Archive for the ‘Budapest’ Category

Budapest – Castle Hill   10 comments

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After lunch we headed off on another little tram ride around the city and ended up below the Royal Palace and the Castle district

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Its perched on hill high above the river and it would only have taken us 10-15 minutes to walk up. TJF gave me an imploring “please don’t make me walk up that nasty hill” look and I relented and paid a hefty fee for the 1 minute journey on the cliff railway

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Quaint, but not quite as enjoyable if it had been free

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At least the views across the river to the city were worth it

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The area consists of the Royal Palace and the Old Town to the north and all of it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Royal Palace has been around since the 13th Century and has a feast of stuff to do. Museums, Art Galleries and caves beneath the castle

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We didn’t have time for any of that and contented ourselves with a walk along the courtyards and walls facing out over the river and city to take in the sweeping views

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We came across these guys undertaking some kind of ritual and followed them around the castle for a bit

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Walking through to the old town the most striking building is the Matthias Church. Some it dates back 500 years and its an arresting sight

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I was fascinated by the roof (a Zsolnay Porcelain Tiled one if you must ask). Reminded me of Lego

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Its been extensively renovated over the past 10 years and dazzles from all directions

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These strange turrets are part of the Fisherman’s Bastion. It looks medieval but it only dates from 1905. It supposedly has fine views over the city but seeing as they wanted me to part with cash I was happy with, what I assume were, pretty much the same – and free – views from everywhere else on the hill. Takes its name from the guild of fishermen who used defend this stretch of the walls

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An equestrian monument by Alajos Strobl stands in front of the bastion

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A very fine – and free – view across the river to the city from just next to the bastion!

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We wandered down through the old town, cobbled streets lined with artisan shops and restaurants

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We walked back down the hill and took a metro back to the centre, stopping off for a beer in Szabadsag Ter and a final play with its fountain

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We picked up our bags from the hotel and headed off to the station to catch our next train to our next and final (almost) city on the Grand Tour

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What can I say other than I absolutely loved Budapest. Of the all the places we visited it was the one I could actually see myself living in. It didn’t possess the history and iconic sights of Rome or the water and architecture of Venice but its overall sense of uncrowded space together with unique sights of its own put it in a class of its own. We only had 3.5 days here as I wasn’t sure whether we’d like it, or find enough to do. Quite the reverse. There was a whole list of places we never got to see but as I’ve said many times through these posts, a good excuse to go back. Wonderful city

 

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Budapest – Seven Forms of Transport to the Buda Hills   16 comments

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Our last day in Budapest, time flies when you’re having fun. My guide-book recommended a trip into the Buda Hills using an interesting mix of Transportation styles. First was a Metro to the other side of the river followed by a tram ride – well two tram rides actually as we got on heading in the wrong direction!. From there a rack railway high into the Buda Hills that rise to the west of the city.

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Another of the city’s great features. Less than an hour by public transport from the centre of the city and you’re in wooded hills. There are some fine walking trails up here apparently

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A short walk brought us to another train station. This one is a children’s railway in more ways than one. It was built by Scouts in 1951 and is staffed entirely by schoolchildren (except engineers and drivers).

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It was fun and utterly charming and a wonderful run through the wooded hills with glimpses to the green pastures to the west of the city. Another world in every way.

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The kids perform guard duties, check tickets and manage the trains. One them even sold me my tickets at the booth. They all wear their natty little uniforms and seemed to be enjoying the responsibility

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The line runs for 11km through the hills but we got off halfway to walk up to the highest point (a respectable 527m) and see the views from the Elizabeth monument

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It was a longer and steeper climb than I thought

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The Elizabeth lookout is a very faux-grand affair that I’m sure everywhere else we’d visited would try to extract a charge. Here it was free to climb.

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The views from the top were superb. To the west, rolling green hills, farm land and small towns

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To the east the huge sprawl of the city threaded by the Danube

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A zoom shot of the Parliament Building

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And a couple of Panoramas looking east and west

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The tall round building in the centre-left of the photo below is where the cog railway started from

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It was a revelation to be out in the countryside after two weeks in busy cities, yet all this was a short trip away from the busy heart of Budapest.

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To head down we took another from of transport, one that every city should have, a chairlift!

