Considering the dramas we had figuring out how to get to Budapest, the trip there was actually rather uneventful. Passed through border control with no problem, stopped on the other side of the border at a roadhouse-type establishment for a toilet stop and to pick up some food, and carried on. We were dropped not far from our hostel and showed to a rather interestingly-decorated but large room. It kind of felt like a lived-in artist’s studio apartment – half-finished artwork, easles and paints scattered about the place, which looked like it was meant to be some sort of interior decorating but just felt a bit cluttered and in the way. There was a kitchenette in our apartment which was rather old, but we really only needed the fridge and didn’t actually cook in there anyway.
Buda and Pest were originally two separate cities on opposite sides of the Danube River until they merged into a single city in the late 19th century. While it has been ruled by empires familiar to us in our travels, such as the Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, it also has some of the most unique architecture I’ve come across, particularly in the late-19th-century Fisherman’s Bastion.
Since we arrived in the late afternoon on our first day, we had the opportunity to go for a walk that evening. We walked to the Hungarian Parliament building and along the river, which was a fabulous opportunity to take photos of some of Budapest’s most spectacular buildings lit up at night.
The next day we headed to the central market in the Great Market Hall, where we found some breakfast and perused the stalls ranging from butchers to greengrocers, giftware, bakers, spice traders and hot food. We then took another walk along the Danube to get a better look at the Parliament House during the day, along with the various monuments around it.
Across the other side of the river, we took the funicular cable car up the hill to the Buda Castle. We balked at the cost of going inside, but spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the grounds where Andre even had a go at some archery and we found a cart selling Kürtőskalács, which we know by its Czech name trdelnik (called a ‘chimney cake’ in the english translations). We hadn’t come across these since visiting the Czech Republic three years prior and were pretty excited to get our hands on one again!
Up on the same hill we found the Matthias Church (a Roman Catholic gothic church built in the 14th century) and the Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. It was built for the view and itself has nothing to do with fisherman, having just taken its name from the fishermen who defended that part of the city walls during the Middle Ages. We even had dinner at the cafe within the stretch overlooking the river! That evening we walked along that side of the river, looking back across the river at the Parliament house which is spectacularly uplit at night.
The next day we paid a visit to the Dohany Street Synagogue and Jewish Museum. This is the largest synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world. Budapest had a significant Jewish population during WW2, and the grounds also holds a holocaust memorial and a mass grave for Jews killed during the war, as the Jewish community was not allowed any more space for graves other than the land they already held for their synagogues. The synagogue suffered significant damage during WW2 and the communist era, and was only restored in the 1990s. This was due largely to a donation from Estee Lauder, the American-born daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants.
Oh, and the most pleasant surprise from this leg of our journey? Though they were completely within their rights to do so, our hostel didn’t charge us for the first night we were forced to cancel!
And then the next day was time to leave Budapest for Krakow – but that’s a whole other story!