I decided to go on a walking tour today, as Budapest is a huge city and it felt overwhelming trying to figure out what to see on my own. I figured a walking tour would at least help me get oriented with the city. My guide was named Regi and she was great! The tour itself was a little disappointing- there was less history presented than in the Bratislava one which is all I have to compare it too. We met on the Pest side at St Stephen’s Basilica, walked through St Elizabeth’s Square and the original Metro (built in 1896!) then across the Danube river to Buda via the Chain Bridge up Castle Hill to the Royal Palace and finished at Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion (which has 7 towers for the 7 Hungarian tribes from the 19th century). Matthias ChurchView of Parliament and Pest through the Bastion. Chain Bridge- the first permanent bridge connecting Buda and Pest. The man who built it was in Buda during the winter when his father was dying in Vienna. The Danube was frozen and he had to wait 3 weeks before he could cross it and go to Vienna, by which time his father had passed. He promised his mother then that he would build a bridge across the Danube.
From Castle Hill you can see the whole Pest side of the city and it’s beautiful! Interesting fact: the Parliament building and St Stephen’s Basilica are the tallest buildings in Pest- both measure exactly 96meters to signify that the government and religion were equally important. After the tour ended I walked around Castle Hill some more (I couldn’t get over the view!) then went and got lunch at Karavan- a gathering of about 10 food trucks. I ate at Paneer aka “The Real Cheeseburger”. The patty of the burger was cheese instead of meat so obviously it was right up my alley! Then I walked around some more and went inside St Stephen’s Basilica. As I was walking in a graduation ceremony was finishing so I got to hear the organ play for a little which was pretty neat.
Then I happened to walk past a Palinka festival (remember the national spirit of Hungary?) and thought I’d give it a taste. I figured it had to taste better here, where probably the best Palinka makers are, right? SO WRONG! I asked the lady working at the first stand for her favorite and she talked up the apple and said how great it was. She was wrong. It was disgusting. But I figured I’d try one more at least, just to confirm that I really didn’t like Palinka (I was in Hungary so I felt like I had to give it my best shot). Again, I asked for the lady at the next stands favorite and I think she gave me cherry. Again, disgusting. Although to be fair, I couldn’t really taste a difference in the flavors I had apparently tried. They all just tasted like burning hell. I decided at this that I had given it my best shot (pun intended) but I was not meant to like Palinka. Oh well, you can’t win them all! Then I came back to the hostel and got ready for my Danube river cruise! I chose the one that left at 9pm so that I could see the city all lit up. It didn’t disappoint! You could see Castle Hill, Matthias Church, Parliament, the Citradella and multiple universities lit up along the river and the views were spectacular! After that I just came back to the hostel and went to bed- I walked over 30,000 steps today!Castle HillParliamentBeing artsy- the Hungarian flag with Parliament
Budapest is a great city to see by bike as well, so of course I booked a bike tour! I found this tour much more interesting than the walking tour. Not only did we get to see more via bike, but our guide, Anna, provided a lot more details about the history of the city through Nazi and Soviet occupation. We stared on the Pest side and rode along Andrassy Utca (Andrassy was the prime minister in the 19th century, utca is Hungarian for street) and saw St Stephen’s Basilica, the Opera house, Heroes Square (with the tomb of the unknown soldier) and City Park (since it was the weekend of May 1- International Workers Day (a national holiday in Hungary)- there was a festival going on with fair type rides and food). We stopped here and got lunch- the traditional Goulash soup (a tomato base soup with beef or pork, veggies and sometimes noodles or beans). I was quite hesitant to try it as every time I’d seen it previous to this, it looked disgusting. But in the name of branching out, I tried it. And I liked it! I was quite happy that I decided to try it 🙂 After lunch we continued our ride across the river (via the Chain Bridge again) and rode up to Castle Hill to see the Royal Palace and Matthias Church. On the way back to Pest we rode past the Liberty Statue (up on the hill) and then across the Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bridge. The Opera dedicated to Franz JosephHeroes SquareAt the Bastion
When the tour ended, I came back to the hostel to freshen up then went back to City Park to check out the festival a little more and enjoy some Langos- another Hungarian dish- fried dough with sour cream and cheese on top. It’s pretty delicious! Their nickname for it here is Communist Pizza since it was relatively cheap to make during the Communist era when they were rationed food and rarely got meat.
After the festival I rode the metro to Parliament and watched the sunset over the Buda hills. Near Parliament, on the banks of the Danube, is a memorial to those who were shot into the Danube by the Nazi’s in 1944-1945. There are a whole bunch of metal shoes on the banks, signifying those who died. There were a lot of candles and flowers around them and it was quite moving. After the sun set, I decided to go check out a craft brewery called Jonas just up the river a bit. Jonas has a terrace right on the Danube and the view is incredible just after sunset. There is a university across the Danube that looks like a castle all lit up so it was the perfect backdrop for enjoying a beer.
I met a guy named Mark at Jonas who is from Maine, but is in the process of getting his Hungarian citizenship as his wife is from Budapest so he has to spend 6 months a year in Hungary. He’s also a professional photographer so I enjoyed looking through all of his photos of Budapest. He gave me a lot of good information about what to see in the city and then offered to take me to some of the best places to witness the city at night. I know what you’re thinking- a little sketch to be going out at night with someone you just met, but here I am, alive to tell the tale, so clearly it all worked out fine! All of the places we visited were still busy with tourists (it was only 9:30ish on a Saturday night!) so had he wanted to kill me, there would have been witnesses. We went to Batthyany square which is directly across the Danube from the Parliament building and then hiked up to Castle Hill again to see the views at night. It was a pretty cool evening! And although I didn’t really know Mark, it actually felt safer to be traveling at night with someone else. He’s in Budapest alone another month and gave me his email address in case I had any questions or wanted to hang out again, but since I only have 2 days left in the city and a lot still left to do, I’m not sure I’ll be able to take him up on that offer. But it’s nice to know someone out there in case I do need help! I would consider it a very successful evening 🙂 (mostly because I survived…just kidding!).
Isn’t this city beautiful at night?!