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A very unusual and relaxing way to descend and admire the excellent views over the Buda Hills and the city itself

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A little video to add to the blog experience

 

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A short walk down the road from the bottom to catch a bus and a metro back to the central park for another Hungarian street food lunch. Metro, Tram, Rack Railway, Children’s Miniature Railway, Chairlift, Bus. Six forms of transport. Number seven? Walking of course!

Budapest – Danube River & Margaret Island   10 comments

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After lunch we hopped on another tram and headed down to the south end of the city to pick up a river bus

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It was the only time my trusty Lonely Planet guides let me down. Heading for the recommended boat stop we had to cross some busy roads and dusty road works to reach it. When we got there and after several minutes deciphering the timetable it turned out that only a couple of boats a day stopped here and the main route was on the opposite side of the river. We had to retrace the busy roads and roadworks to cross the bridge although it did afford us a nice view up the river

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The boat arrived shortly after and we were pleased to find that it was included on our 3 day transport pass 🙂

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We found a table at the back and settled in for a very leisurely trip along the Danube

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The boat is slow and stops many times but it does pass by all the sights and under all the bridges at a nice steady pace. Very relaxing

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The Liberty Bridge overlooked by the monument up on the hill

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The Elizabeth Bridge

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And the Royal Palace. Loads of people got off here so we were able to snag some seats at the front

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The Szechenyi Chain Bridge

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And then pride of place, a close riverside passage by the Parliament Building

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It looks absolutely stunning and magnificent from the river

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The Margaret Island Bridge

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Having cruised up the river for over an hour we decided some exercise was in order and we hopped off onto Margaret Island

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As the name suggests it’s an island in the middle of the Danube and it’s really rather splendid. In effect a woodland and park with huge expanses of grass and gardens. When we set foot, we heard music and were drawn to a large fountain. It was a display set to the cheesiest music you could imagine. Think fountains set to the music from a cartoon aimed at 4-year-old little girls, My Little Pony or the like, and you get the idea. It was hilariously bad and I wished I’d taken some video.

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There are several art exhibitions, bars restaurants and such-like and a huge open air swimming complex. The island is pretty much traffic free and would be a great place for a leisurely cycle around. In fact on a hot summers day you could spend a whole day here rather than the brief stroll we had

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Near the northern end were some Japanese style gardens, beautiful in the afternoon sun

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All we had to do was to wait by the riverside for our bus off the island and catch a metro back home

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Our evening meal was from a Hungarian takeaway. Not only was it excellent (in a huge portions of greasy meat and potatoes kind of way) but astoundingly cheap. I bought 3 huge portions for the grand sum of a tenner in total. The Hungarian Forint is one of those with lots of zeros in before you convert to pounds so it sounded a lot when I paid up before realising how cheap it was. A cracking day finished off with an evening stroll to scoff some more chimney cake

Budapest – Szechenyi Thermal Baths   14 comments

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One of Budapest’s most famous assets is its abundance of hot springs. It lies on geological fault between the Great Plain and the Buda Hills allowing 30,000 cubic metres of water a day to gush upwards in more than 400 springs with temperatures between a balmy 21C to a scalding 76C. “Taking the Waters” has been a tradition since Roman times and is now a major attraction in the city.  We were eager to give one a go and after perusing the various options we chose the Szechenyi Baths in the city park.

Even the journey there from the city centre has a touch of history. Metro Line 1 that runs the length of Andrassy Utca is Continental Europe’s oldest underground railway (opened in 1896).

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Known locally as the little yellow train, it runs only a few feet beneath the surface. It’s a like an old fashioned toy railway with carriages and wooden and tiled stations to match

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It’s a fun way to travel and it drops you right outside the baths

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Getting changed was a complex affair involving locker keys, attendants and working out where you changing room is and how to use it. Then you step outside into this

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The most well-used comment you see is it’s like taking a bath in wedding cake and it’s not hard to see why. The water is some of the hottest in the city at around 38C. This was the hottest pool and was like bath water

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The bright yellow decor is striking especially against a blue sky. It looks a little worn around the edges but it was spotlessly clean and had bags of character and charm

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We decided it might be quieter first thing in the morning so we were there before 10am when indeed we had plenty of space and a choice of sun loungers

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The outdoor area has two large thermal pools and one cooler one for swimming

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One of the pools has jacuzzi-like jets of water and a whirlpool

