Following the M-1 freeway in our rented Opel Vectra station wagon, My mother, brother, sister and I breezed into Budapest, “The Paris of the East,” a busy metropolis of 2 million people.
Executing the “Latino style of driving technique,” as outlined in the Budapest Visitor’s Guide “Need to Know” section, “Driving in Budapest should never be tackled lightly, and certainly not by the fainthearted. There is a highway code, though few seem to give it much regard.” Armed with that important tip, we followed the small blue signs with the white “i” (symbol for tourist information center). Winding our way over the Danube River that divides the flat “Pest” (pronounced pesht) side from the hilly “Buda” district of the city, which was officially amalgamated to form Budapest in 1872, we arrived at a typical house in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
After a short wait inside the crowded tourist office, a portly gentleman greeted us. He preferred to serve us in German, as he spoke only a little English. He showed us what accommodations were available and we chose a small two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city. For an additional 19.90 Euros each (approximately 1 Euro = 1 USD) we purchased the recommended two-hour city tour.
We found our drab gray apartment building located on a narrow one-lane street. There was no elevator. Our dark, dingy third floor flat had very high ceilings but was amazingly quiet, even overlooking the open inner courtyard. The two bedrooms had more beds than we required, and the kitchen included a separate eating area. The small bathroom had the requisite bath and shower arrangement, adequate for our needs.
Our next priority was to find a secure parking lot to keep our car off the street for two nights. We had been forewarned that car thefts are a common occurrence here. After checking out several of the official high-walled parking lots, designated with the white “P”, we found one near our apartment and paid the owner for two nights ( $6.00 USD per day). As is the norm with many individually owned businesses or small businesses in Budapest, cash is the only method of payment. Chess tournaments calendar
That evening we explored the restaurant area near the opera house and stumbled upon Svejk Restaurant and Grill at 1072 Kiraly Ut 59/b. The server who greeted us as we entered proclaimed, “You can eat as much as you like and as often as you like.” Yes, my kind of eating establishment! We sampled a delightful smorgasbord of grilled meats, seafood, vegetable dishes, pasta, and a variety of cakes for dessert. Wine, beer, juice, pop and coffee were all included.
We woke to a beautiful warm and gorgeous day and went out for breakfast. We stopped at the Unio Hotel, several doors down the street from our apartment and ordered a buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, cold cuts, yogurt, orange juice and terrible muddy tasting coffee.
At 10:00 a.m. we crammed in the tiny cab, included with our city tour, and our taxi driver whisked his cab through the crowded alleys to the tour bus waiting for us on Andrassy Ut. This main street is Budapest’s answer to the Parisian grand boulevard. Along its’ route are impressive consulate buildings and regal mansions of Budapest’s well-to-do.
The city of Budapest is filled with statues commemorating many famous Hungarians from Emperor Franz Josef, crowned King of Hungary in 1867, to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, as well as other notable Hungarian artists, architects and political figures. The statues are everywhere, planted in giant plazas, on hilltops, to hidden out of the way courtyards with barely enough room to stick one.
Heroes’ Square at the terminus of Andrassy Ut is one of the most famous landmarks in the city. This vast granite tiled plaza, dominated by the 36-meter (118 feet) column called the Millenary Monument, was built to celebrate Hungary’s millennium in 1896, though the project was completed until 1929. Scholars arbitrarily picked 896 as the year Arpad led the victorious Magyar hoards into the Carpathian Basin. The statues that make up the monument were renovated in time for the 2001 celebration of Szt Istvan’s Day, a national holiday in Hungary that marks the founding of the state. Two colonnades feature various Hungarian rulers and princes. They are topped with sculptures representing Work, War, Peace and Knowledge. At the center are Arpad and the six other leading Magyar chieftains, grouped around the base of the column. On top of the column is Gabriel, holding an apostolic cross and the Hungarian Crown, signifying the archangel, supposedly appearing to Istvan in a dream, urging him to convert the pagan Hungarians to Christianity. Flanking this square are two of Budapest’s leading museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Arts.
Budapest boasts over 40 museums and galleries, from agriculture, beer, and military history museums to postal and telecommunications, bank notes, flags and saddle museums. There is even a house of terror museum for those with a taste for the macabre.
Our bus next climbed th steep Palota Ut, in the Castle Hill District, after crossing Erzsebet Hid (Elizabeth Bridge) to the Buda side. We passed Fishermen’s Bastion which was a section of the medieval castle walls assigned to the Fishermen’s Guild for defense. Although it looks ancient, it was actually designed by Frigyes Schulek and built in the early 1900s.
The tour bus stopped in front of the imposing Citadel, built by the Austrians in 1851 as a public symbol of their authority over the Hungarians following the suppression of the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence. The 14-meter (46 feet) Liberation Monument, depicting a woman holding a palm leaf of Victory above her head as a symbol of “liberation” from the Germans by Soviet troops in 1945 stands in front.