Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Danube Capitals: Budapest

Danube is one of the famous rivers of Europe and is the second-longest river, after the Volga River. It flows through 10 countries, more than any other river in the world. Originating in Germany, the Danube flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. The Danube River flows through four national capitals – Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary) and Belgrade (Serbia).
In my previous post, I talked of Vienna, the first capital through which Danube passes after originating from Germany. Today I will continue my journey through Danube to reach Budapest, the capital of Hungry, through which the Danube flows and almost bifurcates the city.
Before we start exploring the city, let me divulge one good thing for the would be travelers to Budapest: the language. Unlike many European countries where every country has its own language and more often than not, the ignorance of English language creates barriers and makes it difficult to freely move about as direction finding becomes difficult. But fortunately not in Budapest. Here most people understand English, while French and German are also understood. So feel free to roam around in the alleys of Budapest without any fear of being lost

Leaving Vienna, the next destination was Budapest. If you recall, the travel package commenced two days earlier and my sons along with other group members spent the night travel in the bus and hit Vienna during day for a hectic full day. Therefore, their journey to Budapest was spent taking a nap till the buss entered Budapest and passing just over the Danube.
The majestic view of the Hungarian Royal palace at night (above)
Budapest is one of the largest cities in the European Union, with an estimated 2016 population of 1,759,407 spread over a land area of about 525 square kilometers (203 square miles). Budapest is a thriving global city known for its strong commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and entertainment fields.
How old is Budapest? Well its historical linkages go back to the 9th century AD. The Mongols are said to have ravaged the city in 1241. Thereafter the city again rose to its feet in the 15th century. It also remained under the Ottoman Empire for some 150 years. In the 18th century, the the unification of Buda and Óbuda on the west bank with Pest on the east bank gave the city its name, the Budapest.
Arriving at Budapest, the tour members hit the roads to have a glimpse of the areas around their hotel before taking a well needed rest, being away from a abed for the past two night.
The next morning dawns and everyone is on the roads right from early morning, even when the locals had yet o hit the roads for their offices and attending to their businesses.
The city alleys away from the historical buildings and statues
One of the most visited landmark of Budapest is its 19th century parliament building of Hungry rests majestically on the banks of Danube and can be spotted from almost every vantage point overlooking the city. 
The Neo-Gothic parliament building is the world's third largest parliament building, consisting of some 691 rooms and 19 kilometers of corridors and stairs. One can be lucky to be in the city when the parliament is not in session to enjoy the 45 minutes guided tour of this massive building, specially the main entrance hall, various lobbies, and the Hungarian Crown Jewels. 

Gellért Monument

One of the best places to have an overlook of the Budapest city and the Danube is the 235 metres high Gellért Hill, named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill. It is said that he was dumped in a barrel pierced with nails and rolled down the steep hill. At the time the hill was known as Kelen-hegy (Eastern Hill), but is was later renamed Gellért-hegy in honor of the saint.

View of the Danube and its bridges - The Chain Bridge (below)
 Tourists posing with the charming tourist guide
Budapest is not only a place abound in historical buildings, bridges and the Danube - it is also city of flowers and fountains.

The Liberty Statue or Freedom Statue is a monument on the dominating Gellért Hill of Budapest. The monument was built to honour the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.
The Liberty Statue on the Gellért Hill (Photo).
The statue shows a female figure holding a large palm leaf overhead. The bronze statue is 46 feet high and symbolizes peace.
There are many statues also on the  Gellért Hill. . The one above (and below) is statue of man holding a torch.. The peculiar posture of the statue compels the tourists to have them photographed emulating it.
 The tour guide's briefing atop the Gellért Hill
The Gellért Hill also allows a commanding view of the city and those venturing up to its top to see the Liberty Statue, also get a chance to view the beautiful almost bird-eye view of Budapest.
The thermal spa of Budapest is something unique to the tourists. Not only the interior is very inviting but the various temperature controlled chambers also take away one's tiredness. 

The famous 19th century suspension bridge known as the  Chain Bridge over the Danube connects the Pest and Buda sides of the city. It was the first permanent bridge crossing the Danube in Budapest. 
Before its construction, people had to use a ferry or go as far as Vienna for the nearest bridge. During WWII the bridge was destroyed and was rebuilt to its only glory soon after the war.

St. Stephen's Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica, named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038), whose supposed right hand is housed in the reliquary. It is the third largest church building  of Hungary.
Budapest abounds in variety of cuisines which has a mixture of taste and dishes from every religion, people both locals and of regions close by.One can find dishes which taste the delicacies of Christians, Jews, Serbs and Muslims, specially the cuisines of Turkey as a large number of Turks live here and also because of the cuisines following from the Ottoman Empire era. 
One can find aromatic Turkish coffee and sweets like white nougat called törökméz, quince (birsalma) besides many other Turkish delicacies like rice dishes like pilaf, meat and vegetable dishes like the eggplant, used in eggplant salads and appetizers, stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage called töltött káposzta
The Hungarian cuisines also have a effect of Austrian taste flowing from the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire..
Taking break for a quick lunch
The interactive fountain or the fountain of youth in Szabadság Tér (square) at the Freedom Square, near the Hungarian central bank headquarters and the US Embassey is an interesting place to spend some time. Stepping on tiles at the edge of the rectangular area will stop the jets of water shooting up in front of you for a few seconds, letting you in. One really feels joyful and young walking through these interactive fountain - something very different or unique one comes across anywhere else in the world.  In the Freedom Park, you can also shake the hand of a life size statue of Ronald Reagan, one of the ex presidents of USA.  

Kossuth Memorial monument is dedicated to former Hungarian Regent-President Lajos Kossuth located in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building on Lajos Kossuth Square

While a good network of trams and buses allows you to go around sight seeing Budapest, for fun you can also take a ride in the three-wheelers for the exciting Tuk Tuk experience. These tuk-tuks are good to take you inside narrow alleys of the city center and bring you close to the people and real life of Budapest.
You can also take a 2-hour panoramic Budapest City Tour in the air conditioned buses which can take you from the Parliament and cross the Danube River to Margaret Island via the Margaret Bridge, besides taking you up the Gellért Hill to watch many liberty statues and a panoramic view of the cit from the hilltop.
The merry makers !!
 Heroes' Square and the Millennium Monument
Millennium Monument is a 36 meter high columns erected in the Heroes Square with the figure of Archangel Gabriel on its top mast is an impressive landmark of the city. The 19th century monument is surrounded my sculpture of bronze horsemen, attributed to the conquering Magyar Prince Árpád and six of his fellow warriors. There is also a memorial dedicated to the unknown soldier. 
The day was finally fading away with the golden sky reflecting into the steady steam of the Danube. There was just enough time to grab a quick pizza to come back and enjoy a boat ride of the Danube.
The Danube boat ride is simply mesmerizing. I will share the reflections of building astride the river in my next post. 

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References: Wikipedia
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