(Cold) Kings and Queens of Castle Hill
Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
52Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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Today, after breakfast in our hotel (not included in the room rate – we had to pay for these quite overpriced pancakes!), we checked out of our Hungarian oasis and left to check into our second (and much, much cheaper!) living place, Club Apartments Budapest. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this apartment that we rented was humongous, with a large living room and kitchen, bathroom, and huge separate bedroom with seating area and wrap-around balcony. So – going from the five-star hotel to here wasn't such a fall from grace, after all. (And, after Christoph and Taryn’s welcoming home in Bratislava, it’s nice to be able to continue living in a "home-like" environment.)
To start out our first full day in Budapest, we walked about eight blocks to Budapest’s Great Market Hall (Nagycsarnok), the largest market in the city, housed in a huge, historic old building (and maybe somewhat of a tourist trap since its 1996 renovation)
After the Great Market Hall, Murray and I jumped on the No. 2 Tram, first going up the Danube River one way and then turning around and taking it back down the Danube the other. During the ride, we saw some of the city’s biggest sites, including Parliament House, the Ethnography Museum, and Roosevelt Square. We jumped off the tram at the Chain Bridge, previously deciding to walk the bridge across the Danube on our way to Castle Hill. WOW, what a COLD WALK, with the wind whipping at us over the river!!! Needless to say, we will not be walking it again on our return trip!
[By the way, while in Budapest’s cold weather, Murray leant me his large Gore-Tex jacket to wear over my zip-up fleece, cardigan sweater, and multiple other long- and short-sleeve t-shirt layers underneath those (I only packed in layers for this long trip of ours, due to the huge swing in climates we’re traveling through)
After getting to the other side of the Danube, we took the funicular (called the “Siklo”, and built in 1870!) up the hillside to explore both sides of Castle Hill, a 1-km long limestone plateau in Buda that is approximately 170m above the Danube. Castle Hill contains Budapest’s most important medieval monuments and some of its best museums (and there are a LOT of museums in Budapest!). It is the premiere site for visitors to the city and, from the top, contains grand views of the entire area.
Castle Hill contains two different parts – Old Town (Var), where mere common people lived in the Middle Ages, and the Royal Palace (Budavari palota), the original site of a 13th century castle for the uncommon (??? read: rich) people
We started by walking around the Royal Palace, which – like many other palaces and castles of historical note! – has been burned, bombed, razed, rebuilt, and redesigned at least half a dozen times over the past eight centuries. The palace itself is surrounded by a huge complex of buildings, including the Ludwig Museum, the National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the Szechenyi National Library – all very impressive (although we only passed through them; we read that it would take at least two full days to see everything on Castle Hill).
Also on the grounds of the Royal Palace is the very interesting Matthias Well, a Romantic-style fountain exhibiting the young King Matthias Corvinus in his hunting garb, surrounded by his hunting dogs (Hungarians are fierce canine lovers, which is as it should be); to his right, a maiden in love with the king, who died of a broken heart (long, sad story); and to his left, a very smug Italian chronicler of the king’s court.
From the Royal Palace side of Castle Hill, we walked over to the Old Town side (but not before warming ourselves up with some hot beverages (and ok, some beer for the main man!) from a museum café
Old Town is a quaint area, with four medieval streets that run parallel to one another and then converge onto one main square. Our first stop was the famous Fishermen’s Bastion (Halasz Bastya), a viewing platform that most Hungarians and visitors believe – and this is funny – is medieval but was actually built in 1905 (it’s neo-Gothic in style)! The bastion got its name from the guild of fishermen responsible for guarding this stretch of the wall in the Middle Ages, and it is actually a series of small turret-ed viewing platforms, which are connected to one another by a series of high walls that have pathways on top of them. From Fishermen’s Bastion, of course, we saw magnificent views of Budapest, laid out before us like a royal carpet. (The bastion also is “wrapped around” a huge statue of St. Stephen (977-1038), Hungary’s first – and still very revered – king. Just wait until you read about which of St. Stephen’s actual body parts we are going to visit tomorrow…!)
From the bastion, we crossed back to the beautiful Matthias Church
By the time we left Old Town (after walking around some more after Matthias Church), it was dark and (of course) even colder than it had been earlier. We made our way back to the funicular, then jumped a bus for a ride over the Charles Bridge (I told you we wouldn’t be walking it again!). From the bus, we changed to a tram, which we rode for a few stops to get back to our apartment. I took a nap before dinner while Murray read and watched TV. Later, we left the apartment for a late dinner, devouring hot soups (garlic for me; goulash for Murray) in their own bread bowls, followed by a Hungarian pancake filled with chicken stew, and a mixed pickles dish, to share. For mains, I had very interesting slices of grilled Hungarian cheese on top of a large salad – while Murray had a stewed goose leg accompanied by some beer. Nice.
Back to the apartment, and back to bed (at least for me!). We covered a lot of (mostly royal) ground today. I don’t know about you, after reading about our very full first day here – but I sure am tired!