Welcome to Hungary. We are Budapest bound – the capital and the powerhouse that drives this great country. The weather in Vienna has been truly wonderful. Hot and sticky and dry. Hungarian summers are hot and the forecast for our three night stay in Budapest was good. 30°C plus with no rain forecast. Apparently we are experiencing an Old Lady’s summer known in England as an Indian summer.
This green and pleasant land. Flat and fertile. Crop heaven. No cattle, no sheep-they live on higher ground. The fertile plains are used for planting.
First pit stop Gyor. Sixth largest city in Hungary and a dynamic developing industrial and commercial city. In the suburbs Audi have set up multiple factories. It is known as the ‘city of waters’ as it sits close to four rivers. Rich in thermal spa water as well. Gyor is stunning and charming -a true gem. A brief visit for one and a half hours, but we could have stayed all day. The streets are as clean as those in Vienna.
Szechenyi square is gorgeous. Superb architecture surrounds the open space. Cafes and restaurants are busy clearly the place to people watch, eat and drink. Many sat enjoying a large glass of wine proving that a lot of what you fancy does do you good. It was lovely to watch the children, young and old, darting in and out and through the water jets.
Ecclesiastic treasures abound. Check out the Basilica on Chapter Hill. Take a gander at the painting of ‘the Weeping Holy Mary’ imported from Ireland in the 17th century. On St Patrick’s day in 1697 the painting began to cry tears of blood- but not today! I had a bit of a bus man’s holiday and visited the pharmacy museum. A fascinating visit. The stomach sewing apparatus (knit one, drop one) caused a sharp intake of breath and palpitations. The Permanent Puppet exhibition at Zichy palace should be renamed the Not Permanent Puppet exhibition. It had closed! The ice cream we had on Baross Street was as big as my arm – well almost.
Fully refreshed and legs suitably stretched we sped onto our next destination. Esztergom home to Hungary’s largest basilica. And what a beauty. This neo-classical cathedral dominates the skyline and can be seen from miles away. It sits proud and mighty and resilient on Castle Hill. Admission is free but it is so magnificent that everyone leaves a donation. The Bakocz Chapel is decorated in red and white marble with intricate stone carvings and sculptures.
Look up to the 72m high central dome-it seems to float! It’s 413 steps up to the cupola and a nice way to get closer to God. Well worth the visit. Asthmatics may need an inhaler. The largest altar piece in the world painted on a single canvas is here- 13.5×6.6m. By the end of our holidays we are usually ‘churched out’. But not on this trip, they get better and better, and we still have Budapest to come.
The castle next door looks almost new by comparison- an interesting contrast with its coloured bricks. The view from the terrace is a photographer’s dream. Below the wide river, silver today in the ever shining sun. River cruise ships and barges ply their trade. On the far bank is Slovakia. Esztergom is a beautiful dramatic town wonderfully situated here on the Danube Bend. Here the river abruptly changes course from east to west.
Budapest is described by The Sunday Times as a ‘former communist stronghold turned hipster heaven’. And if adverts in the papers are to be believed it is the ‘dental capital of Europe’ too. I expected to see dental utopia, everyone with glossy mag smiles. The first three people we saw as we stepped down from the bus clearly didn’t live up to that image. Missing teeth, lopsided mouths, unforgiving smiles. One lady looked as though she had kissed far too many frogs in her quest for a prince. Oh, to be a locum dentist. Pop over to Budapest-fill in and bridge any gaps. Thankfully the reception team at the Hilton Budapest City had full complements of teeth and looking all the better for this.
First impressions of the city – it’s huge, much bigger than Prague and Vienna. And it is elegant and stylish! The city is gorgeous. The suburbs less so. Apartment blocks grey and uninviting, typical communist style. Rich in history and diverse in culture resulting in a melting pot of DNA. Buda, Old Buda and Pest joined together in 1873. The sum is greater than the parts. Both sides of the capital complement each other – think a juicy steak with a good wine.
Buda is hilly, sleepy and steep. Pest is flatter and gazes lovingly perhaps jealously over the river Danube (Duna here in Hungary) to its older other half. Castle Hill dominates the skyline – our destination tomorrow.
Tonight was a highlight of the trip, a cruise on the not so blue Danube. A scenic cruise is a wonderful way to while away a couple of hours. From the water Budapest takes on a different perspective. The group were excellent company, the food fabulous and the wine flowed as freely as the river. Katya was an excellent guide giving a great introduction to the city. The night was still humid but the breeze from the water was very welcome.
Budapest is often compared to Paris, sometimes known as ‘little Paris’. In fact, it looks in parts more Parisian than Paris itself. So if you want French flavour minus the French then head for Budapest – you will not be disappointed. And the river cruises here are far better than anything offered in the French capital.
Many years ago an Englishman and a Scot met in a bar – no, not a joke – and decided to build a bridge. William and Adam Clark, not related, built the iconic Chain Bridge – the first over the river. Tonight all the bridges twinkled with thousands of lights and monuments and statues glowed in the night. Margaret Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Freedom Bridge, Liberty Statue, the Royal Palace, National Gallery and the funicular all floated by. And the magnificent Parliament building on the Pest side.
Almost all photos of Budapest show the Parliament building and why not? Big and beautiful. It has an almost dreamlike quality. A computer generated design almost too perfect to be true. It has jumped straight into my top 3 buildings in the world and if you need another reason to visit here, and you shouldn’t, then this is it.
The view from the Danube is exquisite and uplifting. Did man actually build such a wonder? My best highlight so far on this superb road trip. The surprises keep coming thanks to Trafalgar. And tonight bathed in a golden glow from hundreds of lights bats flew overhead, lights catching their erratic sonar flight. The mirror image reflection in the water is amazing. My much missed friends, Rob and his mum always used the phrase ‘a vision of booootiful’. You both would like this!
This neo-Gothic wonder is 268m (879 feet) long.691 rooms 12 miles of corridors and stairs. The central dome is 96m (315 feet) high- the same height as the cupola in St Stephen’s Basilica – State and religion in harmony maybe?
The group were all in harmony as we drove back to the hotel for a much-needed bed. It had been such a great evening, and a great day of travel. And that’s what holidays are all about.
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 1 – preparing to travel
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 2 – a stunning city and new friends
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 3 – a guided walk and music by candlelight
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 4 – city wonders and cafe life
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 5 – Vienna bound
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 6 – a Viennese whirl
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 7 – having a ball
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 9 – Big bustling Budapest
- Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 10 – Goodbye Budapest