Tag Archives: River Danube

Thursday Doors, Budapest in Hungary

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Budapest did not become a single city until the official amalgamation on 17th November 1873 of right-bank Buda and Óbuda together with Pest on the left bank.  This was seen as a supremely symbolic event that marked a union between Western and Eastern Europe and the city became the second capital of Austria-Hungary.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Entrance Tickets, The Budapest Parliament Building

Budapest parliament (1)

The five of us debated entrance to the Parliament building.  Even with half price entrance fees (2,000 Florints) for citizens of the European Union there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm to visit the interior and after a show of hands it was only Sue and I that paid up and waited in line to go inside while the others made their various ways back to the Hotel Gellért.

The forty minute tour took us up wide open staircases, through elaborately decorated corridors, magnificently appointed state rooms and into the debating chambers but the highlight was the central dome (ninety-six metres high, remember) and in pride of place the fabulous crown of Saint Stephen.

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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.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle – The Bridges of Budapest

Elizabethh Bridge, Budapest


Budapest, The Parliament Building and Hungarian Dining

Budapest The Parliament Building

There was some marginal improvement in the weather after lunch as the swirling mists over the Danube began to retreat and a watery sun tried to force its way through the fog but by mid afternoon it seemed certain that it was destined to fail.

We were in full speed sightseeing mode now and next it was St Stephen’s Basilica which at ninety-six metres high is the tallest building in Budapest.  Actually the Hungarian Parliament building is also ninety-six metres high which might sound a bit of a coincidence but in fact is quite deliberate because the number ninety-six refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896.

The Basilica is named in honour of Stephen, who was the first King of Hungary from 1000 to 1038 and whose mummified fist is kept in a shrine at the back of the church. I’m afraid that I have no explanation about what happened to the rest of him.

St Stephens Right Hand

Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation.

A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction was started in 1885 and the building inaugurated on the one thousandth anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and finally completed in 1904.  During construction the project was a major employer in the city and there were about one thousand people working on its building in which forty million bricks, half a million precious stones and forty kilograms of gold were used.  It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Romania and Argentina.

Although it has an eastern appearance it is similar to the Palace of Westminster in London and was built in the same Gothic Revival style with a symmetrical façade and a central dome.  It is two hundred and sixty-eight metres long and one hundred and twenty-three metres wide. Its interior includes ten courtyards and six hundred and ninety-one rooms.

Louis Kossuth Budapest

It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building.  Louis Kossuth was the man who led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square.

At the other end is a statue of Imre Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government rebellion after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control.

Nagy’s government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be entirely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and a further two hundred thousand more fled as refugees. Mass arrests and imprisonments continued and a new Soviet installed government was installed, an action that strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe for several more years. Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.

Even with half price entrance fees (2,000 Florints) for citizens of the European Union there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm to visit the interior of the building and after a show of hands it was only Sue and I that paid up and waited in line to go inside while the others made their various ways back to the Hotel Gellért.

The forty minute tour took us up wide open staircases, through elaborately decorated corridors, magnificently appointed state rooms and into the debating chambers but the highlight was the central dome (ninety-six metres high, remember) and in pride of place the fabulous crown of Saint Stephen.

The Holy Crown of St Stephen Budapest

The Holy Crown is the most important part of the Hungarian Crown Jewels because it represents the authority to rule in the country.  Budapest took a bit of a pounding in the Second-World-War and as the Russian Red Army arrived it was removed from the country in 1945 for safekeeping and entrusted to the United States Government.  It was kept in a vault at Fort Knox until 1978, when it was returned to the nation by order of US President Jimmy Carter and it is now kept at the Hungarian Parliament building where it belongs.

It is a pity that Jimmy Carter doesn’t run the British Museum because then the Elgin marbles might get returned to Athens.

The tour over, Sue and I walked back to the hotel along the east bank of the Danube and passed close by a famous piece of Budapest street art.  The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial that remembers the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II.  They were tied together in pairs, lined up and ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away by the current.

The Arrow Cross was a national socialist party which led a government in Hungary known as the Government of National Unity from  October 1944 to March 1945. During its short rule it is estimated that up to fifteen thousand people were murdered on the streets and eighty-thousand people were deported to their deaths in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  It is said that they were so nasty that even Adolf Hitler thought they were extreme!

While everyone got ready for evening meal Mike and I found a curious drinking den just around the corner, it was scruffy and uncomfortable but with a half a litre of Hungarian beer costing less than a pound we were happy to stop there for two.

