The Hotel Gellért was no more than one hundred metres from the west bank of the River Danube. From our bedroom window this was our first real view of the famous waterway which at two thousand eight hundred and fifty kilometres is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga.
It is the twenty-ninth longest river in the world and flows through ten countries, which is more than any other river in the World except the Congo in Central Africa, which also runs through ten countries. The River Mississippi in the USA runs through or borders ten different States. (Andrew resists the temptation to set a quiz)!
The Danube starts in the Black Forest in Germany and then runs like a European timeline through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and the Ukraine before it finishes its journey by discharging its memories into the Black Sea at the Danube Delta. On route it passes through the four capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.
It was flowing quite briskly through Budapest today and its appearance was brown and muddy and disappointed those in the party who were expecting to see the sort of Blue Danube that inspired the composer Johann Sebastian Strauss to write his famous waltz. I doubt that the Danube is ever really blue and I wonder if Johan was taking mind-altering substances at the time.
We began our walk by crossing the Liberty Bridge opposite the hotel. This is an iron bridge, three hundred and thirty three metres long and the top of its four masts are decorated with large bronze statues of the Turul bird (a sort of eagle) which in mythology gave rise to the story of the origin of the Magyars.
Magyars are an ethnic group primarily associated with Hungary and were the main inhabitants of the early Kingdom. The word Magyar in the Hungarian language refers both to the ethnicity of the people and their language and that explains why the word appears prominently on Hungarian postage stamps and bank notes.
It isn’t the original bridge of course because it had been built in 1896 but blown up by the Germans in 1945 as they abandoned the city and retreated away from the advancing Russian Red Army. Around about this time at the end of the Second-World-War the Germans blew up most of the bridges in Europe except, rather bizarrely and allegedly on the express orders of Adolf Hitler himself, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. apparently he had a soft spot for the bridge – perhaps he had attached a love lock on it for himself and Eva?
Along the Pest side of the river, which is rather flat, there were some good views of the Buda on the west which is much more dramatic and protrudes into the river forcing it to flow in an sweeping arc through the city and on the hills behind the Liberation Monument and the Imperial Castle were impressively illuminated against the blue autumn sky.
There were some modern western hotels overlooking the river and outside the call girls promenaded looking for customers. On a scale of one to ten for attractiveness they were all about minus five and judging by their looks they were going to be hanging around for some time yet or at least until someone became too intoxicated for it to matter. Further down the road we looked out for a man selling brown paper bags!
We walked as far as the Chain Bridge which is an impressive structure that was designed by the English engineer William Tierney-Clark and constructed by Scottish engineer Adam Clark (no relation) and is a larger scale version of Tierney-Clark’s earlier Bridge across the River Thames in Marlow in Buckinghamshire. It was opened in 1849 and was the first permanent bridge between the two separate cities of Buda and Pest, which had previously relied on pontoon bridges or barges and ferries for getting from one side to the other. Not the original bridge of course – that had been blown up!
To complete the bridges of Budapest tour we walked now across the slender concrete and steel cable structure of the Elizabeth Bridge. For some reason the 1950s reconstruction did not follow the original bridge design as with the Liberty and the Chain bridges but the modern replacement is elegant enough and swoops in an attractive single white concrete arch across the river.
By the time that we had walked the banks of the Danube and crossed the bridges it was late afternoon so we returned to the hotel to rest and get ready for a night out. My preference was for a traditional Hungarian restaurant a plate of spicy goulash but Kim had other ideas and remembering how good a Greek restaurant had been on a previous visit to Budapest had booked a table for eight o’clock. I complained about this but at the end of the evening and after an excellent meal (even though I prefer to eat Moussaka in Santorini or Mykonos) was forced to concede that she had made an excellent decision.