A May 2001 trip
to Budapest by wildhoney269
Quote: Whether you're yearning to sit in an outdoor cafe along the Vaci utca, longing to experience the baths of the Gellert Hotel or craving real deal goulash laced with paprika, Budapest is a superb getaway destination and arguably one of Europe's finest capitals.
We spent an afternoon strolling down the Vaci utca, the main pedestrian mall, visiting antique galleries and shops featuring the colorful folk-style tableware native to Hungary. For a necessary break we enjoyed the Hungarian classic Dobos tortes and coffee outside of Café Gerbeaud while watching Magyars (Hungarians) saunter past. More time was spent exploring Castle Hill, indulging in baths, and being entertained by Hungarian Folk Dancers. While wandering, we were often reminded of Budapest's rich and often tragic history from the bullet holes and graffiti on buildings in streets throughout the city.
Hotel | "Mercure Hotel Nemzeti"
The tram station is directly across the street and it is within walking distance to the shopping at Vaci Utca. We walked back to the hotel one evening from Buda Hill. On our stroll we walked along the promenade on the Buda side down to the Danube where we could see the parliament building at night. After crossing the magnificent Chain Bridge, we could see the speckled evening lights on Buda’s hill which we had just left.
All rooms in the hotel are equipped with a bathroom, hair dryer, minibar, color TV with satellite channels, radio, telephone and internet dial-up access. For English speakers, you can find news, music videos, and some cartoons on the television. A breakfast buffet is included in your stay and the traditional-style restaurant is rather grand. The buffet includes wide selection of Hungarian and European meats, cheeses, breads, cereals and juices. There is a bar in the lobby which provides a variety of drinks, coffee, ice cream and sandwiches.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 14, 2003
Mercure Budapest Nemzeti 3m
JOZSEF KOERUT 4
Budapest, Hungary 1088
We visited Café Gerbeaud after an afternoon of wandering through the shops on Vaci utca. Café Gerbeaud is at the end of this pedestrian mall where in warm seasons a large outdoor patio awaits the weary shopper. Sit down and examine the menu, filled with wonderful pastries with mystical names such as Dobos tortes or Esterhazy. Most non-Europeans do not know what type of pastry they will actually receive when selecting a treat from the menu, but it is fun to experiment and see what you end up with. Watch Hungarians and tourists alike meander through the square while enjoying a pastry of sipping a fine coffee.
A trip inside of Café Gerbeaud is where the real splendor is found. To the right a row of gleaming glass counters display cakes, pastries and ice-cream. Take your time perusing the selection behind the glass to find the perfect indulgence. Next to the pallor is an opulent seating area exceeding the grandeur of a typical old-fashioned coffee house. Crystal chandeliers drip above several small tables in a room trimmed with burnished wood paneling. Art and wall sconces adorn the walls while thick deeply colored velvet drapes divide the room.
Visit Café Gerbeaud, one of Budapest’s many gems, to step back in time with the cultured nostalgia of years past while sampling some of its famous gastronomical delights.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 14, 2003
V. Vörösmarty tér 7
Attraction | "Baths at Hotel Gellert"
Not sure of what to do next, we took a breath and headed down a corridor toward what we thought were the locker rooms. Our excitement grew when we saw the famous pool through a large glass window at the end of the hallway. At that point, the two of us separated to go into our respective changing rooms. I wandered off onto the ladies side through a long subterranean hallway lined with pictures from days past. In the changing area an attendant, who spoke English, looked at my ticket and helped me get situated with my locker. I changed into my suit and found my way to the bathing area. We somehow found out where to get towels and that we needed to wear bathing caps. When my boyfriend tried to go into the pool without one, an older gentleman blew his whistle at him and yelled in Hungarian. All swimmers were wearing one and if they did not have their own, they were wearing a plastic shower-cap type that was being handed out.
The "Baths" are actually pools and an experience here not like going to the neighborhood pool back home. Baths in Budapest are almost sacred to the locals. The main pool at Hotel Gellert is the height of luxury. Its marble columns and green plants resemble something from the heady days of the Roman Empire. We stepped into the pool and the water was much colder than expected. The apparent rules are that swimmers must swim in a circle around the pool. No stopping or you will get the whistle blown at you. When you are done with the main pool, step into a hot thermal pool at the other end. Bathers sit on underwater benches while healing waters sprout from statues. A retractable glass roof is often opened in summer to let sunlight shine down on the hedonistic scene. Doors lead off at either side to the single sex Turkish thermal baths. Outside there is a huge sun deck and an even larger pool where every hour the fun starts when the wave pool cranks into action for about 10 minutes.
