Tag Archives: Gellert Hill

On This Day – Budapest, The Gellért Baths

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 5th November 2014 I was in Budapest at the famous Gellért Spa Hotel…

In 1934 Budapest was awarded the supreme title of ‘Spa City’ and three years later, the first International Balneological Congress was organised and the headquarters of the International Balneological Association was established at the Gellért Thermal Baths in Budapest.

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Budapest, The Gellért Baths

Gellert Spa Swimming Pool

In 1934 Budapest was awarded the supreme title of ‘Spa City’  and three years later, the first International Balneological Congress was organised and the headquarters of the International Balneological Association was established at the Gellért Thermal Baths in Budapest.

The Congress explained this decision with the following statement:

“…no city can put forward a stronger claim to this than Budapest.  Endowed by nature with a wonderful generosity of excellent thermal waters and unrivalled natural beauty; additionally, its high medical professionalism, the excellent equipment of its healing institutions, the high level of scientific research, makes Budapest the optimum choice for international affairs of balneology to be handled from here…”

One of the main attractions of the Hotel was that attached are the famous Gellért baths, which although originally built as part of the hotel are now owned and run by the local council but with free admission to hotel guests.  In the TV travel series ‘New Europe’, Michael Palin used the baths and made it all seem a bit confusing and a lot of trouble but I can confirm that there was no truth in that at all, the instructions were clear and all of his theatrical pacing of corridors looking for the lift was all contrived for effect.

The entrance to the baths used to be via an old-fashioned cage elevator with doors that slammed closed with a penitentiary like rattle and metallic thud and there was an old lady attendant who provided an admission card to the baths on the way down, it was still like this on our first visit in 2007  but that has all been modernised now, which is a shame, and entrance is directly through the hotel and into a modern reception area.

This was very straight forward but then, I have to say, it did get confusing with corridors and stairways that eventually led to a locker room and then more corridors and stairways that led to the swimming pool.


After changing we used the thermal baths that were a very incrementally agreeable 36˚ and 38˚ centigrade and housed in a room of  soaring marble pillars, colourful mosaic floors and pools of crystal blue water with alleged magical healing powers.  There was an anorexic looking man with a pale pallor jogging limply around the room and I wondered for a moment or two if I was going to feel thirty years younger just like all those old timers did in the film Cocoon.

I did feel good afterwards but not that good, I have to say!  The eucalyptus steam room was totally relaxing but the plunge pool knocked the breath from me and necessitated a hasty return to 38˚.  I am not sure that this is the correct way to progress through the experience I confess. Next door was the swimming pool with cream mosaic floor and sky blue tiled walls and a high glazed ceiling proving soft natural light.  Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and these were busy with local people relaxing in the water after a day at work and we enjoyed the experience with them after five hours of walking up and down those hills around the city.

I have to say that I am not a great one for swimming pools and spas I have to admit and I am definitely not one for treatments.  Kim and Margaret went for a punishing massage, Sue and Christine stayed a while longer to swim, Mike went to the railway station to do some sightseeing and I went back to the room for a beer.

I am a great one for bars however and when Mike returned and invited me to the cheap pub around the corner I didn’t take a lot of convincing so wandered around for a couple of pre dinner drinks.

gellert baths

For our final night we were returning to the Greek restaurant.  I had to concede that the Taverna Dionysos was a splendid place with a good menu and excellent food.  I would have liked to say that we found an ethnic Hungarian restaurant that was its equal but sadly I can’t so for a second time in three nights we sat down to a traditional Greek meal.

After our meal it was still quite early so instead of  going directly back to the hotel we walked along a busy main road and looked for somewhere for a final Budapest drink.  It was turning colder with a north wind sweeping down from the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and blowing sharply down the river as though someone had left the back door open.  We weren’t dressed for this so we quickened our pace and was grateful of the warmth of  a modern bar full of young people  where we had that final drink before returning to the Hotel Gellért.  It was a real shame that this was our final night!

