My son Warren studied at Corvinus University for 6 months as an exchange student. I wasn’t about to let this chance to visit slip me by! So off I went and landed at Ferenc Litsz airport one sunny September morn. Taking a cab to the city centre is approximately 22 Euros or 7000 Forints. You could also take a metro or the bus if you don’t have to lug around a big suitcase like moi! Bus 200e from Terminal 2 or M3 (blue line) will take you to Kobanya-Kispest – the main station. I, however, decided to cab it, bearing in mind the big bag and so found a cabbie who was ever so helpful – he stopped at a store, got me a SIM card, ensured it worked, bought me a coffee and dropped me off right outside the café I was supposed to meet my son at. I had to while away a few hours, so had a hot Goulash soup and ate some paprika. Very nice and filling.
My son lived in an apartment near the Parliament building and right next to the Danube. So you come out of the building and you look left over the river. Quite amazing that. Buda is the hilly region across the river and Pest is the absolute flat plain this side of the Danube. Don’t make the mistake of pronouncing Budapest as ‘pest’! It’s more Peshth!
7 bridges span the river – most famous one being the Chain bridge. Others are the Arpad, Margaret, Elisabeth, Liberty and Petofi bridges. As you walk along the Danube, you see the famous Shoes on the Danube. Just a collection of wrought iron shoes scattered randomly along the bank. The story behind this is very poignant. Created by sculptor Gyula Pauer in honour of the Jews who were killed during the II World War. These hapless folk were asked to take off their shoes and then shot so that their bodies fell into the river and got washed away.
What you will see all over the city is wonderful facades of old buildings, statues and sculptures. Each one has a story and is more interesting than the other.
You should do the Jewish Quarter walk. It’s very interesting and the brisk walking is invigorating! My guide was a Professor who was an interesting guy. His knowledge was immense and he was genuine about wanting to explain the history to us. He also took us to a Flea Market which was quite the experience. There were many Romanis (who looked quite fierce and tough) selling items of value.
Do the Hop-on-Hop-off tour. It’s good value for money and includes a night cruise which is quite spectacular – you sail on the Danube, snacking and drinking some wine, see the brilliantly lit buildings on either side. It’s romantic so you should try and do this with a significant other!
The Treasury Building is intricate to a fault – down to honey bees making their way up the side of the columns to the top (shaped like a beehive). The Parliament building is quite the architect’s dream. Third largest Parliament building in the world, it is a wonderful sight to behold – especially when you are doing a dinner cruise and it’s all lit up. St Stephens Basilica is a quick walk from the Parliament building. With two bell towers, it’s built in the neo-classical style. It took 54 years to build and was completed in 1905. You must visit the Ruin bars or pubs – abandoned spaces that have been converted into bars/clubs using a lot of creativity. I saw a pub which had old cars being used as tables. So you climb in and have your drinks there! How you climb out after a drink too many is quite the mystery!
Right next to Corvinus University is the Central Market Hall – a big neo-gothic structure with many stalls selling meat, local food, spices, nuts, fruit etc. If you have the time, visit the museums especially the House of Terror on Andrassy Ut. When your feet ache, just duck into one of the many cafes that abound the streets and have a coffee to rejuvenate.
Walk over to the Buda side using any one of the bridges. You can take the funicular up to Castle Hill which towers over the Danube. The Buda Castle with its 200 rooms is an impressive building.
You can go to the Matthis Church which is spectacular. Close by is the Fisherman’s Bastion where local fishermen (in the days of old) had defence installations. You must go up Gellert Hill (use the Hop on Hop Off tour) which is a 235-meter block of dolomite. Medicinal springs abound and if you have the time, go to the Gellert Spa or the Rudas Baths. The Gellert Monument which was built in honour of a monk who died in 1046 is on this slope. The Cave Chapel is a must visit. The Citadel built at the Summit is a place with a fantastic view of the city. The Liberation monument towers over the Danube.
Margaret Island near the Parliament building is worth a visit. The Japanese Garden is beautiful. There are numerous walking paths and it’s nice to just settle onto a bench and watch the world go by.
Budapest is full of culinary delights – the foodie in me went completely berserk and my waistline didn’t do very well! Must eat – Langos – flatbread made with flour and yeast. Toppings include sour cream, cheese, jam, ham etc. I ate this in the Central Market – fresh and yummy. Rakott Krumpli – baked layered potatoes. Töltött Káposzta – stuffed pickled cabbage leaves filled with minced meat etc. Rántott SajtDeep – deep fried cheese coated with breadcrumbs. Can’t go wrong with that! Túrós Csusza – curd or cottage cheese noodles – mixed into a dough with flour and eggs. Boiled in hot water, they have no particular shape. Rose Gelato outside St Stephens, Nokedli – dumplings served with goulash or chicken paprikash. Somloi Galuska – Hungarian trifle with 3 different flavoured sponge cakes, raisins, walnuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream – eat this at Gerbeaud Café on the Pest Side, They make it the best. Have Kürtőskalács – a chimney cake with an outer layer of melted butter, sugar, caramel, cinnamon and walnuts. Buy paprika to take home – it’s fabulous to marinate meats with.
I think Budapest is my most favourite European city. It just has so much to offer and not at all expensive – that is me being expansive but it felt a lot less pricey!