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They force water around this circular section and it whirls you round at a fair lick

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Needless to say we loved it, great fun. A little video below:

 

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It’s a really relaxing place as the water is so warm you just lounge about

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It’s quite a surreal experience to float in a swimming pool that’s as hot as a bath especially when you put your head underwater

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In addition to the outdoor pools there are dozens of indoor pools of varying shapes, sizes and temperatures. There are also a range of more serious therapeutic treatments as well as saunas and steam rooms. A whole day of watery entertainment

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As we’d arrived early the air still had a bit of chill to it when you’re wet so dipping in and out the pool was rather nice

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We spent a couple of happy hours just lounging in the water alternating with lounging on the sun beds

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As morning gave way to lunchtime the air warmed up and the place and the pools started to get crowded

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It must a be real experience to come here in winter when its cold and snowy and swim in hot water below the chilly air

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We decided that we’d done our stint in the medicinal waters. It’s supposed to be good for joints. Can’t say for sure but my knees have been in a good place since we went there! 🙂

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We headed into the City Park looking for some lunch. My guidebook indicated an array of street food stands but the park had been taken over by and International Swimming event (Hungarians are really big on swimming) and there was no food anywhere. Still the park had some nice buildings in it and was pleasantly warm and sunny

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We walked back to the Metro through Heroes Square. It’s an important monument and open space dedicated to “those who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence”

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It looked particularly fetching on this clear sunny day

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We headed back to the main square in the centre of town for what would become our regular lunch of traditional Hungarian food in the park

Budapest – Fountains of Fun and Gellert Hill   10 comments

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One the reasons I really loved Budapest was that it felt open and spacious. The Communist era saw huge wide boulevards and streets and the city has many large open squares. Walking back into town from Parliament we came across Szabadság tér a huge open space surrounded by impressive buildings and containing fountains and sculptures

The Soviet Army Memorial, the last one in the city

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The fountain of the post title wasn’t the most beautiful we saw on our travels but it was the most fun. It has sensors that turn the water on and off as you approach. You can make the water dance to your tune by a variety of hand gestures (steady!) and walk through the water.

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We were already finding this highly entertaining until I realised that the other Funsters and Sherpa seemed to employing a range of strange (and unnecessary) walks while doing this. A little video accompanied by my hysterical laughter

 

I’m still not entirely sure why we found it so funny and everyone else thought we must have been on a day visit from the home but who cares. One of the highlights of the whole trip. We are a strange family

We lunched on local fare from the street market in Erzsébet téri park under the wheel that every city seems to have these days. I jokingly called it the Budapest Eye until we walked past and realised that was its actual name!

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A word now for Budapest’s public transport system. If you were building a city from scratch and wanted ideas on what your transport network should look like I’d tell you to go to Budapest

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It has a decent metro system, loads of trams, punctual buses and even a river bus. Most of our days in the city were built around using it and often we just hopped on a tram or metro and took it somewhere we thought might be interesting. We used the trams as an ad-hoc hop on/off tour bus

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They were never crowded and we never waited more than a few minutes

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Even the escalators were good. The Metro lines are deep and they seemed to give a weird sense of perspective. Most importantly of all it was cheap. About £13 each for unlimited use for 3 days. It was fun and we wanted to use it. In short everything a city public transport system should be. Well played Budapest.

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We took a tram to the Liberty Bridge (my favourite in the city) to climb Gellert Hill

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Its a rocky bluff around 230m high with spectacular views across the city

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One of the Danube River Cruise Boats

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South across the city

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North over the Elizabeth Bridge

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On top of the hill is the Liberty Monument. It was erected as a tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating the city in 1945

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Parliament building

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The Royal Palace

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St Stephens Basilica

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Across the Danube to Pest

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The Royal Palace

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North over the Danube

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It’s a steep climb but well worth it. Best views over the city

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We walked back down, hopped on a tram for a couple of stops (every city should have trams!) and stopped in Clark Adam Ter for an ice cream (the square is named after the Scottish engineer who designed the Szechenyi Chain Bridge).