The following morning we made our purchases at the indoor market, had a last slice of cake at the hotel and then made our way back to the airport on the metro and the shuttle bus.

I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other I have visited.

hotel Gellert Budapest

Budapest, The Castle and a Cruise

There has been a castle and a palace in this strategically important position since very early times but when the previous building was destroyed in the civil war of 1849 the palace was rebuilt between 1850 and 1856.

When in 1867 Franz Joseph was crowned the king of Hungary as Austria and Hungary became the Dual Monarchy the palace became an important royal home and the newly autonomous Hungarian government set out to create a royal residence so splendid that it would match any other in Europe.  The process of rebuilding lasted about forty years between but just like the  Hotel Gellért was completed in 1912 just as the Hapsburg Empire was about to topple over into the abyss of history and both Budapest and Hungary was about to lose top table  international status.

It is indeed a very fine building with magnificent architecture, impressive sculptures, magnificent landscaped gardens and a view to die for.  Prior to 1867, under Habsburg rule, Buda and Pest were subordinate in status to Vienna and Bratislava but after the agreement of Compromise which created the Dual Monarchy, the twin cities underwent rapid growth and expansion to become a major European city.

Like most of Budapest, the entire castle district was destroyed in the last year of the Second-World-War because Hitler declared it a fortress city and ordered it to be defended to the last man regardless of damage and destruction or loss of human life.  The defending Germans and Hungarian fascists loyally obeyed their orders but there was a high price to pay for this military obstinacy and in a few weeks the city was almost completely destroyed to the extent that what we see now is all due to post war reconstruction.

After the city finally fell Soviet revenge for holding up the Red Army advance was swift and brutal, with reprisals against the defenders  going largely unchecked.  Fuelled by alcohol, drunken bands of Soviet soldiers rampaged across the city, dispensing instant justice to those who resisted their violent advance and opportunist looting.  Budapest gave up one group of savage invaders for another.

But the city has done a first class job in putting it back together again and although there are obvious gaps where grand buildings once proudly stood there is now hardly a trace of the damaging legacy of the war.


The castle is at one end of the castle district next to the restored official residence of the President of Hungary and we passed a theatrical changing of the guard ceremony as we walked to the other end of the district and to the Matthias Church which dates from 1015, was destroyed in 1945, and has recently enjoyed extensive renovation.  It was hastily reconstructed after the war but the communist authorities only made available sub-standard material for the project and the whole thing had to be done again properly and its multi coloured tiled roof sparkled magnificently in the afternoon sunshine.

The Church stands next to a public open space where there was a lot of intrusive restoration work taking place but it didn’t spoil the visit to the adjacent Fisherman’s Bastion which is a magnificently restored viewing terrace with seven towers that represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896 and has magnificent views over the Danube looking in both directions and with an especially fine view of the Parliament building on the other side of the river.

Budapest Hungary Cathedral

Our plan now was to get as much value as we could from our city bus tour tickets but without too much collective enthusiasm for the open top bus itself we thought that it was a good idea to take the river cruise option again instead – this time in daylight.

So we made our way on foot down the zig-zag footpath that dropped down from the top of the castle to the river bank below near the Chain Bridge and we walked a few hundred metres to the boat stop.  We waited for a while until doubt began to creep in because no one else turned up but five hundred metres further on a line was beginning to form.  We were waiting in the wrong place and had to hurry up to get to the pick-up point just ahead of the boat as it slipped across the Danube and approached the jetty.  We really have been unlucky with boat trips this year!

To be honest the night time cruise was better than the daylight option but we stayed on board and listened to the commentary for a second time as the boat visited Margaret Island and then sailed south down the river before making a 180° turn and returning to the jetty at the end of the trip.

Leaving the boat we walked back to the hotel because now we were looking forward to visiting the famous Gellért baths for spas, swimming pools and massage treatments.

Budapest, Gellért Hill

Gellért Hill Liberty Monument

The next morning the previous days fog had lifted and the sun was shining over the Danube and ploughing a fiery russet furrow in the water running all the way from the east bank to the west.

