I fell in love with this city at first sight. Honest and truly. I was instantly knocked over by its history, its beauty and its baths! It deserves a weeklong visit spent wandering along it’s scenic paths and soaking up its essence. But we did cover a fair amount of ground here in our 36 hour stay and gathered some powerful impressions of it in full summer splendor.
First of all, Chain bridge is far and away the gateway to this city’s impressive history. Staying at the unbelievable and over the top 5 star Gresham Palace Four Seasons
was the best possible choice to soak up the view of this majestic bridge.
The hotel was as luxurious as could be. It’s also an architectural masterpiece with modern technological innovations like central heating (that was futuristic at the time it was built). It’s spectacular location on the Pest side entrance to Chain Bridge, overlooking the river, left us with a breathtaking “we have arrived” feeling as we entered room 303.
Chain bridge is extraordinary and mesmerizing in it’s architectural beauty from every single angle.
The Buda and the Pest sides, although extremely different in topography, have merged long ago to form one drop dead gorgeous city with the Danube river and it’s bridges as the breathtaking common denominator.
The 8 of us (my energetic parents and aunt and uncle, 2 teenage children and my husband) arrived into Budapest by train.
It was an easy 2 ½ hr train ride from Vienna. It was also the first time any of us had been to this magnificent city.
The Gresham Palace lobby was uber luxurious and picturesque,
and we didn’t want to leave it, but we did almost immediately since the concierge nabbed us tickets on a 2pm boat tour on the river. So, we raced to the river in 100 degree heat (with some definite griping by the teens and septuagenarians along the way) to capture the Danube breezes aboard a scenic vessel.
We took photos of parliament in all it’s splendor, while being served cold drinks on a platter from a smiling waitress.
We then walked along the Danube promenade afterwards and stopped for ice cream at Dunacore and watched swarms of people splashing about in the sweltering afternoon heat in the fountain in front of Vigado Concert Hall.
Jeffrey sat for a moment with the “Little Princess” bronze statue on the canal’s edge and it was such a good moment.
Rob and I crossed chain bridge in the heat while everyone else took a break from sightseeing. We made it up Buda hill via tuk tuk (highly recommend!!)
and explored Matthias church and Fishermen’s Bastion, finding beyond beautiful views at every turn.
Then I still had energy, so I left Rob at the hotel and dragged my mom with me to wander up the quaint side street (ZRINYI UTCA STREET) beside our hotel to explore St Stephen’s Basilica. It was super festive since there was a wedding going on.
We also saw the State Opera House and Avenue Andrassy, where we reveled in having made it to the ultimate home of Herend.
Then we delved into the Jewish Quarter and left it knowing there was so much more left to explore!
We made it back to the hotel to swim in the indoor pool on the top floor and even hit the hot tub. Then chilled at the hotel before having an 8pm dinner of gulosh and salted sea bass in the hotel restaurant, sitting outdoors with a view of St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Europe cup soccer game on the big screen TV.
After dinner we took a rickshaw around the city to take in the night lights of Budapest. I totally understand why they are so famous now 🙂 Parliament was especially mind-blowing in its evening splendor.
Saturday night at 11:30pm was prime time in Budapest for all the football fans and hen and stag parties. Sidewalk singing and beer drinking was in full tilt. There were countless limo rooftops full of party-going Europeans. I must admit that I wanted to join in all the festivities!
The next day I had a fabulous run which ended up being a sightseeing one across chain bridge,
and up the funicular (a must..but go first thing in the morning otherwise the lines are way too long). I took in the views from the top of Castle Hill and bonded with the Turul Bird sculpture in the park near Budavari Palace. I bought pretty ceramic bracelets as souvenir gifts right beside the Matthias Fountain. Castle Hill is a stunning cityscape. I was loving my solo time and the insanely good sunrise lighting.
There were way too many sights to capture, and I had Budapest all to myself, save for a few savvy Japanese tourists. I made it back to join my family for breakfast, again with that crazy pretty view of St Stephen’s Basilica, and gingerbread and expresso with cream.
Then it was time for our private tour, which took us up to re-explore the Castle Hill of Buda (where we played with hawks and took in the scenery such as the grandson of the last Hungarian King.
We also ascended Gellert hill to check out Liberation Monument
and it was all so very hot and crowded (no more having Budapest all to myself!) and our little group got pretty grumpy with the heat and crowds. The Gellert Baths were something to behold, and next time I plan to spend time soaking in all that thermal water!
And that is where our tour ended. We made our way back to walk along the Danube passing the bronze shoes on our way to Parliament. The Hungarian flag was a fun final touch. 🙂
We checked out of our hotel happy and wanting to see so much more of this captivating city. But instead we caught our 3:40pm train to Vienna and vowed to return.
Note to self: there is much more to explore here, especially the baths, the Jewish quarter and more of Buda hill village. The architecture here is insane. Real estate here would be an excellent investment, and investing in parking spaces in the old part of Pest side would be such a smart move.
Historically speaking, I really felt the richness of Buda and Pest: the romantic hills of Buda meeting up with the flat plains of Pest at the dancing waters of the Danube. I can see how it was worth fighting over, and defending with fortresses, and invading, and rebuilding, and just plain worth it.
Celtic tribes, then Romans, then Huns, then Mongols, then a Royal residence, then a gothic palace, then turks taking over, then the Habsburg dynasty. In 1873 Buda and Pest and Obuda united. And the World expo was held in 1896 celebrating 1000 years since the settlement of the Magyars.
