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krisek Budapest - A travel report by Krys
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Budapest,  Hungary - flag Hungary -  Budapest
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krisek's travel reports

Budapest for the second time dazzles even more.

  7 votes
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Sometimes dubbed 'the second Paris', Budapest is truly a remarkable city. I would definitely subscribe to that comparison. The city boasts countless palaces, mansions and villas with elaborate facades, as well as leafy avenues and parks, and pretty alleys. report of the month contest
Jul 2011

The Chain Bridge and The Buda Castle at night.
The Chain Bridge and The Buda Castle at night.
The west bank of the Danube is called Buda. Pest is the name of the east bank. Both have great sights to offer, although of rather different kind. Buda has a UNESCO-listed royal castle, fairy-tale like Fishermen's Bastion, and a network of picturesque little alleys lined with brightly painted little houses and small mansions. Pest, on the other hand, has the world's third largest parliament building, massive basilica, countless palaces, mansions and villas with mid-boggling facades, and a park with an incredible castle and the most elaborate public baths and swimming pool.

Hungary's capital city is relatively compact and one can easily cover all of the significant sights on foot. Yet that requires a bit of hiking. Also considering that Buda is basically located on a rather steep hill. There is a cute little funicular, however, that runs from the approach to the elaborate Chain Bridge on the bottom all the way up to the castle's gates. Those, who prefer riding rather than walking, can use the world's oldest metro (although London prefers to claim this title), or a network of trams - both present mainly on the Pest side.

Budapest has a number of train stations, all of the significant being terminals (Nyugati and Keleti in Pest; Déli in Buda), as there is really no through line running across the capital. And therefore, it is important to check, which station one has to go to to catch their train. Budapest is well connected by rail with central and eastern Europe.

The airport is located about 30 minutes east from the city centre by car, and since traffic does not seem to be a problem in Budapest, taking a taxi is almost always as quick as taking a public bus.

I arrived in Budapest on the 24th June 2011, exactly 12 years after my last visit to the city. My plan was to refresh my memory and check what had changed over the years. My camera was eager to take a few snaps of the usual sights, and my brain's 'discovery module' wanted to check a few new objects.

Favourite spots:
View of the Parliament Building from the Chain Bridge.
View of the Parliament Building from the Chain Bridge.
I probably will not be very original by saying that the 'lacey' intricate facades of the Parliament made it my favourite feature of Budapest. The building truly stands out and dominates the banks of the Danube in Budapest. It is a large structure and if one wonders why such a small country needs such a large parliament building, one has to realise that Hungary, together with Austria, once was a vast empire in Europe stretching from the Alps and the Tatra mountains to the Adriatic. The Hungarian parliament house looks its best at sunset from the Chain Bridge or from the west bank of the Danube, or from the Fishermen's Bastion. Visiting the interior of the building is only possible on an organised tour.

What's really great:
The Royal Castle in Buda.
The Royal Castle in Buda.
No traffic? Yes, no traffic! I could not believe how quiet Budapest's roads were. Perhaps this was because of the weekend. Parts of the city, mainly in Pest, around the parliament building had absolutely no traffic at all. Not a vehicle moved there and occasionally, a trolleybus made a short appearance, only to hide somewhere around the corner. Even the exceptionally attractive Andrássy avenue, dubbed Budapest's Champs Elissees, was remarkably quiet. On Sunday, between noon and 4pm, some cars drove along. They moved in waves, five-six cars at a time. Perhaps between the red and green traffic lights. Yet, this hardly created any traffic at all. I wish roads in London were like this!

The Heroes' Square and the Millennium Monument
The Heroes' Square and the Millennium Monument
Both Pest and Buda have a good number of places to visit, and some of them are signature sights of the Hungarian capital city, which make it immediately recognisable. Some of them included:

Vajdahunyad Castle

Széchenyi Fürdö swimming pool and baths

The Royal Castle in Buda

The Chain Bridge

The Main Market Hall

The National Opera House

St Istvan Basilica

The Citadel & Gellart Monument

Fishermen's Bastion & Matias Church

St Anne Church

The Heroes' Square & the Millennium Monument

I originally had some reservations about the Heroes' Square. I somehow thought it was going to be a big communist spot full of terrible sculptures. I could not be more wrong. The square was a little uncomfortably large and empty, but the centre piece monument, which was erected during the imperial times of the Austro-Hungary, was rather interesting and unusual. The square was flanked by a couple of remarkable edifices. I am not telling what they were. Go and find it yourself...

