We left Frankfurt and landed at the Budapest Airport; it was very easy to find the bus that goes right to the center of town. It was a nice day, so we fingured we would walk to the nearby Metro stop, as our hotel was located next to the Metro Line stop Oktogon. However, the map app thought we could not reach the station nearest to us as there was some construction, and that is how it looked to us in person. So, it routed us to the nearest station, which, for some reason, was the opposite way that we were going. Of course, we walked that way, and being in a new city, became a bit lost, though we did get to see a couple of funky fountains on our (wrong) way.
We finally reached the metro station with our bags, lucky for us the Metro is only 15 feet below street level. It was opened in 1896, was the first underground railway on the European mainland (though was originally used for horse carriages), and also the first to use electric power in the world. The line we used, M1, is a UNESCO heritage site, and it is clean, the stations are charming, and was a quick and easy way for us to get around.
In a few stops we were at our hotel, relaxing for a bit before taking a walk around the city. We called it an early night because we had a morning walking tour planned for the next day. We woke up the next morning, took the metro and arrived at Cafe Gerbeaud, the oldest cafe in Budapest. We sat outside, but the interior is super fancy.
We had coffees, a brioche and a super tasty cheddar scone, finishing just in time to make it to the meetup point for the tour. We were joined by a group of about 15 others; from France, Germany, the Netherlands and even a few people from Brazil! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and we saw a lot of the city, beginning by walking along the Danube River. This tour was of the Pest side of Budapest; Buda and Pest were separate towns, connected now by multiple bridges. Our first stop was the Vigadó Concert Hall, built in 1865.
Across the top of the building are busts of famous Hungarians throughout history; on the side, there is one even of Attila the Hun, who is unsurprisingly not found on many monuments around the city, and this is one of the very few.
Next we walked through Vörösmarty Square, which is a large square with a lot of shops as well as the last stop for the M1 Metro line, so Jesse and I were at the square numerous times during our five days in Budapest. We walked along, popping into a building courtyard, which we learned are very common in Budapest, which appear hidden but have shops and cafes.
We watched past the famous statue of a portly policeman, where everyone was taking pictures, and our guide was nice enough to take a picture of us, with Jesse rubbing his belly for good luck.
We then stopped outside of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is a massive Roman Catholic church that construction began in the year 1851 and finished in 1905.
Our next stop was for a strudel snack at Első Pesti Rétesház, or the Strudel House of Pest, which dates back to 1812. We watched them make the strudel right in front of us. Of course we had to try a couple, and ate them as we walked to Liberty Square Park. At one end is the Monument to the victims of the German Occupation (A német megszállás áldozatainak emlékműve), which is quite new but controversial, as it portrays the Hungarians as an angel against the evil eagle Germans. It is in front of a new age fountain and popular for pictures, but there are items and leaflets in front of the statue in protest. The statue was raised without any fanfare; our guide said it was done at night, so there could be no protest. It is quite bizarre.
On the other end of the park is the Soviet Monument, which is one of the only remaining statues to the soviets in Budapest (the rest have been moved to Memento Park, outside the city, that Jesse and I visited later on in our trip).
It is situated between the American Embassy and a statue of Ronald Reagan (celebrated for helping to end the cold war). On the square is also a statue to George HW Bush, the only sitting American president to visit Hungary. The final stop on the tour was the most impressive, and that is, of course, the Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház). We first saw if from a bit farther away.
As we approached we could see just how massive a building it is.
It is a gorgeous building built in Neo-Gothic style and finished in 1902. The man on the horse is Prince Francis II Rákóczi, a Hungarian national hero who fought against the Hapsburgs for Hungary’s Freedom in the early 1700s. We craned our necks looking at all the detail on the building; after the tour was over we walked on the shorter side opposite the horse (the right hand side in the picture above).
While we did not get a chance to tour the inside (next time), just walking around the building, and seeing it close up was a site to see. Our tour guide had mentioned Margaret Island, which is an island on the Danube in between Buda and Pest, that was well worth a visit. Since it was a short walk from the Parliament, and it was still early in the afternoon, we waked that way. We could see the Margaret Bridge that crosses the Danube, but has an offshoot to the Island (you can see the green tree tops in the middle of the below picture).
With many trees and paths for walking and biking, a public pool, Japanese Garden, big fountain, restaurants and cafes, the ruins of old churches and monasteries, Margaret Island was a wonderful place to spend the rest of our afternoon. The tree cover also kept us cooler on the hot day. As we entered the park, we saw people on side-by-side bicycles, and since there were wide paths and very few cars on the island, we decided to rent one to explore the park. We first encountered the ruins of the Monastery, parked the bike and explored, but there was not much left of it.
Back on the bike, we next found the Rose Garden, where the scent of roses was a delight as we biked through on the gravel paths. The flower garden called the Light Garden was opposite and had many colorful flowers and more paths to bike down.
Next we came upon the Dominican Medieval Covenant and Royal Mansion of the Island’s namesake, Princess Margaret. The story goes that, back in 1241, when Hungary lost their lands to the Mongols, the King and Queen at the time promised if they had a daughter, she would be a nun “to atone for the survival of the country.” Princess Margaret was born in 1242, and moved to the Monastery on what was then called Rabbit Island, in 1252. Margaret lived here until her death in 1271, and was much later canonized in 1943. She is buried here, along with her brother. There is a nice shrine dedicated to her as well.
Our last biking stop was a quick visit to the Japanese Gardens, though these were not as nice as the ones we had visited less than a week before in Kaiserslautern. So, we took some quick pictures, and were on our way.
When we dropped off the bike it had been nearly two hours, and all worth it. The cost was quite reasonable, and it was a great way to enjoy the Island, and highly recommended. We stopped for some pictures of the city on the bridge on our way back.
We took the long walk back to Vörösmarty Square, and saw a sign for a rooftop bar that looked down upon the square. We met the hostess at the entrance to the elevator, and she said we had about an hour if we wanted to have drinks. We later figured out they tell everybody this, to ensure customers don’t just have one drink and sit for hours. They had a really nice patio, with a great view of the city. We ordered cocktails and shared some delicious octopus tacos ever, some cheese fries and ceviche while we took in the view.
We went back to the hotel for some much needed rest, before heading out later that evening to take in Budapest at night. More to come in the next post!