This curious piece is the 0km stone. All Hungarian roads to and from the city are measured from this spot. A city packed with interesting stuff

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We wandered along the river to reach Batthyány tér for the best view of the Parliament Building. We passed this fine church on the way

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And the view across the river was indeed superb

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Added interest from seeing the curious bus that runs tours on land and down the river. Very surreal seeing a bus floating down the river

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We spent a relaxing couple of hours back at the apartment before heading out for a meal

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We’d been told that we had to see Budapest at night. The Parliament building was only 5 minutes away so we went for a look. It’s dazzling at night although as usual my photos don’t do it justice

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Using our new found love of Budapest’s transport system we then hopped on a series of trams to look at the nighttime views across the river

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The Parliament Building took pride of place

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The Gellert Hotel, one of the oldest in the city

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The Liberty Bridge

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The nighttime illuminations really enhanced its green colour

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Along the Danube to the Elizabeth Bridge

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Elizabeth Bridge and the Royal Palace

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The Liberty Monument

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Massive river cruise boats

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And the Liberty Bridge again. The rest of the family seemed somewhat concerned by my tendency to step out into traffic to take photos. Risky in Budapest but worth it I think

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And back to the Budapest Eye for a new found Hungarian delicacy, Kürtőskalács, is a sort of sweetened bread that is rolled around a cylinder and cooked over hot coals before being rolled in sugar, chocolate etc. Its totally delicious and replaced gelato in our pudding hearts. Wish I’d taken a photo.

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Loads packed into our first full day and tomorrow we were off to sample one of the city’s more unique experiences

Budapest – Welcome & Parliament   10 comments

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New country, new city.  A short – relatively – train ride and I was into my first eastern European city, Budapest

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As we agreed with friends before set off we’d try and take a photo of all the trains we traveled on. This is an Austrian Railjet train

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Budapest Keleti station. A wonderful old building that I neglected to take a shot of the equally impressive outside.

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We stayed in an apartment hotel in the middle of the city. A huge apartment that we felt immediately at home in, probably on account of the fact that everything seemed to be from IKEA much like our own house!

As we’d lost a few hours of our time in Budapest there wasn’t a moment to waste. We dumped bags and headed straight out for a quick look around

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I like Budapest straight away. We were lucky with the weather, clear warm and sunny. Budapest can be brutally hot in the summer but the rain of the night before had delivered a warm, clear, perfect evening. We took an amble through the city towards the river for our first glimpse of the mighty Danube

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And mighty it is. A huge expanse of fast flowing water. All great cities need a river or waterfront. The Danube gives Budapest a perfect reflection for its bridges, castles and contemporary architecture

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One of the older hotels across Szechenyi Ter (Ter is Hungarian for Square)

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We strolled out across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge probably the most famous of the Danube bridges in the city. A view looking downstream towards the Citadella

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I love this panorama shot for the weird effect of seeing the bridge stretch away on both sides of the image

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Buda Castle across the other side of the river. In case you didn’t know the city is divided into two parts. The urban sprawl of Pest and the more rural wooded and hilly side of Buda, separated by the Danube

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Looking back to Pest

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Across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge

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And upstream towards Parliament and Margaret Island

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We wandered back into the city and discovered that Budapest is not built for pedestrians. main roads packed with traffic were everywhere and crossing points were few. I was nearly run over a couple of times on this first outing. No matter with views like this, St Stephen’s Basilica. It’s the main place of worship in the city and hosts the much revered and grisly remains of Hungary’s greatest Saint (his arm if you must know)

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A nice walk, an exciting introduction to the city, a bit of shopping and home for tea. Ready for a full day in our new home

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I’d booked a tour of the Parliament building as it sounded interesting. In a trip of extraordinary buildings this one is up there with the best of them. It’s the largest building in Hungary (268m long). It was built at the end of the 19th Century opposite the Royal Palace to signify that the future lay with democracy not royalty. It dominates the city and is always a tremendous site when it pops into view. This is the classic view as it were from across the Danube

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The tour was presented by a friendly and quirky lady and was fascinating. It’s lavishly decorated with gold leaf, statues and artwork

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There are two houses of parliament but only one is now in use (they got rid of the upper house in 1944). One of the stories is that Hungarian politicians smoked cigars and lots of them especially when discussing points of debate outside the chamber. Every alcove had one of these numbered cigar holders. Smoking was not allowed in the chamber so they would leave their cigar for later in a numbered position so they knew which was theirs when they returned

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In the centre of the building was the massive dome with the hall below housing the most treasured icons of Hungarian history. The Crown of St Stephen, a ceremonial sword and a Persian sceptre. The Crown is the symbol of the Hungarian nation with a colourful and eventful history (it went missing on several occasions!)

