. The ride only roughly takes a minute but a word of advice, take your photos from the top, it’s difficult through the windows of the carriage. The funicular runs every ten minutes and operate from 7:30am-10pm. The carriages are maintained in a pretty period style; they were constructed in 1870, and at the time it was only the second in Europe. World War II took its toll, but they were subsequently restored to their original specs.
Alighting from the funicular, cast your head over your shoulder. There is a beast of a tunnel running under the castle known as Budai Varalagut. It’s opening has looks like the mouth of a whale. and though a little dirty the arch like entrance is very impressive. Adam Clark the famous Scottish engineer aided in its design, but his attentions were focused on what lies in front. The Chain Bridge (Szechenyi Bridge) is the most impressive of the bridges that cross the Danube, and it was also the first permanent bridge on the river. This suspension bridge was opened in 1849. It is best seen at night when it is luminated but its amazing to cross by day too, and marvel at its construct. From the imposing lions that sit guard on the bridge entrance to the stone towers that break up all the wrought iron, it’s a beauty. The Pest side of the bridge greets you with the art-nouveau luxury of the Gresham Palace Hotel.
We were running short on time so we took the quickest possible route back to our hotel from here. As ever Budapest defied me and left me longing for more. I’ll be back.
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