As soon as everyone had assembled in the lobby we returned to the river because the price of the city bus tour included a one hour evening river cruise so we made our way to the quayside and took the ride as far as Margaret Island one way and then to the Hotel Gellért going the other.  The cruise provided a different perspective of the city as we sailed under the illuminated castle on the Buda side and the Parliament building in Pest.

After returning to the quay we went into the city and I was nervous about dining because I had insisted on finding somewhere traditionally Hungarian but was worried that anywhere could match the excellence of the Greek restaurant the previous night.  We found somewhere and I was right it didn’t really compare but we enjoyed acceptable ethnic Hungarian food and then after a long day wandered slowly back to the hotel.

Shoes by the Danube

Budapest, A City Bus Tour

Pest from Buda

In the morning the weather was disappointing and a heavy mist hung over the city like a damp shroud.

We had a substantial breakfast in the hotel and then went outside into the grey.  Most of the scenic sightseeing is from the heights of Buda so taking this into consideration and gambling on a better day tomorrow we decided to spend our day in Pest.

We thought that a good way to see the city might be an open to bus tour similar to those that we had taken in Barcelona and Dublin so we negotiated a group discount, bought tickets and made our way to the nearest bus stop to wait for the hop on-hop off city bus.

This was surely a good way to observe the city because there is an awful lot to see. Budapest’s extensive World Heritage Site includes the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Underground Railway.  It has around eighty geothermal springs, the world’s largest thermal water cave system, by some measures the second largest synagogue in the World after Jerusalem, and an indisputable third largest Parliament building. The city attracts nearly four and a half million tourists a year, making it the twenty-fifth most popular city in the world, and the sixth in Europe.

Budapest did not become a single city until the official amalgamation on 17th November 1873 of right-bank Buda and Óbuda together with Pest on the left bank.  This was seen as a supremely symbolic event that marked a union between Western and Eastern Europe and the city became the second capital of Austria-Hungary.  I have speculated on why it became Budapest and not Pestbuda but I am yet to find a convincing explanation, I expect it was probably because the Buda side was where the military muscle was.  This is demonstrated perfectly by the Citadella on top of Gellért Hill.

Hungarian Parliament Budapest

In the nineteenth century Budapest earned the tag of Paris of the East and sitting on the open top bus as it drove around it was easy to see why.  The yellow route bus tour took us first through the streets of historic Pest.

After the creation of Budapest as one great city, there was a rush of construction and Pest was extensively rebuilt in the image of Vienna, acquiring the main arterial street Nagykörút or Great Boulevard and another Andrássy Avenue which led out to Heroes Square and a great park with magnificent fountains and lakes and all of this frantic reconstruction reached a fanatical peak to coincide with Budapest’s millennium anniversary celebrations of the settlement of the Magyars in the region of 1896.

Today Budapest is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is considered an important Central European hub for business, culture and tourism. We weren’t expecting this and it certainly took us by surprise and like most other places we were beginning to realise that three days was hopelessly inadequate to appreciate this really fine city.

The only problem with sitting on the top deck of the bus was that it was extremely cold  and after as it made its way first down the east bank of the river and then back along the west I began to hope that it would soon be all over and we would be able to get off and return to a walking tour.  The bus tour is fine for getting around quickly but we did seem to spend an awful lot of time at traffic lights with nothing in particular to see whilst the interesting sites seem to flash by in an instant.

After an hour we left the bus at Margaret Bridge and crossed the busy road to namesake Margaret Island sitting stranded in the middle of the Danube and a recreational park area free from motor vehicles.  We were looking for somewhere for coffee and cake but finding nothing that gained the approval of the girls we left again after thirty minutes or so and made our way to the Hungarian Parliament building on the east bank of the river.

There we found a café that was declared suitable and we were glad to go inside and warm ourselves through after enduring the arctic blast on the open top bus.  Everyone made their selections and because I didn’t want my body to go into heat shock I passed on the coffee and had a Hungarian beer instead.  It was called Szeplötelen, which roughly translates as Saint Mary, Mother of Christ which is a strange name for a beer if you ask me and there was a picture of her on the label enjoying a glass of the brew.

Drinking Hungarian beer I thought it appropriate to have something Hungarian to eat so I selected a pastry called a Flódni which is an apple, walnut, and poppy seed pastry which I was happy to declare a very successful combination.

Budapest Square


Budapest, The Danube and the Bridges

Liberty Bridge Budapest

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.

River Danube

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?

chain Bridge Budapest

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.

Budapest Hungary Elizabeth Bridge