Ready for our Hungarian adventure
We’re in Budapest! Capital of the ancient and mighty Hungarian empire and once one of Europe’s greatest cultural capitals, Budapest is today a bustling metropolis of more than 3 million people. The two halves of the city, Buda and Pest, straddle the Danube as they have done for more than a 1,000 years. We’re staying in Pest for the next few days and are very excited about spending some time in this fantastic city!
We left our Slovakian mountain retreat early this morning in a private minibus that took us across Slovakia and into Hungary. The drive took about 6 hours, with a stop in the middle for lunch. The scenery was very pretty, especially with the Slovakian hills painted yellow, orange and red in honour of autumn. And the restaurant where we stopped for lunch was great – very rustic and authentically Slovakian (i.e. the waiters and waitresses wore traditional Slovakian garb, the food was all about meat, dumplings, potatoes and cabbage, and there were deer antlers and stuffed animals mounted on the walls).
By the time we arrived in Budapest and checked into our hotel, it was late afternoon so we didn’t get a chance to see much of the city. We did get time to do a brief orientation walk* with our tour group, however, which was great. Along the way we got to see the Budapest Opera House, St Stephen’s Basilica, the beautiful buildings of the Hungarian Royal Academy of Sciences, and Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge which spans the Danube and links Buda to Pest.
*Our tour leader has taken us on a short 2 hour orientation walk in every city we’ve been to, which has been great. These short 2 hours walks are perfect for giving us an idea of where our hotel is in relation to all the major sights, where the best coffee shops and restaurants are, and how to find important stuff like supermarkets, laundries, pharmacies, and a “safe” ATM (i.e. one unlikely to be watched and/or have a card skimmer hooked up to it). All very useful stuff when you’re new to a city and don’t speak the language.
So far it seems like a wonderful city, with lots of sights to explore and history to enjoy. There’s definitely an air of faded grandeur about the place though, with many of the beautiful 19th century buildings looking somewhat worse for wear. There are signs of some renovation works going on here and there, but generally the city looks like it needs some serious TLC (i.e. tender loving care) to help restore it to its former glory. The city reminds us of Vienna, just dirtier and rougher around the edges. Given that so much of Budapest was rebuilt by the Haspburgs (of Austria) after Hungary was liberated from Ottoman rule, it makes sense that the city would resemble Vienna; Vienna has just been better maintained I guess. Not that the city feels overly scary or unsafe (this is not Moscow after all!), it’s just a little neglected. There are still pockets, here and there, of splendour and beauty though, as we discovered on our walk around Pest these evening with the group.
After our orientation walk we all went out to dinner together as this part of the tour finished today and this was our last evening together as a group. Most of our tour group is finishing here, having done the Vienna to Budapest leg of the tour; the next leg of our tour (from Budapest to Istanbul – see map below) starts on Monday morning and we can only hope the people that join us for the second half of the trip are as easy company as our first tour group has been! It’s actually been quite interesting doing this 2 weeks trip through Central Europe with Intrepid – we’ve enjoyed it more than we thought we would. Generally we’re not really “tour” people as we prefer to do things on our own as much as possible, but it’s been good having a tour guide that spoke the language through Czechia, Poland and Slovakia as neither of us have any idea about any of the Slavic languages! And the Intrepid style of touring seems to suit us as you get heaps of free time to do your own thing with just enough hand-holding to make us feel comfortable in each new place. The tour was also great in that it took us to some very small, out-of-the-way places that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see due to their remoteness. We were also really fortunate that the group of people we shared the 2 weeks with were such great company!
So we now have a couple of days on our own here in Budapest to explore the city, with our plan being: spend tomorrow exploring the hills of Buda, on the Western side of the river; and then Sunday exploring the much flatter streets of Pest, on this Eastern side of the river. We’ll let you know how the plan worked out tomorrow! Istenhozzad until tomorrow evening…