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Guarded permanently by soldiers of the Hungarian army these are treasured and priceless relics yet you can stand a couple of feet away (unlike our own crown jewels which you get a fleeting glimpse of for a massive exchange of cash). Alas but not surprisingly photos are not allowed

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We were allowed to see into the old higher chamber now used for ceremonial events and presentations. One thing that became very clear in the short tour is that the Hungarians are a proud nation with a very long history, not something I was really aware of. They treasure their history with reverence but open-ness. I came to like the people and their capital all the more after the tour which is how it should be

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The tour was brief but thoroughly enjoyable and I’d strongly recommend (it was pretty cheap as well as were most things in the city). As with our tours in Venice and Rome it gave us a brief history and set much of what we saw in context

We took a walk around the outside afterwards as we explored more of the city. A beautiful building both inside and out

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Not sure what the building opposite was but it was very grand and impressive.

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We saw the changing of the guard by the national flag. Much like the one outside Buckingham Palace but without the crowds. It was just serious but so much better for not sharing it with a couple of thousand tourists

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This image is taken from an unusual statue of Imre Nagy looking wistfully from a bridge. He was the reformist communist PM at the time of the 1956 uprising and was executed 2 years later for his part in it

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More fine views as we walked further into town

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Lots more photos of the building from various angles and places in the city. Further adventures and silly fun in the next post

A Tale of Eight Cities   20 comments

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Kids and how to keep them happy on holidays. Both of mine have grown up with radically different interests especially when it comes to leisure time. TJS loves walking and backpacking through the mountains. TJF loves chilling and when encouraged some adventurous climbing and water based fun. Neither enjoys the others preferences. I was stuck for this years holiday, keen to keep the family trips going as long as possible as University years approach, without one or both of them looking bored.

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Several of my friends have been focusing more on cities than our traditional outdoor trips (Barcelona, Nice to name but two). I mentioned doing something similar more out of desperation than anything else, expecting a lukewarm response. I was taken aback when both of them (and TBF) were positively enthusiastic about the possibility of a summer trip to bag a few key European cities as it were. The idea was born and the holiday planner in me sprang into action.

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After much deliberation we centered the trip around Italy and Eastern Europe having never been to either. Train travel was our chosen transport method and we were all excited by the prospect of doing the whole thing by train (and bus) and being liberated from the cossetted world of the car and the endless tedium that is air travel. Thanks to the amazing website, The Man in Seat 61 (I lost hours trawling through its pages) that travel planning was easy and booking rail tickets was simple. It’s a mine of information, almost all of it helpful and unerringly accurate

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Rome and Venice were certainties as was a more modern city in Berlin. I wanted to see Budapest although that got a lukewarm reception (very misguided). As we had to travel through Paris it seemed prudent to spend a couple of days there. In addition long journeys from Paris to Venice and Berlin back home dictated a couple of stopovers in Turin and Cologne. That makes seven. City number eight came courtesy of one very delayed train and an unexpected chance of a couple of hours in Vienna.

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I wanted to spend at least a few days in each of our major stays so a 3.5 week trip was in order to take advantage of the Bank Holiday. We used Apartments for multi night stays and cheap quad room hotels for the single nights. Over the course of the planning, hotels were booked, rail tickets purchased (including several first class tickets – European rail travel is exceptionally cheap if you book ahead). A few key attractions and tours were reserved. We packed light, just one rucksack each.  We were ready.

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Never having done anything like this before I thought the trip could go two ways. It would be a disaster and we’d hate it, vowing to put it down to experience and never attempt such a thing again. Alternatively it would be an amazing, fantastic experience that we’d want to do again. I’m not giving too much away to say it was most definitely the latter! 🙂

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We saw and did a quite staggering amount of stuff. I took thousands – yes really – of photos so its going to take me a while to write all this up. I’m planning one general post about each city and the related journeys and some more specific posts about places or days that deserve them. It will take me a while

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I’ve dropped a photo from each city into this post as a taster to get you in the mood. There was plenty of sun, tons of great food, bucket loads of ice cream, amazing sights and experiences and a lot of laughter (much of it at TBF’s expense bless her!). First instalment tomorrow, hopefully.

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