Budapest - Spring 2008

Trip Start Apr 08, 2008
Trip End Apr 20, 2008

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Visitors to Budapest will quickly see how it has managed to blend several centuries of architectural and cultural heritage with all the innovations thrown at it by modern life. As finances permit historic buildings and monuments are gradually being renovated and restored, and if time is of the essence visitors would be well advised to make a plan in order to see as much as possible of this beautiful city.  You will see buildings with crisp and clean marble facades right next to a building that is soot covered and in shambles.  The same goes for private cars.  You'll likely to see a BMW parked next to a 1960's relic from the Soviet era.  Budapest is truly undergoing a slow modernization phase from years of Soviet oppression and occupation following WWII.
The Castle District, the River Danube embankments and the whole of Andrássy út  (Ut or Utca means street or avenue) have been officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it would indeed be a shame to miss them out.  Whilst up in the Castle District a visit to the Matthias Church and perhaps to a museum as well can be heartily recommended.  I'm visiting in April, so the weather is quite nice - about 25c during the day, but clouds and rain showers spoiled a few of my afternoon photo opportunities that I was looking forward to.  Castle Hill and the Castle District have three churches here, six museums, and a host of interesting buildings, streets and squares. The former Royal Palace is one of the symbols of Hungary - and has been the scene of battles and wars ever since the thirteenth century. Nowadays it houses two impressive museums and the National Széchenyi Library. The nearby Sándor Palace contains the offices and official residence of the President of Hungary. The seven-hundred year-old Matthias Church is one of the jewels of Budapest. Next to it is an equestrian statue of the first king of Hungary, King Saint Stephen, and behind that is the Fishermen's Bastion, from where opens out a panoramic view of the whole city.  Great photo opportunities here!

In Pest, arguably the most important sight is Andrássy út.  As far as Kodály Körönd both sides are lined with large shops and flats built close together. Between there and Heroes' Square the houses are detached and altogether grander. Under the whole runs continental Europe's oldest Underground railway, most of whose stations retain their original appearance. Heroes' Square is dominated by the Millenary Monument, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front. To the sides are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Arts, and behind City Park opens out, with Vajdahunyad Castle on its own island in the little lake, and further off the Zoo, the Circus and the Fun Fair.
Visitors who have at least three days at their disposal, after having seen the sights in the Castle District and along the Danube embankments and Andrássy út, might like to take their pick from the following. The neo-Gothic Parliament has a beautiful interior, containing amongst other things the Hungarian Crown Jewels. It's not far from there to Saint Stephen's Basilica, where the Holy Right Hand of the founder of Hungary, King Saint Stephen is on display. It's also well worth taking the stair (or the lift if your less adventurous) top of the tower for 1500 HUF, from where there is a superb view over the rooftops. One of the jewels of Andrássy út is the Opera House.
The imposing Dohány utca Synagogue is as outstanding a building as its small garden, including metallic weeping willow tree dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, is moving. In between the sightseeing, but in truth an integral part of the Budapest scene, you cannot leave out the various bastions to Hungarian cuisine and café culture: for example, Gerbeaud Café (The BEST coffee, cakes, and pastries), and the Százéves, Biarritz, Fortuna, Alabárdos, Arany Szarvas, Kárpátia and the world famous Mátyás Pince Restaurants.

Between the wars Budapest's coffee houses were famous. Taking on some of the functions of English clubs each had its own loyal clientele. Of those old coffee houses few now remain, although it is true a number of newcomers are trying to recreate some of former atmosphere.  Many of Budapest's famous cake shops are also, in effect, coffee houses. In the heart of the city, the most famous of all is Gerbeaud, on Vörösmarty Square. It has operated continually since 1858 and is known the world over. The Hauer on Rákóczi út and the Ruszwurm in the Castle District are also popular. At the Zsolnay Coffee Shop within the Béke Hotel on Teréz körút you can enjoy coffee and cakes served on Zsolnay porcelain.

Nowadays Budapest is once again becoming known to visitors as much for being a mecca for shoppers - a reputation which last held true a century ago - as for being a country that for half of that century had been held in the ruthless grip of Communism. Whilst from the 1950's onwards there was never any shortage of basic foods, generations of locals and visitors alike were denied the finer things in life. Nowadays there are two trends discernable amongst retailers in Budapest: "big is beautiful" and "small is beautiful." Which is to say that there are now a host of huge shopping malls which have revolutionized people's approach to shopping. The biggest, and from an architectural point of view perhaps the most interesting, is the West End City Centre situated between Nyugati tér and Lehel tér in Pest. But perhaps surprisingly, the number of smaller outlets offering "luxury" goods and services has also mushroomed - especially Fashion Street - a city block of high end clothing stores.  Vaci Utca is  one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares and perhaps the most famous street of central Budapest. It features a large number of restaurants and fashion outlets catering primarily to the tourist market.  The line of cafés and shops are worth seeing - at least once.

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lek1055 on

Thank you for the informative preview & beautiful photos from an Aussie hoping to see some of these sights next year.

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