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.“
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.
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.