Hilton Budapest West End, room 437.
Hilton Budapest West End, room 437.
When booking my flights to Budapest, I considered two hotels: Hilton Budapest on the hill in Buda, right next to the Fishermen's Bastion overlooking the Danube and the Parliament; and Hilton Budapest West End, next to one of the two main train terminals in Pest, the Nyugati, adjacent to the brand new West End shopping mall. I eventually chose the latter, and I think it was a good decision, having the benefit of the hindsight. It was closer to a larger number of sights, the nightlife, and the airport on the way out.

I got room number 437 on the top floor, next to the 24h studio. The hotel had all the usual amenities of a five-star venue. It was spotless, beds were very comfortable, the bed linen was positively cuddly, slippers and bathrobe were provided, and the towels were crisp and snow-white. There was a minibar and a safe, but I did not use them. Hotel management sent me the Hungaria sparkling wine and bowls of fresh fruit. For free!

Fishermen's Bastion at night.
Fishermen's Bastion at night.
Back in the 20th century, I attended a couple of nightclubs. One of them,?was a students' club located in the basement of the Fine Arts University. It was incredible and everyone was so friendly. Since then, the Hungarian capital had developed a somewhat infamous image of nightlife on the verge of sleaziness and disrepute. It is therefore better to check at what places one would feel comfortable, before actually passing through the door. The list of places to boogie or being boogied on is long and should satisfy all tastes and orientations, be it for the heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, transexual, pansexual, intersexual, cosmosexual, etc.

The more toned down places, which I managed to check on this trip were the Becketts Irish Pub and the nearby Rouge Cafe. The first one had a decor as if teleported from rural Ireland - very elegant, wood and glass work. It was relatively quiet at the beginning of the night, and then getting busy later on. The other was more funky.

A little cafe at the top of the Fishermen's Bastion with a view of Pest.
A little cafe at the top of the Fishermen's Bastion with a view of Pest.
The banks of the Danube seemed like a place to hang out, at least for the locals. The most popular stretch was the one running from the Parliament building to the Chain Bridge on the Pest side. A few benches were there, always occupied whenever I passed through. I personally liked the open-air cafe at the top of the Fishermen's Bastion, which offered fantastic views of the entire Pest. It charged almost twice as much for lager than many cafes in the centre of Pest, but they did make sure the cold beverages came ice-cold!

Elsewhere, the spots to sit down, sip coffees and watch people included a few handsome places on Zrinyi utca, a couple of good-looking cafes on Október 6. utca, and many more, although much more touristy ones, on Váci utca.

Pizza and lager at the Atrium Cafe.
Pizza and lager at the Atrium Cafe.
Budapest has a considerable number of places to eat to fit all possible budgets. The most touristy places, which fortunately have very high turnover, so food should be rather fresh. The largest concentration of restaurants that I came across in the city was along Vaci Utca. Yet, I could not decide where to stop for a meal, so I eventually dropped down in a small chair at the Budapest Atrium Cafe at the end of Vaci Utca. It served pizzas, a few Hungarian dishes, salads, ice-cream, and pastries. I had a salami pizza (I heard that salami was the Hungarians greatest contribution to the world's cuisine) and almost a pint of Borsodi lager from draft (0.4l) for was 800 HUF. The pizza was rather greasy, so I would not recommend it for those with high cholesterol, but the lager was nicely chilled and the place was a great spot for people watching.

Other recommendations:
A brilliant artist's impression of the Iron Curtain, at Andrássy Avenue.
A brilliant artist's impression of the Iron Curtain, at Andrássy Avenue.
If one really has to, then take the ride on a metro, but it is actually best to ditch it and explore Budapest on foot. The sights and monuments are not that far apart and the fabric of the city can really be felt when walking around and checking the stupendous amount of astonishing facades. Even those slightly weathered and requiring repair. On a weekend, most alleys, avenues and squares will be empty and one would have them for themselves. It is a real mystery where all the inhabitants hide away. When I visited this time round, I realised how empty the city could appear to feel, as if I was strolling through a film set, whose script might have been based in the second half of the 19th century.

Published on Friday August 12th, 2011

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Tue, Aug 30 2011 - 11:47 AM rating by siffer

we also loved budapest, great city, done justice by your fine report. your nighttime images of the castle are superb. we also have one over the bridge, but from the other side and nowhere near as well positioned ( we were staying in a hotel at that roosevelt ter.

Mon, Aug 15 2011 - 12:35 PM rating by eirekay

Terrific list of Sights! Thanks for a terrific read, as always!

Sat, Aug 13 2011 - 03:30 AM rating by pesu

A very informative report reflecting interesting personal experiences again - a fine read with beautiful pictures - thank you, Krys!

Sat, Aug 13 2011 - 03:28 AM rating by mistybleu

Excellent report; I really enjoyed reading it, stacked with lots of useful information.

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