Kelenhegyi ut, 4-6
Budapest, Hungary 1118
+36 1 466 6616
Attraction | "Wandering Around Castle Hill"
The Royal Palace itself dominates the southern skyline of the Castle District. The present post war reconstruction houses the Hungarian National Gallery, an art museum, Budapest History Museum, a museum with history of both the Royal Palace and Budapest, and the National Széchenyi Library which contains every book published in the country, along with an enormous collection of journals, newspapers and archive documents.
When you leave the palace, walk down the road to the Castle District's most popular tourist area Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér). This square was a market place in medieval times and is the highest point of Castle Hill. In the center is the Holy Trinity Column. The column was built by Buda's Council in the early part of the 18th century to serve as a lasting memorial to those who died in the devastating plague of 1691. At its foot, biblical King David is depicted praying for an end to the plague, while on the main body of the column, a multitude of saints and cherubs can be seen under the golden Holy Trinity.
At the heart of the square is The Matthias Church, also known as the Church of Our Lady. Step inside for a few moments to view a church unique to any other in Europe. Across the street is the Fisherman's Bastion. Designed by Frigyes Schluek, the castle is made up of seven round towers -- each one symbolizing the seven Magyar tribes that effectively gave rise to the nation a thousand years earlier. This decorative fortress is almost fairytale like in appearance. The area directly behind the church housed a local fish market during medieval times -- hence the name of the Bastion. During the 18th-century, the Guild of Fisherman are also said to have traditionally defended this part of the castle wall.
Spend some time wandering through the streets and look at the architecture of the colorful housing nearby. Notice the odd placement of several windows. You will stumble across other attractions such as an entrance to the Medieval Tunnel Network. Almost 9 miles of tunnels lie beneath the castle district. We ventured down expecting something interesting, and even though we were grateful to cool off underground, we only found some sort of tacky exhibit which we did not stay to watch.
Castle Hill Funiculaire
Clark Adam tér
Attraction | "History of the Royal Palace"
Despite suffering only minor structural damage during the lengthy period of Turkish occupation, it was completely destroyed by the pan-European Christian army which liberated Buda in 1686. During the early part of the 18th century, work commenced on a much smaller Baroque Palace, although by 1779 its overall size had increased significantly.
Less than a century later, the Palace was damaged again, this time during the 1848-49 War of Independence. The subsequent reconstruction work, which finished in 1904, more than doubled the size of the Palace from the original Gothic structure. Yet this was not the final episode in the Palace's turbulent history.
During World War II the building served as the command post for German occupying forces. In the final months of the war, the advancing Red Army besieged the Palace and, amidst fierce fighting, completely gutted the building. The present post war reconstruction, which includes Baroque and Gothic elements of original features from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, now houses the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Széchenyi Library.
Royal Palace (Buda Castle)
Budapest, Hungary 1014
Attraction | "Hungarian National Gallery(Magyar Nemzeti Galeria)"
We were most impressed with the late gothic altars of the 15th and 16th Century which is part of the Gothic and Renaissance exhibit. In high contrast to the various Christian relics found in European galleries, the altars on display seemed to be from a different religion. Many winged altars were destroyed when Turkish and Protestant beliefs became prevalent. Surviving alters are very rare. The exhibit contains four altarpieces from the 1480s, six from the 1510s and 1520s, and the High Altar of the Virgin Mary from Csíkmenaság, Transylvania, dated 1543, it being the latest mediaeval specimen of its kind in existence. The most elaborate altarpiece we found was the wonderful St. Anne Altarpiece from Kisszeben.
Winged Alters consist of three painted or carved panels that are hinged together. Many affluent families or pious groups erected side-altars in the aisles attached to the columns or in the side-chapels of a church. These alters became the main commission for painters and wood-carvers and cabinet-makers during medieval times. A typical altar consisted of the three panels similar in shape to a window with shutters. Each of the three panels is intricately painted. Above the panels is a detailed carving including ornaments, sculptures and reliefs.