All that stunning architecture and the palaces and boulevards were hit hard by WW1 and WW2. Budpest has been devastated so many times, yet somehow it has always been able to rebuild and preserve it’s rich history and atmosphere. There are all styles of architecture here, a hodgepodge from history. It’s a beautiful cauldron of architectural flavors and time periods–gothic, renaissance, touches of Turkish, roman, palaces, ancient ruins.
Travel Ruminations Sparked by our 2016 European City Summer Tour
I came to realize on this trip that I am an architecture junkie. It’s what I appreciate. It’s what I am drawn to and it’s what I tend to photograph. I soak up the scenes that architecture creates and I try to capture it by photographing the quaint little streets, churches and beautiful buildings. It’s impossible to capture the feeling of really being there, but it’s fun trying. It’s a creative outlet to look for unique angles and to ferret out the nooks and crannies of a place that make it special.
What I love is how it makes me feel to stand beside and inside all that architecture. I appreciate how old the buildings are. I love how they line up so beautifully together. I love how much they have to say, and how little details say so much about the era in which they were built.
I love how romantic Budapest feels, especially at night with the lights, the night life, clubs, carriages and those banks of the Danube river, a Unesco World Heritage site, no less.
My favorite spaces of this particular trip were the areas of St. Stephen’s Basilica and Matthias Church with Fishermen’s Bastion. Personally, churches and their nearby environs are powerful pause buttons for me. Buildings that are old and strung together and full of stories tend to put me in my historical place, and I find that enormously comforting.
I adore those winding small streets of old quarters. I want to live on a small cobblestone street some day, where the stones are worn down from lives long since gone. Squares and plazas are such serene and peaceful space. It says, “you’ve made it Lisa, now sit down and take a break and appreciate the view. Pause, reflect and admire the beauty around you. Have a cup of coffee or a glass of beer and sit still for Pete’s sake! Stop being so American! Put the camera down and take a look around at this grand vista, and take a deep breath. Relax.”
I sometimes wonder if the whole point of travel is to go back in time to a simpler quieter life. That combination of old architecture, foreign food, language and customs mixing with poor wifi connectivity allow me to sit in that square and decompress a bit. I might even let my gaze go hazy and shoot a smile at a stranger. It’s pressing the pause button, and it feels good. Time slows down. And I think of that quote from Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ahhh…this is what he meant by that.
Moving from town to town in Europe highlights for me that simple theme of travel. It’s about getting there, seeing it with your own eyes, having that moment of calm and serenity in that foreign place then bringing your changed self back home. Yes, photos and souvenirs are great, but it’s those experiences that you carry home in your heart and head — that is the reason people travel.
For me, travel is adventure and exploration. It’s a lot of moving, and being on the go, heading up, then down, then up again but always forward. And the most important part is to take a moment to appreciate the process of the journey. And once you reach your destination, pause.
Usually it’s a place of universally agreed upon beauty and history. Why is it universal, I wonder. What mix of history, setting and architecture categorize a place as appealing? I guess it’s like any kind of beauty. It’s hard to tease out the specifics of why it is, we all just know that most people agree that it just is. In the case of Budapest, rest assured, Chain Bridge, Fishermen’s Bastion and Gellert Hill all fit that bill.
But anyway, when you get to that universally agreed up beautiful place, just sit down and press the pause button. It could be a nap or a bike ride, a meal, an ice cream cone, a coffee, a beer, a good book, or just a moment of closing your eyes and breathing deeply.
Whatever it is, do it right there in that place of beauty. If you do that you will seal that moment and have it forever. Soak up that view while while you are out of your element, and in that place of history and universally agreed upon beauty. Have that moment to yourself to reflect.
Hike up, walk down, try to capture angles of it in stills and video. Just try. And try every kind of transport a city offers because each one is a path to experiencing the city as a local does. Move, move, move to finally just sit still.
On this trip we rode in planes, trains, taxis, tour vans, tuk tuks, horse and carriages, rickshaws, boats, and funiculars.
My favorite of all was just plain walking. Just walking to get lost. It’s such a gift to wander aimlessly and then find yourself in a beautiful space with sun on your face and a local staring right at you.
OK, that’s not a local, that’s my son, but you know what I mean 🙂
I vow for next time: to spend 5 nights in winter, do the baths, see more art museums, see Margaret island, check out the basements, Get to Great Market Hall and Hero’s square, spend more time at the Opera house and in the Jewish quarter. If summer, spring or fall, I’d like to go biking, go to the zoo and botanical gardens, definitely stay in Gresham palace again and get Hungarian moor mud therapy. I’d do more tuk tuk tours, walking tours, bus tours, and a night boat tour.
What I loved: Chain bridge, St. Stephen’s Basilica, rick shaws, tuk tuks, Euro cup soccer, that awesome funicular, that brief encounter with the great Grandson of the last Hungarian King, Mattias church and Fisherman’s bastion. Gellert hill, the River boat tour, seeing Parliament!!
Tips/Ideas for When you go
Accommodation: stay at Gresham Palace Four Seasons if possible.
Food: wiener schnitzel, apple strudel, gulash, gingerbread (given as a token of love!!), paprika.
Entertainment/Activities: sightseeing, dining in cool spots, taking different fun modes of transportation, exploring on foot.
Of Special Note:
+Spiler Shanghai Bistropub in the Jewish quarter: www.spilerbp.hu 1075 Budapest Kiraly Utca 13.
+Café de Paris: 1117 Budapest budafoki
+Tuk tuk: Daniel was our driver. www.budapesttuktuk.hu