Because of this we left the hotel early to take full advantage of the unexpectedly good weather.  On the other side of the Liberty Bridge was the Market Square and the covered central market building.  As with other cities that we have visited the market was filled with excellent produce, meat, fish vegetables and several stalls devoted to selling different paprika and herb combinations to be used to flavour the Hungarian national dish of goulash.  We identified potential souvenir options but decided to return for them tomorrow and then walked back over the bridge to Buda.

There was some debate about walking or taking the tour bus but the consensus view was that we should take the steep paths through the woods to the top.

Opposite the hotel there was an extraordinary church carved out of the bedrock stone of the Gellért Hill.  It was certainly unusual even if it wasn’t especially spectacular containing nothing of any special interest except for its curious construction and the visit didn’t detain us much longer than just a few minutes.

Leaving the church there was choice of several paths that meandered aimlessly through the terraced park and climbed steeply towards the top of the hill.  There were no helpful signs to indicate which would be the quickest so we each identified what we thought might be the shortest route and split into three to see who was right.  Sue and I took a route along the very edge of the cliffs and every hundred metres or so there were seats and viewing platforms that provided uninterrupted panoramic view of the city and the river below.  I remain convinced that our route was the shortest and blame the viewing opportunities and frequent stops for getting us to the top last!

At the top of the two hundred and thirty five metre high hill is the Liberty Statue which was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet occupation of Hungary after World-War-Two.  At the time of the monument’s construction the defeat and expulsion of Nazi forces by the Soviets was considered to be a liberation.  The original inscription on the memorial was “Erected by the grateful Hungarian Nation in memory of the liberating Russian heroes.

Pest from Gellért Hill

I suspect the Russians themselves were responsible for this and gratitude didn’t last very long.  After the country liberated itself from the Soviet Union in 1991 the inscription was changed to read “To the memory of all of those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and success of Hungary.”  On the previous day in Pest we had come across a memorial in a park which commemorated Russian soldiers during the 1945 siege of the city.  There was a small demonstration there and it seems that Hungarians don’t like this memorial either and are campaigning for its removal.

The top was the best viewing point of all and from here it was possible to see both sides of the river, the Parliament building in Pest and the castle district in Buda.

Budapest The Parliament Building

Leaving the monument we passed the Citadella at the very top of Gellért Hill and then followed the path down, past the statue of St Gellért that was less impressive in daylight with a lot of litter and graffiti than it had been the previous evening from the middle of the river with its dramatic illumination.

St Gellért is the Patron saint of Budapest who died in 1046 while trying to spread the Christian faith  and there are various versions of the circumstances of his martyrdom.  Some stories say that he was stoned, others that he was hacked to death with a lance and others that he was thrown from the highest point into the river.  Most gruesome is the account that he was sealed in a barrel with nails hammered through as spikes and then rolled down the hill into the river.  Whichever it is I am constantly staggered by the inventiveness of the human mind when it comes to coming up with some unpleasant way of inflicting pain and discomfort on one other.

The route down from the top took us through wooded hills and gardens until we reached the bottom next to the river and we followed the bank side walk as far as the bottom of the castle hill.  Our plan now was to take a funicular railway to the top but this was foiled on account of it being closed for a few days for essential maintenance.

Having just walked all the way down no one really looked forward to walking all the way to the top so we found the city tour bus stop and waited for the next bus which took us the steep and road winding one stop journey to the centre of the castle district where we immediately set about looking for somewhere suitable for coffee and cake.


Buda, City of the Hapsburgs

Pest from Buda

The weather for January was unseasonably warm but an inspection from the hotel bedroom balcony revealed an overcast day with chalky white clouds that hung low over the city and bleached the colour from the buildings on the opposite side of the river. After a quick breakfast with the mobile telephone brigade all having unnecessary and intrusive conversations that spoilt the atmosphere in the breakfast room that the hotel had worked hard to achieve we left the hotel with the intention of exploring the Buda side of the river.

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