Elsewhere, some of the most important 19th and 20th century paintings in Hungary make up the remainder of the collection. Highlights are Gyula Benczur's depiction of The Recapture of Buda Castle in 1686 and László Hunyadi's Farewell along with paintings by the country's most revered artist Mihály Munkácsy which include Dusty Road, The Yawning Traveller and Woman Carrying Brushwood. More recent works by 20th century artists such as Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry and Lajos Guláscy complete a rich, diverse collection.
Hungarian National Gallery
Budavári Palota, Szent György tér 2., Wings A, B, C, D
Budapest, Hungary 1014
(+36 1) 201 9082
Attraction | "Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom)"
In the thirteenth century Buda’s first parish church stood here. In the fourteenth century it was rebuilt as a Gothic hall church, but it was never finished and the north tower was not built. In Turkish times it became the main mosque and its interior furnishing were destroyed. During the 1686 siege, its tower and roof collapsed. Later, the church was rebuild in the Baroque style, and in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Frigyes Schulek reconstructed the church to its original 13th century plan, from the excavated medieval remains, the original Gothic church, the one in which Charles Robert (1308-1342) and Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437) had been crowned, and in which King Matthias married Catherine Podebrad in 1463 and Beatrice of Aragon if 1470. By also adding new motifs of his own (such as the diamond pattern roof tiles and gargoyles laden spire) Schulek ensured that the work, when finished, would be highly controversial. Today however, Schulek's restoration provides visitors with one of the most prominent and characteristic features of Budapest's cityscape.
The last two kings of Hungary, Francis Joseph I and Charles IV, were also crowned in this church, in 1867 and 1916 respectively. During World War II the damage suffered by the church was so heavy that it took two decades to repair it.
From outside the most beautiful part of the church is the high stone-laced Gothic tower. The southern portal is decorated by a fourteenth- century relief depicting Virgin Mary's death. Inside, the plastered walls are painted with colored ornamental design. The frescoes depict the lives of Hungarian saints. In the northern part there is a series of chapels. In the one nearest to the altar contains the sarcophagi of Béla III (1173-1196) and his wife Anne of Châtillon.
In the medieval crypt visitors can view a museum of medieval carvings and other stonework. A collection of ecclesiastical art including old chalices, sacred relics and vestments as well as a replica of the crown of the Hungarian kings is on exhibit in the gallery.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 14, 2003
Matthias Church (Matyas Templon)
Szentharomsag Ter 2 Castle Hill, District I
Budapest, Hungary 1014
36 1 355 5657
The performance opens with Regoles, a poem by Janos Arany which is sung to the tunes of a Mongolian heroic song. The dancing starts soon after with Heroic Times, the performance of a court feast. Dancers march and spin in a cotillion followed by a hedge dance. One dance is more impressive than another. Other acts include a Prince’s Dance which is a ceremonial couples’ dance in which the dancers imitate bird-like gestures, Haiduk Dance which is typical Hungarian dance performed in solo, group and duel-like routines, orchestral pieces, balls from the 19th century and more. There are about 13 acts in all. One of the most intriguing dances is the medieval sword dance performed by a group of men. They yield around machete-like blades as they jump through the air. One thing the dances have in common is the high speed. The gypsy music quickens with hypnotic rhythm and the dancers feet follow in time. With all the whirling of their colorful outfits we had a hard time taking pictures.
Award-winning choreographer Sandor Timar directs the ensemble which was established in 1951. Its aims to "collect and play authentic folk music and to preserve the folk dances and traditional costumes of Hungary and Hungarian-inhabited areas by putting them on stage before the public."
The five members of the Folk Orchestra play authentic, traditional instruments and perform Hungarian folk music at its highest artistic level. During a break in the performance you can walk up to the orchestra and see the unique instruments. The famous Gypsy Orchestra plays both dance accompaniments and performs alone. Their rich repertoire includes folk music which inspired Hungarian and international classical composers such as Liszt, Brahms, Kodály, and Bartók.
Tickets were easy to obtain. We purchased our at the Tourist Office. Tickets can also be reserved by telephone or your hotel’s concierge. Performances usually start at 8pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
Hungarian Folk Dancing