"If you come from Paris to Budapest you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest you think you are in Paris." ~ Gyorgy Ligeti
We started out early one morning only to discover that Budapest sleeps in. This wasn’t apparent in our guidebook. Supposedly the baths were open early, and they had a "womens day". Not true. A cafe was marked on their map. It was gone. In fact, as we learned over the next few days, our guidebook was wrong - a lot. (And, we did check that we had the latest edition.)
Over the worst coffee of my lifetime, we discussed the city. We deemed Paris a twenty-five year-old, sophisticated, glamorous and knows how to make the boys drool. Prague is seventeen, wanting to be so like her older sister, and seeking to find the right direction towards maturity. She’s getting close. But Budapest, the youngest sister is still developing, unaware of where she’s going, but in a rush to get there. She’s eleven but wants to be nineteen as she stomps her foot.
Two hours later we made our way towards the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus for Budapest. www.citytour.hu. For roughly $22 per person you can see 15 sights. An audio guide comes with your ticket, and if you just ride the bus without stopping at any sights it will take about two hours.
First, we would have to cross the:
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Built in 1849 this suspension bridge was the first permanent bridge to span the Danube river. It is named after a politician, and its supporter, István Széchenyi. The pair of lions on each of the bridge’s entrances are smaller replicas of the Trafalgar Square lions in London. These were added in 1852.
During World War II the bridge was severely damaged and was rebuilt in 1949. In fact every bridge over the Danube in Budapest was destroyed during the war and all but one were rebuilt as exact replicas of the former bridges. Elisabeth Bridge was built in 1964 and is a white cable bridge holding six lanes of traffic.
The stops along the route:
The hill is named for St. Gerard (the French version of Gellert), who tried to convert pagan Hungarians to Christianity. The pagans locked him in a barrel filled with nails and threw it down the hill in 1046.
The best views are from Citadella sétány.
This Byzantine-Moorish style synagogue is the second largest in the world, and was constructed between 1844 and 1859. At that time Jews were banned from living within the old city limits so they created a Jewish Quarter just outside. Remnants of the old city walls of Pest can be seen across the street.
Address: Dohány utca 2-8. in VII. district, at an angle to Károly körút, between Deák tér and Astoria
The figures within the memorial contain the leaders of the seven tribes which became Hungary in the 9th century, and important persons throughout the country’s history. The square and monument were completed in 1900.
Metro: Hosok tere M.
Boasting one of the best views of the city, this neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace was completed in 1902, which includes seven towers. The towers represent the seven Magyar tribes which settled in the area in 896 ACE. The name of the monument comes from the guild responsible for defending the hill it rests on.
Address: Szentháromság tér, 1014.
Though a church has been on the site since 1015, the current structure dates from the mid-1300s and is in the Gothic style. The church is officially titled Church of Our Lady but has been nicknamed for the popular King Matthias (of Bohemia and Austria).
During Turkish occupation the church was stripped of its Christian symbols and furnishings when it became the city’s main mosque. Architect Frigyes Schulek restored the church to its original condition in the 19th century.
Immediately in front of Fisherman’s Bastion.
Located in the Castle Hill complex, a palace has been at this location since 1247 though the current structure’s oldest section dates to the 14th century. The complex hosts Baroque, Medieval and 19th century style architecture.
Much of the complex was destroyed the siege of Budapest during World War II. What was left was gutted by the Communist government because it was viewed as a symbol of the former regime. The long process of rebuilding wasn’t completed until the 1980s.
Gellert Spa and Bath
Every day 70 million liters of warm thermal water bubble up through the 118 natural springs in Budapest. The city’s dozen bath houses have been funneling the waters into varying temperature pools and spas since Turkish occupation (1500s).
We spent the morning lounging in a bath. The different temperature pools were encased in white and gray marbles. Above were white and green mosaics and skylights. It was quite stunning. And, very relaxing.
Note: Most spas now require visitors to bring a bathing suit. Gellert doesn’t enforce this rule. You can reserve a private changing booth. They also provide saunas, cooling pools, foot soaks and showers.
With the fall of Communism throughout Europe in 1989, most former Soviet-controlled nations destroyed images, sculptures and statues. Hungary decided to gather these images in one place, Memento Park, near Budapest, as a reminder of this dark period.
Address: 22nd district (Southern Buda), corner of Balatoni út and Szabadkai utca., Szoborpark. How to get there: Bus 150 runs from Allee Shopping Center. The ride is roughly 25 minutes from there.