Saturday, November 22, 2014

We explore Budapest - by bus, boat and foot

We decided that a hop-on hop-off bus might be a good way to get an overview of Budapest. Erzsebet Square, formerly known as Stalin and Lenin Square, was our starting point. As we traveled around Pest — the larger, more sprawling half of Budapest  — we admired the puzzle of Baroque, classical, and modern architecture, all with grand facades. To those of you who read thrillers you will recall Andrassy street and the building where first the Nazis and then the Hungarian secret police had their headquarters. The austere building still stands today.

Eventually we reached the massive Heroes Square to see  the bronze-cast, larger-than-life players in Hungary's national story. Soaring above Heroes' Square is the Millennium Column, the focal point of the Millennium Monument. The column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel. Behind the column is a semicircular colonnade with statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. Statues atop the colonnades symbolize War, Peace, Work and Welfare, and Knowledge and Glory.

Crossing the Danube we climbed to Buda's steep Castle Hill for bird's-eye views of ‘twin city’ Pest across the river, and viewed Budapest's greatest church: the sumptuously-gilded Matthias Church.

After nearly two hours riding in the open top of the double decker tour bus, it was time to warm up, which we did in an English style pub. Next we boarded one of the many tour boats plying the Danube, for a look at the sights from the water. Looming over us was the magnificent Buda Castle. Perhaps the most magnificent sight was Europe's largest Parliament Building sitting right on the bank of the Danube.

Our ride continued up the river to Margaret Island established in the twelfth century by the Knights of St. John. Throughout the ages it was the site of several religious organizations. Today it is a huge park complete with a hotel and several sporting venues. The boat was even colder than the bus so we were happy not to stop there, and return to Pest, where we stopped at our favourite cafe, Anna, for a welcome espresso.

We enjoyed dinner in a very busy local Greek restaurant that was filled with lots of atmosphere. When we were finished the owner presented me with what looked like a flower wrapped up but was actually a cabbage that looked like a flower. It was very difficult to escape cabbage on this trip. I graciously thanked him before we set off on our evening walk along the Danube, crossing the river on one of the eight magnificent bridges to the Buda side before making a loop back to our hotel. Oh yes. The thought of a cabbage smell in the hotel room was too much. I abandoned the cabbage on a stone balustrade by the river hoping that someone might pick it up and enjoy it more than me.

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