Budapest. Breathtakingly Beautiful
I finally have time to catch my breath whilst en route from Slovenia to Budapest, Hungary’s capital city. Budapest has never been on my bucket list and I’m really unsure of what to expect. The drive takes us about five hours and it is late evening when Drajan drops me off at the Danubius Hotel Astoria, located in the heart of the city. Drajan has been such a great guide and I will miss him during the rest of my journey. I’m on my own from here….
I think it is love at first sight. From the moment I stepped on to the street, I am captivated by the stateliness, grandeur and architectural greatness of this city. Every bridge and building, street façade and significant semblance of a rich and riotous history is etched into this architectural landscape. I love it!
Impatient to get started, I rush to Pier #8 alongside the great Danube River to hop on to a boat that takes me on an hour-long cruise. Despite the chill of the night, I enjoy every minute of it. We go under the Chain Bridge, past the breathtakingly beautiful Buda Castle, one of the world’s most stunning Parliament buildings, Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastian then under the Liberty Bridge and past the Gellert Hotel before turning around to head back to the pier. Dressed up for the night in warm white lights, each of these buildings looks absolutely stunning.
Budapest is bisected by the great River Danube that separates Buda from Pest and connected by the 19th century Chain Bridge. In daylight, the city is still fascinating with Buda and Pest so characteristically different to each other. While Buda has the historic castle district with medieval streets and houses, museums, caves and Roman ruins, the dynamic Pest side boasts the largest Parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, bookstores, antique stores and café houses.
I jump onto a Hop On Hop Off bus and get off at Castle District.
Budapest’s Castle District is where all the historic sights are. I make my way up to the hill (after missing the entrance to the Funicular) and wander through the Royal Palace. Built in the 13th century after the Mongolian invasion, this castle was extended in the 14th century becoming the largest Gothic palace of the Middle Ages. In this ‘district’ is the Hungarian National Gallery, (where I succumbed to temptation and bought some art), the National Museum, and the National Library.
But it is the panoramic view of the Danube below, the Chain Bridge and the Pest side of the city across the river that takes my breath away.
In this courtyard are the impressive statues of the Lion and Turul Bird, the mythological bird of the Magyars. I also come across the Matthias Well and a huge bronze statue of King Matthias. On this sunny afternoon, people sit at the foot of these statues to eat, drink, pose for photographs and just enjoy the day.
The 700-year old Matthias Church has played a great role in Hungary’s history. The church has been the venue for several coronations including Charles IV in 1916. The church got its name after the much-loved 15th century King Matthias was married here twice.
The interior of this church was decorated by two famous 19th century Hungarian painters, Károly Lotz and Bertalan Székely. The wall, left of the entrance represents the Renaissance, while the wall across from the entrance has Eastern motifs to represent Ottoman rule. On the left side of the church is the tomb of St. Imre, son of King St. Istvan and heir to the throne who was killed by a boar while hunting at the age of 19.
Like me, tourists tiptoe around while others kneel in prayer. The silence is deafening. The aura is thick. The reverence is profound. The church is beautiful.
The neo-Renaissance Hungarian State Opera House located on the popular Andrássy út is the largest opera house in Hungary. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day and I could only admire its Hungarian architecture and décor from the foyer area.
Located at the very end of this street is the Heroes Square, one of the most spectacular and most visited venues in Budapest. It was built in 1896 to commemorate the first 1000 years of the Hungarian state, and is flanked by the Hall of Art, built in 1896, and the Museum of Fine Arts, inaugurated in December 1906. In the centre is the Millennium Monument with a 36-metre central column, topped by a statue of the archangel Gabriel who holds the Holy Crown as well as a two-barred apostolic cross. The semi-circular arcades of the monument on the left and right-hand side each hold bronze statues of seven outstanding personalities of Hungarian history.
Tourists gather around, posing for photographs at the large BUDAPEST sign in the centre.
Last but not least, I step into yesteryear’s grandeur. The New York Palace and Café is considered to be “the most beautiful café in the world” and I can see why. This majestic building is built in eclectic style of Italian renaissance and baroque, its interior decorated with velvet, marble, bronze, and silver, while the ceiling is decorated in panel paintings of Gusztav Mannheimer and Ferenc Eisenhut, and enormous chandeliers dazzling visitors like me. During the early 1900s, the cream of the movie and theatrical world swarmed here until the First World War put an end to the golden age.
Today, the Café is as elegant as yesteryear and a highlight of Budapest. I order myself some incredibly indulgent desserts. I am thankful for the walk back to the hotel!
I am sad to leave Budapest. But it is time to travel on to my next destination…Slovakia. But I know I will return to this magnificent city.