It was the end of August 2018 and very hot when I visited grand Budapest, a city on my bucket list for a long time. I love cities and always choose visiting them over beach holidays, because cities present interesting creative solutions for managing urban spaces. Cities are repositories of culture, history, and identity. I also like to consider how well urban design supports the people who live in a city. Is a city legible (easy for wayfinding) and healthy (e.g., are there green spaces, efficient means of public transportation, safe walking pathways)?
Budapest has a rich culture and a complicated past. Its current grandeur seems outsized for a small country of only 10 million people. However, the past of Hungary was more expansive. Hungary was part of the powerful Habsburg Empire from 1526, and later became the co-equal partner of Austria in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the losing side in both World Wars I and II. As a result, some Hungarians today have revanchist dreams of restoring Hungary’s former greatness, similar to citizens of other former, diminished empires (e.g. Russians). As Daniel Kahneman would say any loss looms greater than do potential gains.
Hungarians came to Europe from Central Asia (east of the Ural Mountains), and so their language is not Indo-European. I speak several European languages (Romance, Germanic, and Slavic) and can usually pick up many language cognates when travelling around Europe. This was mostly not possible for me with Hungarian, and so I had to rely on the English language skills of the locals.
Buda is the older part of Budapest, a city divided into two parts by the Danube River. Buda is perched on a hill. It is the site of Buda Castle and other attractions such as the magnificent Matthias Church. Pest is located on a flat plain. The most interesting sites in Buda are at the top of the hill. You can catch a hop-on hop-off ride to get to the top, use the funicular, or walk up the hill.
Here is Buda Castle seen from across the Danube River from the Pest side.
We walked from Pest to Buda on the beautiful Chain Bridge.
Here is a view of the funicular as seen from the Pest side. Notice the Turul bird statue. Legend has it that the Turul bird brought the Magyar (Hungarian) people from the steppes of Central Asia to their current homeland in Europe.
We didn’t take the funicular. Instead we bought an-all day ticket for a hop-on hop-off minibus that took us up to the top of the Buda Castle Hill and back down to the Chain Bridge at the end of the day. This option was good on a very hot day.
At the funicular booth on the Buda side. The Turul bird statue is right next to it.
The 15th c. Gothic Matthias Church (Church of Our Lady), initially founded in the 11 c., is as pretty as a wedding cake. It is as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside. Its distinctive red roof is easy to pick out from a distance when looking across the Danube from the Pest side.
The warm, golden hues of the richly painted interior are a delight to behold.
Here lies King Béla III.
Touring Budapest in August is hot and thirsty work. We had lunch and slaked our thirst at a restaurant located in the Fisherman’s Bastion complex.
The Statue of St. Stephan or Istvan (also the first king of Hungary from the year 1000) can be seen in the foreground. Fisherman’s Bastion, a neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque viewing terrace with vistas across the Danube River towards Pest, is in the background.
The Fisherman’s Bastion viewing terrace can be seen from below.
Magyar warriors guard a staircase in Fisherman’s Bastion.
We took breaks from the heat at two cafes on our trek around Buda. The pastries were scrumptious!
Walking around Buda’s old town was enjoyable.
Here are the belltower remains of the 13th c. St. Mary Magdalene Church.
Gellert Spa is located near the Danube on the Buda side. We had a wonderful spa visit in the evening. It was a treat to experience the many thermal pools (each with a different tempertature)! It felt good to cool off in between thermal soaks in a swimming pool. There are a great number of small spas all around Budapest. Thermal spa culture is as endemic to Hungarians, as saunas are to Finnish people. Physicians even prescribe thermal soaks for certain medical conditions.
Looking towards Elisabeth Bridge towards Pest from the Gellert Spa (on the Buda side).
A blog post on Pest will follow shortly, so do come back!